Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lunch Diaries - April Edition

Happy Earth Day!

Since I've started my new job, I'm getting back into the groove of having a more regular routine of Monday to Friday work. I have the pleasure of working from home a couple of days and then I'm in the office/kitchen on the others. It's been great inspiration for me to get back to meal planning and packing lunches - which is a great way to support the earth (and my wallet!)

I've had some yummy things pinned on various boards for awhile, so it's been awesome to try out some new recipes to make and bring for lunches. I happily enjoyed this spiralized zucchini salad a couple of times last week - it was super easy and delicious!

I'm not always awesome at preparing meals in advance (unless I make something for dinner, or do some batch prep) so I really appreciate lunches I can pull together in 10 minutes or less in the morning. This was definitely fit that criteria! I also added some goat cheese for some extra oomph and it was perfect.

To make this citrus kale salad with tahini dressing, I picked up some beautiful organic heirloom carrots to roast.

This was another easy one to make, outside of prepping the grapefruit - does anyone have any tips for ditching the pith?? I happily did and it was worth the effort, but there HAS to be an easier way, no? Loved this salad and all the components and the carrots were a beautiful, colourful touch.

On the weekend, Corbin and I had a super cute bike date in the sunshine and headed to Maha's for lunch!

I want to do a full post about my love for Maha's at some point in the future. I've been lucky to know Maha and her family for years, after I met them when I was in high school and volunteered with a youth choir. I had the pleasure of enjoying Maha's cooking and recipes and was so excited when her passion led her to opening a restaurant. It is nothing short of amazing.

On Saturday, Corbin and I landed the coziest corner of the restaurant, which was the perfect spot to enjoy my foule (a bean dish) with sunny eggs and cumin homefries. So good!

The spices, the texture, the flavours, the mix of old and new - everything at Maha's is divine and it's wonderful to see friends doing what they love! More on Maha's to come.

Do you have any go-to lunches that you love to pack?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

This is 31.

When I was a kid, I definitely thought of people in their 30's as grown up. They had jobs, and kids, and a partner. I imagined that you attended post secondary education and then went off into the magical land of "grown up" where they had their shit figured out.

Well, I'm 31 today and I'm still working on it.

I went to a private college for musical theatre. I've had the opportunity to perform in shows (some amazing, some awful), be onstage, act silly in commercials, create my own work and get paid to do what I love.

I've had a multitude of jobs, quit jobs, been fired and acquired an eclectic skill set that includes musical theatre, administration, social media, event planning, customer service, nutrition, writing, health & weight loss coaching and being an executive assistant.

I've been single, engaged, dating and in relationships of various commitment levels.

I have no children, and don't have aspirations for that to change.

I still have friends I've known since I was 6, have collected friends from all areas of my life and enjoy making new friends (though I've discovered that it's a bit more challenging to do so as a so-called adult)

I've lost weight, gained it back, lost it again and have been more active than the gal who quit gym after grade 9 ever would have imagined. I've come to love my body and working actively towards nourishing it.

I've been faced with my fair share of challenges in the form of loss, health, decisions and relationships. It hasn't always been easy, but I've learned a lot and have always come out stronger on the other side.

I've travelled to England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, St. Lucia and various places in the states including New York City, Las Vegas and Florida. I'll be expanding my Canadian horizons later this year with trips to Calgary and Halifax. It's a good start, but there's so much of the world I've yet to see.

I also still buy bows to wear in my hair from the children's section and got really excited about jammies with owls on them on the weekend. Aged 31 or 4? I'm not sure sometimes.

That being said, I'm pretty stoked for what this year is going to look like.

I accepted my dream job last week and had my first day yesterday. I finally feel like my eclectic skill set is going to be well utilized in a job that challenges and fulfils me, which is so exciting. I'm in an amazing relationship with the kindest, most generous and amazing man and I have fantastic friends who are rocking their own dreams. I feel fit, healthy and strong and love my role as a coach where I get to help others do the same! I'm really looking forward to some amazing travel this year around North America and am looking forward to getting to Europe soon too.

So maybe I'm not the "grown up" I imagined I would be, but that's really ok. 31 is gonna be just fine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Be Awesome in April

Hi hi! I'm back!! I'll be posting later in the week about where I've been and what I've been up to this month (spoiler alert: it wasn't super fun and involved a godzilla flu!)

The temperatures are getting warmer (ish) and spring is here. Can you believe we've already gone through a fourth of this year? Time flies!! Spring means yummy green veggies, fewer parkas and boots PLUS more sunshine - hooray!

With a new month upon us, it means that it is also time for a new challenge group! My guys and gals this month have been seriously impressive, working their butts off with their workout programs and meal plans, drinking Shakeology and completing daily bonus workouts. (They were pretty angry at me on burpee day, but I assigned them with love).

Today we were talking about body positivity after I was inspired by watching Matt Diaz's video over the weekend, where he talks about finding acceptance of his body after losing 270 lbs and having loose skin and stretch marks. (So inspiring!!) We've also been sharing yummy snack ideas, like these tasty looking deviled avocado eggs and cheering one another on as folks have shared their awesome progress this month (like one challenger who lost another 7 inches!!) It's positive, motivating and it is incredible to see and hear about the progress that my challengers are making!!

Beachbody Coach Ashley

I have 4 spots left for people looking to join our April group which begins on Monday April 6th. If you're looking to make a healthy change in your life, want to feel great in your spring / summer wardrobe, need a little boost in your motivation or would benefit from being surrounded by a group of positive, welcoming and awesome people making changes in their own lives, we would love to have you!

You'll pick a program of your choice to align with your goals, needs and preferences, as well as set yourself up for success with Shakeology and a stellar nutrition plan. You'll get to join our private Facebook group, connect with like-minded people and I'll be there to help you every step of the way. Sound like something you're into? Fill out the form below and let's get you set up to be awesome in April!!

Fill out my online form.
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Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Year with "Clinical" Depression, How I Fought Back and Still Fight Every Day

Thank you to everyone who contributed, read, shared and discussed the Life is Sweet series this year. This isn't about a day or a month of posts though, we need to keep the conversation going every single day. With 1 in 5 people being directly impacted by a mental health concern and the other 4 knowing someone who is impacted directly, it really is up to all of us to talk, share, support, help & hug. 

My friend Esther shared this post on her Facebook for Bell Let's Talk Day and I'm happy to round out our month of posts with it here. 

I always knew I was depressed, from the time I was about 13 years old. Last year, which was 15 years later, I decided to finally seek a Doctor's help.

2014 was the year I was diagnosed as depressed with high anxiety. I cried tears of relief and sadness when I was told. What I'd known for years was confirmed and validated by a medical professional. It was a relief to know I wasn't just feeling this way for years, for no reason. It was also really scary. You think "Now that this is "real", what now? Will it get better? How will my life change?"

I was put on an anti-depressant known as Effexor (Venlafaxine), a drug for treating severe depression and anxiety. I did not know then that I was being introduced to the devil.

Let me say right now that my Nurse at the Artists' Health Centre (an AMAZING resource by the way for any professional artists) gave me fair warning about Effexor. She told me that going on Effexor is one thing, but if I ever no longer wanted the meds, I would have an uncomfortable time getting off of them. How I wish I'd taken her words to heart. Or at least Googled or something to see what she meant. More about my hell time getting off the meds in a minute.

First, let's chat about Effexor. It causes a whole school of side effects (as do most anti-depressants), and I don't even think they are really "side effects". These things happen. Period. Last year I gained about 20 pounds, even though I was eating healthier than ever and exercising. The weight gain made me even more depressed, and shot what little self-esteem I had left. So what was the Doctor's answer? MORE MEDS! My dosage was upped. Eventually I started losing interest in everything, and feeling very numb. Nothing made me genuinely excited anymore. And guess what? Those are some of the very symptoms of depression. So it seemed the anti-depressants weren't really so... anti, after all. There had to be a better way. Maybe even a less expensive way (Oh that's right, not only were the anti-depressants turning me numb, my wallet was sobbing too).

Last summer, I started looking to natural alternatives, and high doses of good quality vitamins. I started reading about the link between serotonin and depression. Many research studies suggest serotonin imbalance in the body as a root cause of depression. So, how then does one boost serotonin naturally without pharmaceuticals? Through diet and exercise.

I despise exercising. I really do. I've hated it since Grade school when everyone else got their golden 'Kilometre Club' popsicle sticks while I could barely get a blue one because I sucked at running. However - many people have said it, and I now agree, that the best medication for depression is exercise. I work out every day now. Even if it's just half an hour. I still do not like it. But I do it. And I'm trying to get better at it.

As for diet, the bad news is, there are no foods that directly boost serotonin production. The good news is, another natural chemical in the body known as tryptophan, which is the amino acid from which serotonin is made, is found in lots of good foods! Fun fact, taking a really good quality B-6 Vitamin increases the rate at which tryptophan is converted into serotonin. And the best part is - no gaining 20 pounds, or other nasty side effects that come from the "do not want" chemicals in my Effexor.

Speaking of the Effexor - flash forward to December 2014. I decided it was time to end my relationship with this drug. Oh, but it certainly wasn't ready to release its hold on me. I'd gotten down to the lowest possible dose, 37.5mg, and tried 'cold turkey' at first, then tried gradually decreasing the dosage by removing 'granules' inside the capsules. Day 1 was the worst thing I've possibly ever experienced, and I thought, "Well, at least it can't get any worse, right?" WRONG. The withdrawal symptoms just kept getting more severe. Let's go over a a few, shall we?

 - "Brain Zaps": This is the biggest one when coming off Effexor. It basically feels like someone is coming along and jolting your brain repeatedly for about 10 seconds until you nearly faint. That happened approximately every three minutes.
- Nausea, cramping, and vomiting: All three. It was great! (Said no one ever.)
- Unstoppable crying at any given time: Oh so THERE'S where all my tears went in the last year. I was in rehearsals for a show at the time, and every time the stage manager called break or lunch I would run to the bathroom and sob. Why? No reason. At all.
- Night Terrors: Basically extreme nightmares every night.
- Night Sweats: The only reprieve from the night terrors was waking up. But covered in night sweats. So that wasn't too great either.
- Dizziness: All the damn time.

Those were honestly a small fraction of the withdrawal symptoms. Effexor had effectively kicked my ass and I had zero fight left in me. I had no choice but to go back on the meds, at least until my show closed. It was devastating. I continued throughout the run of my show to read other people's stories on Effexor, and how they beat it. It was heartbreaking to read other people's battles with trying to free themselves from the clutch of this awful drug. Then I came across one woman's story of how she got off Effexor by doing something called 'Prozac bridging", a method where you gradually decrease the Effexor, then take a very low dose of Prozac, until you are left with just Prozac. Then, you take the Prozac one day on, one day off, then one day on, two days off, and so on and so forth.

I wasn't too sure about mixing the medications, or if it would work, so once I returned home from Ottawa from my show contract, I went back to the Artists Health Centre and chatted with my nurse about the Prozac bridging article I'd read. She admitted she wasn't sure about it herself, and consulted a couple colleagues who had heard of this process, and said it was safe to do, so long as I was on the lowest dose of Effexor. Green light. The first couple days were tough, but I certainly wasn't having any severe side effects like I was having the first time I tried to go off of it. It got easier every day.

I am so incredibly proud to say that today, January 28th 2015, is Day 5 for me of being totally medication free. 

So - am I still 'depressed'? Yes. It's a medical condition and unfortunately that will not go away. But I've learned and adapted to better ways of treating my depression, like exercising every day. Also, eating foods that contain high amounts of tryptophan that'll boost serotonin production, and taking really good quality vitamins... in particular, liquid Vitamin D (absorbed much faster in the bloodstream, therefore works quicker!), B-6, Niacin (B-3), and a solid multi vitamin. I'm also taking natural supplements called 5-HTP which produces tryptophan to move along that serotonin boosting, and Ashwaghanda which helps anxiety and stress disorders. Know what else I love? Essential orange oil. A couple drops in my hands, then breathing it in for about 10 seconds. Immediate mood booster. 

Am I happier treating my depression this way? You bet. I'm not there yet and it's going to take awhile, but I can find little bits of myself returning. I'm starting to feel like a better version of myself every day, and a more present version of myself. I am so, so incredibly grateful for that.

Esther is a Toronto native and works as a musical theatre performer. She is a lover of all things pink, Disney, girly, and frilly. You can usually find her around Toronto riding on her pink bicycle while belting out a showtune or five. Esther is also currently pursuing her side passion - learning about holistic nutrition.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Yesterday was Fine, Wasn't It?

I received this post this week and then received an almost identical message following my post on my mom's death anniversary on Tuesday. This is why the Life is Sweet series and sharing my story alongside so many others is so important to me. We are not alone. 

There are often times I don’t know how to deal with my feelings. Many days I feel fine, but then all of sudden, like from out of nowhere, BOOM, I feel every awful feeling at once. Sadness, hatred, anger, unappreciated, overwhelmed; as if I’m drowning in my own feelings. I can’t control myself in those moments, I’m 30 and still can’t figure out a way to control my feelings like a fully functioning adult should. I run to the bathroom or anywhere I can lock myself from everyone else and cry and scream and think all sorts of horrible thoughts.

In that moment I think of how much better my family would be without me. Or would they be?

They wouldn’t have to witness my breakdowns; my children might have a better chance at self-control, since I am certainly not a great teacher of that particular skill. Then as I think of how I would do it, how I could end my life, I stop, breathe and think of how my friend has felt ever since losing her mother while we were in grade school. Her mom unfortunately succumbed to these types feelings.

I think of the wonderful things I would miss with my children, and how hurt my family would be. How would my husband raise our kids on his own? Even though it might put an immediate end to my internal fight, what would happen to everyone else? Then I cry harder, wishing so much that I could control myself, my feelings, and my thoughts. I think, "what just happened in that moment to push me over the edge? Yesterday was fine, wasn’t it?"

Many times I’ve attempted to get help. Seeing many different counselors, taking classes, trying to start exercising regularly (which for one reason or another never happens). I feel I have not yet found someone who is able to properly assist me. I am trying very hard not take meds yet as I want to try all the natural methods I can first. It’s not have I think there is anything wrong with medication, but I’ve watched my mom take it since I was in elementary school and I just always hoped I could find an alternative. However, I also am more aware that it might end up being the only thing that will help. 

Since depression and anxiety run in my family I knew it was something that I needed to be mindful of, though I often try to deny these feelings. I’m still searching for help, and know that I want to feel better for myself, my children and my family. I want to be the mom, daughter, sister, wife and friend that people deserve for me to be. I just am still unsure of how to get there. I hope I will find someone who is able to help me soon so that I could at least have the tools to take control of my feelings.

Though it’s bittersweet, I think the thought of my friend and her mom helps keep me from doing the unthinkable. I was lucky to have known her and she raised a beautiful human being in her short time here.