Upcoming Next Month

Well, we’re down to the final push now. Exams are right around the corner, my last few labs are being handed in (done with long drawn out orgo labs!!! … Until January, that is 😉 ), and I’m trying hard to keep motivated. With the Christmas season coming up, that shouldn’t be too hard.

I’m working on configuring my schedule for next semester. As I was finalizing my program change from kinesiology to biochemistry, it was pointed out to me that I could probably do a double major, seeing as most of my kin degree is already done and I have the fortune of having accrued extra credits from high school and random courses like band and choir I took/am taking just for fun…

… That was a really good point. 

And so now it seems I have a double major. While it might sound overwhelming (and I have to admit, I’m a little bit worried 😉 ), I can recognize that having a degree in both biochemistry and kinesiology sets me up perfectly for what my current “dream job” would be, which entails applying to a concurrent PhD-MD program and completing the PhD portion in physiology and the MD internship in endocrinology, all do to clinical research.

I am fascinated by the biochemical and physiological processes that occur within the body, and the way our lifestyles and other extraneous factors affect hormonal action and the action of neurotransmitters. Clinical research is an area I’m passionate about and can relate to, and to work with people and hopefully develop proactive ways of treating/preventing many of the problems prevalent today would be a dream come true.

With this double major comes additional responsibility, and I’m the first to admit that I’m afraid of burning myself out. I tend to take on more than I can handle; it’s a matter of being more organized with my time, minimizing distractions and maximizing my productivity, while making time for myself and for the people who are important to me. I’m working on a “plan” of sorts that I’ll put into place next semester – hopefully it’ll keep me on track! 🙂

For now, I’m looking a little more short term – there’s still December to get through, after all! I’m so excited – the Christmas season is my favourite time of the year. Clichéd, for sure, but I can’t help it and won’t be apologizing. 🙂

On the 1st I’m accompanying a children’s choir on the piano for a concert celebrating the work of english musician Benjamin Britten. Also planned for that day is dinner and a movie (Catching Fire, because I absolutely loved the Hunger Games books in high school and so, for once, this is a movie I’m excited about seeing!) with the boy, to celebrate our “half-iversary”.

Classes finish that week, and you will then find me either at work, or at home or in the school library in HARDCORE STUDY MODE. I’m writing my first four exams from 7 to 10pm from the 11th to the 14th (ew), and immediately after the last exam I’m catching a midnight bus to Ottawa to spend time with my best friend and family.

The 19th sees me retuning home to write my organic chemistry exam on the 20th, also from 7 to 10pm (have I ever mentioned that my brain kind of shuts down in the afternoon? I’m a hardcore morning person, so this exam schedule is the epitome of lame), and then I will bask in my glorious two weeks of freedom from school. Time will be spent enjoying the company of my friends and family (and likely working quite a lot). I can’t wait!

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Misc. Photos and Research

Good evening, everyone! More shoddy iPhone photos to share – the (hopefully not too) long-term plan is to develop my photography skills. (I have lots of plans. Bear with me! 😉 )

– Quick dinners (eggs, avocado and salsa, melon wrapped in ham)

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– Ancient buses

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(Witness the crazy seat pattens/70s wood barrier? 😉 )

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– Nerdy molecule tattoo design on the back of homework (I kind of really want this on my ribcage…)

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– Well-received double chocolate chip banana bread

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I have developed a mild fascination/obsession with hormones, particularly leptin. I’m thinking I’ll do a series of posts on various hormones and what they do. It’s such an interesting topic, particularly if you’re into biochemistry. I love what I’m studying. 😀

Moodiness and Pancakes

I definitely woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. A combination of many things, most likely. Staring down the prospect of four lab reports to write up, two group projects that are moving only ever so slowly, an overwhelmingly full schedule that doesn’t look like it’ll let up until Christmas, the recent confirmation that I have hypothalamic amenorrhea, a bedroom I desperately have to clean…

And so I did the only logical thing to do when you’re having a rough start. Which is, obviously, to make yourself pancakes. These were of the gluten-free blueberry variety. Absolutely perfect with bacon, maple syrup and chocolate almond milk.

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Whatever it was, I felt moody. Overwhelmed. Uninspired, life out-of-control. I didn’t even want to shower. But I did, because life has to go on. And immediately began to feel better. I made it to school without much incident, broke my brain over an online orgo quiz, and resisted the urge to slam my laptop shut (as I may or may not have done yesterday). Hazelnut coffee helped me keep my cool.

It must be something in the air. My physiology prof came into class today, put up with power point presentation, and stood at the front of the class regarding us all. “I honestly don’t want to teach today.” We all shut up quickly. “Would you all mind just filling out the course evaluation? You can feel free to leave afterwards. We”ll resume next week.” And he walked out.

Works for me.

I guess we all have those days. Days where lying in bed and staring at the ceiling sounds just that much more appealing than getting up and facing the world. Days where the smallest of things (or even nothing at all) can make us want to burst into tears. I also think that we have a huge impact on our days and moods. And so even though I was just not feelin’ life in general, I made a point of smiling as much as possible.

And, of course, I made myself pancakes.

Fear, Weight, and Irrationality

This post talks about things like anxiety, disordered eating, hypothalamic amenorrhea and weight. Though I don’t think there’s anything especially triggering, sensitive readers might want to exercise caution. I’m just sharing my own feelings and experiences. 🙂

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“You’re so lucky you need to gain weight.” Envious eyes regard me, looking me up and down. “I’m so jealous.”

I half-shrug, feeling frankly awkward. Around us, fading daylight casts long shadows, the dark shapes of playground structures “It’s not all that great.” I say finally, dragging the toe of my shoes in the gravelly sand.

Once upon a time, I would have likely said the same thing, after all. Lightly, to mask the bitterness that I was no longer one of those thin people. Because losing weight is hard, no matter how you cut it. Physically, mentally, emotionally; there’s often a lot tied into it, including stuff that should have no business being there (but seems to be almost expected now, culturally).

When I lost weight (and part of my sanity, though perhaps not in that order), I also masked a lot of things I didn’t want to deal with; and here in the aftermath, I can now say that gaining weight is also hard. There’s a lot tied into it; physically, mentally, emotionally. Stuff that has no business being there, stuff I’ve somehow tangled into it.

I’ve spent a lot of energy on this concept of “weight”. Spent a lot of time analyzing numbers, turning food from something to be cherished and loved into something to be feared and despised. Neither attitude healthy, exactly; though the former is positive at least, there was definitely an element of escape – avoiding life though the oblivion of a sugar overdose, a stomach ache, some sensation more physical than the confused noise of my head.

When I was at my most disordered, I had a number in mind, for both weight and calories. I felt the first was unachievable, and the second far too easy to go over, and was deeply disappointed on all accounts.

Now, in this taking-action phase I’m in, I have a number in mind, for both weight (an estimate, as I refuse to weigh myself anymore) and calories. I feel the first is entirely too easily achievable, and the second entirely too hard to reach, and feel deeply disappointed on all accounts.

Irony.

I’m filled with irrational fears. I’m afraid of gaining weight suddenly and rapidly and it never stopping, I’m afraid that others will judge me or make comments, I’m afraid of buying new clothes and losing this new and foreign identity as “the thin one”. I’m afraid of being incapable of liking or even accepting my body at a higher weight. Most of all, I’m afraid of confronting the feelings I associate with this higher, healthier weight. I’m afraid of the self-loathing, the feelings of inadequacy, of loneliness and confusion. Things that are entirely unrelated to my physical presence, but somehow deeply entangled.

It’s silly, because I can fully recognize the irrationality. It’s like I’m fighting with myself, constantly seeking to calm and reassure these anxious racing thoughts. There isn’t another option. Complacency can’t be an option anymore.

Because as irrationally afraid as I am, I also have more valid and concrete fears, things I can’t ignore anymore. There’s the fear that I’ll never have children, or that I’ll forever place my pride and vanity before my health. I’m afraid of the repercussions of not dealing with the remnants of this eating disorder fully and completely. I’m afraid of my bone density decreasing further, bringing me into an osteoporotic zone.

I’m writing about this today because it’s been a hard day, emotionally. Generally I feel alight and alive and very in-tune with myself; I guess I just woke this morning feeling completely off-centered. Because, as someone close told me recently, “You know things will have to change sometime.” And I’m here again. Seriously contemplating change. Change I’ll put into action soon. I need to gain back my sense of self-respect. I lost that around the same time I lost my health. May they both return promptly.

I teared up during the conversation with the above person. “I know that. I’m just not sure if I’m strong enough.” I said. I felt extremely vulnerable. Today, I feel fragile still – but much more resilient. I’m a human being, not a glass figurine;I have problems and hangups, as we all do, but I’m capable of taking action towards fixing this.

Simple Alfredo Sauce

Alfredo is one of my favourite American sauces of all time. It’s definitely not a light sauce, which means creamy, comforting deliciousness.

After a (shorter than yesterday’s!) day of classes and gallivanting downtown enjoying good company, eats,

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pictures in front of the random mosaic mural (the giant winter coat a tribute to the less-enjoyable freezing temperature outdoors),

I prepared dinner tonight for myself, the siblings and the boy: salads, baked chicken, steamed carrots and papparadelle with Alfredo. So simple, yet so good. Cheese, cream, shallots and garlic fried in butter – basically, all the good things in life – jazzed up with fresh cracked pepper and nutmeg. Half an hour for an impressive-looking meal? I’ll take it! 😀

I adapted a basic the Pioneer Woman’s Alfredo sauce recipe, adding in the onions and garlic and spices for flavour and replacing part of the whipping cream with half-and-half (because it’s what I had on hand and makes the sauce just a little bit thinner and lighter). The result was just as decadent as the original, and the result coated pasta perfectly while making an excellent topper for chicken and veggies.

Because clearly, serving Alfredo on top of veggies negates the fat content. 😉 In all honesty, I belong to the camp of people that firmly believes saturated fat intake is not correlated to heart disease. All the research I’ve done thus far and my learnings in physiology have led me to believe that a diet high in fat (yes, even/especially saturated fats) is actually beneficial. My silky hair and strong nails both agree. 

Anyways, not the day to wax poetic about my dietary beliefs. Basically, don’t fear the fat! Alfredo is good for the soul, in any case. 🙂

Simple Alfredo Sauce (adapted from The Pioneer Woman)
Serves
 4; yields approx. 1 1/2 cups of sauce

Ingredients

– 1/4 cup butter
– 1 shallot
– 1 large clove of garlic
– 1/2 cup half-and-half cream
– 1/4 cup heavy cream
– 1 + 1/4 cups fresh grated parmesan cheese
– 1/2 tsp nutmeg
– Salt and pepper, to taste
– Fresh parsley (optional, as garlic)

To Make:

  1. Melt butter in a flat-bottomed pan. Finely mince shallot and garlic; add to butter and sautée until softened and fragrant.
  2. Add cream and heat through. Add cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  3. When ready to serve, add fresh chopped parsley, if using. Toss with pasta, serve on top of veggies or chicken, use as a pizza sauce base.

Voilà! Indulgent, versatile, easy and impressive dinner. Make it for someone you love! 😉

The Learning Process

It mini-blizzarded today:

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(That was the beginning of it; if you look closely you can see the white particles 😉 ).

It’s been an interesting sort of day. Organic chem first thing in the morning, followed by driving through said blizzard in a snow storm to an appointment with a medical internist, a drive back to school for another class, a Costco shopping spree with the parents, supper, and then to my long three-hour Monday night class.

Today’s appointment wasn’t unduly productive. My blood-pressure, though low, as per usual, is stable, unchanging. “And when was the last time you menstruated?” She asks. “It’s been about two years.” I reply, shifting. “Well, you should take a calcium supplement and a vitamin D tablet daily.” Prescription in hand (because apparently my drug plan covers these), I walk out the door back to the minivan, twist the key in the ignition, and wipe the snow off my now-covered windshield with a flick of the control.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a gynaecologist. He’s putting me through all sorts of hormonal testing. I’m a fun case; nineteen years young, apparently healthy but for the lack of my menses. I recently finished what’s known as the “Provera Challenge” (a 10mg/day for ten day dose of progesterone), which should in theory cause menstrual shedding; I have a feeling it won’t though. I’m fairly positive I have hypothalamic amenorrhea. Cause: excessive exercise and rapid weight loss.

At my first appointment two weeks ago; he asks me when I stopped menstruating. I said sometime between November of 2011 and February of 2012 (I honestly can’t remember), following excessive weight loss. He asks if that’s from an eating disorder, overexercise..? I shift, say “something like that, both, yes”. He asks if I’m exercising currently. I say, frankly, no. He asks me why not. I say that I’m trying not to stress my body out.

I’m in a good place right now. The vast majority of my disordered behaviours have been corrected. What remains is doing what I can to optimize my health. I miss exercise because I truly love to move, but I know it’s not necessarily the healthiest thing for me right now. I try to be active in that I walk the 2.5 kilometres to school when I feel energetic and it’s not too sub-zero degrees outside. Food isn’t really a source of stress for me anymore; I still love it, but it’s no longer the center of my universe. I eat whenever I’m hungry, and generally eat exactly what I want. I’m not constantly obsessing over it, half-starved and counting minutes until the next time I can binge-purge.

I think that a large part of why I’ve not been able to blog consistently is that I’ve just not felt like I “have it together”. I don’t have a triumphant story to tell about how I’ve completely overcome my struggles and found health and happiness and wonderfulness.

What I do have is this: a stubborn “snap yourself out of it and face it” mentality with renewed vigour for life and a new understanding of myself that’s allowed me to drag myself from a horribly self-destructive cycle. I have this: the on-going story of someone who flirted with dangerous behaviours and now has to rectify all wrongs. And at the very core of it, there’s just me. I’ve found happiness and also fear and vulnerability, the stuff that my disordered behaviours had been covering up. On most days I’m doing well, but some days are a struggle. I feel strong and healthy in general, but at the same time I know that I’m underweight relative to me and have to take responsibility for these aspects of my health that are under my power to change.

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One of my biggest fears in starting to blog were that I would present this perfect façade of my life while neglecting to acknowledge the less-pleasant bits. It’s the less-pleasant bits that have shaped me, that make me relatable and real.

My life is pretty darn wonderful. I have a lot to appreciate and to be thankful for. The fact of it is that sometimes life is also scary and overwhelming, or underwhelming and boring. Sometimes I’m on top of the world, and sometimes I’m overcome by insecurities. And sometimes I feel the need to share, to relate to, and to connect. All that’s okay,

Which is my promise here: to be real. This is my learning process – one of the only things I can guarantee is that I’ll stumble around and make mistakes and probably fall flat on my face once or twenty times. I can also guarantee random happy moments, because those are extremely frequent occurrences hereabouts.

I’ll definitely blog about food, because I love to cook and create quick and easy recipes that nourish the body and the soul, and also because the meal is one of those cultural things that bring us all together. I also want to blog about my quest to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea, because I know that a lot of young women such as myself are in a similar situation and there’s strength in solidarity. I want to talk about culture and things like gender equality and concepts of health, because these things spark lively discussion.

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In short, I’m just going to blog about The Learning Process.

Dinner for Two

Thursdays are relatively long days. Though my classes this semester only start at ten in the morning, allowing me to sleep in (that never happens, however; I’m an early bird, through and through), and I only have two classes back-to-back, band rehearsal keeps me at the university until six.

Tonight was fun – a good friend and I went out to eat. We went to our favourite restaurant first, but it was PACKED (it’s a bar, so Thursday nights are usually busy, and apparently ZZ Top is performing here tonight so parking was also impossible), and ended up going to an Italian restaurant down the street which, being “not a bar”, managed to squeeze us in wait-free.

To start, we split a bacon, berry and parmesan salad. Actually, she ordered it, but I took a (skeptical) bite and proceeded to devour half of it no problem. The dressing was amazing, too – olive oil, honey, soy, and lemon juice. I’m absolutely recreating this salad the next time the urge for greens strikes!

For my entrée, I settled for the chicken saltimbocca with brandied mushrooms with extra broccolini. The chicken, which was perfectly cooked, came wrapped in prosciutto and topped with Buffalo mozzarella (can you say yum?). The broccolini was also perfectly done (aka, still crisp and not at all tough) and lightly drizzled with the most fragrant olive oil (perks of a good Italian restaurant!). The following picture doesn’t do it justice at all – iPhones are badly adapted to dim light. 😉

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And, of course, there’s always room to split dessert! We ordered the dark chocolate cheesecake eruption, which was exactly what it sounds like: a giant piece of creamy, almost more mousse-like cheesecake on a moist chocolate cake base studded with white chocolate cheesecake. Topped with chocolate syrup and whipped cream, it was pretty much heaven.

I love a nice dinner out with a good friend. While I love cooking, there’s something fantastic about sharing a good meal you don’t have to prepare for yourself, especially at the end of a long day. We caught up and talked about life in general.

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Toasted Walnuts

I’m a (huge) fan of salads.

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They’re one of my go-to sides and are easily one of my favourite meals to make when I’m cooking for one. I frequently order them in restaurants, too – particularly is blue or goat cheese is involved.

I love salads, but they require a few key components for them to be satisfying enough to be considered a meal. First and foremost, they’ve gotta be voluminous. Lots of produce. Secondly, they have to have a protein component. Chicken, fish, steak, eggs, even cheese if enough is used (there’s no such thing).

Actually, cheese is almost always a requirement, which brings me to the next essential component: a couple of fat sources. From cheese, obviously, and/or avocado and/or oil (olive is my fave) and/or nuts. This is KEY for lasting satisfaction. Finally, there has to be flavour and variety – I’m talking a variety of vegetables, different types of greens, a sweet component such as fruit.

Simple cheese, nut and fruit salads are my all-time loves. They’re healthy, well-rounded, packed with flavour. This beet and goat cheese salad is one version. While beets aren’t a fruit, they have an earthy sweetness I absolutely love (is it just me, or do people tend to either love/loathe beets? I definitely fall into the former category). The fresh goat cheese adds a decadent creaminess, and the sweet acidity of the balsamic vinegar ties in all together in such a way that one could almost call this salad decadent. Topped with chicken, it makes for a wonderful light dinner with a side of red wine and chocolate. Otherwise, it makes a wonderful side dish to many meals, especially pastas.

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Toasted Walnuts – Serves 1 as an entrée, easily multiplied

Ingredients

– 2-3 cups of mixed greens (I like a combination of leaf lettuce, romaine and spinach)
– 1/2 small vidalia onion, thinly sliced
– 1 large beet or 3 small beets, roasted and sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
– 2 tbsp chopped walnuts, toasted
– 1/4 cup crumbled soft goat cheese
– 1 small chicken breast, baked or grilled (optional)

– 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
– 1-3 tsp olive oil (Note: I like my vinegar:oil ratio to be 3:1, which is quite acidic for some; adjust accordingly)
– 1/2 tsp honey
– 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
– Salt and pepper, to taste

To make:

  1. In a medium bowl, toss together greens and onions. Tops with beets, crumbled cheese, and toasted nuts. Top with sliced chicken, if desired.
  2. Whisk together dressing ingredients (from the balsamic vinegar to the salt and pepper); pour over salad. Devour.

To roast beets: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash beets, toss with olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil and roast for 45-60 minutes (until easily pieced with a fork). Let cool, peel and slice.

To toast walnuts: Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add nuts and stir constantly to avoid burning. They’re toasted when they are lightly browned and give off a fragrant, “nutty” smell.

Micro-Changes

It’s been a crazy, crazy month. That is to say, October absolutely flew by. (Yes, I am aware that we’re five days into November. What can I say? It takes me lots of time to consolidate things).

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It was a month of school projects and quality time with family and friends. It kicked off with midterms (which I’m still in the midst of – organic chem tomorrow, yikes!), ran straight into Canadian thanksgiving, and continued without pause right into study week (which I spent on the beach in Mexico with my family), and culminated with Halloween, a day I spent partying it up with the rest of the university students my age wrote up a lab report and went to bed.  At nine.

Don’t worry, ample chocolate was consumed. I’m not a total party-pooper. Peanut butter cups are my love language.

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I made good food, taking advantage of seasonal produce to make breakfasts like sweet potato and bacon hash topped with poached eggs. (Okay, I eat sweet potatoes year ’round. I’ve just been eating somewhat more of them.)

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… But I digress. This isn’t supposed to be a food post. I might do one of those eventually; my tastes in food evolve based on what’s available, and there are a few new things I’m obsessing over eating. 

There are two big events from last month that are occupying my mind currently. The first being that I am currently taking Provera to try and sort out some hormonal issues. I’ve always been extremely against taking hormones in any way or form and have been extremely conscious in eliminating potential dietary sources such as soy and conventionally-raised beef (thankfully in Canada, growth hormones aren’t present in dairy). I firmly believe that everyone should do what’s right for them, and I am in no way saying that there’s anything wrong with using hormonal pills or devices. My personal reasons against these lie in the fact that I’ve always had some hormonal irregularities and I’d prefer to try and sort those out before adding another influence to the mix. I have a lot more to say about this stuff – I feel like it’s an under-represented issue, particularly in young women my age, but that’s also not for today’s post.

The other major change is that I’ve CHANGED PROGRAMS. Yup. I am now a biochemistry major. I’ve found myself to be disinterest in and, well, not exactly challenged by my classes. I don’t want to be a kinesiologist. I don’t even especially want to work anywhere in the fitness industry at this point. Don’t get me wrong – I love health and exercise and strive to make both a priority in my life, but lately I’ve been fascinated by chemistry, particularly the aspects that pertain to the human body and cellular function. Organic chemistry is my favourite course at present. It’s not the course I’m getting my best grade in, but it’s difficult, which is stimulating and keeps me interested.

Perhaps this is the month I’ll get out of this “once a month” posting scheme. 😉