Food Friday: A Salad a Day

In today’s Food Friday I am not going to talk about a particular food, or a dish I made, or even a picture I took.  Instead, I would like to take a moment to talk about food, health, and dieting.  This won’t be a regular thing, as this is not a blog about diets, but because it has been on my mind a lot lately, and affecting my relationship with food, I think it is important to write about it.

I am not one who diets a lot.  In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t think I have ever even tried dieting.  I naturally eat a lot of healthy food.  I hate overly sugary and sweet foods (including chocolate), and greasy snacks such as potato chips make me feel nauseated.  My preferred mid day snack is an apple, or a container of raspberries.  I don’t eat a lot when I do eat because I am a fairly small person, and thus have a fairly small stomach.  Yet, I too have my vices.

Early last year, April 2010, I started a new job.  It was a fairly good job; easy work, nice pay.  But it had some problems.  First, it was a job in which I sat on my butt all day at a desk.  Second, the company had an always stocked kitchen.  Though the food was not necessarily attractive to me (instant ramen isn’t exactly the most flavorful food), the beverages were.  A fully stocked fridge filled with Coke, Ginger Ale, and my true weakness, Arizona Ice Tea (the giant $.99 ones).  I got in this particularly nasty habit of drinking at least three of those per day.  In addition to the ridiculous amount of calories and sugar in each can, there was the caffeine.  Eventually it got to the point where I would drink so many to these things that if I went an hour in between each one I would start feeling dizzy, sick to my stomach, and exhausted.  I had a full-blown caffeine addiction.  I had to break that addiction.  So I did.  I went cold turkey.  No caffeine at all, not even a cup of tea.  To get myself through it I drank A LOT of water.  I wanted to make sure I didn’t make the mistake of substituting sugar for caffeine by drinking lots of juice and caffeine-free sodas.  It was a rough two weeks while I went through withdrawal and my body readjusted to being caffeine-free.  I slept a lot.  In fact, I went to bed by 10 pm most nights.  But eventually, I came through the fog, and now I have been without caffeine for about eight months.  My boyfriend even eventually joined me in my caffeine-free state of mind later in the year (which was a big deal for him since he has been a lifelong tea-drinker) and has now been caffeine-free for 4 months.

But let me be honest.  All is not completely well.  I am not an overweight person, not even in the slightest.  But I am a small girl, and I don’t mean small as in my waist-size.  I mean I have a smaller build.  I am 5′ 6 1/2”, but I have extremely small bones.  I can grab my wrist with my pinky and my thumb and the fingers overlap.  See?  I am small.  This means that the standard 100 pounds if you are 5′ and 5 pounds for every inch after that does not work for me.  In fact, if I went by that standard I would look fairly unhealthy.  So how does this work into food?  Dieting?  You see, I love carbs.  I love bread.  I love pasta.  And most of all I love fruit, which is chock full of sugar.  In moderation all of these things are good for you.  But when it comes to these three types of food, I do not know moderation.  So I chow down on all of these foods, and lately I have become dissatisfied with my eating habits, and my weight and health.  And so, something needed to change.

But I couldn’t do it own my own.  Luckily I have an absolutely amazing boyfriend, who, like me, has some foods he just can’t resist.  Bread, potatoes, cheese…bacon.  You know, MAN FOOD.  We spent the last half of last year complaining about how unhealthy we were.  We both wanted to lose weight, we both wanted to eat healthier, we both wanted to exercise.  We talked about doing it, many times, but we never did.  The complaining continued until finally, it came to a boiling point.  Enough was enough.  So, as we entered the new year, we made a goal.  This year we were going to finally stop complaining and take action.  So this past Monday, January 10th, we started a new diet.

To be honest, we went to an extreme when choosing which diet to use.  We thought about just cutting down on certain things, but our willpower isn’t the greatest, and the cravings are strong.  Then I overheard a couple of my coworkers talking about the new diet they had just started, the South Beach Diet.  I had heard about it before, many times, but had never really looked into it.  As I explored it more I began to really feel as though this diet was for us.  The main idea is that it is a low/no carb diet, and since our main vices are carb heavy foods (not fatty or sugary foods as it is for many).  It encourages you to make healthier food choices, and cook more.  So after talking it over with my boyfriend, we decided to go for it.  We had no clue what we were getting ourselves into.

We aren’t even through the first week of it, and we are already getting our butts kicked.  You see, for the first two weeks you can not eat any pasta, starches such as potatoes, or fruits.  And when I say none, I mean none.  The point during the first two weeks is to get your cravings for these foods under control.  Once you get through those two weeks you can then slowly start introducing these foods back into your diet, in moderation and with some limits.  For example, instead of standard pasta, use wheat pasta, and only eat it once or twice a week.  Instead of white rice, eat brown rice or couscous.  Use red potatoes instead of white, etc. The idea is that over time choosing certain healthier foods over others, and eating things in moderation will become second nature and eventually the diet will become a way of life.

So how am I making it through these initial two weeks?  It’s not easy, I tell you.  Every day I have cravings for bagels, or a giant bowl of ravioli, or a container of raspberries.  Every day I am tempted when I walk into my company’s kitchen and I see granola bars and trail-mix with delicious raisins.  It is all about willpower. I know that if I give in, things will never change and the cycle will never end.  So I just shove my cravings down and eat some celery with spreadable cheese instead.  My daily meals thus far:

  • Breakfast: Approximately 30 Pistachios, Hard-boiled Egg, Bottle of Water
  • Snack: Low-Fat String Cheese
  • Lunch: Bottle of Water, Salad (Spring Mix, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Mushrooms, Smoked Turkey, Hard-boiled Egg, Low-Fat Cheddar Cheese, vinaigrette Dressing)
  • Snack: Celery, 2 Low-Fat Spreadable Cheese Wedges, Sugar Free Jello Cup
  • Dinner: Glass of Diet Caffeine-Free Coke, Grilled or Sautéed Chicken or Turkey Breasts, Stir-fried Veggies (Broccoli, Water Chestnuts, Sugar Snap Peas), Chickpea & Edamame Salad
  • Desert: 1/2 Cup Non-fat Plain Yogurt

Dinner varies day-to-day, as I find new recipes I want to try, some of which I will be sharing on here (tonight will be a delicious Chicken Cacciatore and Roasted Asparagus).  But for lunch, I literally do have a salad every day.  And you know what, I actually enjoy it.  Sometimes I shake up what I add in, but I find that I actually look forward to my salad lunch, and actually, it fills me up (or at least it fills my stomach, though I still feel hungry, for croutons).  I actually don’t get hungry again until around 3:30 or so, at which time I grab my second snack of the day, which carries me through until get home for dinner.  I also find that I can temporarily curb my hunger if it’s not meal time by drinking water.  This week I have been averaging three to four 12 ounce bottles per day (which is actually really good for you, and I should drink more).

The other thing that has been getting me through this diet?  My boyfriend.  He doesn’t want to do this diet it, at all.  He is grumpy about it nearly every day.  Yet, he sticks with it, and tells me to stick with it to.  When I wanted to quit and gave him and opportunity to back out of it, he refused.  Had it been just me there, I would have cooked myself up a pot of ravioli and devoured it.  But he was there, and he wasn’t going to give up, and I wasn’t going to give up because of that.

So what is my advice for others who would like to do the same, but may struggle to do so?  I am no expert, but what has worked for me may work for you too!

  • Find a Buddy – It really does help.  Staying motivated on your own can be difficult, even if you have excellent willpower and are highly motivated.  Having a partner who is there doing it with you will encourage you to stick with your plan.  It can be your boyfriend, wife, best friend, coworker, sister, cousin….anyone!  Just having someone be there with you, it’s going to make it a little bit easier and more likely to stick.
  • Be Realistic – It’s not going to happen overnight.  You aren’t going to diet for a week and instantly lose 15 pounds.  Depending on how much weight you would like to lose, and what your current weight and BMI is (Body Mass Index), the rate of your weight loss will vary.  So do some research, find out what a HEALTHY weight is for your body build, and aim for that.  Please, don’t try to go too skinny.
  • Research Diets – Certain diets aren’t for everyone.  The diet I chose is designed to eliminate or lower carb intake, not fats.  Thus, I still eat some fattier foods, such as nuts.   Not everyone may suffer from severe carb cravings as I do.  If you love chocolate and ice cream, you may need a different diet, one focused towards eliminating fatty and sweet cravings.  Just because one person has success with a diet doesn’t mean you automatically will.
  • Exercise – I say this, but to be honest, I am not following it right now, and I know this isn’t good.  I have valid excuses, but frankly, that doesn’t matter.  I am going to change this, I promise.  Even if you just go for a 20 minute brisk walk once a day, get yourself up and moving.  I promise you, it will drastically help.
  • Write About It – I have found that writing about my goals, my hopes for my health, and what I am doing on a regular basis to improve it, has helped me stay motivated.  So if you don’t already, start a blog, or keep a journal.  Write about your progress, your feelings, your cravings.

Truth Thursday: Week I

As an effort to allow my readers/followers to know me more, keep me writing regularly, and help me learn more about myself, each Thursday I will be posting a handful of “truths” about me.  My hope is that these truths will not only give you a little insight into who I am, but encourage you to take a look at yourself, the truths about you, and get you thinking on a more critical and deeper level.

———

I MAY BE ALLERGIC TO SHELLFISH

When I was younger, about 9 or 10, my family cooked lobster.  I devoured it, soaked in butter.  Later that night I ended up violently ill.  I was shaking all night, sick to my stomach, unable to sleep.  We didn’t know why, but on a subconscious level I connected it to the lobster.  I didn’t eat any shellfish again, until two years ago.  I was having dinner with my then boyfriend’s family and they had made some grilled shrimp, and frankly, it looked delicious.  So I ate one.  And nothing happened.  That is until the next morning when I broke out a rash that would eventually cover my entire body, except for my stomach and my face.  It got so bad that I eventually went to the doctor and they gave me a cortisone shot and a ten day anti-histamine regiment.  I asked the doctor what could cause this and he said that it may have been something I ingested.  He then asked what I had eaten before this occurred.  I told him shrimp.  He said that it was likely I was having an allergic reaction to it.  I explained the lobster incident from when I was younger, and asked why I didn’t have the normal allergic reaction (hives and breathing issues).  He told me that some people react differently, and that if I wanted I could get an allergy test.  I decided I just won’t eat any shellfish ever again.  Problem averted.

MY FAVORITE FOOD IS RASPBERRIES

Seriously, I could eat a truckload of them and still want more.  When I was younger and my parents would take us berry picking in the summer, I would eat everything as I picked them.  We would leave the farm and I would be covered in berry juice from head to toe.  Anyone who is close to me knows that the way to cheer me up (if I happen to be in a bad mood) is by giving me a container of raspberries.  The only problems with this obsession?  Raspberries are quite high in sugar, and they are expensive.  During off-season they are $5 a container.  And since it takes me about 1 1/2 minutes to go through a container, it can get expensive quickly.

I USED TO PLAY THE CLARINET

Actually, I first played the saxophone, for a year, when I was in 5th grade.  Then my mother decided she hated the way it sounded (really I just think I wasn’t very good, as I was only 10), so she switched me to the “softer sounding” clarinet.  I played it all the way through 9th grade.  To be honest, I wasn’t very good.  I know the difference between good music and bad, but I don’t have any musical talent myself.  So in the 9th grade, after years of struggling to grasp the clarinet, and getting told by band mates that I would never be “first clarinet”, I quit.  I did briefly try playing the bass clarinet, in the 10th grade, but really, no musical talent.  So I left it behind.

I WORK IN THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY

It’s pretty awesome, but I can guarantee you it’s not as awesome as you think it is.  It’s a fairly competitive industry, difficult to break into, and it is highly male dominant.  For example, my company has 30 employees.  Only six of us are female, and two of those are in the “female dominated” HR division.  Most days I don’t notice that I am in such a small minority, but every once in awhile it does become fairly evident.  Beyond that though, it’s a pretty nifty job.  I have now been in the industry four years (wow, time flies) and have done everything from production, to marketing, to community.  Right now I work as a Community Manager & Marketing for MochiMedia.  I spend my day finding ways to grow the community, market the game, and make us look good.  Previously I worked for publishers of free-to-play MMOs, Aeria Games and Gala-Net/gPotato, as well as social games creator RockYou.

I HAVE A DEGREE IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES, BUT I AM NOT RELIGIOUS

Since graduating from college the question I get most often after I tell people what I studied is “So what religion are you?”.  I do not follow a religion.  Growing up I knew religion existed, but I was never personally exposed to it, until I was about 12.  My mother is spiritual and believes in things such as karma, reincarnation, and many pagan ideas.  My father was baptized Mormon and follows certain Mormon ideas, but you would never be able to point him out as a Mormon.  For me, neither my parents, nor anyone I knew, told me I should be a certain religion.  Perhaps it is because of this that I was so eager to study religion in college.  To clarify, what I studied was “Religious History”.  The development of monotheistic religions, Judaism and how it relates to the Holocaust, why people choose to be religious.  These were the kind of things I studied.  At the end my specialization ended up being in Judaism, as that was the religion whose history most intrigued me.  I did of course study all the other major religions including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but Judaism stuck with me most.  To repeat, I am not religious myself.  I do not believe in one religious ideal over the other.  For the longest time, I would not even answer the question “Do you believe in God?”.  To this day, I still prefer not to.  I understand and find value in why people are religious, but I am not, and will never be, a particular religion.  That being said, if you ever want to talk religion with me, whether you are religious or not, I would love to.  It is one of my favorite topics to discuss and I always want to learn more about it.  The only thing I ask, please do not push your religious beliefs onto me.

Writing Wednesday: The Cost of a College Education

Last week I was talking to some of my coworkers about where we went to college and the issue of the rising cost of education, private or public, in the U.S. came up.  Many of us went to relatively prestigious private schools (I myself went to Boston University, a tier two school) and we are now suffering the financial consequences of doing so.

I did not come from a wealthy family.  My parents were in no position to financially contribute to my education, regardless of where I went.  I knew this from the moment I began thinking about going to college.  At times I thought to myself that it would just be easier, and cheaper, to simply not go to college and just jump straight into the work world.  But my parents pushed for college, and honestly, I knew that without a college education I would be limited in what I could do in life.  So regardless of how much it was going to cost me, I was going.  Ultimately, however, I ended up going to one of the most expensive colleges in the United States.  Though it does not make it into the top 10 most expensive colleges to attend, for 2010-2011 undergraduate tuition only, Boston University costs $39,314.  On average room and board costs $12,260.  Add in books and other personal expenses and you are looking at nearly $55,000 for one year of education at Boston University.  Even though the average financial aid award is $35,000 (and give over 66% of students aid), which is great, this still leaves another $20,000 per year that a student needs to come up with, from their parents, or themselves.  For me, this meant that at the end of my undergraduate college eduction I was in debt $80,000.  My monthly loan payments are as low as they can go and they are still $600 per month.  And yes, I already consolidated.  I will be paying this off well into my 40s.  It is important to note that my indebtedness is not average, significantly higher than the average BU graduate at $31,000, and the average college student at $24,000 (in 2009, up 6% from 2008).  Even the average student debt works out to approximately $250 per month for 12 years in payments.

Now look, I don’t regret my time at BU.  I do feel it was worth it, 90% of the time, and my time there helped me grow as a person and get to where I am today.  However, education should never cost this much.  And to be honest, this hefty price tag deters many potential students from even thinking of college as an option, especially if their parents are unable to financially contribute.  I chose to ignore the cost, not everyone does.  So go to a state-funded college* instead, you say?  That was an option.  I could have gone to the University of Vermont, my home state school, for nearly free.  I was considered a “Vermont Scholar” which means nearly all of my tuition would have been covered.  All I would have been responsible for was my room and board, and honestly, I could have lived at home and drove the 50 miles each way with no problem.  But I wanted to get out of Vermont.  Though I love my home state, I knew I needed to go somewhere else.  I knew that UVM would not offer me the quality of education that I wanted.  I knew that if I had stayed in Vermont it would be likely that I would never get out.  And you know what, many kids feel the same way.  College is supposed to be a time when we get to go to new places, meet new people, have new experiences.  It’s hard to do this is the same state you grew up in.

When you compare the amount of debt you will be in after graduating to the amount you will get paid at your first job, you start to wonder if college was truly worth the cost.  Though it varies by region and field, according to a survey done in early 2010 by the National Association of College and Employers, the average starting salary of a 2010 college graduate was $47,673 (mine was significantly lower at $32,000, and in San Francisco, which has one of the highest costs of living).  And this is if you were lucky enough to get a job shortly after graduating, as survey showed that in 2009 the unemployment rate for graduates ages 20-24 was 8.7% (up from 5.8% the previous year). Yes, I know, the starting salary amount is significantly higher than a non-graduate, but non-college graduates do not have to pay between $300 and $1,500 a month in student loans (dependent upon debt amount and repayment plan).  And guess what, this is a bill you can’t avoid.  Even if you declare bankruptcy, student loans are not automatically included.  You have to prove that paying back student loans would put you in undue hardship.  And it is a hard thing to argue.  Additionally, many people do not want to declare bankruptcy, which will then haunt them for the next 7-10 years.

All the numbers I have presented are for those with a BA or BS.  When you start looking at the cost of other types of degrees and educations, Law School, PhD, Masters, Medical School, Veterinary School, the numbers start to sky rocket.  And nearly all of these programs require that you have a BA/BS first.  Even if you are lucky enough to make it through undergraduate school with no debt, it is 95% likely you will not make it through graduate school debt-free.

Some quick numbers to show what I mean about the average indebtedness of a the different types of graduate students (according to a recent survey):

  • PhD – $36,917*
  • Veterinary College – $105,573
  • Medical School – $139,517

Yes, these specialized degrees offer significantly higher paying starting salaries ($75,000 to $400,000), but there are many other expenses that will be encountered.  Rent or mortgage, food, car, utilities, medical.  And if you have a child, well there goes even more of your money.  Should someone who is going to be serving society in some of the most stressful jobs known have to pay this much?

So we know college is expensive here in the United States.  How do other countries compare?  First, let us look at Canada, home to some absolutely fantastic universities, on par with the “Ivy Leagues” here in the US.

World’s Best Universities: Canadian
– Please note that because the current CAD to USD exchange rate is 1 to 1.01, I am not going to convert to USD.

McGill University

  • Quebec Resident: $2,068
  • Canadian Resident: $5,668
  • International: $14,500 – $25,000 (dependent upon type of degree with Arts & Sciences the lowest cost)

University of Toronto

  • Domestic: $5,216
  • International: $23,478

Queen’s University

  • Domestic Resident $5,230
  • International: $18,730

Now let us look at England, home to some of the top (and oldest) universities in the world.  Many of these colleges rival the Ivy Leagues of the US for prestige.  Some even beat them.

World’s Best Universities: British

University of Cambridge*

  • Domestic: $5,265 (£3,375)
  • International: $16,775 (£10,752)

King’s College (London)

  • Domestic: $5,265 (£3,375)
  • International: $19,502 (£12,500)

University of Oxford

  • Domestic: $5,265 (£3,375)
  • International: $19,814 (£12,700)

So what does this tell us?  Simply put, education in America is prohibitively expensive.  Across the board in both Canada and England, tuition for top universities cost less than that of a state university here in the United States.  Furthermore, as an international student, you could get a top quality education at these universities for less than what you would pay for a private college here, and get the experience of living abroad.  Something is clearly being done properly with education, it’s just not here in the United States.  And that needs to change.

So how do we change this?  This is a tough one.  There have been groups campaigning for this for years, even decades.  And what have we seen?  The cost continues to rise.  The amount of debt continues to increase.  My best suggestion, continue to get the word out.  Write articles, contribute to movements, send letters to the government.  Simply keep persisting.  The truth of the matter is, it may never change, but we will never know if we do not keep trying.

*For reference the average tuition of a state university in the US is $7,605 per year for in-state and $11,900 for out-of-state. Source.
*Many PhD programs do offer scholarships, grants and will even pay you if you choose to be a Teacher’s Assistant (TA), keeping the cost of a PhD significantly lower.
*University of Cambridge is actually considered the top university in the world, according to a recent survey.  It is even ranked above both Harvard and Yale.  Source.

New Year, New Domain

A very long time ago, back when I was an ambitious young college student at Boston University, I used to have my own domain.  I was going to do great things with it.  I was going to establish my online presence and people were going to love me for it.  You can see how this ends now.  I was excited about it for all of 2 weeks.  Then it dropped off the face of the earth.  One year later it came time to renew it.  I did.  Why?  I don’t know.  It sat there for another year.  Every once in a while I thought about how I should find someone to make me a good website, or that I should upload photography to it.  But I never did.

Fast forward four years.

I now work in one of the most rapidly growing industries in the world (social games).  Even more than that, I work as a Community Manager.  It is my job to be connected.  It is both my job to have an online presence for myself, and build an online presence for my company.

As I thought about what I wanted my domain to be, I found myself coming back to blogging.  But the question was, what would I write about?  Did I want to brand myself, and my domain to one specific topic?  Did I want to make it all about my life?  As I talked with my friends, colleagues, even random acquaintances, I kept hearing different things.

“You should find one area you want to write about and stick to that.  It will be easier to market it.”

“You should totally just make it all about you.”

Everyone had an opinion.  And all of those opinions mattered.  And none of those opinions mattered.

I could have thought about it for months.  Gone back and forth.  Reconsidered a thousand times.  But you know what?  Enough was enough.  As Nike says….JUST DO IT.  So here it is.  Introducing, the new, the improved, the kick-butt, kateolmstead.com.

So what do I hope for from this domain and the blog?  What will I write about?

That is a very good question, and honestly, it is something I am still answering myself.  I have some ideas, of course.  I do know that this blog will be my public face.  I also know that I will not limit myself to one topic.  There is so much I am interested in (gaming, geek culture, gender issues, movies) that limiting myself would discourage me.  This blog will be about me, about what I believe in, about what I think is interesting, and about what I find important.  It will cover everything from personal to professional, and everything in between, and even outside what that entails.

Welcome.

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