circumstance-itarian

i just spent a glorious week in rural eastern kentucky where my food options were largely in the hands of others who were proudly and lovingly serving me breaded chicken, fried catfish, succulent ribs, baked beans, green beans flavored with pork fat, fried okra, buttered corn, buttered mashed potatoes, creamy coleslaw, bacon, cheesy grits, a southern salad made of whipped cream and chopped fruit that brought ‘i-miss-my-mema’ tears to my eyes, plates of watermelon, no-bake cookies, ham on white sandwiches, potato chips, platters of broccoli and cauliflower with ranch dressing, and iceberg lettuce salads with sugary dressings.

i list all of this because navigating it humbled me. i had brought my brilliant sugar free homemade trail mix (pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, goji berries and pure cacao), seaweed snacks, brown rice crackers, peanut butter – but nothing substantial enough to take the place of meals. there wasn’t even time to hit a grocery store for basic meats and veggies before heading deep into the country.

and i was fine.

i keep learning things in my sugar shift. this week i learned that i am honing my discipline, but i don’t want to be rigid to the point of self-punishment. in fact, the long-term goal is to be a circumstance-itarian, a term i think i may have created (but am willing to cede creation rights to someone else if i can use to mean this): to have a healthy, local, organic default of food that is very low in sugar (including alcohol, bread, desserts) and high in other fuels that work well for my body (primarily protein, vegetables, good fats) – and to shamelessly revel in the wonders and generosity of the places to which i travel.

this feels crucial, to be open to the wonders of place.

in eastern kentucky the wonders included bourbon, moonshine and ribs. there were lots of other foods which were not unique (like pink cake out of a box), and thus not necessary to me, though my eye kept wandering over to the pink cake and processing childhood memories – pink cake equals birthdays, joy, celebration. and i can process that without eating it.

being able to make the distinction between wanting (i desire that taste in my mouth) versus needing (i need that nourishment for my health) is powerful. i feel my capacity to make the best choice in any given scenario increasing. i don’t always make the best choice, but i can now say i almost always know what it is.

i am also learning the places where i have agency (alcohol, bread, meat) and the places i cannot even dabble a little yet (cookies, sweetened chocolate, chips). all of this is crucial data in this case study of myself.

someone suggested i write a book about this and i am seriously considering at minimum a zine that reflects on the detoxes with rose cole and diane san filippo’s guidance, as well as my own lessons, with somatics, food justice and economic justice lenses on the whole endeavor. because it isn’t just about eliminating sugar – it is tied up in this work of a just transition – how do we bring our human selves, our human bodies, in right relationship to the planet? we stop dousing it all in cane sugar and corn syrup, learn to taste the million sweetnesses of the earth.

i think something about humanity’s future is tied up in this question of sugar, of addiction and nutrition, of nourishment versus feeding a beast inside ourselves. i am playing at a long game here, and i feel more at ease than ever before, more self aware, and thus more free.

what is in your body?

some sugar detox recipes and snack options

i ate a lot of great food during my sugar cleanse and i wanted to share some recipes here that fit within the allowed foods.

for ease, especially in the ravenous moments, i found it helpful to have several portions of brown rice, lentils and/or quinoa cooked up to throw into different dishes. i limited myself to no more than a half cup of either over the course of the day.

similarly, i’ve developed a practice generally of preparing a number of vegetables early in the week for use in various meals, and definitely recommend that for this cleanse – roasting brussels sprouts in olive oil, chili pepper and sea salt in the oven at 375 for 40 minutes; sautéing broccoli and/or kale in nutritional yeast, lemon, olive oil, sea salt, cayenne pepper; slicing onions into long curved pieces and cooking in olive oil; etc.

you’ll notice this, but there are basic ingredients i continuously turned to – olive and/or coconut oil, lemons, sea salt, my favorite vegetables.

1. basic vegetable stir fry
(my sister autumn got me started on this one pre-cleanse with wild rice, sriracha and braggs amino acids/soy sauce. by shifting to brown rice (my preference) and adjusting, it’s become a staple food on or off the cleanse.)

basically: sauté pre-cooked brown rice (or lentils, or quinoa) and vegetables in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, some olive or coconut oil, and half a lemon (or more) until everything is sizzling and starting to get browner. add 1-2 eggs depending on appetite, and keep actively stirring until the egg is cooked. add chili paste, sea salt or lemon, and cayenne pepper to taste.

2. garlic lemon cauliflower

found the basics for this one on the internet and adjusted it to account for the oven being in use by someone else, and not being allowed to put parmesan on it.

take a whole head of cauliflower and cut it down to the smallest florets. cut the stems to be an equivalent size – diced, basically.

heat olive oil in a pan, crush garlic into the olive oil – i go hard on this, 2-4 cloves. stir in the cauliflower and then squeeze lemon over it. i found with ample lemon i didn’t yearn for salt, but that’s up to you.

cook on medium heat, stirring often, for about 12 minutes – you want to see brown on the surface of the cauliflower. consume hot or cold, it’s gorgeous.

3. beet zucchini salad

possibly my favorite food of the cleanse. we are allowed a half cup of beets a day – i took mine grated and raw over peeled and diced zucchini. i added in other ingredients based on availability, including diced fresh tomatoes, cubed avocado, triangulated cucumber, diced red onion, the leftover garlic lemon cauliflower, chopped romaine lettuce.

the dressing for this one is below: olive oil, lemon, sea salt, pepper. if you have access to zatar, or thyme, it’s also stunning on this salad. when not fasting i have also used white wine vinegar to much deliciousness.

4. sesame salmon

this is another brilliant recipe from autumn that is so simple and good it befuddles me.

one of the delicious foods allowed on the cleanse is wild atlantic salmon. so with either frozen salmon (defrost, still in wrapper, in a bowl of cool water for 20 minutes) or fresh, you lay the salmon on aluminum foil atop a baking pan or cast-iron fryer. drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and then cover the surface with sesame seeds.

turn the broiler on and put the salmon in the oven.

after about 3-4 minutes check on it, rearrange it if the sesame seeds are starting to brown (most salmon is taller in the center than on the edges, which can lead to uneven cooking). pull out after about 8 minutes, check the middle to ensure that it is flaky but evenly cooked – the middle is the same color as the top. if the edges are crisped it’s heavenly.

just let it melt in your mouth.

5. easiest salad dressing you can make in restaurant

literally. this was so helpful for my travels. every restaurant i went into had olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. you can either mix it up before putting it on salads, or you can just drizzle, squeeze, shake, shake and toss the salad.

6. smoked salmon omelette

at this point in my life i am mostly pescetarian, especially on the coasts. when i am in places with access to other local grass fed meat i’ll indulge. anyway, salmon is my favorite amongst the fish, and smoked salmon has become a joy to me.

on this cleanse it was not unusual for me to eat 3 oz as a snack, or chopped up into the beet salad. i also LOVED it in omelettes.

drizzle olive or coconut oil into a large saucepan and heat it up. (i like a high heat omelette, but know thyself, you might like it a little less crispy on the outside.) crack open 2-3 eggs (this detox can increase egg intake – i often used only one yolk, if that, when cooking multiple eggs) and whisk with pepper. set it aside.

start with green onions, chopped into little pieces and toss them in the oil. chop up some of your precooked vegetables as small as they will go and add them. crush fresh garlic in next. once everything starts really cooking, pour the egg over it.

lay the smoked salmon along one whole half of the omelette in strips. when the egg starts to bubble, fold it over with a large spatula. it should look and feel perfect at this point, but if there is still any runniness to the eggs (which you can get away with when there’s cheese but is pretty gross sans cheese imho), flip the whole thing over.

eat hot. revel.

when not sugar cleansing i put fresh goat cheese on top while it’s hot.

7. avocado caprese

this one is just lovely.

slice fresh tomatoes into rounds, sliver avocado with a sharp knife, and lay it on top of the tomatoes – for me it serves as a textural equivalent to a mozzarella. i slice my avocado very very thin but it’s up to you.

top with fresh basil, drizzle in olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

***

my favorite snacks throughout the cleanse were salads, freshly ground peanut butter (which my cleanse mentor autumn taught me was available in most health food stores – i had been missing OUT), carrots (which i have had an allergy to for years, but was able to eat again in the third week of the cleanse) and fresh hummus, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, olives, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, and seaweed snacks (read the labels, tho. some flavors – like wasabi – had sugar content).

i didn’t experiment much with lentils, goji berries or ghee. and i found sashimi less intriguing without soy sauce, although dipping it in a dish of sesame oil with wasabi was still satisfying.

would love to hear other recipes as i continue this lifestyle, primarily not eating sugar.

10 sugar cleanse tips for success

so i am nearing the end of a 21 day sugar cleanse. it has been a completely transformational experience. i am at the end of day 18 now and really loving how it feels to have this much agency, and the growing trust i feel in myself that i can set and hold the boundaries i need for my health. i was inspired to do it by my sister, and along the way lots of other friends have joined in. i have also seen folks doing other cleanses, and it’s all incredibly inspiring. and it helps to have people in it with you sharing tips for success.

i wanted to share here some of the best guidance i have received and/or learned:

1. TELL EVERYONE. this came from autumn. i found it to be immensely true, particularly when traveling or when hitting walls where i felt like i couldn’t go on. landing some place and being greeted with, ‘i saw you’re doing a sugar cleanse! how inspiring – how does it feel/work?’ increases accountability ten fold. this also helps when you start to feel your feelings and don’t have sweets/bread/cheese/chocolate/whiskey/potatoes/insert-other-sugar-things-here to turn to. it helps when you can ask for patience and support for behaving like a dragon in a forest getting angry at the trees for being so green and sedentary and burning down everything in sight.

2. NOTICE ALL THE SWEETNESS IN YOUR LIFE. this came from jodie and was right on time. i started the cleanse surrounded by sick sweet babies and an eager sweet puppy dog, supported by my sweet and health oriented partner. i started noticing all the love that flows towards me, everywhere, and leaning in for more hugs, kisses, listening, contact. love multiplies, fills up, wins.

3. DON’T SUBSTITUTE. the goal is not to maintain the sweet tooth with, or shift the dependence to, artificial things. the absence of sugars and sweeteners has actually changed what i am able to taste and what i long for. that is where the freedom comes from – that i am not looking for the sugar in everything, but noticing the wide range of sweet and complex flavors in the whole and healthy foods i can consume.

4. PLAN OUT THE DAY. know where you will be eating, what options will be there for you, and if you need snacks. i have found that i need to eat something roughly every two hours on this cleanse, and the meals can be small, or super nutritious, or just snacks. (grind your own peanut butter (available now at most health oriented grocers) is indulgent decadent heaven. toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, mixed nuts (i liked pistachio/peanut/pecan/walnut), tomatoes sliced and drizzled with oil and sea salt, broccoli and cauliflower marinated in lemon – these are just a few of my favorite snacks.)

5. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. learned this from lynnee: products lie! or they just might be so familiar that you don’t even consider the sugar content – you have to look at the ingredients list and nutritional facts. things like sriracha, kombucha, wasabi seaweed snacks and most salad dressings have some sugar listed. ‘no carbs, no sugar’ is what you are looking for. there are a lot of trends out there now. sugar free, gluten free, raw, organic, vegan, natural. and in a capitalist nation a trend is an opportunity to sell something to people who want to be healthier but may not do due diligence. don’t get mad, get informed.

6. WATCH, FEEL, DON’T WEIGH. look at your body and face in the mirror before you start. take pictures. see what you can notice about the ways you change during the cleanse. don’t spend too much time on the scale, i would say not more than once a week, because during the cleanse you might notice an accelerated speed of weight loss, faster than is sustainable long term. it can become an unhealthy tendency. instead, notice how you look different to yourself. notice how you feel in motion, how your clothes and joints feel.

7. MOVE. your body will especially need sunlight, fresh air, and motion during this time. your body is a divine machine. you want to encourage your body to use the fuel you are giving it, to change how it processes. it helps so much if you move, dance, walk, get the machine going.

8. ENCOURAGE, DON’T EVANGELIZE. learned this one by being evangelized to before i reached this point. i have mostly been able to keep in mind what i’ve learned – inspiration works better than any implication that you know more about my health that i do. everyone comes to these kinds of transformations in their own time, relative to their own struggles. i never thought i could do this, but when the moment was ripe, i fell into it without resistance. my whole being is aligned with this life change.

9. TRANSFORM. i am actively learning this. this doesn’t feel like a temporary detox, it feels like getting clean from an addiction. don’t approach it as a short-term withholding of something you want. think of it as an intentional transformation. you are shape shifting yourself – deciding to shift your body’s main source of energy from sugar to fat. don’t go into it with an intention to get back to deep dish pizza on day 22. start it when you can imagine any sugar other than fruit as a rare thing.

10. WATER IS SACRED. and precious. and drinking outlandish amounts of it helps manage hunger, headaches, how toxins move out through the skin, and just how you feel in your water-based body. i’ve been making the effort to empty my water bottle before breakfast and after every other meal, as well as sipping in between. my whole system is functioning beautifully, i’m sleeping more deeply, and i just love how my skin feels as a result.

that’s all for now, i will update again once it’s done. and if you do this cleanse, i want to hear about it!

healing out loud/claiming frida

(drafted this last week on the road)

feb 24, 2014

last week i received my contributor copies of the anthology dear sister: letters from survivors of sexual violence. my piece in it, called “awakening”, was written about two years ago. it is about ‘how i was smart, how i survived long enough to fall in love with myself.’

it was so exciting to read where i was in my healing process at that point in my life. one of the paragraphs talked about my weight – how i gained weight for protection, as many people do. and how i tried losing it a variety of times and ways, but when people began to give me a certain kind of attention, i would lose my courage and go back to my pizza and chocolate beloveds. after years, decades of this, i finally felt ready for the change to begin.

i went on my sabbatical in 2012 with a goal of learning what health looks like for me. what i learned is that i had to really love myself, my body, as it was. and from that loving awareness, i would understand what transformation, if any, was needed.

in the dear sister essay i write about some of the ways i started healing and falling in love with myself leading up to and during that journey.

in that loving place, when i sought the answer to what health meant to me, i found i longed for strength, for the capacity to run and play with the kids in my life, to have a real chance at surviving any sci-fi apocalyptic conditions i could imagine, and to enjoy sex and pleasure without shame.

i learned that i would need to do it all at my own pace.

it’s important for me to notice how far i have come. in my early twenties i was eating pizza, hot pockets, fast food, candy, bread. since then i have learned so much about sustaining myself – how to cook delicious vegetables without meat or sugar displacing the nutritional value, how to make a salad dressing that transformed my relationship to raw vegetables, how to juice, how to shop the outer edge of the grocery store (veggies, fruit, fish, eggs) rather than the inner aisles (snacks, candy, cereals). and i have been actively practicing yoga for two years now, getting my body stronger and more flexible.

i have also been doing major healing work through somatics – learning to access and understand my whole self through the sacred ground of my body.

so it was thrilling to receive this essay about healing from trauma back into my life now, when i am almost halfway through a 21-day sugar cleanse. it feels like the next radical step in this lifelong journey of mine. and it feels like i have come far enough into my body to really notice, with curiosity and tenderness, the ways trauma still shapes me.

i started doing weight watchers earlier this year, which for me includes tracking my food and wearing an activity tracker. i felt like i had made a lot of shifts in terms of my health, and wanted to raise awareness now about eating and exercise. it was illuminating – i was still eating larger portions, eating worse when i traveled (which is a lot of my life), and being more sedentary than i want to be. i made changes with that awareness, but kept hitting pleateaus, particularly when i traveled. two pounds forward, one pound back.

the sugar cleanse came in because what i observed was that i had the hardest time controlling chocolate, bread, alcohol. i first cut out bread, and quickly learned that lots of the gluten free alternatives are also mostly sugar. i needed to know if sugar was keeping me plateau’d in my health. my sister starting the cleanse provided the perfect opportunity to do this from a state of inspiration and solidarity.

writing about it, sharing it, has been immensely vulnerable and powerful. i realize that actually a lot of my writing, here, in more formal essays, and even the fiction i am writing, is an examination of myself, my healing process.

which brings me to frida.

my bathroom walls are covered in self-portraits of frida kahlo. in fact, she has a presence in every room of the house. thinking about my writing, my subject, my passion, i feel i have to invoke her constantly as an ancestor who has made it not just ok but radical to create my art as an exploration of my life. she once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best … I think that little by little I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.”

her work as a queer, disabled woman of color was radical because it presented her beauty, her strength, her struggles, her resilience. things not yet to be assumed but claimed, carved out against all societal brainwashing to the contrary.

i feel similarly about my journey, though my medium is less often visual arts (though i will have three pieces up at the carr center exhibition on feminisms this month), and i dare not presume the talent of frida. but i am locating transformation at a level i can see, decipher, understand – myself. i am sharing that as transparently as i can in my art, knowing that the conversation i want to be part of at this time in history is how those of us who were supposed to be invisible instead became very loud, very whole, very powerful, very beautiful, and very joyful. very full, capable of creating our own healing journeys wherein we realize we are examining the breadth of societal trauma through the lens of ourselves.

to claim that full, whole space, i think we must claim the artists and ancestors who worked before us to carve it out. i have been claiming octavia, audre. i want to go on record as also claiming frida. she, too, is my sister.