My Food Challenge Progress

My food challenge is an everyday battle between what I want and what I need: what will make me feel better over time versus what will make me feel better right now. It is one of those 'mind over matter' things: I have come to conquer the irresistible smell of freshly baked cookies by supplementing chocolate chips and cookie dough with fruit and Granola. I have found substitutes for the cravings and have taken my food goals seriously. Besides my inherent excitement for maintaining my new years resolution to ‘eat healthier’ I also genuinely feel better. I feel lighter, livelier and less bloated. I am noticing physical and mental differences and I have acquired an obsession to uphold this overall better feeling.

I first noticed the difference when I went home over break and began slipping back into my old habits: it was ultimately too hard to keep my healthy food regime in a different environment. There was one night when I had an excruciating pain in my stomach. It felt like my stomach was going to pop any minute. This was the first time my stomach felt uneasy since I began my food challenge, and at this moment I realized there was no going back to the old habits. I am convinced that avoiding processed foods, excessive carbs, and overeating has helped me to relieve my stomach from these feelings. It not only has helped me to physically feel better, but I also feel that I am more easily able to pay attention in class, and resist the urge of falling asleep right after I eat. I feel more energized and am able to do extra exercises at night and the weekend because of this new found energy. I have been doing more ab workouts, because I know that my core is my weakness. Feeling that extra energy to do a little more with my daily routine has allowed me to see progress in my strength. I have gained energy to do more with my free time like exercising to lengthen my spine and decrease my back pains. Now this is only a short and personal analysis of the progress I have seen from eating healthier, but I do believe there is some true evidence of the successes. There is a true reason for my restricted food.

Some new foods that I have found to be extremely tasty and enriching include pomegranates and açaí. I have recently been plopping a cup of pomegranates in my salads with avocado, cranberries, walnuts, spinach leaves, tomatoes, and a dash of balsamic dressing. The pomegranates have given a lively taste to the salad complimenting the avocado flavors and contrasting the texture to create a balanced salad. They not only taste amazing, but also are super foods holding antioxidants, vitamins (C, K, B5), and other nutrients (zinc, iron, magnesium, and more). They have been known to reduce stomach aches, and supposedly reduce the risk of cancer, so ultimately they are an amazing contribution to a simple salad. My second food of the week has been açaí ; a Brazilian berry used in smoothies. When I went home over spring break, I was inspired to create smoothie bowls because I visited a family friend’s new restaurant in Fairfax California called “Mana Bowls”. So, after purchasing a bit of açaí, I have whipped up smoothies throughout the week out of frozen raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, mangos, kale, chia seeds, juice, and açaí. This has been a sort of treat in my weekly diet because it is both refreshing and extremely nutritious: containing antioxidants makes it heart healthy, and increasing the blood flow helps with concentration and energy. These two contributions to my diet have been exciting; instead of craving a cupcake or a cookie, I wake up craving an açaí smoothie, and hyped to have a dinner alongside a pomegranate salad.

This blog was really just to document the progress I have made on my food challenge: although not always successful (especially in spring break when I went home) I have already seen some great benefits to the diet. I feel a difference, and that is something that a lot of resolutions don’t have.

All that we are is a result of what we have thought ~ Buddha

Back to Reality

“What you get by achieving your goals,
is not as important as what you
become by achieving your goals”
- Henry David Thereau
             This week was rough; getting back into practices, workouts, school, and preparing for the volleyball games ahead. Coming back from a relaxed break visiting my family and friends, I was rather overwhelmed when I got back to my regular routine. Have you ever felt as though you are physically running from place to place just so that you fit everything you need to do in your twenty-four hour day? Well that’s exactly what I was actually doing this week. I tried to cram my 8 hours of sleep a night so that I could be energized enough to work from 7:30 am until 9:30 pm. Then as I realized I had to have meetings to prepare for more deadlines, all of my daybreaks filled up. I ended up eating mostly bananas on the go in an effort to maintain energy from my 7 am breakfast till my 10 pm dinner. I even attempted to make a list of things I needed to do in order to organize my days better. After creating the list I realized that it was actually impossible for me to physically fit everything into my day, and that, in itself brought me more anxiety. Sometimes I have to tell myself to slow down, ‘Take your time and don’t worry. It's ok to procrastinate occasionally. However, your well-being is more important than this.” 
                Finishing workouts Friday was a huge relief; I needed a break! Practice was extremely frustrating trying to learn new techniques and break old habits. And the hardest part is listening over and over to the coaches telling you how you seem to be doing everything wrong. My positive and enthusiastic attitude was on the verge of a breakdown. So this weekend, I had to save a little time to center and come back to my true self. I needed to leave my homework aside, and break from the rules and requests of my professors and coaches and do things that I requested of myself. On the Saturday morning, I felt trapped by the walls of my room: a place I often do homework. I almost snapped as I felt increasingly congested and confined, so I decided to take my homework outside by the school lake. Just being outside and spending time breathing in fresh air alongside the wild iguanas, turtles, and ducks made me feel as though I had escaped from the conformity in my weekly routines. I needed the shift and break from the regular day activity. The next day I decided to go to the Venetian Pool with one of my team mates. This mini paradise, although smothered with hyper elementary school kids, made me realize that I can’t always try to please others, I must honor my own needs too. I continued this 'self-gratitude' day eating food from the Last Carrot, drinking an Acai smoothie, and grocery shopping for my healthy morning parfaits and lunch meals (I decided to get more ingredients so that I could make sandwiches and take them on-the-go). Then, what better way to end the previous week and welcome the new one, I meditated and participated in the school Slow Flow Yoga class. Releasing all my physical, emotional, and mental tensions and finding inner peace allowed me to free myself from anxieties. I thought to myself, all of those things I was stressing about don’t really matter. I won’t be productive and I wont create and do my best work without this feeling of internal satisfaction. So with this in mind, I’m going to try to take a step back and make more time for myself within the week. I can’t cram too much into my schedule, in fear of procrastination or not pleasing others, because in the end there is something more important than that; my wellbeing. 

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of
us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us”
- Henry David Thereau

The Traveler

I'm about half way into my spring semester and am feeling a little disappointed that I haven't been able to keep up with the commitment of writing a blog post at least once a weekBeing a student athlete I can't always  do the things I would like to do. The 'have to do' takes priority, but I guess that is part of life; you think getting older will allow you more freedom to do the things you want to do, but unfortunately that 'freedom' is taken up with needs rather than desires. But now, I've finally found some time to write about one of my favorite topics: traveling. 
I am currently sitting on a plane, reflecting on the things I've done this year and the conversations I've had with people that have made an impression. After a  casual discussion with the man next to me I was told, "You're young and you don't realize how difficult it is to travel when you get older. Do it nowI wish someone had told me that." He looked about fifty years old and admitted that this was his first time visiting Las Vegas and traveling. I smiled,  but thought to myself, Las Vegas? But he seemed happy and contented to get out of his home, Miami, and do something different and experience something beyond the ordinary. This is not the first time I've had random people talk to me about the importance of traveling while young. So I've made a promise to myself; take advantage of every opportunity to explore and travel.
Growing up I have always been influenced by my Mum who takes sporadic mini-breaks and migrates across countries. At only a few years old I had traveled across England, and within Europe including Spain and Paris.  Even in the womb, my Mum carried me down to Bordeaux for a camping trip. When I was in kindergarten we moved to Australia for a while for my Mum to pursue a work opportunity and then after returning to London, we moved out to California some years later. But that wasn't enough traveling. On weekends and at any stressful times we would take day trips to places across California, driving in our little blue Mitsubishi (seating no more than 4 people) with no air conditioning. Driving through Yosemite, Death Valley, down the coast to LA and back, through Napa , hiking on local mountains, visiting communities throughout the Bay Area, and more. By the time I grew tall enough for my head to hit the roof of the car,it was so old that the rain would come in through the sunroof, and I would have to wear a hood so that I wouldn't get rained on inside the car. For the adventure and excitement I always valued these trips, and I will forever cherish the experiences of traveling however and whenever we could.
Last week I visited my Mum and sister in California and went again to Yosemite on another road trip. The beautiful mountains reaching for the sky in every direction, and the steep hikes beside the plummeting cliffs left me in awe. The waterfalls flowing freely beside giant rocks allowed me to break away from my daily routine and enjoy the fresh air, relaxing noise of birds, and running water. This reminded me of the importance of taking a break, leaving a routine for a random adventure. Recently I have been presented with an opportunity to travel to the Galapagos in May for a three week trip between my off season and preseason of volleyball and I am extremely excited to experience the beauty South America has to offer. I am extremely grateful for these opportunities  to travel and experience the different cultures throughout the world, and I am eagerly anticipating how volleyball can allow me to pursue these dreams as well. I've found that traveling, whether they are day trips to local communities in nature or human populated cities or trips across the world, has been one of the most influential experiences in my growth; I have become accepting and understanding of different cultures, amazed and grateful for nature, and hungry to be a global citizen. I hope to journal my travels and encourage others to take advantage of any opportunity, great and small,  to get out of their community and experience something different to what they are used to. It has been one of the most invaluable ways for me to learn and grow. 

Leadership; more than a position

On January 20th 2014, the national day of service, I volunteered with Urgent Inc. painting murals in Dorsey Park to commemorate the South Florida Negro team. Getting my hands covered in paint, streaking color across the walls alongside Kadir Nelson (a well-known painter featured in the New Yorker and with work on Drake’s cover of his latest album) I felt apart of something greater than myself. As clichéd as that may sound, I truly felt united with the historic past of Miami’s black community, and with today’s community of diverse volunteers. The Dorsey Park is located in Overtown, 15 minutes from my home in Coral Gables. Although blocks away, the two communities often seem segregated by the stereotypes and discriminations dividing the two. But with some simple volunteer work it inspired me to see people from all walks of life coming together to collaborate and move in the direction of progress. It takes efforts like these to promote change.  

This week I also attended a one-day leadership conference that ‘increases awareness of real-world leadership and emphasizes the development of one’s leadership potential’. What does a ‘leader’ mean? The word is often thrown about without any comprehension of its true significance. As Dr. Steve Gallon III stated, “Leadership is action. Not position.” This quote resonated with me because it encourages us to go out into society, engage with people in the community, and become leaders by role modeling ideal behaviors and actions. Dr. Gallon reiterated this influential statement by saying, “Believe what you say, and live what you say.” These simple quotes allowed me to come to the realization that leading comes naturally when you become the person you wish others to be.

            A couple days ago I stumbled upon some Facebook messages and I realized that I was somewhat of a leader in my community. I read lines like, “You have inspired me to play volleyball,” and “You motivate me to work harder.” Although many of those people didn’t realize it, they too were inspiring me to push myself even more because I want to show them what hard work can accomplish.

           One of the most rewarding parts of being an athlete is having a younger athlete come up to you and tell you how you inspire them. This year as I have had more and more young children look up to me I have felt even more motivated to be the leader and inspire them to be the best that they can be. Through community service and attending conferences I have gained even more motivation to work diligently for a greater purpose; Inspiring others.

Food for Thought

What does eating healthy mean to me? 
 Being an athlete, I must provide my body with the fuel it needs to perform at an optimum level without overeating and consuming foods with excessive amounts of sugar and fat. So I have decided to keep this healthier lifestyle very simple by these rules; drink lots of water, eat lots of fruits, eat lots of vegetables, consume healthy carbs, eat protein, and do not eat processed food (inspiration links below). Carbohydrates and proteins are extremely important in an athletes diet, so I have decided to eat more whole grain or wheat to increase fiber content, lower glycemic index (preventing sugar spikes and crashes), and increase vitamin intake while I try to eat a sufficient amount per day. Hopefully with these simple rules I will be able to maintain my new healthy lifestyle.
          As part of my resolutions for 2014 I want to Eat Healthier; a resolution common to the average person, but a struggle for most of us. Although I don’t think I have a particularly ‘bad’ diet, I definitely think I could improve it to have the optimum athletic body I dream for, and to make myself feel livelier and less sluggish. But as I often tell my close friends, being healthy ultimately intimidates me! My struggle lies mainly on the fact that healthy food is expensive, doesn’t always fulfill my desires, and doesn’t always fill me up. It isn’t easy being a green machine, but I figure it’s a challenge I need to overcome.  
          As my first step in this direction to eating healthier I have decided to only stock the fridge and pantry with healthy food. I began my expedition to the Whole Foods grocery store last Sunday with two key thoughts: don’t look at the price, and only get things that are whole wheat, fat free, and immersed in nutrients. With recommendations from twitter followers, friends, and my mother I was ready with a list of healthy foods to possibly buy (list below). I have never made a list to go to the grocery store, but I found this to be a great tool to stay on track of my goals. Instead of entering aimlessly into the snack isles, and finding childhood chocolate treats to go with my nighttime tea, I entered with a mission in hand. What I love about Whole Foods is that you can’t really go wrong. Unlike the average grocery store, Whole Foods prides itself on organic, local, quality foods, so even if you end up buying a bit of chocolate it is likely it is healthiest bar in town. The effects of healthy buying first showed up when I rang my food up at the checkout, I practically doubled my regular grocery-shopping price. But in sticking to my resolution I decided to try to ignore my horror, and remind myself there is no shame in paying more for a healthier diet.
After reading up in magazines, and following Health sections to the Huffington Post and NY Times on twitter, I learned a few tricks to becoming fuller from eating healthy. One technique I have grown fond of is having a parfait for breakfast every morning. What’s great about this breakfast is that not only is it tasty and juicy, it also is extremely filling and vitamin-rich.  I’ve decided to use some acai berries and chia seeds (I am not sure if this is normal) to this meal to enrich it with superfoods that have been recommended across the media. Another great snack that I have found to be greatly filling is wheat toast with almond butter and bananas on top. Although it sounds a bit weird, and not very tasty, it has been my favorite snack of the week. This snack contains some high amounts of potassium, calcium, and protein, great for an athletes diet. Lastly, adding half an avocado to my lunch has helped me feel full up until dinner. I am normally constantly snacking, because I can never eat enough to feel contented, but with this new trick I feel less of a need to look in the pantry every half hour.
 My first week has been a bit of a struggle as I have seen most of the drawbacks in my bank and in my longing for regular pasta and rice. I even was tempted in my class with freshly made brownies and cookies from the teacher, but to my surprise, I resisted his act of kindness and was later pleased with my accomplishment to deny the gift. Last night I went to the movie theaters and was seduced by the smell of popcorn. Despite the enticing odors, I went through the entire movie without buying a snack. Here I saved myself money, and also the wrath of feeling lethargic after eating the popcorn. Even though it has only been a week, I already feel more energized from eating healthier, and proud for tackling my little obstacles. It may seem silly, but I find this healthy thing one of my main challenges of the year, and I hope to find more tricks to master the art of healthy eating.

 Shopping List:
Organic oatmeal, Raisins, Walnuts, Non-fat Greek yogurt, Organic Raspberries, Black berries, Acai berries, Watermelon, Cherries, Granola (minimal sugar), Organic honey, Skim milk, Luna protein bars, Simply balanced fruit bites, Organic brown egg, Multigrain bread, Almond Butter, Quinoa, Salmon, Trout, Lentils, Pinto beans, Kidney beans, Black beans, Organic pesto, Brown pasta, Brown rice, Bananas, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Kale, Cranberries, Spinach, Chia seeds, Sweet potatoes, Tuna, Shrimp, Whey protein powder, Oat bran cereal, Weetabix, Onions, Garlic, Bell peppers, Tomatoes, Avocados, Lemons, Salsa, Balsamic vinegar, Romaine, Almonds

My Last Off-season

It’s been a week of school, and getting back into a strict routine has been unexpectedly enjoyable. I find it ironic that something typically unexciting and miserable, has greeted me with content and excitement. There’s something appealing about stability and structure, in an otherwise “unstable” and random world. For this reason, I decided to write a blog about my first week of my last off-season; the insider to a life of a student-athlete.   
As team workouts began on Wednesday, a couple of days after spring classes began, I was awakened by the reality of the ‘off-season’. For me, off-season is the hardest time of the year. I often have to battle my emotions; fighting off dispiriting attitudes and reminding myself ‘there is a light at the end of the tunnel’. Off-season mostly consists of all the dirty, tough, and exhausting work, without the pleasing results of a win, televised game, awards, or any acknowledgements of fans. No one gets to see how much work is put into the off-season, and how draining it can be, but it is the time when we have the most opportunity to progress.
Wednesday began with a reasonably early workout at 7:45, all of us in the locker room with a touch of fear in our eyes. It is the mere fact that knowing where we need to be, and knowing where we are, intimidates us from starting the journey. We began with a light warm-up to get our muscles going, although anticipating a fatiguing workout. It began as expected, with a couple body weight routines' and then we were thrown into the heavy, weight-baring lifting. After what seemed like an overdose of leg, arm, and ab exercises we were entering the newly formed cardio workouts. Being a volleyball player, I am not used to the intense cardio routines that other athletes may be acclimated to. So in entering upon our first plyometric and ropes circuit I was more than unprepared. I began in the ropes course, across from the plyometric lateral step-ups. Although excited at first, it soon turned into a longing to stop. Out of breath, finding the drive within me to pull the heavy ropes up and down, I was frequently reminded to make the rope ripple from top to bottom. It felt like minutes before the first circuit was over and we soon grabbed the attention of all of the professional athletes in the weight room with our heavy breathing and uncontrollable sighs of distress. As half the team circled around a trashcan, hoping they wouldn’t vomit on their first cardio account, I stared at my next task in a daze, unsure of what I was doing. That whistle, no athlete ever likes to hear, blew loud followed by shouts of encouragement which seemed more like anger, and we were on to the next round. Half way through that second round I began to feel like I was moving in slow motion. Trying to make it seem like I wasn’t so out-of-shape, I attempted to move my legs faster, only to realize that I was moving at a dauntingly slow pace. Gasping for air, whilst trying to seem athletic amongst our audience of athletes, and listening to the shouts of frustration amongst my teammates it seemed as though this wasn’t going to stop. I remember telling a teammate, “Is this a f****** joke?” It was soon to be over, and the reality of it was that it was making us stronger. Entering the locker room we found it laughable at our discouraging thoughts and seemingly weak appearance. After this demanding exercise I found myself relieved and excited. Although my body was aching from head to toe, and I could barely walk upstairs to class without physically picking my legs up from stair to stair, there was a sort of thrill in the agonizing first day. I would have never said this as a freshman, or even as a sophomore in College, but finally after knowing that becoming a professional athlete is a goal of mine, I take pride in the hard work I encounter to get there.
The day did not stop after the early morning workout, it continued till about 9 at night. After the early workout we had a quick meeting with coaches and advisors about what was going to be the next four months. Then, after quick showers, we jetted off to classes to begin our third day of school. Into about an hour of class, uncontrollably my eyes grew weary and it became a physical effort to maintain my utmost attention while also keeping my eyes lids open. It is not that I was in anyway uninterested in what I was learning (I am actually eager to hear about my lessons in community psychology, research methods, and more), but it was honestly the fact that I was too drained to be the active student I often wish to be. I pride myself in being a glasses-wearing, freckle-faced, front row, overachieving student, but often feel punished by fatigue. By the end of the day after hours of lectures, writing notes, and participating in classroom activities, it was about 9 at night. Being an athlete you have to fit your schedule around practices, so sometimes that leaves you with the night classes drawing out your day longer than you may wish. After finishing what may seem as undesirable amounts of school, I still felt excited and eager to be there. In my classes at UM I am surrounded by many aspiring psychologists, doctors, artists, professors, and more, and this motivates me to push myself more than ever to be the professional I hope to be. As I hear about the seniors in my classes being accepted into different grad schools, or in different post-undergrad internships, I think about my possibilities to eventually receive a PhD of my own, and possibly have my own practice in the future. Each class, although tiring, takes me closer to that reality, and for that reason, I enjoy overloading my schedule.
After reflecting on my first week of spring, and entering into my final year of volleyball and school, I find this experience to be a bit more pleasing. Although still tired, exhausted, and often discouraged, I see the progress and the excitement in knowing I am closer than ever to getting there. I value the hectic schedule that often seems overwhelming, but is ultimately beneficial to my success, and for that I am grateful.

MLK Quote: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, keep moving.“

MLK Weekend Abs Circuit

(10) Plank pushups
(15) Pikes
(30) Bicycle Crunches
(20) Foot to Foot Crunches