Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Conscious Cleanse Review


Several weeks ago, I was contacted and asked if I was interested in participating in the Conscious Cleanse*. I had never done a cleanse. In fact, I have never really followed a diet or an eating plan (put together by someone else; I plan my own meals all the time).

I briefly looked through the website for the Conscious Cleanse and noticed I would be able to eat whole foods and that the focus seemed to be on eliminating coffee, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods. Plus, the idea behind the cleanse is to continue eating that way most of the time once the cleanse is over. This all sounded good to me as I knew that there were things that needed to be cleaned up in my diet. I also knew that I wasn’t likely to take on this endeavor on my own and looked forward to the built-in support the program offers.

One thing I had been overdoing big time was coffee. Several years ago, I had worked very hard at limiting my coffee intake to one cup a day. And I did drink one cup of coffee per day for quite some time. Until life got stressful, and then it increased to a lot more.

The Conscious Cleanse is a 14 day cleansing program, with five transition days before the cleanse starts. During those days, participants are asked to do one thing a day, such as adding more veggies and fruits, eliminating everything with added sugar, and, yes, eliminating coffee. I had a few days to completely “get off” coffee, but it was rough, and I had a terrible headache and was in a fog for a few days. But by day 3 with little/no coffee I was amazed by how good I felt and that I was able to function without coffee. Who knew?!



One important part of the Conscious Cleanse is the built-in community and support system. There is a private Facebook group of only current “cleansers.” While I was in all honesty not a very active participant in terms of posting and responding to posts, I loved getting the Conscious Cleanse group updates whenever I logged into Facebook. It was a way to reconfirm and recommit to this process throughout the day. It was also great to see that others had similar questions and struggles, and it was very helpful to get questions answered right away.

There are also four teleseminars throughout the cleanse. The first is the day before the cleanse starts and goes over all the basics. The basics of the cleanse can be found in the manual participants have access to. It explains what you are allowed to eat and what you cannot to eat, includes a grocery shopping list and recipes. Participants can call in with questions or submit them online.

Participants also receive daily emails from Jo and Jules, the creators of the cleanse, that encourage them to go “deeper.” Suggestions include journaling first thing in the morning, really paying attention to how different foods make us feel, a list of foods that can be taken with you, encouragement to be active throughout the day, eating out suggestions, gratitude reminders, and more. Jo and Jules also encourage participants to email them with any questions throughout the cleanse.

In the past, when I had heard the word cleanse, I thought of lemon water or juices and no food, and that scared me. The Conscious Cleanse is different. While participants are asked to give up coffee, alcohol, added sugar, dairy, corn, eggs, soy, gluten, and processed foods (plus some known allergens), there is plenty to eat on this program.

The day starts off with 32 ounces of warm lemon water. I started to really look forward to my lemon water every morning and plan to continue doing this. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner there are many choices, including chicken, fish, or bison if you like. Breakfast for me was often a smoothie with plenty of greens, a little fruit, and hemp seeds for protein. I loved them, hubby pretended to love them, and the kid declared one day they made him lose his appetite for the rest of the day, which wasn’t true at all! But we got his point and figured out his favorite smoothie combo (a banana, frozen mango pieces, spinach, and a carrot). Hubby and the kid did not participate in the cleanse but there was plenty of food that I made for the cleanse that they ate and enjoyed a lot, especially during the second week when I did a better job planning.

I made some recipes from the manual – and there are many excellent recipes in the manual (plus a few I didn’t care for too much, but they weren’t bad, I just wouldn’t make them again) – but I also made some of my own recipes, adapted for the cleanse. For example, I made a big pot of my lentil/vegetable soup but I left out the tomatoes (which are off limits during the cleanse). I also made many simple salads with some chicken or fish on the side. This is what I often eat anyway.

In addition to the conscious eating plan briefly described above which participants follow during the week, there are also two purification days on the weekend. During the first purification weekend, participants were instructed to eat as many fruits and vegetables as they wanted, drink unlimited fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies, and drink a special broth made with vegetables. You are encouraged to clear your schedule on those days and take it easy. At first I was skeptical, and I didn’t like the idea of “starving.” But the first round of purification days was actually much easier than I thought it would be, and I had more energy than expected. The purification days are optional, and you are only supposed to do them if you can take it very easy on those days. For the second round of purification, you are only supposed to eat pureed/juiced veggies and fruits (juices, smoothies, blended soups). I did one day of the second purification weekend as I had too much going on.

How did I feel?
 
After the coffee withdrawal, I felt really good. I was actually really amazed that I was able to function so well without coffee. I did have some bloating and discomfort at the beginning of the cleanse, which apparently is normal (partially because of the increase of veggies). After that, I felt really good and had a lot less bloating and stomach discomfort than usually. I was however weaker during my workouts. My sleep was also affected in weird ways. During caffeine withdrawal, I woke up before 3 a.m. with a headache every day. As a result, I went to bed really early which may have led to a vicious cycle of going to bed really early and waking up really early throughout the cleanse. But I woke up refreshed and ready for the day, still 3 a.m. was a bit early. Judging from the Facebook group posts, how people felt on the cleanse varied widely, from no/very mild withdrawal symptoms and tons of energy right away to really bad struggles with cravings, headaches, etc.

How doable is the cleanse?
 
Because you are allowed to eat, I think the cleanse is very doable. Plus, I eat many foods that are suggested on the cleanse already anyway. Someone who eats a lot of processed foods and/or fast food could have a very different experience. The biggest challenge for me was to plan ahead. I got on board kind of late and therefore felt a bit rushed before the start of the cleanse. I would suggest to make a meal plan (like I do every week) and then write a grocery list. Some participants apparently bought pretty much everything on the shopping list that is provided in the manual, which list all the foods that are allowed on the cleanse. That is certainly not necessary and would get very expensive.

I also would suggest getting The Conscious Cleanse book and reading it before signing up for the cleanse (I didn’t buy the Kindle version of the book until the cleanse was more than half way over, and I would have definitely liked to have it at the beginning.) In fact, you can do the cleanse without signing up for the group cleanse by just reading the book. However, you’d miss out on all the support, which I found very helpful and motivating, especially the first time doing a cleanse. It didn’t even occur to me to give up, and I’m not so sure if that had been the case had I done this all on my own. Daily emails before and during the cleanse, four teleseminars, and a Facebook support group may not sound like much, but they really made a difference for me. Knowing that others were doing the same thing at the same time not only made me not even think about giving up, it also made “cheating” out of the question for me. If you want to do the cleanse with just the book, maybe you can get a “cleansing buddy” and you can cheer each other on and do daily check ins. You could also do a weekly “cooking day” and make some meals for the week together. A lot of the recipes in the manual and in the book make a lot of servings and could be shared. That way you could eat a wider variety of foods.

Did I have cravings?

Surprisingly, I really didn’t have cravings. When I saw people eat or drink things I couldn’t eat or drink, I did think “too bad” a few times, but I really never had a craving. I know some of the people who were doing the cleanse had cravings. It seemed to me that many of them were used to certain foods at a certain time of the day – for example, a piece of dark chocolate in the afternoon, etc. I don’t really have a ritual like that, so maybe that’s why I didn’t crave anything. As I mentioned before, the food on the cleanse was actually pretty similar to what I normally eat so that may be another factor. I was a bit surprised that I didn’t crave cheese since I eat a small (or not so small at times…) piece pretty much daily and really like the taste.

Did I lose weight?
 
Honestly, I don’t know for sure because I didn’t weigh myself before I started the cleanse. Doing this cleanse was not about losing weight for me, and I made sure to eat enough food to be satisfied. Judging from my “keep me honest pants” I can assume however that I did lose some weight. I was mindful the entire time I was on the cleanse and ate healthy foods. I plan to continue eating very similarly to the conscious eating plan now that the cleanse is over.

How is the book?

The book contains everything that is in the manual participants get at the beginning of the cleanse and the information from the daily emails and teleseminars but in a more comprehensive form. It also includes many more recipes than the manual, which is really great as you want to keep things interesting and eat a wide variety of foods. Plus there are suggested daily sample meal plans. I didn’t follow any of them (and really enjoyed that I could do “my own thing”), but I know that some people really like to have things planned out for them.

Why did I do the cleanse? 

As I stated above, it was not to lose weight. I wanted to pay closer attention to what I am putting into my body and also figure out how certain foods affect me. I eat pretty healthy anyway and not that different from what I was eating on the cleanse. But I knew I was eating some processed foods that I could do without. In a way, I wanted to get back to a “true baseline” of veggies and then just see what I really needed to add. I also knew I had to do something about my coffee consumption, and this was a great way to do it. Finally, my gallstones affect my digestive system in weird and uncomfortable ways, and I was hoping to figure out how certain foods affect me. At the end of the cleanse, you are asked to reintroduce the foods you eliminated during the cleanse one by one to see if you have any food allergies. So far I have reintroduced only eggs, and, unfortunately, they didn’t sit too well. I had actually suspected that for a while. We’ll see how I’ll do with dairy, gluten, and soy.

What happens after the cleanse?
 
Jo and Jules recommend that cleansers strive to eat according to the conscious eating plan 80% of the time and add in other foods 20% of the time without guilt. I think that is a very realistic goal and something I plan on doing.

If you are interested in sampling some of the recipes that are part of the Conscious Cleanse, you can download Jo and Jules’ free e cookbook: A Taste of the Conscious Cleanse: 10 Fresh and Fabulously Simple Recipes.

Questions: Have you ever done a cleanse? If so, what was your experience? Would you ever consider doing a cleanse? Before doing this cleanse, I had never really considered doing one. To be honest, I am kind of rebellious (I can’t even follow a recipe!) and being told what to eat and not to eat scared me. Plus, during many cleanses you don’t eat at all. I don’t think I would want to do that. But this cleanse was really a way for me to take a good look at what I was putting into my body and be more mindful. It was definitely a good experience, and I am really glad I did it.


Be well,
Andrea

*Disclosures: I received access to the Conscious Cleanse program  for free to review on the blog. The following is an honest review of my experiences during the cleanse. Since I didn’t receive the book on time, I purchased the Kindle version of The Conscious Cleanse book with my own money. After the cleanse was over, I also received a hardcopy of The Conscious Cleanse book for free. A few months after doing the cleanse for the first time, I became an ambassador for the Conscious Cleanse, and I earn a small commission if you sign up through one of my links.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Weekend Fun and Weekly Meals

We had a busy but fun weekend, filled with a dinner at our friends' house, a birthday party, and dinner out with other friends.

Our friends prepared an amazing meal for us.



Here are our contributions to the meal:


I forgot to mention another new food item in our kitchen in my last post – black rice. I picked up a big bag at Costco the other day and luckily we all like it, although the kid is still a bit suspicious. I think the color is really throwing him off. I love it especially in carrot soup as it adds such a nice pop of color.



The kid also spent plenty of time getting comfortable in our bed…


Weekly Meals

Meal 1: Spinach turkey burgers with roasted green beans. I’ll combine the turkey with chopped spinach, onion, garlic, a little sesame oil, salt, and pepper and bake the burgers in the oven for about 20 minutes. (I like to make the burgers rather small).
Meal 2: Carrot soup with black rice. I’ll sauté the carrots with onions, garlic, and celery and season the veggies with salt, pepper, and curry. I’ll add vegetable stock and cook everything for about 20 minutes and then puree it with my immersion blender.
Meal 3: Baked cod with a salad. I’ll coat the cod with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and bake it in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Meal 4: Veggie stir fry.
Meal 5: Leftovers and refrigerator finds.

Questions: What’s on your menu this week? Do you like rice? If so, what’s your favorite kind? I like all rice, but black rice is my current favorite. What was the highlight of your weekend?
 
Be well,
Andrea

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New-to-Me Foods

I tend to eat a lot of the same foods and rarely buy new ingredients, but recently I have been experimenting with several new-to-me food items, and I am really enjoying them. All of these items have been around for a long time and have been popular for a while, so I’m sure many of you have tried them already.

Chia Seeds


I can’t believe I haven’t tried chia seeds until now as they have been everywhere. I add them to smoothies after soaking them in a bit of water, and they make the smoothie nice and thick (I like to eat smoothies with a spoon). I also make chia pudding. By adding liquid to the seeds, they thicken and become similar to tapioca pudding.  You can flavor the pudding with anything you like (lemon, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.). Somebody mentioned that the consistency reminded them of glue, which is sort of true, but I enjoy it a lot. Two tablespoons contain 70 calories, 6 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. They also contain omega-3s.

Hemp Seeds

 

Hemp seeds contain quite a bit of protein (5 grams per 1.5 tbsp)  and have a slightly nutty taste. I add them to smoothies and salads for some protein and to make the salads more interesting.

Tahini 


Tahini is a paste made out of sesame seeds. I add it to salad dressing and dips. I don’t like too much of it, but I enjoy the added flavor of just a little.

Ume Plum Vinegar


Ume Plum Vinegar has a tangy flavor, and I like it in dressings, marinades, and dipping sauces. I use very little at a time as it contains a lot of sodium.

Questions: What are some new food items you have been trying or wanting to try lately? Have you tried any of the items above? If so, how do you like them? How do you use them?
 
Be well,
Andrea

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Giving Up Coffee

I mentioned in my last post that I had given up coffee as part of my “cleaning things up” program. If you are like me a few weeks ago, you’ll probably think, “That’s nice for you, but that’s not something I’ll ever do.” And that’s fine. In fact, I have been drinking coffee for 25 years, and it has never occurred to me to give it up completely.

I have successfully cut back to drinking one small cup a day several times over the past 25 years, but giving it up completely was never on the agenda until recently. Coffee has reported benefits, and I actually think drinking it in moderation (like most things in life) is fine and can even be beneficial.

When I was drinking one cup a day, I didn’t see a problem with it. The problem started when I increased my coffee intake more and more. Somehow over a stressful period in my life, I had increased it to up to five, or even six, big cups a day. I know. Not good.

How did I give up coffee?

Over the holidays, I had already cut back from five cups to about three cups, but I still needed those three cups desperately. When I decided to let go of coffee completely, I did it rather quickly, and I did have very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Here is what I did:

  • Day 1: Cut back to 1 cup of coffee – I had a bad headache all day and was in a daze
  • Day 2: 1 cup of 1/2 coffee 1/2 decaf – Again, I felt miserable
  • Day 3: 1 cup of black tea – You guessed, it, I felt miserable
  • Day 4: No caffeine at all – I didn’t feel great, but I had learned that going for a walk helped a lot

What helped when giving up coffee?

  • Finding other warm beverages I enjoy helped a lot – I now start my day with warm lemon water and love it. If you had told me this a few weeks ago, I would have laughed. I also enjoy all sorts of herbal teas. I had known for years that one of the draws of coffee for me was the ritual of sitting down with a warm beverage. Other warm beverages work just as well as coffee for the ritual.
  • Going for a walk really helped with headaches.
  • I realized that the headaches would eventually go away, and things got a lot better on the second day without caffeine. By the third day without caffeine they were gone.

How do I feel without caffeine?

I am amazed by how well I feel without caffeine, and I truly don’t need it at this point. In fact, I don’t even want it anymore! In the past, I would stumble out of bed and make some coffee right away. I needed that cup so desperately, and if I didn’t get it, an ugly headache would soon rear its head. I was truly dependent on it, and I couldn’t imagine getting out of bed or functioning without it.

Now I wake up ready for the day, and I am much more alert right away. No more crawling into the kitchen, unable to function. I really like that feeling. The alertness also lasts throughout the day, which is wonderful.

Will I drink coffee again?

I don’t have plans right now to getting back to coffee. I don’t like the idea of being addicted to a substance that makes me feel so miserable if I stop drinking it. I also love feeling so alert throughout the day. Never say never, but at this point, I don’t have any plans on drinking coffee again.

Questions: Do you drink coffee? If so, how much? Have you ever given it up or thought of giving it up completely?

Be well,

Andrea

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fitbit Zip Review and Cleaning Things Up


I got some money for Christmas and decided to treat myself to something I’ve had an eye on for a while: a Fitbit. I know several people “in real life” who have a Fitbit and love it. And I have seen numerous reviews/mentions on the Internet, and I was very curious as my experiences with “tracking devices” haven’t been all that good.

Years ago, I got a free pedometer through work. It was a pain to set up, didn’t work well, and was huge and ugly. Then I got an old model of the Garmin Forerunner. It was a great deal, but hubby made fun of me every time I wore it as it looked like it came straight from 1988. Plus, it took forever to get a satellite, and I sometime had to stand around for what seemed like forever before a run or hike.

The Fitbit is the opposite of my previous experiences: it’s tiny, cute (I got a pink one!), and was incredibly easy to set up.

By simply tapping your Fitbit, you can easily scroll through the numbers it keeps track of (time, steps taken today, miles traveled, calories burned, happy/not so happy face, depending on how active you are). I love how easy it is!

The Fitbit comes with an online component that automatically updates when you are within range of your computer (you can also synch it with your smart phone, iPad, etc.). The online dashboard shows you various numbers:
  • steps taken today
  • miles traveled today
  • calories burned
  • active score (the number starts at 0 every morning and goes up the more active you are)
There is also a pie chart that shows the time you were:
  • sedentary
  • lightly active
  • fairly active
  • very active
Seeing how active (or NOT active) you are throughout the day is really motivating!


You can also set up a food journal or set weight loss goals, but I haven’t done any of those.

What I Love About My Fitbit
  • Super easy to set up
  • Super easy to wear – you don’t know it’s there
  • Seeing how many steps I have taken really motivates me to make it to at least 10,000 steps every day. I often walk another 2,000 steps at the end of the day, and I know I wouldn’t add the extra activity if I didn’t see the numbers.
  • My home is getting more organized as I am finding ways to walk more! The first couple nights hubby asked me why I was going up and down the stairs so many times, each time carrying only one item….
Things About My Fibit That Can Be a Bit Frustrating
  • The Fitbit only tracks steps. So if I do a barre class or do a  weight lifting session, it hardly adds any steps and looks on my activity graph pretty much the same as if I sat on the couch. It can be frustrating to see almost “no activity” during times I know I worked out hard! But once you remind yourself that the Fitbit keeps only track of steps, it all makes sense…
I am really glad I got the Fitbit. It’s a great tool to keep track of my steps, and by monitoring them, I often motivate myself to walk some more at the end of the day.

Questions: Do you keep track of your miles/steps? Do you keep track of your daily activity in another way? I used to input my workouts into Daily Mile but stopped in the fall. I really liked seeing all my workouts at the end of the week; I may get back to it! Do you keep a food journal? I don’t at the moment and have only done it once for a short time.

In Other News
I am currently “cleaning up” my eating a bit by focusing on whole foods and eliminating coffee, alcohol, and added sugar. Cutting out coffee was very tough and showed me clearly that I had been drinking way too much again. I am looking forward to eating mainly plants for the next 14 days and plan on writing a recap in a few weeks.

Be well,
Andrea

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Back to Meal Planning

I usually plan our meals. It keeps life going smoothly and also helps keep our food budget down. Unfortunately, over the past few months, I didn’t do a very good job planning our meals. I still planned, but not as well as I could have. That is, I didn’t plan meals that used some of the same ingredients (to save money), I didn’t make sure the items in the pantry and freezer got used up, and, most importantly, I didn’t make any new and interesting meals. We pretty much ate the same things over and over again. It got pretty boring.

So I am getting back to planning meals on the blog. One of the things I plan on doing, is cooking beans and lentils on the weekends so that they can be easily added to lunches and dinners during the week. I don’t plan lunches because I usually eat leftovers and the guys often eat a sandwich, and this works. But having some beans and/or lentils around to bulk things up and add some protein will be nice.

I am also going to do most of the prep work on the weekend. Besides cooking beans and lentils, I’ll wash and cut up veggies and fruits and make sure everything is easy to grab. I find we eat a lot more veggies and fruits when they are ready to eat. I’ll also boil eggs for the week.

I’ll also precook some meals on the weekend. Some meals truly taste better on the second or even third day, such as Bolognese sauce. It’s easy to have a pot simmering on the stove while I do other things on the weekend and use the sauce for easy meals during the week. I have also several soup recipes that taste great throughout the week.

As stated before, I plan on using my slow cooker more. I made a couple meals in it over the last few weeks, and they turned out great and everyone loved them.

Finally, I plan to stock the freezer with some homemade frozen meals. By making just a bit more food and taking a few portions away right away and freeze them, we can have another meal to eat on busy nights and save money at the same time.

So here are the meals for this week (Note: Monday’s meal is planned for Monday as it’s leftovers. The other meals are interchangeable, depending on what we feel like.)

Monday: Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce and a salad. I made the sauce on Saturday, so this will be a leftover meal. I bulked up the meat sauce with lots of veggies and used more than twice the veggies that are traditionally used in a Bolognese sauce. The sauce tastes great, and the extra veggies ensured that there is enough for two meals.

Meal 2: Veggie stir fry with over easy eggs over rice. – I used to make this a lot but haven’t in many months. I’m looking forward to this meal.

Meal 3: Grilled salmon with dill and lemon juice and a salad. – I have some frozen wild salmon in the freezer that needs to be used up.

Meal 4: Kimchi stew with chicken. There is some very ripe kimchi in the fridge. It’s a bit too ripe to eat raw, but it’ll be delicious in a stew.

Meal 5: Leftovers and refrigerator and pantry finds. There is usually plenty leftover from the week in the fridge. If not, there is always wild canned salmon and tuna in the pantry. Plus, there is pasta, pasta sauce, rice, etc. In addition, I usually go to the Farmers’ Market on Fridays, so we’ll have some fresh veggies to supplement our meal with.

Questions: Do you plan meals? What’s on your menu this week?

Be well,

Andrea

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Look Back, A Look Ahead, and An Easy Lentil Soup Recipe

2012 was a mixed year. There was certainly lots to be thankful for, but it was also a year that proved to be stressful and unsettling. In the end, I had to remember that every challenge, every life test, ultimately makes us the people who we are.

Looking ahead, I don’t want to set lofty New Year’s goals. Instead, I want to renew my commitment to making healthy choices every single day. This includes some form of daily exercise as well as lots of fresh, unprocessed plant foods. And, of course, it also means the occasional treat.

While my exercise level certainly decreased a lot while I was going through a difficult time in my life, I did manage to stick to several long walks per week. These walks did so much for body and mind. They were my me time, helped me think, breathe, calm down, and provided some much needed physical activity.

Over the past few weeks, I heard and read a lot about the Fitbit Zip, and I decided to give it a shot and ordered it today. Tracking activity and, hopefully, finding some new motivation sounds like a good idea to me. I’ll also continue to lift weights (I’ll have to increase the weight and challenge myself a bit more) as well as take barre classes, which do wonders for my back.

As far as food goes, my plan is to plan more while working within a tighter food budget without sacrificing quality. I hope to blog about some new, healthy, and thrifty meals.

To make life easier, I also plan on using my slow cooker more. The other day, I threw together a very simple lentil soup. The soup turned out very thick and was more like a stew, but we enjoyed it a lot.

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup/Stew

Ingredients
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 32 ounces vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Directions
  • Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker.
  • Stir.
  • Cook on high for about 4 hours.
  • Enjoy!

We spent the past few weeks with my parents. I am beyond grateful that they are both well enough to make the long journey to visit us. We spent a few days at the beach, went to the Farmers’ Market, went on walks, talked and laughed a lot. Here are a few pictures.


Wishing you a Happy & Healthy 2013!

Be well,
Andrea