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March Madness: the Epic Conclusion

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.

No, seriously, I am.

You might want to sit down for this. It's a pretty big deal.

Are you ready? Are you sitting? Have you cleared the area of hot liquids and breakable antiques?


Because here it is:

I am really, really bad at posting on time.

Let me lay it down for you...

My brain before March Madness: I'm going to post all the things! I'm going to do daily posts! I'm going to take so many pictures and eat and breathe this blog! I'm going to live tweet! I'm going to do weekly posts! Okay, I'm going to make funny lists and draw comics! I'm going to win every award ever!

My brain during March Madness: Just get me through this day. Just don't eat the ribs. I know it's day one of no meat, Kelsie. I know your mom made ribs. Just don't look at them. And don't breathe. Okay, just leave the house. Let's drink some water. When was the last time I worked out? Oh yeah, an hour ago. What day is it? Why have I not posted anything? I should probably take a picture of this meal, but it's too late because I already ate it. There it went. Oops.

The moral of the story is: this blog, like everything else in my (and your) life, is a learning process. So, thanks for being patient with me and stuff.

So, with no further ado... After a month of weeklong nutrition challenges, I am proud to say that 1) I am still alive! and 2) My family didn't disown me!

Now, to make a month-long story into a post that will NOT take you a month to read (and if it does... you might want to have that looked at):

5 things I learned while going sugar-free:

  1. "Sugar-free" on the label is NOT synonymous with "healthy." More accurate labeling would be: "Extra fat!" "Sketchy sweeteners!" "Tastes like saltine crackers, but without all the flavor!" To satisfy your sweet tooth, go for foods that are naturally sweet without the sugar, like ripe fruits, dates, and raisins.
  2. Do your research and swap your sweeteners. You CAN sweeten your coffee, tea, and desserts without using sugar. You can also do it while avoiding aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. Try Stevia, a natural plant extract - but make sure you find the kind without added Maltodextrin or Dextrose. The only ingredient on the label should be Stevia. I find mine for about $10 at Trader Joe's. For more info, click here.
  3. Spice things up! The funny thing about going sugar free is that you start tasting so many other flavors that aren't just... well, SWEET. Spicy, tangy, sour, bitter... these tastes are so often overlooked in a sugary diet. Use herbs and spices to add flavor and dimension to dishes. My favorites: cinnamon and raisins in oatmeal, coconut oil on sweet potatoes, and pure honey on whole wheat toast.
  4. Sugar-free gave me energy... without the crash. One of the first things I noticed about being sugar-free was that I had a LOT more energy. Sure, eating sugar gives you energy... for about half an hour. I normally take afternoon naps (alongside 7-8 hours of sleep a night), but during this week I found no need. I just trucked through my day and slept like a rock at night. Try it for just a few days, and you will most definitely feel the difference.
  5. Sugar. Is in. Everything. My parents (my lovely, wonderful, supportive parents) trucked along with me on this sugar free journey. On day 1, we spent a solid two hours in Hy-Vee searching for sugarless substitutes to our favorite vices. They are out there, people! It takes a little bit of research and determination on your part, but you can find sugarless foods! Here are some otherwise-healthy foods that often contain unnecessary sugars: pre-packaged oatmeal, peanut butter, marinara sauce, prepackaged lunch meats, and even some frozen fruits (I mean... really, people? It's FRUIT).

5 things I learned while going gluten-free:

  1. Gluten is not just in wheat. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains. Gluten-ful grains: wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten-free grains: corn, rice, amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and buckwheat (which is actually a fruit... I know, right?!).
  2. Even some oats contain gluten. Inherently, oats should be gluten-free. However, because of cross-contamination in crop rotations and processing plants, most widely sold oats aren't gluten-free. An easy place to find truly gluten-free oats: Trader Joe's. Big surprise coming from me, huh?
  3. Gluten is one of those words that doesn't seem like a real word if you look at it for too long. Irrelevant, but true. Gluten. Gluten. Gluten? GLUTEN. Gluten!
  4. Gluten is in most processed foods. Sorry, people with celiac disease. Your lives are, as we say in the industry, DIFFICULT AS FRICK. Does it come in a box? It probably has gluten. Does it come in a bag? It probably has gluten. Does it have an ingredients list of more than 5 things? It probably has gluten. So, if you REALLY want to go gluten-free, put in the research and CHECK THOSE LABELS, PEOPLE!
  5. Again, "gluten-free" is not synonymous with "healthy." In processed foods, gluten is usually used as an emulsifier - to thicken or stabilize foods. In other words, it's sticky and it keeps your food in one piece. Processed foods that boast "gluten-free!" usually have another added emulsifier that's just as unnecessary to your body as gluten. Gluten-free foods also have a tendency to be higher in sugar, to distract you from the fact that what you're eating is probably the consistency of cardboard.

5 things I learned while going dairy-free:

  1. My body needs probiotics. Normally, I eat about a cup of Greek yogurt per day. It's high in protein, it's the only dairy my body can digest without a stomach ache, and it's PACKED with probiotics (which basically maintain digestive health). After a few days without my yogurt, my tummy was, for lack of a better description, driving the struggle bus. If you're seeking to go truly dairy-free, I'd opt in for some probiotic pills to maintain that digestive flora.
  2. Acne feeds off of dairy. Despite the fact that my diet is naturally low in dairy, cutting it out completely (even for just a week) drastically reduced the inflammation of my acne (I know, I know... voms ahoy). Regardless, my skin was smoother and my skin tone was much more even. Here's a link to a great blog post about dairy and acne from Clear Skin Forever.
  3. It's not that hard. No, seriously. Despite the fact that I was hard-core craving chocolate during this entire week, going dairy free was probably the easiest of my 4 diet-experiments. Because dairy is a common allergen, prepackaged foods are pretty straightforward about whether or not they contain dairy. Added bonus: you'll sound suuuuper pretentious and snobby when you order soymilk in your latte. Baristas are totally into that.
  4. There are lots of alternatives to milk. Soymilk, almond milk, coconut milk, you name it... people can pretty much milk anything these days. I still can't figure out where those almonds are hiding their udders, though. One thing to watch out for: some dairy-free milks are pumped with added sugar. Look for unsweetened milks, and check the ingredients list just to be sure. My favorite? Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk.
  5. Most desserts contain milk. This week was difficult for me because I was in New Mexico visiting family & friends (Shameless shout-out! Hey, y'all!). You know how it is on vacations... you go out to eat, you wine, you dine, you order dessert... you cry silently while everyone else digs into their Tirimasu and double chocolate mocha surprise cheesecakes... But hey. Skipping dessert (most of the time, at least) is an easy way to cut calories, sugar, dairy, and fat all at once. Instead, head home and snack on raisins, or mix some sugar-free peanut butter with Stevia and cinnamon and eat it with a spoon. Have I done this? Am I doing it right now? You'll never know.

5 things I learned while going meat-free:

  1. Alternatives to meat take a little more preparation. I'm going to be real with this one, guys... tofu is hard to mess with. Because meat-free proteins are plant-based, they tend to have less... well... taste. I hate to admit that, but it's just the truth. Try soaking your meat alternatives in soy sauce, crushed ginger, garlic, or lime/lemon juice before cooking them. Remember: spices!
  2. Meat alternatives: hard to pronounce, easy to find. Some classics: tofu (bean curd), tempeh (fermented soy), and seitan (gluten. Yes, straight gluten).
  3. You CAN go meat-free without eating crazy Asian-based fermented foods. Other easy protein sources? Cheese. Beans. Quinoa. Whole grains. Nuts. Yogurt. Veggie burgers (read those labels, though... sometimes they're packed with sugar and/or sodium).
  4. Protein powder will save your vegetarian butt. Find a good protein powder without added sugar or artificial sweeteners, and stick to it. Drink a shake after working out, or as a meal replacement for weight loss. My faves? Chocolate protein powder with peanut butter and almond milk, or chocolate protein powder with frozen berries and almond milk.
  5. Most foods contain some amount of protein. Here is an article from containing fruits and vegetables with surprising amounts of protein. Leafy greens are an especially easy way to meet your protein needs - not to mention the fact that they're PACKED with phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

And finally, here is a picture of the house from Breaking Bad that I saw while I was in New Mexico:

I know. This is like... a pretty big deal.

Anyway, please let me know if you have questions or thoughts about my experience! I'd love nothing more than to hear from you.


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