Desserts spelled backwards

So in the last few weeks, let's see what's been going on in my world. Weird sleep schedule (sleep late, oversleep, sleepy in the middle of the day) check; mindless activities - watching movies all day, constantly playing with my hair check; mindless eating usually prefaced by a little (ok big!) chocolate binge check, starting things, but never finishing check; feeling overwhelmed check; feeling unmotivated check; Fatigue check; Restlessness check; suddenly needing to do all the mundane tasks I've put off check (well, half check because I start and realize I have no interest). Uh-oh I think I am stressed out!

With deadlines approaching, projects looming, endless checklists, pending exams/tests, addition of new family members, planning weddings, planning anything and wanting to get this and that done, we're bound to feel stressed out from time to time. Some of us are in a perpetual state of stress and don't really know life any other way. We're often caught in the middle of work expectations, deadlines, family expectations and many things that just keep us in a constant state of ON. Our ability to deal with our stress goes a long way to a healthy heart and certainly a healthy life.

OM-Times Magazine

Stress is inevitable, and although we experience it at different levels, we’re all bound to feel the tightness in our chest and the complete loss of control at some point.  So since I have finally stilled the noises in my head (at least for now), I thought it would be appropriate to discuss some of the things I should have done and some of the things I’ve been doing to get me through this itty bitty stressful time.

Recognize stress: My brain/body likes to keep me protected and does not tell me I’m experiencing stress. I often realize it when my sleep pattern changes or I notice that I’m reaching for sugary foods in great amounts. I’ve realized that I generally suppress stress and I’m about a week into it before I realize what’s going on. Dealing with stress well means recognizing the signs of stress. Think about it, what are some of the things you do when you're stressed out? 

Food: I’ve gone through a shameful amount of chocolate in the last two weeks and barely remember eating any of it. Many of us are comforted by food while stressed out. For some sugar provides that comfort, for others, salt. Either group is not particularly good for our bodies and certainly not for the stress. This CNN article describes the best foods to eat when we are experiencing stress and includes: blueberries, seeds (pumpkin, flax, sunflower etc), cashews, turkey, spinach, milk, pistachios, oatmeal, salmon, avocado, yogurt and dark chocolate (one square). Hmmm no ice cream in sight!

Physical activity: While many of us want to just sit and maybe sleep and hope the stressor will just go away, it is actually very healthy to move when we are experiencing stress. With blood pumping throughout our bodies, shuttling away cortisol and distributing the surge of many feel good hormones, movement is a great way to de-stress. This includes walking, running, dancing, sex, lifting weights, boxing, etc.  
Life's best medicine: Laughter definitely gets me through stressful times. It can be difficult to see humor in anything when we are stressed out, but laughter can sometimes be the thing that gets us over the hump. Watching something funny can be a great stress relief, or better yet calling up that loved one that you know will have you in stitches in no time!
Life's other medicine: There's something about music that is just so soothing to the stressed soul. When stress sets in, I turn off my TV and upsetting news, and plug into some soulful, joyful and uplifting music.

Mindfulness & Deep breathing: When I'm stressed out, I tend to engage in a lot of mindlessness. It's like my brain wants to shut down completely so as not to deal with the stress and apparently anything else. But becoming focused is a great way to deal with stress. It causes us to really look at what our stressor is and figure out what to do to overcome it. It is also good to take in deep breaths, which forces an increased amount of oxygen into our lungs and helps slow down our heartbeat and causes us to relax. Yoga is a fabulous activity to accomplish both of these as the practice requires mindfulness and focus on breathing.

Socialize: No, this doesn’t mean you should stay up chatting with friends instead of studying for that big exam! But it helps when we “vent” or talk about the thing that is causing us stress. Many of us find ourselves in isolation during stressful moments, partly because we are cranky, but often because we just can’t be bothered. However, in stressful situations, it can be useful to have discussions with like-minded people that can help sort through your head and help explore solutions, if that’s what’s required. Of course, it’s prudent to pick people that will not exacerbate your stress by unloading on you!
Writing: I often write out my thoughts to help still the discontented, disjointed, dis-everything thoughts that come up when I’m stressed out. I find the very act of writing things out shows me plainly what I need to do. A clear mind is definitely a great way to better decisions.

There are many other things to do to relieve stress. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting some fresh air and a new perspective. Sometimes it takes cleaning up our space so that we can see things clearly. Other times we just need to reset and take a quick break from the madness of our world. I often find that prayer also helps!

So how do you de-stress? Let me know!

Half-stepping diva



My aunt once called me meatless...she had been a vegetarian for years and declared that my dietary choice simply made me meatless and not a vegetarian. I'm pretty sure I was indignant about her statement and got defensive, but have since conceded that ah, she was probably right!

I've been "vegetarian" most of my life. When my mother became vegetarian, I decided around age 5 that I too, wanted this lifestyle. I remember inquiring about a meal, and stopped eating it once I learned it wasn't vegetarian. She informed the rest of the household (my grandmother); that evening she came home to find me chewing on fried pork courtesy of my grandmother. Yeah that message wasn't received! 

Many studies/reports like this one and this one and for good measure this one  assert that vegetarians live longer, have better health outcomes, and are possibly happier. A recent study from Austria rocked this a bit, suggesting that the opposite was true of the Austrian vegetarians studied: those vegetarians are in fact "less healthy" than their meat enjoying counterparts. The vegetarians had elevated risks of cancer, allergies and mental problems (depression, anxiety, etc) and were more likely to avoid preventative check ups and vaccines. From a public health standpoint, this is a very confusing message and there are so many confounding factors that could contribute to these findings. From a real life vegetarian experience, this study probably rings true.

There's a myth that vegetarians are automatically healthier and will probably outlive meat-eaters. This has the potential to be true, however being a vegetarian in a meat-filled world means compromise and lots of carbohydrates.

As a child, I did not like any cooked vegetables...at all. I preferred my veggies raw or nonexistent.
When I signed onto becoming a vegetarian, this didn't change. But it was fine growing up in the kitchen of a vegetarian caterer - my mom incorporated veggies as I would tolerate them. Outside of her kitchen however, things were slightly different. My best friend in 2nd grade shared a meal of corned beef and rice every lunch period, for the whole year. She knew I was vegetarian; I didn't know I was eating corned beef. For her birthday, she brought cake which she assured me was vegetarian...yeah ok. We laugh about it today. I didn't spend much time in other people's homes because what would they feed me? And the few times I did, I had to pack an extra bag of food...really, what child wants to do that.  In a land of meat and more meat, I was firmly the odd one out.

I thought, as most of us assumed, that the U.S would provide me with more vegetarian options. I soon learned what those options were. My lunch at school consisted of french fries, cheese pizza and soda. I don't remember very many other choices, but I was also very drawn to foods that I had only experienced in books! When I started packing lunch, it was granola bars, bread, crackers, chips and maybe a fruit. Oh bread, a vegetarian's staple! Then off to college, the land of unlimited trips to the cereal bar, ice cream bar, pizza bar, taco bar, all the french fries you can eat, potato with anything you want on it, and yeah the salad bar, but who goes there? In the dorms I became champion of cooking pasta in the microwave. When I would go out with friends, it was always a challenge and we often ended up at the one Chinese restaurant that had tofu which I often ate with....very white rice.

The reality of being a vegetarian is that we are often faced with choices that might lack meat, but do not contain vegetables. And though health-conscious, we often have such limited choices that we end up carbohydrated out! We are often told to just "eat around the meat", or "have a salad". I remember going out for breakfast, and the only option I had was an "vegetarian" omelet without the eggs...which left me with....onions and tomatoes!

When done properly, being a vegetarian ushers you into a world of healthy, tasty choices that doesn't weigh you down and keeps your organs functioning at their best, which I will discuss in the next post.  However, in a world filled with meat and more meat, sticking to a strict vegetarian diet requires some creativity and eating at home before heading out with friends! 

So have you tried being a vegetarian? Was it challenging? Did you change much in your diet other than dropping the meat? I would love to hear from you.

Veggie on!
Half-stepping diva


What you eat

I treated myself to some fruit slices last week; they were quite delicious! Then I made the mistake of reading the ingredients: corn syrup, sugar, modified food starch (corn), natural and artificial flavors, artificial colors (red 40, yellow 6, yellow 5, red 3, blue 1). Let’s break down this list…it has corn syrup which is sugar, more sugar, a corn derivative, flavors and colors….so where exactly is the fruit?

I can't talk about putting the right things into our bodies without addressing what those things are.

I bought ice cream a few weeks ago - a specific
brand that promises ingredients I can read, you know, milk, sugar, cream, etc.  Upon closer examination, I realized that I had bought a “frozen dairy dessert”. So wait, I bought a dessert that has milk and is kept in a freezer, but it's not ice cream? So what exactly is in it? As the list reads, I had bought a concoction of milk, sugar, more sugar, more milk, cheese by-product, fatty acids, a thickener, another thickener, yet another thickener, natural flavor (what does that mean?), vitamin A, a thickener, and fudge twirl sauce which contains milk, sugar, sugar, cocoa, cheese by-product, cream, a thickener and salt. Not quite what I had in mind when I wanted ice cream! 

There have been several other foods that I've learned have a bit more than I expected. For example, the cheese slices I had come to love after moving to the U.S were actually a "pasteurized prepared cheese product"....so wait, is it cheese or not?

Ahh bread, a staple in most of our homes has quite some ingredients including hydrogenated soybean oil, sodium stearoyl, lactylate, datem, defatted soy flour, extract of malted barley, dextrose, calcium propionate. Goodness, what happened to flour, water, salt and yeast?!   

And don't get me started on peanuts...why does my dry roasted peanuts have sugar, gelatin, torula yeast, cornstarch, dried corn syrup, and maltodextrin?

Our food is slowly morphing into science experiments and projects. And unfortunately this trend is expanding worldwide. I was quite dismayed to see that the fast food, pre-packaged food lifestyle has seeped into the Ghanaian life and is slowly taking over.

We have created a world in which every moment of our day has been filled with something to do. This often means that good food is the last thing on our minds. But we cannot survive and thrive without making the investment of healthy living.

So this week, I challenge you to read more food labels; see what you're actually putting into your body. Show your body love, and make an effort to eat more whole foods...your investment will certainly pay off!  

Happy eating real food!
Half-stepping diva



Garbage in...

Yesterday, I had a rousing conversation with someone who took my Zumba Fitness class for the first
time. She wanted to know if the hour of movement she'd just completed could have possibly burned any of the cheeseburger, fries, onion rings and Coca-Cola she'd consumed during the day. I, of course could not provide her a true answer since I didn't know: how much she'd moved, the intensity of her movements, her weight, how much food she'd consumed, etc. But I had to let her know that she could not outrun a bad diet!

I get it...I have often convinced myself that I could eat something I really wanted since I was planning on working out later. It was usually something chock full of sugar which means that, I would have a "sugar crash" shortly afterwards, and unless I had a scheduled class would not want to do any kind of activity. Or when I did make it to the gym would put in only half the effort.

March is National Nutrition month (I'm not sure who comes up with these and why we buy into them, but hey, I read it somewhere) so I figured it would be a good time to talk about food, food, food.

We all love food...why not. I personally prefer my food dipped in chocolate and fried. Or doughy, cheesy and gooey...and dipped in chocolate and fried. Even though I'm vegetarian, I don't particularly care for the taste of vegetables (bean sprouts ewww...ok truthfully I've never tasted it, but it just looks
weird!), and it just takes so much effort!

But clearly my dietary choices have not particularly served me well and I've become more conscious of what I put into my body. GIGO works in the computer world as it does in our bodies: Garbage in, garbage out.

Or if you prefer, what you sow is what you reap.

Which  means that we can't eat foods high in simple sugars (chocolate, sodas/soft drinks, pastries, juice, candy, white bread, white rice, white pasta, white flour, etc) and unhealthy fats (deep fried anything)  and expect a beautiful heart forever. Or a pancreas that will continuously pump out insulin in an effective manner, or young looking beautiful skin. At some point, the garbage will come out, and health will be affected.

We are often surprised when athletes and people that are constantly in motion, are diagnosed with serious medical problems, but I've learned that oftentimes athletes are just as guilty as the rest of us in indulging in quick, unhealthy meals that do not support optimal body functions.

So I challenge you today to be mindful of what you eat....add a vegetable or two to each meal (yes even your breakfast). Increase your fiber intake (all fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes etc), and drink more water. Decrease your sugar, fat and sodium intake; avoid processed foods which are generally higher at least in sugar and sodium. And most importantly, savor each meal.

Happy healthy eating!
Half-stepping diva

P.S. Happy 58th Independence day, Ghana! 


After the "love" is gone...

And just like that, February is over! Did you survive St. Valentine's Day?

Was it a happy day for you? Did you get that surprise you were hoping for? Maybe an engagement? Did you spend the day basked in love and feeling all "butterflyey" in your stomach?

Were you stressed out trying to plan the perfect day? Did you snap at the person that you were trying to show love because you got so caught up in all the madness of this and that and wait, how did I forget to get a card?!

Or was it a sad day? Were you bitter that you weren't sharing the day with someone? Annoyed by all the red and pink balloons and teddy bears that let's be honest grown women should not be receiving anyway. Did all the commercials and cards and flower people just get under your skin? Did you resolve to commiserating with the chocolate people who are the clear winners in this fiscal fight? Was this another scarry kind of day for you?

Or did you forget that this day exists? Did you simply wake up and go about your day like any other?

We all fall somewhere along the continuum...me, Valentine's day remains one of my all-time favorite days...I enjoy the sappiness and exuberant expressions of love. Growing up in a society that is completely infatuated with over-the-top gifts (I've heard stories of wealthy folks giving out cars as gifts) means that Valentine's day was  introduced to me as a happy occasion, regardless of whether I was gnashing (single) or not. It's also the birthday of some of my favorite people and unfortunately the day another favorite person passed.

 As I went through my own highs and lows of the day, I got to spend the day with a whole lot of people, some through texts, phone calls and many in person. Valentine's day this year reminded me that love comes in various packages and through different people.

And that love should not start or stop on Valentine's day. Love it or hate it, the day's a good reminder that the greatest thing we can share with others is our love. If the most loving thing you do for someone throughout the year is on Valentine's day, you might want to reconsider how you show love. There's no occasion needed to let the important people around you know of your love.

And who better to pour love into, than ourselves? Have you shown yourself love lately? What does that even mean for you...loving yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Keep loving! 
Half-stepping diva


Oh...Never Mind!

And just like that, we're done with the first month of 2015. Boy that went by pretty quickly! With over 31 days under our belt, we've had enough time to form some new habits (it takes 21 days of consistency for a habit to stick). Did you make any resolutions, goals or plans for  how you wanted to shape 2015. How have you been doing so far? How much have you accomplished? Is your goal still on your mind?

I recently read an article that February 2 is the day that those who do, give up on their goals/resolutions/NY changes. I get it. I myself thought as I indulged in ice cream and nutella that clearly is not in my goals, that since the next day is the 1st of February, it would be a good time to get back on the horse and restart my resolve. And then on February 1st found new ways to give myself a break from my goals (it's Sunday, I'm tired, the cookies are right there, it will take forever to cook a real meal, I'm starving! I need a nap, I'll work out later enough to burn ALL the calories I've eaten etc). Then I read the article and realized that I was headed straight to the February 2nd stop. I immediately hopped off that train!

So did you make it past February 2nd? Have you given up on making things right with your family? or giving up coke? or cooking healthier meals? or simply loving yourself more? Are you back in the same place you were last year and maybe the previous years?

In case you're on the February 2nd bandwagon, here are a few tips to get you off and towards things that matter to you!

-Write out what you want to change. Even if you're already done this, it's good to be reminded of what your goals are.

-Recommit to your goals by  listing what it will take to get there. For example, in order for me to work out before work, I must wake up by 5:30am which means I must actually get to bed on time.

-Remember that there's nothing magical about tomorrow, or Mondays or your anniversary to start something. Today's as good a day as any.

-Understand that though you often feel super, you will have challenges and simply have to start over. It's completely ok to stumble when you're working towards a goal; I believe stumbles give our success dimension and a better appreciation for our deserved reward. Even you, as determined as you are, will lose track sometimes. Just get back on it.

-You will not fail. For many of us, our starting point is failure. We look at the past, or other people's experiences and decide that we will never get that thing we really want. But we put on our fake confidence mask and half-heartedly pursue our goals anyway, only to balk when challenges arise. You will not fail; it might take a few attempts, longer than other people and revisions to your strategy, but you will not fail. Keep trying.

-Remember your  motivation. Why is this thing important to you?  Remind yourself of why you want to make this accomplishment and use that to spur you on.

-Be your own cheerleader. I am time-challenged...as in I know the time, but you know, I'll get there. This year, I'm working on becoming more time-conscious. I get scoffed at all the time when I share this goal, not because my support system is mean, but we often just don't see how others will change that thing that seems so ingrained. Whenever I am able to adhere to my schedule, I celebrate myself a little and use that to keep trying.

So let's keep working on making 2015 an amazing year! I would love to hear your thoughts! 

Half-stepping diva


Equipped and forgotten

So you have decided to make some changes in your life? Congratulations! and welcome to the club! At some point, we all nitpick at something that we want to fix. Talking to different people has made me realize that it is a natural part of growing up and even the most perfect person continues to seek perfection through change.

Change is daunting...and requires significant and specific steps that often make us run in the opposite direction. While giving me her exercise clothes, my aunt tells me how she decided to exercise. To prepare herself, she found a nearby gym and paid for a full year's membership and proceeded to shop for an entire wardrobe to support her decision. At the time of the story, she barely remembered which gym she had donated her money to, and since the clothes I was getting were brand new, it was safe to assume she didn't go back after joining!

This story has replayed in various forms in all our lives. I have collections of yarn, books, cookbooks, dance shoes, special outfits, equipment...all in the name of something new. I often hear friends talk about doing something and spend a whole lot of energy and money "preparing" for the change.

I think investing in my plans make me feel that I will actually go through with it. We often believe that in order to be serious in our resolve to change, we must first make an investment. I have realized however that when I've been successful in changing something, my first step is actually just doing it.

Let's say you want to eat more vegetables. You invest in an expensive blender which you will use to make juices and smoothies daily. In addition to your new toy, you need lots of vegetables, so you buy and fill up your fridge. 

Or you want to learn how to play the guitar this year. So you buy a guitar, maybe an amplifier, a pick and sign up for lessons immediately.

Or you want to lose weight. So you throw out everything bad and invest in fitness videos, or gym equipment or jump rope or remember you were fit when you played football (soccer) back in the day so you invest in some cleats, footballs, and running clothes.

Or you want a new job. You buy expensive special paper for the resume, and fill your wardrobe with brand new clothes and shoes for all the interviews you're definitely going to get.

In all the examples, it seems perfectly sound to make those investments. But oftentimes what
happens is that we realize we actually don't have time to blend anything; plus the smoothies taste horrible! And well you're terrible at the guitar and the guy teaching you is too far from you plus you're so tired after work all you want to do is eat and sleep. And you got through the first level of the fitness DVD, but why is it sooo hard? And why do they only have perfect bodies on the video and the treadmill is too boring so now you've started hanging clothes on it. And you haven't actually had time to look for any jobs, plus there's really nothing out there that you like!

So this year, when you are ready to do something new, start where you are and see how your change can actually fit your life. Use what you currently have and as the change becomes a habit, reward yourself by making investments to get better at it.

If you want to learn photography, start by becoming the designated photographer using your phone's camera. As your interest grows, you can purchase that beautiful camera you've been eyeing. If you want to learn how to play basketball, go somewhere others are playing and play with them.

Don't immediately invest in equipment that will surely collect dust soon. As for me and my cake decorating materials, maybe this year I will actually bake a cake so that I can practice my decorating skills!

Half-stepping diva



All week, I've been saying, it's the first Monday of 2015, the first Tuesday of 2015 and the first! and the first! All true, but so what?

For many New Year's I have created a list of resolutions that were for sure going to change my life and shape the year. Like most of us, my resolution involved giving up something or doing something; both changes that I knew needed to be done. But it didn't take long for my resolve to unravel, usually, ok I don't even think I often made it through January!

I've realized that I wasn't able to hold onto these resolutions for several reasons. For one, I had too many things to change at one time. And well I didn't really understand what it took to get those things done. So I gave up on New Year's resolutions and started working on year long goals. Alas, it didn't take long to realize that if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, well you know the saying!

As we get older, the beginning of the year becomes synonymous with doing something...usually, something different from the previous year. And as a 30 something year old, it doesn't take much time to realize that life doesn't move unless you make it happen. But every day is a new opportunity to do something different. The 1st of January has become a standard beginning of the year, but the beginning of the year really could have been any other day, had someone else decided to create the calendar.

January 1st is nice and simple, but this year I'm reminded that whatever changes I need to make can be done...NOW. I don't have to wait for a magical day (Mondays) or a magical date (New Year's, my birthday etc) to do what I know needs to be done. This way when I'm not able to be consistent or when life gets in the way, I can just get back on it and not wait for another magical day.

So Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you take steps that will make this year a much better year than last year. I hope you smile more, laugh more, grump less and surround yourself with positive life-changing moments. We know that life will always have ups and down, but I hope you do your part to keep the downs less frequent and the ups way up. Here's to an amazing 2015!

All the best!
Half-stepping diva