Aiming to Thrive - The Evolution of my Diet

Since beginning my weight loss journey in 2006, my diet has been in constant evolution.

I first started by cutting out the crap, cooking more and eating more fruits and veggies. Eating healthier was an integral stepping stone for doing an elimination diet to help manage my Crohn's (and within two weeks being symptom free) and then in the summer of 2009 going vegan.

And for a long time, being gluten free and vegan was a great thing for me. I felt healthy. And symptom free. And happy. It felt like the right diet for me and was easy to maintain.

And then I started to question whether my diet was still the most optimal. With health being the primary focus of my transition to gluten free veganism, I wanted to ensure that I was still thriving. I was confident that I was making healthy choices and was nutritionally balanced, but I just started to wonder if it was still entirely right for me. I wasn't feeling awesome all the time and started to doubt that I was giving my body everything it needed with the foods that were available within my dietary choices.

When I was in St. Lucia last year, the doubts started to creep in even more. Some big conversations about maintaining a gluten free vegan diet that was also lower on the glycemic index and giving my body what it needed in times of stress made me feel like I was suddenly at a tug of war with myself. It felt so awful because being vegan had become such a big part of my identity and I wasn't sure that I was ready or willing to give that up. It was no longer just about the food.

It somehow felt wrong to be doubting my choices, but rationally I knew that I needed to do what was right for me. My diet was in constant evolution based on how I was feeling and the information that I had about nutrition, but this felt bigger than that. With all that I had learned and believed about being vegan, could I fathom the thought of changing that?

I knew that I didn't want to go back to eating meat again - it didn't feel like the right decision for my body / digestive system and the ethical side of veganism / vegetarianism just made that a no-go for me. Cow dairy was also a no-brainer as I believe that it was a huge contributor to my Crohn's symptoms and I felt so much better without it.

With all of this to consider, the support of my fellow retreat-goers and a heart to heart with Meghan, one morning I had some eggs with my breakfast. Eating eggs after not doing so for three years felt very foreign and bizarre, but following the meal I felt really good. I bought my first carton of organic, free-range eggs when I returned from St. Lucia and started having scrambled eggs with salad and veggies a few times a week for breakfast.

And I started to feel like I was thriving again.

I felt energetic and stopped feeling faint from time to time. My hair became glossier and thicker. I felt good about the choices I was making with the types of eggs I was choosing and was happy to have some more variety in my diet. It was the right decision for me and where I was at. It's been about a year since transitioning to gluten free, dairy free vegetarianism and I feel awesome. I have vegan meals probably 75-80% of the time, with some eggs and goat/sheep dairy thrown into the mix. The added protein and variety has agreed with me.

The hardest part of this change for me has been coming to terms with the fact that I was no longer vegan. I wondered if I would feel hesitant to tell my vegan friends, or change my position among the community. I removed references to being vegan in all of my social media platforms and slowly started to embrace my choice and share it with people along with my rationale. Most people were very accepting and with those who weren't, I reminded myself that it was my life, my choice and most of all my health.

In the past couple weeks I've read a couple of really interesting blog posts from prominent vegans who have changed their diets. Both Kristen Suzanne (from Kristen's Raw) and Alex Jamieson have written detailed accounts of why veganism was no longer right for them, which compelled me to write this post. The reaction from the vegan community regarding both posts has been interesting, heartening but sometimes sad to read. I applaud both women for speaking so candidly about their decisions and have done the research to make the choices that are right for them and their families.

I love what Michelle and Lori had to say about changing and evolving diets in this post, and I truly agree with their sentiment that there is no perfect diet. I don't believe that there is one-size-fits-all diet for every person on the planet, nor do I believe that others should try to dictate or condemn the dietary choices of others. It's an incredibly personal decision, and at the end of the day we should try to make conscious, informed decisions about what is right for us and what will help us best to thrive.

And that's what I intend to continue doing in my gluten free, dairy free, whole foods focused vegetarian way.

just being me

It's crazy to think that as of this past weekend, it's been a whole year since I led my last Weight Watchers meeting.

It was a tough decision to make after following the program since 2006, losing 30 lbs and becoming a leader in 2007. The first week that I didn't wake up on a Saturday morning at the crack of dawn felt very strange and for awhile I felt a void in my life.

I missed my members.
I missed the community.
I missed the inspirational quotes.
And I missed helping people succeed in their journeys.

On the flip side of all of that, I felt like a new person.

For a long time I had felt a lot of pressure about my weight and the way I looked and was perceived. I felt the need to be a role model to so many and was also really tired of sending my weight to head office. Not being a leader gave me the freedom to just be me and end my war with the scale.

Being a year away from doing Weight Watchers also means that it's been about a year since I've weighed myself. I'd be lying if I said that it's been smooth sailing, but so far in 2013 I've been feeling pretty great physically.


I've been eating well, being active (back to Insanity) and in general feeling happy, calm and beautiful. It's refreshing to just feel that way, rather than letting an inanimate object dictate my overall perception of my body. I know that I wouldn't be where I am without doing Weight Watchers, but I also realize that it was a stepping stone for me and that I was ready to move forward. I feel good and I like it.

"We can't become what we need to be by remaining what we are" ~Oprah

My intuition told me that it was the right time to move forward and a year later I can look back and say that I was absolutely right.

Often the hardest decisions are the most important ones to make.

Feeling Sassy at Brass Vixens

As a part of a Love a Heart date, I got to spend some quality time with the lovely Reggy at Brass Vixens for a private lesson.

Brass Vixens Toronto

Brass Vixens is Toronto's first pole dancing studio, located at 721 Queen Street West. In addition to pole for all levels, the studio offers classes in cardio hula hoop, Kangoo jumps, aerial fitness and burlesque (with the Toronto School of Burlesque beginning to share space across the hall very soon!) They also do private events for all sorts of occasions including birthdays, bachelorettes and "I'm so over him" parties. Reggy and I got a taste of chair and floor work during our private lesson with Dawn.

Brass Vixens
Dressed in workout clothes and heels, Reggy and I had a blast learning the basics of chair and floor work. There was a lot of sexy strutting and leg work and hair flips and shaking our bon-bons. We learned that apparently I have some natural affinity for chair work? Who knew.

 

Oh yes, that happened. 

Not sure that I'm going to be rolling off a chair in real life anytime soon, but the class definitely armed us with some fun new moves and added confidence. After running through a slew of basics we put everything together into a couple of fun and sassy routines. 


The class was also an amazing ab, arm, back and leg workout. Total body fitness all the while feeling kinda hot? I'm in. 

The studio has a bunch of specials on for first-timers and people who want to give their classes a go. After the class I scored a sweet Team Buy that's happening right now for a 10 class pass for $59.  I can't wait for the deal to go active so I can get into my first pole basics class!

Thanks to Reggy for being a sweet date and Dawn & Brass Vixens for showing us the ropes! Definitely looking forward to spending more time at the studio.

The things I'd tell my 8 year old self

This clipping from Tiger Beat magazine surfaced on Facebook over the weekend...

Ashley Gibson Tiger Beat

Each month the magazine would publish pics and bios from readers looking for pen pals. When I wrote it, I was in grade 3, in a school that I loved with some sweet friends. I did lots of extra-curriculars and my parents were the centre of my world. My brother had just been born and I was adjusting to my new role as a big sister. I was a happy kid and was appreciative to have a lovely little life.This little snippet in Tiger Beat would generate more than 200 letters from people all over the world and it was so much fun to write to all these new people and make new friends.

The post garnered a lot of attention from friends and family on Facebook ranging from people reminiscing about their own pen pals from when they were younger to my dad mentioning how he thinks the postman hated us because I ended up receiving over 200 letters from all over the world.

Seeing this article made me feel nostalgic of that time in my life and generally just being a kid. I've seen many posts in the blog world about lessons people have learned over the course of their life or things they would tell their teenage self and while it may seem a little silly and random, I couldn't help but think about what I would go back and tell my 8 year-old self, both practically and for future reference
  • In 20 years you'll still love to dance and read. You'll even write a blog called "dancing through life". In 20 years you'll even know what a blog is. 
  • Cats will be a crazy phenomenon on something called the internet in 20 years. Trendsetter. 
  • You don't actually like skating. your grandmother just dreams of you being in some sort of Figure Skating championship and you want to make her happy. She'll get over it. 
  • In 20 years, you will still squeal because of New Kids on the Block. 
  • You'll also still have an affinity for Zack Morris
  • Years from now you will giggle at the clothes you and your mom thought were cool. Even the Blossom hats
  • You will eventually break your promise of writing back to everyone who writes to you because you will receive so many letters. Some of them will be boring. Or really long. Or come in on a day when you get 9 others and have Brownies that night. That's ok. They will forgive you. 
  • You will continue to exchange letters with the lovely gal from the Philippines and in 20 years the two of you will remain connected on something called Facebook. 
  • You will not meet boys through this pen pal program because your mom will go through all your letters before you. Don't worry, there will be plenty of boys in the years to come. Trust me
  • Speaking of boys, that boy you have a crush on at school? You'll move away and come back and reconnect with him when you're 17 and he'll become your high school sweetheart. 20 years from now he'll still be a very special person in your life and you'll cherish his friendship immensely. 
  • Hug your mom and tell her you love her often. 
Definitely fun to think about and reminisce. The world has changed a lot since then, but in other ways not so much. Oh Tiger Beat. Oh 8 year old me. Thanks to my Uncle Glen (or Unkie as I called him back then!) for posting this clipping on Facebook. 

Did you have pen pals growing up? Did you read Tiger Beat? 
What would you tell your 8 year old self?

Friends take friends to Bunner's

As a gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian gal it brings me great joy that there are places in Toronto where I can go and get delicious treats and yummy bread that are Ashley-friendly. Like Bunner's.


Bunner's has taken the top spot as my favourite bakery in the city (now that LPK's Culinary Groove closed its doors). Tucked away in the Junction, I'm thankful that it involves a trip across the city to visit or else I may have to exhibit a lot of self control to keep myself from their shop every single day.

It also brings me great joy to share my love of Bunner's with others who are of the gluten free and/or vegan lifestyle, which is why it was awesome to take Alexandra to Bunner's on Monday.


We were both giddy on the subway ride from Bloor to Dundas West and Alexandra was pining for a cupcake. We arrived to this sign...


but luckily it wasn't long before we were able to take in all the sights and smells that this adorable little bakery has to offer! 


I was thrilled that there were two loaves of bread left - one for each of us! Bunner's bread is one of the only loaves I will splurge on. It's crusty and chewy and reminiscent of my non-gluten free days. I consider it such a treat and have to throw half of the loaf in the freezer as soon as it gets home because I become a bread monster when it's around.


The gypsy cookie is pretty divine, filled with chocolate chips and seedy goodness. A boy once sent a box of them to my work following a date. My friend Amanda stands by the fact that it was one of the best days at work ever.  They're definitely one of my favourite things. 

In addition to getting the last two loaves of bread, Alexandra also managed to score the very last cupcake. 


I wish I had take a photo or video of her eating it as I felt like I was witnessing a religious experience. She loved every last morsel.

I treated myself to a couple of delectable confections and said goodbye to Bunner's for another day. I've been enjoying toast with my breakfast all week. So delicious. Really happy I could take such a sweet friend there for the first time - I know she'll be back! My birthday is around the corner and I'm thinking a cake from Bunner's will be the perfect way to celebrate...

Bunner's is located at 3054 Dundas Street West in Toronto. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook for more gluten free, vegan, drool-worthy goodness!

A date with me costs...

As if it wasn't enough to be on the cover of The Grid's Dating Diaries issue, my Valentine's Day included being auctioned off for charity at Love a Heart.

Ashley Gibson Love a Heart

I spent the evening running around The Hideout laughing and smiling and catching up with friends in a sparkly dress with fancy hair. So many of my favourite people were there for moral support


to join the ranks of those being auctioned off and take off lots of clothes



and host (and be generally all kinds of awesome)


I was one of the last gals to hit the stage. All nerves had worn off and I really just thought the whole thing was hilarious by that point. Shawn took great care in getting me auctioned off, and Shannon joined us onstage to say extra nice things about me. I ended up fetching $450 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which helped bring the total for the evening to more than $11,000 and that's pretty cool. Not to mention the fact that I get to go on a fancy pants dinner date with a handsome guy, all in the name of charity.

Maybe Valentine's Day isn't so bad after all?

Thanks to Chris Luckhardt for capturing some great photos of the night! 


That time I was on the cover of The Grid

February was a crazy, awesome, intense ride. The Life is Sweet project was so gratifying and kept me extremely busy amid the usual work/play. While I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day normally, this year it was a tonne of fun with a couple of really neat things happening in my world.

In early February I saw a tweet from The Grid (my favourite Toronto weekly newspaper) about a photo shoot they were having for their upcoming dating diaries issue. I inquired and decided it would be fun, so the week before V-Day, I found myself in a loft with about 50 Toronto singles mingling and getting photos taken! I ended up finding one person I knew (Karen, who I hadn't seen since we had done another photo shoot together two years before!) but had a blast meeting lots of new people who also weren't sure what to expect from the event.

Grid TO Dating Diaries

Throughout the event we were encouraged to write something that we look for in a person that we're dating... I wrote assertive. And then later had a good giggle when Karen and I took a selfie right under where someone had written "doesn't take selfies" and "doesn't have a blog". 

Looks like it just wasn't meant to be with me and whoever those people were...

The day before the issue came out I got a message from a friend who had seen the cover of the new issue and told me that I was on the cover! Lo and behold, the next day my face was all over the city


It was kind of hilarious and flattering to get all sorts of messages and texts and instagram notifications about my face popping up everywhere. 

ashley gibson toronto
Yaw finds me... 

I even got a message from an ex-boyfriend stating that he didn't realize how many Grid boxes there were in Toronto until that week. I had to laugh. 

Grid TO Dating Diaries
Shannon made me grab her a copy and then took this photo

Apparently my "move" is my laugh

I'm glad that I went to the event and it was definitely awesome to land on the cover. Also awesome? Sharing with the GTA that you're single by appearing on the cover of a dating issue and then disclosing that if you were a Muppet, you'd be Miss Piggy "because she wears dresses and squeals a lot"


And let's be honest, it was the ONLY suitable answer for me. 

More to come on my ridiculous V-Day week...