Sunday, February 24, 2019

Triple (anti-)threat!!!

This is just one single blog entry, but it's a packed one.
I wanted to call this a triple threat, but it's quite the opposite of a threat, actually.
Only I can't remember what that's called, so the word anti-threat officially exists as of right now.

It will give you, like it did me, the opportunity to save three things in one fell swoop: 

your body,
your teeth,
your world.

This sounds very dramatic, because I wanted it to sound very dramatic, but it really does allow you to change your drinking habits in order to be healthier, to slow the progress of discoloration of your teeth, and to greatly reduce your reliance on single-use plastics and, in turn, their terrible impact on the environment, especially our oceans. All of this is out of my Not Resolutions post.

Three intertwined issues rolled into a ball of let's make the world a better place and give you a reason to smile the biggest of smiles, without feeling bad about your teeth! 

Q:   How can I keep my teeth from staining every time I have coffee, tea, or a sugary/colored beverage?
A:   Drink those beverages with a straw.

Q:   Didn't we say we would reduce single-use plastics?
       Using straws all the time seems somewhat counter-intuitive.
A:   Get metal and/or glass straws to use instead of plastic ones.

Q:   And what about my health
       How do these straws help me consume less stuff like lemonade or iced tea?
A:   You will have to wash the straw every time you use it. 
       Every. Single. Time.

Some of my metal and glass straws, with their cleaning brushes.

Drinking beverages like coffee and tea can stain your teeth and make it hard to keep them nice and white and healthy, unless you brush your teeth immediately every time you have any of that. The same is the case with colored drinks, like sodas. You might say that there's gum that helps with discoloration, especially for heavy coffee/tea drinkers and even smokers. But have you tried getting chewing gum over your front teeth? Exactly, you can't really. I call a scam... Using a straw, however, allows you to manipulate the fluid in your mouth to not even touch your front teeth but go straight behind them and down the tongue. Yes, of course brushing your teeth after every drink is even better, but, I mean, honestly... ain't nobody go time fo' dat!

Some people I have told about this immediately countered this idea saying that drinking coffee with a straw changes the taste of it and makes it weird and not enjoyable. This hasn't been my experience. Maybe that happens with plastic straws, but I've been using glass straws and have not noticed any weird taste changes with my favorite hot pick-me-up. Also, most glass straws are shorter than the metal ones you can get, so there's no issue of anything cooling down on the way from the cup to your mouth. For me, the only outcome has been the very positive one of my teeth not staining as much.

And it looks cool and allows you to take artsy pictures like this whenever the "latte art" isn't on point!

Using metal and glass straws means that you won't be using single-use plastic straws anymore. At least at home. I also have one of each of my straws in the office so I can also be more mindful of the environment, my teeth, and my nutrition at work. Because of crafts projects, I still have a lot of plastic straws at home, but I have plans for upcycling all of them (another point on my non-resolution list!), to continue as I have been doing for years.

Now to the health part. 

Fizzy drinks and sodas are not good for us, obviously. We (almost) all know that, but we (almost) all still drink them anyway. My personal vice is and has been for a while Coca Cola Zero/Coca Cola Light. Not only is this a terrible choice of drink, it's also full of artificial cr*p that is bad for our organs and messes with our metabolism and food-related hormones. Especially if somebody is trying to lose weight, contrary to what you might think consuming artificially sweetened drinks instead of those chock full of actual sugar doesn't help at all. Quite the opposite is often the case!

What I learned from #NoomArticles is that "our brains have trouble registering the difference between real sugar and artificial sweeteners" which means that "when we eat [or drink] something sweet, our brain expects calories to come along with it. When no calories come, our brain feels cheated, and we end up with cravings for more sweets to satisfy ourselves." Often that will lead to people actually ending up gaining weight when they replace sugary drinks for artificially sweetened ones... not good.(the quotes are from the Noom app article Dissecting our drinks)

If you know that the stuff is bad for your teeth then embracing the idea of using a straw when you drink it is easy-peasy. But that doesn't reduce the amount of cans or bottles we drink each week, because the elephant is still stronger than the rider (#NoomNerds know what I'm talking about). Using non-plastic straws, however, does. Because that elephant is not in the mood for housework.

Think about this: if you have water, you can just rinse the straw when you've finished your glass or bottle; at the end of the day, you wash it properly. If it's not water you're drinking, then just like it stains your teeth it will also get your straw all sticky, so you can't simply rinse it when your cup is empty. You have to clean it well. I don't know about you, but for me, that's been very helpful - I'm too lazy to basically do dishes every time I'm a bit thirsty! Automatically, then, my lazy butt switches to water and keeps the artificial drinks to a minimum. Laziness FTW! 

Of course, I'm not saying to skip brushing your teeth. Not altogether and not even during the day. I still do that, at home as well as at work. Just not as many times.

No filter, no edit.

This, now, is a smile that says "I feel good about what my teeth look like even though I will never stop drinking aaall of the coffee." It says "I'm mindful of what I put into my body and I'm able to take better care of it." And it says "I'm less of a burden on our environment and my ecological and carbon footprints are dropping sizes just like I am."

Sounds good, right?

Add-on: elephant and rider.

For the non-Noomers out there, here is who the elephant and the rider are: they make up the brain. You used to think it was grey matter and all kinds of cells and whatnot, but the truth is inside your skull live an elephant and his rider (all quotes here are taken from the Noom app article Tame your inner elephant). 

"The rider is our rational, analytical side. It's our self-control.
The elephant is our impulsive, irrational, emotional side."

The elephant rages for the sweet, fizzy beverage, while the rider tries to calmly explain that water or at least tea would be so much better for their human host. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other. There are all kinds of different strategies Noom equips app users with to help the rider control the elephant while also keeping the elephant happy (from controlling one's environment and planning ahead for meals and snacks, to making sure all goals set are realistic and being nice to the elephant, meaning regular treats!). 

I quite like this analogy, or rather, this new science that completely wipes out previous theories of brain hemispheres made up of neurons and dentrites and axons and water and fat.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Hot and dicey!

This is not isaontheway writing, nor even Isabella.

This is Xanaaq,
the Furious Flame of the Deserts,
the Fiery Fiend from the city of Thraa.

Let me tell you a bit about myself.

I am Xanaaq, but my friends call me Xana. The “x” in my name sounds like “shh” – like the sound of grains of sand being blown over sharp rocks by the desert wind. I do not hear that name often, as my friends are few and my foes are many. They have names for me, too. Raiva, they call me in hushed voices when somebody mentions firestorms. That is but one name of many. It might be interesting to you that my name has a meaning in some of your world’s languages – and it is the same meaning for each of them. Xanaaq means fury in Somali and Raiva means fury in Portuguese. In my world, my name is a warning to those who would dare to try and oppress me or mine and a signal of hope to those who live at the receiving end of this oppression.

My story is long and complicated, but I shall try to give you a shortened version.
Just so you may know who you are dealing with; who Xanaaq is.

I am from the Land of Mnar. My family is part of the Tulipalo Tribe, similar to your world’s Touareq. We are a nomadic tribe, long ago exiled from Thraa because of mistakes made by our ancestors. This is a story for another time. We roam the blue and green sands of the Bnazic Desert during one half of the year and the Poisoned Desert during the other. Our culture and identity are rooted deeply in Fire Magic, which allows us to make use of and interact with the flora and fauna of the desert lands, growing crops of magical plants and communicating with the animals that dwell in the hot sand.

Being from the desert, I do not get hot or cold easily. I have heard of this thing called “sweat”, but I do not understand what it is. I have also heard of something called “being shitfaced”, but I do not understand that either. I know that when I drink Aguardiente, it quenches my thirst. And when others drink it, they become exceptionally talkative very quickly. Then they figuratively drop into stupor and confusion, sometimes paranoia, before they literally drop to the floor. It is a very useful thing, having this advantage over others. Especially when they do not know who I am and where I’m from and they believe they can do this thing called “drinking me under the table”, which never works. I can use my Magic to heat things, melt things, burn things to the ground. Among many other practical applications. We are taught the ways of Fire Magic almost from the time we are born, to make sure that as we grow older and stronger in our powers, we can survive in any surroundings and under any circumstances.

As a young girl, I was captured by Ilthmarians close to the border between the Poisoned Desert and Eagle Plain. Along with a sister of mine and two other girls from our tribe I was taken first to Ilthmar and then to Lankhmar. On a ship. I hate ships. I hate ships, because they travel on water and I hate water. It is the worst. I don’t drink it, I don’t touch it and I especially refuse to float around on it in a feeble wooden construct that might shatter and break at any moment, spilling every soul on it into the dark, wet, disgusting depth. Anyway, Lankhmar is where I spent the last ten years of my life, living in a boarding house on the Eastern end of the Plaza of Dark Delights, built snug against the walls of the Shrine of the Black Virgin. I do not wish to speak of the time I had to endure the hardships not only of a pleasure slave, but also of a young person separated from her people and unable to live a life other than what she was born for. For a nomad, living in a small house at the edge of a small plaza within the thick walls of a city, Gods, it is the worst. For a child of freedom, to be sold and bought and borrowed and lent, it is an indescribable terror. The only thing that allowed me to go on was the white-hot flame of the desire for vengeance burning deep inside me. It kept me fighting and honing my Arcane Magic skills in the few stolen private moments I had over the years, until I was powerful enough to escape and begin my quest for justice for myself and all others like me. Being powerful from my childhood on, you might think that I could have escaped captivity a lot sooner than I actually did. And you'd be right. But what you have to remember is that I wasn't the only one trapped in that dreadful place under those dreadful conditions and forced to perform the most dreadful of duties... Leaving so much as a day earlier than when I did would have meant escaping on my own and all the others bearing the consequences, which no doubt would have been horrifying. My only choice was to stay for as long as necessary to build up my power and hone my skills until such a time as I would be able to take all of my fellow prisoners with me. I couldn't have left them behind, so I grit my teeth and counted the minutes until I was able to orchestrate an escape for all of us and use my powers to ensure their continued freedom.

My life ended the day of my capture and began again the day of my escape.
Now, I am stronger than I ever was before and my powers still grow every day.

Communicating with your world has been a challenge both for myself and for Isabella, but we have figured out a way: dice.

In your world, there is something called RPG – role playing games. Isabella has recently discovered those for herself and become quite into the idea of pen and paper tabletop role playing games. Luckily, she has friends who play and are willing to have her over to play with them. Playdates like this haven’t been part of her life since kindergarten, or maybe primary school at the latest, but she insists it makes her cool, not silly-looking. What a nerd, right?

Anyway, her playing an old-school Savage Worlds campaign with the aforementioned friends is how we met. And dice is how we can communicate across the dimensional planes. I’m here in Lankhmar, Nehwon. She’s there in Vienna, Austria. It’s weird, but it works.

She’s really nice, too, and even got a special set of dice just so I would be more comfortable!
Actually, she got four sets of dice – for the four stages of fire:

coal – black
flame – black and red with flames
embers – black and red swirled pattern
smoke and ash – lightly transparent grey

I mean, again, what a nerd!

But it makes for some fun afternoons when we chat across the dimensions and our paths intertwine and I think we’re becoming quite a team as well:

I’m hot.
She’s dicey.
What are you?

PS: she made that dice pouch herself, it’s crochet with little crochet flames at the ends of the ribbon – how cool is that?!

PPS: You’re absolutely right, it’s not cool at all. Just… what a nerd…

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sugah no mo!

One of the biggest things in my these-are-not-resolutions post was the bit about me not having had sugar since last year’s Ash Wednesday. That’s actually not just when but also how it started. My first thought had been, hey, let’s do this Lent thing and let’s give up sugar for Lent. It stopped cold turkey (which, luckily, is not a sweet dish) from February 13th onto 14th and was, thus, gifted a heart shaped box of candy right after having decided not to eat that kind of stuff anymore. The candy, I mean. Never have or will eat cardboard boxes.

I was surprised by how easy it was to give up sugar (which I will define more closely in a moment/paragraph or two) and therefore decided to switch it up from Lent to Lent’s-see-how-long-we-can-do-this.

Now, because I am me and I am always in competition with myself and having to prove myself over and over to everyone who will listen and constantly accepting challenges nobody even made (think Barney Stinson on ‘roids)… that then turned into I can’t stop now or it wins! “It” being the sugar. Don’t ask me how it can win anything and especially don’t ask me who even cares (aside from me, way too much), but the game was on. Again, it’s just me playing here.

Recently, as I also mentioned in the not-resolutions post, I decided to get better at nutrition in order to become a healthier person. I have a beautiful goddaughter and an awesome little niece and nephew, so I have to take care of myself for them so I can be a good madrina and auntie for them for a long time. And one with energy that can play and have fun with them and not watch from the couch while they run around… In order to become better at eating, I joined Noom. Not going into details on that right now except to tell you that as part of that programme, I’m in a group with like-minded and like-“objectived” people so we can all help each other with motivation and whatnot. That group is the reason I’m writing this no-sugar post. Some gals are wanting to do a “sugar-detox” and I said hey, let me tell you about how I haven’t had candy in a year to help you with setting ground rules for yourself! Because, while I don’t know many things, I know about setting myself some rules, oh yeah.

Here goes: my hopefully comprehensive list of what I decided is cool and what isn’t.

I fully gave up:

·         full-on added sugar

This is the most obvious first step.
I never put sugar into my coffee or tea, but that’s the most obvious thing to go. Something else I have never done anyway, but that would fall into this category, is spoonfuls of sugar added into fresh squeezed juice, yoghurt, onto bowls of cereal or bowls of fruit. I mean, what? I’ve seen that happen and have had to (almost literally) fight to get those things without the sugar… Crazy to me, but normal to many, apparently. This means spoonfuls of granulated white or brown sugar, sugar cubes, rock candy on a stick to put in your tea, etc

·         healthy alternatives to added sugar

Yes, all of these things are not processed white sugar and some of them are low-glycemic, but they’re still sugar in my book, so they are off limits as well. This is honey, agave syrup, rice syrup, maple syrup, any kind of corn syrup, date sugar, birch sugar, palm or coconut sugar, dextrose, molasses, and many more. While they are healthier alternatives to plain old sugar itself, my personal goal was to cut out not just glucose, but what “sugar” stands for – sweets and candy and so-called “treats” and all of that. I’m limiting the explanation, because it would become too much to read.

·         sweet foods

I removed candy (chocolate, candy bars, bonbons, pralines, hard candies, gummies,…), ice cream and fro-yo, preserves (jams, jellies, marmalades, and compotes), and baked goods (cookies, biscuits, cakes, tartes, tortes, galettes, pies, pastries, croissants, bundts, pancakes, crepes, waffles, traditional Austrian sweet main dishes,…) from my diet completely, whether they are store-bought or homemade – by whomever (even myself). This also means that when I bake (and I bake a lot) I do not eat my own food and I also do not try it. I can tell from smell and touch whether it is how it’s supposed to be and that is enough.

·         sweet drinks

Sweet sodas or pops are completely off-limits (think Coke or Fanta or anything like that), as are iced teas (except when it’s literally me making regular tea and letting it cool down and putting lemon slices and ice cubes in it, but bye-bye Arizona), cocoa or chocolate milk or hot chocolate, and juice (because juice, even fresh, is just fruit-flavored, colored, sugar-water with none of the fibre or vitamins of the fruit left in it).

·         typical healthy snacks

There are alternatives to candy in the healthy snack department, but they are also sweet and, to me, they are crutches. This means dried and dehydrated fruit like dried berries, desiccated coconut, dates or figs, raisins, sun-dried bananas, etc – yes, it’s no longer processed, but it’s literally just empty calories, you’re munching on fructose. Also in this department are cereals and granolas, and nut butters.

I greatly reduced:

·         low-natural-sugar foods and drinks

While juice is a no-no, smoothies are fine-ish. Because the whole fruit is in there, you get everything that whole fruit has to offer in terms of nutrition. However, they’re still not ideal so I try to stay away from bottled smoothies (such as innocent or true fruits) in the supermarket and only get fresh-made smoothies from time to time (from Juice Factory, Omelli’s, or the Rauch Juice Bar, for example). There’s a kiddie snack I kind of like – from time to time: Quetschis. Translates to something like “squeezies”, because it’s mushed up fruit in a squeezable container that you can give your kids to trick them into eating more fruit and vegetables. A lot of them are very sweet, not because anything is added (because nothing is, which is awesome), but because fruit simply contains sugar. But I will allow myself a Quetschi from time to time, if the total sugar content per 100g is under 10. There’s a wonderful frozen yoghurt place in downtown Vienna that has plain, natural frozen yoghurt – no sweetness and no added flavour. I had that once this past summer. Regarding actual food, the only example I can think of is my recipe for no-sugar spelt’n’almond cookies, which are delish! At least to me they are, most other people do not like them… There are also a few other things I can make or bake that wouldn’t have actual sugar (or healthy alternatives) in the recipe, but I don’t make any of it often at all. I don’t want to build new bad habits.

·         low-carb and high-protein drinks

There’s a bunch of different diets out there and special drinks or meals to match each of them. I used to like having the odd high-protein drink or cereal bar to make sure I get enough protein in my diet in general, but as most of those come in the same flavours as your stereotypical milkshake or frappuccino, I put them on the no-side of my table. I might have the occasional drink or bar, but this “occasional” is defined as somewhere around once or twice every three or four months, so, barely.

·         “sugar free” and “diet” and “zero calorie” and “light” products

I have never liked artificial sweeteners, being somebody who can taste aspartame in drinks and hating it, for example. To me, foods and drinks containing any kind of artificial sweetener are just even more processed alternatives to already too processed bad choices. This does not apply to the reduced-fat-content kind of “light” drinks or foods, I’ll have lean turkey ham or low-fat baby mozzarella or 1% yoghurt all day every day, thankyouverymuch. But fake sugars, nope. There are two exceptions in my life at the moment: Diet Coke/Coke Zero and Red Bull Sugarfree/Zero Calories. Both of those are terrible and I work on keeping my consumption low, but I’ll be very, very honest here: I drink only water and coffee on a day to day basis, in varying shapes and forms (think sparkling mineral water or ice cold tap water and a cappuccino or double shot espresso). I drink coke sometimes to get a different taste in my mouth (because it’s not always a tea-moment and I have some pretty disgusting-tasting meds I have to take every day and nothing else masks the taste well enough) and I drink Red Bull at work. Because work. Coffee is not sufficient (sorry, coffee!).

·         the hidden sugar

Not to start any conspiracy theories here, but we all know there’s a lot of sugar in a lot of things where you wouldn’t typically expect it, because, at the end of the day, oftentimes, carbs equal sugar. Therefore, I try to stay away from white flour and stick to whole-grain everything – from bread over pasta to rice and other grains. I also avoid flavoured yoghurts and similar products that are not marketed or intended as a sweet treat, but which still contain a whole bunch of sugar. 

·         processes

Naturally (pun intended!), the more processed a food is, the less nutritious value it has for you and the more bad stuff is contained in it – including sugar. For me, this is where cutting out sugar has bled over into turning my diet as a whole into something a little healthier. The fewer unpronounceable ingredients a food has, the better. The more visi- and recognizable the building blocks of a meal are, the better. Less sugar, less weird chemicals, more health, more sanity (where food logging is concerned, eh, cos that stuff gets complicated!).

What I haven’t and won’t cut out:

·         fruit

I know fruit contains sugar, but I’m not diabetic and I’m doing this for me, not a doctor. Therefore, I continue enjoying all of nature’s goodies!

I learned:

·         Food is easy, people are not.

At my last job, I heard the same stupid joke about something containing “no sugar, just [insert any type of candy]” at least once a week. I’ll polite-chuckle twice, then polite-smile twice, then ignore it twice, then glare. Because it gets very old very fast… Everyone also has an opinion and most of those are not at all helpful. Also, people tend to take this personally. I’m a bad friend because I’m not making an exception for your cake-mix-cake? I didn’t make an exception for my nephew’s birthday cake that I worked on for three days and even learned new techniques for, you egotistical snowflake.

·         Don’t lean too far the other way.

The first few weeks, I course corrected a little too hard and replaced the entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream with the entire can of Original Pringles and the entire cake with the entire loaf of bread. If you’re an over-eater, quitting sugar won’t help you with anything other than quitting sugar. Other problems need other solutions and you have to be careful not to create a new problem (maybe replacing high blood sugar with high cholesterol..?), which leads to the next point.

·         Trust the tummy.

The most important thing is to do this for the right reason. Society doesn’t matter, trends and fads don’t matter, your health does. Does it feel right to eat or not eat something? Go for it. Or away from it, whichever it is. Your body knows what it needs (tummy tells you when it’s full or when it needs more food) and the better you learn to listen to it, the easier staying healthy will be.

Okay, now I think I’m done preaching.

Let me know if I should elaborate on anything else and maybe share your own tips with me in a comment!