Happy Feet!

Blue Ball

Your feet play an important role in your health and happiness. Treat them well and listen when they talk to you.

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I bought a pair of Vibram five-fingered shoes–the kind with minimal padding and separate slots for each toe. The idea is to make it the next best thing to walking barefoot, with minimal protection and maximum flexibility. The shoes come with instructions that tell you not to wear them until you follow a two to three-week exercise regimen for your feet.

I doubt most people follow those instructions if they read them at all but I gave it a shot. The exercises are easy but there are a LOT of boring repetitions. Nonetheless, I have been sticking to it and at the same time reading up about foot health and learning how to walk and run better. Nicole has crazy physiological knowledge of muscles and bones so it helps to have someone I can ask questions about my feet.

Anyway, all the foot exercises and stretches have really made me aware of how much power my feet have over my mood, energy, and general well-being. I noticed when they ache (which was often), my usually good attitude diminishes as does my desire to move.

When you think about it, your feet are your primary connection to the earth and they are loaded with muscles and nerves that give you constant, immediate feedback. If you are like me, though, your feet are an afterthought at best. They just take you from one place to the next and sometimes they ache and sometimes they don’t.

Putting some effort into strengthening and lengthening all the muscles in my feet has definitely had a positive impact.

Here is a quick tip: when you are sitting at home, keep one of those rigid spiked plastic laundry balls under your desk or chair. Absent-mindedly roll it under your arch, heel, and between your toes while you type or watch a show. It is a great massage and provides light muscle work.

We should listen to our feet as much as we listen to other people. They speak to us more often and, let’s face it, our feet usually have more important things to discuss.

 

 

 

 

Food Boobs

 

I’m thinking about changing my blog title from simply my name to “Sexy Celebrity Who Knows Everything You Can’t Figure Out For Yourself”. What do you think?

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If you are at all interested in the debate over healthy eating, then you have probably heard of the “Food Babe“.

She is the latest in a long line of conspiracy theorists and uninformed non-scientific critics trying to lambaste vaguely identified corporate entities.

(If you do not know where to point a finger when it comes to food, just say “Monsanto” in an accusing way and you will sound like an informed advocate on the side of would-be underdogs who believe they are defending food… because they saw some documentaries. As we know, that’s pretty much the same as becoming an actual scientist and Hollywood can always be trusted.)

The problem I have with people like Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”), Dave Asprey (“Bulletproof Coffee” and now also the “Bulletproof Diet”), and Loren Cordain (“Paleo Diet“) is they prey on fear. They exploit the ignorance of others and spread bad information to create panic for profit.

Here is the real deal. I have been vegan and studying the food debate for more than a decade and I can tell you, unequivocally, there are no good answers, no easy answers, and no shortcuts to health. Genetically Modified Food has never been proven unsafe or less nutritious in any rigorous scientific study, whether you choose to eat it or not (I choose not, usually, but not because I pretend to understand the intricacies of the science and agendas on either side of the debate). The base of corporate conspiracies falls apart at the doorstep of any company. Monsanto is comprised of normal working people, just like you and I, paid to do their jobs, just like you and I. No one I have ever met goes to work at any company with the intention of destroying the world. It is, on its face, ludicrous.

Just consider the base logic of nearly all of the anti-food / pro-fear arguments. They advocate eating like we did centuries ago. They say if we go back to eating the way we did more than a hundred years ago, then we will live longer and be healthier. The only problem is, just a hundred years ago our lifespans were shorter, our access to food was more limited, and our understanding of how food works was a hundred years behind today’s knowledge. Would you drive a hundred year old car and expect it to run better, faster, and with fewer emissions than one made today? Food has advanced and improved like nearly everything else. It is not a singular exception to society’s movement forward.

Farmers have always selected for the best food genes, cross-breeding and splicing plants to create better breeds, since the dawn of agriculture. Genetically Modified Food used to just be called “food”. We likely would find the corn our ancestors consumed virtually inedible. Through generations of selection, we now have sweet corn that can be eaten plain and is delicious!

The worst part with conspiracy celebrities like the Food Babe is, they are smart. Vani Hari understands marketing and social media. She has a degree in computer science. She may have good intentions, too, but well-meaning charlatans are still charlatans.

Again, the Food Babe has a computer science degree, not a food science degree, not a degree in nutrition, not even a Chemistry degree. She (and people like her) rely on gullible sycophants to support them, not on their earned credibility in the field they are advocating for or against. These predators are becoming increasingly easy to spot, too, and I encourage you to consider a simple fact before buying into their scare tactics… Associated with all their “miracle cures”, “breakthrough” diets, and generous sharing of information is always, inevitably, a product, service, or subscription they want you to buy.

Shockingly, the Food Babe has a book (and a second one on the way) that she wants you to buy, so she can keep working from home and paying for travel and the costs of maintaining fame and celebrity by finding an ever-increasing (and ever-profitable) audience to fund new panic-invoking articles, interviews, media events, and “research”. The Food Babe relies on two essential things to make a living: her boobs and your fear (she was not given the moniker “Food Babe” by her audience–she gave it to herself).

Actually learning the science of food, studying peer-reviewed literature, and talking to actual scientists who are actually informed does not help her pocketbook or her agenda. Talking to Good Morning America, staying in the news, and finding a way to reach Oprah’s audience does.

It saddens and frustrates me when people, trying to make good decisions, are held captive by sensational marketers, fear-mongering, and exploitation of their own ignorance. No one has the time to study every facet of food production, food science, or even to learn how to discern the hype from the known facts. Sadly, it is at our own peril if we do not start making the time to learn how to think and make decisions on more than a recommendation from a celebrity.

 

Marketers are too good at manipulation now and, for better or worse, your brain is the main tool you have to navigate ethics, morality, and Reality. Do not rely on blogs (not even mine), television, social media, or celebrities to do your thinking or live your life for you. Raise your sleeves and get to work finding out how to think skeptically, how to trace information to its sources, or just how to understand the basics of living a logical life. Be in the driver’s seat of your life. Don’t let these idiots get behind the wheel.

 

2 Ways To Live Better: Be Active.

There is a theme this week: I am sharing my 5 favorite tips that have worked for me in living a better life. Maybe one will contribute to you, too…

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Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of having great integrity. Accept it as a personal mission to always keep your word… even to yourself. You have probably heard the Latin phrase, “Mens sana in corpore sano”, which means “A sound mind in a sound body”. That brings us to today’s post.

2. Be Active. Notice I did not say, “Exercise”. That is a four-letter word in my world. I can barely stand the thought of running in place for an hour or just lifting something heavy and putting it back over and over. Some people love working out, but I find it challenging to think of anything more mind-numbingly boring than exercise for the sake of exercise. It’s just me. I would literally rather sit and do nothing, watching Netflix for an hour instead of actually doing something good for my body (but terribly uninteresting). So, for me, being active is the goal, not exercise.

Fitness, I have learned, does not have to come from lifting weights and running on treadmills. It can come from exploring your city by foot or bicycle. Or just moving from one room to the next in funny ways, like instead of walking from room to room, run like a bear or monkey with your hands and feet on the floor. Whatever will make you or your partner laugh. Do crab-walks to the kitchen. Hop. When you are sitting, fidget a lot. Tap your foot. Wiggle. Anything.

The point is to only rest when you are sleeping.

 

Exercising sucks (if you are like me, anyway). Being active is simple: Just keep moving.

 

Banana Whipped

Listen to your body, even when something sounds delicious.

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One of my favorite desserts is a blended concoction of frozen bananas, vanilla, and peanut butter covered in a light drizzle of vegan chocolate. When run through our Vitamix (a high-powered blender), it comes out having the consistency of ice cream. The problem is it is so good I sometimes have a hard time turning it away, even when I know I should. I love food and I tend to overeat, especially when there is a delicious (even if somewhat healthy) dessert in front of me.

Of course, when I overeat, I usually regret it shortly after when it is obviously too late to make a better decision. I will feel bloated, lethargic, and emotionally depressed.

What I have learned is my body usually warns me when I am about to eat too much but I do not listen very well. When I am full, I feel full. I am socially trained, however, to continue eating until I am no longer enjoying each bite. A meal becomes a competitive sport against myself and when I win, I really lose. I have begun making it a habit to leave food on my plate, stop eating when I am not feeling hungry (but before I feel stuffed), not eating before I feel hungry, and taking leftovers from restaurants instead of trying to finish every meal.


Your body is designed to navigate the world for your brain and continue running efficiently over a lifetime. It communicates to your brain. It advises you. But, as with any advice you are given, it only works if you listen to it.

 

How to Eat Like a King!!

Being vegan has its perks. You enjoy the best food at the most unusual places with the highest quality. Ever seen a vegan McDonald’s? Exactly.

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I never thought I would be able to live without meat, cheese, and butter. Being vegan, though, has been one of the best and longest-lasting commitments I have made with myself. It is not always easy to maintain an animal-free diet and lifestyle but I can not imagine going back to feeling sluggish, needing more sleep, thinking slower, being less productive, and generally feeling lost in a malaise of borderline depression all the time. Something that has become common when I sit down to eat or share pictures of my vegan meals on social media is non-vegan friends saying, “Wow, that actually looks good!”

The surprise is genuine. I think most non-vegans (I was one, too) believe vegans eat a bunch of bland, gross, or tasteless cardboard-like “fake” meat… and lettuce. Lots of lettuce.

Prepare to have your non-vegan mind blown. Here is a dirty secret we veggie-lovers have been hiding from the world. Are you ready for this?

You sure?

Okay… here it is:

Dude, vegans eat like freaking KINGS. Kings!

It’s true. The only time vegans have less than amazing meals is when they are out with non-vegan friends and trying to find a compromise where everyone can eat happily (which actually means where everyone but the vegan can eat happily, but whatever… we’re used to it).

Here are three reasons we have it so good (and there are a lot more but I like to keep it simple):

  • Vegans eat crazy creative foods. Without the crutch of meat and cheese, vegans have to be creative about what they eat. Instead of old curdled milk fat and cow pus, we use crazy living healthy food like nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavors. It’s awesome and twice as versatile; we use it in soups and salads, on pizza and macaroni, or on anything, just for fun. Instead of burnt pig flesh, we use a combination of live enzymes and soybeans to make something as dense as steak, called tempeh. We season it the same way and use it in many of the same dishes (there are tempeh burgers, tempeh bacon, and even tempeh steaks) except we enjoy a great deal more nutrition without that gross, heavy feeling at the end… you know, that feeling like you just ate a dead animal?
  •  Vegans enjoy better looking food that is healthier. Think about this: burger and fries. Brown bread, browned potatoes, with a dark brown patty of fat and ground up body parts. Take a look at your vegan friend’s plate. You see green, red, yellow, white, purple, orange, and even a little brown, too. We eat more fruits and vegetables, obviously, but that means we also eat more colors. An easy way to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals is to be sure you eat lots of colorful food (for example, greens like kale and spinach are great sources of protein, while yellow bananas carry potassium, orange peppers are loaded with vitamin C, white tofu has calcium, and purple cabbage is a killer source of vitamin A). Vegans eat lots of colors practically by default, but also we love finding new flavors. Once you start your vegan journey, you learn about a whole new world of flavors and foods you never imagined! Lychees, tofu, tempeh, seitan, nutritional yeast, kimchi, kumquats… all things that were not only not on my pre-vegan menu but also things I would probably have never heard of until I had a reason to explore outside my comfort zone.
  • Vegans eat the best food available. When you choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle, you can not help but learn about food. Once you gain knowledge on factory farming, how supermarkets work, food marketing, and quality standards while also learning about available local food, farmers markets, and organic farming practices, you can not help but eat better. You become a food connoisseur. If you have not noticed, most vegan food is the highest quality food you can find–GMO-free, usually organic, often locally obtained, cruelty-free (meaning no animals were harmed in the making of it) and produced under strict standards. Think about it. Anything certified vegan has to be treated special because it caters to a specific, food-educated audience. The food is handled on special, segregated equipment. It is made with special, high-quality ingredients. It is even prepared in special, non-harming ways. Imagine the fast-food burger flipper with no idea where the meat was assembled or even what animals it was made from before it arrived in a box of other frozen patties. Imagine the local vegan-friendly restaurant who buys their produce from the farm up the road, prepares the food fresh (because you know vegans don’t like preservatives and weird chemicals in their food!) and makes sure it is good enough for a crowd of picky eaters. You have to deliver the goods when the people you are cooking for know as much about the food as you probably know.

 

So there you have it.

If you have the perception that vegan-life is filled with suffering while grazing on wheat grass and hugging cows… you are missing out big time. When you REALLY want to find and enjoy the best food available and eat like royalty… have your vegan foodie friend take you out for dinner (and be prepared for some crazy delicious foods you never heard of)!

How to Listen to Your Body

How do you know if you should eat one more bite of that pie or push yourself for one more rep with the barbells?

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Many of us struggle with knowing when too much is too much, whether it is with our eating habits, exercise habits, or even sexual habits. I think for many of us it is easy to go wrong because we are completely out of tune with our body.

Think about it. How often do you check in with your body each day? How often are you bombarded with media, food, and marketing each day telling you what is good or bad for your body?

As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, you see the brand name on your phone or alarm clock. You know you are supposed to start your day tired and have a cup of coffee to get going because your whole life there have been commercials telling you so. You choose a healthy sounding cereal because the box says it has “9 essential vitamins and minerals!”. You can rest assured it is health food because the name on the box contains “Wheat” or “Flax” or “Bran” or “Healthy”. It probably also has more sugar than you need in a week but forget about that because there is a famous athlete on the box and he sure seems happy! If a famous athlete would eat it, then it must be good, right? The milk you choose must be healthy because there are pictures of happy cows on it and the box says it is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. You have no idea if you are deficient in either of these, but that’s okay because Happy Farm milk has you covered.

This is just the first few minutes of your day. How much is the rest of your day manipulated by tradition, media, flashing signs, billboards, and bad habits? How does the world screaming at you all the time affect your ability to listen to your own needs?

This is not only about food. Think of the last time your father or grandfather threw out his back because he was trying to lift more than his body was willing to allow. Think of your exercise fanatic friend who tore her hamstring by not listening to her body telling her how much of a stretch is too much. And, yes, think of the American struggle with sugar and obesity because we have a hard time discerning when (or what) to stop eating.

Sometimes we make bad decisions because we have no idea what our body wants or needs. We are not trained to listen to ourselves. We seem to be trained more and more to listen to anything but our own bodies and minds.

Always being on the right side of listening to my body is definitely not a skill I would say I have mastered yet, but I am becoming better at listening to my self. Here is what works for me (most of the time):

     1. Meditation. Quiet solitude to hear my thoughts or turn down the volume of the world is an essential part of my week. I try to meditate daily. Just 10 minutes of silent breathing, I find, centers my emotions, helps me think better, and gives me a small boost of energy!

     2. Stopping at “satisfaction” instead of “stuffed”. This is a work in progress for me, especially around food. I grew up, like many Americans my age, being taught to “clean my plate” and warned there are “starving children in Africa” so I should eat everything I am served. With restaurant food portions (and prices) out of control, that becomes an increasingly difficult challenge. When there is not enough food to box up and take home but enough to make me feel like I am wasting money by leaving it, I would normally tend to just eat what is left. Now, I am trying to stop when my belly is satisfied instead of stuffing myself. Sure, food is delicious and I want to enjoy it but the penalty for leaving some on my plate is far less damaging to my wallet than it is to my health.

     3. Being “consciously wasteful”. It has taken me a long time to be okay with leaving food on my plate, but now it is almost a game when I am at a restaurant. I know the food portions are far above what my body needs so I try to eat enough to be sure I am satisfied and box up enough for a second meal. If there is not enough for a second meal, then I am okay letting it go to waste. It goes against everything I was taught as a kid, but It is a lot better to throw a little food out than to live with diabetes or low self-esteem. Also, leaving a little food behind is a great way for me to practice self-discipline. When my stomach says it has had enough (there are no more pangs of hunger), then I know it is time to stop and everything else is simply excess.

Of course, I apply the same principles beyond food. Stopping at satisfaction when I exercise makes it more enjoyable and I am likely to return for more. Being “consciously wasteful” by giving away or throwing out anything I have not used, noticed, or missed in the last year helps me live a cleaner, more spacious life (in less space!) and frees me up to enjoy more time doing other things.

It all centers around the same principle: staying in touch with my body. My body feels the clutter and depression when my apartment is untidy or filled with trinkets that no longer serve a purpose. My mind feels both the physical and emotional weight when I do not like the belly I see in the mirror. My feet ache not from being on them too much, but from not taking care of them when I am, by not stretching them and exercising them properly, which brings us back to exercise. The circle continues and at the core is meditation, a simple moment of breathing and not thinking about anything other than breathing for at least a few minutes a day.

When I listen to my body, I hear less noise in the world and more of what is actually important around me.

The 5-Ingredient Meal

Use this trick to simplify your at-home meals…

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I enjoy thinking of new ways to embrace minimalism and live a simpler yet more robust life. Something Nicole and I have been trying lately and having some success with is 5-Ingredient meals.

I like to cook but I do not have much patience for the prep work and clean-up. Because I like eating more than I like cooking, I tend to favor eating out and skipping all the leg work of making a meal. I think eating out is a great way to add more diversity to your diet (unless you eat the same meal at the same place every time) but the food is highly processed, usually over-salted for flavor, and often cheap high-carbs and starches to fill you up at less cost and more profit to the restaurant.

In other words, it is good to prepare your own meals more often than not. Since I practice being minimalist and look for ways to simplify, Nicole and I have added a simple rule to our cooking. Our meals can have no more than 5 ingredients (spices not included, but also no more than 5 spices). To clarify, each dish has no more than 5 ingredients and each meal has no more than 5 components (including drinks).

Since a lot of our cooking centers on Mediterranean and Asian food, we have made one notable exception: we count garlic and onion as one ingredient! If they are both chopped fresh, sometimes we will count them separately. We play it pretty loose with those two.

Here is an example of what a simple meal looks like for us…

Tofu Scramble:
1. Smashed tofu (I love squeezing the water out of it with my bare hands and then crumbling it into the pan)
2. Spinach
3. Mushrooms
4. Onion and Garlic
5. Fresh tomatoes (right at the end)

Seasonings: Turmeric (to make the tofu yellow), Cumin, Salt, Pepper, Nutritional Yeast

Salad:
1. Spinach
2. Tomatoes
3. Cucumber
4. Chick Peas
5. Onion

Seasoning / Dressing: Olive oil, Mint, Salt, Pepper, Lemon juice

Normally, a salad and tofu scramble would have about 10 more items added between them, more spices, and definitely longer cooking time and preparation. The funny thing is, since we have started this little experiment, I have found limiting ingredients has actually expanded flavors. Now I notice the individual constituents of each meal and can savor each bite, identifying each flavor within it.

Eating can be super simple and simply delicious! Set limits on ingredients, focus on flavor, and enjoy more time eating and less time chopping, washing, soaking, and waiting…

Commitment Anxiety?

I struggle with making time to exercise. Here is what I do to keep at it…

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Some people love exercise. It puts them in a zone, makes them happy, or helps them alleviate stress. For me, exercise does not that. I don’t like it. For me, it is time-consuming, mindless, and boring. I would rather do dishes because at least I would feel like something was accomplished. I prefer immediate results over long-term results (and here, you could replace “exercise” with just about any goal). Nonetheless, I recognize both long-term and short-term results are important. I know I should exercise for the myriad benefits to health and wellness and because my body is a machine that needs proper care to function well, like any machine.

I find there are three secrets to making my long-term goals work for me.

 

  • Keep changing my approach. This keeps me from becoming bored and dropping it. For example, I might change the time of day I exercise (but I find I will almost never do it in the evening because I am usually mentally exhausted), or I will change the exercise itself. The last few weeks it has been push-ups and crunches. This week my morning exercise will be Sun Salutations.
  • Make it simple.I was waking up each morning and doing 30 push-ups and 20 crunches, basically 10 minutes of exercise. That’s it. If I commit to more, I find that I will procrastinate until it is too late. If I am feeling energetic and motivated and happen to wake up earlier than usual, I might go a little longer, but that does not happen very often. The way I see it, one push-up is better than none and 10 minutes is better than 0 minutes. I don’t beat myself up if I do not make it through the set either. Sometimes my energy or motivation is low. The important thing is I showed up and attempted.
  • I will not give up. Some days are better than others. Sometimes I am all over it; I have great command of my diet, plentiful energy, and all cylinders are firing. Other days, I am not into it. I might be feeling under the weather or just feeling depressed about my body. I am not going to commit 2 hours a day to working out because I have other goals to accomplish as well (and I do not like exercising that much), so I embrace that. My body is what I choose. If I have “extra padding”, it is because I choose to eat too much and exercise too little. That is okay (until it isn’t). I can choose to exercise more, too, when I am ready to sacrifice other time and energy to devote to it. I refuse to feel guilty or beat myself up for choices I consciously and willingly make. I accept the consequences (until I don’t, and then I choose to do better).

 

Don’t let yourself become bored with your routine. Keep your commitments simple (and over-deliver when you can). Make powerful choices and be aware when you choose, you also choose to accept the consequences of the action, and the non-action associated with your choice.

 

A Long Walk

As the weather winds down for winter in Michigan, there are fewer days to enjoy a nice, warm walk on a sunny day. But what is a walk all about?

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Personally, I do not like exercise for the sake of exercising, so it is very unlikely you will ever catch me in a gym, but walking is an easy way to fool myself into a healthy habit.

Today, I realized how much I enjoy a long walk. I mean really long, like I will walk until I am not sure if I will have enough energy to make it back to the car. I like to explore and walking helps me slow down enough to view the world in slow motion (compared to all the driving, flying, and even bicycling I do).

I paused for a few minutes under a big oak tree by the Grand River. I sat down on the stone steps by the water and closed my eyes for a minute. I could smell the autumn leaves, earthy and sweet, covering the sidewalk and rocks that dipped into the river. The tree was letting leaves go, too, and it seemed like a slow motion rainfall of yellow, red, and brown sails lazily making their way to the water, to sail off.

When you walk, don’t forget to pay attention to the world. Listen to as many sounds as you can process. Try to hear everything at once, and then try to focus on as many individual sounds as you can. Look under railings or up into trees and see what life is flourishing there that you would normally have just passed in your rush to work or your next social engagement. Inhale and try to identify each scent of the flora and fauna around you. Just take a minute now and then to get out of your head and be as much a part of the world as the tree you are walking by or the wind whispering to you through it.

 

Walking is good for the body, calms the mind, and enriches the spirit when you do it consciously. Enjoy your day.

 

Veganomics

I looked at the scale and could barely believe my eyes. I lost 53 lbs the year I made the switch from vegetarian to vegan. At first, I thought it was great but then I started to worry. I didn’t know if, or when, the weight loss would stop and, frankly, it was getting expensive to keep buying new clothes.

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The weight loss did stop, though, after about a year. I think it was only because it took me that long to find vegan junk food. There are a lot of myths around veganism and probably as many reasons for choosing a vegan lifestyle (meaning you do not consume or wear anything that is, or comes from, another animal) but weight loss was never part of my reason for “embracing the ‘V”.

 

Over dinner, I explained to a friend that many people choose to go vegan for better health but are surprised to find we vegans can be just as fat on a vegan diet as meat and dairy centric people can be on their diet. The vegan diet is still healthier in many ways but if you are looking to lose weight, forget all the diet advice and media hype out there.

 

There is only one sure way I know of to drop pounds and it is virtually foolproof. Here it is: eat less, move more.

 

The more you move, the more fuel you burn. To become lean, you simply must burn more fuel than you take in.

 

Being vegan is great and I have enjoyed many benefits like needing less sleep, having greater concentration and more energy, almost never being sick, and generally feeling about 10 years younger than my age. Those are all fine reasons to choose veganism, too, but if you are doing it in the hopes of becoming thinner, I would just advise you to go for a walk instead!

 

Great food, though. So much great vegan food. Just thinking about it makes me think I need to go for a walk, too…