Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A Woman Asked me if I was a Syrian Refugee.

I try to go to my public pool once a week. I've made some friends there and have had very pleasant conversations with almost everyone I've interacted with. Today I was a bit caught off guard by an unexpected conversation I had with a woman who I've never spoken to before.

This woman came right up to me and said, "There were some people asking if you were a Syrian refugee... are you?" To which I laughed it off and said, "No, I was born in Canada. Every single Muslim person is not Syrian." Mind you, the reason I stood out as "different" is because I wear a burqini to the pool. A burqini is a pretty amazing invention for Muslim women who wish to cover but still want to swim. It is a full covering bathing suit, fully equipped with a built-in hijab.

The conversation continued... she told me she has an extra bathing suit that I can borrow so I can "assimilate" into society. (Those weren't her exact words, I am paraphrasing, but, that's pretty much what she was saying.) I explained to her that it is a religious requirement for me to cover my body and I won't feel comfortable wearing her swimsuit but "thanks for the offer anyways." She proceeded to tell me that she's traveled the world, and the best way to be accepted was to embrace the country's culture. Basically, what she was saying was "When in Rome...do as the Romans do."

I politely declined and told her that people should accept that there are people in the world who dress differently and there's no reason for them to be afraid. She agreed that the problem is derived from fear and people need exposure to the outside world. However, she was set on her opinion that I should dress more "Western."

After that lady left, another lady (who overheard our conversation) came up to me and said, "I think you did a good job of upholding your side of the conversation. Guess what? I travelled the world too. I lived in Pakistan for three years, and I disagree with her statement."

I told her that I felt it was important to defend myself but still maintain politeness. As a hijabi Muslim, I feel as though my behaviour doesn't only represent me as a person, but it also represents Islam. When someone sees me wearing a hijab/headscarf, I am evidently Muslim. What if I was the only Muslim this woman has ever encountered in her life? I wouldn't want her to think Muslims are rude, impolite and easily offended. Furthermore, there is a preconceived notion that Muslim women are "oppressed." At that moment, I thought it was important to show her that I have a voice, thoughts and opinions and attempt to crush that generalization.

It was an interesting conversation to say the least.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Vegetarian and Vegan recipe ideas.

Although I have a pretty good idea of what kinds of foods I am able to eat, I am still in the process of getting to know my body. I've discovered that I should avoid most grains for now, until my body settles. So I am strictly eating a vegetarian diet now. I have been doing a lot of online research on IBS and found some really informative videos on youtube. I've also been cooking a variety of vegetarian/vegan dishes which I found to work for me. I wanted to share some of the recipes which I have tried and tested so far that can potentially help someone else with digestive issues. Most of the recipes I use are either from http://www.allrecipes.com or from youtube.

Cowboy kale - http://allrecipes.com/recipe/240259/cowboy-kale/

I made some alterations to this recipe. I didn't have any bell peppers at the time, and I used white onions instead. The result was still quite delicious. I completely forgot to serve it with the vinaigrette, but even as is it was flavourful. I cooked kale again last week, but this time I had lightly cooked the kale, and added (raw) cherry tomatoes, avocado pieces, and whole almonds. Also another great way to eat kale.

Cowboy kale served with baked salmon. I wanted to try the fish to see if I could handle it. I later learned that it's best to avoid all meats for now, including seafood. However, if you are able to eat couscous or quinoa, this kale recipe would pair nicely with it!
Grilled Mediterranean Vegetable Sandwich - http://allrecipes.com/recipe/22886/grilled-mediterranean-vegetable-sandwich/?internalSource=recipe%20hub&referringId=1084&referringContentType=recipe%20hub

Since my body can't handle the store bought breads, I made homemade (whole wheat) roti and had this Mediterranean mix in a roti roll. I am not a huge fan of eggplant, but in this roll it was really good. The garlic mayo was what topped it off and gave it an excellent flavour.

Fabulous Zucchini Grinders - http://allrecipes.com/recipe/73456/fabulous-zucchini-grinders/

Another vegetable that I don't particularly like. I made this before I realized I couldn't have breads. I served it in casserole form, as opposed to sandwich form. Also, I eliminated the cheese.

Spinach and Ricotta Calzone - http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/dave-lieberman/spinach-and-ricotta-calzone-recipe.html

This was one of the first recipes I tested out on myself. I have my own pizza dough recipe which I used and I made the dough out of whole wheat flour. Although it was extremely delicious, the crust and cheese did not agree with me. I used only mozzarella cheese.

Spinach and cheese calzone made with all purpose flour
Spinach and cheese calzone made with whole wheat flour
Roasted Brussel Sprouts. with apples, golden raisins and walnuts - http://allrecipes.com/recipe/230659/roasted-brussels-sprouts-with-apples-golden-raisins-and-walnuts/?internalSource=recipe%20hub&referringId=2436&referringContentType=recipe%20hub

I made this recipe as is but I eliminated the brussel sprouts, raisins and wine. It was so simple yet so delicious. the apple slices gave it a really nice sweetness.

Baked Eggs in Avocado - http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Baked-Eggs-Avocado-Recipe-30787252

I find that avocados are a hit or miss for most people; you either love it or you hate it. This is a great breakfast idea which is very filling, if you haven't re-introduced grains back into your diet yet.

I baked these in the toaster oven. I did find them to be very mess to eat. However, delicious nonetheless.

Almond Milk Ideas

So far I've tried sweetened vanilla, unsweetened vanilla and unsweetened original. Personally, I like the unsweetened vanilla but there are many other flavours of (non-dairy milks) out there. Like chocolate almond, coconut/almond blend, coconut milk, cashew milk, and soy milk to name some. It's important to remember almond milk is watered down compared to cow's milk, therefore you would have to make some adjustments to how you use it. However, it is fortified with the same nutrients as cow's milk. I do not like the taste of soy milk, so almond milk is what I found to be right for me.
  • Use it in cereal. My cereal of choice is Shredded Wheat because it's high in fibre.
  • Cook oatmeal with it. Oatmeal made out of almond milk has an acquired taste. It won't be as thick as oatmeal made out of cow's milk and slightly less flavourful. You can add your choice of sweetener or fruits such as apples or bananas to adjust the flavour.
  • Use it in teas. I usually make my tea with 1/2 part water, 1/2 part milk and heat it up with my choice of tea bag. As previously mentioned, almond milk is a lot more watery, so you are required to use 3/4 part milk and 1/4 part water.
  • Latte. My husband and I both wanted to try the almond milk with coffee but it didn't seem to be working. The trick is to do the same thing with it as you did in the tea: use 3/4 part almond milk and 1/4 part coffee. Make a little bit of espresso and in a separate cup, heat up the almond milk and foam it with a frother. If you don't have a frother, your latte will taste great but just won't have the foam on the top.
  • Milkshakes. The great thing about milkshakes is that there's no right or wrong way to make it. You put what you want in a blender, blend and you have your milkshake! My favourite type of milkshake is made with ripe bananas and some cinnamon powder. Since the bananas are already sweet, you don't even need to add sugar. I've also tried it with strawberries but didn't like it very much due to the tartness of the berries.
  • Hot chocolate. I warmed up the milk, and mixed in some cocoa powder and honey for sweetness.
Vanilla tea made with almond milk. I used a vanilla earl grey tea bag and vanilla almond milk for this 

Vanilla almond milk latte
As you can see, almond milk is extremely versatile and a great alternative for anyone who may have a sensitivity to dairy. Furthermore, it adds a hint of nutty flavour to your food and/or drinks.
When adjusting to a new diet, the most important thing to remember is: be patient with your body! Don't get frustrated when you get flare ups because it most likely will happen. Our bodies are funny and need time to change. As much as we wish they'd change overnight, they won't! Furthermore, we are all designed differently. Some things may work for me, but won't work for someone else. It is important to be observant and see what food works best for you as an individual. Reading so many online forums, I found that most people feel the way I did; frustrated. When doctors keep suggesting "add more fibre to your diet" and nothing seems to be helping, you really feel helpless and like giving up. But there is hope! We are lucky enough to live in a world where there are so many alternatives that there is something out there for everyone. I will continue to post about my journey as much as I can, in hopes of helping out anyone out there who may feel alone, frustrated or helpless.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

My Experience with IBS

I wanted to share my experience with irritable bowel syndrome (ISB) because I just recently discovered digestive problems have become all too common in this day and age. Hopefully the things that helped me out can help someone else out who may be going through a similar problem.

A few months ago I started feeling unwell and began my journey of going through grueling doctors appointments (with specialists) to figure out what was wrong. I will spare you the graphic details, but long story short: I was getting constipated on a daily basis and it was quite painful to say the least. I thought I was doing everything right: eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, eating food high in fibre, working out. All the things you are supposed to do to stay healthy. But nothing seemed to be helping. Some nights I would have to take milk of magnesia right before bed. It would clear up by morning but then the entire cycle would start all over again.

There were days I just wanted to stay home because I was in so much discomfort. My husband dragged me out a couple of times, suggesting that getting some fresh air and seeing other people might help me feel better. We had a family potluck coming up which I was conflicted about. I wanted to go because I wanted to see everyone. However, I knew there would be lots of food there that I couldn't eat. The potluck took place a day before my Birthday. I was going to be turning 30 and although I wanted to celebrate it at first, I lost my mood for it afterwards. I know I am still young, but it was just a reminder to myself that as I was getting older, my body was slowly deteriorating.

The day of the family get together arrived. When it was time to eat, people filled up their plates with all the delicious food at the table. I barely filled my plate and ate very little. The little that I did eat, I had a feeling it would still make me constipated the next day, but I couldn't starve myself. People made comments like, "It's your Birthday, that's all you're eating?!" Or people would be telling me to try some of their dish. I tried explaining why I wasn't taking more food, but they would say not to worry because the food would easily digest. In my head I was thinking: sure in a normal body it would digest, but not in my body. They were not trying to be rude or offensive, they just didn't fully understand the problem/illness. I barely understood it myself, so I couldn't blame them.

Despite people trying to force feed me stuff I couldn't eat at the party, in the end I was glad I went. For my potluck dish, I brought a red velvet cake (which I baked and decorated). Since everyone knew it was my Birthday the next day (because I very shamelessly announced it to everyone), when it was time for dessert, they called out for me to cut my cake. I cut the cake while everyone sang me Happy Birthday. It was a small gesture on their part, but it meant a lot to me and was very special. I had fun and it temporarily distracted me from my pain.

I had a follow up appointment with my doctor the following week and she told me what I have is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS.) It's basically irregularity in the bowels and goes from constipation to diarrhea. For me, it was mostly constipation. She gave me some tips on how to handle the illness and I went the next couple of weeks taking her advice. She suggested to take Metamucil if necessary but also to make sure to drink lots of water through out the day along with it. Another thing she said was to keep a food diary and see if there are patterns of what foods were triggering me to get constipated.

The more I spoke to people about it, the more I realized how common digestive problems have become. I also realized that everyone's bodies are different. There may be some foods that trigger me, but another person with IBS is totally okay with. I made small changes to my diet such as the following:
  • Dairy was one thing that was triggering me so I switched to almond milk. It comes in a variety of flavours such as vanilla, chocolate and coconut (sweetened or unsweetened.)
  • I did not eat any meat for a couple of weeks, and only stuck to fruits and vegetables.
  • Rice, white flour, white breads and pastas were another trigger. Instead of rice, I now have other grains like couscous, and quinoa. (I bought brown rice and brown pasta but haven't tried them yet.)
  • My husband and I visited our local farmer's market and bought all organic fruits and vegetables. Some of the fruits/veggies can be a bit more expensive, but not by much.
  • Making sure I drink at least 6-8 glass of water every day.
  • I drink a glass of Metamucil every morning and every night.
The minor changes I made to my diet seem to be helping (so far). When I began telling some of my family and friends about the diet changes I made, they started feeling bad for me making comments like "Oh my god, how long will you live like that for (with no meat?") IBS is a chronic problem. Some people's bodies settle after a year or two, and they are able to slowly add stuff back in to their diet. I don't pity myself for what I went through. God made me this way and I'm going to stop complaining about it. Sure, there are times when I feel sad I can't eat some of my favourite foods anymore (well I could if I wanted to, but I know I will regret it immediately afterwards). However, there are still also lots of things that I can eat.

In the meantime, I have discovered what to do to control my issue and keep my body healthy. Besides, people have a false notion that vegetarians miss out on all the good food in life. The truth of the matter is, there are plenty of non-meat dishes out there that are very delicious. My experience expanded my horizon to so many new recipes and dishes that I normally wouldn't have tried if I hadn't gotten ill in the first place. It is what it is and I will have to deal with it. I'm not ashamed of it and I don't feel sorry for myself (anymore) so I don't want others to feel sorry for me either.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Diary of 2 Cats: Medical Edition.

My husband and I had been planning a long weekend fam jam for the last few months and on May long weekend, the day had finally arrived. We were going to have people over Friday evening and a few families were planning on staying until Monday afternoon. All our plans were running relatively smoothly. Once Friday morning came around, we were getting Pepper and Tiger ready to go to a pet boarding service for the weekend (since they don't do well around crowds and/or around strangers.)

As I was trying to catch the cats, Pepper suddenly squatted in my dirty laundry basket and let out a little bit of pee. Since he's done that before, we knew what was happening: his urinary infection was coming back. However, the first time around was far worse. He was squirting bloody pee all over our (condo at the time.) So in retrospect, this time around wasn't so bad. At least we knew what was going on with him and knew what actions to take to help him feel better. We booked an emergency vet appointment with a nearby vet where they kept him overnight to collect a urine sample for testing.

After we dropped Pepper off at the vet, we still had lots of party preparations to do. Plus, we had to go back home to pick up Tiger and drop him off to the pet sitters'. Mind you, we live in a small town where our vet and pet sitters are on opposite sides of town, both about 30 minutes away from where we live.

Through out all the party craziness, Pepper was still at the vet and I kept calling to see if he had urinated yet (he didn't until the next afternoon.) When he DID finally urinate, my husband had to leave the party in a hurry to pick him up from the vet, and drop him off to the pet sitters'. As previously mentioned, the vet and pet sitters are on the opposite side of town.

Male cats have a higher chance of getting urinary infections then female cats. Furthermore, once they've had it once, there's a chance of the infection coming back, which is exactly what happened. Pepper was put on medication for a few days and is now on a prescription diet, which we have to buy directly from the vet. (FYI, If anyone's pets are acting oddly, I strongly encourage you to take them to a nearby vet immediately to treat the issue.)

The vet clinic we went to is open 24 hours which I found very comforting. Furthermore, the pet boarding service is a husband and wife who work from home and they board both cats and dogs. The dog kennels are in a completely separate building behind their house, and the cats stay in their house with them where they feed, play and watch over them. Despite all the unfortunate events that took place with our kitty, we had a wonderful experience with both our (new) vet and the pet boarding service.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Tips and Tricks on going Sugar-Free

Hubby and I are still limiting our sugar intake but we do cheat from time to time. Our rule is: we get to eat one sugary treat once a week. Sometimes we do end up eating sugar more than that. Usually twice a week at most. By going sugar-free we are not only cutting junk food out of our diets, but sugar all together. Meaning: we are not taking sugar in our tea, coffee, oatmeal, baked goods, etc. We watched a documentary, in which they did a study on lab rats of the addictiveness of sugar and cocaine. The rats got addicted to sugar faster than they did the cocaine! That right there is a red flag on the danger of sugar.

Going sugar-free doesn't have to be as scary as it sounds. The key is to substitute white granulated sugar with a healthier alternative. We started using honey in our tea, coffee, baking, etc. instead of sugar. However, hubby has a client who's a registered nutritionist. He told us that once you put honey in a hot substance, the heat takes the benefits of the honey out of it. He suggested to use agave nectar as a sweetener and to eat honey straight. Agave nectar is sweeter than sugar, and doesn't have a strong distinct flavour like honey. So now we've started sweetening our food/drinks with agave nectar and we really like it. You should be able to find it in any health or bulk store. It makes our morning coffee tasty and we feel good about ourselves for eating healthier.

My husband went cold turkey on cutting out his sugar, and he said it was really hard (as you could probably imagine.) For me personally, I slowly decreased it week by week. We both have sweet tooths, so it was definitely a big adjustment. However, the neat thing is that once you cut it out of your system completely, you don't even crave it anymore. It takes a lot of self-control and when you are hanging out with family and friends and they are all having some sweets, it can get very tempting. The key is to keep yourself disciplined and remind yourself why you cut it out in the first place.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

First Sugar-Free Week was Bittersweet

In our attempt to start eating healthier, my husband and I have decided to reduce bad sugars from our diets. We've substituted our sugar intake with honey. So instead of putting 1 teaspoon of sugar in our tea/coffee, we put half/one teaspoon of honey. It's not easy because we both have really bad sweet tooths. However, we are doing our best to keep at it. I admit, our first week was not completely "sugar-free" but we certainly did reduce our junk food consumption. Instead of having dessert after our meal(s), we have fruits. Also, I baked my first sugar-free treat this week. I made carrot muffins and substituted it with 1/4 cup of honey, as opposed to the 1/2 cup of sugar that the recipe requires. The baking rule is: if you replace sugar with honey, use half the amount of honey. Honey has such a distinct flavour that it can overpower the other flavours in the dessert.

We've agreed upon still allowing ourselves to eat dessert once a week, so I've given myself the weekends as my "cheat day" or "dessert day." On the contrary, we need to remind ourselves that instead of having 2 large slices of cake, we can only to have 1 small slice. It does take a lot of self control and sometimes it can be really tempting to reach for the bowl of ice cream, instead of a piece of fruit.

Our largest junk food purchase is when we do a Bulk Barn haul, which usually includes chocolate almonds, chocolate raisins and banana chips. Those usually finish within the week. Also, when ice cream is on sale, we tend to stock up with 2-3 containers of them. Now we have a whole lot of ice cream in our freezer that will take a lot longer to finish than originally planned!

Carrot muffins baked with honey.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Healthier Lifestyle Choices

We moved to our new house in early June, July was busy with our fasting month, and August/September we hosted a few parties with my and my husband's families. We had my immediate family over for Eid, my husband's entire extended family over for a housewarming (which was almost 50 people) and a small group of hubby's cousins over for the long weekend before school started again. Now that we are semi-settled into the new place, I am trying to get back into my daily workout routine.

Last year, I was extremely vigilant with my diet and workout. I logged everything on my fitness pal app, followed a strict 1200 calorie diet, drank 2 litres of water regularly, and worked out on a daily basis. I managed to lose 20 pounds in about 5-6 months, which was a huge accomplishment for me. It was half the weight I wanted to lose, so that was such a great milestone to know I reached such a big stepping stone. However, I then went through some extremely painful and uncomfortable medical treatment, causing me to gain all that weight back again, due to lack of exercise and being on pain killers. Gaining all my weight back took away my motivation to get back on the horse and start working out again. However, I am slowly getting back into the game.

I started using my fitness pal app again, and am watching every single thing I am eating. I am trying my best to workout regularly, but in all honesty, it can be really difficult. It just feels like a chore, and I really don't enjoy it. I took swimming lessons last year which was fun and was such a great workout. I live in a very scenic little neighbourhood, so I am changing it up by trying to go for walks and jogs on a daily basis and enjoying the scenery simultaneously. I am really pushing myself and remind myself that it took a few months to gain all that weight back, so it will take a few months to lose it all again.

My husband and I started this "no sugar" thing earlier this week. It's very difficult, considering I have a really bad sweet tooth! I am taking baby steps the best way I can. With my hubby cutting his sugar intake with me, that will make it much easier for me to eat healthy, and stay motivated. I also feel like the "no sugar" rule will help me lose weight a lot quicker than I did the first time! I will still have a treat from time to time, but I will control myself around desserts. I do hate to use the word "diet" because that just puts me off. So instead of saying "I am on a no sugar diet", I will say "I am making healthier life choices." Wish me luck! Here's to eating healthy, working your butt off (literally) and a better lifestyle change!