Trello For Meal Planning and Prepping

Screen shot of part of my Maui Menu Plan for the March Triathlon camp. I used Trello to help me prepare, including a shopping list for Day 1.
Screen shot of part of my Maui Menu Plan for the March Triathlon camp. I used Trello to help me prepare, including a shopping list for Day 1. Photo by Imei Hsu.

How do you keep track of your food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities? How do you track your Elimination/Provocation schedule? Do you have a way to systematically think about rotating in a new recipe, and getting the ingredients on your grocery shopping list earlier in the week so that you’re not caught making multiple trips to the store? How do you organize links from websites with interesting information about foods, supplements, and treatments for your gastrointestinal and allergy issues?

First of all, I want to tell you this: IT’S A LOT. To eat well, to eat healthy and clean, and to eat nutrient-dense food free of chemicals, and emulsifiers, processed ingredients and processing cross-contamination, sugars, and unhealthy fats and oils,  you have to do a lot of fancy footwork and planning.

For many of us with Autoimmune Disease and fatigue, we simply don’t have the available energy for those extra trips to the grocery store, let alone standing at the stove and oven, prepping, cooking, and baking. At the worst of my own disease process, just standing at the stove for five minutes left me too tired to eat. Even the joints in my feet ached.

At the time of writing this post, I was planning from a couch, resting from travel and a food “incident” on the return flight of my trip to New Orleans to deliver a presentation on food and mood. I started using as a project management system for my eating lifestyle in early 2016, and I love how I can use it plan out my week, month, and repeat previous week’s menus to keep my food varied, interesting, nutritious, and flexible to my changing needs. I can also use it to plan special events, travel food, and holiday meal planning.

Read on to learn about Trello’s features you can hack for your own eating lifestyle.

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Eat Like You

During the holidays, we think about what we're eating more than ever (or, we try not to think about it!). How do you navigate the world of food when you have food allergies, intolerances, or a GI disorder)? Photo credit: Imei Hsu (2016).
During the holidays, we think about what we’re eating more than ever (or, we try not to think about it!). How do you navigate the world of food when you have food allergies, intolerances, or a GI disorder)? Photo credit: Imei Hsu (2016).

Stop trying to eat like everyone else. Just STOP.

On any given week, I receive well-intended yet unhelpful suggestions from people who believe they can “help” me. Sometimes it’s from a well-meaning Vegan person who thinks my Paleo options are not only immoral and cruel, they are unhealthy for me. As usual, I kindly ask that person to design me a minimum 1538 calorie meal plan free from nuts, dairy, seeds, soy, legumes,  beans, gluten (including no corn), alliums, goards (pumpkin, squash, cucumbers), and certain oils,  certain sugars, plus more calories on my training days that are easily absorbed, do not cause my guts to rebel and fall apart, and deliver iron, protein, and healthy fat well enough that I don’t suffer a loss in cognitive processing.

Every person I’ve encountered who has looked at that list usually tells me it cannot be done without severely compromising my health.

And so, here I am again, stating the obvious: nutrition is an individual matter. Stop eating like everyone else.

Instead, eat like only you can, and only you should:. Eat like you.

Among my friends, they have a reply to newcomers who mean well when they suggest a food or new recipe to me: “That sounds safe, but is it ‘Imei safe’?

They say this because I am my own canary in a coal mine: if it isn’t safe for me to eat, it might not be so good  for them either. Why? Because while all of the ingredients in processed foods are FDA-approved for public safety, a good amount of them will still leave me writhing on the floor, vomiting, cramping, racing for the toilets, or leading to poor nutritional status over time.

Yet the real truth of eating well and transforming your life is a journey of discovery, trial and error, and extreme customization. What we’re learning more than ever is that a nutritional profile that works for one may not work perfectly for another.

The good news: there exists one shared food factor among those who have autoimmune disease and food allergies, one in which no health expert would ever argue against. It is a simple equation: eat a natural diet free from highly processed foods.

By doing so, you will not eat in the manner of everyone else.  You will eat like you.

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Fueling an Ironman With Autoimmune Disease

Author holding large black Ironman bag against her chest while smiling.
Hugging my own Ironman swag! To cross the finish line, I had to fuel myself carefully. Learn more about designing your own fuel for long-endurance events.

On August 21, 2016 I had the deep pleasure of putting in a long day of triathlon training and crossed the finish line of Ironman Mont-Tremblant. I can now say, “I am an Ironman!”, and not state wistfully, “Well, I hope after all this hard work to become an Ironman.” It’s now official.

Completing an Ironman race, as complex and amazing and difficult and painful and adventurous as it is in itself, is no small feat for the person with autoimmune disease and food “issues.” My Coach has reminded me all throughout the process of training that it’s important to respect the distance. Additionally, completing an Ironman race with autoimmune disease requires another layer of careful strategizing, testing, responding appropriately, and in my case, creating aspects of my training and fueling that are unique to me.

One of those aspects happens to be particularly challenging for the food-sensitive athlete, and that is nutrition and hydration across many hours. Because processed food, gels, and powdered nutrition have ingredients that make me terribly ill (either immediately, or over time), my Ironman journey necessitated my transformation into Food Scientist, Head Chef, Mobile Nutrition Strategist, and Hydration Manager. That’s a lot of hats (and helmets!) to wear!

Want to know how I fueled my Ironman?  Read more… Continue reading

Plight of the Reluctant Omnivore

The Plight of the Reluctant Omnivore

Green salad in a glass bowl
What happens if you cannot live on a vegetarian or vegan diet due to food intolerances, allergies, or autoimmune disease, AND you love animals so much, it’s difficult to eat them for meat? Photo by Imei Hsu.

In a chorus of happy plant-based friends and colleagues, I admit that I am sometimes skittish about mentioning that I am a Paleo, allergen-avoiding omnivore. With my current animal protien-intensive meals, my diet is the furthest cry from vegan and vegetarian.

However, my soul is not.

You see, I love animals. I am that woman that says, “Squee!” out loud when I see pictures of cute, furry pets, barnyard animals playing with one another, mini donkeys, unusual animals in their natural habitats, and the big animals of the wild. I shed tears when I hear about elephants killed for their tusks or used as laborers for their ability to pull heavy loads. I have even come around to find unusual spiders and bizarre insects as fascinating co-habitants of our diverse planet.

Every Friday on my Facebook page, I post pictures of cute kittens and cats under the hashtag, FurballFriday for my friends to enjoy with me. It’s become a bit of a ritual, where I search Pinterest every Thursday evening to line up the best pictures to share the next morning. I’ve even created a few, “Hey Girl” photos of my own, using a photo of a kitten and a blanket.

And so, every time I sit down for a meal, prep my lunches, or select something from a menu, I am painfully and mindfully aware that my choice to eat meat cost an animal its life. I am eating the suffering of an animal, along with vegetables, rice, fruits, and oils, to keep me alive. If I love animals as much as I say that I do, why on earth do I eat them for food?

The answer is simple, but never easy:  to survive. 

So, what do I do — and what do you do — if you find yourself a Reluctant Omnivore?

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Dairy Free Chocolate Moo FTW

The ridges on my fingernails say enough.

When you have dry, brittle, and ridged fingernails, it can often mean you have a chronic illness and/or a nutritional deficiency on board.

I have both, despite eating as much as I possibly can shovel in. Part of this is because I’m a triathlete, and my body’s daily nutritional needs are high. And part of my deficits are because my small intestine gets its own workout when it needs to process and then distribute my medically-restricted diet to the rest of the body. Usually, my finger and toenails show up these deficits in the form of dry, brittle, and ridged nails and occasionally funny-colored nail beds. And my upper body has a tendency to look quite “leaned out” without even lifting weights. Wah wah wah. But it’s a struggle, and I know I am not alone.

Each time I hear someone comment that Celiac Disease and food allergies, with their restrictive diets, make it easier to stay thin, I just want to cringe. The idea that CD and gluten free eating with food allergies could ever be construed as the new fad diet or an eating disorder reminds me how much misinformation floats about the Internets. By now, most of us should know that eating gluten-free, in and of itself, is no guarantee of magical weight loss. Gluten free eating that is not paired with sensible macro and micro nutrient balance can be nutrient poor even if it is calorically enhanced.

Nutrition for the person with Celiac Disease and food allergies and intolerances is focused on a formula of nutrition first, flavor and texture second (so you’re more likely to keep up with it), and easy to source and prepare the foods (to defy the lazy factor) third. With all that, I try to keep the making of food FUN FUN FUN, because I completely understand that if it isn’t fun, you and I are going to be hungry. And when we’re hungry, we’re less likely to make good decisions that keep us healthy.

Case in point: at the end of the 2015 Mt. Si 59 mile Relay race, I was so hungry, I ate a fruit roll up that was available at the finish line. I saw that it had  high fructose corn syrup in it, which is a no-no food for me. Yet, I was so hungry, I stuffed two of those fruit roll ups in my mouth, hoping for the best. This is as real as it gets. I was so hungry, I was willing to risk my guts falling apart.

There has got to be something better! Something easy. Something tasty, And something nutritious. And I think I found one solution: a post-workout, or post-meal beverage that is gluten free, soy free, dairy free, vegan, nut free, and can be made sugar free, if you like.

What is this beverage, you might ask? Dairy free cacao powder milk, that’s what! Continue reading

Travel Cooking Beyond Your Kitchen

I packed my bags carefully. Very carefully.

Styrofoam wrapped around a center frame of a 48cm road bike, headset velcro strapped to center bar, derailleur removed and placed in a red bag and velco strapped in the center of bike frame.
Do you know how to take apart a road bike down to the frame? I learned quickly, by packing my frame and wheels into a Ruster Armored Hen House.

Two standard sized bags weighing in each at 46 pounds and 26 pounds;  one carry-on backpack with my laptop, essentials, medication, and epi pen. Every item was carefully checked and double checked. We loaded them into the car, and my husband bade me farewell and good luck at the airport.

I was off to Maui, HI for a triathlon camp. Over a week’s time, we would be riding four challenging cycling routes, running and hiking through a variety of different terrains and elevations, and swimming in the ocean.

Black bag with red handles for bike wheels, and 62 linear inch black frame bag by Ruster Hen House, used to fly frame and wheel of a exercise equipment in standard size cases.
Want to fly your exercise equipment without being charged additional fees for oversized bags? Ruster Hen House does just that, in a bag that fulfills the requirement of being under 62 linear inches.

By the next day, I would have my bags unpacked, my dismantled road bike inside the two standard cases rebuilt, and I would be sailing down the coast of Maui towards the Maui Winery with the wind in my hair and water in my road bike bottles. However, man (or woman) cannot live on bread and water alone; in fact, I can’t really live on bread either!  I would need to be able to feed myself for the duration of the demanding camp activities, as the caterer had let me know that she would be unable to safely meet my needs while feeding everyone else. I opted to cook for myself.

Life’s most beautiful adventures across your state borders and across an ocean require you to think about travel cooking beyond the confines of your kitchen. All journeys are really not so much about what you take, but what you leave behind. What can’t you live without, regarding a week’s worth of food?

In my last post, I gave you a glimpse into menu planning so you could think like a pro when it comes to organizing yourself for cooking for at home. When you travel, it’s even that much more important that you learn how to save time and money by planning carefully what you will need to eat, and how to create tasty, nutritious food that you will want to eat, especially when you’re tired and worn out from all your fabulous activities throughout the day.

Keep reading to learn more about how to cook for yourself when you arrive at your destination’s kitchen, and what I did to improvise.

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Everyday Low Carb High Fat Eating

Everyday Low Carb High Fat Eating

White plate with wilted vegetables, two slices of meat, and rice, with a fork on the plate.
People want to know how hard or easy it is to eat a low carb high fat diet on a daily basis. Read this post, and watch my embedded video, to hear more about making this work for you.

As I ran along the flat trail, cyclists zipped past me. At their speeds, they barely noticed my 14-minute mile pace. Some of the other runners on the trail, however, easily passed the woman whose slow jog could have easily been eclipsed by a fast walker.

And that was just Mile Number Two. Sigh.

Nearly an hour later, a female runner overtook me from behind. As she passed by, she quietly said, “At that pace, I bet you could run forever.” And then she smiled at me. She completely understood what I was doing.

You see, running at that turtle’s pace was a purposeful part of my training program from my coach. Because my diet was already nutrient dense and naturally low in carbohydrates in its absence of cereal grains and processed foods, we wanted to turn my body into a fat-burning, efficient machine. The way you do this is to match the diet with months of slow, low heart rate running. Ultra runner Larissa Elaine Dannis  used low heart rate running to transform herself from a recreational road runner to a 50 mile trail running champ in four years.

But this is a blog about food, so let’s talk about the food side of this equation. You can find quite a few articles about Dr. Phil Maffetone‘s non-method methodology of training bodies to go long, including the diet that helps this to happen. What I share with you isn’t about what this diet is, as much as it’s about how to pull this off on the day-to-day life of having a job, training for a Half Ironman and an Ironman, and having the energy to enjoy life.

This is everyday low carb, high fat eating, which is essentially what most people on the LCHF, Autoimmune Protocol (aka AIP), and medically Paleo diets are eating. What is life really  like when you eat like this?

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