Tuesday, February 26, 2013

HEALTH: Last Night a Neti Saved My Life

Every doctor I consulted about my severe sinus problems told me that I would have to take a daily steroid spray to calm my swollen turbinates and likely undergo a surgery to later cut them and fix my very deviated septum.  Though I didn't like the prescribed solution, I also didn't like the fact that I could hardly breathe through my nostrils and had become a "mouth breather".  Additionally, the sinus pain in my face was beginning to be unbearable.  Fortunately, I tried to give the neti pot a chance...again.

Why again? I tried it years ago, but could not for the life of me get it to work.  For those of you who are not familiar with a neti pot, it is essentially a miniature porcelain (skip the BPA-laden plastic ones) watering pot.  You fill this pot with warm saline water and use the spout to get water to flow from one nostril to the other via the nasal and sinus cavities.  While it's not incredibly hard to do, it initially takes a few tries to get it just right; instructions are VERY helpful.

Long story short, I was able to breathe through my nose immediately after my first neti cleanse.  Not only that, the pressure in my face miraculously went away.  The results were nothing short of miraculous.  If you're wondering, cleaning the sinuses using water is not a new practice. In fact, it has firm roots in Ayurvedic practices and is even part of the Muslim Wudu.

Follow the instructions below for a bearable Neti experience or read the Himalayan Institute's Guide - believe me, it's worth the results:
  • Get your goods
    • Porcelain neti pot - I personally like the Himalayan Institute Neti Pot, which is available at Whole Foods
    • Pure Sea Salt - I skipped the tiny and pricey neti salt packages and just bought a large bottle of very high quality, unprocessed grey sea salt called Esprit du Sel, which is again available at Whole Foods
      • DO NOT USE TABLE SALT - all of the added chemicals will burn the inside of your nose
  • Prepare your saline mixture
    • Boil approximately 10 ounces of water for at least 5 minutes
    • Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt to the boiling water 
    • Stir the salt in the boiling water until it dissolves entirely or near entirely
    • Let the mixture cool for at least 10 minutes - pour it in the neti pot
  • Work that Neti! Before you do - checkout the pic of Jessica Simpson rocking the Neti (trust me, this is better than a pix of yours truly)
    • Setup your neti position - you may have to adjust this over time, but start here
      •  Look straight down into a sink
      • Turn your head to the right such that
        • One nostril is clearly higher than the other
        • Your forehead is higher than your chin in terms of level
      • Take the neti pot spout and stick it into the higher nostril
        • Create a seal between the spout and your nostril
        • Start raising the neti pot in order to pour the solution into your nostril
        • After a few seconds, water will start to come out of your lower nostril
        • DO NOT BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE during this time
      • Blow your nose when you're done
        • I personally use half of the solution in each nostril - that is, I switch sides
Enjoy your new and amazingly clear nose and sinues!

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Monday, February 25, 2013

TECHNOLOGY: Instashare Makes Sharing...Fun (or Easy)

How many times do you find yourself emailing yourself or Dropboxing items in order to have them on your phone, laptop, or tablet?  Email no more with Instashare (@instashareapp).  Transfer files between any of your favorite gadgets in seconds.  I tried it out today with a photo on my iphone that I wanted on my laptop and it worked like a charm (actually, it's the photo below).  Note: your gadgets have to either be connected by bluetooth or wi-fi for this to work - after all, there's no such thing as magic! Oh, and to prove that the best things in life are free...it is!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

HEAL: Sugar Detox Failure Led to Lessons Learned

My sugar detox was going so well; a full 30 minutes of my 1.5 hour workout this morning was spent jogging while repeating the mantra "sugar is not my friend", I made myself all types of sugar-free and wholesome snacks,  and I maintained my commitment to "no added or refined sugar"...until 8 pm.  My husband unintentionally taunted me with his regular evening snack of crisp toast topped with Nutella, and I snapped...like a doberman.  I ran to the freezer and grabbed a Trader Joe's mini-ice cream cone; "it's only 70 calories and 5 grams of sugar...it's not that bad," I reasoned.  It unfortunately didn't stop there.  In my dopamine/serotonin induced stupor, I went on to shamelessly consume a chocolate cookie. My detox was officially over.

Onwards and upwards, a few good lessons were found in the ruins of my detox:
  • Consuming sugar makes you want more
    • What does this mean? Once I gave in to my first sweet treat, I immediately wanted more. There is a logical reason to all of this (a big thanks to Dr. Aaliya, @DrAaliya, for enlightening me on this process); as you consume sugar, your brain's pleasure center the nucleus accumbens receives a dopamine signal.  You consume more sugar because it makes you happy, but with  prolonged exposure, the signal weakens.  You have to consume more sugar to get the same effect.  Does this sound like the story of drug addiction or is it just me?  Check The Atlantic for a deep dive on this topic.
  • For serious addicts: minimize sugar consumption earlier in the day or delay it entirely until as late in the day as possible
    • Based on the process above, it seems to me that addicts should try to delay their initial sugar consumption (outside of fruit) as much as possible (in terms of time of day) so as to prevent the urge to consume more sugar after a first "exposure"
    • Following this strategy will also let you "save" your sugar intake for the goodies you absolutely must have
  • Set a daily sugar limit for yourself and don't exceed it
    • Sugar addict or not, it's almost impossible to avoid sugar entirely.  Just like most of us set a general calorie intake level for ourselves, we should also figure out a limit per day of added sugars (refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, etc).  For women, the American Heart Association recommends capping daily intake of added sugars at 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar.  For men, the maximum recommended limit is 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar per day. Some perspective: a can of coke contains 39 grams of sugar.   Also, set a cap on calories that come from sugary treats. 
  • Get creative with your snacks
    • Instead of reaching for honey to sweeten my afternoon yogurt, or adding a squirt of chocolate syrup to my morning yogurt-peanut butter smoothie, I came up with better snack alternatives to keep me full and sugar-free throughout the day
      • Cottage cheese topped with topped persian cucumbers and half an avocado
        • Spice with pepper, salt, and cayenne pepper
      • Yogurt, peanut butter, and banana shake
        • No sugar needed
      • Raw almonds and walnuts
        • That's it
      • Tea or coffee with plain non-fat half-and-half or your favorite plain creamer
        • You save yourself several grams of sugar from this small change alone
      • Be sure to drink plenty of water to prevent hunger that really stems from thirst
        • I have a BPA-free, clear bottle by Aladdin that I fill up at least twice a day - seeing my water consumption makes water more bearable to me than drinking it in a steel Sigg
I hope my failure provides you with valuable insights.  I know it did for me.

INFO: Grain to Water Ratio Guide

Enjoy this great find from Good Eggs and high promoted by a great blog, The Kitchn:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

HEAL: 7 Day Sugar Detox Plan

If you read my blog, I do a ton of preaching about reducing fat and refined sugars; unfortunately, I need to take my own advice, especially as it pertains to sugar and sweet treats.  I recently realized that my previously in-control sugar problem had spun out of control...like widely out of control. What was previously a weekly splurge or a daily sweet alternative (peanut butter in yogurt, vitamix banana ice-cream, etc) turned into the consumption of indulgent treats on a daily basis...you know things are bad when you're embarrassed to admit to your significant other that you bear full responsibility for the empty bag of chocolate chip cookies...that was full yesterday. The worst part was my Pavlovian response to any mention of a sweet treat...salivating at the mention of a cupcake makes you really second guess how much control you have over your fatty tendencies.

I've been trying to talk myself out of reaching for sweets due to the negative health impacts of sugar, but have had little to no success. Fortunately, my vanity forced me to admit my problem, and plan a swift plan of attack.  After all, I work dang hard to fit into my size 2 jeans, and I don't plan on giving that up because I had one (or five too many) macarons. By the way, the picture featured here are the treats I had in the last 10 days...not good!

There's a great WebMD slideshow that talks about the body's relationship with sugar and resulting addictions - check it out to better understand the problem before diving unto my solution below:
  1. I am eliminating all added sugars for the next 7 days
    1. This includes honey, agave, stevia, etc, etc
  2. I am reducing my fruit intake...slightly
    1. I love, love, love fruit, but I plan on reducing my fruit to vegetable ratio  I'm thinking 4-5 servings vegetables to 2-3 servings of fruit (I know this sounds like alot of fruits and vegetables per day, but some pretty authoritative sources are recommending between 5-13 servings per day vs the old 5) during this detox
  3. I am creating a "tolerance" plan for when my sugar cravings hit...and they will hit
    1. I plan to drink plain green tea, drink a glass of water, do a few jumping jacks, and maybe even take a walk
    2. I also plan to avoid situations that encourage social sweet consumption like frozen yogurt or cupcake outings with friends
  4. If the cravings continue at day 7, I'm extending my detox and repeating steps 1-3 for another 7 days
Watch out for my blog posts over the next week; hopefully, I'll be able to contain my jitters for long enough to write them...

HOTSPOTS: Boba Guys Bubble Tea

Bubble Tea has been my weakness for as long as I can remember.  I recently gave up my fav drink due to studies showing that samples of bubble tea contained chemicals like styrene, acetophenone, and brominated substances; these chemicals are all cancer causing and certainly not something you want in your body (or in my case, any more than I had already ingested).

Anyhoo, my love is back, and it's all due to the Boba Guys.  They have created 100% natural bubble teas (Straus Family Creamery half and half, honey pearls, etc, etc) that are not only not bad for you, but actually taste amazing.  I came across a Chow article this morning about them, and literally booked it to San Francisco from San Mateo to taste their creation.  I highly recommend making a trip; my cousin (the cutie in my picture: ) and I tried their jasmine milk tea with almond jelly and tapioca pearls, and literally were so taken aback that we actually stopped talking...that never happens. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

TRAVEL: Chasing Waterfalls at Golden Gate Park

I decided to actually use my bike this past weekend, and I'm glad I did. My friend and I discovered an amazing waterfall at Golden Gate Park. 
Here's my advice if you plan on visiting the park: rent a bike at this little bike store on Fulsom/6th, bike into the park, tour around, and end your ride at the de Young Museum cafe.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

SPECIAL OCCASIONS: T-7 Until Valentine's Day

williams-sonoma, cooking, baking, cooks, cutleryWhether it's shopping, speaking, or decorating - I pride myself in my pragmatic nature.  Why make things complicated right?  Well, all bets are off when it comes to Valentine's Day.  Though the holiday originally celebrated the martyred Catholic St Valentine; I prefer to follow the Middle Age interpretation first popularized by Chaucer.

Valentine's Day reminds me of my childhood; cutting red paper doilies in the shape of hearts, wearing red or pink on the 14th of February, eating red or pink foil covered chocolates, and bestowing your besties with pre-fab cards featuring the Smurfs or some other 80's cartoon character.  What could be better than sharing love for all?

To this day, I still enjoy sharing love for all rather than just for one on this holiday.  I figure that I have anniversaries and birthdays to tell my husband that I love him; why not use this day to let your friends know that you love them? Whether you share Valentine's Day with one or all;  here are some unique ways to make this holiday a fun, and relatively guilt-free blast:
  • Drinks
    • Presentation Note: present the following fun drinks in Mason Jars or tall glasses; be sure to add a cute paper straw
    • Pomegranate and Sparkling Water Spritzers 
      • Pour a splash of pomegranate juice into sparkling water 
      • Do not mix until ready to serve 
    • Strawberry Milk
      • Blend strawberries with milk and a touch of vanilla yogurt for a fun drink
      • Chill until ready to serve
    • Berry Herbal Tea 
      • Brew berry herbal tea
      • Let cool to room temperature or slightly warmer
      • Serve warm in clear mugs
  • Sweet Treats
    • Strawberry Vanilla Mousse
      • Blend 3 cups of frozen strawberries in a food processor, add in prepared vanilla pudding (use an instant mix - I like the Trader Joe's one), blend, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. 
      • Serve in individual cups or glasses and garnish with a light whipped cream and a sprig of mint
    •  Molten Chocolate Cake
      • If you're gonna have a molten chocolate cake on Valentine's Day - take the plunge! Although, do workout or balance your calories elsewhere - staying fit is a zero sum game my friends! Williams Sonoma has provided a beautiful picture of one that makes my mouth water - click on the picture for a recipe to this must-have dessert.

    **This post is a collaboration with Williams-Sonoma, but all words and opinions are my own

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

PHOTOGRAPHY: Taking Pictures of Food...at Night...on Your iPhone

Why do we take pictures of food? We love the food itself; we want to make our dieting Instagram/Facebook friends cry a little; we like taking pictures, etc.  The list goes on.  In any case, we want these pictures to look ahhmazing.  How do you do that when you're in a dark, dimly lit restaurant, with a dark chocolate cake? Simple.  Here are the rules:
  • Never, ever use flash.  Amateur flash (the kind that most of us have on our cameras or phones) does very little to enhance the beauty of a picture.  It really just does a good job exposing the subject. Very Zero Thirty like - this is no bueno for your food shots.
  • Use props: use the candles, silverware, and drinks on your table to your advantage.  Setup props several dimensional layers deep.
  • It takes two: you're likely out and eating with someone else, have them help you.
  • Download a flashlight app: not only does this app (I have the generic "Flashlight" on my iPhone) help you locate your keys in a ginormous bag, it also provides the right lighting for a dark situation.  Have your dining buddy hold the flashlight high above the subject, and snap your picture!
The picture you see here was taken using the rules above; my cousin (sobiamanjra on Instagram) snapped the pic while I managed lighting. This picture was taken with no filter and is unaltered.  Flashlight and snap away my friends!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Friday, February 1, 2013

FIELD TRIP: The Ferry Building

Ahh...the joy of a (skinny) Blue Bottle latte first thing in the morning!