Sunday, August 30, 2009

I Made It

Yesterday was the 21st day of my vegan cleanse, and I made it through. 21 days with no alcohol, caffeine, gluten, animal products or sugar, with just a few minor slip-ups here and there. Here are some of the things I saw:

Sleep - My sleep improved dramatically. I used to have a lot of difficulty waking in the middle of the night, hitting the snooze, feeling tired all day, etc. During the cleanse, I would fall asleep around 10 or 11, sleep straight through, and wake up refreshed. The one day I introduced a bit of caffeine, that reversed.

Energy Levels - My blood sugar has always been a problem, and I was always plagued by mid-afternoon tiredness. Not on the cleanse. Blood sugar stayed level all day, without the gnawing hunger or pitches into exhaustion. The one day I had a bit of sugar (and I do mean a bit - one bite of a vegan brownie), again, that all reversed.

Digestion - I used to think having stomachaches all the time was normal for me. It's not. Last night, I tried a bit of pad thai - which for all intents and purposes should have been gluten-free. According to boards I've read though, apparently something in the sauce has wheat in it. Guess what?

Sinus - Sinus congestion and headaches were a normal, everyday thing for me. I would take Advil and Sudafed every single day. I am not kidding. Usually more than once. After about a week and a half on the cleanse, it occurred to me that I hadn't taken either in more than a week. I still have congestion, but it's livable and has only required allergy meds once (on a particularly foggy, polleny day).

Appearances - My skin looks a lot better, and my dandruff nearly went away. In addition, I've lost at least 15 pounds. I'll weigh in at my doctor next week (don't own a scale), but I had lost 12 pounds when I weighed in there at the two week mark. None of my pants fit anymore, that's for sure.

So, basically, I feel about a zillion times better. The few forays into adding some of these foods back has - as I pointed out above - not been too successful. I'm also having a skin problem that could be a reaction to a new cosmetic - or an allergic reaction to soy. I'm keeping an eye on that.

I will do some more experimenting with adding things back one by one. But, having seen that I could live without some of the symptoms I thought were just the way I was, I honestly am thinking of eating like this permanently. Here are my thoughts below:

Caffeine: Eliminate. This was the easiest to give up, and the easiest to substitute other things for. (I can even still go to Starbucks with friends, since their vanilla Rooibos tea is naturally caffeine free, and makes a mean latte with soymilk.) It was also the most dramatic change.

Animal Products (Dairy): Leaning toward Eliminate. At one point, I'm pretty sure I got some dairy in a smoothie, and my head immediately filled with congestion and I started sneezing. Looking back on it, I'd get the same reaction when I drank milk straight or ate ice cream. I'm thinking that dairy might trigger my worst sinus reactions, but I'm going to probably do a little more experimenting.

Animal Products (Meat and Shellfish): Avoid, Possibly Eliminate. I'm not quite ready to call myself a full-time vegetarian yet. I may well eat a little turkey at Thanksgiving, etc. But as a day-to-day thing, I don't miss it, and it's getting harder to ignore how that cow or chicken got turned into the meat on my plate. Mostly, I'll be eating vegetarian.

Gluten: Leaning toward Eliminate. My guess is that I'm at least sensitive to gluten, although some things seem okay (I didn't have a bad reaction to a Boca burger I had). I'm going to test it, but right now, I'm leaning away from it.

Sugar: Avoid. If I eliminate gluten and dairy, that cuts out a whole lot of sweets for me. But the occasional piece of candy, etc. won't kill me, as long as I'm willing to take the sugar hit. It will be an occasional treat, though, because it really does make me ravenous and tired.

Alcohol: Have on a limited basis. This is probably where I will have my occasional "treat". I don't think having a drink every week or so will kill me, and it's a big part of my social life. I enjoy my wine, and as long as I keep it to the occasional drink, I'm okay with adding this back in.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Potato-Leek Soup

Now, you totally don't have to cook on the vegan cleanse diet. But, I definitely think it helps. I've been making big batches of things (beans, quinoa, polenta, vegetable stock, soup) so that I can have hot, handy meals throughout the week.

I found this recipe on Oprah's site and have been eating my way through the pot all week. It's delicious, hearty and filling. I'm reprinting the recipe as is, but I did make some modifications. I'll note them below. The recipe recommends straining it, but I actually liked the chunky texture with the bits of cashews, so I skipped that step.

Potato and Leek Soup

Serves 6—8

  • 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped Spanish onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 4 cups peeled and chopped russet potatoes
  • 2 cups chopped leeks (white part only)
  • 5 cups filtered water
  • 1/2 cup soaked cashews
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the celery, potato and leeks and sweat, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Remove the soup from the heat.

Place in a blender or food processor along with the cashews and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Modifications: I used a lot less onion (about half a yellow onion) and substituted homemade vegetable stock for the water. I thought this gave it more flavor. As I said above, I didn't strain it after blending it with my immersion blender.

I do think it needed quite a bit of salt.

Note: Soaked cashews, it seems, just means covering them in water and leaving them for a while. I left mine overnight. They were much softer and easier to blend, and there was a film of oil on the surface of the water that got poured off.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Hardest Part

First of all, going without animal products, gluten, sugar, alcohol and caffeine is not hard. Really, it's not.

The hardest part is how everyone reacts when you tell them what you're doing.

"Oh, that's terrible!"

"What do you eat?!"

"How are the figs and oats working out for you?"

Everyone acts like I've just been sentenced to prison, or worse. I get the gamut from shock to pity to the sideways glances you give the crazy guy on the street with balloons taped to his hat. (Seriously. Saw him today.)

And the truth is, it's really not that bad. In fact, it's pretty good. I am actually loving the food I'm eating, and I eat a lot. Even though the total calorie count is still between 1300-1500 a day, I hardly feel deprived. Take today for instance:

Breakfast - Cup of steel-cut oatmeal with soy milk and fresh blueberries
Lunch - Large spinach and spring green salad with veggies, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, tofu squares, olive oil and balsamic vinegar; mixed fruit for dessert (watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, grapes)
Dinner - Potato-leek soup with cashews

I also had a banana and I could have had a coconut bar (naturally gluten free and vegan!), but I was just too full.

See? I'm hardly deserving of sympathy.

And the truth is, I feel better than I have in years. I look better than I have in years. And judging by the way my clothes fit, I wouldn't be surprised to find out I've already lost 10-12 pounds.

So, don't feel sorry for me. Really. I'm okay. In fact, I'm pretty darn good.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


So, it's not directly related to eating vegan, but...

I've always wanted to try fencing. I've thought about it for years, but one thing or another got in the way. I was too poor, too fat, too old. There was no convenient place to learn. I could never work it in around work.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I saw a flyer for a group called Coastside Academy of Fencing. They were starting beginning classes right here in Pacifica. I wrote down the information and emailed them almost immediately, and was given a friendly invite to come and take a class.

Now, normally, I would have found a million reasons not to go, and I did feel too old, fat and in too much pain (what with my feet) to be any good. But I showed up anyway. Fortunately for me (as it turns out), no one else showed up to the class, so I basically got a free hour and a half lesson in the basics.

The Maestro is an older Polish man with a bit of a paunch, but he's fast. He was a three-time national champion in Poland, but he wasn't the least bit intimidating at all. He was sweet and supportive and completely non-threatening. I was just going to "watch", but in no time I found myself masked and suited and trying to hit him.

Now, I sucked. I'll be honest. And my feet are going to make it hard for me to be as fast as I need to be. But I didn't suck nearly as badly as I could have, and I actually felt pretty good at times. He pointed out that we normally don't go from "This is what a sabre looks like" to a 5-touch bout in 90 minutes, but he thought I could handle it. So I must have done well for a raw beginner.

I signed up for lessons through the rest of August, and after that we'll see.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On the Seventh Day

So, I've made it through the first week of the Quantum Wellness Cleanse, and I'm still going.

I didn't have the best day on Friday, to be honest. It was my friend J's birthday, which meant it was all about him. First, we have a tradition of baking each others' birthday cakes, so I made him a huge coconut layer cake. I didn't have a piece (I heard it was delicious), but there was quite a bit of licking of fingers and beaters. So, I broke the no-sugar rule. And the no-eggs rule, I guess.

Then, we took him to lunch at one of his favorite places to eat: Perbacco. There were a few vegetarian options, and I had a nice summer peach salad followed by an absolutely delicious black rice risotto with fingerling potatoes on the side. Everyone else was trying each others' food, and still agreed that my meal - the only vegetarian meal on the table - was the best.

That said, I'm pretty sure that the risotto had dairy in it (parmesan cheese at the least) and the potatoes were cooked in animal fat (which sounds gross, now that I say it like that). Also, I went dumb for a second and ordered an iced tea. I drank it all before I remembered that I was off caffeine and that, duh, iced tea has caffeine in it.

(As an interesting side note, I've been sleeping way better the past few nights - going to sleep at a reasonable hour, not waking up and getting up refreshed. All that went away last night, so apparently even a small dose of caffeine has major effects on me. Good to know.)

Anyway, with the exception of those few slip-ups yesterday, I stuck to the plan all week. And even those weren't all THAT bad. I did notice that after lunch, while I was slower than usual, I wasn't falling asleep in meetings like I had on previous outings to that restaurant. And I didn't have a stomachache.

On the positive side, I'm constantly hitching up my jeans now - the ones I just bought a month ago to go to London, and that fit perfectly then.

So, onwards. We'll see what Week 2 brings.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Subtle Changes

I woke up gently with the sun this morning (Day Four) at 6am, a full thirty minutes before my alarm was due. I stretched, rolled over and thought:

"Holy &$*%! Did I sleep through the night?"

Yes, for the first time I can remember, I slept straight through. I didn't wake up repeatedly and struggle to get back to sleep. Coincidence or pattern? It's too early to tell. We shall see.

There have been other changes, too - subtle yet pretty powerful to me. My digestion (not to put too fine a point on it) has normalized, and my pants DO seem a bit looser. My skin seems to look better as well; one of my friends mentioned that my face looked different ... better.

(Granted, J peered at me for a long time before declaring: "I don't see it." But. Still.)

Food's been fine. I tried a couple of new things. I had the scary rice/pecan/gluten-free bread, toasted with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter. And you know what? It was pretty freaking good! I also tried quinoa, which I made into a pilaf according to instructions in The Joy of Cooking. I used the fresh vegetable stock I made the other night, and a bit of minced garlic, to add flavor.

Emotional stuff is still ongoing. I'm noticing that people seem more "attracted" to me - as if I'm being more open. I'm getting a lot of social invitations. I may go into the whole "emotional detox" thing more later in the week, but I don't have the energy tonight.

I tried to hike tonight, but my busted feet said, "" So, I'm staying in and resting, even though it's perfect hiking weather. Gotta learn how to let go...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day Two and More Drama

So, let's start off with what I had to eat today. I obviously had a lot of snacks, to stave off hunger since it was my first "real" day on the Cleanse. Still, I landed around 1400 calories all told, which means I will definitely end up losing weight if I keep this up every day. We'll see.

Today's menu:

Breakfast - 1 cup steel-cut oatmeal, 1 cup soy milk, 1 small banana
Lunch (provided) - 1 cup split pea soup, and 1 cup (or so) mixed, cut-up fruit
Snacks (spread through day) - small banana, 1 1/2 tbls. hummus with cherry tomatoes and carrots, 1 oz. cashews
Dinner - 1 cup pinto beans

I didn't have brown rice as planned with dinner because I was hungry and tired and couldn't be bothered. I didn't get quite enough veggies, but that was partly because I forgot I was going to be at a seminar over lunch where food would be provided. Fortunately, they'd pre-ordered some vegetarian-friendly meals, and they set aside the one that fit my needs best - soup and a fruit salad. Not perfect, but better than a sharp stick in the eye.

I didn't really feel hungry, and I didn't feel deprived. The food is, actually, pretty good.

Today's drama:

Continuing yesterday's theme, I ended up with broken heart (stupid guys) and self-esteem issues that I would normally have deadened with food. But hummus and cherry tomatoes don't exactly have the same effect. I hope this eases up, because I don't think I can take the constant 'testing' I'm feeling now.

Worst, though, was that two of my good friends actually expressed doubt to me that I could do this. One said, "You'll be crying for steak within a week" - a sentiment the other basically repeated (in not so many words).

Well. Fine. Thanks for your support.


I responded to the crazy with another long hike this afternoon. Looks like that will be my panacea during this Cleanse.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Into the Fire

At the end of Day One, I feel pretty confident that I can do the food part of this Cleanse. I also feel pretty confident that the emotional part is going to be rubbish.

First, the Food.

Yes, there IS stuff you can eat on this diet. I went to both Whole Foods and Safeway, and while I spent more than I wanted on this trip, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of good stuff to start.

In addition to the typical fruits and veggies, I got some WF hummus (which is very tahini-y, and which I happen to adore), quinoa (which I've never tried before), lots of beans and brown rice, steel-cut oatmeal, soy milk and these gluten-free soy burgers that are supposed to be good. (Though I leave the relativity of good out in the open until I try them.) I also got some gluten-free bread (which looks scary) and natural, no-sugar peanut butter.

One thing I did notice is that there does tend to be a lot of stuff that's vegan but not gluten-free, and vice versa. Or it's both, but has sugar in it. So, that's not so awesome.

Still, I felt like I got plenty of food, and I made a vegetable stock tonight that has my house smelling as homey as any chicken stock did.

Now, as to the Emotion...

Granted, today is the day B goes back to her dad's, and that's always a terrible day. I was actually doing okay, until I read something that - rightly or wrongly - hurt my feelings. Then the weeping started.

Unfortunately, the first thing I recognized was that all of my usual self-medication suspects - a glass of wine in a hot bath, a heavy meal followed by an even heavier dessert - were gone. I had to sit with that feeling, and it kind of sucked.

Kathy Freston warned that this would happen during the Cleanse, but I didn't think it would happen the first day!!

Anyway, I worked through it. I gave myself permission to rest, and then took a long hike. About halfway through, I found myself on a point overlooking the ocean, and I meditated for a while about all the good things in my life. At one point, I whispered, "I'm proud of you" ... and I really meant it.

I still cried a little, but I think I felt better than I would have if I'd had a glass of wine and a steak.


The Quantum Wellness Cleanse

Okay, this is the book I'm using for my vegan cleanse: Kathy Freston's Quantum Wellness Cleanse.

This is, apparently, the Cleanse that Oprah did a while back. I don't watch Oprah. But I hear she's awesome.

Anyhow, I've been dealing with some diagnoses lately (nothing serious) that I've read could be caused by certain foods. Theory is that if you eliminate those foods, the symptoms will go away. But since you don't know which foods match up to which symptoms, you have to eliminate them ALL AND LET GOD SORT IT OUT!

Or something.

I was a little overwhelmed by all the choices of "cleanses" and such out there, and I didn't have much luck designing a program of my own. That's when my friend Risey dropped this on my desk.

At its heart, this is a pretty simple program: get rid of everything. It seems that way at least. For 21 days you get no meat, milk, eggs, gluten (which is in everything, apparently), caffeine, sugar or alcohol. After that, I can add things back slowly to see what affects me.

The book's divided into 21 days and each day includes not only deeper information about the diet and why you're doing this, but meditations and visualizations. This cleanse is part of Freston's larger idea of "Quantum Wellness", which uses diet, exercise, self-work, meditation, etc., etc. to help you be a happier person.

And Lord, do I want to be a happier person.

I actually like the exercises, because it gives me something to do every day instead of cry about the food I can't have.

There are lots of recipes and a grocery list, too.

It seems straightforward and simple to follow, even if the diet itself may not be. She makes no promises of great cures achieved, though she clearly believes you'll feel better if you do this for three weeks.

We'll see. I can do anything for three weeks. Right?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Grand Re-Opening

Kung Foo Cinema is back in business.

I used this blog name a while back as a place to record thoughts, daily life, etc. I closed it down for a while, but I'm now picking it back up again. Part of the impetus is that I find I have things to say that require more space than a 140-character tweet. (Though Lord knows, I love my Twitter.)

Mostly, I'm re-opening the Cinema because of the big challenge I'm taking on.

Starting tomorrow, August 9th, 2009, I'll be starting the Quantum Wellness Cleanse. I'll go into a lot more detail in the coming days, but in a nutshell, for 21 days I will not consume:
  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Gluten
  • Animal Products
I've already cut out caffeine and alcohol, and except for a withdrawal headache from the caffeine, I should be fine there. I'm not overly worried about sugar; I've cut it before and while I expect to be sluggish for a while, I can give it up for three weeks.

Gluten and animal products, though, I've never tried living without, so this should be interesting.

Again, I'll go into more detail (probably more than you'd want) - both about my reasons for doing this and the Cleanse itself - in later posts. But I'm glad you're here, and I'm looking forward to it.