Is eating healthy hard?

People ask me about what I eat a lot, since I work in the health space. I don’t know that what I eat ultimately matters to anyone else’s health, but hey, it’s a conversation starteer. I eat a vegetarian diet. I actually eat vegan probably 80% of the time, but I always hesitate to say I’m vegetarian, or to even talk about veganism, because there can be a lot of unfriendliness and absolutism in this space. Some folks get very worked up about it, and it can really be a flashpoint for drama. Some of this stems from the fact that people tend to associate diet with identity (I AM a vegetarian, rather than I EAT vegetarian food). Certainly, some people identify as vegan and they extend this to other aspects of their life including clothing, personal care products, etc. This is a choice with a lot of valid reasons to support it, but everyone who chooses to eat a certain way is not necessarily also doing this, and that’s OK. People make different choices for different reasons. Diet is complicated because it isn’t only about nutrition, it’s also about culture, socioeconomics, ethics. I want to talk about what I eat, though, so please recognize that there’s a lot of issues that I think about but am not going to get into right now (but if you want to, we can talk about it later).


I make choices for myself, and I also give advice as part of my professional life, about diet. And while I eschew hard and fast rules, I do have some general principles that I believe are healthiest. I base this on a combination of evidence, common sense, and experience. Scientific study abut diets is plagued with challenges, which is part of why there’s so much confusion. So I say, keep it simple. I like to eat mostly whole foods, mostly plant-based, and mostly easy-to-make stuff so I mostly cook my own food.  The more I stick to simple patterns, the easier it is.

What I eat: fairly accurate.

So what are my go-tos, my day-to-days, what I like to eat when I have the time and flexibility to do it my way?

  1. Coffee. Whether you buy the health hype or not, it’s a ritual that makes me happy. I brew french press and add steamed/frothed unsweetened soymilk (sometimes Oatly, or almond milk) to make an au lait (or a faux-lait, if you prefer). This is usually before I work out or do anything else, really. I think there’s value in having comforting habits and rituals.
  2. Breakfast is usually one of two things:
    1. A smoothie. I mix it up, but a common combination is kale/spinach, mixed berries, half a frozen banana, peanut or almond butter, hemp or chia or flaxseeds, sometimes cacao nibs, and unsweetened almond milk.
    2. Steel-cut oats with fresh fruit (berries, bananas, stone fruit, apples. . . whatever’s good), nuts, and almond milk.
  3. Lunch. I don’t usually have a morning snack, but if I do, it might be nuts or a Larabar. I eat lunch on the early side. I like to have either:
    1. A grain-based salad. These hold up well in the fridge and travel well. I take a whole grain (farro, quinoa, millet, wheat berries, sorghum, barley), add some combination of vegetables, nuts, or dried fruit, and a flavorful dressing (often citrus is a good fit).
    2. Leftovers from dinner. Especially things like curries and chili tend to get even better when they sit in the fridge.
  4. Snack. I usually have on in the afternoon, especially if I was active or am going to the gym or eating late. This could be an apple with nut butter, or whole-grain crackers or carrots with hummus.
  5. Dinner: My favorite is a big bowl with a grain (brown rice or quinoa), a green (kale, or brocoli rabe is a favorite), a bean or other protein-rich item (tempeh, tofu, homemade vegan sausage, pinto beans, black-eyed peas), with a flavorful and creamy sauce (a cashew-cream with tomato and red pepper, a peanut-soy sauce, red-hot tahini). Often with a glass of wine.
  6. Chocolate. 70% is a good starting place for me, and I might like it with sea salt, or ginger, or chili, or something else simple.
  7. Beverages— you’ve already met my friends coffee and wine. I also regularly drink green and herbal tea, kombucha (I make it at home), plain old water, and bubbly water.

Obviously it isn’t like this every single day. Some days there’s work lunch. Sometimes there’s the airport. Sometimes there’s takeout, or meeting friends. And sometimes there’s pizza (and it’s often vegan pizza!) But the closer I stick to this basic plan, the better I feel.

Do you have a regular routine around food choices?

Books about running that aren’t about running

I’m not a fast runner. I’ll never win a major race, and I’m not particularly interested in going after a big marathon. I just like to run. Similarly, I’m  kind of a lousy reader— slow, prone to mixing up letters and words, easily distracted. Yet, I love to read, and I love to run. I also love to read about running. And I’m in luck: there is lots of great writing on the subject, from technical manuals to memoirs to novels to philosophy. While I love a good geek-out, it’s these latter categories that really grab me. Maybe because running can be so solitary and long miles give us time to think, writing on running is often perceptive and introspective. In fact, much of this writing is really more about living in the world than it is about putting on foot in front of the other. 


I certainly haven’t read every book about running (yet). But I find myself coming back to some favorites. The books I return to share a theme of running not just as a sport, but as a conduit for humanity. The first one that pulled me in was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Fans of Murakami’s fiction will recognize his voice: keen observation, simple description, slightly magical air. He writes about the routines of running, the suffering, the odd sense of comfort, and how these mirror the writing life. Reading it was meditative for me. Another classic, Running & Being, from the so-called “philosopher king” of running George Sheehan, delighted me in a different way. The chapters are titled things like “Living”, “Discovering”, “Learning”, “Racing”, and “Meditating”. Sheehan, like Murakami, is preoccupied with the suffering of running. Is this the secret sauce? Suffering? I don’t know, but there’s something about it that compels runners and writers alike.

Continue reading

Active Commuting Adventures

Since my recent relocation to Portland, my commute has changed. A lot. Instead of a mile to campus for teaching, or driving to different neighborhoods in Tucson for the mobile clinic, now I’m heading from NE Portland to Marquam hill most days. It’s no fun to drive, and parking is a non-starter. And I hate spending a lot of time driving in the city anyway. The trip takes a while, either way, so I have to make my commuting time count for more than just transportation. Those two-ish hours every day count against the 24 I’m allotted, no matter how you slice it. Is it coming out of my exercise time? My professional reading time? My sleep?!? So I’ve been testing out my commute options! So far, I’ve been. . . Continue reading

Strategies for SAD

SAD. I haz it. Well, I have had it, anyway. After a few decades of dreadful winters in Philly, Ohio, and Boston, I lived in Arizona for 10 years, and not by accident. Longer days and plenty of sunshine are good for me. So my recent relocation to Portland, OR, was a little scary. I love the city, but in winter, the sun isn’t up until 7:30, and it’s pretty well dark around 5. When it is daytime, it’s often pretty gray. I’m not dealing with any active symptoms now, but I know I have this tendency. Wellness isn’t something you can put off until you are unwell. What do I need to keep myself healthy, knowing that darkness and indoors are my arch nemeses? 

  • Science says it’s pretty likely that light therapy is beneficial. I got this for Christmas (thanks Amy!!) and I use it for 20 minutes every morning, while it’s still dark outside (dude, until like 7:30). I drink coffee, do my brief journaling, plan my goals and schedule for the day, and do any other lingering desk chores while I sit by the light.
  • I get outside. The light still works (remember when your mom said you can still get a sunburn when it’s cloudy?), but so does fresh air and moving your body. Sometimes it’s as simple as having the right gear to make the outdoors friendlier. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather— only insufficient gear. (See my previous post about running).
  • I’m keeping up good relationships with my family and friends in San Diego and Tucson. Mid-winter escape route! People aren’t like solar cells, but, well, experience suggests that a good break somewhere sunny can carry me through.
  • I remind myself to go out— both for exercise and for social time. Does it always sound great? No. Is it usually great? Yes. 
  • I eat well. Of course it’s tempting to face-plant into a bowl of mac and cheese when it’s dark, damp and cold. I’m not above it. But if most of my plate is vegetables, I feel better. And if I feel better, I’m better at doing the rest of the stuff on this list.

What else helps you sun-lovers out there with a long winter?

It’s January. Are you running?

It’s January, and I just moved from Tucson to Portland, OR. Winter is peak running weather in Tucson— sunny in the daytime, and cool in the mornings and evenings. In Portland, it’s. . . dark. From 4:30 PM until 7:30 AM. And wet. I’ll treadmill it if necessary, but it sucks the joy from my life. So what’s a girl to do? Adapt. Here’s what I’ve tried so far:

  1. Gear. Since Ragnar last year, I haven’t had much use for my reflective vest  but now I do. I also needed a better headlamp. Now I’m visible, and I can see. Safety? Check. Add that to toasty tops and tights and something to keep my ears warm, and I’m feeling pretty good. I’m still figuring out which shoes are best for slick sidewalks (any advice??), but I’ve got muddy trails covered. 
  2. Adjust expectations. Yes, I can run in the dark. In the rain. I won’t melt. The rain is often kind of misty and drizzly— almost pleasant, in a way. Portlanders aren’t phased the way Tucsonans are— I used to joke that people stayed home if it looked a little cloudy. Here? Bring it on. People are out there. I also thought it would suck running before it’s light out, remembering pre-dawn runs of yore before early hospital shifts. But 6 AM is way better than 4:45, even if it’s dark. 
  3. Learn to love the mud. Pippi, Max and I ran on some Forrest Park trails last weekend and we had a blast— it was sloppy, but who cares? There’s a distinct joy in getting dirty. Own it.
  4. Back up plans and cross-training. Some days it’s too nasty. A gym membership was in order— so I got one. I can use the treadmill, sure, but maybe a functional training class (kettlebells! boxes! bodyweight!), a rowing workout, or some cycling, too. Cross-training has its own set of benefits that I’m starting to enjoy, like feeling stronger on hills.
when you gotta, you gotta.

What other tips to you have for me to help me run all winter long?

E.N.E.R.G.Y., 7 ways

Last night was both the winter solstice— the darkest night of the year— and a magnificent full moon. As if the sky wanted to remind us that the light returns, starting now!

Lots of folks, myself included, find it hard to keep our energy levels up at this time of year. Exactly when there seem to be extra demands on us. Funny how that goes, isn’t it? If we just accept the defaults, we’ll probably crash at some point (who hasn’t had a December meltdown?). So what can we do? How can we turn this strain into a teachable moment for ourselves?

Stress can point out to us exactly where the inflection points are.  Then it’s up to us to pay attention.

So, ENERGY: each night, experience rest, gratitude, and yoga? even night-owl extroverts require gentle years? eggplants! nectarines! endive! radishes! ginger! yams!

OR. . .

Here’s some low-hanging fruit— things that are easy to blow off in the moment, but that add up to exhaustion:

  1. Go to bed! It’s OK to lean into the hibernation instinct a little bit. When you have a lot to do, don’t knock sleep off the back. Set an alarm for bedtime, use the function on your iphone, and stick to it. If you don’t have a true reason to be up too late, don’t be. I don’t mean skip out on being present for important events, but I do mean maybe turn off the Hallmark channel and get some quality pillow time. (I’ve given the sleep rundown before, but I’ll give you the short version again: make your room cool and your bed warm, no screens in bed, make it dark and unplug stuff with little glowing lights, use do not disturb mode on your phone).
  2. Eat your veggies. Of course there’s lots to indulge in around the holidays, and I’d never tell you not to do so. Just don’t crowd out all the nutrition your body needs to function. Remember to eat green stuff every day. If you know you’re going to a party, maybe start your day with a smoothie or have a big salad for lunch. Order a side salad. Bring a veggie dish to the potluck. Whatever works.
  3. Pay attention to energy vampires— sugar and alcohol. It would be easy to drink wine and eat dessert every single day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This will probably make your energy levels tank. Both will disrupt your sleep, in addition to taxing your system, dehydrating you, and giving you that fuzziness (you know). So just pay attention. You could think about skipping either or both few days. While we often think there’s social pressure to indulge, the fact is, most people don’t really care what you do or don’t eat and drink. You can say no thanks. You can have a seltzer with lime or a kombucha or an apple cider at a party. You can say those look delicious but you’re totally full and would love one for later. If you do take a day off, note how you feel in the morning. 
  4. Get some sunlight. It’s in short supply in December, so get creative. If before and after work are dark try midday (a walk, at least?). . Go out in nature on the weekends. If you live somewhere dark, maybe light therapy lamp is for you. Using a bright light (look for “10,000 lux)  for 30 minutes per day has been shown to combat depression
  5. Relatedly, get some exercise. Maybe you can organize a family hike? Or run a 5k? If you’re a gym person, carve out the time. Even if it’s less time than you’d like, make time.  This will feel easier if you do 1, 2, and 3. And everyone feels better after a sweat. Promise. 
  6. Don’t burn yourself out. You don’t have to say yes to everything and everyone. You can put in an appearance and go on to the next event. It’s OK if that event is a date with a good book and your dog.  
  7. Finally, don’t lean too heavily on artificial sources of energy to pull you through. I love coffee, I really do, but it doesn’t replace the things I suggested above. If you’re too tired, maybe you should listen, honor that, and cool your jets.

Which one of these fall off first for you? Can put it back?