Five Ways to Eat Well on a Micro Budget

organic bean soup
Lots of organic beans, veggies, and barley for very little money.

I work multiple jobs, none of which provide benefits of any kind—no insurance, no paid days off, no freebies. Other than health insurance, groceries can be my largest bill if I’m not careful. I’m a major believer in health food and clean eating, and over the years I’ve figured out what works best for my body. I stay away from gluten, processed foods, and added sugar. I’ve done Whole30 (a month-long challenge to go very strict paleo), been vegan, and been vegetarian. After all is said and done, I realized I function best on a mixture of the three. That may sound crazy—mixing paleo and vegan—but some of the basics are the same. Only whole foods. No crap. Vegan is a lot easier on a budget than paleo, and the extra carbs in vegan meals help fuel my long runs and hikes. Here’s how I eat clean, healthy foods on a very small budget:

Bulk bins are your friend. I got a hearty, organic soup mix full of barley and beans for only a couple bucks. If the same soup mix had been pre-packaged, I’d have paid a lot more. I added my own seasonings and the result was fantastic.

Communicate. Get to know the produce person in your market, and talk with the store manager. Ask them to split a head of cabbage if it’s priced by the pound, then only buy half since that’s all most people can use anyway. Find out what days certain foods are most likely to be discounted. I’ve saved a ton this way. My local co-op often has half-price produce on Sundays, and I get lots of organic mushrooms and salad greens for cheap.

Check for matching grants. Some local farmers’ markets get grants that double food stamp dollars. That means every EBT dollar buys $2 worth of food at a matching farmers’ market. You can eat clean, local food without blowing your entire month’s benefit on one shopping trip.

Don’t ignore frozen food. Frozen broccoli is some of the nastiest food I’ve ever put in my mouth, but other frozen veggies and fruits are delicious. I can usually buy frozen, organic strawberries for way less money than their fresh counterparts.

Use salad bars for meat. Organic salad bars often have cooked chicken breast as a salad topping. Organic meat is super expensive, but if you add some on top of a salad at a pay-by-the-pound bar, you can come out with a great meal for just a few bucks. I once calculated that I got a huge salad with lots of fancy toppings like red bell peppers and chicken breast for less money that I would’ve spent on one organic bell pepper. No kidding.

Custom Bicycle for Painless Cycling

bike handlebar extender
Tall handlebars and a parrot horn. Yes!

I sold my road bike several years ago and bought a grandma cruiser. Cervical dystonia and three herniated discs made it impossible for me to comfortably get into an aerodynamic cycling position, but I didn’t want to give up biking after already sacrificing so much to chronic pain. The cruiser I bought is a hybrid bike with plenty of gear choices, and I added some skull stickers to make me feel better about riding a dorky bike. I love it, but until recently, the positioning was still off.

My neck gets very angry if I have any weight come through my left arm for an extended period of time, and the factory setup of the cruiser had me leaning forward too much. I raised the handlebars and lowered the seat as much as safely possible, but still no dice. The local bike shop fixed me up with a custom handlebar extender, and now I’m a much happier cyclist.

extended handlebars
Look how high the handlebars are in relation to the seat.

The extension piece itself is simple—a metal tube that allows the bike’s handlebars to sit up taller than they normally could. Unfortunately, the installation wasn’t so simple. All of the cables on the front of the bike were too short to accommodate the taller handlebars, so the bike technician had to put in all new cables. The labor took about an hour, but when the tech was done, I finally had a bike I could ride comfortably.

Exercising with fibromyalgia and chronic pain takes a bit of creativity, but if you’re committed, there’s usually an answer to most problems. I now sit so upright on my bike that it’s probably comical for people who see me pedal by, but I don’t care. I can ride without neck pain, and that’s worth the dork factor.

Cupping for Pain Relief

cupping bruise
It’s like a circular hickey on my calf.

Try to imagine giant leeches sucking your legs for five minutes, and you’ll get the general idea of what goes on during cupping. I tried cupping to help increase circulation and aid healing in my damaged leg muscles, and for a week I sported round bruises on my calves and thighs.

I’m always up for trying a new way to relieve chronic pain, even if the treatment leaves me looking like I was attacked by an octopus. My back and hip are still giving me fits, despite having had some recent good results with specialized physical therapy. I guess this is the nature of fibromyalgia—a few steps forward and at least one step backward.

The actual cupping experience was a lot more painful than I imagined it would be, but after a minute, the pain eased up a bit. I stayed still on a treatment table for five minutes while the cups did their magic, and by the final minute, my legs were still uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as the first minute.

When the PT opened his case and showed me rows of cups and an apparatus to make them suction to my legs, I knew I was in for a unique experience. I didn’t get the results I’d hoped for—mainly reduced pain—but at least I tried. I’ve heard that some people swear by cupping, but it’s not for me. My favorite healing tool is a lot more soothing—soaking in the hot tub.

Recipe: Miso Soup with Vegetables

miso soup
Broccoli is my favorite vegetable.

I felt exhausted yesterday after a two-and-a-half-hour workout that included an hour of very challenging physical therapy for my back and hip. Dealing with chronic pain is a fulltime job. Workouts geared toward rehab aren’t hard like a long run, but they’re very fatiguing and difficult in their own way. When I got home, I felt like I needed a nutritional boost ASAP. I raided the fridge and decided to make miso soup with fresh vegetables.

You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand, and if they’re from an Asian market, even better. I wish I’d had shitake mushrooms, but white button did fine. The one thing I wouldn’t compromise on is organic miso. I’ve read scary things about conventional soy products. This is how I made my miso soup:

Ingredients

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 large mushrooms
  • 2 large pieces of wakame (sea vegetable)
  • organic white miso to taste

Directions

  • Chop vegetables while water boils in a pot.
  • Add carrots to boiling water for a minute or two, then add remaining vegetables.
  • Use a ladle to remove some of your boiling water into a large glass measuring cup. Once water in cup is hot but not boiling, add miso and whisk until it moves freely.
  • Boil veggies only a couple of minutes to keep them firm, then remove pot from heat.
  • Add miso broth back to soup pot and stir.
  • Serve warm.

My brother-in-law loves miso soup and often adds fresh corn, Brussels sprouts, and other goodies. I was fascinated the first time I saw miso soup because it looked like it was alive. When the miso disperses in the warm water, it looks unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten. I’m used to it now, but still enjoy the show when I stir my soup.

 

 

 

Foundation Training

foundation training
DVD cover image of Foundation Training (pic from Amazon).

I recently read Foundation Training: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence, and started the basic exercises the next day. While my back pain didn’t magically disappear (of course), I feel stronger and more confident already. I’ve only been doing the exercises for a few days and started a little more conservatively than the book recommends. My body tends to react poorly to new exercises if I start them too intensely.

I enjoyed the philosophy of the book enough to do something I almost never do—order fitness DVDs. The Foundation DVDs have updated exercises and arrived in my mailbox today. I’m very excited to watch them this evening. I don’t see how strengthening the lower back, gaining flexibility, and keeping good posture can do anything but great things for the unwell body.

Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, low back pain, etc. all tend to push western medicine practitioners toward prescribing pills and/or surgery. I don’t want any of those drastic measures. I appreciate an approach that involves self-motivation and control, which is what Foundation training allows. I can do these exercises and give them a shot rather than wallowing in the bottom of a pill bottle. Giving a sense of empowerment to chronic pain patients is priceless.

I highly recommend checking out Foundation Training. It might not be right for you, but it’s worth at least investigating it as an option. Let me know how it goes!

Fibromyalgia Sucks!

fibromyalgia sucksFibromyalgia sucks. It really does. I decided to start using Mondays as an opportunity to create some smiles, because we all need humor whether we have chronic illnesses or not.

Otis, my sweet beagle (or at least he’s mostly beagle) always helps me feel better no matter what’s wrong. He’s been my loving companion for 9 ½ years and is the gentlest little guy I know. In the spirit of sharing, I hope this picture makes your day better!

Fibromyalgia sucks. Dogs rule. Have a great day, friends!

Creative Visualization

fibromyalgia creative visualization
Think it, then do it.

Has anyone tried creative visualization? As best as I understand it, focusing on something that you want is supposed to help make it happen. It’s a lot like envisioning how you want your life to be, focusing on that vision, and making it happen.

My visualization of my life has always included sports and outdoor activities. Fibromyalgia has tried very hard to take that vision away. Lately, in part thanks to awesome words from a reader (thanks Stephanie AC), I’m trying creative visualization for the first time. Rather than just imagining something and feeling defeated because it can’t happen, I’m going to imagine it as an attainable reality.

My (hopefully) attainable reality is returning to running. I don’t even have to close my eyes to imagine what it will be like to return to the freedom of moving quickly on my own two feet. Earlier today I drove over the bayou bridge near my house and could almost feel what it would be like to run across that bridge like I did for years. I imagined the salty smell, the hard wind, and the sound of seagulls. I imagined the childlike joy of running so fast down the hill before the bridge that it would feel like flying.

I’m shifting those visions that I’ve always had into energy toward reality rather than disappointment. We’re having almost spring-like weather in northwest Florida right now, and I would love—no, I WILL love to go outside and run in the sun.

Reclaiming Life at What Price?

running with fibromyalgia
It was raining, but it was a great day to run.

I’m curious what you do when you want to do something so bad but you know it’s potentially disastrous for your health. Bottom line—with every fiber of my being I want to return to running, but I’m scared to death of the post-run nighttime pain that made me howl like a wounded animal the last time I ran.

When I see people running, I feel a mixture of hope and bitterness and excitement and disappointment and jealousy. I’m happy for them that they get to experience the joy and challenge of running, but I desperately want to return to one of the last things I had to give up. Soccer is unrealistic. Tennis is probably unrealistic, too. Same with rollerblading. But running was my holdout, the final thing I kept for myself for peace, clarity, adventure, and release.

My internal debate gets more heated every day. I’m walking several miles (and sometimes as many as 5 hours) daily, so it seems like running a few minutes in the midst of all that walking wouldn’t be a big deal. But every time I almost embrace freedom and take off, I think about the way my hips and back felt the night after the last time I ran, and I keep walking instead.

Is there anything you’ve given up for fibromyalgia that you’ve reclaimed? If so, did it come with a price, and is the price worth it?

Altra Intuition 3 Review

Intuition 3 looking good in the box.
Intuition 3 looking good in the box.

I’ve been a fan of Altra shoes since they first came out and were blocky-looking and virtually unknown. I’ve had every version of the Intuition and three versions of the Lone Peak. I use my Lone Peaks for hiking and will never go back to boots. Until today, my latest pair of Intuitions were the ugliest shoes I’d ever owned, but also some of the most comfortable. They’re crayon pink, similar to Crayola’s carnation, and if they didn’t feel like pillowy heaven I’d never have bought them. For the first time ever in my history with Altra, today I bought a pair of decent-looking shoes. The Intuition 3s that my local running store stocks are coral/blue, and I’m actually excited about how they look rather than just how they feel.

Since looks really don’t matter to comfort and function, of course the ultimate test is how they feel and perform. I bought a size 9.5 despite being a 9 in the second version and an 8.5 in the 1.5 version. I’m not sure if my feet are expanding or if the sizing differences reflect the complaints I’ve read about Altra’s sizing, but it doesn’t bother me. The beauty of shopping locally is being able to try on shoes and go by how they fit rather than a number on a box.

I tried on some Newtons and Sauconys for comparison in the store today, and the Intuition 3 won by a long shot. They’re not as marshmallowy as the 2 and feel more like a responsive running shoe. The laces are much improved over previous versions and are soft and plenty long (the laces on the 2s are woefully short and shoddy). The 3s are lighter and have even less rubber on the outsole compared to the 2s—gone is the rubber from the medial arch.

No more rubber on the outsole under the arch.
No more rubber on the outsole under the arch.

I’ve spent the afternoon walking around in my 3s and haven’t had any break-in issues or complaints. They fit great right out of the box, and I have high hopes for their workout performance. The toe box is wide in the tradition of Altra, but the heel is still narrow enough that I don’t feel like I’m walking in moon boots. For people with fibromyalgia and other chronic health issues, the comfort and function of Altra shoes can make a long workday much more doable. It’s amazing how good your feet can feel when your shoes aren’t deforming them.

I’ve been on a running hiatus for months due to health complications, but I’ve walked a couple of hours or more each runless day in Altras. I’ve wanted to return to running every single day since my health forced me to quit, and I think I might be brave enough to take a few running steps in my new Intuition 3s tomorrow. If not, I hope they serve me as well for walking as their predecessors did. I’ll update this review over time with notes on durability and performance, but the future—at least as far as my shoes are concerned—looks bright.

Top Five Ways to Stay Healthy

I take Counter Attack daily.
I take Counter Attack daily.

5. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. This seems like a no-brainer, but I stayed well through the entire fall season when a lot of people were sick. I think a lot of my wellness had to do with washing my hands with warm water and soap more often than I wanted to—especially after grocery shopping, checking the mail, and at work.

4. Sleep. Having fibromyalgia or any kind of chronic pain can make sleep very difficult, but do what you can to get as many hours as possible. I’ve taken to sleeping on my camping mattress on the floor with my legs on three pillows. I look ridiculous, but my back hurts less and I’m able to rest.

 

3. Try herbal supplements and teas. I like spirulina and Counter Attack. They taste bad and require a quick swallow and lots of water, but they make me feel energized. I also like Throat Coat tea. Of course, make sure your healthcare provider clears you to take supplements before you try them.

2. Exercise outdoors. Even if I only go for a short walk in the woods, I immediately feel better physically and mentally. The clean air and peacefulness helps me connect to the planet, and the movement helps with my stiff joints. I feel sick in general if I don’t get time outdoors.

1. Avoid processed foods—especially sugar. There are lots of studies that show the negative effects of processed sugar. Yes, it tastes good, but feeling like crap and/or getting very ill isn’t worth the momentary blissful taste. Fresh blueberries will taste super sweet after you get used to abstaining from processed sugar, so go for fruit if you need something sugary. As a side note, I ate some candy and cookies as the new year approached, and caught a very bad cold within a few days. Coincidence? Maybe, but I’d been healthy for 14 months before, and those were 14 processed-sugar-free months.