Summer Favorites (Top 10)!

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Hey guys, it’s been a while since I’ve done a “favorites” post, so I thought summertime would be the perfect occasion! Read on to learn more about my absolute SUMMER FAVES:

  1. Banana Boat Protective Tanning Oil SPF 15: This is by far my favorite sunscreen for the body (not face)! Warning—it’s SUPER oily, but it gives you such a nice summer tan/glow! Literally ONE good day in the sun with this sunscreen is enough to give you a perfect color base. Also, it tends to be very protective from sunburns! Find this at Target for less than $10!

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2. BECCA Cosmetics Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter: As far as face highlighters go, this one is LIT. Mine gives me the ultimate glow, without being too extreme. It also lasts all day, keeping me looking alive even after an 8 hour day at the office. A very little bit goes a very long way: I’ve had mine for months and have barely made a dent in it! I could see this lasting a year easily [even if you use it on a daily basis—which I do!]. Can be purchased at Sephora for $38.

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3. Origins Drink Up Intensive Overnight Mask: The ultimate face moisturizer! I use this nearly every night before bed, and it keeps my skin hydrated and supple…especially during the dry summer months! It soaks into the skin nicely, without leaving an oily residue. Also great for sensitive skin, and has not caused me to have breakouts! Can be purchased from Nordstrom, Ulta, or Macy’s for $28.

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4. Luna Fofo 2in-1 Custom Cleansing Brush: I was lucky and received this in my Summer FabFitFun box, but it can be purchased for $89. While it touts its ability to analyze your skin type, measure hydration, and provide an overview of your skin’s health, I personally like it because it keeps track of the time you take to wash your face (60 seconds), providing a pulsing sensation when it’s time for you to move on to a different section of your face. This little brush ensures that I don’t skimp on my face washing, and provides a deep clean that thoroughly reaches every pore. My breakouts have substantially reduced since I’ve started using this brush daily.

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5. Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs, and Rosewater: The summertime is HOT, and sometimes I just need a quick way to cool down. I found this rosewater spray at Urban Outfitters for only $7 and LOVE spraying it on my face when I’m feeling toasty. It smells fresh and yummy, and keeps my skin hydrated throughout the day without causing any additional oil/blemishes. It’s like allowing your face to go run through the sprinklers….now, who wouldn’t want that?

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6. Summer Starbucks Go-To: I switch up my Starbucks drink selection depending on the season. In the summer my focus shifts to ‘refreshing’. If I’m feeling like something healthy, I’ll go for the unsweetened iced green tea, easy ice. If I want something with coffee, I’ll go for the iced hazelnut latte, with only 1 pump of hazelnut, nonfat milk, and easy ice. TIP: ALWAYS ASK FOR EASY ICE AT STARBUCKS. They tend to load their drinks with ice, meaning you get less of the actual drink. I go easy on the ice, to get the most out of my purchase.

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7. Kind Bars: The perfect light & easy snack on-the-go. I like to enjoy a Kind bar with a handful of blueberries or a banana on the side. These are gluten free, kosher, low sodium and low glycemic index, a good source of fiber, and au-natural. My favorite flavors are dark chocolate almond & coconut, almond & coconut, and the dark chocolate cherry cashew.

Image result for dark chocolate almond coconut kind bar8. Barre Workouts: If you haven’t tried barre yet, then you are seriously doing yourself a disservice. Barre classes mix elements of pilates, dance, yoga, and functional training. This is the BEST full-body workout, and it is also loads of fun. It’s always a challenge, but after just a few short weeks your body begins to feel stronger as a result of you learning how to isolate and work individual muscles better and more effectively. Tiny movements make for big results, and I don’t know about you, but I’m looking to get a cute booty and bikini body just in time for my Cancun vacay next month!

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9. Iconic Protein Shakes: Looking for a yummy, healthy, and sustaining meal replacement? Look no further! These protein shakes are the best I’ve tried so far. They have 20g of protein, 3g of sugar, and 130 kcals. I like these because they have a great taste, and no yucky aftertaste! WIN! Favorite flavors are Café Au Lait (basically iced coffee) and chocolate truffle! Sprouts sometimes carries these on sale for $2. Otherwise they can run $3 or $3.50 apiece (which is STILL cheaper than an actual meal)!

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10. Day Planner: I have so much going on always, that I honestly do not know what I would do without a daily planner/organizer! I take this everywhere with me, it is my lifeline. I found a great planner on Amazon (but can also be found at Target) for only $27.99. It has a monthly and daily view (the daily view is organized by every ½ hour!). So whether you’re planning a happy hour, or a routine dentist visit, you won’t miss a thing!

Hope you enjoyed this post! 🙂 Happy Summer!

xx allie

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The Nordstrom’s Fitting Room Ruined My Independence Day

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The 4th of July calls for a tradition of hot dogs, chips n’ dip, beer, and good ol’ American apple pie. It’s all about the red, white, and barbeque. No one counts calories on this day, because to do so would be asinine. I mean c’mon, on this day one man singlehandedly scarfed down 74 hotdogs. If that doesn’t prove how glutton-heavy this holiday is, then I don’t know what would!

Coincidentally, it is also a day to dress scantily—if you are a female that is. Short shorts, bathing suits, crop tops, you name it. Not only is it a scorcher, but it’s also a day to prove to the media world (insta, twitter, facebook) what type of body you have. It’s an opportunity to show to the world the gains you’ve made over the course of the winter/spring in light of the summer months.

Go figure.

The day started out for me as good as any other. Went to workout, drank my protein shake, and headed to the mall to make a quick return. The sun was shining bright, and the insta feed was already poppin’. The day had started off with a bang, in much the same way that it would end.

After finishing my return and perusing the aisles of Nordstrom’s, I came across a plethora of cute finds that I simply needed to try on. Bathing suits, crop tops, and the like. With the help of an eager attendant, I made my way into a room to try on the discounted one-pieces I grabbed. I slipped them on, and was appalled by what I saw: my body looked horrendous—a splotchy bumpy surface covered the back of my thighs and butt cheeks. It was as if a firework of cellulite went off on the lower half of my body, spewing its explosion of  clumpy texture all over my 25-year-old legs.

Now of course, I knew that I had cellulite prior to this moment in the fitting room. I’ve seen it for years, and have learned to accept it. HOWEVER, here in the fitting rooms at Nordstrom, it was as if gravity took a whole new turn for the worse. The cellulite appeared to be 3x worse than ever before, and I was SHOOK. Even Alexander Hamilton would have thrown in the towel at the sight of this.

While I normally would have scoffed at this abysmal observation, cursing Nordstrom’s lighting specialists for choosing the least flattering lights for the most pivotal buying decision time-frame, this time was different. Every ounce of my being wanted to blame this corporation for making me look FAT, but the truth was, this was really me. The cellulite belonged to me. It was not photoshopped on, and it could not be photoshopped off.

I sat on the bench in the fitting room, fighting back tears. I am 25 years old. I work out hard 4-5x per week. I have been on a highly-devoted gluten-free diet for nearly a month and a half. Yet, I had nothing to show for it. I have always been taught that if you work hard in life, it will pay off. This was the ideology I have lived with for as long as I can remember; it makes sense. Nothing good in life is simply handed to you, and if you want to experience results you HAVE to be willing to put in the work. But with cellulite, this belief was null and void. None of it held true.

The day wore on, and I continued to be reminded of this malady. A sea of shorts-wearing, cellulite-less females flooded my consciousness and berated my psyche. What a cruel world we live in, where hot dog eaters could grace the world with their beautiful legs, but the hardworking, breadless folk were stuck sweating in long jeans to hide the nightmarish skin dents that were ever-apparent on their flesh. Let freedom ring? I think not.

I had ordered a salad for dinner that night, and skipped the rolls at Woodranch BBQ (I repeat, skipped the rolls at Woodranch BBQ), only to find myself crying at the harbor with my boyfriend only minutes before the Fireworks show began. ‘I feel ugly. I feel fat. I don’t feel good enough. None of my efforts are paying off. I am SO discouraged.’ I couldn’t bear to see all the smiling, laughing girls my age mindlessly enjoying Independence Day, while I was caught up focusing on my body image, and nothing more. My 4th of July was indeed tainted by what all began in the Nordstrom fitting room that morning.

Today, only 2 days later, I look back and realize how RIDICULOUS I was being. Are you kidding me? I had a loving, sweet, caring, thoughtful boyfriend by my side, the privilege of watching the fireworks in a beautiful, and safe neighborhood, and God’s good grace all around me, and yet all I could focus on was the cellulite on the back of my legs. What a tragedy. I wasted a beautiful moment that I’ll never get back worrying about something that was essentially out of my hands.

More women have cellulite than those who do not. It is part of being a woman. It is part of being healthy. Society has decided that it MUST GO….but what if we decide that it can stay? What if we decide that it is normal, that it is expected, and that you are STILL beautiful? What we see in the media is modified. We are surrounded by images of flawless women, and made to believe that flawless is the only type of beauty that exists. In reality though, even flawless women do not exist. Public photos are edited and enhanced. Models are airbrushed and contoured. No imperfections are exposed, and the normal, raw beauties are the ones who pay for it.  Where is the justice? Where is the morality?

This post serves to remind you women that you are BEAUTIFUL, no matter what shape, size, or color. You are beautiful, because you are you. We (myself included) need to stop focusing on our imperfections, and instead begin to recognize our blessings. I am lucky to have two hands. I am lucky to feel healthy on a day-to-day basis.  I am lucky to have long, luscious hair. I am lucky that my vision is not impaired. I am lucky to be alive, and loved. The list goes on and on and on… THAT, my friends, is what truly matters.

So with that, I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice—Sun’s out, Buns out! Get to it.

xx allie

 

 

Gluten Free Lifestyle

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What’s up guys?! Sorry for my delayed posts these days…life’s been getting the best of me; which I suppose isn’t such a bad thing!

Most of you probably do not know that I have recently gone gluten free. I have been adhering to a gluten free diet for 38 days now, but who’s counting?

So why did I decide to try out a gluten free lifestyle?

Obviously, “gluten free” is a major buzzword these days. Everyone’s talking about it, everyone’s doing it. But aside from all of the buzz, a few people that I know personally have benefitted from going gf themselves. Whether it involves weight loss, energy improvement, etc. I had heard nothing but promising stories of how lives have improved when gluten was removed. Inspired by these stories, I decided to give it a try–hoping for a few noticeable changes to surmount, most notably: increased daily energy, weight loss, & bloat reduction. If these changes were to occur, I would most certainly be happy to remain gf for life!

Have these changes occured?

To put it bluntly, no. I am still bloated, I have not lost a noticeable amount of weight, and I am still sleepy as ever throughout the day. What the heck, right?! I do not have celiac disease, and do not seem to be even the slightest bit intolerant to this grain. Even though these issues did not resolve, I am still grateful to not have this allergy. So at least there’s that.

The Plus Side

Unfortunately my body has not changed as a result of going gf (at least not yet! It’s been 38 days, and perhaps it takes longer to see changes). I do plan on being gf for at least another 2 more months—so stay tuned for the updates. However, despite the fact that these improvements did not occur, one major improvement did! MY DIET! Holy goodness–my daily diet has improved substantially since removing gluten. Gone are the days of superfluous bread intake, pasta gorging, and pastry/donut consumption. This girl now eat fruits, veggies, rice, meats, nuts like never before. I have adapted to eating natural foods much more often, since it is easy for me to tell that those items do not contain gluten–natural foods include berries, sugar snap peas, mangos, salads, roasted veggies, etc. I do not eat nearly as many processed foods, since SO many items contain gluten. If I get hungry for snack-type items, I choose applesauce squeezers, light kettle corn, or plantain chips from Trader Joes. I feel 100% sustained by my new diet, and do not really feel like I’m missing out on much at all. Grocery stores and restaurants make it easier than ever to buy/order gf items. And GF PANCAKES are bomb.com. Luckily, even my sweet tooth gets satisfied in a gf way. GF brownie mixes are everywhere, and even many ice-cream flavors are A-okay! I also love me some frozen chocolate covered bananas (Diana’s bananas from Sprouts are killin’ the game)! Yeah, I don’t really get to enjoy Chinese food or Italian food much anymore, but I sure can go beast mode on the Mexican food! Corn tortillas are all good, and rice, beans, and meat are acceptable as well. LOAD WITH GUAC always…

I can honestly say that I am so proud of the recent changes in my diet, and would be interested in sustaining a 75% gf diet in the future beyond this personal experiment–[I enjoy the brown bread at Cheesecake Factory too much to give it up for life].

And even if you don’t have celiac disease, the gluten-free lifestyle does have some benefits. For instance, gluten causes inflammation in your stomach. The proteins in wheat happen to be gut irritants, and cause an inflammatory response as a result. Immune cells are stimulated in your digestive system, whether you have celiac disease or not. Why is this bad? It can contribute to increased intestinal permeability, an essential factor in the development of autoimmune diseases. Gluten can also cause GI problems in people without celiacs as well. In some people, gluten can even cause “brain fog” and fatigue. And last but not least, gluten can cause skin breakouts! — speaking of which, I could definitely argue that my face complexion has improved since eliminating gluten! Win!

So do I recommend a gluten-free diet?

Not necessarily. The gluten-free lifestyle is definitely not for everyone. It takes a great deal of effort, as well as devotion. Some people do not have the time, or do not want to spend the extra money, in order to ensure that their meals are gluten-free. I don’t blame them, as it really is a lifestyle and it’s much more difficult than eating meals mindlessly. Do I recommend going gluten-free if you’re looking for a healthier diet? Absolutely. The gluten restriction makes it next to near impossible to eat like crap. You can’t just run and grab a donut on the way to work. You can’t just purchase a croissant from Starbucks to go along with your latte. You can’t just share a pizza when you go out with friends. How about a beer? No. That’s loaded with gluten as well. It all takes thought, but it’s worth it if you’re looking for a way to cut calories/fat/etc.

If you’re gluten-free, have celiac disease, or are going to try giving up gluten as your own  personal experiment, then let me know what you think! No two experiences will be the same, so I am curious how others’ minds & bodies will handle the change.

That’s it for now!

xx allie

 

 

 

Depression & Creativity

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Hello everyone. I’m sorry that I haven’t written in a while…truth is, I haven’t really had the motivation to. I’ve thought of a number of topics (even started to write about them), only to realize that I wasn’t passionate enough about the subjects and therefore could not write a post that would be worthy of your attention.  So thank you for being patient with me and not ‘unfollowing’ during this period of stagnation.

These days, I do not experience depression. And while I am grateful for that in several ways, I also miss my emotional depth and creativity. When I am depressed, I am motivated to discuss several topics, and inspire others with my words and reflection. I am more compassionate, more in-touch with nature and my senses, and even more grateful for the tiny blessings that occur in a given day. Everything becomes more acute, and it is as if a new ability to experience heightened awareness floods my body. For lack of a better way to describe it, it is a beautiful sadness.

 When I am ‘normal’ and happy, I am on autopilot. I plow through my day more effortlessly and with less thought/attention to detail. While life like this is easier and less taxing, in a strange way it also feels less meaningful. I am less provoked by stimulating events, and less likely to cry during emotionally-laden conversations. Things don’t shake me in the same way that they used to. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I shed a tear…and I seriously believe that’s a first. That’s not to say that I don’t care about things. I definitely still do.

That being said, I am still 100% thankful for my continued happiness and stability. Lexapro is killin’ the game, even at my 5mg dose.

A few more things to note about it though:

*My blood pressure has dropped considerably since I’ve begun this medication. I think that may be attributable to the pill’s potential to reduce salt levels in the blood. Since I know that I don’t drink enough water, dehydration is likely causing this drop in blood pressure.

*My memory has worsened. Everyday stories and details are forgotten much more easily. This isn’t adversely affecting my work, school, or personal life. It’s just a bit frustrating when things need to be told to me more than once.

Although life without depression is less intense, it is also much easier. With nothing holding me back, I feel like all of my professional goals are attainable. Heck, I’m even considering pursuing a PsyD in the future! It’s exciting to feel like my life is on track, and that I am on the path to achieving an independently secure future that I can feel proud of. Life is kind of crazy, and I’ve gotta admit, I’m loving it.

 Until next time ❤

xx allie

Stop the Stigma

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The other day I had a routine gyno appointment with a new doctor that I had never seen before. She spent the first half of our appointment trying to get to know me, as they usually do. She slowly scanned down my health chart, asking for clarification here and there. “It says you’re taking antidepressants. Lexapro? Why are you depressed? You’re so beautiful?”

Hmm…”you’re so beautiful?” Is that even related to the question she just asked me?

I replied, “Well, I’m not depressed anymore. Since I’ve been taking a low dose of the Lexapro, I’ve improved substantially”

“What’s your background?” she asked. “Your ethnicity”

“Assyrian”, I said.

“See! There is no reason why you should be depressed. Imagine all of the individuals who are living in Syria right now, in a third world country. You live here, you are so lucky. You are beautiful, young, healthy. You shouldn’t be depressed.”

Wow. Who does this “doctor” think that she is? She is basically telling me that I don’t have the right to feel depressed. She is basically telling me that I don’t deserve to be depressed.

Completely aside from the fact that she clearly does not understand that Assyrians don’t come from Syria, I was entirely offended. Depression does not need a reason to rear its ugly head. Depression can happen to anyone, regardless of you being wealthy, beautiful, intelligent, skinny, etc. And the thing is, you should never be made to feel GUILTY for it. If you have depression, then chances are you already feel guilty for other reasons–acting less like ‘yourself’, bringing down the emotional climate of any room you walk into, cancelling or rejecting plans with friends, lashing out at people you love for no good reason, etc. Many people do not understand that depression is not selective about its victims. It is relentless, and often attacks unexpectedly. People who are depressed, in many cases, can’t tell you why they are feeling down…they just are. And let me tell you, it sucks.

As I sat in the room with the doctor, I began to zone out of the rest of the conversation. In my head, I had already decided that I would never return to see her again. I felt completely misunderstood by her. I know that I am privileged and blessed in my life, and I wish that those reasons could serve as an inoculation against Major Depressive Disorder…but they don’t. That’s just not how it works.

Depression is a serious illness. At my worst, I would consider driving my car into walls on the freeway as an escape from the pain that I was feeling. Thank God, I no longer have these thoughts. But if I were truly still in the same place, this doctor’s words might have pushed me to hold down the gas pedal, close my eyes, and take a deep breath (perhaps my very last one). Even if I had a mere sliver of hope left in my depressed state, this doctor’s words would have shattered it into pieces.

When a person is depressed, they need compassion. They need patience. They need support. This doctor provided none of the above. This doctor was extremely ignorant, and came across as critical and judgmental. The sad fact is, there are so many people like her who don’t truly understand depression. Unfortunately, it makes the stigma of mental health illnesses even worse than they already are. If doctors are judging patients for being depressed, then why is it a surprise when the general public does?

No, you are not any less of a person for being depressed. No, you are not any less of a person for needing antidepressants…or any other medication for that reason. Not every person is lucky enough to live their entire life without acquiring a mental illness…whether it’s addiction, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, or any of the other hundred+ illnesses. And if you are, then be thankful every. damn. day. Because tomorrow could be different.

This post is for every person who has ever felt criticized for a mental illness. This post is for every person who has ever felt embarrassed to admit that they are depressed, suicidal, unhappy, etc. You do not need to feel guilty. You do not need to feel ashamed. And most importantly, you are not alone.

xx allie

The Scoop on High Cholesterol

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What’s up guys! Sorry that I haven’t posted in a long time, it’s midterm season and ya girl has been all tied up. This is a health post–so if you love your body & want to learn something helpful, then read on…

About two weeks ago, I visited my general practitioner for an annual exam. Since this was my first time seeing this new doctor, she thought it would be wise to run basically every blood test in the book. Although I’m not much a fan of needles & blood, I’m not one to argue with taking a precautionary approach toward health. For that reason, I happily obliged.

For the most part, my results came back excellent–everything I normally worry about (glucose, white blood cell count, platelets, etc.) was perfectly in the normal range. However there were two things to note:

1. Vitamin D levels were low–this one was obvious. Virtually everyone that I know has ‘low’ levels of vitamin D. This one is easily fixed with a daily supplement & additional sun exposure (with sunscreen!). Nothing to worry about.

2. Borderline cholesterol. Doc say what???? This was the first time I’ve ever tested high for cholesterol. Granted, it wasn’t VERY high, but it was still noticeably ‘up there’. Good total cholesterol should stay under 200. Borderline total cholesterol is between 200-239, and high cholesterol is 240 or higher.  Mine was at 219. Upon receiving this news, I immediately thought back to my recent diet. Let’s see, I had been abstaining from eating  chocolate for months, and as a result, have been eating a LOT less sugary desserts. I’m also relatively careful about limiting my fast food intake. I exercise 2-3 days per week. Peculiar.

Regardless–this was a bit of a wake up call for me (along with the fact that I weighed in at 150 lbs–a record high for me). The last time I weighed 150 lbs was when I returned home from studying abroad in Europe 4 years ago, after eating 2 gelatos per day in Italy and 3 croissants per day in France. At that time, I deserved every pound of weight that I gained, and I took it in stride. This time was different…I didn’t feel it was deserved. Perhaps my metabolism has slowed in the last four years. Or perhaps my body’s composition is different–more muscle, less fat this time.

I am 5’5″, and my normal healthy weight is about 140-142 lbs. When I was clinically depressed, I got down to 132 or so and I wasn’t a huge fan of the way that I looked. I lost a lot of my booty and some of my hips. I had lost some fat, but also a lot of muscle. I didn’t look as fit/healthy, and I definitely was not happy. Anyways, after learning that I was again at my high weight, I realized that perhaps I could still be making better eating choices. My cholesterol was borderline, and my weight was about 8-10 lbs over my body’s ideal.

QUICK ASIDE–I absolutely love my body. I am a dense young woman, with wide child-bearing hips, a big butt, and thick legs. My sister is my same height and weighs 110 lbs (literally 40 lbs less than me), and it doesn’t bother me for one second. We have completely different body types, and one isn’t any better than the other. They are just different, and beautiful in their own ways! So learning that I weighed 150 lbs didn’t make me feel less beautiful, or even ‘fat’. I just knew that my body operates and looks better at 140-142 lbs.

At this point, I was now intrinsically motivated to be healthy, and treat my body in the way that it deserves to be treated. I realized that it was time for me to add a day of exercise to my week, and start to be more health conscious with my eating habits.

The good thing about having high cholesterol is that it is REVERSIBLE! It is totally within your control.

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Here are the tips on lowering your cholesterol (bad cholesterol= LDL) and getting healthy!

1. Eat Oats–I’m talking steel cut oatmeal or even oat-based cereals like cheerios. Your body needs high sources of fiber at this time, and this is one way to get it. Rotate your breakfasts for variety and add fruit, always!

2. Whole Grains–I’ve been getting my whole grains in a few different ways. Lately I’m obsessed with Clif Kid Organic Z bars–in the flavor Iced Oatmeal Cookie. These little snack bars have 12g of whole grain and are a good source of fiber. Not to mention they are super delicious! Sometimes for breakfast I’ll eat 2 slices of Orowheat Whole Grain Double Fiber bread, with peanut butter & organic strawberry jelly (sometimes add banana slices). Two slices provide 48% of the daily value of fiber, and is also an excellent source of vitamin D. I also eat Kashi Vanilla Shredded Whole Wheat Biscuits cereal for breakfast. There are 48g of whole grains per serving and 6g of fiber. Win.

3. Beans–I’ve been making homemade hummus using garbonzo beans! Also can make taco salads with black beans!

How to Make One-Serving of Hummus:

1/3 avocado

1/2 can garbonzo beans

1/2 lemon squeezed

salt & pepper

garlic clove

Tablespoon of Olive Oil

4. Nuts–Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, up to 5%. I like cashews.

5. Vegetable Oils–no butter or lard! Swap out regular butter on toast for nut butter! Don’t cook with butter either. I think this is huge! Olive oil is a great replacement.

6. Healthy Fats–Omega-3s found in fish like salmon and also avocado!

7. Chocolatedark chocolate!

8. Green Tea

9. Berries–blueberries, raspberries,  blackberries, strawberries! Throw them in cereals, salads, or eat them alone.

10. Increased Exercise!

If you discover you have high cholesterol, don’t panic! You can bring it down yourself with some healthy new habits that are better for you in general! I hope this post is some motivation to begin treating your body better today!

xx allie

 

The Art of Getting What You Want

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Hello, & happy Friday to you!

I thought I would begin this post with an apology for my sparse blog posting these days. I have been very busy lately with work and school, and have had very little extra time on my hands. The extra 30 minutes that I do find at 11:30 pm is spent indulging in the cooking channel shows I have grown to love (Beat Bobby Flay, Chopped, and Cake Hunters). Alas, I do try to make time occasionally to check-in and explore a topic of interest.

Today’s topic is: the art of getting what you want.

We all have things we would like to attain in our lives. Whether that is a new job, a stable and healthy relationship, sobriety, or self-love… it makes no difference. Anything that you want is fair game. So how the heck do you make this possible?

1. Define (very specifically) what you want. This is the hardest part of the entire process. We often aren’t sure what we truly want, and figuring it out is half the battle. Even once you think you’ve figured it out, it’s important to be able to specify your goal concretely.

Here is an example:

Let’s say you decide you want to be more happy. GREAT! That’s a nice goal to have. However, what does that mean exactly? What does that look like? What is making you unhappy right now? What would make you feel happier? If you could rate on a scale of 1-10 your happiness level, what would you rate it? Let’s say you answer with a “6”.

Okay, so you’re at a “6”. What would it take for you to be at a “7” in another 2 weeks? What would differentiate a “6” from a “7” on your scale. How would a “7” look different?

Let’s say you answer: Well, I think I would be happier if I made more time to go to the gym. I would jump to a “7” if I were able to commit to a 2-3 day work out regime per week.

Awesome! Now we’re getting somewhere. This is a great start to defining exactly what you feel is missing in your life and how you think you can begin to move higher up your happiness scale.

2. Prepare for Action. It’s not enough to just hope for something to occur. You can’t just say you wish you would go to the gym more often and then head back to the couch for a Netflix binge, hoping to feel accomplished and fit later on. If you really want something in life, you have to begin taking active steps toward achieving it. But this often brings us back to STEP 1. You might say you want to work out more, but not be willing or ready to give up your Netflix binges in your spare time. That’s fine then, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you truly want to move up a notch on your happiness scale, and you know what it will take to do so, then you need to ditch the couch and head for the weights. This is why defining what you want is the hardest part. If there’s a tangible way to get what you want, but you refuse to take the appropriate steps necessary to getting there, then are you sure you really want it at all? The most important thing you can do at this point is BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. It’s okay to admit that you’re not ready, if you aren’t. Let’s explore that part then. Why aren’t you ready? What is stopping you? Are you fearful? What would make you feel ready? Are you waiting for something to feel differently? Are you waiting to feel desperate before putting in effort to change?

Work to understand your intentions. Work to understand your hesitations. Work to understand your fears. Once you’ve worked through all of this, you’re truly ready to prepare for action.

So you want to go to the gym more often, which you’ve concluded is a big factor to making you feel happier. Let’s do it then. Perhaps you’ll need to wake up an extra hour earlier on days you want to work out, so that you can fit your gym time in AND get your Netflix fix later. Set your alarm! Understandably, this might also mean that you should get to bed earlier the night before. If you’re drowsy all day from getting up early, you probably won’t feel motivated to work out or even continue with this new routine. FORESEE COMPLICATIONS, and PLAN AHEAD. Have the proper workout attire, eat the proper forms of energy before and after your exercise, etc. Try to make this new experience as pleasurable as possible for yourself, so that you’ll want to continue with it.

You’ll soon realize that it doesn’t take much to move up from a “6” to a “7”. All you had to do was define and conquer.

3. Remove Obstacles. If you are aware of your potential setbacks, do everything in your power to remove them from the equation. To allow the obstacles to get in the way of your goal (when you in fact have the ability to remove them) is a deliberate attempt at sabotaging any progress you’ve made. You need to realize the power that you, yourself have in making your goals a reality. It’s up to you whether you will make choices that will propel you in the direction of your goal. Reaching a goal is hard work, and honestly takes a lot of mindfulness. Unless you are ready to be mindful and dedicated, you will likely not succeed in getting what you say you want.

For example, if you know that a cold house will be an obstacle to you getting out of your warm bed earlier in the morning, then set your heater for a few minutes before you wake up. Remove that obstacle. If you know that you’ll be scrambling to make it to the gym in time once you wake up, set your clothes out the night before. Plan on eating a quick breakfast, and have a quick breakfast at-the-ready. Give yourself no excuse for failing.

4. Follow Through. The last phase to most great things, is always a “follow through”. By this we mean, keep on keeping on. You made the first 3 steps, and you’re killing it so far. DON’T STOP! Do not try to rationalize why slacking off is now acceptable. Unless you are ready to move from a “7” back down to a “6” on your happiness scale, then “slacking off” should not be in your vocabulary what.so.ever. Does this mean that you’ll never have a week where you don’t make it into the gym? NO. Of course you will falter from time to time (since you’re human)…but at the end of the day, the objective is still the same. Don’t lose sight of your direction. As they say, ‘relapse’ is a necessary step to ‘recovery’. It’s okay to falter. Don’t be too hard on yourself. But get back on track as soon as you can, and remember why you began this change in the first place. It’s what you wanted. It’s what you chose.

The only thing in the way of getting what you want in life is you. If it’s possible, then make it a reality. Your decisions and behaviors can catapult you there, if that is what you choose.

 xx allie

The AA Movement

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As most of you might already know, I am in graduate school studying to earn my MS in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy. As part of my program, I am enrolled in a Substance Abuse and Dependency course that requires me to attend at least one Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting and one Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting.

In the past week, I have attended two AA meetings and one NA meeting.

While I walked away from each meeting feeling like a better person than I did when I entered, the Friday night meeting felt the most impactful to me. This meeting was an AA open speaker meeting, scheduled for 8pm this past Friday. Coincidentally, 8pm on a Friday night is a typical hour for people to begin to ‘turn up’ and pre-game before hitting the bars and clubs. But not here. Not at this church. A community of over 200 people joined on this night to celebrate the ‘birthdays’ of alcoholics.

What is a birthday of an alcoholic? It is another year of sobriety. It is another year of willpower, temptation, good days, bad days, cravings, and mastery. Mastery of another year without a sip of alcohol. Mastery of sobriety.

At the beginning of the meeting, the speaker asked all alcoholics to raise their hands. Every person in every pew raised their hand. You wonder, how do all of these beautiful humans walk among us and work beside us, without us having any knowledge of their membership to the AA program and the insane struggles that they have faced? There is an entire community of alcoholics that are a large part of every city, and the average person exists entirely devoid of this knowledge. We are naive to it. We are ignorant.

I was moved as I watched individuals of all ages, ethnicities, and professions blow out the candles on their cakes and proceed to tell their stories. These people were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc. Drug dependency is no respecter of peoples. It can affect anyone, at any time.

But what was amazing to me was the camaraderie that had been formed amongst all of these people with a common desire: the desire to live. The desire to gain their lives back. Here they had come to make, quite possibly, the toughest decision of their lives. The decision to abstain from a substance that had succeeded at running (and ruining) their lives. Here they had come to gain control back. To take the control away from the substance and to work hard every.damn.day. to live a clean and sober life that at first felt unfamiliar, vulnerable, and scary. Here they had gained the support that they lacked, when they lost all of their family and friends from their addictions.

One of the hardest things that all AA members must come to accept is the notion that “once an addict, always an addict”. An older gentleman was 33 years sober, and yet still an addict. One lady said in her speech–“I will be an addict until the day they lower me into my grave…but the one thing I will not be, is a drunk”.

One addict explained how, even after 9 years of sobriety, every time he walks through the liquor aisle in a grocery store it feels like he is walking through an aisle of explosives. He then went on to say that he fears the day it ceases to feel that way, as he knows it will be a very bad sign for him.

He mentioned that alcohol continues to come up in a number of life scenarios. People cook with alcohol. There is alcohol in medicines. Do these things count for the alcoholic? It’s a fine line, but it’s questionable. Addicts must be mindful and wise in their decision-making if they do not want to relapse.

It felt ironic that alcohol could be the absolute enemy for all of these people in the church that night, while at the exact same time, hundreds of other people would turn to it as a way to unwind from the week and let loose. Alcohol is powerful. As one alcoholic put it, “choosing to drink is like playing with fire”. It’s never a problem at first, but eventually things can get out of hand. Before you know it, you hit bottom and lose everything that matters.

It is because of programs like AA and NA that people get their lives back. Alcoholics Anonymous instills hope. It brings about change, and positivity. It is a catalyst for miracles to occur. AA is a community of love, faith, non-judgment, and friendship. AA meetings can be found in every 5 mile radius, nearly every hour of the day. It is ALL OVER, and widely available. These meetings will gladly welcome anyone, and everyone. It is a movement…and an absolute beautiful one at that.

Although I am not an alcoholic myself, I have been able to gain a great deal of insight and perspective from the meetings that I have attended. And even though I have fulfilled my requirement for my course, I intend to continue attending meetings. They make me want to strive to be a better person. They put life into perspective, and remind you just how fragile it can be. These meetings give us reasons to be thankful for wherever we are at in our lives. I think that if more people (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike) were to attend these meetings, the world would undoubtedly be a better place.

I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, and attend one. You will be surprised what you can learn from others.

xx allie

Temptations, Declined

Addiction Journal Entry #2

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What’s up guys?! Here’s a little update on how my abstinence from chocolate is going thus far:

It’s been since January 1st (with one slip on my 25th birthday party) that I’ve abstained from eating all forms and amounts of chocolate. And although I slipped on one day, I feel rather proud of myself so far. The day that I slipped, I indulged in a small portion of chocolate (a small M&M/Oreo McFlurry from McDonalds, a literal sip of hot chocolate, and about half of a small slice of marble cake). I wouldn’t even consider it a “relapse”. Since then (which was January 6th), I’ve been exceptional about refraining from chocolate [if I do say so myself].

Since I am so in love with chocolate, a sugary sweet that does not include any chocolate is barely worth my time; I hardly have any trouble rejecting offers of other types of sweets. Because of this, there are many things that I’ve been able to reject effortlessly, including but not limited to ice cream, pastries at the office, rich Jamba Juice shake flavors, and carrot cake cookies brought into my Diagnostic & Therapeutic Interviewing class. Overall, my diet has improved substantially since I’ve begun to restrict chocolate, and (surprisingly) most other sweets as a result.

I have, however, been satisfying my sweet tooth in SOME ways. Let us count them:

Jamoca flavored ice cream from Baskin Robbins–Noteworthy is the fact that I visit Baskin Robbins now WAY less often than I used to. Before committing to this assignment, I would generally visit the ice cream store 2-3 times per week. Now I go about once every 2-3 weeks. I also used to order at least a single scoop (sometimes a double), but now I only go for the kids scoop, since Jamoca isn’t tantalizingly good enough to eat more than that.

Baklava—Random, I know. Guess I’ve tapped into my middle eastern roots a bit with this one. I really love the spices and flavors of baklava, and I’m able to buy it fresh from our local Persian market. I only have a bite in order to satisfy my sweet tooth, and it works every time.

Iced dirty chai from Starbucks, only half the normal pumps of chai, nonfat milk, and EZ ice—To be honest, I don’t feel too guilty ordering this drink. I used to indulge in salted caramel mochas…so this is a much better option.

Medjool Dates—I consider these God’s candy. They are the sweetest, most naturally sweet and organic thing I’ve eaten. One date gives me all of the satisfaction that I need.

Blueberry Muffins—I hardly count this, as I’ve only eaten a total of 2 in this time-frame. But since I had never chosen blueberry muffins prior to this assignment, I figured it was worth mentioning. The blueberry muffin option is a fast way for me to grab breakfast from Starbucks in the morning, while satisfying my early craving for sugar and adhering to my disciplined chocolate detox.

Overall, chocolate has been less pervasive on my thoughts, and the cravings for it have begun to diminish (except, of course, during my time of the month) —-the struggle was real, as I’m sure you could imagine.

Well, that’s all I have for today! Hope you enjoyed this follow-up.

xx allie

Mind the Grey

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We broke new ground in my therapy session yesterday. For the first time ever, I was given a homework assignment at the conclusion of my hour: write a blog post on “the grey area of life”. Upon receiving this instruction, I beamed with excitement. Finally, the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what I’ve learned from the session and how I can apply it to my life. Any homework assignment that involves personal reflection and self-expression is one that I will readily take on with open arms. I have always loved to write, as I find it therapeutic and insightful. This assignment proved to be no exception.

If you’ve ever known a perfectionist, or if you consider yourself to be one, then you are probably aware of how invasive the desire for ‘perfection’ can be.  It has the potential to penetrate any number of areas of your life, whether it be your career, your education, your family life, or your romantic relationships. You start to notice distinct black & white thinking. If something isn’t perfect, then it’s no good at all. You choose to remove it from your life as best you can. But herein lies the problem. Nothing in life is perfect. Life is messy and unpredictable. Expectations are not always met, and disappointment is inevitable. When you limit yourself to accepting nothing but perfection, you limit your life to few possibilities. And of those possibilities, the options become even more obscure as life continues to muddy the waters further. Even if something appears to be ‘perfect’, it may not always exist in a perfect state. The perfect person makes mistakes. The perfect flower ultimately shrivels and dies. The perfect day turns into night and then vanishes forever. Perfect is not a reasonable standard. There is room for imperfection. There is room for the grey.

If you begin to compartmentalize the world according to black & white, you’ll soon find that many things do not fit well into either category. A third category begins to outweigh the other two: the grey category. Life isn’t as concrete as we hope it to be, and sometimes all we can do is accept it. I don’t believe in standards being too high, but I do believe that standards can be too extreme. And unfortunately, I’m beginning to think that I’ve set too extreme of standards with little room for imperfection. Maybe it’s in my nature…or maybe it’s from my upbringing.

I remember when I was little (and even to this day), being limited to the types of trash that I could throw in my father’s waste basket in his room. No food, no crumbs, no dirty tissues, and no crumbled up papers. All disposables for that trash had to be neatly folded papers. He was anal, and had extreme expectations for perfection. I remember being warned not to eat a tic tac even 2 hours before dinner since it would “ruin my appetite”. I remember being scolded for trying to draw lines free-handedly on my projects. “Don’t you want it to look nice and neat? Don’t you want it to look like you spent time on it? You need to use a ruler”. I remember being forbidden to ride on a school bus in the rain (on account of the danger), causing me to miss out on class field trips with my friends. I remember coming home from school, excited to share a “B+” grade, only to be asked why it wasn’t an “A”. So maybe it is a bit of nature…but my suspicions tell me it’s nurture.

I have been programmed to strive for perfection, and to look for perfection in everything I do and in everyone I know. And while in many ways this is a blessing, it has also doubled as a curse. I have scared away many good people from my rigid judgements and extreme expectations. I have discounted the good because it wasn’t good enough. I have allowed myself to feel disappointed from people and things that have not even truly been disappointing. I have allowed myself to dwell on the future and fear imperfection, rather than revel in the present and appreciate the now.

So I challenge myself to mind the grey; to accept the fact that the world is imperfect, and that many things in life will not be black or white. I challenge myself to get comfortable with grey areas in my life, and to find the good in even the things that aren’t the exact way I wish them to be. I challenge myself to be mindful, and to seize the moment without the mistake of tainting it with flawed and senseless suppositions of the future. A friend at work once told me of her favorite quote, which resonates nicely with the theme of this post: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. I challenge myself not to.

xx allie