I Don’t Want to Explore Oxford

I wrote this piece last month while traveling through Europe for five weeks.

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I’m in Oxford, UK, and I don’t want to explore. Actually, exploring Oxford is the last thing I want to do right now.

Here’s the deal:
On a family trip to Colorado a few years ago, my mom and two brothers wanted to sit in a coffee shop and relax (I’ve heard it’s called “vacationing”), while my dad and I, ever the adventures, wanted to get out and see some of the beautiful state we were visiting.

So we left the lazy bums behind and headed to Black Canyon, which was covered in snow and SCARY slippery for us flatlanders. We almost died trying to see the view, but in the end we were left with a great memory.

From that moment on I’ve always poked fun at those who go to exotic places and choose to simply sit in a coffee shop or relax in their hotel rather than exploring.

Why would you waste your time doing nothing?

Well today, with one foot in my mouth, I’m writing this from a coffee shop in Oxford, UK, where I am simply sitting with no plans of exploring this quaint and historic university town.

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The C.S. Lewis nature reserve in Oxford

Usually I get up with the sun and hit the city, exploring as many streets as me feet can bear to take me down.

But today I can’t. Today, I’m tired. Really, really tired.

I’m tired of being on the go constantly, tired of a strict itinerary and, as much as I hate to say it, tired of sightseeing.

Today I need to rest, and more than that, I need to be okay with giving myself that luxury, even though it’s against every part of my nature.

Two things I’m trying to keep in mind:

1. I don’t need to see every site, learn every historical fact or take every artsy Instagram picture I can to experience all that a city has to offer.
2. If I want to keep traveling, keep sightseeing and keep up this pace, I need to take a break.

Although my schedule allows me to see amazing sights and experience even more of Europe than I even imagined, it isn’t sustainable. And it’s okay to give myself time to catch up.

IMG_6711And hey, if there’s anywhere I’m going to just sit in a coffee shop, read and write, what better place than Oxford? Some of my favorite authors spent time in this very city doing exactly what I’m doing today.

So, to anyone I’ve ever mocked or looked down upon for relaxing instead of exploring, I’m sorry. While I still don’t think spending an entire trip on your bum is the way to go, I now recognize that rest and rejuvenation are more than necessary to keep going.

And PS, I did end up exploring Oxford once my weary little soul was rested, and I loved it! Definitely a trip highlight that I wouldn’t have enjoyed if I was still exhausted.

How do you find rest when you’re traveling? Any tips for this newbie? 
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Saturday Bliss: Health & Balance

Welcome to the first post in my new series: Saturday Bliss. In my opinion (and pretty much everyone’s), Saturday is the best day of the week. No work, no school, just possibilities. Whether you prefer to go crazy or have a day of rest, Saturday’s are perfect for blowing off steam.

So, every Saturday I want to reflect on something I’m thankful for, something I’m enjoying at the moment or just a thought that I want to share. In our crazy cosmopolitan lives, it’s important to set aside time to just reflect. The only real rule for Saturday Bliss is that it must be positive, as the whole point is to spread thankfulness.

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Today’s post is about health, balance and green tea cheesecake. Since completing the Whole30, I’ve been seeking ways to find balance in my diet. I don’t want to lose all of the progress I made, but I also don’t think that maintaining that strict of a regimen is realistic. Life is all about balance. I love making healthy choices, but I also let myself indulge every once in awhile. Enter the Green Tea Cheesecake!

I ordered a bag of green tea powder last week and have been experimenting with new recipes with every chance I get. Green tea is full of antioxidants and offers tons of other health benefits, like cancer fighting properties. My favorite thing to do is mix a teaspoon into my greek yogurt in the mornings – an extremely healthy breakfast option. Yet, when I found this recipe on Pinterest, I knew it was time to indulge.

The recipe is SO simple and came out even better than I was hoping! I threw in some dark chocolate chips because I had them on hand, and I loved the added flavor.  This dessert is definitely an indulgence, but the use of green tea powder and fat free cream cheese at least makes me feel like it’s a better option than a tub of ice cream. That’s balance, right?

How do you find balance? I’d love to hear your methods. Also, check out The Balanced Life – a Pilates blog that constantly inspires me to make healthy, well balanced choices.

Happy Saturday!

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Bonus: I also threw together these 3-ingredient cookies for fun. Simply combine 2 mashed bananas, one cup of oats and 1/4 cup of dark chocolate chips, then bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes, and voila! A healthy, super easy treat.

Cookie dough is Never an Acceptable Breakfast, and Other Things I Learned on the Whole30

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D A Y  T H I R T Y. I did it! (almost)

For those of you who read my article for the Lee Clarion about my experience on the Whole 30, you know that today is a big day.

For Whole30 specifics, you can read about the program here. It explains the program better than I could, and I’d rather focus on my journey over the past 30 days.

But here’s a super brief description of the program anyway: 30 days of no grains, dairy, alcohol, legumes, soy, sugar & dairy. So…all the good, processed stuff we love. Gone. The program is meant to act as a “reset button” for your body, cleansing it of toxins and changing your overall lifestyle and relationship with food.

Why did I do it? Honestly…I don’t know. I read all about Anna’s experience on her blog, Dear Friend, and I just wanted to try it! Her post was extremely convincing, and like I’ve said before, well placed words are my weakness. I knew it would be good for me, and I was up for a challenge. I know that’s not as good of a reason as most participants have who do the program to actually lose weight, figure out their food intolerances or get over allergies, but it is what it is. I wanted to be healthier, and I knew this would be a great step to get me there.

Turns out it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

So, what did I learn? A lot.

photo 51. Cookie dough really never is an acceptable breakfast.
Neither is skipping breakfast, having a grilled cheese for lunch and pasta for dinner. Even on days where I ate “healthy,” my proportions where way off when it comes to eating all of the food groups. On the Whole30, I learned that the good stuff doesn’t only consist of bread and dairy. Now, the good stuff is chipotle chicken sweet potatoes*, sweet potato and turkey hash, artichoke pesto chicken and spaghetti squash, tilapia with a guacamole pesto and asparagus and tons of other foods I tried and loved this month. Which is another thing: when you focus on eating from all the food groups (minus the ones you can’t have on the Whole30, obviously), you try new things all the time. I now use coconut oil all. the. time. And I’m obsessed with sweet potatoes and making my own vinaigrette. It’s so easy to be creative with this program!

*This recipe needs to be adjusted to become Whole30 complaint, but it’s still so stinkin’ good. 

2. Good health is contagious. 
After I read Anna’s blog I sent the program to my friend Caleb, who recently went on a health kick. I wasn’t expecting him to be so willing to try it, but he was on board almost immediately. That same day I told my roommate about it, and she jumped on board too, so just like that we had a little Whole30 support team. Other friends started a week or so after us, and I’ve had tons of people ask questions about the program and even schedule to do their own this summer. My other roommate, Haylee, isn’t on the Whole30, but she recently started buying much healthier foods and meal planning with me. I’d like to think that watching our Whole30 had something to do with that. Simply put: watching others make healthy choices will motivate you to evaluate your own choices and make some healthy adjustments.

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Roomie love takes on whole new meaning on the Whole30

3. Meal planning is a beautiful thing. 
Meal planning is one of my favorite things I’ve acquired from this experience, and I DEFINITELY plan to continue doing it longterm. Before Whole30 I always wanted to try it, but found myself really intimidated. How do you shop for that much at once? How will I know on Sunday what I’ll want to eat on Thursday? Turns out it’s way easier than I thought, and setting aside my sunday evenings to prepare food for the next week is now one of my favorite things to do. If you’re already making one turkey patty, why not make 4 and store the rest for the week? Why not roast a bunch of vegetables, make a dozen egg muffins or cut up a bunch of fruit just to have on hand? It seriously makes the week so  much easier, and prevents you from encountering what the program calls the “empty pantry syndrome,” when you have no food and are likely to quit. This is going to sound obvious, but when you have healthy food already made, you’re going to eat healthy food. You took the time and effort to set yourself up for success, so why would you let yourself down?

4. My meals are fuller, more satisfying and fancier. 
Like I said before, prior to Whole30 I would get by on grilled cheese, cookie dough and Taco Bell. I thought I would miss those comfort foods way more than I do, but honestly, the meals I eat now are just better. They include rich vegetables, refreshing fruit and satisfying protein. And they make me feel so good. The meals I make now are more complicated than they use to be, but even that isn’t that hard, and the tradeoff for better, more fulfilling food is definitely worth it. I will never again credit bad eating habits to being in college (you don’t have to eat ramen every day, guys), not having enough time or not wanting to spend the money. The flexibility of this program means you can put in a lot of time to make fancy meals like the artichoke pesto chicken, or keep it simple and make a chicken breasts with steamed vegetables.

5. Cravings don’t have to own you. 
There’s a phase in the middle of the program where you’re suppose to be overcome with cravings and even dream about the foods you miss. I honestly never dealt with this too severely. Yes, there were foods I missed, but I was so satisfied with what I was eating and how it was making me feel that I never wanted to abandon the program for the momentary pleasure that long lost food love would bring me. I also realized something about myself: I am not an independent craver. I am rarely struck with a desire to have a milkshake when I am sitting at home doing homework. Instead, I crave things in social settings. I may not drive myself to McDonald’s by myself just for a milkshake, but if I’m out to eat and everyone else is having a breadstick, I’m going to have a breadstick too. If other people are ordering dessert, I’ll probably order one too. I’m not sure how I got this way, but I’m thankful that the Whole30 caused me to realize this disposition and conquer it. In the past 30 days I’ve sat at restaurant’s with friends and watched them order burgers and fries, or enjoy endless supplies of chips and salsa and not cared at all. For once, I didn’t need it. I was completely satisfied with the meal I made myself before going out, and the sight, smell and overall presence of my friend’s delicious food didn’t affect me. This is probably one of my favorite achievements.

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yaaaas berry water

Now, not everyone is this way. Other friends on the program seriously struggled through the cravings phase, and they had completely different demons to overcome than I did. But that’s another thing about the Whole30: it tailors itself to your needs perfectly.

6. It really isn’t that hard. 
Once you make a lifestyle change, or simply form a new habit, it becomes second nature. Meal planning is natural to me now, and using vinegar and olive oil instead of salad dressing is no longer a sacrifice. Reading labels and constantly googling whether or not I can have almond milk can be tedious, but it’s just for 30 days! Once you adapt to the program, it can actually be fun. The results also make everything worth it (keep reading, I promise I’m getting there). I honestly think that anyone could complete this program – it’s not as hard as it looks.

So, what about the rewards of the program? Their website makes some big promises: weight loss, bursting energy, no sinuses, clear skin, better sleep, no cravings and more. Here’s my rundown:

Weight loss
The program prohibits you from weighing yourself at any time during your 30 days because the focus isn’t meant to be on weight loss. Obviously it can happen, but there’s much more to the program than that. I didn’t weigh myself before I started the program either because I’m not too concerned with that, but I am liking the way my clothes currently fit and the new definition I see in my body, so I’m definitely happy.

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Photo by Haylee Robinson Photography!

Bursting energy 
It takes about two weeks, but once you’re past the adjustment period you are suppose to be absolutely bursting with energy. And it’s true! Instead of coming home and using my downtime to watch episode after episode of “Friends,” I used it to cook for the whole week, work ahead on assignments, BLOG, catch up with friends, exercise, run errands, etc. See ya, lethargic Caroline! This girl has gotta move. And I do: my workouts have drastically increased in the last 30 days (Zumba with Haylee FTW), and I love it!

Sinuses
TBD. I don’t have huge sinus issues, but I’m not immune to pollen. We’ll see how I’m affected this year as the allergy season picks up.

Clear skin
Sure! I can’t say I notice a huge difference here either, but I didn’t have horrible acne this month, so I’m definitely happy about that.

Better sleep
This was one of the main reasons I wanted to do Whole30. All semester I’ve been struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep all the way through the night, and I’ve seen a huge improvement here. I’m still not an “out like a light” sleeper, but it definitely takes me a lot less time to fall asleep, and I sleep so heavily now. It’s wonderful…till I have to wake up.

No Cravings
Like I said before, I discovered that I crave things socially more than independently, and these cravings have definitely been curbed. I’m confident now that I could order a healthy meal or turn down dessert regardless of what everyone else is having. Cravings, consider yourself beat.

So. There it is. Every last detail of my first Whole30 experience. What comes next? I’ve been pondering that very question for the last week as this day has been drawing closer and closer. Do I revert back to how I was eating before and waste all of this effort? Heck no. But do I keep eating like this, following all of the rules and never splurging again? Eh…not exactly.

I won’t lie to you – my roommate and I are already planning to break out some celebratory chocolate once the clock strikes midnight. We’ve just gotta do it.

photo 1After that I plan to adopt an 80% paleo diet. What I buy and cook for myself will pretty much stay the same. I’m not opposed to throwing a few grains or dairy products into the mix, but I’ll be cautious about it. I really don’t want to waste the efforts of these past 30 days, and I definitely don’t want to lose all of this energy. So, 80% of the time I will continue this diet, and 20% of the time I will splurge. A girl’s gotta live a little, and like Amy Kubal puts it, “it doesn’t matter how hardcore you are – you are going to die too and sadly, you may never again taste ice cream.”

I’m excited for this next phase… I have plenty of healthy but not quite Whole30 recipes I’ve been pinning and waiting to try, like green tea frozen yogurt, zucchini parmesan crisps and quinoa fried rice. As much as I loved it before, I don’t see myself returning to Taco Bell. There will be some exceptions, however, like when I go to Italy this summer. Helloooo pasta and gelato! Yes please.

We’ll see what happens, but for now I am extremely happy with my journey and results from these past 30 days. It was a different kind of adventure, but an adventure none-the-less. I’ve definitely picked up some great new habits that I will continue to implement in my life, even if I do have a little chocolate now and then.

If you made it this far: CONGRATS! I just wanted to do this life-changing experience justice. Have you ever altered your lifestyle in this kind of drastic way? Are you considering a Whole30? I’d love to answer any questions you may have.

Happy healthy living!