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.

Running Again, with Hives

40 minute run
I walked for 15 minutes and ran for 40 minutes!

I have some great news! I’m able to run again. I’ve actually been running for a couple of weeks, but I waited to share until I was sure I was going to be able to return to running consistently. I took a picture of my watch this morning to help me document my celebration. That’s 40 minutes of running! This is a huge victory for me. I already feel my sanity returning and my thoughts clearing.

In other news, I’m battling hives again. Do any other fibromyalgia patients get unexplained skin issues? I’ve had two punch biopsies (ouch!) over the years. One dermatologist said the hives are an allergic reaction. To what, he didn’t know. The other dermatologist said I have guttate psoriasis. I tend to disbelieve both of them. Either way, my hives itch. They’re currently on my trunk, elbows, wrists, left breast, and right knee pit. Luckily they’re not nearly as bad as they have been in the past, although I wish they’d go away. It’s so much easier to deal with the hives since I’m running again. There’s something about running that makes me feel like I can take on anything.

hives
My torso is covered in patches of small, itchy hives.

I’m not sure what my next running goals are. I’m hesitant to make any new goals since I’m still just grateful to be able to get out there and run. The core exercises that I do every day have made a huge difference in my life. I’m convinced that increasing my core strength and stability has helped stabilize my SI joints. The spinal support offered by strong muscles is fantastic. And the proof is in my return to running. Planks suck, but they work. I have to be very careful with my movements to keep my back pain-free, but I’m running again, so I feel pretty damn good.

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.

 

 

 

Brooks Launch 2 Review

brooks launch 2
I took my pair of Brooks Launch 2 outside for the first time on a hot spring day.

The Good

Comfort—my pair of Brooks Launch 2 was comfortable straight out of the box. Seriously, all I had to do was fit the laces through the last hole, tie them, and go. I walked two miles and did forty-five minutes of strength training to break them in, but the break-in time didn’t seem necessary. The forefoot is soft and allows my bones to spread out. Their overall weight is 7.9 oz according to the Brooks website, and they feel very light on my feet. The offset is listed at 10mm, which I find very comfortable.

Cushioning—there’s enough midsole to keep my feet happy without feeling like I’m on marshmallows.

Traction—the Launch 2 definitely isn’t a trail shoe (it’s not meant to be), but I haven’t had any issues getting a grip in firm-packed mud, loose sand, or wet pavement. The sole at the midfoot doesn’t have any plastic—just rubber—so the dangerous potential to slip on the edge of a curb (this happened to me in a pair of Asics) isn’t a concern.

Overall function—the laces stay tied without double knotting, and the shoes require minimal if any break-in time. They’re running shoes and they do their job well. They’re not as sturdy-feeling as my Brooks Ghost 7, but they cost $20 less than the Ghosts, so I’m okay with that. As for size, I bought 9.5 but usually wear 9 in Brooks, so either the Launch 2 runs a little small or my feet are growing.

brooks launch 2 laces
The ends of the laces say “DIG DEEP.”

Appearance—I’ve seen two colorways, but from what I’ve read there are three and possibly more to come. I chose the green and purple and I really like the way those colors look together. The laces are a nice, complimentary purple, and the outsole is cute, too. The ends of the laces say “DIG DEEP,” and some people might think it’s gimmicky, but as a chronic pain sufferer, I definitely relate to that mantra.

The Bad

The pointed toe. I wish all shoe companies would take a cue from Altra and stop making shoes shaped like we have a giant toe sprouting from the middle of our foot. The forefoot in the Launch 2 is wide enough for me, so the pointed toe is more of an elf-like aesthetic issue.

The Undecided

Durability—time will tell, and I’ll update this review after I’ve worn the Launch 2 a lot more. To the touch, though, the outsole feels a little soft and I’m worried these won’t be with me for the long haul.

Price—I say “undecided” because I really have no idea what a fair price for a running shoe is. These days I’ve seen various shoes from good brands on sale for as little as $48 and at full price for as much as $299. I paid $100 for the Launch 2, but my gut tells me $80 would’ve been a fairer price. That said, because they’re a new release, you’re probably going to have to pay full price. On a positive note, some retailers are offering a promotion right now that includes a free Brooks hat with purchase of the Launch 2, so at least I got a nice, free cap for the upcoming summer.

Stomach Pain from Prescriptions

two old goats lotion
I’ll stick with nonprescription pain relieving methods. Two Old Goats lotion is great.

I’ve been taking 20mg of piroxicam for a couple of months. The only side effect I’d noticed is sun sensitivity. No matter how much sunscreen I wear, my face always looks a little burned at night if I’ve been outside most of the day. I wasn’t happy about that, but the medicine was helping with my chronic pain and stiffness and I felt like I could deal with the sunburn. But last week, I started having stomach pain.

At first I blamed the stomach pain on a few slipups in my usually perfect diet. I’d allowed a little cheese here and there and eaten some wheat-based crackers and cereal. I’d had peanut butter instead of almond butter on my apple at breakfast, and figured the combination of dietary sins was to blame for my stomach pain.

I cleaned up my diet again, and the stomach pain got worse. A couple of nights ago I couldn’t sleep because I felt like I was hugely bloated and my stomach burned bad. I felt nauseous after eating and my morning chem-free decaf coffee felt like acid in my stomach. I picked up the Walgreens handout that came with the piroxicam, and, like all NSAIDS, can cause major stomach problems.

I decided to stop taking it immediately even though I was fearful of severe muscle spasms returning and chronic pain worsening. The burning in my stomach was too much to ignore, so I also picked up some generic Prevacid at the pharmacy.

I’ve been two days without piroxicam, and so far my muscles aren’t any sorer than usual and my back isn’t aching worse than usual. I managed a 20-minute run and hour-long walk yesterday. My hot tub and a bottle of Two Old Goats lotion are doing the trick so far.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that our western approach to medicine often creates more problems than it solves, especially when dealing with chronic health conditions. It sometimes seems like one pill begets another. We’ve come a long way in medicine, but we still have a long way to go. I’m going to stay off of all prescriptions as long as possible and keep my diet perfect again and see what happens.

Five Tips to Stay Active with Chronic Pain

fibromyalgia workout
Chronic pain sucks.

Chronic pain can keep even the most dedicated exercisers from their daily workout. Over the past year, the pain in my back and right hip was so debilitating that I couldn’t get comfortable anywhere. I gave up running (but recently made a comeback!) and weightlifting on top of everything else I’ve given up to fibromyalgia and dystonia over the years. But almost every day, I made a point to get myself out of the house to walk, with the exception of a few days when muscles spasms kept me locked in a fetal ball in the bedroom. My trial and error workouts through fifteen months of low back/hip pain helped me come up with some advice for people who also deal with chronic pain but still want to exercise.

Get Outside

Unless weather-prohibitive, getting outside is often the first step to activity. Chronic pain is depressing and disheartening and can feel like it steals your soul. Stepping or wheeling outside to feel fresh air and hear bird sing is instantly uplifting. Once you’re outside, you’re more likely to at least walk/wheel around the block.

Find Something That Works For You

Maybe you’re a lifelong athlete like me, and “exercise” means soccer, running, or other high-intensity sports. Recognizing that your body no longer cooperates with your mind’s desires is no easy pill to swallow. Find something that works for you. Swimming and water aerobics are usually great workouts for people with chronic pain issues because there’s little impact on the body. While it doesn’t carry the same adrenaline rush of running fast down a hill, walking around your neighborhood can be mentally cleansing and physically uplifting. Just because you can’t do what you used to do doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there that will work for you.

Mind Your Medications

I’ve experienced medication side effects that were worse than the original problem I suffered. Even medications that you might have taken for years can suddenly start reacting differently in your body. Take a few days to list all the medications you take, the time(s) of day you take them, and how they effect your mind and body. You might find that something either doesn’t work for you at all anymore and you need to call your doctor, or that a certain prescription makes you feel exhausted. Once you’re more aware of what you’re taking and what it’s doing to you, it can be easier to decide on a time of day that’s best for activity.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Keep trying. Chronic pain is a nasty demon, but some days you might be capable of things that other days just won’t work. I’ve started running again despite feeling for a year that I’d never be able to run a step. I stuck to a strict stretching routine every night, and eventually the flexibility gained in my legs helped me return to running about 20 minutes every other day. That’s nothing compared to the 2+ hours per day I used to run, but it’s empowering to be back in action. I was afraid to hurt myself and took my return very slowly and carefully and definitely got bad results the first few times I tried. But, eventually, I ran for 5 minutes and felt pretty good, then used that short run as a steppingstone.

Stretch

Flexibility is so important for everybody, but especially for chronic pain patients. Range of motion in joints can be severely limited by tight muscles, and the less you move around, the tighter those muscles become. Many medical conditions contribute to severe muscle spasms (I have cervical dystonia) that can’t be undone, but for the most part, at least some area of your body is probably accessible to stretch. I found that even on my worst days, stretching my hamstrings helped relieve low back pain. You don’t have to do anything drastic—just gentle stretching will help. A physical therapist can be a great resource to set you on a safe path to a more flexible body.

Good luck to you! Chronic pain is awful, but reclaiming your life and moving your body can do worlds of good.

Of course, like all things health-related, ask your healthcare professional before undertaking anything out of the ordinary. Everybody’s medical conditions are different and should be respected as such. Exercise is great medicine, but make sure you get cleared to participate first!

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.

Ten Things I Did Before Fibromyalgia

10. I played soccer—a lot of soccer. It didn’t even seem like a big deal when I’d take off my cleats after a game and find a bloody sock. Pain was temporary before fibromyalgia.

9. I ran around mountains, up mountains, and once down a mountain.

8. I tried new sports, like rollerblading, just for fun. There was no fear of the repercussions of taking a stiff, broken body through a new routine.

7. I took ibuprofen for pain and it actually worked.

6. I sat in a chair and read books for hours without my back hurting.

5. I ate ice cream and brownies and cookies and knew nothing about total-body inflammation.

4. I planned my days around choices rather than obligations—choices like when to go to the gym rather than obligations like having to see the chiropractor just so I can stand to be alive.

3. I travelled, and didn’t have to plan trips around muscle spasms and pain. I carried fun stuff in my luggage rather than needing a carload of pain-relieving props (Back Buddy, camping mattress in case the hotel bed is too soft, cervical pillow, Tiger Balm, etc.).

2. I went to sleep like a normal person. No handfuls of herbal supplements, no piles of pillows to ease back pain, no special cervical pillow. I would just lie down and pull up the covers.

1. I was free without realizing it—free to live as boldly as I wished and without pain—free to explore, to take risks, and to relax.