Flareups, Finding Balance & Shakshuka

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already February and this is my first post of 2015. Sorry for not being around, I needed to take a bit of a break from my cyber life to focus on my real life!

Unfortunately, this year didn’t start so well for me…relapse, flare-ups, whatever you want to call them, my body has been beating me up (like the bastard it is) and I’ve been trying not to let it win. Although sometimes it feels like it would just be easier if I did.

In January I went into a bit of a tailspin and was majorly self-sabotaging. I had lived such a restrictive life for so long because I thought it was helping me keep my conditions under control, so when I started to get really unwell again it was like a slap in the face and really difficult to handle.

I know I’ve said it before, but diet works up to a point and eating ‘well’ (whatever that means is so individual to each person) is only part of the solution. And, unfortunately, the nature of the chronic illness is that there are times when you just don’t have control over your body and you end up being dragged kicking and screaming half a mile backward. It sucks, but it is what it is.

When I self-sabotage I do it because it’s a time when I can at least understand why I feel crap. Eating rubbish food makes me feel rubbish. I get that. Waking up, trying to move, and every joint in my body falling out? Not so much. And I do love me some pizza. Shh.

But hey, I survived Marrakech with Hannah over New Year!

Trying to get back on track is difficult, especially when you’re constantly having to experiment with what works for your body and will help you get some semblance of control over your life. Sometimes I wish I knew that there was a set of meds that I could take that would make me better, or at least there would be a process that, almost unfailingly would work. Doing all of this by yourself can be very difficult and demoralizing at times, but when things start working and go well it can be so empowering. Trying to remember those feelings and that things do eventually can get better (not great, but better) is something that I always try to hang on to. I get frustrated that I ‘don’t look sick’ and the people around me don’t always understand or appreciate how unwell I am. It’s not that I want sympathy – just a little understanding would be nice. I’m still expected to do everything, and just keep going. But there is a point where you just have to say no, and stop, and try and figure out (once again) what you can do.

There are two big changes that have already happened this year, and I’m trying to take them as positives.

The first is that I’m officially on sick leave for the first time in my life. It’s weird.

I went back to work at the beginning of January, excited to be going in twice a week. Being able to go to work is something that I’ve always struggled with. Both physically in the sense that there are times when I actually just can’t handle doing stuff, and emotionally in the sense that not being able to do stuff really bloody sucks, especially when you’re as motivated and ambitious as I am.

I thought I was prepared and ready, but I felt so unwell that physically and mentally going in (even for two days) was just way way too much. It was more of a struggle than anything had ever been, and that really scared me. I had a massive breakdown and didn’t know what to do. My instinct was to hand in my notice, but (as I’ve said many times before) I’m so lucky that I work for such a supportive and amazing company and I didn’t have to do that. I’m now on sick leave and am taking some time to try and get better so I can go back to work and be a productive human being.

I’ve never allowed myself to truly rest and heal. I’d stop working or studying and get into bed, but I’d be working constantly while propped up. I’d go to work, and have a million other projects on the side to keep myself busy and to not think about how unwell I feel. This, I’ve recently discovered, is not resting. This is still working, you’re just a lot cozier. And it just feeds into my ‘boom or bust’ personality. I go for things whole hog, and instead of taking the time I need to rest and recover, I keep pushing and pushing myself to prevent the inevitable crash. But, inevitably, that crash only gets worse the more I push on.

It was such a weight off my shoulders when I got signed off and knowing that I don’t have to think about work for a bit. Not physically or mentally feeling up to it was one thing, but feeling like I was letting my team down was more of a pressure than anything else. I hate being a burden on other people, but I’m learning that in order not to be, I have to make sure I do the things to look after myself first. I also stopped working on all my side projects, tried to read, started doing yoga and bought a Wii U so I can crush Mario Kart when my wrists allow! I get shouty. It’s fun.

The second thing is that I am no longer vegan. I’ve written about this before on my Instagram, but while it worked up to a point, my body started feeling even weaker than usual, and I’m now experimenting more with my diet to find what helps. I’m still predominantly plant-based: green juices, smoothies, and soups play a huge role in what I eat on a daily basis, but limiting my grains, getting local eggs and meat and making sure I eat things that make me happy is working for me at the moment. As I said to my friend Natasha over an incredibly delicious meal at Incanto last week, I have so little control over my body, I might as well do what I can to make my mind happy so I can fight better. I feel stronger when I eat some high-quality meat (something I realized while eating tagine every day in Morocco), and I feel happier when I go out for an occasional pizza or burger with friends.

Honestly, I’m so over the judgmental bullshit that I see all over Instagram. What I choose to eat, my (lack of) spirituality and the way I’m going about trying to get well is, ultimately, my business. I get that by writing publicly about it, people are always going to share their opinions, but at the end of the day, behind pictures of food, I’m a real person, and all I’m trying to do is be healthy and live as normal a life as I possibly can while letting other people know who are going through similar things that they’re not alone. I’m not hurting anyone, and I try to be kind to others. I think more people need to think more about that than concerning themselves with ‘fixing’, diagnosing or judging other people. Just saying.

Shakshuka

I tend to start trying new things on a Monday. It’s just that mental thing of starting a new week in a positive way. After crying my way through yoga, but ultimately figuring out a plan for the next few weeks, I decided I’d get back in the kitchen and properly cook something for the first time in ages. I’m kind of proud of myself because cooking has been a huge mental block for me since I had my relapse. I’ve been thinking about shakshuka for a month, and finally just thought I’d just go for it! And it was certainly delicious.

This can be a large meal for one or two smaller meals. I had half for lunch and it was perfectly filling. Just a quick note to anyone with histamine intolerance, this is a high histamine dish but as I mentioned above, right now I’m all about trying to balance the restrictive nature of what my body needs with being happy. And today, this made me happy.

flareup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Half large onion (diced)
  • 1 large clove garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 Tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper (diced)
  • 3 picked sprigs of thyme
  • Large pinch of both coriander & parsley (chopped)
  • 1 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt (to taste)

Method:

  • Pour the olive oil in a large frying pan and bring to a medium heat. When warmed up, add the chopped onions, garlic, cumin and chili flakes and sauté for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the peppers and the herbs and sauté until the peppers are soft.
  • Throw in the tin tomatoes and salt, mix everything together and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • Check the seasoning (you may wish to add more salt at this point)
  • Make a couple of gaps in the sauce and carefully crack an egg in each one. Cover the pan with a lit and let the eggs cook for 4-6 minutes until the whites have set.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley or coriander (or both!) and enjoy!

Single-Serve GF Vegan Brownie

I just wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone for your amazingly lovely messages yesterday. They definitely helped make my birthday special.

Although I did do far more than I probably should have (and am paying for it today with a total wipeout in bed), I have realized just how far I have come in the last year. As I mentioned on Instagram, I have gone from being so ill I wanted to die and feeling like I’d never be able to work or have any semblance of a life again, drugged up to my eyeballs on medications that were making me sicker, to being med free, having a job at Virgin Unite, becoming an Instagrammer and blogger, running the plant-based picnics, co-goddess the wellness world at the Health Bloggers Community, and training to become a health coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

While things are a daily struggle, and I’m still trying to find a balance with food and lifestyle and pacing, I needed to stop for a minute and just consider how far things have come since I started this ‘journey’ in May.

Honestly, it’s weird sharing intimate details about your health with the world, but I’m doing it with the hope that I can inspire and provide some comfort to others who are going through a really difficult time to know that they’re not the only ones experiencing tough times. And, because I’m not always the most unselfish and shiny person, it’s also a strangely cathartic experience.

I feel like over the last seven months I have gained more control over my health and over my life than I ever thought I would again. I just want to let you know that with dedication and hard work things are possible if you step out of your comfort zone a little bit and try something new. Like cake. The cake is always good.

Be honest, be genuine and try to be kind to yourself. But also be realistic. I’m not under any impression that I can be entirely cured or healthy. I’m still extremely unwell. But hey, if one day I’ve totally ‘fixed’ myself that would be amazing. Right now all I can do is try to feel as well as I can. It’s a long, slow, difficult, mind-numbingly frustrating process, but I do believe (most of the time!) that it’s one worth going through.

And as I say every week, we all need to find what works for us and do things that are going to help us – not what other people think is going to be right. Get inspired by doctors, writers, bloggers, coaches, family, and friends, but remember, what works for one does not work for all. Take the best of everything you find and experiment as much as you possibly can until you have found what works for you!

One of the biggest things I have learned this year is that people will be more accepting and understanding than you think. Being open and honest about my health for the first time has meant that I’m finally able to get the support I need to be able to be on the same level as everyone else – it’s meant that my somewhat odd situation is taken into account and allowed me to work and pursue all kinds of things from the comfort of my amazing robot bed.

At the end of October, I was really suffering from depression linked to my declining health (gotta love the change of seasons), and my boss told me to take some time off work. I kept refusing because I’ve had to leave so many jobs before because of my health. He said to me that they knew exactly what they were getting when they hired me (I’d been freelancing since January before they offered me the full-time role in August) and that they were going to do everything they can to support me.

I told them they didn’t know I was quite as mental as I was (I didn’t know either!) but hey ho! They’d rather I take the time I need and not make myself ill so that I can continue to work for them longer. I constantly need to be reminded of that, because it’s hard to accept that I’m being supportive even though I can’t do as much work as everyone else.

But I’m realizing more and more that if you have skills and something to offer, people will recognize that first and foremost and do everything they can to help you out – because after all – you’re giving them something in return.

That’s my little rant over for the day, and now onto what you really want to read about – gluten free, vegan, refined sugar-free chocolate brownies!

This recipe comes from the wonderful Heather over at Fresh Heather and will be sure to be a hit. The problem I ALWAYS have is that I have a stupidly ridiculous sweet tooth (which is odd, because it only developed when I changed my diet – I think I was so scared that I was losing anything good, that I started eating raw desserts every day!) and will happily eat the entire batch of brownies out of the oven as soon as they’ve been made. So a single serving is a perfect solution for when those cravings hit.

Rich-chocolatey-studded-with-dark-chocolate-and-pecans-vegan-glutenfree-recipe-brownies

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut flour1 tbsp nut butter (I use almond butter, but could imagine pistachio would be amazing!)
  • 1 tbsp nut butter (I use almond butter, but could imagine pistachio would be amazing!)1 tbsp sweetener (My sweetener of choice is brown rice syrup)
  • 1 tbsp sweetener (My sweetener of choice is brown rice syrup)1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil1-2 tbsp almond milk
  • 1-2 tbsp almond milk1 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1 tbsp cacao powder pinch salt
  • pinch salt

Method:

  • Gently melt the coconut oil and nut butter in a small pan.
  • Mix in your sweetener and milk followed by cacao, coconut flour, and salt.
  • Pour into a ramekin and microwave for 1-2 mins.If you don’t use a microwave, bake in a preheated oven for 10-15 mins at 350F | 175C.
  • If you don’t use a microwave, bake in a preheated oven for 10-15 mins at 350F | 175C.Top with homemade chocolate sauce/melted nut butter and banana slices.
  • Top with homemade chocolate sauce/melted nut butter and banana slices.

This was my version of it this morning!

Raw Maca Brownie Bars

I’m really super lucky that I’m well enough to be able to work again. And I’m even luckier that I’m able to work from home.

That being said, when you’re spending all day staring at a screen with a big scary deadline looming, sometimes you just need to take a break and whip up something funky in the kitchen.

And the easiest, laziest, and yet most satisfying thing I like to whip up? Raw brownies. And unlike old-Natasha brownies, these are just chock full of health benefits!

Walnuts are full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, antioxidants and are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 8 pitted Medjool dates (soaked for 10 minutes and then drained if tough)
  • 1/4 cup raw cacao
  • 1/4 cup homemade almond butter (if you want this to be fully raw, don’t roast your almonds before making it)
  • 1/4 cup raw cacao nibs
  • 1-2 tsp Organic Burst maca
  • 1/4 tsp raw vanilla powder
  • Generous pinch pink Himalayan salt

Method

  • In a food processor, pulse the walnuts until the become super fine crumbs
  • Add all the other ingredients and process until just combined. You should be able to press the mixture together between your fingers and it will stay. Make sure you don’t over process!
  • Line a tin with cling film and press the mixture in.
  • Freeze for about an hour and then cut into brownie squares/slices.

I’d recommend storing these in the fridge/freezer in an airtight container. You can also use the mixture to make brownie balls. Yum!