November 29, 2011

The Voice Didn't Stand A Chance

My observational research tells me that either my no-shampoo routine is not nearly as interesting to people as my no-soap routine, or that Thanksgiving is a terrible day to publish a new blog post. Pride kind of demands I assume it is the latter. Whatever the case, I'm happy to be able to talk about these new ways of doing things in my life, whereas before I wasn't mentioning them because I wanted to get people's unbiased opinions and reactions.

This next one is a little different, though. This is something I haven't told a soul I was doing, for two very specific reasons: 1. I hate (HATE) talking about weight loss and "dieting" and I feel like that is what most people will take away from it, and 2. I don't like having anyone "monitor" what or when I eat unless I ask them to. And I'm not asking. :-) This is all on me.

So, for me, this really falls into the Operation Eleanor model of doing something that scares me because I know I'm opening myself up to comment on something for which I don't particularly seek comments. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that, right?

Potentially Surprising Personal Revelation #3: I don't eat after 9pm.

Nothing, unless it's simply impossible to finish eating before that time, but absolutely nothing after 9:30pm. All I'll have is water, preferably as cold as I can make it, or sometimes hot tea. I've been doing this for six months and although it wasn't easy at the start, I can count on one hand the number of times I've breached the rule and only one of those times was a moment of complete forgetfulness. The results have been really positive, so I have no plans to change what I'm doing.

Why am I doing this? This will require a little personal back story. In case you don't know me in "real life," I'm overweight and have been since I was child. I've never been a big one for diets because I'm convinced they don't work plus I just get bored. I'm not a real fan of exercise, though I do enjoy walking and hiking; I just don't do them enough. I have something called Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which makes it easy to gain weight, and a sluggish thyroid, which makes it difficult to lose weight. Diabetes has been a health threat that looms over me, given my weight and family history, but I've never had that come to pass. What I do have, however, are high triglycerides. They have been a little high when tested in the past, but nothing serious. By May, however, they had shot up to over 400 mg/dL, more than double what's considered the normal range.

I felt like I was on a fast track to a heart attack, so I decided to act but, being me, I wanted to do it my way and on my terms. I took a good hard look at what I was eating, what exercise I was (or wasn't) getting, what I was willing to do and what, realistically, I felt I could do. I love food and I don't think life is worth living if I have to deprive myself of things I really want to enjoy, so I needed to figure something out that would let me eat what I want, but help lower my triglycerides. I decided that it was pretty much the late-night snacking out of boredom that was hurting me the most. I live alone and that's the time of day when I feel the lack of someone special in my life most keenly, and I used to let myself "eat my feelings," as they say.

I actually have a lot of willpower (when I choose to exercise it!), but it's a lot harder to stop once I've started snacking than it is to simply not start snacking. It's too easy to say, "Just one more..." and let that turn into a dozen "one mores." So I had to pick a reasonable time and make it an iron-clad rule not to eat anything after that time had passed. I found that the more I exercised the willpower needed to make this work, the easier it was to exercise it at other times during the day. I snack, in general, very little during the day now.

I've pretty much managed to change my relationship with food and, while I haven't quite mastered the art of conscious eating, I'm a lot closer to it than I used to be. This is different than dieting, because I'm making the rules and they are ones I can live with, long-term. I eat when I'm hungry, not just because the clock says it's time to eat, and I don't let myself eat out of boredom; I don't deprive myself of the treats I really want, I just limit them a lot more; I try not to eat full portions at dinner when eating at a restaurant, because usually half a meal is more than enough and I get a second meal out of the leftovers; and I have tried to slow down when I eat, in order to really enjoy what I'm eating -- this has proved to be the hardest for me because I don't like eating hot food when it gets cold, I don't get up early enough to have a real breakfast every day and, because I'm eating less, I'm really hungry at mealtimes!

There's more, but I think you get the idea. So, what has the result been? In the first three months, I slashed my triglycerides almost in half. They were still above the normal range when tested, but a hell of a lot closer to normal than they have been in years. I've lost 25 pounds, though I have also tried to increase my exercise by walking more, I just don't do it consistently. I've learned that I can survive the feeling of hunger and I don't need to feed The Voice every time it pipes up. (Remember this post? That was the day I started this.) I've re-learned something important I found out a decade ago but managed to forget: Just because something is delicious doesn't mean you have to eat it until it's gone; the last cookie isn't any more delicious than the first one, so enjoy the first one to the fullest (or, okay, the second one, too) and you don't need to finish the pack.

Have questions? Fire away. But first, it's time for lunch. I'm hungry!

November 24, 2011

(Not) In A Lather

I'm running out of days in November, so if I'm going to get this done, I'd best get to it. And, really, what better day to post than Thanksgiving? Most of America has little better to do today than eat copious amounts of food, watch football on TV and surf the Internet!

In addition to being Thanksgiving in the US, today is also my 44th birthday. Yay me! Some days, I'm not entirely sure how I got to this point in my life and other times, it just seems so right. A dichotomy of life, I suppose.

On to the business at hand. I'd like to thank everyone who commented on my last post. It was gratifying to not only have people be interested in what I had to share, but offer to deal with anyone who gave me crap. No one did, so I think you scared them away. I expected some questions but got none, though I did get some other great ideas, including a bunch of natural beauty ideas from Mary; go check them out if you didn't see them! This time around it's a related item that was alluded to in the comments, so this one may not come as much of a surprise.

Potentially (Less-)Surprising Personal Revelation #2: I don't use shampoo on my hair.

This is a change I made almost three months ago. Once the no-soap thing worked so well, I started looking at the other products I used and that we're exhorted at every turn to spend money on. Shampoo quickly bubbled (ha) to the surface as something I needed to re-evaluate. Some bloggers refer to this as "No 'Poo" but, personally, I can't stand that particular phrase. I'm just shampoo-free.

The most common substitutes I found were apple cider vinegar and baking soda, as well as some herbal preparations. The more research I did, though, the clearer it became that baking soda was going to be the most effective for cleansing, which my generally oily hair would definitely need. At first, though, I went overboard and simply used too much, too often, and it dried the crap out of my hair. This was remedied by one deep-conditioning treatment and then I resumed with a more reasonable proportion of baking soda.

What works for me is one tablespoon of baking soda mixed into one cup of warm water. Before I get in the shower, I just put two tablespoons in a measuring cup (I have this great, flexible one-cup kind that I highly recommend for this, available at The Container Store) and place it somewhere that will stay dry. I use the first tablespoon for my face, as I mentioned last post, then I fill the cup up with the running water and mix it a little with my fingers. I pour it onto my hair in sections, letting it get down to my scalp and massaging it in. I don't do much with the length portion because my hair is still relatively short (above my shoulders) and it gets taken care of when I rinse out the baking soda. I fill the cup up again with water to get any residue, then pour it over my head and rinse it all out. That's it.

A few times last month, I tried castile soap on my hair and, when it's really in need of a little something more, I can use it. But the baking soda is my usual routine and it works for me. It takes almost no time and it's super cheap, as you can find a box of baking soda for under a dollar (though the price of it has gone up in recent years and I've seen the brand name stuff for up to three dollars!) and that lasts for a good while.

Why do this? If you are interested, there is a TON of information out there about why sulfates aren't good for our hair. Here is one article that I think captures it pretty well, but there's so much more. In short? It's kind of like fast food. It's inexpensive, it's convenient, it's marketed to us by brilliant minds and it tastes/smells delicious. But it's not good for us in the long run; it's too harsh and it's wasteful. We simply don't need cascades of bubbles for healthy hair, no matter what commercials have led us to believe.

Has it improved the health of my hair? I've always had pretty healthy hair and I'd say it's about the same. I didn't go through a period of feeling like my hair was dirty for the first week or so, like I've read some other people experienced when doing this. Apart from the short period where it felt really dry, it just feels normal and I feel better about saving money and not using so much detergent.

There are some other things related to this, like conditioning and coloring, but those will have to wait for another post. Let me know if you have any questions or advice about this part of my new regimen.

November 16, 2011

Well, Eleanor, I Hope To Make You Proud

We're now halfway through November and I've managed not to start my sharing of personal things in the pursuit of doing things that scare me, at least from a blog perspective. (If you don't know why I'm doing that, please take a moment to read a bit of last month's post for that info.) Clearly, I'm not afraid of procrastination.

I want to share with you some of the changes I've made in my life over the last year. Some of these things I've told to very, very few people, others I've been a little more open about and still others I've never mentioned to another soul. I wasn't sure where to start, but I've decided to go with the thing that I've been doing the longest. So, here goes.

Potentially Surprising Personal Revelation #1:  I don't use soap on my skin.

That's right, I don't use soap or shower gel or anything like that on my skin. Let me be clear: I DO WASH MY HANDS WITH SOAP. (A lot. I'm a real proponent of frequent hand washing because I believe it's imperative to help prevent the spread of disease. Seriously, if you are going to take issue with this revelation, don't be stupid and mistake my meaning, okay?) I'm talking about the skin on the rest of the body, my arms, legs and torso, the vast majority of the skin on my body.

Why do I not use soap? It started right after I read this article on BlogHer called "I Went Soap-free and I Liked It." That was nine months ago. So if you've seen me in person since February, you've been around me since I stopped using soap. And I'm going to bet that you never noticed.

I'm not sure I can explain why this article really resonated with me, except to say that I found myself nodding a lot and thinking, "Why do we need so much harsh cleanser on our skin on such a regular basis?" Especially for someone like me who doesn't have a terribly active lifestyle and doesn't work up that much of a sweat, but who appeared to have somewhat sensitive skin. Also, the amount of money we as a society spend on soap and cleansers, which contain all sorts of chemicals and ingredients that we really don't understand much about, is kind of alarming. Add to that the cycle of drying our skin out with soap then spending more money to try to put the moisture back in with expensive lotions and creams. The money-saving aspect and the potential environmentally positive aspect (though admittedly, the latter is going to be a small impact from just one person) both really appealed to me.

Before I stopped using soap, I had very itchy skin on some parts of my body, most noticeably my lower legs and my back. There was a point a year or so ago when I was scratching my legs so much at night (when it always seemed to start up) that I was drawing blood and the constant itching was making me a little nuts. Lotions only worked for a while and I grew weary of constantly having to put them on. I also used to get a lot of ingrown hairs on my upper legs, which, if you've ever had them, you know can be rather painful. Finally, I had these uncomfortable and rather unsightly little red bumps all over my upper arms.

So, on that day in February, I ditched the shower gel and just used my little nylon scrubby puff vigorously all over where I would normally have used it lathered up with soap. I've been doing that ever since. As the writer of the article I mention above did, I do "use...cleansers for my face, hands, and privates" however I have all but stopped using regular soap in those areas. I will elaborate.

I haven't used actual soap on my face in decades. It's too drying and I have problem skin. I've used cleansers that don't contain soap during that time, but I've gradually phased out the heavy-duty (and expensive) kinds of cleansers I had been using as an alternative. I use a pre-moistened towelette (Neutrogena, if you're wondering) to remove makeup each night. Yes, they do contain some chemicals, so it's not a perfect solution, but it completely removes my makeup, including mascara, without tugging at my skin or stinging my eyes, in one easy step. In the shower, I use baking soda to cleanse and exfoliate my face. I take about a tablespoon and, in two passes, I moisten it with water and gently scrub all over. It's surprisingly effective and it feels really nice. As a mask, now and again I take baking soda and mix it with whipped honey and lemon, put it on for 10 minutes and rinse it off. My skin feels incredibly soft afterwards. (Baking soda will make an appearance in a few of my other revelation posts, by the way.) I will use a bit of medicated, non-soap cleanser that comes from my aesthetician if I'm having breakouts, but I need very little and use it only on the affected areas, and sometimes a stronger exfoliation product if my face needs it.

On the other areas of my body where soap would be needed (a.k.a. one's private parts), I now use liquid castile soap. If you're not familiar with that, it's made from olive or vegetable oil and is very mild, and fairly inexpensive because it can be bought in bulk. It will lather up, but just a little because it doesn't contain sulfates; it doesn't have the mounds of bubbles we've been convinced we need to get clean. And I'm pleased to report that my privates have no complaint whatsoever about this change.

I want to mention that I have a separate scrubby just for my feet, in case anyone wonders. This is important in the summer when I wear sandals constantly. I scrub very thoroughly, no soap, then follow with a brisk toweling of each foot. There is much less dry skin sloughing off than there used to be, I have noticed.

Which leaves us with the hand soap. The hand soap that I do use. A lot. :-) Hand in hand with this no-soap commitment (pun intended), I made a commitment to using or recycling/repurposing the things I already have in the house as much as possible and not buying anything new if I have something else I can use. That means using up the regular hand soap that I have before switching over to all castile soap, which is my plan. That also means giving away any unopened soaps and cleansers to anyone else who uses them, such as the many products I received from the BlogHer conference in San Diego, some of which I got without being able to choose to avoid soap products. As I know I will continue to get free products that I won't use, I will continue to either give them to friends and family, or will donate them to shelters, where there's always a need.

So, that's it. My first big personal revelation. At least, it feels big, and a little scary, to expose this aspect of myself to the entire Internet. Have questions? Fire away. I will require that they be asked with respect or they will be either deleted or derided publicly. And I expect that at least a few people will delicately and inconspicuously try to sniff a bit when we next meet in person, just to see if they can notice any difference. It's OK, I understand...I'd probably do the same thing.