On the Fast Track

Ah, January. That time of year when we reassess ourselves: our habits, our downfalls, our opportunities. Oh, and our bodies. Who among us is ever content with our body? Last January I embarked on a month of veganism, which I rather enjoyed (although not enough to keep it as a permanent diet). This month, I’m turning to another diet and sometime fad: intermittent fasting (IF).

First, an explanation. “What happened to December?” you ask. Well– you know how a lot of magazines only put out 11 issues each year, shrewdly combining December and January into one issue? Because they know that at least two weeks of December will be completely shot, thereby making it nearly impossible to produce the usual amount of output? My December was chaos, between work obligations, holiday plans, and travel. So let’s consider my blog a magazine, and this is the December/January issue.

I did use December to decide on and research the fasting concept. As it turns out, there are a lot of different ways to fast. Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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First: why would I fast? Well, aside from the fact that I’ve never done it– which is the first criterion of any “year of 40” experience– I’ve long been intrigued by it. I’ve never really had an excuse to fast. There are those who fast for religious reasons: for Ramadan, for example, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown for an entire month.¹ A perusal of Wikipedia reveals a number of other cultures and faiths that incorporate fasting as a part of their tradition.

I don’t practice a religion, and even when I did, my Presbyterian-Catholicism upbringing didn’t ask me to skip meals. But the fact that so many cultures and traditions include some version of fasting makes me curious. What do they know, and what do they experience, that I don’t?

It isn’t primarily cultural curiosity that leads me down this path. I’ve also paid attention to the research about possible health benefits of intermittent fasting (IF), or of calorie restriction. Studies of IF make lots of claims: We can live longer. We reduce the likelihood of strokes, of diabetes, of heart disease, of degenerative brain diseases later in life. Our bodies clean out their dead or damaged cells (“autophagy“). Oh, and we lose weight, and possibly maintain the weight loss better than we would with other diets.

Frankly– if the evidence is to be believed– why wouldn’t we fast?

So, I decided to try it, and with a fair amount of excitement. I then had to choose which fasting approach to follow. Sunrise to sunset? 36 hours? Low calorie, or no calorie? This is where the research finds little consensus. One popular method of IF has you eat the same amount you normally would, but within the space of 8 hours (so you “fast” for  the other 16 hours). For instance, if you finish dinner by 8pm, you wouldn’t eat again until noon the next day. I considered this idea, but I decided that if I were going to try fasting, I might as well swim in the deep end.

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For no reason other than it sounded challenging, but not impossible, I decided to try 24 hour fasts, on two non-consecutive days each week (as it turns out, this approach has a name- the 5:2 diet). In practical terms, this means that I eat dinner one night, and then I don’t eat again until dinner the next night. During the fast, I drink only water or unsweetened tea. On the five non-fasting days of the week, I eat normally.

I don’t know that I can hope for any tangible results from the fasting experiment, other than shedding a few pounds, but I’m curious to see how it goes.

In my next blog post, I’ll detail some of my fasting experience so far. Stay tuned!

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¹This becomes more challenging depending on the time of year that Ramadan falls, and where you live in the world. If Ramadan falls in June, as it did in 2016, and you live in Iceland or Alaska, you may be fasting for 22 hours straight, every day. And wishing you lived, in, say, the Maldives.

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30 acts of kindness. 1 act of meanness.

So: December 28. My Year of 40 is almost over. But before we get ahead of ourselves, I owe you the rest of the details about November, my month of “small kindnesses.” I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting my follow-up post, revealing those kindnesses. You haven’t been able to sleep, so much have you been anticipating this post!

Toss and turn no more, dear reader. Below, I offer you the complete set: 30 acts of kindness, and as a bonus, one meanness.¹

My month of small kindnesses, in chronological order (one per day):

  1. Sent out a copy of the slides from my resume workshop to a number of attendees who had requested them.
  2. Had coffee and gave career advice to a woman who had sought me out.
  3. Did additional research into possible VC firms for our next fundraising round.
  4. Donated to the Entelo Movember campaign.
  5. Helped anthropologists by tagging penguins and identifying African animals.
  6. Donated rice via World Food Programme by playing vocabulary and geography games.
  7. Gave the doormen in our building their favorite treats. Also, gave a Walgreens gift card to a homeless man.
  8. Complimented a woman on her dress. Gave away some Hillary tattoos.
  9. Unloaded dishwasher at work. Gave my au pair a break by picking up kids at school and giving them baths.
  10. Bought coffee for a colleague.
  11. Reached out to one of our junior employees for a post-election “walk and talk.”
  12. Brought Theron with me to the grocery store.
  13. Gave up my seat toward the front of the plane (for a worse seat) so that a couple could sit together.
  14. Bussed my table’s dishes at a conference.
  15. Bought coffee for a homeless man.
  16. Went in the hot tub with G even though I just wanted to go to bed.²
  17. Gave a banana to a homeless woman.
  18. Gave an orange to the doorman at work. Met a woman for coffee to help her problem-solve at her new job. Cleaned kitchen even though it wasn’t my mess.
  19. Let the kids do yoga with me.
  20. Took the kids to get haircuts (giving G a break).
  21. Bought more salad for the company lunch when we ran out.
  22. Prepared and served hot chocolate and cider to our employees.
  23. Made homemade chili for dinner for friends & family.
  24. Erred on the side of generosity when filling out evaluations of my peers.
  25. Brought my niece and nephew to the park.
  26. Managed lunch orders for extended family.
  27. Bought holiday gifts that give back.³
  28. Volunteered at Glide; gave a Walgreens gift card to a homeless woman.
  29. Agreed to host my peer networking group when the original host backed out.
  30. Gave up my favorite seat on the ferry.

Looking back on the list, I’m struck by how truly small some of the kindnesses are. For example: giving a person a compliment is something that requires no extra effort, time, or money on my part. And yet, it undoubtedly gave the recipient a boost, perhaps even made her day. I’ve enjoyed this nudge out of my comfort zone- and really, a small nudge has been all that is required to bring these kindnesses to the surface.

Still, I am no saint. I had one massive unkindness that I’d like to own up to.

Notably:

  1. Took movie seats for me and two of my children from a woman who had been saving them.

I cringe even writing that. But I did it. On November 29, at the 3:30 screening of Moana. I can try to explain it away (the movie was starting; two teenagers on the other side of the block of seats told me to do it; there were no other seats together left in the theater; I was desperate)– but the fact remains, I should not have done that. The woman saving the seats was angry — as I would have been, in her shoes.

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Does my act of meanness take away from my acts of kindness? I know we are yin and yang; we have both aspects in each of us. While I don’t think I can completely purge myself of all meanness, perhaps the more that I focus on kindness, the fewer such meannesses will ever surface. Perhaps the nudge toward kindness will no longer be required, because kindness will become my new default.

My main takeaway from the month is that being a kind person feels good (a lot better than the feeling of taking someone’s saved seats), and that generally speaking, there are opportunities to be kind all around us. We just have to look for them.

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¹I’m sure there were others. This is the one that has stuck with me.

²I know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t really count. Look, not every kindness has to be a hardship on me, okay?

³I have been doing more of this in recent years. I like giving gifts that have a positive impact somewhere else, in addition to the recipient. Some of my favorite sites for this:

Do you have other favorites? Please leave them in the comments!

Small Kindnesses

We all have narratives we tell about ourselves. There are words that we think pertain to us and other words that we would never use to describe ourselves. For instance: “confident” is a word that I would comfortably claim, and I believe that it’s a word that others would attribute to me, as well. More “Jill words” might include extroverted, candid, and ambitious.

The word “kind” has never been on my version of the list. To be clear: I don’t think I’m unkind. But I don’t believe “kind” is a word that jumps to mind as one of my dominant attributes. And maybe it’s time for me to take small steps to change that.

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Apologies for the generic “kindness” photo.

With this in mind, I made November my month of small kindnesses. Each day, I am holding myself accountable for (at least) one small act of kindness. The kindness must be “incremental”- something above and beyond what I would normally do in my day.

I am also trying to make sure that not all, or even most, of my acts of kindness are driven by money. It would be easy enough to check the box by giving a dollar to a homeless person every day, but I’m not sure I would come away from the month with the feeling that I’ve learned anything.

I was curious to see what effect these acts of kindness would have, both on the people to whom I show kindness, and on me. Two-thirds of the way through the month, I have a few interesting findings.

  1. Kindnesses are both easy and hard. When I’m thinking about my goal, and looking for opportunities to be kind, they present themselves readily. (Full dishwasher at work? Jill will unload it! Heading out for coffee? I’ll grab an extra for one of my colleagues! etc.) But when I’m wrapped up in my work, or busy at home with the kids, it is very easy to forget to look for ways to be kind.
  2. Kindness is addictive. I am really enjoying performing these small acts, and I feel more alive and zestful than ever. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
  3. The kindness feels more rewarding when there’s a direct human impact. This might be specific to my own experience. I’ve noticed that, in terms of the emotional lift they give me, not all kindnesses are created equal. For instance: bringing a smile to our doormen’s faces by bringing them their favorite treats gives me a bigger high than helping unknown anthropologists save time by tagging animals in the Serengeti online.

At the end of the month, I’ll chronicle the 30 acts of kindness I performed, along with any final take-aways. Stay tuned!

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This was my baby in April. It’s easy to be kind to cuteness like this. 

A Stoic, Powerful Lady

I like exercise. A lot. I’m one of those people who goes a little bit crazy if I go two or more days go in a row without exercising. I don’t need to be prompted to do it; if anything, it’s the reverse: I’m usually begging for time (from my husband, while he watches the kids) to do it.

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Me + exercise = happiness

My natural affinity for exercise, coupled with my penchant for thrift, means that I have never splurged on a personal trainer. Until now. (Thanks, year of 40!)

My approach to finding a good personal trainer was one of the least rigorous decision trees I’ve ever faced. Do I belong to a gym? Yes. Does the gym allow outside trainers? No. Which of the gym’s trainers should I choose? The one the YMCA assigns me. Just fill out a questionnaire, along with my preferred training schedule, and the YMCA will find my match. Easy peasy.

First, what am I hoping to accomplish through personal training?

  • Weight loss?
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness?
  • Strength?
  • Better muscle tone?
  • Athletic improvement?
  • Functional training (e.g. for a race)?

I looked in vain for an “all of the above” option. How could I narrow down my goals to just one?  Nearly a year after giving birth to my third child, I’m not where I’d like to be, body-wise or fitness-wise. Still ten pounds over my goal weight; still not running as fast as I used to; muscles a bit flabby compared to years ago. (When I’m feeling uncharitable, I’ll look at my kids and think to myself, “Were you worth it?”) Help me, personal trainer!

Enter Rick. The complex algorithm involved in the above questionnaire had deemed us a match. But in a sign that our relationship was doomed from the start, Rick was hard to get a hold of. I emailed — crickets; I called — he didn’t respond; he texted back; we couldn’t find a time to connect. Finally we chatted on the phone, but we still couldn’t agree on a time to meet. Four weeks (!) after I initially set wheels in motion on finding a personal trainer, we finally had our first session.¹

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Rick has thrown almost everything I thought I knew about personal training out the window. To begin, we didn’t start our first session with a weigh-in. How can we measure improvement if we don’t have a baseline? Nor did we write down a series of exercises, number of reps, and what weight I should use for each exercise. When I asked him about that, he said, “Nah. Takes too long. I don’t want to waste any of our time with writing. Next time, bring your phone and I’ll take pictures; then you’ll remember what we did.”

 

Twice a week we meet, and Rick throws a battery of new exercises at me every time. It makes my head spin. Every now and then he’ll say “let’s do that one we always do,” and then launches into an exercise I’ve never seen before. We go for half an hour, doing a series of drills that he seems to come up with on the spot. He reminds me of a puppy, finding something new that catches his eye, and wanting to play with it. We dart all over the gym; one moment at the kettlebells, then over to the mats, then back up to the free weights, now over to the machines, but only after we grab some ropes and go to the group exercise room.

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One of the many exercises Rick throws my way. 

Also like a puppy, he craves feedback, an emotional response to everything he’s giving me. He says he can’t read me- “you’re stoic! I can’t tell what you’re thinking!” I resist giving him feedback, because what I’m usually thinking is, “Oh please get me through this exercise. Only 10 more reps. I hate this one. It’s so painful. Ugh. Just get through it. Why am I doing this again?” Rick, if you’re reading this: it’s not you, it’s me!

To be fair, sometimes I like it. I like being told what exercises to do, and how many of them to do, and having someone else keep count for me. I like being encouraged right when I’m most inclined to stop. But it’s definitely a love/hate.

Rick gives me heavier weights than I ever use on my own. He says I don’t sweat (not true) so he thinks he’s not working me hard enough (also not true).  He has me do far more reps than I want to do. I guess this is the real benefit of personal training: pushing you harder and further than you would choose to push yourself. He may remind me of a puppy, but clearly, I’m the one being trained. He calls me “lady.” (Like Lady and the Tramp?)

“Okay, lady. I want 20 reps. Go! Come on, lady. You got this! You’re powerful!”

I grimace; I push through to the end of the set. Or sometimes, I don’t. I stop, and rest, and Rick modifies his demand: the goal drops to 15 reps, and I can feel his disappointment. I’m letting Rick down.

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Stoic on the outside. Inside: 

In the end, I will let Rick down some more, because I will not sign up for another set of sessions. My penny-pinching wins out: I can’t possibly justify spending this kind of dough on twice weekly personal training. Especially when (and Rick, this is not your fault)- I have actually gained weight over the last month.² Sigh.

An aside: I actually did two new things this month. Did you catch the second one? Look at that last photo; see if you can spot what’s new.

* * * * *

¹A long enough delay that I had to push personal training to June and find something else new to do in May. You remember floating? Yeah, that was just filler.

²I know, I know. “Muscle weighs more than fat.” Blah blah blah. Just get me back to my pre-kids body already!

 

The fanciest dinner party you’ve ever been to

For the second, shortest month of the year, I wanted to try something that didn’t require a daily commitment (unlike my month of veganism). Something that would be memorable, and not require too much advance planning or too much time to execute. Because, frankly: demanding work + three kids (one of whom is still physically dependent on me) = not a ton of time for new things. Later in the year I’ll embark on some challenges that will require more of a time commitment, but for this month, eating out sounded about the right speed.

Also: I promise not all of “my year of 40” will be about food — merely the first two months.

In this month of “landmark Bay Area restaurants,” my hope is that one or more reaches the bar of indelibly memorable. Do you have a mental list of those dining experiences? Those five or ten best meals of all time? For me, they have been not just about the quality of the food (although that’s obviously a requirement), but also about the atmosphere, the sensory experience, the presentation- the complete package.

It’s a high bar, but our first restaurant just may have been up to the task. LazyBear is one of the hottest tickets in town, which normally means I wouldn’t manage to get reservations, not being particularly savvy about these things. But this one sort of fell into my lap: I was at my computer right when tickets went on sale, and I acted quickly.¹

So it was that Graham and I found ourselves last Thursday at an understated venue in the Mission. We were ushered upstairs to enjoy wine, cocktails, or a glass of punch. We were served “snacks” (brought around like hors d’oeuvres, but in presentation, more like a series of amuse-bouches) that hinted at the fanciness and creativity of what was to come. (Below: Shigoku oysters with kiwi and chickweed)IMG_5819After cocktail hour, we were led down the stairs to the main room, a lodge-like space that had two long, communal tables running down the middle, with a busy kitchen at one end. We were instructed where to sit (fourth from the end, on opposite sides of the table). LazyBear really wants you to make friends over dinner.² They call the experience “the modern American dinner party,” and say on their website that they “hope Lazy Bear is the best dinner party you’ve ever attended.” Well, to one side of us was a couple that spoke in Mandarin to each other the whole time. To our other side was a party of four who could barely bring themselves to tell us their names, so wrapped up were they in their own quartet. New friends? Not so much. (Sorry to have failed you, LazyBear.)

The food and the rest of the experience more than made up for our lack of new friends. First, the food. Between the five “snacks” upstairs and the downstairs sit-down meal, we were served a total of 14 courses. All very small plates, all impeccably arranged for visual impact, all representing a harmony of flavors and textures that most humans would never dream up. And they worked, hands down, across the board. IMG_5829

As each course was presented, the chef described it to the whole room. Then we ate it (which, being a small plate, took about 30 seconds).IMG_5821

Between courses you’re encouraged to go watch the chefs in the kitchen and even ask them questions. This was dinner as theater, and it was a ton of fun. IMG_5823

And the food itself: really, extraordinarily good. It was playful, tasty, original, and fresh. Gastronomical whimsy writ large. IMG_5826

The night was an extremely strong start to my month of memorable dining. We walked away with a slew of new taste sensations, visual impressions, and if not any new friends, at least we had each other.

* * * * *

¹+1 for having a #foodies channel on my company’s Slack, and +1 for having a VP Engineering who’s dialed into LazyBear’s ticket release schedule.

²They provide little booklets with descriptions of each dish and room for you to make notes. At the end of the booklet, they write, “Did you sit next to anyone with whom you’d like to keep in touch? Write down their contact info here.” This is plenty cheeky, in the age of ubiquitous smartphones. Also- thanks for rubbing it in, LazyBear, that no, we won’t be keeping in touch with anyone from our table.

January: Vegan

I’m vegan for January. Because: why not? I’ve never been vegan before. I’ve been veg-curious for a long time, though.

I love to cook (as anyone who knows me could tell you). And I’ve enjoyed dabbling in vegan cooking when hosting vegan friends or family. And I’ve often thought- I could do this. I could be vegan. But nothing has prompted me to try it before.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m a happy omnivore. In fact, I’ve been seduced enough by the low-carb style diets that my meat consumption has probably increased in recent years. On certain days, nothing calls to me quite as much as a cheeseburger. On others, I might yearn for a grilled piece of salmon, or some chicken thighs from Sol Food.  However, I certainly go days without eating any meat, and I don’t suffer for it. I suspect that my bigger challenge in going vegan will be giving up dairy and eggs.¹

I’m excited about this month of veganism: to see how my body will feel, to know what vegans go through on a daily basis, to have a set of rules to follow when making dietary choices (restrictions are comforting, in their way). Not to mention the benefits to our environment, and (one could argue) the animals themselves.²

I’ve survived day one, although I’ve already made my first rookie mistake: going to someone else’s house for dinner, knowing full well that the main course would not be vegan, and forgetting to bring the portobello I had bought just for this occasion. Omnivores 1, Jill 0.

* * * * *

¹A reasonable estimate of my egg consumption over the past year would be, say, 500 eggs. I eat 2 eggs for breakfast most days of the week, and if I don’t have them at breakfast, I’ll often have one or more at lunch or dinner. So, yeah, this part of my vegan diet will be hard.

²One could also argue that animals benefit from our carnivorous ways, as without our desire to eat them, many of them would not be born and raised in the first place. But this is not the blog to argue for or against, merely to try.

What is “My Year of 40”?

I’m turning 40 in 2016 (on October 31, to be precise). As I thought about this landmark event, I wondered how I might commemorate it in a way that would be memorable and significant. Throwing a party or taking a trip might have been options, but they felt too brief, relative to the impact of turning forty. Instead, I have decided to celebrate the entire year- my 40th year “year of 40″¹- by trying something new (to me) each month. In some cases, these will be “bucket list” items; in others, they’ll just be ideas or experiences that have piqued my curiosity. I’ll be documenting my journey on this blog, and I hope you’ll enjoy the ride with me.

¹To be clear, my 40th year began the day I turned 39, as my Mom likes to remind me. This is confusing in adulthood, although it makes perfect sense when we think about babies: a photo album of “Baby’s First Year” would clearly show images from birth to baby’s first birthday. Somehow, the fact that my 40th year began when I turned 39 feels less intuitive and less palatable. Thanks for the reminder, Mom.