Doing Whole30 in Germany

Whole30 in Germany | No Apathy Allowed
My well-used Whole30 cookbook

Back when I was training for the Bremen half marathon over the summer, I was already thinking about the need for resetting my nutritional habits — so the Whole30 program that I’d been reading about on a lot of American fitness blogs intrigued me. What I liked most was the focus on improving health through nutrition, unlike many other fads out there which seem to be centered around weight loss. I thought it would do me some good to become aware of what I was eating and how that affects my body in general. But I wondered if I could successfully adapt it to my life and manage Whole30 in Germany.

I won’t go into too much detail about Whole30 itself because they have a very thorough website, but basically it entails removing sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes and dairy from your diet. In their book It Starts With Food (which I already reviewed briefly here), the creators of Whole30 go into a good amount of detail about how these food groups tend to create inflammation and different sorts of problems for the body. They don’t claim that all of these food groups have a negative effect on everyone, but rather argue that by removing them all from your diet for a month, you can “reset” your body and then slowly reintroduce each group systematically to see which one(s) may be problematic for you.

This kind of controlled self-experiment definitely appealed to the scientist in me, which is why I decided to give it a try. Well, what’s left to eat, you ask? Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, vegetables and fruits — i.e., it’s back to the basics. (There are vegetarian versions of the program too.)

My goals

Generally, when I started I felt like my overall nutrition was already rather good, although there was certainly plenty of room for improvement. Thanks to a very different food culture, my diet has mostly definitely improved since arriving in Germany 7+ years ago  — I’ve mostly ditched sodas and junk food and replaced them with whole grain breads, muesli, and a whole array of fantastic dairy products!  But I was definitely going heavy on carbs (and maybe on  Franzbrötchen too, my favorite German pastry) and light on protein and veggies. So my aim was to really focus on increasing my protein and iron and general vitamin intake, while decreasing my sugar intake.. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, but was rather hoping the increased protein would help with my strength training.

Another aim was more behavioral than nutritional — I wanted to develop the habit of cooking more of my meals, and thereby increase my confidence in the kitchen and my ability to take a bunch of whole and raw ingredients and turn them into a satisfying meal.

The process

I basically set aside the month of October for my Whole30 experiment. Half-marathon training was over, Thanksgiving was still a month away (and thus wouldn’t be affected by the program), and I didn’t have any major travel plans, so it seemed like the perfect time to throw myself into it.

In general, I found Whole30 to be all-consuming, which was effective for increasing my nutritional awareness! Suddenly I had to plan ahead for every single meal every single day. I couldn’t just pick something up on the way home from work. Also, since I usually eat my lunch everyday at the cafeteria at work — because lunch in Germany is traditionally a big warm meal, while dinner often consists of  bread, cheese, and sausage or the like —  it was a huge transition to suddenly be bringing my food with me every day. And sadly my favorite breakfast of quark (a German dairy product similar to yogurt, but different) and muesli had to be replaced with something heartier and not-so-breakfast-like.

Throughout this whole experiment, I spent an enormous amount of time at the grocery store and an enormous amount of money. For someone who doesn’t usually purchase a lot of meat, I was a bit shocked by the sticker price. I didn’t use to purchase a lot of meat/fish/poultry in the US, so I can’t really offer up an actual comparison, but it seemed to me to be mega-expensive here.  And forget about organic — that was totally out of my price range in the quantities that I was purchasing it in (three meals a day for 30 days, all centered around a major protein source, is a lot of meat).  And let’s not even talk about schlepping all those groceries home via tram or bicycle when you live in a typical German city without a car!

Of course preparing three meals a day from scratch is also totally time consuming — which I suppose is also part of the point of counteracting fast food. But when reading other resources online for how to manage the increased level of cooking and a full-time job plus all my other commitments, many of the American resources mentioned “Whole30 approved” brands of ready-made/packaged foods which decreased their prep and cooking times. Ach ja. Of course, no such thing exists here (no one I talked to in Germany about Whole30 had ever even heard of it), so I was more or less stuck making everything from scratch.

I have to admit I was a teensy bit jealous of my counterparts back in the USA, but I eventually got the hang of it.  I  poured through the Whole30 cookbook nearly every day, and was totally grateful for the handy measurement conversion table in the back of the book — though I would plead for them to include both US and metric measurements right in the recipe!  Once a week I planned out my meals for the upcoming week and made my grocery list. Sunday afternoons I spent preparing several meals, and even with my tiny German refrigerator and freezer — which doesn’t lend itself to freezing things in large quantities — somehow I still managed on a week-to-week basis.

The outcome

Overall, I didn’t notice any drastic changes in my health or energy levels, so I suspect that since my diet was already rather healthy, there was a bit of a ceiling effect happening. I could have extended for another 15 or 30 days to see if I just needed longer for a more noticeable effect, but I just couldn’t bear the thought, so I stopped right at 30.

During the reintroduction phase, the only food group that I had a negative reaction to was legumes, which includes my beloved peanut butter (major sad face emoji here) — I felt completely nauseous that day.  So I’ve mostly eliminated beans from my diet altogether and have made the complete (unfortunately, expensive) switch over to almond butter.

I relaxed a bit over Thanksgiving (celebrating twice here with German and expat friends!) and over the holidays with my family in Seattle and enjoyed all my favorite treats. Now I’m back to eating my typical winter breakfast of oatmeal with nuts and berries, although these days I’m also throwing in an egg for extra protein and drinking my coffee black. I’m also back to eating lunches at the cafeteria at work — and now I focus on including at least one source of protein and plenty of vegetables. Some days it works better than others, depending on what’s on the menu.

I’m also cooking more real meals these days — mostly for the purposes of the weekend or a few leftovers for week nights — which I consider a major accomplishment and probably the most positive outcome of my experience with Whole30!

So was it worth taking on the Whole30 challenge over here in Germany? Most definitely! Did it take a bit more extra time and planning than if I had done it in the US? Yes, indeed — but now that I’ve gathered up a bunch of tips and tricks, I can actually see myself doing it again next year.

What are your experiences with Whole30 or similar nutritional “cleanses”? Would you ever consider taking on such a challenge?

Looking Back at 2015

I know I’m supposed to write something about how this past year has just flown by, but quite honestly, 2015 made me work really hard and it definitely seemed to take its own sweet time in coming to an end. That’s not a complaint, but oh what a year it’s been! From finally bringing my PhD to a close, to starting a new job, and moving into a new place — all stressful changes in their own right, but I’m definitely grateful for everything that’s happened in 2015.  And taking a look back at the year, it’s clear why!

January/February 2015

Concord piano bar | No Apathy Allowed

The first two months of the year had me focused on preparing for my defense in mid-February.  Four-and-a-half years of work came to an end over the course of 90 minutes.  Scary, exhilarating, and a relief all at once.  And despite fears that I might fall into a figurative hole afterwards, I was so so happy to be done!

March 2015

Berlin Village Market | No Apathy Allowed

The next month I made my way over to Berlin for the half marathon, where I ran for the first time ever without having any idea what my time or pace was — simply for the love of running. It might sound simple enough to you, but it was a real life lesson to someone who is constantly competing with herself.  The race was followed up by a perfect street food lunch at RAW.

April 2015

My glasses collection | No Apathy Allowed

Around Easter I finally updated my frames after at least 10 years of taking advantage of my previous collection.  A  drastic improvement!

May 2015

Near the Mercado de Ribeira | No Apathy Allowed

I didn’t do much international traveling in 2015, so my quick trip to Lisbon was extra special to me.  I was completely charmed by the city’s landscapes and streetscapes and hope to visit Portugal again sometime soon.

June 2015

Rhododendron Park Bremen | No Apathy Allowed

In June I celebrated 7 years in Germany and 10 years of blogging — and in both of these cases, I definitely made use of cliches about time flying!  But I couldn’t spend too much time being nostalgic because I also started my first postdoc job and launched a quick and successful search for a new apartment.  Big reasons to celebrate!  After many years in Bremen, I also finally paid a visit to the beautiful Rhododendron Park.

July 2015

Apartment Tour | No Apathy Allowed

July kept me busy getting my new apartment set up from scratch.  It took me a while, but it finally came together and I was able to share a mini-home tour with you here.  I also attended a lovely wine tasting at Ludwig von Kapff with a bunch of Bremen-based bloggers.

August 2015

The Bremen skyline never fails to impress | No Apathy Allowed

I was overwhelmed with work in August, a great deal of which involved turning my dissertation into a book manuscript (largely in my free time).  Even so, I spent as much time as possible enjoying the sun and views from my balcony.  And with a little help from a post by Geek Mädel, I applied for my very own Blue Card for highly qualified immigrants in Germany — success!

September 2015

Berlin is yours | From Instagram @noapathyallowed

In September I hosted my very own wine tasting as a bit of a housewarming, featuring both German and American wines.  I also traveled to Berlin to support a friend running in the marathon, and basically then and there decided that I finally need to conquer this distance for myself!

October 2015

Bremen Fotomarathon | No Apathy Allowed

I ran two kinds of races in October — first was the Bremen Fotomarathon, which took me all over the city chasing nine photos of nine different themes.  The second was the city’s half marathon, which was most definitely a challenge, but convinced me even more of the need to take on a new distance.

December 2015

The Seattle skyline | No Apathy Allowed
I’m skipping right on over November because honestly I did practically nothing but work the whole month, both in the office and on the side.   I finally traveled home to Seattle for the holidays in December, my first real vacation in over a year, and I’ll  happily ring in the new year here as well.

So that’s it for looking back at 2015!  So much of it was devoted to change and setting down roots, even though I can’t tell you where I will be this time next year.  I’m looking forward to more traveling, growing friendships and relationships, and seeking out new adventures.  I wish you all the very best for 2016!

What was your year like? Do you have any resolutions for the year ahead?

My Year of Running 2015

Berlin Half Marathon

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the holidays as much as I have so far. I’ve been relaxing with friends and family in Seattle and marveling a bit at how quickly my hometown is booming and changing (but more on that in another post!). I’ve also been taking advantage of the fitness room in my parents’ building and thinking about my running goals for 2016.  But before I get too ahead of myself, I want to take a look back at my year of running in 2015 (here’s a look at 2013 and 2014). This past year of running wasn’t as spectacular as in 2014 — I didn’t break any records and I found myself having to step back a bit from pushing so hard in order to be able to have enough energy to focus on other things.  But those are both important lessons and running still proved itself to be at the core of my life…

Best race experience?  I ran two big races in 2015 — the Berlin and Bremen Half Marathons — and they were both challenging in their own way.  Bremen hurt every step of the way. But the Berlin Half Marathon was remarkable in that I ran it completely without a watch and without any sort of time pressure.  That didn’t mean that I took it easy — instead I chose to listen my body rather than to the pace on my watch.

Best run?  Pretty much any of my evening runs over the summer can be counted as my favorites.  Long evenings and warm weather make the perfect combination in my book.

Best new piece of gear? After years of running in the same cold weather gear, I finally stepped up my winter running game and outfitted myself with two new jackets, a long-sleeve shirt, pants, hat and some other odds and ends. Yahoo!

Best piece of running advice you received?  Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. Sometimes its just about the love of running.

Most inspirational runner? I cheered on a friend running the Berlin Marathon this year and pretty much every single runner there inspired me to keep giving it my all — which relates to my running goals for 2016 (see below).

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?  One foot in front of the other.

I didn’t reach my sub-2:00 half marathon goal this year for lots of different reasons, but I still think I’m mentally a tougher runner than I was when the year began.  For now I’m setting that goal aside and reaching for a different goal in 2016 —  my first marathon.  Quite honestly, I find the idea of training for a marathon terrifying because my first attempt at training for one 11 years ago sent me to physical therapy for three months.  But I’m a strong proponent of doing things that stretch your boundaries, and I have to believe that I’m a different and smarter runner than I was back then and I can’t resist giving it another shot — so I’ve got my eyes set on the Hamburg Marathon in April.  Cross your fingers for me!

What was your favorite run this year?  Do you have running plans for 2016?

Travel | Home for the Holidays

Travel: Home for the Holidays | No Apathy Allowed
The Marktplatz Weihnachtsmarkt in Bremen via Instagram

Tomorrow I’m heading home to Seattle for the holidays, which makes me incredibly happy (despite the whirlwind of packing chaos that exists in my apartment right now).  It’s been ages since I’ve truly been able to enjoy the holidays without bringing some form of work home with me, but that stars have all aligned to make that possible this year.  Good thing too, because I haven’t taken a true non-work-related vacation in over year and it’s been two years since I’ve been back to Seattle.  It’s high time for a break, I’d say!

But I do love the holiday season in Germany, so even though it’s a bit shorter for me this year, I’ve tried to enjoy it to the fullest!  I visited the Christmas markets, ate Schmalzkuchen, made my own Advent wreath, decorated the cutest tree you ever saw, and threw a little holiday Kaffee und Kuchen celebration.

Now I’m really ready for the long day of travel ahead of me tomorow.  I hope I’ll have time for some Seattle-based blog posts, so be sure to swing by if you have a moment!

Travel: Home for the Holidays | No Apathy Allowed
A Weihnachtsmarkt carousel via Instagram

Travel: Home for the Holidays | No Apathy Allowed
Decorating my tree via Instagram

Travel: Home for the Holidays | No Apathy Allowed
In front of the Hauptbahnhof via Instagram

Travel: Home for the Holidays | No Apathy Allowed
A holiday Kaffee und Kuchen via Instagram

Do you have  a lot of traveling planned for this time of year? Or are you making yourself cozy right where you’re at?

My Top Books of 2015

At the end of each year, I love taking a look at all the books that have been my companions during my commutes and the quiet moments at home (see my posts from 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011).  I’ve loved reading since I was a kid, but I’m not as speedy as some of my friends on Goodreads — meaning that I finished 13 books over the course of 2015.  A bit short of my goal of 24, but I think I can live with that. :)  There are a few more that I’m currently working on, which may or may not get finished before the year is over.  They’ll just have to be added to my reading list for 2016!  In any case, I hope you’ve got a nice hot cup of coffee or tea ready, because this post is on the long side…

Read in 2015

In previous years’ posts I’ve just listed the titles with links to reviews I’d posted on the blog, but I got really behind on my reviews this year and basically never caught up.  Oops!  To remedy that, I’m also sharing mini-reviews here.  Another new thing I’m trying this year is ranking the books according to how much I love them.  Such a hard task and actually kind of arbitrary since many of them I love in very different ways — but I’m giving it a try anyway…

My Top Books of 2015 | No Apathy Allowed

1. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, by Carrie Brownstein

A fan of Sleater-Kinney long before Portlandia, I knew immediately that I must read this book! What I didn’t expect was how many of Carrie Brownstein’s words would sound like my own thoughts, only expressed a million times better than I could have. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the same generation as me, sometimes I felt like she was reading my mind. She does an amazing job of baring her soul and exposing her own weaknesses and really showing what Sleater-Kinney’s music is made of, but without revealing too much that could be painful for those closely connected to the band’s history. Loved it!!

2. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

Finally an honest look at two related topics that most people would rather just avoid. What does it mean to grow older? And how do we look mortality squarely in the face and decide to focus on quality rather than quantity of life? Particularly this last question is a heartbreaking one. At the very time I was reading this book, friends had just lost their small son to terminal cancer and had quite openly wrestled with this issue.   I promise you this book will make you uncomfortable, but it is oh-so-worth it.

3. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson

This novel takes place during a conveniently forgotten and shameful era in American history that’s come to the fore once more — the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  Set in the Pacific Northwest, the story centers around the trial of a Japanese American man for suspected murder.  Wonderfully well written and made me long to spend a winter in the Puget Sound.  In your heart you want to believe that our country has grown beyond these prejudices, but it sadly seems that we have not — which makes this novel worth reading more than ever.

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

Why did I wait 37 years to read this book?  An absolute classic novel of a girl coming of age in the Brooklyn of the early 1900s.  Broke my heart in so many ways, mostly because I know Francie Nolan’s story of poverty and suffering was reality for many thousands of immigrants and New Yorkers during that crucial period in US history.

5. Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton — see my review

6. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

My first (and definitely not last) book by Lauren Groff. I loved it!  But I agree with many other readers that the first half (told from the husband’s perspective) is much less interesting than the second half (told from the wife’s).  But her narrative wouldn’t be half as much fun without his. In other words, stick it out and you will be rewarded.

7. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer — see my review

8. Courtroom 302, by Steve Bogira — see my review

9. It Starts with Food, by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig

A convincing read that was successful in getting me to give Whole30 a try. I appreciate the scientific backing of the authors’ claims, but I still felt like they were dumbing the whole thing down a bit. I would have liked even more information and evidence! Still, it has changed the way I look at food, even if I don’t think it’s feasible to eat strictly Whole30 over the long run.

10. Kyrgyzstan: Central Asia’s Island of Democracy?, by John Anderson

I picked up this book at the recommendation of a friend since I’m working on a project about the country. Although a bit dry, the book provides a good primer on Kyrgyzstan — at least up until 1999, which is when it was published. Not surprisingly, I kept asking myself how things look today in comparison, but at least it’s a start and offers a good look at the country’s history.

11. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

Honestly, it’s been several months and this book has basically faded away from my memory.  I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but some of Murakami’s other tales made more of an impression on me (like this one and this one).

12. Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

Ok, yes, entertaining but still a bit disappointing if you’ve come to idolize the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird. It definitely felt like an author’s ok-but-not-great first try at a novel.

13. Howards End, by E.M. Forster

I know it’s a classic, but I really could not absorb myself at all in this book  Despite having been a major Jane Austen fan, I’ve apparently completely lost my taste for novels centered around the social rules and conventions of turn-of-the-century England.

To Read in 2016

There are so many good books out there right now, so I have high hopes for my reading adventures in 2016! Who knows, maybe I’ll even hit my goal of 24?  But for now I’ll keep my list a bit shorter…

My To-Read List for 2016 | No Apathy Allowed

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  2. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra
  3. Lila, by  Marilynne Robinson
  4. The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
  5. Euphoria, by Lily King
  6. The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
  7. All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestun
  8. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  9. The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak
  10. The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
  11. The Passage, by Justin Cronin
  12. Arcadia, by Lauren Groff
  13. Hard Choices, by Hillary Clinton
  14. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
  15. Die Hellen Tage, by Zsuzsa Bánk

What are your favorite books from 2015?  Are there any I should adding to my list for 2016?

A Bremen Home Tour

A Bremen Home Tour| No Apathy Allowed

I’ve been promising you a home tour for ages now, so ready or not, here it is!  There are still a few things that are unfinished — like I need to find a drill in order to hang up that painting propped against the back of the couch, I’m waiting for a hanging lamp for the dining area to be delivered, and someday I will buy actual dining chairs instead of sitting on the folding balcony chairs — but that’s just the way homes are, right?  Constantly evolving.

A work in progress or not, I’m so happy to finally be surrounded in one place — no more commuting between cities!  — by everything I’ve collected during my travels and stints abroad over the last nearly 20 years.  It really feels like my personal history is reflected in my home now.

Although everyone remarks at how steep the steps are coming up to my little (55 qm/590 square feet) attic apartment, you’re always rewarded with a flood of light from the large south-facing windows and balcony and a wonderful feeling of airiness.  At the same time, the relatively low wood beam ceilings offer a lovely coziness.

A Bremen Home Tour | No Apathy Allowed

A Bremen Home Tour | No Apathy Allowed

A Bremen Home Tour | No Apathy Allowed

Currently in the midst of Whole30 (more on that in another post), I’ve really been putting the kitchen to the test, and while a bit more counter space would be lovely, it mostly does the trick.  There’s another window to the left of this photograph that looks directly onto the balcony, so there’s of natural light in here.  And the glass door is perfectly for containing cooking smells but still giving you a sense of belonging to the rest of the apartment.

A Bremen Home Tour | No Apathy Allowed

The balcony might be my most favorite aspect of the whole apartment! Even towards the end of October, my flowers and plants are still going strong. (P.S. I took these pictures several weeks ago — today those trees in the background are beautiful shades of orange and yellow!)

A Bremen Home Tour | No Apathy Allowed

A Bremen Home Tour | No Apathy Allowed

Finally, the sleeping area is a bit awkward to photograph because of the slanting walls, but you get the picture. My current bed frame is actually in the cellar because it was too tall to fit against the slant, but sleeping low to the ground actually fits this space perfectly I think.

A Bremen Home Tour | No Apathy Allowed

A Bremen Home Tour | No Apathy Allowed

So, there you have it!  My humble abode.  Still a work in progress, but it’s home.

What home improvement projects are on your to-do list?  

Race Report | Bremen Half Marathon 2015

Bremen Half Marathon 2015 | No Apathy Allowed

I started this year with the goal of getting my half-marathon time under 2 hours.  But while training for the Berlin Half Marathon over the winter — coinciding with prepping for my PhD defense — I was burnt out and decided to train and run without a watch, to take the pressure off and simply run for the love of running.  It was fabulous!

Although I started diligently reporting my training for the Bremen Half Marathon over the summer, my training quite honestly fell apart a few weeks before the race — a mixture of work stress, catching a cold, and generally lacking motivation were all to blame (sounds like classic burnout here too, right?).  While I was hitting my prescribed paces during the workouts I did manage in those weeks, I knew they were too few and far between to really have a chance of breaking 2 hours.

And here’s the spoiler alert: I was right.  I didn’t come in under 2 hours, and I didn’t set a new personal record.  But I did end up with my second best time ever (2:06:00), running about a minute and a half slower than my best time (2:04:32 from last year’s Bremen Half Marathon).

Bremen Half Marathon 2015 | No Apathy Allowed

My goal for the race was just to try as hard as I could and see what happened.  I calculated all the paces I would need to reach my different goal times and printed out a pace band — though generally good at math, my running math during races sucks, so I love having a pace band to refer to and know exactly where I stand.

Basically, I can sum up the race with two words: it hurt. Every single freaking kilometer hurt.  Unfortunately it was not the same kind of hurt that comes from pushing your boundaries based on strong training (hurts so good!), but more like the hurt that comes from being undertrained and having no business trying to maintain those paces.  But I’m pretty stubborn when I want to be, so I didn’t ease up (my paces for the first 10 miles were: 9:27, 9:32, 9:26, 9:28, 9:30, 9:33, 9:35, 9:33, 9:39, 9:34)

That is, until I had to — around 17 km/10.5 miles — when the side stitches that had plagued me from the beginning became too sharp to run or stretch through.  So I did something I haven’t done in at least 10 years during a race — I stopped to walk.  Up until that point, I was more or less maintaining a pace that would put me close to or under my best time from the previous year.  While of course a personal record is always tempting, the pain was slowing me down even more than it would have to take a quick breather. So I took maybe a minute or so to catch my breath, walk and stretch out my side.  Afterwards, I was able to continue on running the last 4 km as strong as I could and still enjoy the rest of the race (my paces for the last 3 miles: 10:32, 9:43, 9:39).  Totally worth it.

Bremen Half Marathon 2015 | No Apathy Allowed
Photo by Regina. Around 15 km/9.3 miles along the Weser River.

All in all, I have to say I was pretty satisfied with the race.  Of course it’s frustrating that I couldn’t get it together to finish out my training strongly before the race — because I think I could have at least run a personal record — but such is life.  I’m glad I got to see where my base fitness more or less sits, even with being under trained.  I’m also pleased that it’s quite a bit faster than the half marathons I was running even a couple years ago!

Bremen Half Marathon 2015 | No Apathy Allowed

Bremen Half Marathon 2015 | No Apathy Allowed

So what’s next? Per usual after a long training period, I’m spending some time concentrating on strength training for awhile.  And I’m letting myself dream big about my running goals for 2016!  More on that to come later…