Healthy Eating, Veganism, & Eating Disorders

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A typical healthy meal prep spread that I’ve shared on social media

I recently read an article claiming that meal prep, veganism, and healthy eating on Instagram can trigger eating disorders. At first when I read the article, I felt a little conflicted because I post photos of vegan food, I love to meal prep, I’ve recovered from disordered eating, and I also happen to be a Registered Dietitian who understands the multiple causes and treatments of eating disorders.

What this article failed to mention is that eating disorders are not about food (seems counterintuitive, right?). Many people develop eating disorders as a result of trauma and/or underlying depression and anxiety. To blame social media or pretty pictures of salad in mason jars takes the focus away from the complex causes and treatment of addictive behavior and maladaptive coping mechanisms.

That being said, some of my meal prep photos do feature recipes low in calories, protein, and fat, so the article made me think “do I really want to present plant-based eating/vegansim in a restrictive way”? (the answer is NO because that’s not what veganism is about).

A huge part of my own recovery from disordered eating was intense therapy. Another aspect of my recovery was learning about nutrition and how to adequately fuel my body (from an RD). I learned how to prepare food and enjoy it without anxiety, which led to my love of cooking and meal prep. I learned that a balanced diet includes all types of food- including veggies AND ice cream. I learned that messages about dieting, weight control, and health will always be there and that’s ok because through therapy I gained the skills to acknowledge what does and doesn’t serve me, without placing blame on things that could possibly be triggering.

In treatment, I also reflected on my reasons for being vegan. I became a vegan when I was 15 due to many reasons, some of them more selfish (like wanting to lose weight). I then learned about the impact of factory farming on our environment. But because of the association between veganism, weight, and food restriction, letting go of labels during recovery was important. I was able to return to return to eating a vegan diet when I was stable in mind and body. I’ve also admittedly had some bumps in the road where I haven’t been a strict vegan (alert the vegan police!), but ultimately, I believe that if you feel a certain way, you’ll always go back to what is important to you.

I try to use my nutrition knowledge (as a dietitian) and my passion for plant-based eating to share how easy, nourishing, healthy, and satisfying it can be, with the right intentions. Being aware of my own history, I would never want to promote veganism strictly for weight loss. I think adopting a more plant-based diet can be a useful tool for overall health–but diet is completely individual.

If you feel like you might be using veganism/vegetarianism to mask an eating disorder, I encourage you to please let go of labels. If something is causing you to feel anxious around food and/or engage in disordered eating, it’s ok to to re-assess your intentions & figure out what works for you.

I have a lot more to say on this topic and I’ll probably share those thoughts in a separate post. But for now, I hope you take time for yourself and do things that bring you health and healing in mind, body, and soul.

-Jess

Chocolate Chip Protein Banana Bread

It’s been a little while since I wrote a blog post and I’m excited to share why. I’m currently employed full-time during the week as a dietitian at a rehab center, working weekends as a dietitian at a hospital, AND managing to provide nutrition counseling to private clients through Vitamin Valentine Wellness–so I haven’t been updating this blog as often as I used to. Although I’m super busy, I’m also happy to be getting so much experience as a new dietitian.

Having limited free time made me realize that I really need to prioritize self-care and focus on activities that help me unwind. One thing that’s always helped me relax is baking. I love creating healthy baked goods that I can indulge in (healthily) after a busy day. The following recipe not only satisfies my craving for chocolate, but also packs a punch of protein, potassium, and fiber. Let me know how you like this recipe if you try it and feel free to leave a comment here or on my Instagram page @vitaminvalentine.

Chocolate Chip Protein Banana Bread

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Ingredients:

  • 3 cups garbanzo bean flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand)- if you don’t have this flour or can’t find it, feel free to swap it out for whole wheat flour, spelt flour, or your favorite gluten free baking mix
  • 3 scoops Vega Vanilla Protein Powder (or your favorite plant-based protein powder)
  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 6 oz. Kite Hill unsweetened greek-style almond yogurt (or use your favorite plant-based, dairy-free yogurt)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s brand)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 370°F. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, protein powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another mixing bowl, combine mashed bananas, almond milk, almond yogurt, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, then add chocolate chips. Mix well until contents are uniform. Using non-stick spray, spray a 9×11 brownie tin or baking pan of your choice. Scoop out batter into the pan. Bake at 370°F for 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool. Cut into squares (this recipe made 20 squares me for). Enjoy!

Planning Delicious Vegan Meals (that you’ll actually want to eat)

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3 days of plant-based goodness: overnight oats + fruit for breakfast, cauliflower “fried” rice with tofu for lunch,  homemade protein bars (I’ll be sharing the recipe for this on Instagram in a future post), and Banza pasta salad for dinner.

In my previous post, I shared some helpful tips to get you started with food budgeting. Having a plan of what you want to cook (and buy for the week) can be helpful, because no one wants their hard-earned money to go to waste. It also doesn’t feel great when you buy a bunch of produce only to let it go bad in the fridge because you didn’t know what to do with it (I’ve been there!).

Luckily, I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m sharing some additional tips that have helped me feel inspired and motivated to create delicious, healthy vegan dishes that are easy to prepare and affordable.

  1. I meant to share this in my last post, but before you go food shopping, check what you already have in your pantry and freezer. A lot of times I THINK I’m out of food because my fridge is empty, but I still have stuff to work with using canned foods, grains, and frozen veggies. For example, if you have rice and canned beans in your pantry, and some frozen veggies, you can create chipotle-inspired burrito bowls. You might just have to pick up additional spices and toppings which shouldn’t cost too much (aim for fresh, local tomatoes, or canned tomatoes to save on cost).
  2. Get inspired by your takeout choices. If you love getting Chinese food for lunch and always crave a slice of pizza for dinner– you can totally use this as inspiration for your vegan meal prep. For lunch, try recreating your favorite Chinese food at home. It’s easier than it sounds, and if you’re looking for inspiration, use Instagram or Pinterest. I love searching “healthy asian vegan recipes” on Pinterest. A lot of asian-inspired food tends to keep well so that’s another bonus when it comes to meal prep. Lately I’ve been making cauliflower “fried” rice using 1/2 cauliflower rice and 1/2 brown rice. I add a some colorful frozen veggies, tofu, and soy sauce and I feel so much better fueling my body with this food than any kind of takeout. For dinner, I often crave something carb-heavy and delicious like pasta or pizza, but I don’t want to feel like I’m in a food-hangover the next day. Instead of making regular pizza or a heavy pasta dish, I use cauliflower crust (found at Trader Joe’s) to make my own pizza and save the leftovers for the rest of the week. For pasta, I really like using chickpea pasta (like Banza) or other bean-pastas because they’re higher in protein and fiber.
  3. Don’t forget about sandwiches. Call me traditional, but I love a good sandwich for lunch. But, actually, don’t call me traditional, because my sandwiches are anything but boring! I love getting creative when it comes to sandwiches. Some of my favorite flavorful sandwich combos are:
    • almond butter, banana, and a few chocolate chips on sprouted grain bread or in a tortilla
    • hummus, avocado, tomato, sprouts and shredded carrot on sprouted grain bread
    • a veggie burger with hummus (tastes just as good when it’t not hot)
    • chickpea salad (kind of tastes like tuna)- mash chickpeas, add onion, celery, chives, and vegan mayo, and place between two slices of your favorite bread
    • avocado chickpea salad- do the same as above, but replace vegan mayo with mashed avo (SO GOOD!)
    • upgraded PB & J: natural peanut butter with fresh berries on sprouted grain bread

Do you have any helpful tips when it comes to getting inspired to create delicious meals? Feel free to share them in the comments or let me know on Instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Planning, Creating, and Saving, Part I

Several years ago, I posted how much I LOVE Whole Foods Market Salad Bar (that blog post can be found here). I find Whole Foods Salad bar so appealing because of the vast array of vegan options and fresh ingredients, but this is not the case for all salad bars. I’ve been to some sad salad bars where the only vegan options are wilted lettuce and stale carrots. I still love going to Whole Foods salad/hot food bar over any other salad bar, but I also really love saving money (who doesn’t)? Thus, my twice daily Whole Foods habit became more of a bi-weekly treat.

When I decided that I needed to start a food budget, I had to figure out which foods I really enjoy eating and which foods often go to waste in my fridge. As a dietitian, I also knew which foods were the most nutrient-dense. Today I’m sharing a few tips to help you get started with planning, preparing, and creating delicious, affordable meals that will give you energy, and save you money. I’ve decided to make this a series because I have SO many tips to share.

Today’s tips:

1.  Have a budget

Before you go food shopping, have a budget so that you can plan what you’ll be making and how much to spend. It can be a flexible budget (by $5-10) or you can keep it strict–but remember, the stricter your budget, the more planning you’ll have to do. Once you figure out how much you want to spend, think about where you want to go shopping. I’ve found that Trader Joe’s has the best prices for frozen food and some packaged vegetables. Other times, I’ve lucked out at Whole Foods Market (especially the 365 Brand products). Sometimes your best bet is to stick with independently-owned grocery stores or conventional stores that offer cheaper produce. If it’s spring/summer/fall and there are farmers markets near you, definitely check them out because local produce is usually much cheaper than produce that’s been packaged and shipped. Remember, do what is easiest and most cost-effective for you.

2.  Plan on including colorful fruits and veggies

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Eat the rainbow!

The focus of your grocery shopping list (and meal prep/plan) should be fruits and veggies. The more deeply-colored a vegetable (or fruit) is, the more nutrients it packs. Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, dark leafy greens (like kale, swiss chard, arugula), purple cabbage, berries, tomatoes, and squash are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and they’re so tasty! But, you’ll definitely need to do some planning before you make your shopping cart look like a rainbow, which leads me to tip #2.

3.  Find some inspiration

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Getting all the colors for breakfast + some snacks

Instead of packing your shopping cart with a bunch of colorful produce that you don’t know what to do with, have a plan. Before I go food shopping I pick 2 different colorful veggies that I haven’t been eating and find recipes that are appealing to me using Pinterest or Instagram. For example, on Pinterest, I’ll search “vegan beet recipes”. You can also use blogs to find delicious recipes (I’ve posted a ton of recipes over the years so use the “search” button/tab on this blog). I also love using delicious meals that I’ve had at restaurants for inspiration. Some of my favorite meals to recreate at home are vegan pizza (using whole wheat dough, cauliflower crust, or tortillas as the base), vegan sushi, and any kind of mexican food (mmm just thinking about bean burritos).

4.  Keep it simple when it comes to protein

I like to create different flavors with my meal prep (for instance, italian seasoned tofu at one meal, mexican-flavored beans and rice for the next). I recommend using unflavored mock-meats and plant-based protein (like seitan, tofu, tempeh) and then adding your own seasonings, oils, and spices, unless you find a flavored variety that fits into a particular recipe. Buying unseasoned vegan protein makes it easier to use in a variety of meals.

5.  Pick 1-2 grains to work with for the week

If you’re doing a weekly food prep/plan, choose 1 or two whole grain products to include in you meal prep. What I love about grains is how diverse they are and how they can take the flavor of whatever you’re cooking. Typically, I’ll buy 1 or 2 breads a week (like sprouted grain bread or tortillas) and 1-2 pasta/rice/grains (lately my fave is Trader Joe’s brown-rice lentil spaghetti).

In my next post, I’ll share more tips about planning your meals and making them super flavorful and creative. Check back soon, and be sure to follow my instagram account (vitaminvalentine) for more tips on being the healthiest vegan you can be!

-Jess

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Taking a Coffee Break

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Today I’m sharing my on-and-off again relationship with my first love–a powerful elixir named coffee! Coffee and I go way back. I think my love of coffee began sometime in high school and ever since then, I’ve been hooked. In college, I craved the “peppy” feeling that coffee would give me as I studied throughout the night and I loved hanging out in coffee shops near my school (shoutout to The Witches Brew + The Cup on Long Island for fueling my first degree!). Any time I started the day without my daily fix, I would be plagued with debilitating headaches. I realized sometime in my twenties that I was completely dependent on caffeine to get through the day so one summer I attempted to quit coffee cold turkey, and I was actually successful for 45 days! Then I decided to indulge in an iced coffee and it was all downhill from there. I’m exaggerating, but my coffee habit picked up right where it left off.

Coffee is known to be addictive. It’s the most widely available and used stimulant out there, but just because many people are dependent on coffee doesn’t mean it’s bad. Coffee has many benefits and it happens to be a powerful antioxidant that may be useful in preventing some forms of diseases and cancer. Regular coffee drinkers may have a decreased risk of diabetes (just hold the cream & sugar), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cancers of the liver and colon.

I’m definitely not anti-coffee, but this summer while I was studying for the RD exam I realized I don’t LOVE coffee like I used to. Ever since I started drinking coffee (over 10 years now), my sleep has been affected. I know coffee can make me anxious at times, but in the past, the energetic coffee buzz was worth it. What changed for me recently was realizing that I actually don’t like that jittery, peppy feeling anymore. As I was driving to take the test, I stopped at Starbucks for my daily ritual, but I was so nervous that I took one sip of coffee and decided that would be my last sip for a while. I couldn’t bare to be any more anxious than I already was.

It’s now been over a week since I had regular coffee (I did drink decaf for the first 3 days) and I feel surprisingly…normal. I didn’t experience any caffeine-withdrawal headaches but I was nauseas for the first few days, which I wasn’t expecting. I think I avoided having headaches by drinking a ton of water and taking naps when needed. I’m not sure how long I’ll be coffee-free. Unlike previous attempts at ditching the bean, I don’t feel like I need to eliminate coffee due to an actual addiction, I’m just kind of over it.

Are you a regular coffee drinker or do you prefer something else? Let me know! I love hearing about other peoples’ views on my (former favorite) caffeine-bean 🙂

-Jess

Jessie, the RDN!

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Greetings! It’s been a little while since I last posted, and for good reason–I’ve spent the past two months studying for the RD exam and now I can happily say I’M OFFICIALLY A REGISTERED DIETITIAN NUTRITIONIST! When I saw the words “Congratulations! You’ve passed the credentialing exam” I was in disbelief. Despite feeling prepared prior to the test, I just couldn’t believe that all my hard work over the past several years had finally paid off. It was such an amazing feeling and I don’t even think it’s fully hit me yet that I’m actually an RDN!

Studying for these past few months was probably one of the most stressful times of my life, because the exam covers EVERYTHING in dietetics that a DPD program and internship encompass but the exam itself is only 125-145 questions. So, there’s a whole bunch of material that candidates need to review, conceptualize, and memorize, but you never know which topic(s) will actually show up on your exam.

Studying was also stressful for me because I have a tendency to overdo things and I studied anywhere from 5-10 hours/day, 6 days a week, for 2 months. My actual studying strategy was first attending the Jean Inman review seminar (a 2-day review course) and then studying the Inman guide like it was the bible (I’m pretty sure I have the entire guide memorized at this point). In order to retain things, I need to write them down (more than once), so I would copy down any important points from the guide and write them in a notebook, and then make flashcards. When I was finished studying a topic/domain, I would complete 10-25 questions, and then focus on the things I got wrong. I tried to understand the WHY behind each topic and really focused on learning the concepts of the material in the study guide. One thing that I noticed while studying is that some of the questions are purely common sense, and others want you to really think and use critical thinking skills. Of course, there are those topics that you just have to memorize (like temperatures, drug-nutrient interactions, BMI categories, etc.). There were some topics that I felt I needed more background info on so I used several of my nutrition textbooks from over the years and also used an app called Pocketprep ($20–so worth it!) which really helped with providing additional practice questions and explanations. Three days before the test, I also found additional study materials online and focused on test-taking strategies because I could already feel my nerves taking over.

There’s no definitive “right” way to study for the RD exam, but I don’t think one needs to study as much as I did–especially because most of the material I studied wasn’t on the test, and stressing myself out by spending all of my free time studying made me anxious. I didn’t realize this fully until the night before the exam when I decided to take a relaxing bath set to spa music and thought to myself ‘hmm I should have really been doing this all along’.  My advice to anyone who has yet to take their RD exam or is making another attempt is to RELAX, especially by making the time to put your books away and do something that feels good to you.

Now that I’m officially an RD (RDN, the two terms are interchangeable), I’m so excited for the future! I’ll be posting more updates later in the week, so check back soon and if you have questions about how to study for the RD exam, or want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below 🙂

-Jessie Valentine, M.S., RDN!!!!

Oh, mega delicious chai spice walnut butter

Lately I’ve been noticing persistent, intense cravings for food that I don’t normally eat (salmon, greek yogurt, eggs, chicken).  Whenever I’ve had these cravings in the past, I would feel really conflicted because I have deep compassion for animals and all beings, and yet I’m a firm believer that cravings for groups of food (in my case, animal-based proteins) may be a sign of deficiency in one’s diet.  My most recent craving for salmon has been going on for a few months.  In the past, there were a  few times where my non-vegan cravings were so intense that I *may* have indulged in some non-vegan food, which led to confusion about my own veganism and a lot of self-judgment.  Recently, I’ve been feeling confused because I take a vitamin with algal-based omega 3’s so I feel like I take in enough of this essential fatty acid to keep fish cravings away.

I value authenticity and this includes my blog and my social media.  I sometimes really struggle with honoring my body’s non-junk food cravings and being true to my personal ethics of not harming others (animals included).  For the past few years (typically in the winter months), I find my body (or mind?) particularly craves heavier protein (from animal sources) and I proceed to spend months vacillating between staying true to my values and rationalizing why I should indulge in my persistent cravings.  I also spend time and effort doing research on the best sources of plant-based protein and amino acids, and make an effort to include at least 50-60 grams of protein each day (which based on my weight and activity level meets the recommended requirements–but may not be enough based on lab work and other symptoms).

There are so many reasons why veganism is important to me, to name a few:  I don’t want to participate in the mistreatment/abuse/slaughter of innocent animals, concerns about the environment and the sustainability of our current factory-farming system, my religious/spiritual beliefs of ahimsa (sanskrit for “do no harm to others”), health reasons, and the fact that I was never much of a meat-eater as a child, I became a vegan at 15, and it just kind of became my natural way of eating.

As a nutrition professional, someone with a master’s degree in nutrition, and a soon to be registered dietitian, if someone came to me stating that they had persistent cravings for certain foods (not junk foods, but foods with actual nutrients), I would examine their diet, and then make recommendations.  I would also check their blood work (if available), and ask them if they had any symptoms of a nutrient deficiency (fatigue, slow healing, light-headedness, hair loss, brittle nails, etc.).  I would never force my own personal beliefs on someone, as most people aren’t vegan, and a sure-fire way to make people defensive is to press your beliefs on someone.  I would probably recommend that this hypothetical client/patient include more protein in their diet (I would first recommend plant-based protein but if they wanted an animal-based protein, I can’t pressure them to be vegan/vegetarian).

I’m not one of my clients/patients, but I have been taking my own advice and eating more protein; however, the idea to just eat what I crave (animal based protein) is met with feelings of guilt and confusion.  It seems like this conundrum might just be a part of my life that I’ll have to deal with as both an empathetic person,  as someone who is well-versed in nutrition, and as someone who believes in honoring body, mind, and soul.

Because the craving for salmon is so specific, and because I know so much about nutrition, I’m thinking that maybe my vitamin with omega 3’s isn’t enough.  I’ve started including more whole food-based sources of omega 3’s that aren’t from a supplement.  One delicious source of omega 3 fatty acids are walnuts.  I was never a huge fan of walnuts, but I do love nut-butters, so I decided to see if I could make a walnut butter, and I was impressed about how it came out.  Below is the recipe for my walnut butter creation.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw walnuts (I used 365 Whole Foods Market brand)
  • 1 tbsp. organic virgin coconut oil (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 2-4 tbsp. chai tea (I used pre-made tea from Oregon Spice brand)
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. Vermont maple syrup

Directions:

Measure ingredients and mix until blended smooth in a food processor.  Enjoy, or store in the fridge.  To soften, microwave for 45 seconds.

This nut butter makes a delicious addition to oatmeal and tastes amazing on toast.  I had it mixed with dairy free cashew yogurt + jam and topped it on my favorite sprouted grain toast.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Have you ever experienced persistent cravings for a particular food/group of food?  How did you deal with it? Are you a vegan/vegetarian who struggles with a similar issue?  Feel free to share or comment on this post or through my instagram account @vitaminvalentine

-Jess