Let’s Get Glowing!
Winter 2018 has been a rough one for mine and my family’s health. For three months, my household has welcomed a revolving door of viruses. Just as one leaves, another enters. Two weeks ago, I woke up with the second of two stomach viruses I’ve had since Christmas. Five days later, still queasy but improving, I spent a sleepless night battling dense congestion and wake up to an upper respiratory nightmare, either viral or allergic. Two days after that, I roll over in bed to hit the snooze button on my alarm and find I can barely open my left eye which is crusted and glued by mucus. I have pink eye.
I drag myself out of bed and head to my early morning hair appointment, sans makeup, where I spend the next two hours trying to avoid my reflection in the mirror. Pink eye notwithstanding, I look horrible. I have dark purple shadows under my eyes, my complexion is ruddy and blotchy, my skin is oily, and my lips are colorless. I look as bad as I feel.
Avoiding my reflection, I flip through a magazine, and a small sidebar catches my eye. A single paragraph note hovers near the middle of the page recommending a new book: Glow15: A Science-Based Plan to Lose Weight, Revitalize Your Skin, and Invigorate Your Life. I open the Amazon app on my iPhone and order the book on the spot.
I regretted it almost immediately.
Since I started running in college, I’ve subscribed faithfully to a single philosophy concerning my health and weight management: Eat what you want, when you want in moderation, and keep running. Over the years, I’ve gathered that this approach is flawed, but it has also allowed me to eat whatever I want and still maintain my weight. Except for occasional fasts from alcohol or candy, I avoid all forms of self-denial since deprivation is a surefire way to triple my cravings for the food or beverage in question. I don’t want to lose weight, but I don’t want to gain it either. The idea that Glow15 might upset my routine is uncomfortable.
When the book arrived two days later, it sits in the box on the counter for another day. “I’m fine,” I rationalized, “I don’t need to make any changes.”
The following afternoon – a Saturday – I return home from my son’s basketball game feeling exhausted. My kids are on their last night of Spring Break, and we have no plans. The night is wide open for us to enjoy as a family. But I can’t muster the energy for anything more than an episode of Naked & Afraid on the sofa. “Maybe” I admit to myself, “my approach to nutrition isn’t working as well as it used to.” Perhaps a little tune-up might do me some good.
I put the kids to bed and return to the kitchen where the book sits, wrapped in brown cardboard. I pour myself a cocktail, unwrapped a slice of processed American cheese, take a deep breath, and rip the book from its packaging. I dive in.
Glow15, Day One – Sunday
Not wanting to delay one more day and chicken out, I speed read the book to get the gist: Activate something called autophagy (ah-TOE-phugy) by alternating high-protein days with intermittent fasting and low-protein days. I write up a list of obscure groceries and head to my local organic market.
Right away, I’m annoyed. Shopping in specialty markets is frustrating. The “powerphenols” on my list – nutrient-dense nutritional supplements – are spread out over three aisles. No one has even heard of tea seed oil, which appears in almost every recipe in the book. And everything seems to cost a small fortune. Glow15, like so many other diets, seems to be designed for the one percent.
Ninety minutes, $215, and three markets later, I still haven’t found EGCG (one of my prescribed supplements) or tea seed oil. I give up and head home with three bags of very expensive groceries. There’s a Whole Foods in the next town over. Maybe I’ll make a stop there tomorrow and look for the items I couldn’t find.
The Glow15 sample plan begins with a high-protein day and 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise, followed by a morning fast and a low-protein diet the next day. Since I don’t workout on Sundays (I sleep as late as I can before getting up for church), I planned to start the diet on Monday. But by the time I get home from the market, it’s already 12:30 p.m. and I’d already skipped breakfast, so I break from the sample plan and start the diet immediately with a morning fast and low-protein diet.
I’m supposed to begin the day by meditating, but since I went to church, I decide that’s close enough. I put my groceries away and make myself a cup of “AutophaTea”: A combination of earl grey and green tea, plus a tablespoon of raw coconut oil, stirred by a whole cinnamon stick. The tea is a daily part of the Glow15 diet. I haven’t read anything in the book about coffee so far, but I gather the tea is supposed to take the place of my two cups each morning, so I’m hoping I like the taste and that it adequately caffeinates me for the next fifteen days.
I’m nervous about the coconut oil, which dissolves into oily little islands on the surface of the tea, so I take Whittel’s suggestion to start with a teaspoon and work my way up to 1-2 tablespoons. But it turns out not to be as unpleasant as I feared, so I add a little more. The tea tastes more like an earthy-flavored, unsalted soup broth than the kind of tea I usually drink. It’s not exactly tasty, but I don’t hate it, and when I feel a caffeine buzz jolt through me after only five or six ounces, I’m relieved. Maybe my morning coffee can wait two weeks.
While finishing my tea, I dive into the chapter on “Powerphenols”: A term coined by Whittel to refer to autophagy-activating polyphenols in a “nutrient-dense form with an ability to defy aging and improve health.” These super-powered antioxidants protect and repair cells, reducing the risk of disease, optimizing the metabolism, and “upgrading” our overall health and wellness.
According to Whittel, these four “powerphenols” – resveratrol-trans, organic curcumin, berberine, and EGCG – will boost my brain health, decrease inflammation in my body, increase my metabolism, lower my cholesterol, lower my blood sugar, improve my mood, balance my gut flora, and help me fight cancer. But since I don’t plan on having any blood tests done today or fifteen days from now, you’ll have to settle for my anecdotal, subjective reports on the areas I can assess myself.
Meal One (low-protein day)
The coconut oil from my AuphaTea leaves an oily film in my mouth that makes me slightly nauseous. Whether this is from the tea or a lingering byproduct from my recent tummy bug, I can’t say for sure. By the time I finish the tea, I’ve got the 411 on “powerphenols,” and I’m ready to eat something.
Browsing through some of the low-day recipes at the back of my copy of Glow15, it’s immediately clear that I’m going to have to make another trip to the market. But since I have most of the ingredients called for in Whittel’s recipe for sautéed broccoli, I decide to start there and hit the market again later this afternoon.
I substitute tea seed oil with avocado oil and vegetable broth with chicken broth, which is the only broth I have on hand. The broccoli takes less than ten minutes to make, which is good because I’m starting to feel pretty nauseous and I’m not sure I can take my “powerphenol” supplements without gagging.
The broccoli is savory and delicious. The combination of crunchy broccoli florets (and stem…I can never bring myself to waste it) and soft avocado is surprisingly satisfying.
While eating, I open the bottles of supplements and am shocked to learn that the curcumin I’ve purchased for $1.50 per pill has only 40mg’s of the daily recommendation of 500mg’s. To get the full recommended dosage, I’d have to consume 12-13 capsules (half a jar) each day for a total of 187 pills and $150 over a fifteen day period. I take two and make a mental note to research the minimum daily dosage of curcumin linked to measurable health benefits.
I swallow 250mg’s of berberine (half the daily recommendation), 350mg’s of resveratrol-trans (100mg’s over the 250mg’s Whittel prescribes), and 80mg’s of curcumin, and finish the broccoli. En route to the sink with my empty dish, I’m feeling slightly smug and superior about my uber-clean, nutritious tea and snack until my daughter’s bin of sour gummy worms catches my eye and my mouth begins to water. I stash the candy out of sight and distract myself by doing dishes. The craving passes.
Sleep and Autophagy
According to Whittel, sleep has a significant impact on autophagy. The Glow15 sleep goal is to synchronize each person’s unique circadian rhythm and autophagy, maximizing the effectiveness of rest and helping us wake up feeling refreshed.
Depending on when a person feels most alert, we fall into one of five categories of “sleep birds”: Super Owls, Owls, Hummingbirds, Larks, and Super Larks. By identifying what kind of “sleep bird” we are, we can determine how much sleep we should be getting, when we should be going to bed at night, and what time we should wake up in the morning to best activate autophagy.
After completing the “Morningness Eveningness Questionnaire,” I identified myself as a “Hummingbird,” which is the most common of all “sleep birds,” feeling active in the day and restful in the evening. This result surprises me since I think of myself as more of an owl, but Whittel says most people (especially women) become more Lark-like as we age.
Thanks to my Sleep Cycle app, I easily confirmed that my sleep habits are right about where they should be for optimal autophagy and alertness, which made me happy and validated what I’ve felt to be true. My routine of going to bed around 11:00 p.m. and waking up at 6:30 a.m. suits me and, for the most part, meets my sleep needs.
This current sleep routine, however, is significantly different since I left my job last February and my new habits are a sore spot for my Super Lark husband. He misses the days when I forced myself to go to bed with him at 9:30 p.m., then forced myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to get a workout in before taking the kids to school and going to the office. But I’m far more rested and have far fewer problems falling and staying asleep on the new routine than I did on the old one, so I can only hope my rhythm can grow increasingly Lark-ish on its own.
|A note about buying hard-to-find Glow15 items online:
At some point in the afternoon it occurs to me to look for tea seed oil on Amazon (note: you’re looking for Camellia oleifera, not Camellia japonica). I purchase a small bottle of Sunplan Camellia Tea Seed Oil, as well as a bottle of more potent, less expensive curcumin supplements for the more attractive and sustainable price of $0.12 per 750mg pill.
Meal Two (low-protein day)
By 5:00 p.m. I’m not exactly hungry, but I’m unsatisfied. I feel a craving for something I can’t name or put my finger on, but I’m acutely aware that the feeling isn’t from my tummy, it’s from my mouth and my mind. A compulsive habit to snack, to munch, to graze on something, maybe.
I head to the market for the fourth and final time to pick up ingredients for our family dinner. I’ve opted to make the veggie kabobs with zucchini, red bell peppers, mushrooms, and sauerkraut for our main course and the grapefruit salad which includes arugula, romaine lettuce, fresh ginger, tea seed oil, avocado, and cilantro. I’m sure my husband and kids will hate it, so I prepare myself for poor reviews.
While at the market, several things occur to me. First, I’m learning about the economics of organic vs. non-organic food shopping. Almost everything I purchased earlier from my specialty market is available for less money at my favorite chain market. I was also surprised to learn that organic products don’t always cost a lot more than non-organic ones. The organic red bell peppers, for instance, cost $1.99 per pepper compared to $1.49 per non-organic pepper. Given that I only needed three, $1.50 didn’t seem like a crazy sum of money to spend for pesticide-free peppers, which also looked more plump and delicious than the inorganic peppers. On the flip side, the organic ginger was a whopping $4.99 per pound compared to $2.99 per pound for the inorganic ginger. I couldn’t stomach the extra charge and opted for the cheaper ginger.
The organic grapefruit price label was missing altogether which made me wonder if people who eat organic are so on-board with their chemical-free lifestyle they don’t care what it costs them to support it. The organic and non-organic grapefruits were priced identically to the red bell peppers, only this time, the non-organic grapefruits looked much larger and more appealing than the organic ones. That made me slightly suspicious, so I opted for the less beautiful, smaller organic ones.
The second thing I realized is that I’m getting a food education. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked with fresh ginger (although I do use it in my fire cider). Before today, I’ve never purchased sauerkraut and had to google it to learn where I would find it in the market. I didn’t even know what sauerkraut was made from (it’s pickled cabbage.) I still don’t know what cremini mushrooms are since my only options at the market were “White” and “Baby Bella” (I opted for the later.)
Another $37.93 later, I head home to prepare dinner.
The kabobs are gorgeous-looking, as is the salad, but my husband looks annoyed. Behind his narrowed eyes I can read his thoughts, “our kids will hate this, and we’ll be stuck eating microwave quesadillas, except still need to wash all these dishes.” I secretly share his concern but say nothing and – shockingly – my kids like the kabobs. My pickiest eater, my six-year-old, gobbles up the kabobs before I eat half of mine. My husband is equally shocked and says so. “I love it,” my son says.
I love the grapefruit salad, enjoying the explosion of flavor in my mouth when the zesty grapefruit meets the bitter arugula leaves. But the rest of my family is underwhelmed. No one finishes the salad except for me. Still, what’s most surprising of all is that despite having an extremely low-calorie, vegetarian meal, not one of us leaves the table feeling hungry.
I treat myself to a handful of almonds, which may or may not be breaking the rules. They are so satisfying I can’t help feeling like it’s a sensible cheat, if it’s a cheat at all. I cheat a little for the second time and pour myself an additional quarter glass of red wine. It tastes amazing.
At eight o’clock, just before putting my younger kids to bed – a time when my energy level is typically bottoming out – I feel alert and energized and say so to my husband, who looks both surprised and happy. It’s a look that tells me he thinks he’ll get lucky tonight. He may be right.
Glow15, Day Two – Monday
Last night, I fell asleep quickly around 11:00 p.m. but didn’t sleep particularly well. I lay wide awake in bed at 4:25 a.m. After 30 minutes of trying to fall back to sleep, I did something I never do of my own volition: I got out of bed before my husband did.
I put the kettle on and let the dog out. But watching the tea steep makes me wish I was drinking my ritualistic cup of coffee. So I decide to have one cup of coffee while I wait for the tea to brew and cool. I permit the tea to replace my second cup of coffee – a fair compromise – but I can’t bring myself to add the coconut oil. I finally woman-up and dropped a teaspoonful into the mug, vowing to reverse the order of my tea and coffee tomorrow so that I might rid my mouth of the oil slick afterward.
A brief note about tea. Tea, when correctly brewed, is boiling to start and too hot to drink. The process of waiting for the tea to cool to a suitable temperature is part of the tea experience. Tea is sacred and ritualistic in many cultures for a reason. It’s meant to be a slow, languid process. First thing in the morning before taking the kids to school, I’m not interested in slow and languid; only in fast and efficient. I typically down my first cup of coffee at 7 a.m. and the second on my way to school drop off at 7:30 a.m. It’s a ritual for me, but it’s also functional and fast. I savor it quickly. Since it’s hard to do that with tea, I’m doubtful AutophaTea will linger long in my diet beyond the next fifteen days. I’m a coffee gal, through and through.
By the time I finish my coffee and tea, it’s already 5:45 a.m. I hop on the treadmill for thirty minutes of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) followed by a few minutes of Resistance Exercise Training (RET). I feel neither more nor less energized than usual.
After my run, desperate to get the taste of coconut oil out of my mouth for good, I open a fresh package of organic lox. The smoked fish tastes fantastic and over the next hour and a half, I devour the entire bag. Since today is my high-protein day, I’m right on cue.
By 8:30 a.m. I’ve had a workout, breakfast, taken my kids to school, paid bills, checked emails, sent an evite out, and completed two household business calls. Since the next item on my to-do list is a trip to a store that doesn’t open until 10 a.m., I decide I have enough time to try out one of Whittel’s “Targeted Topicals to Glow”.
The masks, one of which is made from mayonnaise and bergamot oil, seem dangerous for my acne-prone skin, so I opt to try the Glow15 body scrub instead. I mix coffee grounds, sea salt, and coconut oil (Whittel is awfully fond of the stuff…it’s seems to be in everything) and head for my bathroom to try it out.
I make the mistake of using the scrub in the bathtub, instead of the shower. Within minutes, I’m steeping like AutophaTea bags in a giant tub of coffee. But the scrub itself feels great. The salt is pleasingly gritty, and I discover a use for coconut oil I can get behind. My skin feels incredibly silky and soft. After about fifteen minutes, I drain the tub, pat myself dry, and reach for my moisturizer. But I don’t use it. I don’t need to. My skin feels well hydrated without feeling greasy. I’m impressed. The scrub is a win.
By 1:15 p.m. I’m famished, but also 20 minutes from home where my lunch is waiting for me. In those 20 minutes my energy tanks. I get home with just enough time to eat and sit a moment before I have to pick up my kids from school. I almost never nap, but if I’d had the time, I would have allowed myself to doze and would likely have crashed hard. But by the time I finish my lunch of hard-boiled eggs, mozzarella cheese, avocado oil, and hot sauce, I feel revived.
Later, at 4:15 p.m. I need to leave the house again and won’t be home from my kids’ baseball and softball games until close to 8:00 p.m.. I can’t wait that long to eat, so I take my dinner – one and a half boneless, organic chicken thighs and an improvised salad of orange and yellow bell peppers, avocado, and cherry tomatoes seasoned with a little avocado oil, salt, and pepper – to go. I eat it in my air-conditioned car while my daughter warms up for her softball game. The chicken is fine, but the salad hits the spot.
By 8:15 p.m. I’m entirely brain-dead. I need carbs and what I want is candy, but I have a few scoopfuls of the pre-packaged seasoned rice I’d made for my kids. The carbs are not a cheat, and I’m eating them at the end of the day, which meets Glow15 standards. But I’m pretty sure whatever the folks at Uncle Ben’s use to make it taste the way it does is not on the list of Glow15-approved ingredients. At this point, I don’t care.
The rice tastes great, and I feel full and satisfied, but it didn’t curb my cravings for candy, and it didn’t boost my sinking energy. I remember reading that Whittel suggests a small cup of AutophaTea for times like this. Contrary to what most people think, I small amount of caffeine at the end of the day can have a calming effect and help you sleep. Who knew? Maybe next time I’ll try that instead. But tonight, I decide to call it quits.
That night, I go to bed at 9:30 p.m. for the first time in months.
Glow15, Days Three and Four – Tuesday and Wednesday
Over the next two days, I continue to read and study Glow15 more closely. Up to this point, I’ve been somewhat dubious. In general, I’ve held a somewhat cynical attitude towards diets and nutritional fads. (Although Whittel is adamant that Glow15 is not a “diet.”) I am lucky enough to have been born (and to marry) an eat-to-live person. Whether that’s physiological or genetic or psycho-social, I don’t know. I only know that I don’t have the same relationship with food that true foodies have. I eat when I’m hungry and stop eating when I’m full. I try to prepare balanced meals for my family and indulge in my sinful habits – Haribo candy and alcohol – in moderation.
This mindset is excellent for managing my weight. My weight hasn’t changed much in the last twelve years or so except while I was pregnant or nursing my three children. I wear the same size clothes today that I wore when I met my husband seventeen years ago (although they hug me a little more in the waist and a little less in the bust line than they used to.) Running too, which I took up in college, has permitted me a wide margin for errors in my diet.
The problem with this, I’m now learning, is that it’s delayed my education concerning nutrition and food preparation. As I dive deeper into Glow15, I become more and more aware of just how little I know about which foods are good for me and what my body needs to be healthy. As it turns out, I’m making some poor choices for my family and me.
For example, I prepare a lean protein – usually chicken or beef – for dinner at least three days a week, but I almost always cook it on the barbecue. I knew charred meat was carcinogenic, but I didn’t know that all meat prepared on the barbecued goes through a chemical process called the Maillard reaction, which can produce carcinogenic heterocyclic amines. According to Glow15, baking is a safer way to cook meat.
I’m also eating a little too much protein. On day three when I calculate how much protein I ate on day two, I discover I consumed more than twice the amount Whittel recommends; a staggering 89 grams. Moreover, all that protein provided me with the calories I should have derived from fruit, vegetables, and grains. Maybe that’s why my energy plummeted in the afternoon and early evening.
Until now, I’ve never paid attention to the smoke point of the oils I use for cooking. Fortunately, I mostly cook with olive oil which has a medium-high smoke point of 375 degrees, but I’m quite sure I’m frequently cooking at temperatures that exceed that heat. When oil heats up to or beyond its smoke point, it loses its nutritional value and produces toxic fumes that are damaging to cells.
A few of my habits are good but need revising. Skipping breakfast, for instance, is a good habit as intermittent fasting gives our cells time to clean house (i.e., autophagy). Skipping breakfast most days, however, isn’t doing my body any favors.
Another good habit of mine is snacking on almonds. Unfortunately, Whittel explains that seeds tend to be “selfish,” keeping all their beneficial nutrients intact rather than letting my body absorb them. Soaking or sprouting them makes the nutrients easier for my body to absorb and digest.
Accidentally (and happily), I have a few good habits. Whittel confirms that fermented veggies, like the ones in fire cider, are excellent for maintaining a healthy gut, reducing inflammation, and boosting immunity, so I’m reintroducing it into my daily diet. Also, I always work out after drinking caffeine and on an empty stomach, which Whittel says increases autophagy since our cellular clean-up crews have to work harder when our bodies exercise without being fueled, and caffeine can help our bodies burn more fat during exercise.
By the end of day three, I’m learning a ton, and I’m ready to break some bad habits and adopt more good ones. But I’m not feeling as good as I’d hoped. My energy continues to plummet in the afternoon and by 8:30 p.m. I’m dragging.
But, low and behold, I wake up on day four feeling good; terrific, in fact. I slept hard and long – nearly nine hours – and I hop on the treadmill feeling stronger and more energized than I have in two weeks. And when I glance into my rearview mirror to slide on a little lip gloss before my 10 a.m. appointment, I’m struck my how much better my skin looks compared to last week. Is it possible I’m tapping into the glow!? I take a quick selfie in the parking garage to confirm it. “Hmmm…,” I think to myself. “This might actually be working.” It’s all the motivation I need to stick with the program for the next eleven days.
With nearly a week of Glow15 under my belt, I’m convinced I need to continue. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m learning new things every day. And I’m just beginning to reap the benefits Glow 15 promises.
But I head into day five with far more questions than answers. How do I order in a restaurant? If I’m front loading my day with protein and good fat, what am I eating and serving for dinner? Is coffee that much worse than AutophaTea or can I keep my precious morning ritual? Will I ever grow to like the taste of coconut oil? How do carbs fit into all this, because my body definitely needs some? If I’m unwilling to eat organic exclusively, which organic foods will give me the most bang for my buck, health-wise and financially?
Glow15 isn’t deductive, it’s inductive. I have to continue to do the hard work of educating myself, listening to my body and discerning which of my instincts are good and which ones are misguided. I have to participate in the rehabilitation of my health. No one else can do it for me. It’s time for me to be a grown-up.
For years I’ve said that my lifelong battle with acne has turned out to be the best thing for my skin as I’ve aged. Treating and preventing acne has forced me to be informed and form good skincare habits.
Managing my weight has been easy for me, and I’m very grateful for that. But it has also kept me from learning how to take good care of my body. Being thin and being healthy isn’t the same thing. At 41, I’m too old to be ignorant about nutrition. I have a lot of catching up to do.
Four days down. Eleven more days to go.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Join me next week for more updates on my Glow15 adventure!