Sometime in December, I came across a charitable organization called Veganuary.

Veganuary works to inspire people to try going vegan for the month of January. They provides ample information on reasons to go vegan, citing animal welfare, personal and environmental health, and nutritional benefits.

Lately, I have been listening to different podcasts about the benefits of a plant-based diet. One such podcast was from UK foodie Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella. The episode “Why a vegan diet is the single biggest positive change you can make for the planet, with Joseph Poore at Oxford University"” discussed exactly that, citing science and current world health trends as evidence, instead of only discussing animal welfare. Experts published a report in Oct of 2018 cautioning everyone that a “drastic drop in meat consumption is absolutely necessary if we expect to prevent the worst effects of global warming.”

After getting some facts, going vegan for a month seemed like a pretty cool thing to do, not only for myself but for the planet.

Pasta with butternut squash, peppers, avocado, spinach, sriracha, and crunchy peas. Baby foods on the left!

Pasta with butternut squash, peppers, avocado, spinach, sriracha, and crunchy peas. Baby foods on the left!

Last week marked the the completion of my personal Veganuary. I learned that eating a vegan diet is easy; however, I had to have the right foods available. I found myself returning to the grocery store every third day to replenish my fresh fruit and vegetable supply. Here is a list of some of my favorite fruit and veg I ate in January:

  • kale (precut and washed)

  • broccoli slaw (premade)

  • carrots (whole)

  • celery (whole)

  • onions

  • sweet potatoes

  • avocado

  • banana

  • watermelon (precut)

  • apples

  • frozen peas, corn, and spinach

  • non-dairy milk ( I used most any, except almond since I am allergic)

  • non-dairy creamer (Ripple is my favorite! No clumps!)

Pumpkin coconut pasta with walnuts

Pumpkin coconut pasta with walnuts

I also needed certain non-perishables, such as beans, nuts, seeds, oats, and specialty things like cacao powder and peanut powder (I am obsessed). I have always eaten ground flax seeds, so I still incorporated these into my diet, along with psyllium.

Since I am nursing, I made sure to have protein powder on hand: I heard somewhere that nursing mothers are supposed to have at least 60 grams of protein per day. Anyway, it’s good practice for all of us to focus on protein when perusing a vegan diet.

For other sources of protein, I made my own nut/seed-butter out of cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. I ate beans every day. And, if there was a sale on plant-based burgers, I bought those, along with vegan cheese. I even attempted to make my own vegan cheese out of lentils, pinto beans, nutritional yeast, spices, oil, and psyllium. It looked quite disgusting, but the taste wasn’t too bad!

In general, I stocked my fridge and pantry with:

  • pumpkin seeds

  • walnuts

  • ground flaxseed

  • sunflower seeds

  • cashews

  • granola

  • oats

  • nutritional yeast

  • protein powder

  • cacao powder

  • peanut butter powder

  • various canned beans

  • coconut milk (canned)

Spinach buckwheat pancakes with bananas, chia jam, and nutseed butter

Spinach buckwheat pancakes with bananas, chia jam, and nutseed butter

For me, Veganuary became even more than a fun experiment. I am proud that I was able to incorporate plant-based food into my diet in a lot of different ways. It helped that my carnivorous husband was out of town for the first half of the month, so I could pretty much go all the way vegan, and I didn’t have to consider cooking for two.

At the same time I was vegan-ing, I was also trying out “Baby Led Weaning” with my son. I served him plant-based BLW appropriate food that I was eating, and I think he had a good time too - you can see him and his little vegan food morsels in the background of my photos below.

I have to admit, there were a few hiccups in my perfect vegan month. One Friday while my husband was away, I was invited over to a neighbors house for dinner, and I completely forgot to mention my Veganuary mission beforehand, so I politely ate whatever would be served. Also, when my husband got back from his trip, he unloaded all his “plane snacks” onto the kitchen table, one of which was a packet of turkey jerky. Without even thinking about it, I ate a piece of jerky. Woops!

I learned a few things about my eating habits. I tend to eat a lot of fiber and fat. Additionally, I am a huge sucker for desserts, and I was happy to learn that lots of commercially made sweets are vegan. Oreo’s are vegan. Dark chocolate can be vegan. Many supermarkets sell vegan baked goods. If I see an adorable vegan chocolate cupcake, I will buy it. I apparently have a huge vegan sweet tooth!

By going vegan for a month, I thought I might lose weight. I didn’t, which is a bummer, because I still have a few pounds to spare from my pregnancy weight. I also learned that I needed to more protein than I once thought in order to feel satisfied. If I felt hungry after a large meal, I drank protein powder mixed into warmed oat milk. Weird but it worked. I learned that I eat 6 times a day! And I need to eat more dark berries and fruits in general. I also found out that I really dislike cashew yogurt.

I think I will continue being mostly vegan, and I can safely say I prefer a plant-based diet. I urge you to try some vegan food, even for one meal. There are so many resources out there to help you make nutritious choices that are both healthy for you and the planet.

If you want to learn more about any of the meals below, shoot me an email at I’d love to share a recipe or two!

Escape Narcissism

Let us emerge from our self-imposed cages.

Lately, I've been cleaning up my digital photos. The goal is to eliminate redundancies and bad photos, the latter of which are determined by small file size, low resolution, improper camera angles, and meaningless or confusing content.

As I began dredging my pictures, I noted a dominating presence of selfies. After a brief period of shock, self-loathing, followed by grim acknowledgement, I collected them all in a folder, labeled creatively, "Ali Selfies." In counting them, I found more than 1000! Why so many? What spurred this dramatic increase in documenting my face? I traced them back to their relative year of inception, 2004. The year I got the Motorola Razr camera phone. The year my first serious relationship ended. And the year I joined Facebook.  

At that time, Facebook was only available for college students. I was senior at the University of San Diego, and I worked as the Features Editor of The Vista. One day at the office, someone broached the topic of "another MySpace," and we editors became extremely intrigued. We were already frolicking on MySpace and AOL instant messenger, but we were thrilled at the prospect of yet another method to commune with our fellow undergrads. After signing up, we spent the afternoon poking each other and crafting witty status updates. We sent friend requests to our roommates, our boyfriends, our girlfriends. We wanted to "friend" everyone we had ever come into contact with. Facebook would feed our desperation for social interaction beyond university walls. Little did we know Facebook would prey on our insecurities and assist in our evolution as narcissists. 

Narcissism is defined as a "tendency to believe one’s self to be superior to others', to persistently pursue admiration from others, and to participate in egotistic thinking and behavior" (Panek, Nardis & Konrath, 2013). Numerous studies show a strong correlation between insecure, narcissistic tendencies and social media use. There's a very good chance that people who post self-promotional content, and those who spend more than one hour a day on Facebook or other social networks have issues with their self esteem. There's also a good chance that those who practice the art of the "selfie" or utilize social media (barring business purposes) are feeding into their own insecurities, producing narcissistic tendencies.

For individuals such as myself, aged 18-40 (the Millennial and Zennial Generations), taking selfies and using social media platforms may seem to be integral parts of life. We have an inherent need for attention, since we are products of the self esteem movement, emphasized by parental hovering, instant gratification, and meaningless praise. Social media feeds the need for instant rewards: it both creates and rewards narcissistic tendencies by providing an endless outlet for self-promotion. Once we acknowledge this generational trend, we can be aware of its manifestation in our actions, and make our acumen for social media into something useful, instead of something detrimental.

Before joining Facebook, I already had a rich (albeit detrimental) digital life on MySpace. I carefully curated photo albums of my travels, and posted highly Photoshopped profile pictures. I took advantage of the embedded music player and chose what I thought were unique songs on a rotating basis. One month David Bowie's Modern Love might play upon entering, the next month would be Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith, after that, perhaps some hip hop featuring members of Hieroglyphics.  I included something about how I only watch Coen Brothers films even though if you asked me what films they made, I could only name "The Big Lebowski."

By using both Myspace and Facebook, my self esteem rose and fell with each font change, each message, and each new connection. I hid behind the curtain of digital interaction. I thought that everyone would be interested in what I was doing, and I wanted them to know what I was doing. This was the essence of self-promotion for its own sake. Once I grew more aware of the reasons behind my digital habits, I became disgusted with myself. I quit MySpace in 2007. I quit Facebook shortly after. 

During my years of disconnection, I reconnected with myself. I got a dog and, through his companionship, I rekindled a genuine appreciation for solitude and nature. I went on long walks through forested trails without posting to social media. Instead of checking Facebook when I was bored, I put more time into planning events with friends and family, and into conversing in real time, sans device, with those around me. I put my time and energy into my Education Master's program where I received a near 4.0. I experienced entire albums on vinyl while exploring the not-so-secret world of craft beer. I began handwriting letters again. I resumed reflecting on my own life instead the lives of others.

It is 2016, and I have since rejoined Facebook. But, now I use it with awareness and moderation.  I try not to use my device as a distraction, even though this can be difficult at times. I've turned off all notifications, and only "like" or post something when I think the information is truly useful to at least a few of my connections. I am aware when I enter "social media loops" from which it is difficult to emerge. Through my trial, and my error, I have come to understand the true essence and purpose of Facebook: under the guise of "connecting with friends," Facebook only exists as a means to promote ourselves to others.

Some psychologists are calling the resulting self-promotional phenomenon "The New [socially acceptable] Narcissism." However, I don't think that narcissism should be a social normative in our society.  Extreme self-involvement should never be OK, and people should not abuse themselves as such on social media. Instead, we should be aware of the reasons we picking up our devices and losing ourselves to social media. We should know why we feel like seeking attention from others online. Above all, we need to acknowledge our offline loneliness, and overcome our fears of isolation and rejection. When we come to terms with our social needs, we can get to the heart of our insecurities, thereby emerging from our narcissistic cages.



Give yourself permission to breathe. 

Has anyone ever told you just to slow down and take a breath? How did it make you feel? Depending on your outlook, maybe you reacted with confusion or frustration. You breathe all day, you would be dead if you weren't breathing, why is this person telling me to breathe? That's dumb.

Or, maybe you paused and really thought about the advice. 

Sure, I breathe. But, I'm rarely aware of how I’m breathing, since my awareness is acutely focused on other things. Like everyone else, I'm sometimes anxious. I often stress about work tasks, my “to do” lists, and infinite personal and family obligations. Provoked by the constraints of an average workday, I often stress about my productivity. I'm always tormented by the lure of technology and the seemingly urgent notifications of my iPhone. 

All this builds up and creates anxiety.

Research shows that anxiety can restrict our breathing, leading to us to take quicker, shallow breaths, resulting in limited oxygen absorption and a spike in blood pressure. Cortisol levels increase, leading to restricted circulation and decrease immunity.

In searching for quick fixes, I've found that meditative practices such as yoga can lower anxiety levels. I've belonged to at least three yoga studious in the last 10 years. Each time I tried yoga, I was initially open to it. But, mid-pose, instead of breathing, I began stressing about when I should breathe, or not breathe. When should I breathe in? What should I do while I'm breathing? Am I even doing this pose correctly? 

My mentality towards yoga as a cure for anxiety has never really worked for me. I was forcing myself to breathe and measuring my effectiveness against others in the mirror. I needed to change my mindset.

I needed to grant myself permission to breathe.

Henrick Edburg, in his article "The Power of Breathing," suggests taking two minutes away from the anxiety-inducing situation to focus on breath. I've found that two minutes is more than enough to find space when my world closes in. Anytime I encounter stress, or feel overwhelmed, I simply take one large breath in, and out. I do this alone, or in the midst of a work presentation or a lively gathering – no one can tell. I do this when I’m cooking, writing, or when I find myself stuck in an endless social media loop.

Now, I practice conscious breathing. 

Taking one deep breath helps us to consciously pause, reflect, and refocus our perceptions, removing us from the source of anxiety. After taking one breath, whatever was bothersome becomes a little less annoying, and definitely more approachable. We never have anything to lose by just taking one conscious, full breath.

There's so much to gain by granting ourselves permission to breathe.