My First In-Site “Run” (and a little Tour de Culture)

It’s unbelievable, right? My first post in a month long absence and I end up talking about exercise. In my defense, this is my freshest experience at the moment seeing as it basically happened a few hours ago. I also must mention as a disclaimer that I am not a runner, hints why run in the title is in quotations. I would like to enjoy the sport, however, and my goal is to one day run a half-marathon, which might happen sooner than I think. Kosovo actually has an annual half-marathon that’s held every year in Prishtina to my dismay (read: elation). At the moment, I’m trying to get myself to the point of running five minutes straight without the desire to pass out, but that’s our secret. People here seem to think I’m a hardcore runner, cause I mention the sport so much.

Now that I’ve gone and done it, I do wonder what took me so long. I’ve been in my quaint little village in the Peja municipality for nearly two months. I suppose it was a mixture of nerves and novelty. I feel very safe in my village, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe for a foreign female to go on a jog by herself out in near nowhere. When I say that I don’t even mean from other people. I mean from the elements, nature, and bad luck. Today, however, I decided to go for it. After teaching in the morning and hanging around the house for a few hours I got a little restless. Usually after class I come back home to study Albanian, read (can’t even count how many words have passed these eyes over the last almost two months), or prepare for the next day’s lesson. That wasn’t cutting it today and after one of our usual random power outraged forced me off the internet and outside among civilization, I decided to go for it. I doned my running gear, grabbed my music, and headed for the next village over that I’d never seen before.

Needless to say I made it back in one piece. The few noteworthy things to mention were the dog that got territorial and started barking when it saw me jogging closer (wild dogs are one of those safety concerns) – which made me slow my pace when passing by it, having to vacate the road for passing cars, and passing my students on different parts of the road as I jogged by.  All and all it wasn’t bad and I might even add it into my regular schedule as a way to build my endurance and see different parts of my sight that remain unexplored as of yet.

Action Shot!! - See Peace Corps, I'm wearing my helmet.

Action Shot!! – See Peace Corps, I’m wearing my helmet.

That’s one of the things I like most about exercising in Kosovo, the nature. A few weeks ago, a couple of other volunteers and I went on the Tour de Culture, an annual non-competitive bike ride through different cities. This year, the bike ride was 49.5km from Vushtrri to Podjevo. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it all the way. I gave up around the 42km mark and had to take the bus the rest of the way, but it was an awesome experience that I’ll be participating in again next year. Hopefully next year there will be a lot more culturally stops. That’s one thing this tour didn’t have a lot of, because of the area in Kosovo we were biking through. I was banking on the cultural stops to get me through the long distance, but with only two rest stops during the entire tour before the end, it’s a miracle I made it as far as I did. Despite not making it all the way, it’s still one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

Eat to Live: Three Weeks and Counting

When I went to my primary care physician to receive a physical for the Peace Corps, one of the concerns that I talked to her about before I left was my weight. Back in February I worked out four to five times a week and my weight never changed, although I did feel healthier. After the month ended I decided to take it a step further and cut processed sugars out of my diet, but saw no change in overall health or weight either. My doctor listened as I explained this and afterward asked me a question that I could’t help, but be excited over: “How does losing 25 pounds in six weeks sound?”. Uh, fabulous. Freaking awesome. Yes, just yes. Then she followed that question up with one that shook me to the core: “Are you willing to go vegan to lose weight?” Uhhhhh…

I’m telling you that was my exact reaction, followed by “Yea, I can do that,” lacking all the self-confidence in the entire world. My doctor preceded to inform me that if I was going to do this it had to be a lifestyle change and not just a one-time thing. She left the room for a minute and came back with this book:

Credit given to original poster at thezacorner.com/

Credit given to original poster at thezacorner.com

Let me tell you about this book…no, I’m not going to do that. You should read the book for yourself. Instead, let me tell you what I got from this book and how it’s affected my life these past three weeks. Before that, a bit about my health background and ideology. I don’t believe in counting calories, weight loss pill, or fab diets. I do believe that surgery is a band-aid method and not a solution, and I believe the only way to lose weight healthfully is diet and exercise. I lost a lot of weight when I was in high school when I eliminated junk food from my diet and joined my school’s soccer team. I gained nearly 75% of that weight back when I went to college and have been on a upper climb ever since. I know what it takes to lose weight, but haven’t really been motivated enough to change my habits until now.

So now to talk about my views on this book. Being that I don’t believe in fab diets I approached Dr. Fuhrman’s layout for healthy living with more than a grain of salt worth of skepticism. After all, most of the crazed diet fads that we already have were created by doctors, but this book is different. It’s different, because even though about 90% of it centers around health studies that the general public has probably never heard of, the overarching theme is 100% common sense: “Americans eat way too much fake food and fake food is slowly killing us”. Emphasis is placed heavily on eating vegetables and whole foods. That’s mainly what the first six week vegan diet is about. In fact, vegans probably have more food options than I do at the moment. Yet as restrictive as this diet is, it’s very eye-opening.

I ate very unhealthy as a child. I was basically raised on McDonald’s (there was one right up the street from my daycare center) and when my dad did decide to cook, meals would usually consist of any number of fried foods, a carb like macaroni and cheese as one side, and a starchy vegetable like potatoes or corn as another. Vegetables were always a side item in my world and if something was considered healthy you probably wouldn’t find it in our house. Not to mention portion control was another problem. As a kid, and even somewhat now, I’d use any excuse to eat. If I was sad I’d eat, happy I’d eat. I’d even eat, because I was bored. One part of my overeating, that I learned from the book, could possibly be due to a nutrient deficiency I was experiencing. Even though I was eating more than enough food calorically, my body wasn’t getting the nutrients it craved, causing me to eat more of the unhealthy food to compensate.

On the six week diet prescribed in the book, there is no starving. I can literally eat as much as I want of whole foods (fruits and vegetables). Some foods like avocados, nuts, and grains are limited and others are totally off-limits like animal products and oil. Despite that, I don’t really feel deprived. Because I’m having to make my meals now, I’m having a lot of fun creating new dishes and experimenting with new foods. I’m surprised over and over again that the delicious foods that I’m eating are also healthy for me. Just the other day I had these two foods:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Milkshake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Milkshake

Salad!! 🙂

The milkshake is completely vegan. I’ve made it three times after discovering the recipe on this site. The salad is my own doing, a mixture of iceberg lettuce, orange bell pepper, onions, a mushroom, walnuts, and strawberries. It’s the prettiest salad I’ve ever made and it was super healthy and super delicious to boot. It was a rather large salad, think the size of a popcorn bowl. It was hard eating that much salad when I first started. The book raves about the healthy benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, but it never warns against the bloat you can experience by upping the vegetable intact. For the first three days I couldn’t understand why it felt like I was getting fatter on a diet basically devoid of fat.

As of now I’ve been on the diet for three weeks. I’ve lost just over 10 lbs and I’m really excited to see where the next three weeks take me health wise. I’m also really excited to be off the super strict vegan diet and not just because of my love affair with bacon either. For me, my long term dietary goal would be to eat a mostly vegetarian diet. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with eating meat. In fact, even in the book Dr. Fuhrman cites a few nutrient deficiencies that can occur with a 100% vegan diet, such as B-12, omega 3, and vitamin D. I could see myself living on a diet where I ate meat between three to five times a week. I say that yet, my entire diet is about to be turned upside down in a few months. Although the Peace Corps has given us a general overview of what the Kosovar diet consist of, I have absolutely no idea what’s eaten on a day to day basis in Kosovo.

Even with that being said, I suppose my main goal in these next two months is to develop the skills and the knowledge on how to live a healthy lifestyle. Kosovo is a country not far from the Mediterranean Sea so it may be influenced by a Mediterranean diet. It’s also a majority Muslim country so there may not be access to pork in the country. Despite the location and cultural differences that may have an impact on the diet, I believe that maintaining healthy eating habits is a goal that can be achieved in any part of the world. Learning how to tailor the country’s dietary cultural in a way that positively benefits me will just be another part of the adventure that comes with living abroad.