Great Food, Better Health

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Freshly steamed broccoli read for fritters.

I’m constantly on the hunt for healthy recipes that use food as medicine. I’ve tried almost every reasonable anti-inflammatory diet under the sun and found that works best for me is something between paleo and vegan. While those two diets may seem opposite, if you do them right, they can be quite similar. Both diets can, and should, emphasize hearty servings of plant-based nutrition.

Under paleo rules, processed food is a no-go, but a lot of vegan foods are highly processed. No one forces a vegan to buy processed foods, but at least for me, the temptation to do so was difficult to avoid. Now, I take the paleo idea of fresh, whole foods and apply it to veganism— for example, eating a plate of vegetables and fruits instead of a plate of soy cheese and chips. When I was strictly vegan, I fell into the processed food trap way too often and ended up eating “cheese” that had enough mysterious ingredients to be a science experiment. When I went paleo, and then strict paleo under Whole30, I gave up all the junk and focused on truly healthy food. I didn’t like the amount of meat required under paleo, so I eventually merged the two concepts and now feel better than I have in years.

Broccoli Fritters

A wonderful woman I met through Instagram posted about some awesome meals she made last week, and I followed the trail to figure out where the recipes originated. That trail led me to Every Last Bite, a food blog run by a woman who manages autoimmune disease through healthy— and delicious— meals. My eyes went straight to her recipe for broccoli fritters, and after a five-mile run through the rain, I decided to give them a try.

My dad brought us three giant heads of broccoli earlier this week, and I’ve been wondering what to do with all of them. The broccoli fritters recipe seemed like the perfect way to use up a good bit of what my dad brought, and it was. There’s only half a head left, which is a pretty big deal considering how much he gave us. The only thing the recipe called for that I wasn’t sure we had on hand was nutritional yeast, but after a quick look through the cabinets, I found I still had plenty in a tightly sealed glass jar. The other ingredient that some people may not have on hand— almond flour— is a staple in our house, and I had a fresh bag ready to use for the fritters.

I don’t have a food processor (well, I do somewhere, but it has yet to show up since our recent move), so I used the small carafe on my Ninja blender. While the broccoli steamed, I blended all the other ingredients into a surprisingly good-smelling batter. When the broccoli was done, I let it cool a little, then sliced it according to the recipe directions. After the olive oil got hot in the pan, I got ready to drop my first spoonfuls into the oil and, hopefully, make something delicious for lunch. I was a little skeptical, mostly because I’m not always the best recipe-follower, but the batter smelled good enough to make me optimistic.

broccoli fritters
Clearly I’m not a food photographer, but I promise these broccoli fritters were awesome!

After a few minutes and even more good smells, the first two fritters were ready. I barely waited for them to cool enough before chomping a big bite out of one. It’d been an hour since my run and I’d only had a few grapes, so I was super hungry. I couldn’t believe how good the fritters tasted. They were somewhat like broccoli cheese soup (the cheese flavor comes from the nutritional yeast) mixed with something that tasted fried. Food heaven. I made four large fritters instead of several small ones, and the first two were gone quickly. My wife isn’t usually a fan of broccoli, but I suspected she’d love the fritters, so I reluctantly practiced restraint and waited for her to come home and eat the remaining two. She loved them too, and couldn’t believe how good they were. She even said, “the broccoli is really good in here,” which is a sentence I never thought I’d hear. 

I’m excited about trying several more recipes from Every Last Bite. I haven’t decided what to make next, but I wanted to pass on this excellent resource to anyone else who might be looking to change up their food routine. Cheers, friends! Click here to go the Every Last Bite for tons of health-minded recipes!

Running and Chafing

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I’ve gotten to do some awesome trail runs lately as I increase my mileage. One of my favorites was at Cheaha State Park, where this picture was taken.

I’m going to talk about something a lot of people may not want to admit to, but I suspect it impacts more of us than we like to acknowledge— running and chafing. And by chafing, I mean inner thigh, right up by the crotch. I have large thighs compared to my overall body size, but they didn’t cause much problem until I started running 8+ miles at a time. I don’t know what’s magically awful about 8+. Whether it’s accumulation of sweat (although I don’t think so, because shorter runs in the Florida summer are much sweatier), wearing down of the fabric of my shorts, or just skin rubbing together that eventually says “enough,” it sucks. I don’t feel like my skin’s rubbing when I run, but maybe it is. Something is definitely going on. When I got home from a 9.25-mile run yesterday, I took off my shorts and used a mirror to investigate what was causing the increasingly miserable burning sensation. Angry red skin and raised pink bumps told the story: chafing.

Since I’m not sure what’s causing it, I’m not sure how to prevent it. Obviously, running longer distances has something to do with it, and something— whether skin-to-skin or skin-to-shorts contact— is blistering the skin. I’ve never used anything for chafing, probably because I’ve never consistently run this much. I’ve been looking at powders, creams, sticks, balms, and salves, and am still unsure of where to start. And maybe it’s the shorts? I run in slightly large-fitting, several-years-old running shorts. I HATE tight clothing and always opt for a looser fit when possible. Maybe I need to join the current trend and try some tight shorts? I’m literally cringing while thinking about that, but I’m also not looking forward to more bouts of what essentially looks like diaper rash.

I’m thinking about try Squirrel’s Nut Butter or BodyGlide for Her. Both are vegan-friendly and aren’t tested on animals, which are absolute requirements for me. I don’t have any idea how to use anti-chafing products, but I assume they’ll come with directions. I have a ten-miler planned a few days from now, with several shorter runs before then, so it’s imperative that I find something that works.

Ultra Marathon Time and a New Journal

In bigger news (well, bigger news to me), I decided to train for an ultra marathon. Ultras are arguably a crazy feat for anyone, and even crazier for someone with chronic health problems and spinal issues. But I LOVE running. It makes me feel free, capable, strong, and connected to the outdoors. It’s not as energizing as soccer, which will always be my first love, but when I come back from a good run, my anxiety is cut in half and my outlook is overall much more hopeful. I’m doing at least 1/4 of my mileage on trails and grass to lessen the impact on my body. But is running an ultra realistic for someone who has a bad neck, bad back, and chronic pain? I honestly don’t know, but I’m going to find out.

believe training journal
I love everything about my new Believe Training Journal.

I bought a Believe Training Journal a couple weeks ago despite years of resisting using any kind of training log. My health problems have, for so long, crushed my hopes to reach my physical potential, and training logs always served as reminders of unmet goals and major setbacks. But this fall, after several months of using medical marijuana and a year of using physician-tailored supplements, I feel stronger than I have in a very long time. I’m sleeping more— sometimes almost eight hours per night!— and my back pain and radiculopathy is not as daunting. I sometimes go several hours without any major pain at all, which is huge. So, an ultra. And chafing. And a journal to keep track of it all.

I’m really enjoying the Believe journal. It’s already helping me stay organized and is keeping me honest with how much (or how little) I stretch, roll, and work on mobility. There’s nothing like old-fashioned pen-to-paper for accountability. Last night, I did 25 minutes of rolling and stretching, and at least part of my motivation for dedicating more time to recovery was because I knew the journal awaited my report, and I didn’t want to write something half-ass. My goal, as I increase my running mileage, is to get to 45 minutes of stretching, rolling, and mobility at least six days per week.

Back to running and chafing. If anyone’s had good luck with a certain method, or bad luck, or has any input at all, please leave a comment here. My thighs and I say thanks!

Chronic Pain Book Sale

fibromyalgia bookTemporary price drop! The Kindle version of Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain is down to $3.99. If you or someone you know has dealt with chronic pain and/or is an athlete, you can probably relate to my story. I was originally injured while working as an emergency medical technician and have fought for years to regain my life on my own terms. Among the series of diagnoses I received was fibromyalgia, which was the catalyst for starting this blog.

My publisher handles pricing so I’m not sure how long the sale will last, but I’d be eternally grateful if you’d spare a few dollars and check out my work. My book recently earned a gold medal in the Florida Authors and Publishers’ President’s Book Award contest. Thanks for your support through all these years of blogging and writing! Click here to find the book on Amazon.

Trail Running and Chronic Pain

trail running chronic pain
Screenshot of my article’s promotion in the Trail Sisters newsletter. More photos available on the Trail Sisters site.

I wrote an article about trail running and chronic pain, and it was recently published by Trail Sisters. It’s an unfortunate reality that so many people can relate to stories about living with chronic pain, and while I’m always excited to get my work published, I’d rather see a day when there’s not much market for writing about chronic pain.

Trail Sisters is a group that promotes women’s inclusion in the trail running community, and I’m excited to be part of their mission. Whether you have fibromyalgia, spinal problems, and/or any other kind of chronic health issues, I believe that getting outdoors and moving your body is key to mental health and stress relief. I don’t always feel up to running, and sometimes my body doesn’t cooperate with my mind, but I never regret trying. Click here to read my article on the Trail Sisters website. 

Gold Medal Book

gold awardHurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain won gold in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Award contest! I knew I’d won an award but didn’t know it was gold until the banquet (which I missed because I was traveling for other book events). My medal arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, along with a nice letter from FAPA’s president. I’m super excited and very grateful for the award.

FAPA gold award
I won gold in the Health & Fitness category!

A few people have asked if my book is a fibromyalgia book, and my answer is both yes and no. First and foremost, the book is my story– the details of my injuries, the backstory surrounding getting hurt, and the ways I’ve tried to deal with medical setbacks and chronic pain while remaining true to myself as an active, athletic human. A fibromyalgia diagnosis is definitely part of the story, and the book probably wouldn’t have happened without this blog. But, like every fibromyalgia sufferer I’ve ever met, my life– medically and in general– is more than a diagnosis, so my book is more than a fibromyalgia book. We are all so much more than the words that may define us to others.

Altra Escalante Review

altra escalante review

I got a long-overdue new pair of running shoes last week and put them to work immediately. The Altra Escalante is one of Altra’s newer designs, and it’s definitely a winner. I look forward to a future version with slight tweaks that will hopefully make a great shoe even better.

Running Performance

Stellar, except for the sizing (see below). I could’ve easily gone several more miles in these awesome shoes if they hadn’t felt too big. The more I ran, the bigger they felt—probably because my feet drifted laterally a bit, which reduced the functional length of my feet within the shoe. Other than that, I loved running in the Escalante. They stayed soft and cushy without being marshmallowy, and the knit upper had just enough support without being structured. I had to retie the laces a few times for optimum fit, which is pretty common for me when I run in brand-new shoes, but once I got settled on the right lacing, I was good to go. I ran with the Escalante on asphalt, concrete, and damp, grassy trails without traction issues, although it’s definitely not a trail shoe (and doesn’t claim to be).

Breathability

I didn’t find the Escalante any better or worse than most running shoes in terms of breathability. I live in Florida and frequently run in jungle-like humidity and extreme heat. There’s no shoe in the world that can keep feet cool and dry in those conditions, and the Escalante is no exception. Sweaty feet are just a fact of life for runners in the deep south.

Midsole

The white foam looked a bit thin when I took the shoes out of the box, but when I put them on, they were extremely soft and cushioned. The bounciness took a few minutes of adjustment since I’m used to firmer shoes, but once I started running, I was hooked. The Escalante is the most comfortably cushioned shoe I’ve ever worn. It feels a little too soft while walking, but it feels like heaven while running. I have sensitive feet that get angry easily, and I have zero complaints about the underfoot feel of the Escalante.

Outsole

The outsole reminds me of an old tennis shoe traction pattern. The rubber is pretty smooth but has deep grooves. It’s highly segmented and leaves a lot of the midsole foam exposed, which helps reduce weight. I’ll update about durability in a month or two.

Appearance

altra escalante review
I really like the way the Escalantes look and feel.

I’m a fan of Altra from way back when they issued their first Intuition that looked somewhat like a medical shoe with moon boot styling. I’ve often felt that I compromised aesthetics for comfort and function. Some of the major brands that’ve been around a lot longer make really good-looking shoes that always tempt me, but Altra consistently wins in the comfort and function categories. “Embrace the space,” as they say. Each time their designs have progressed, I’ve gotten happier and happier with the appearance of their shoes. The Escalante is the nicest looking Altra I’ve owned yet, except for maybe the bright red pair of Superiors that I own and love. I got the gray colorway in the Escalante, and it’s quite subdued without being too dark. 

Sizing

altra escalante sizing
Surprisingly, there’s way too much room in the front and front/side in my usual size, so I’ll need to go a half size down. This photo was taken after my feet were swollen from running, and the shoes are still too big.

I’m a 9 or 9.5 in every shoe I’ve bought for at least a decade. In Altra, I wear 9 in the Intuition (version 3.5) and 9.5 in the Superior (version 2.0). I bought a 9 in the Escalante and was worried it might be too small based on other reviews of sizing. However, it’s the opposite of what I thought. Immediately after I put them on, there was too much space in the front and side-front of the shoe. I moved my foot around a bit and changed socks, but there still seemed to be too much space. I don’t like tight shoes, so I decided to lace them up and walk around a bit. They seemed good after all, so I wore them for a 5-miler. Unfortunately, by mile 2, it was glaringly obvious that they were too big. I almost tripped a few times because of the excess length. I can’t believe it, but I think I’m going to have to exchange them for an 8.5. My feet always tend to shift laterally in shoes, especially when I run, and that lateral shift made the 9s feel even longer. Really unexpected to need a smaller size, but I have to go with what fits best, regardless of number.

Final Verdict

hurting like hell, living with gusto
Proof that I’ve been an Altra fan for years— check out the Intuition 1.5 on my book cover!

I LOVE the Escalante. It’s my new favorite shoe, except for the sizing. It’s an unstructured, perfectly cushioned, lightweight option for multiple paces and surfaces. I really, really hope the 8.5 fits perfectly so I can run a ton of miles in them. I’ll alternate the Escalante with my old pair of Intuitions (until I get new ones!), and still plan to use the Superior for trail running and the Lone Peak for hiking. Click here to buy the Escalante. 

Book Award

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It’s an honor to win a FAPA award, and I’m humbled and grateful.

I got word this morning that my book won a Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Award! There are so many letdowns, rejections, and silences in the publishing industry, and getting a little validation is a really nice feeling. I appreciate everyone’s support along the way.

I had a rough few days and haven’t slept much, so some good news was extra appreciated this morning. Something’s been going on with my low back, and the radiculopathy got way out of control a few nights ago. I’m not sure what’s angered my back this time, but something definitely got it fired up.

The pain and tingling in my legs got so bad that I couldn’t get comfortable in any position. Eventually, out of middle-of-the-night desperation, I took a chance and rotated my torso until I felt and heard a tremendous pop in the upper lumbar area. Even though it was a little scary to twist and crack my spine, the relief was almost instant. I’m still not where I was a week ago, but I was able to run 4 miles this morning and even put in some decent pace on the final mile. I’m sure the morning news that my book is an award-winner helped me speed up a bit on that last mile. Good news helps everything.

I’ll miss the book awards banquet because I’ll be in the northeast for other book-related events. It still seems pretty surreal that I won. Click here if you want to learn more about my book.

Summer Running

trail running
A good trail run is one of my favorite things in the world.

It’s been hot as hell in my part of the world this summer, but I’ve been able to gradually increase my running mileage despite the heat. My longest run this year is 8 miles, which makes me pretty happy considering I wasn’t able to start running again until March of this year after nearly a year off after a disastrous April of last year. I came home from a two weeks of travel and my legs were much tighter than usual and my back was stiff (although it’s always stiff, so that wasn’t new). I thought a run would help loosen me up, but it didn’t at all, and then an awkward bend to pick up my little beagle sent me into severe spasms. Fast forward to now, and with major core and posture work, medical marijuana (a whole other story that I need to write about), and personalized supplements, and 8 miles seems pretty awesome.

My speed isn’t where I want it to be, but I’m trying to stay calm and steady and trust that progress will happen. I’ve already sped up quite a bit in the last month, but I’m also being mindful to avoid common overuse injuries, like stress fractures, so I’m not letting myself do quite as much as I’d like to. I went from running 11-minutes-plus per mile upon my return a few months ago to running sub-10 this month. Both of those are very slow compared to my former self, but I’m still happy with the progress. I’ve done some very short stints in the 7-minutes-per-mile range, which felt great and a little scary. I’m always mindful of my back, which probably makes me tense up, so I’m trying to work on staying calm while speeding up my leg turnover.

trail running
The pitcher plants were in full bloom during my run.

My favorite run of 2018 so far was an 8-miler through the state forest. It was extremely hot and I went through all my water on my FuelBelt by the 2/3 mark, but the peace and scenery were totally worth it. Afterwards, I swam in a cold, clear lake while tiny fish bumped into my legs and I took in the enormity of what my body had accomplished. It was a great day, and I’m so glad to be able to run again.

Breaking Food Rules

I had a really bad day that mostly sucked because something I’d felt a lot of hope about turned out to be nothing. I’m always cautious with my hope, especially about things that seems like long shots anyway, but I guess I was more hopeful than I thought this time, and the letdown was shockingly crushing. It’s just a work thing, not life or death, but sometimes wanting something really bad and working hard for it and then not getting it is devastating. My rational mind says it’s part of a learning process, but that’s easier to say than it is to feel when the letdown is fresh and the pain is raw.

I’m usually not one to eat my feelings, but last night, after a healthy dinner at the local co-op, I eyed a big bag of ranch-flavored tortilla chips. In mild defense of my transgression, the chips were organic (LOL, I know, still fried junk). I decided that if I took a long walk and still wanted them, I’d allow myself to stray from my normally strict diet and indulge a little. The walk didn’t help lift my sadness, and I walked back to the co-op with fifteen minutes to spare before closing and plunked down $2 for the bag of chips. Then, of course, I ate them all. Every single one of them, even though the serving size was for a family.

It was a rare slip for me, and I felt the familiar guilt of eating crap while dealing with chronic health problems, but damn, those chips were good. I tried pouring some in a bowl and eating just that amount, but it wasn’t long before I dumped the whole bag out and feasted. The free-for-all didn’t make the disappointment of the day go away, but I truly enjoyed eating some junk for a change, and that brief feeling of pleasure was a nice distraction.

I worried that I wouldn’t sleep much and would get achy from the processed food, but I ended up sleeping longer (and uninterrupted!) than I have in months. I didn’t even wake up to pee in the middle of the night, which was probably due to the massive salt load I put in my body with my chow fest. And when I woke up this morning, I felt better and less achy than usual.

I’m not advocating a junk food diet, but I think there’s a lesson here for me, and that is to relax and enjoy a treat every now and then. That’s something that can be hard for someone who feels guilt over poor dietary choices, but maybe my thinking should shift to allow more occasional treats. When I woke up this morning, I felt great, ran 4 miles in a thunderstorm, and am way less stiff and sore than usual. Cheers to chips, at least every once in a while.

Inspirational Podcast

restoration row podcast victoria stopp
Not only does the team at Restoration Row produce a podcast, but they also create art. This is the illustration they did for my story!

I recently had the honor of being interviewed for Kaigo Health’s new podcast, Restoration Row. Their CEO, Uzochukwu Chima, and I talked awhile, and then an actress named Megan Dunlop performed a reading from my book. How cool! The book journey has been quite a ride so far.

Restoration Row has some really interesting and inspiring stories, and I highly recommend checking it out on iTunes or Stitcher. Click here for my episode, but definitely check out all the others while you’re there. The talented production crew will upload a new episode often, so check back soon for more.