Tag Archives: health

The Truth About Healthy Eating

19 Jul

This is not healthy eating.

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As a person who is very interested in health and fitness, I read a lot of magazines, newspaper articles, and books about the topic and I frequent a health and fitness message board. I’m even contemplating going to back to school for a nutrition degree (but that’s a topic for another post).

While I don’t follow any strict eating regimen like Paleo or Clean Eating, I do make most of the decisions about what I eat following the mantra of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” What that means for me is:

  • I eat real food, not “food products” as he calls them, as much as possible.
  • I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full (this is also the mentality behind Intuitive Eating).
  • I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.

This is what a typical day’s menu has looked like recently:

Pre-Workout (5:00 am)

1 slice of whole wheat bread with 1 tbsp creamy peanut butter (I don’t eat natural peanut butter because it’s more expensive and the partially hydrogenated oil in un-natural peanut butter is so negligible, they don’t even list trans fats on the nutrition facts.)

Breakfast (7:30)

1-2 cups of cereal (common varieties are Honey Bunches of Oats, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Kashi GoLean Crunch!) with ½ cup blueberries and 1.5% milk from Royal Crest Dairy

Caffeine Fix (9:00)

1 ½ cups iced coffee with 2 packets of artificial sweetener and 1-2 tbsp fat-free liquid crack (aka Coffeemate hazelnut creamer)

Morning Snack #1 (10:00)

Banana

Morning Snack #2 (11:00)

Light flavored yogurt

Lunch (12:00 pm)

1 portion of leftovers from dinner on a bed of spinach or a spinach salad/wrap with blueberries, dried (sweetened) cranberries, feta cheese, slivered almonds, low-sodium ham, and Kraft poppyseed dressing (my favorite salad EVER.)

Afternoon Snack #1 (2:00)

Apple

Afternoon Snack #2 (3:30)

6 generic Triscuits, 1 oz cheddar cheese

Dinner (6:30)

Since this varies a lot (and my other food is usually pretty much the same), I’ll give a few common ones:

  • Homemade pizza (whole wheat pocketless pitas with store-bought pizza sauce, turkey pepperoni, artichoke hearts, black olives, mushrooms, and part-skim mozzarella)
  • Elk burgers on whole wheat buns, baked sweet potato fries sprinkled with sea salt
  • Butternut squash and sage lasagna, garlic (white) bread, spinach salad

Late-night treat (2-3 times a month when training, 4-5 times a month in off season)

Glass of wine (or a serving of full-fat ice cream)

As you can see, I don’t eat perfectly. I would go crazy if I did. It’s too hard and too expensive to buy all of the “healthiest” versions of all foods (not to mention that sometimes the refined foods are simply more delicious). My main focus is on eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and buying the whole-grain/least processed version of everything that is reasonably priced and that I enjoy eating. (Eating healthy foods you don’t enjoy is not fun or sustainable.)

If you’re curious, I eat about 2,000-2,500 calories a day when training; 1,700-2,000 when I’m not.

Over the course of my informal research, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of misconceptions about healthy eating floating around in the general populace. Lies like “Eating healthy is expensive” and “You have to stop eating donuts for breakfast.” In general, generalizations are wrong. 🙂

To set the record straight, here is what my experience has been with eating healthily (but I am not a registered dietitian so take what I say with a grain of salt-free Mrs. Dash).

1. I spend less money at the grocery store on healthy food than I did on processed crap.

On average, I spend $40-75 a week on groceries for 2 adults (not including condiments like ketchup and olive oil). I buy mostly produce (bananas, apples, oranges, spinach, potatoes, onions, green beans, asparagus, blueberries, zucchini, yellow squash, etc.). I also buy whole wheat pasta, whole wheat crackers, low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk (we get ours delivered), low-sodium deli meat (Boar’s Head), chicken when it’s on sale (for red meat, we eat elk that Travis shot), and whatever additional ingredients I need for the 3 dinner recipes I chose for the week.

My guess is that people think eating healthy is expensive because they don’t know to not buy certain produce when it’s out of season. I don’t spend $5 a pound on grapes, buy $6 pineapples, eat gold-plated raspberries, or spend $10 on a 2 oz bag of dried apricots. If you pay attention to prices and buy the cheap and in-season produce, eating healthy is actually very affordable. Vegetables are notoriously cheap almost year-round. You can’t buy a couple pounds of potatoes, onions, and carrots and tell me they were expensive.

Also, check out grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Sunflower Farmer’s Market that have bulk bins. I now buy tons of stuff from bulk bins that I would have bought at a regular grocery store and spend way less: flour, dried fruit, trail mix, popcorn kernels, couscous, granola, etc. Just recently, I bought 50 oz of flour for $1.50 and ½ lb of dried mango for $2.00.

I also think that people get hung up on the superfoods. These are a marketing ploy. Did you know that grapes have just as many antioxidants as acai berries? They’re also cheaper. I love this quote from the Cooking Light article called The Truth about Superfoods:

Almost everything in modern nutrition research suggests that your whole diet—which should be a varied one, containing lots of plants, with moderate amounts of total fat and salt—is the thing to focus on. Dark chocolate, edamame, and green tea do not a whole diet make.

I don’t follow food trends. I didn’t jump on the pomegranate or acai berry bandwagon and I won’t jump on any in the future. Usually, these products are overpriced and their health benefits, while real, are very comparable to benefits from other, more common (and cheaper) produce.

After reading In Defense of Food, I stopped giving certain vegetables the cold shoulder and adopted the opinion that if it grows on a plant or in the ground, it’s good for me. Vegetables like corn and russet potatoes have gotten a bad rap from the health nuts over the years because they supposedly don’t have much “nutritional value.” The truth is, corn is high in fiber and potassium and russet potatoes have fiber and protein. (Take that sweet potatoes!) Moreover, Michael Pollan makes the argument that we don’t know how different vitamins and minerals in natural foods work together. A less-processed, more-natural diet is always better. Choose the corn over vitamin-fortified, protein-injected health food.

2. I hardly ever get sick.

When I was in high school, I got sick all.the.time. Even through most of college, I got sick quite often. When I got married, learned/had a reason to cook and started eating things besides cereal and sandwiches, I started eating a lot more fruit and vegetables. I am now a believer that an apple a day keeps the doctor away: since moving out to Colorado on Labor Day weekend of 2007, I have only been sick twice. Once I had a cold and the other time, I contracted H1N1 (eeee…). I think that’s a pretty good track record.

If I start getting the feeling in my throat like I’m on the verge of getting a cold, I dial up the amount of fruit and vegetables I’m eating and try to get more sleep. I like to think I have staved off many a cold with this strategy.

3. I maintain my weight easily and happily.

I am not a carb-deprived, pill-popping, drooling-over-donuts-in-the-shop-window, I-can’t-eat-that-because-I’m-on-a-diet monster. I eat food. I love food. Even donuts. Especially donuts.

But there’s a balance. If you want to discover what that balance is, read Intuitive Eating. I cannot praise this book highly enough. It changed my eating life (it didn’t change my whole life — Jesus did that). Starting in high school, I had a friend who did not have a healthy relationship with food and it rubbed off on me. I used food as comfort, a reward, and an activity to do when I was bored. Over time, it morphed into the enemy that constantly whispered to me about how much I wanted it but couldn’t have it. I religiously watched what I ate, tracked every calorie, but then frequently overate, to the point where I was so full that all I wanted to do after eating was lie down.

Finally, I got sick and tired of counting calories and obsessing over everything I put in my mouth. I was sick of having food control me. I was sick of having no willpower. So I read Intuitive Eating for the second time in the fall of 2009 and actually did what it said. I let myself eat donuts, Twizzlers, ice cream, wine, and white bread (gasp!) when I wanted them, making sure to only eat when I was hungry and to stop when I was full.

At first, it was a little scary. What if I gain weight? But over time, I learned to eat what I wanted and to make sure I really wanted what I was eating. If something didn’t hit the spot, I didn’t eat it. If something had looked better than it tasted, I didn’t eat it. If I was comfortably full, I didn’t go for dessert anyway. I knew it I would enjoy it more if I wasn’t trying to squeeze it in between my spleen and liver.

It worked. The first time I really noticed a change in my relationship to food was Thanksgiving of 2009. My parents were out in Colorado visiting and my mom and I had cooked up an entire Thanksgiving feast for the 4 of us with all of my favorites: stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner rolls, jello salads. I ate until I was comfortably full and then did the unfathomable: decided to not eat pumpkin pie afterward. I knew that if I did, it would push me over the edge to being uncomfortably full. And I hate that feeling.

I felt like I was in a twilight zone as I decided to just have a cup of coffee. I had energy to do dishes and move around after the Thanksgiving meal. You mean I don’t have to feel like I’m exploding? It was revolutionary for me.

Fast forward 2 ½ years, I hardly ever feel uncomfortably full anymore. I still do slip up once in a while when there’s a particularly tempting meal or treat, but more often than not, I stop at a good point because I know that food won’t make me happy, even though according to David Kessler, my body’s wiring tells me it will.

4. I still eat donuts, ice cream and French fries — occasionally.

I couldn’t survive without them! I think this is the #1 biggest mistake people make on diets: they don’t let themselves eat anything that is considered “bad.” (This is one of main tenets of Intuitive Eating: there are no “good” or “bad” foods. There are no food police.) The #2 biggest mistake people make is not eating enough food when they’re trying to “eat healthy.” Eating healthy does not mean eating perfectly 100% of the time and it doesn’t mean always being hungry.

But that’s not to say I don’t exercise any self-restraint or discretion. Generally speaking, when I have a craving for empty-calorie deliciousness, I don’t go out right away and indulge. I let it simmer for a few days. Usually, I have an opportunity later on to go out for ice cream with my girlfriends or for a donut with Travis. Turn your splurges into social outings. With this approach, I splurge 2-4 times a month (and by splurge, I mean eat something that has low nutritional value and high calorie/fat content).

If I’m in need of a snack at 3:30 pm on a slow-moving Thursday afternoon, and the vending machine is my only option, I pick the healthiest thing I can enjoy eating. (Lucky for me, the vending machine here has Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips. Score!) Picking the healthiest thing, even though you don’t like it or it’s not really what you want, isn’t a good idea because it won’t leave you satisfied and you’ll want to eat something else (yet another idea from Intuitive Eating). If you’re thinking, Well heck, the only thing I’d enjoy eating is a candy bar, then get one. Just make sure it either has nuts in it (which will make it more filling) or it’s low in calories (so it won’t destroy your daily balance).

Eating healthy doesn’t require perfection. You don’t have to set up monstrous goals that require an all-or-nothing commitment. It’s a consistent effort to make smart choices. It’s maintaining a balance (get a shake or fries, not both). Often times, it’s choosing the lesser of two not-so-great options (they are not “evils”). In order to eat healthy for life, you need to be able to adapt and react to the different situations life throws at you. You can’t throw in the towel if you happen to eat 10 cookies in one sitting. Brush off the crumbs and make a better decision now.

 5. I still get to eat good food.

I honestly enjoy eating healthy. I love the foods I eat and I love the way I feel when I’m healthy. I love fruits and vegetables. I admit that it’s very convenient that I’m not a picky eater (except when it comes to meat) and that it would be harder for a picky eater to eat healthy. But it’s not impossible.

One thing I’ve done to broaden my horizon is to intentionally try new foods. I’ve discovered some things that I really like (eggplant, edamame, wheat berry, butternut squash, sage, couscous, pistachios) and other things that I don’t like (kale, brussel sprouts, mango, quinoa, shallots). Experiment. Try new foods and new ways of preparing familiar foods. Puree cauliflower and carrots and add them to soups, muffins, and pasta dishes. My general rule of thumb is to eat some fruit or vegetable at every meal and for at least two snacks a day.

All this is to say, people make healthy eating a lot harder than it has to be. If you’re currently not making the best food choices, don’t do a major overhaul. Start small, perhaps with cutting down on or eliminating the amount of liquid you’re drinking each day that isn’t water. Eat an apple with an ounce of cheese for a snack instead of a bag of chips. Learn what portion sizes look like. Find out the nutrition information for your “usual” and make a better choice. Bottom line is, figure out what works for you.

But don’t come to me complaining about how hard it is to eat healthy. Diets are hard. Restrictive eating guidelines are hard. Eating healthy is different. It may take a while to get the hang of it, but once you do, it’s the new normal. I will admit it takes consistent effort, but so does going to doctor’s appointments for diabetes and cholesterol meds. I’m just sayin’…

Do you find it hard to eat healthy? What food is your weakness?  Mine is carbs – I love me some cereal, bread and crackers.

I guess it is 60% of the body…

21 Jun

Somehow, over the past month and a half, I have managed to drink at least 64 oz of water a day.

Some days, I even drink 96 oz. That is 3 Nalgenes of water.

For some, this might be normal. They’re probably not having to run to the bathroom every hour having to pee like a mad man. But for me, this is a feat.

Rewind back 18 months to my time at D2S: It’s 2 PM. I’m sitting at my desk, my empty coffee mug long since stowed away in my cubby, my completely full Nalgene still untouched. I happen to glance over and realize I haven’t drank anything since my coffee that AM. So I open my Nalgene, take a few pathetic sips from my straw (knowing that I spill water all over myself without one), but still go home at 5 pm, with an almost-completely full Nalgene. At dinner, I choke down a glass of water. During and after my workout, I stomach another 10 oz.

Total water intake: 20 oz.

So what has changed in the past month and a half?

……I’m thirsty?

Honestly, I don’t know why I enjoy drinking water now. I never really have before. In Minnesota, it wasn’t a huge deal that I didn’t drink a ton of water because it’s so humid. Ever since we moved out to extremely dry Colorado in 2007, I have regularly endured headaches from being dehydrated. But even those headaches were not enough incentive for me to start drinking more water. I just couldn’t do it.

Obviously, since I brought a Nalgene with me to work every day, I had the best of intentions. I wanted to drink water in theory. But to drink that water, I had to force myself to do it because I never felt thirsty. Never. Ok, maybe for the 30-60 minutes I worked out a day. But seriously, the minute I was done exercising, my thirst was gone. I could be out on a 5-mile run in 95 degree heat, having fantasies of an ice cold glass of water and hardly wait to get home. Once I finally have that clear glass of deliciousness in my hands, my mouth full of anticipation, I take a drink and… eh. Do I really have to drink this? I pour out my glass of water and drink a glass of milk instead.

While I can’t pinpoint it is all of a sudden enjoyable for me to drink an entire 32 oz before 10 AM, I can pinpoint a wonderful side effect of my new love affair: energy.

For many months, I had come to the conclusion that I just had less energy than most people. Travis would get up at 3 AM on a Saturday to go fishing or duck hunting, come back around noon, and instead of taking a nap like I expected him to, he’d mow the grass, change the oil on both cars, clean out the gutters, work on his assemble-yourself muzzleloader, and do whatever else he does out in the garage. I, on the other hand, would roll out of bed at 9 AM, have a cup of coffee and breakfast while reading the Bible and a book, then lay around all day watching TV, possibly prying myself up long enough to take the dogs on a walk. I thought about doing productive things, like printing those vacation pictures I’d been meaning to, or vacuuming up the massive clumps of dog hair in the kitchen and bathroom – but I just felt so tired.

I had heard that lethargy can be a result of dehydration. I am living, walking proof that that statement is true. I cannot believe the amount of energy I have now, compared to then. When we went camping over Memorial Day, I felt that familiar lethargic feeling when we got to our campsite and were setting up our tent. After a moment of self-pity (and a nap), I decided to drink some water. And it worked. That feeling went away and I felt great for the rest of the trip.

I’m convinced that this is why I, a person who does not like being busy, have been able to handle constant busyness over the past couple of months with minimal breakdowns. It is so much easier to handle being busy when you have energy! It’s AMAZING!!!! Just kidding. But seriously.

Another thing that helps me handle constant busyness is having a routine. That was one of the hardest things about my job last year when I was traveling and working from home – no two weeks were alike. Things were constantly changing so I could never get into a routine. I like routines because I love being organized and it helps me to ensure that everything that really needs to get done in a day gets done. If I have extra time, sahweet!

Now that I’m back in a regular 9-to-5, I am getting my routine down:

Daily Routine

5:00 am – Get up.

5:15 – Train.

6:30 – Shower, do makeup, get dressed.

7:15 – Make lunch for me, snack for Travis. Brew coffee.

7:40 – Eat breakfast while reading the Bible.

8:20 – Leave for work.

9:00 – Work (aka read blogs, surf the net, log workouts, etc).

5:00 pm – Leave work.

5:35 – Get home and make dinner. Eat dinner.

6:30 – Take dogs on a walk.

7:30 – Get workout clothes ready for next day.

7:45 – Watch TV with Travis or read a book.

9:00 – Lights out.

My weekly routine has become to go grocery shopping on Sunday and do laundry/clean the house on Monday (my rest day). It’s working so far.

Have you noticed your water intake affect your energy level? Do you like to have a daily/weekly routine or wing it?

Life on the road

27 Jun

I just got back last night from yet another trip to SLC (what is that, 6 times in the past 2 months?) Megan (the intern traveling with me) and I have been lamenting the difficulty of eating healthy on the road. Not only do we have a packed car on each road trip (making the addition of a cooler with healthy snacks a total impossibility), you’re stuck with having to eat that food that first day because often, our hotel rooms don’t have refrigerators. At one of the early races, I tried to bring hummus with me – bad idea. Who knew hummus actually turns into liquid when it gets warm?

Lately, I’ve just been packing dried fruit (usually mango – my fave), 3-4 Luna bars, and some trail mix. On past trips, I have bought popcorn (a food that has low calories for the volume) but fruit is usually hard to find, unless you make a separate stop at a grocery store – which aren’t always available either, especially when you’re driving through the middle of Wyoming. And you can only eat snack foods for so many meals before you want a meal of something substantial.

It’s not being away from home that’s the problem. When we actually reach our destination, we usually go out for dinner at a sit-down restaurant. We have gone out for sushi more than once (one of my favorite things), which is fairly healthy but also fairly expensive. When we go to a different restaurant, I try to order something on the lighter side – like a salad with chicken or a personal pizza loaded with veggies.

After a race, we are ravenous and thirsty. It’s usually at least 12:00 noon and we have been up since 4 am. All we’ve had to eat and drink are usually a protein bar or 2 and a giant Red Bull. I would think about eating more at the races but honestly, sometimes we’re running around and so busy that it’s just not possible. So when we’re done packing up the car and are heading out of town for home, we stop at Arby’s, Chick-Fil-A, or Culver’s and get a burger and fries – for some reason, greasy food is SO appealing when we’re starving. Good for the tastebuds. Bad for the heart… and waistline (although I haven’t gained any weight yet, no doubt due to burning 2,500 calories per week through running and probably another 800 at each race).

Fast food isn’t a great way to start another long 7-13 hour drive home though, since greasy food is notorious for causing fatigue. But honestly, you can only eat at Subway so many times before the idea of another sub makes you want to gag.

So I’ve done a little research (and gathered some of my own ideas from personal experience). Here are some ways to eat healthy on the road:

1. Bring emergency snacks with you. Things like nuts, dried fruit, apples, oranges, and protein bars are easy to transport, don’t require refrigeration, and are healthy stand-ins when you’re hungry and can’t find anything better.

2. Drink plenty of water. Who cares if you have to stop every hour? If you’re traveling a lot, dehydrating yourself on a regular basis in the interest of saving time isn’t really helping you out at all. Try to avoid pop and flavored waters – caffeine is a diuretic and flavored waters can leave a film on your teeth that gets nasty after so many hours in the car.

3. If you must eat at a fast food restaurant, order off the kid’s or value menus. These sandwiches and sides are smaller than the regular versions, which means fewer calories.

4. Skip the french fries. These are fine as treats once in a while, but if you are frequenting fast food restaurants often, you might find yourself eating these “treats” too often. Marketing has so penetrated our minds that we think a burger must be accompanied by fries – or else the meal is not complete. (I find myself thinking this). Instead of ordering fries, get a side salad, baked potato (naked), or a bottle of milk.

5. A CNN article says that at convenience stores, food stamped with an expiration date (one that hasn’t passed!) is usually healthier than anything that can sit around for a decade or two, because shelf-stable foods are often loaded with preservatives and artery-clogging trans fats. Often, gas stations have string cheese, small bottles of milk, and sometimes even fruit.

Next Best: If the fridge section disappoints, head back to the shelves and grab some individual-size bags of snacks, but look for ones that your greatgrandmother would recognize as actual food, such as dried fruit, nuts, and whole-wheat crackers, advises Steven G. Aldana, Ph.D., author of “The Stop & Go Fast Food Nutrition Guide.”

If you’re craving pretzels, nuggets are better than skinny ones because they take longer to eat, says Bonci, who adds that animal crackers and Teddy Grahams are good bets to satisfy a sweet tooth since they’re lower in calories than other cookies.

And there you have it. Now only if I could find a way to keep my willpower in check…

The holiday weekend

30 Nov

This holiday weekend felt blissfully long and disappointingly short. Long because Friday I woke up and felt like it should be Sunday–but there were 2 more glorious days to go until then. Short because it’s now over.

Yesterday, Travis and I went to Barnes and Noble to look at books. I bought “The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion & Purpose” by Matthew Kelly. I’m excited to read it, but won’t let myself start it until I finish “Knowing God” (which I find very hard to read when I’m sick because when my head hurts and my ears are ringing, I can’t concentrate on anything very deep).

Then we went to the Rec. I had to exercise. I can’t stand sitting around all day “resting.” I feel worse when I do that. So I walked on the treadmill at an incline and then did situps. Today I did one of my Pilates videos. It feels good to be active again (I didn’t exercise at all last week due to being sick).

Last night, we went to the Nutcracker with Paul and Carrie. It was so fun to watch! It made me really want to dance again. The school that put it on (the Boulder Ballet) has a drop-in Beginner’s Ballet class for adults on Monday nights. It’s up in Boulder so I may not do it…but I have definitely been motivated to search more earnestly for an adult class that I can take.

Today I decided to not go to church. I can’t sing (my voice has been coming and going due to coughing a lot) and we were supposed to be working the Toddler room (which I couldn’t because of being sick…though the Lord was very faithful in finding someone to cover for me). I listened to last week’s sermon by John Piper instead. It was good–and it reminds me of how much I miss his preaching. Travis and I continue to try to keep open minds for our main pastor…but more often than not, we walk away from his sermons feeling a little disappointed.

I just love Piper’s enthusiasm, his child-like wonder at the Word of God that inspires me to see it through a new lense. I love how he quotes other Bible verses to show how the whole Bible ties together. I love how he digs deeper and doesn’t just tell us what the verse means but analyzes why the verse means what it does and what that meaning means our relationship with God. I love being challenged to see the Bible in new ways and being convicted that I do not understand the gospel enough nor am I sufficiently riveted by it.

One benefit of this whole being-sick thing is that it has motivated me to take my health more seriously. I have known that I need to drink more water (especially living in CO–I get headaches from being dehydrated frequently), exercise more (I’ve been averaging 2-3 times a week), and cutting back on the sweets (at home I do pretty well but at work…) I have been inspired to drink more water, exercise at least 5 times a week, and to really limit my sweets to at most one a day and to make them things that really count (no more Tootsie Rolls and peanut butter cups at work!)

We’ll see how long it lasts…but I’m really going to try!!

Beat.

25 Nov

It’s official. I’m sick.

I have a sore throat, a stuffy nose, a pounding headache, and a slight fever of 99.2 degrees F (just so you know, if my temperature had been over 100, I would’ve stayed home for the sake of my co-workers).

While last week, I would’ve been somewhat relieved to be sick (thereby giving me a legit reason to stay home from work where I was doing absolutely nothing all day), this week, it’s just annoying. I actually have work to do and even if I don’t feel well enough to go to work, I have to. Ironic, huh?

I have an hour and a half left of this work day but I can barely keep my eyes open. A night of sickly sleep will do that to you.

But the good news is that last night, I organized my closet (because my sweet, adorable husband put in a closet organizer for me/us–I’ll post pics soon) and I cooked this penne butternut squash dish that I found on the No Slivers Here blog. It was delicious. I would add less pepper next time (it was a little too zesty for me) but Travis loved it (and the recipe made 6 hefty servings, which means plenty of leftovers!)

I’m just bummed that I can’t go to aerobics tomorrow morning (not enough energy) and depending on how tomorrow goes, I may be too sick to go to Thanksgiving dinner. If I stay the same or get better, I’ll be fine. But if I get any worse…I’ll have to eat my feast next week. 😦