Tag Archives: 100 healthy days

7 Healthy Days Finding Myself in the Utah Desert

About a month ago I found myself in a situation. And the situation was this – I was burnt out. Capital B, Capital O. Two periods.

Burnt. Out.

In an effort to re-light my fire, I decided I needed to flee the city, and go ‘find myself.’ And what better place to do so, than in a desert in Southern Utah. Obviously.

This is a desert rodent, just in case the context isn't obvious...

This is a desert rodent, just in case the context isn’t obvious…

“Burn out, schmurn out”, you might say. “You’re in Silicon Valley. Being honest, if you’re not burning out I would really question your dedication to life.”

But the struggle, as they say, was real. I was spending long, sad hours in work, dancing the corporate two-step, followed by longer, even sadder, hours in the city, battling it out on the SF dating scene. I was stressed, making poor food choices, skipping exercise classes, plagued by feelings of shame, guilt and self-doubt and crying ugly tears in sushi restaurants (true story).

And then, one day, I snapped. This wasn’t right! Sushi restaurants are for eating and taking pictures of sushi rolls. I needed an intervention, and the only person who was in a position to intervene…was ME! (…although the waiters in the sushi restaurant were perilously close, being honest…).

Decision made, I rather impetuously booked myself into the Red Mountain Resort, in St George, Utah.

Red Mountain Resort is the perfect place for someone looking to take a break from it all, and reconnect with themselves. In fact, I have no doubt that it’s been designed as such. Situated in the small city of St George, the resort looks out onto a vast expanse of red desert and nothing more. Regardless of whether or not it’s the case, you get the distinct impression that you are in the wilderness, far, far away from everything that you’ve left behind.

The view from the resort. So red!

The view from the resort. So red!

Every hour of the day is filled with some kind of activity designed to nourish your mind, body or soul. You have daily guided hikes into the nearby State Park, Snow Canyon, exercise classes every hour of the day, biking, canyoneering, paddle-boarding, horse back riding, shelter dog walking. The restaurants serve clean meals only, not a french fry to be found (unless it’s sweet potato). They have an on-site spa, acupuncture, Louise Hay books in the gift shop, and for the more spiritually liberal you have the option of balancing your chakras and healing your soul using crystal bowls.

Being honest, when I first arrived, there was a tiny, skeptical, Irish part of me that was like ‘WTF?!! You want to color my psyche? Create balance in my energy fields?!”

And, know this, I’m like, already into personal development and general hippy shit. Angel cards, meditation, talking about your feelings in the pub – classic Michelle. But this all seemed like a step too far into the self-help realm.

And then, after one little walk into the desert that first day, I capitulated. I capitulated in a major way.

Over the course of seven days I hiked, I rapelled, I bouldered, I kayaked. I journaled, affirmed, mantra’d and balanced. I walked the meditation circle, marveled at the scenery, exchanged life stories, sought meaning and looked for signs of the universe speaking to me.

The result? Cynics (especially Irish cynics)- hold your tongues! But I actually felt like I had a genuinely spiritual, healing experience. After my week, I felt like something imperceptible had shifted in my brain, making room for just a little bit of peace and harmony.

Since coming back, I’ve spoken to a few people about my week. Hesitantly, with trepidation, and fear of slagging (ie making fun of), I started describing my experience. “You know I’ve never been to the desert before, but there was something almost…”, only for them to cut across me and finish my sentence; “Spiritual?!? I felt the same when I was there”. No word of a lie – this happened at least twice.

And it’s true, there’s something spiritual about the desert. When you’re out there, walking through the sandstone, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sense that you’re truly connected to the earth and your surroundings. Now, be it because this is actually the case, or because you’re actively looking for something ‘more’, it doesn’t really matter. Suffice to say, when you get home, and you’re shaking the sand out of your hiking boots, you suddenly realise that you’re feeling just a little bit better about life than you did before.

Watching a lightening storm

Watching a lightening storm

Feeling so tiny in Snow Canyon

Feeling so tiny in Snow Canyon

At the amazing Zion National Park, one of the natural wonders of the world.

At the amazing Zion National Park, one of the natural wonders of the world.

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Day 8: Food of the Week – Pico de Gallo

I’ve been making an effort to cook a lot more since I re-started this challenge. I would normally come home from work and just have a salad with some smoked salmon or something, but that’s not so appetizing when it’s dark and cold outside. (Well, cold-ish. Let’s be serious, we’re in California. It never gets full on cold. Like you Ireland. Teehee. Smug emigrant moment happening.) 

However, I typically don’t feel up to cooking a huge meal when I get home either. During the week I’m all about simple and easy but nutritious and wholefood-ious (totes a word). This is not an easy task! BUT there is one thing that has greatly contributed to the healthy eating cause and that is…drumroll…Pico de Gallo – my food of the week!

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Actually, full disclosure, it was Mags who pointed out the amazingness of this food

For those of you unfamiliar (and I would imagine that’s everyone in Ireland as I had never heard of this before coming over here) Pico de Gallo is a fresh salsa (or salad) made from tomato, onion, serranos, coriander leaves, salt and lime juice. Hailing from Mexico it’s got an amazing zing to it, and is perfect for jazzing up the most boring of dishes. (A lot of zing-ing and jazzing going on with this – I’m obviously excited about it.)

This is so easy to make (see recipe here), but if you’re really, really lazy like me, you can buy it ready-made from Wholefoods. This week I paired it with some frozen, white, wild-caught fish I bought from Trader Joes, roasting them in the oven with some cherry tomatoes and capers. I also steamed some green beans to accompany it. All in all 25 minutes to make. And I made a second one for the next night!

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Any other good uses of pico del gallo out there? I have a half a tub left!

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Today was a good day – but then again Mondays always are! I always feel like if I have too much fun on a Monday (both in terms of food-fun and fun-fun) it throws me off kilter for the week. I really tried to eat fewer calories today as my weekend was probably a little excessive.

Food and exercise

  • Hot water with lemon and fresh ginger
  • Breakfast: 1/2 cup of scrambled whole eggs, 1/2 scrambled egg whites, steamed kale
  • Lunch: Salad with veg, 1 cup of chicken, tbsp olive oil, tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Snack: Celery and carrot sticks with little container of baba ganoush
  • Exercise: 35 mins spin class
  • Dinner: See above
  • Snack: 6 almonds

Day 7: Working those calves on Bernal Hill

San Francisco loves a hill. And San Francisco adores a steep hill. So much so that my roommate Venessa specifically warned me that my calves were going to explode, hulk-style, as a result of walking around – pointing out her own monster calves as an example. (FYI they’re tiny, dainty little things). Risk of monster calves aside there’s no denying that a walk around your typical SF neighborhood will provide you with a satisfactory burn in the legs.

If Ryan's OK with it, then so am I

If it’s good enough for Ryan, it’s good enough for me

One of the hills near me is the beautiful Bernal Heights Hill. If you can believe it, I’ve lived in my house for 8 months now and I can see Bernal from our deck, but I’ve never actually made it up. Ridiculous! My new year’s resolution is to get outdoors more so I decided to take myself up there for a nice walk with my other roommate Lysbet.

The walk itself is very short – it probably only took us 15/20 minutes to get up to the top. But most of it is vertical with lots of stairs so you get a lot of bang for your buck. If I had been taking the outing seriously as a workout, I probably would have run it. As it was, I was just happy to get out in the warm, Californian sunshine and take in the view. My calves did burn though!! I’ll run it the next time…

The view from the summit is spectacular – on a clear day you get a 360 view of the city. It was fun trying to pick out our fave spots. One thing I also noticed was that there were so many more green areas that I didn’t even know existed. Plenty more exploring to be done obviously!

A lot of people had the same idea as we did – we were joined by a lot of dog walkers and couples having magic moments. Bernal Hill is an amazing place to either pledge your undying love to someone or decide to go your separate ways.

The walk home was fun as well. One thing I love about SF is that they put such effort into making public spaces pretty and interesting. There were so many cute little look-out points and even a slide in lieu of some stairs (see video!). A simple walk around the block can turn into a mini adventure.

It was a lovely day indeed and it’s made me realise that I need to get out exploring more. Any San Franciscans know of any other hills/green areas/fun places to explore in the city?

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Video of Lysbet and I going down the slide.

Such lovely views!

Such lovely views!

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Today was a good day. My one slight slip was another trip to Toast. I’m obsessed. My new favourite activity is to go early by myself and people watch. No major exercise – just the walk up Bernal. Great to get some fresh air though and to get your body moving.

Food and exercise

  • Breakfast: Scramble with bacon and avocado, fruit salad, half an English muffin
  • Exercise: Walk up Bernal Heights Hill
  • Lunch: Salad from Wholefoods with prawns
  • Dinner: Vegan Tamale

Day 6: The importance of a work out buddy

Workout buddies – there to share the pain of your hill run, high five you after a new deadlift PB, compete with you on squat reps and most importantly…save you from your hangover.

Sometimes some tough love is needed

Sometimes some tough love is needed

Yes, the inevitable happened. After the excesses of Day 5’s night out at Zeitgeist I woke up with a hangover. I felt cheated! Surely that’s not supposed to happen when you only drink vodka soda(s x 3 large ones). As soon as I woke up and felt my head pounding I groaned into my pillow. Today was Barry’s Bootcamp day – the first one after the holidays and guaranteed to be horrendous even for normal-headed folks.

After lying there for a while, trying to assess the damage, I sent a message to Mags, my workout buddy, who had also been out with me the night before.

‘There’s a small family of leprechauns having an actual Ceili in my actual head. I don’t think I can do Barry’s today.’

Confident in the knowledge Mags would also be in the throes like me, I dragged myself down to my fave Noe Valley diner Toast for some consolatory eggs and smoked salmon. (Healthy.) Just as I was about to tuck in, a smug little smile on my face, squirming in my seat with happiness, Mags replied.

‘None of your guff, girly – I’m feeling amazing. Friends don’t let other friends skip Barry’s Bootcamp.’

(FYI – Mags is also Irish, hence the excessive Irish-ness of our conversation).

Goddammit, I thought. Fine, fine FINE! I’ll go. I’d never live it down if I skipped out. (How she managed to escape the damage of those three vodka sodas is beyond me. I’m convinced she’s a genetically superior human being).

So, we went to Barry’s, we ran, we lifted, we squatted, we crunched. I would lie if I said it was enjoyable at the time. It was disgusting. And I felt like puking. But the victory was in participating as far as I’m concerned. And as we walked out, with our skinny peanut butter protein shakes in hand, I had to admit- my workout buddy done good. Without her I would have certainly gone back to bed after Toast, followed by a day of unhealthiness and self-loathing.

Thanks Mags!

Trying to take a selfie at the Bay Bridge. 8 pictures, no bridge.

Trying to take a selfie at the Bay Bridge after the class. 8 pictures, no bridge. Well maybe a corner of a bridge

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On account of the hangover the day was probs not as healthy as it could have been. BUT I didn’t go mad. The unhealthy things were an English muffin and then sushi and more alcohol later on when I went out for Karaoke. Could have been worse though.

Food and exercise:

  • Breakfast: Lox scrambler from Toast, with an English muffin and fresh fruit
  • Exercise: 1 hour Barry’s Bootcamp
  • Snack: Skinny protein shake (unsweetened almond milk, no sugar peanut butter and vanilla protein powder)
  • Lunch: Sweet potato with a handful of pistachios (random I know)
  • Dinner: Split with Lysbet – edamame, miso soup, poki salad, 2 sushi rolls, sake
  • Drinks: 2 x glass of wine
  • Entertainment: Karaoke at Encore, a go of a friend’s massage chair and Super Mario (also random.)

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Day 5: Friday Night Syndrome

What is it about Friday nights? You spend the first part of the week being so healthy you could be the pin-up in a juice bar, only for the clock to strike 4 on a Friday and your resolve crumbles faster than a full fat chocolate chip cookie. Friday. Night. Syndrome.

The typical Friday night conversation

The typical Friday night conversation

Friday nights are my Achilles heel. My way of unwinding after a long, hard week of working is to go out, meet some friends and chit-chat over good food and some sort of alcoholic beverage. If I just went home and watched TV I would feel cheated and probably spend the night crying into my broiled white fish and broccoli supper. That’s what Sunday through Thursday is for!

So, realistically I’m not going to give up my Friday night socialising – I just need to find a way to healthify it.

The plan this Friday was to go to Zeitgeist in the Mission for a few drinks and then on to Burma Love, which just opened recently. Perfect I thought, planning it all out in my head – I’ll have no more than two vodka tonics at happy hour, before heading to the restaurant where I would opt for the healthiest option on the menu and then head home at a reasonable hour and get the requisite 8 hours sleep. HEALTH MASTER!

Emmmm…didn’t quite pan out that way. The primary cause – I forgot how ridiculously strong the drinks are in the States. They’re even stronger when you engage in a bit of friendly, Friday night flirting with the bartender. So, my first vodka-tonic was most likely worth three normal (Irish) ones. And this tickled me pink enough to order two more. And then of course, the banter with the friends got even better, so food was forgotten about until around 10. We actually did end up going to Burma Love, but were tipsy enough and starving enough to order the slightly less than healthy option…with a side of wine.

So, not an amazingly healthy night, but also, not a complete disaster. A disaster would have been to drink beer rather than vodka tonics and then not eat until midnight when you stop and get a burrito. This kind of disaster has struck before.

I’m not quite sure how to cure myself of Friday Night Syndrome though. Maybe buddy up with a fellow health warrior and only do rounds of drinks with them? Any tips or strategies out there?

A note on Zeitgeist and Burma Love. It was my first time at both and I had a blast.

Zeitgeist is a fun dive bar, with a great outdoor area and lots of benches. Not too many annoying hipsters either. If you’re not trying to be healthy they have a BBQ pit as well where you can get some burgers.

Burma Love was great as well. I had never had Burmese food prior to coming to San Francisco, but now tea leaf salad is one of my favorite dishes. As with most restaurants worth going to in the city you need a reservation. We got lucky and got a table with no reso!

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Despite a relatively un-healthy ending to the day it started quite well, with lots of fresh, whole foods. No exercise though. I was still exhausted and knew I’d be doing Barry’s Bootcamp on Saturday so I decided not to push it. Outside of food and exercise the other healthy thing was chilling out with friends and laughing. Food for the soul, so it is!

Food and exercise

No pictures of my lunch, drinks or dinner so you get a selfie instead

No pictures of my lunch, drinks or dinner so you get a selfie instead

  • Snack: Green Juice from Thistle (ordered the night before)
  • Breakfast: Kefir with berries (AMAZING)
  • Lunch: Salad with chicken, edamame beans and a slice of rye bread (bold, bold, bold)
  • Snack: Sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, large handful of walnuts
  • Drinks: 3 (large) vodka tonics with a splash of cranberry
  • Dinner: Green tea salad (split by three people) Tablespoon of a chicken/noodle dish, 2 tablespoons brown rice, eggplant prawn dish (YUM) and one large glass of wine

Day 4: Exhausted, but a healthy SF take out saves the day!

Day 4 and I’ve been slammed by a wave of exhaustion. Naively, I had convinced myself that I would be able to cheat jet lag, bounce and frolick my way back into a healthy, daily routine, go to my 8 exercise classes and cook balanced meals from scratch. Hah!

Turns out I’m not quite the super-food cooking superhero just yet.

Instead, I’m more like this.

I love this crazy looking creature.

I love this crazy looking creature.

I’ve gone through similar periods of exhaustion in the past, so I’m all too familiar with the havoc this can wreak upon a healthy living resolution. In an effort to simply keep your eyes open, all you want to do is to eat carby, sugary, starchy, fatty (DELICIOUS) food- and the last thing you want to do is to cook it. Inevitably, this leads to a stop at the local burrito place on the way home from work or a sneaky take out that usually involves pizza.

I am extraordinarily happy to report that good sense and and great health prevailed in this instance. Whilst I did order take-out it was of the very healthy variety. Actually, scratch that, it was of the very, very healthy variety. And it doesn’t get much better than very, very healthy.

Enter Thistle – the pioneers (in my mind – maybe there are others?) of genuinely healthy fast food. I’ve been using them for a while now. They have a variety of healthy, vegetarian dishes that you can order online and have delivered to your doorstep in 30 minutes (or less, more often than not). The dishes always provide a balance of veg, healthy carbs, fat and protein. Honestly speaking, I always feel 100% satisfied afterwards, and never want anything else after.

Jaysus, this sounds like it’s a commercial, but it’s not, I promise.

My dish of choice was the Power Bowl – steamed quinoa, marinated kale, mashed sweet potato, black beans, carrots, housemade kimchi, sunflower seeds, and tahini sauce. I also got the Snow drink (almond milk with peppermint) and I got the Verdance green juice for the following morning.

Thistle is great if you need a quick fix, but in the future I plan to have a freezer-load of healthy meals on hand, ready to defrost when the need hits.

But I’ll get to that when i’m less tired…

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Whilst I did a good job on the eating front, exercise failed miserably. I had signed up for two exercise classes, canceled them, asked some friends if they wanted to go for a walk, canceled that and then ended up on the couch for the night. But you know what – needs must and sometimes you just need to listen to your body.

Food and exercise:

  • Hot water with lemon
  • Breakfast: scrambled eggs (whole and whites), kale, two large coffees with milk
  • Lunch: Salad, with fresh veg, chicken and some fried plantain (healthy? Probs not…but only a small bit), sprinkle nuts and seeds, olive oil and apple cider vinegar
  • Snack: Chobani Greek yogurt and handful almonds
  • Dinner: See above
  • Exercise: channel surfing…

Day 3: Sweating the holidays out with Bikram Yoga in the Mission

During some kind of a jet-lagged fueled, manic episode I decided to sign up to no less than 8 exercise classes this week. One of these being Bikram Yoga. No better way to rid yourself of your holiday demons than sweating them out of you.

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My friend Katie, suggested we check out the Bikram Yoga class at Mission Yoga in San Francisco. We managed to get an amazing deal on Groupon – 25 classes for $108. Score! (There’s also still time remaining to get the deal FYI).

This wasn’t my first time doing Bikram, thankfully. I used to do it quite regularly while living in Dublin and I loved it. I think if it had been my first time, I would have suffered even more than I did.

For those of you who refuse to call something a workout unless it involves lifting serious lbs or sprinting 5 miles – let me enlighten you. Bikram Yoga is not for wimps. It’s badass. I find that it gets my heart racing as much as a hill run or a round of wall balls . The class consists of a continuous flow of 26 postures in 40 °C (104 °F) heat with a humidity of 40% for 90 badass minutes. That’s right…badass.

More often than not it’s the heat and humidity that’s the most difficult part of the class. It gets hot! And the postures themselves can be pretty challenging. There’s contorting, squatting and oodles of balancing postures. For those of you who know me you’ll know I don’t do balancing that well. I sometimes fall down even when standing still.

This all being said, Bikram Yog is still totally do-able and accessible to everyone, regardless of fitness level. You’re encouraged to take it at your own speed and sit down whenever you want. I spent half of my first few classes sitting on the mat.

In addition to the physicality I find that there’s something that happens to you on an emotional level when you practice Bikram. Bear with me. My friend Marie used to tell me that she found it to be amazing for unlocking pent up emotions. Sure enough, at the end of the class as we were lying in the dark in the savasana pose I could feel the tears pricking my eyes for no reason at all. It wasn’t a bad thing necessarily – I felt like something had been dislodged, emotionally speaking. Strange…

Anyway, suffice to say I thought the class was great and I’ll definitely be going back again. I really want to get better at it! I want to be the teachers pet, and be the one to hear ‘You there in the back, that’s the best tree pose I’ve seen this side of India.’

Like I said – lofty goals this year.

In other yoga related news I just saw they’re running a weed-fueled yoga class in SOMA on Wednesdays. This is so San Francisco, it hurts! Something to put on the bucket list I think.

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Today was again quite a good day for healthy living. I managed to eat healthfully and do two exercise classes. I did have a brief moment though, as I was eating my raw vegetable snack, when I thought I couldn’t stomach any more veg. But I persevered! 3 good days so far – not bad!

Food and exercise

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  • Hot water with lemon
  • Snack: Small handful walnuts
  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and Kale, 2 large coffees
  • Exercise: 1 hour PT
  • Lunch: Salad with veg, chicken, roasted brussel sprouts, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, olive oil and apple cider vinegar
  • Snack: Raw veg with lemon hummus
  • Exercise: 90 (badass) mins of Bikram Yoga
  • Snack: Handful pecans
  • Dinner: White fish, green beans, half an avocado