Over the last few posts, I've been focused on mental health, which has had a huge impact on my body. For this one I'm taking a break from doing the deep dive into the self and I’m going to write about smoothies, which give me enough energy to make it until lunchtime, even without caffeine. I'll pick up on the cliffhanger of the last post later on with a new essay called "Blame Elegantly", which is partially inspired by the Joe Berlinger documentary I am Not Your Guru about Tony Robbins. (He's not just that 1980s infomercials dude anymore. For reals.)
Since starting this journey to get well enough to write my next book, I've learned that everything is connected, like that children's song that goes: "The toe bone's connected to the foot bone / The foot bone's connected to the ankle bone". My personal version is more like: "My chronic cough was connected to my eczema / My eczema's connected to my gastrointestinal tract / My gastrointestinal tract is connected to my immune system. My immune system's connected to my mental health." (I kicked the chronic cough a month into making big changes, yay.)
Setbacks still happen though. I had an allergy attack on Friday afternoon, which led to my face becoming a giant red rash once again and then I got so tired it was hard to walk or to summon the strength to do housework. My ability to sit or lie down wasn’t diminished, so I watched the awesome Korean zombie flick Train to Busan, read Columbine by Dave Cullen, watched Gus Van Sant's Elephant, and viewed YouTube footage of the 9/11 attacks for the first time. (I didn't have a TV in 2001, and my Internet connection at the time was dial-up, so my media experience of the event was informed by physical newspapers...how we live has changed so much in the last fifteen years I'm not sure if I could fend for myself if I got dropped back in time.)
What, Me Diet?
Prior to becoming unwell, I never gave food much thought other than: THAT LOOKS DELICIOUS, MY STOMACH WANTS IT. I’ve never been on a diet before (I like eating so fucking much), so when I discovered that I was allergic to many of my favourite foods, I felt a huge sense of loss. No more hamburgers, mushroom pizza, quesadillas, tacos, pork dumplings, mac and cheese, cookies, fried chicken, waffles, pulled pork sandwiches, Thai curry, coconut desserts, ice cream, frozen yogurt, sushi, pickles, miso soup, naan bread, buttered paratha, lasagne, roti, edamame, hazelnut spread, maple glaze doughnuts, pork belly ramen, pupusas, egg and bacon breakfast sandwiches…the list is so long I get sad thinking about it like I’m Keanu Reeves sitting on a park bench. I had to order a salad at a Mexican restaurant when I was visiting Vancouver in August—the height of oh hell no.
Being on a restricted nutritional plan is hard work. At first it was kind of lonely. Hong Kong has so many amazing restaurants and for the first nine months at my current job, before I understood how much my terrible diet affected my health, I ate most of my meals out or on the go with colleagues and friends. After I got my allergy test results, I had to overhaul my kitchen and commit to cooking. Now I’m all about the rad desk lunch. I'm lucky that my colleagues buy food and bring it back to the office to eat with me. Meeting rooms are my new dining hotspot. I made a workplace Slack channel #raddesklunch and I have Instagram posts bearing this tag. The past few months have been all about transforming what could be a negative experience into a ton of fun.
Before I made smoothies a part of my daily routine, I was really into my juicer, but my doctor took me off juice to lower my sugar intake. I decided that smoothies were the answer after I read Clean by Dr. Alejandro Junger and Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again by Dr. Frank Lipman. Both of these books are excellent reads if you’re looking to make changes to your diet and lifestyle. For those wary of woo, both authors are medical doctors.
First I’ll share my basic smoothie recipe, then I'll break down my reasons for each ingredient. Some items are a bit esoteric, straight from the Amanda Chantal Bacon food diary for Elle. This is really about building the right mix for your own body while staying within your budget, so you can adjust ingredients based on what you need in order to heal or to just feel better.
I should probably warn you that I have a Vitamix, which processes these fibrous ingredients with ease. A less powerful blender might not be up to the task of breaking down hemp seed.
My Personal Chocolate Green Smoothie Recipe
(Quick tip: drink half a litre of hot water or herbal tea before you have the smoothie.)
- 1 scoop of Vega Protein Smoothie Choc-a-lot flavour (or 1 cup milk or milk substitute)
- 1 to 1.5 cups water (adjust according to desired thickness)
- 6 ice cubes (more if you like it colder)
- 1 oz frozen berries (more if your body can handle the fruit sugar)
- 1 handful spinach, kale, lettuce, cabbage, bok choy, or whichever green you fancy or is on sale
- 2 tbsp flax seed
- 1 tbsp chia seed
Optional ingredients (to cut costs or in case your blender can’t take the action)
- 2 tsp bee pollen
- 2 oz aloe vera
- 2 capsules Korean ginseng (a stimulant I have in place of caffeine)
- 1 tsp spirulina and chlorella
- 1 tbsp hemp seed
- ¼ tsp wheatgrass
- ¼ tsp maca (another stimulant)
- 1 carrot or half a cucumber or zucchini (chopped)
- dash of cardamom and cinnamon or ¼ tsp Simply Life peppermint flavour
Soak 2 tbsp flaxseed and 1 tbsp chia seed overnight in 1 cup of water. The soaking makes the seeds easier to digest. If your blender isn't that powerful, you can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder before soaking. Note that ground flax seed will spoil very quickly, so if you pre-grind a large batch, you'll have to keep it in an opaque airtight container.
Combine ingredients and blend for a minute to a minute and a half. Pour into a tall glass and enjoy! Have a cup of water after you finish the smoothie.
Sometimes I replace the Choc-a-lot flavour with Oh Natural and add 2 tablespoons of black sesame powder so I don’t get tired of having the same breakfast every single day.
I add zinc and vitamin D drops before I drink it to give my skin a boost. (Doctor’s orders! Don’t supplement without doing the research and consulting with an integrated health professional. Trust me, I learned this the hard way when I thought I was anemic and took an iron pill and things got ugly really fast.)
The Method Behind the Madness
I have an intolerance to soy, I'm allergic to dairy, and I'm off sugar, so I use Vega plant protein powder mixes for my base. Sometimes I replace water with homemade adzuki bean milk for an extra filling drink. For a while I made brown rice milk too, but chocolate and adzuki bean are a dreamy combo.
The frozen berries I stick to are blueberry and raspberry because of their lower sugar content. If you don't have allergy issues with mould, strawberries are a great option.
I love putting green things into my smoothie because it’s hard to get enough servings of vegetables in a day. This way I can drink them in one go while getting all the fibre and I don’t have to chew.
The flax seeds help with keeping things moving along the intestinal tract, as does the aloe vera, which also supports skin health. Spirulina, chlorella, and wheatgrass pack more green nutrition in, while the bee pollen ups my B vitamin intake and is reported to have enzymes that help with digestion.
I started making smoothies about three months ago and since then I can operate without morning caffeine and I have an easy bowel movement every day. It’s best to ease in and have your first super green smoothie on a day off, so you can rest if your body demands it.
The difference in my energy level alone has been worth making this change. Oh, also I haven’t had a migraine in months. (I still have detox headaches from time to time if I’ve accidentally eaten something my body can’t handle, but it’s more fog than unbearable pain.) My mind is clear when I sit down to write post-smoothie so goal achieved.