Lifestyle

Lifestyle

My first time doing a prolonged fast

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiq2-PaktTcAhUCLBoKHV6nCcsQjhx6BAgBEAM&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tripadvisor.co.uk%2FLocationPhotoDirectLink-g187514-d10400832-i277134969-Habanera-Madrid.html&psig=AOvVaw0Gwk6OhryNLWfM-9DAk1uX&ust=1533497799552335Be sure to eat something like this before fasting, because you'll be fantasizing of it soon

Food is life, am I right? It’s a replenishing, often delicious tradition that our day, school and work schedules revolve around. It’s a celebration of health and also rewarding to your taste buds. It’s exciting to indulge in your favorite food after a long day, or to try new foods when in new country or restaurant.

So why would ANYONE, let alone me, who eats ALL day and snacks every hour (including when I wake up in the middle of the night and toss and turn), stop eating altogether? Am I protesting some unfair treatment of women or minorities, or I am just batshit crazy? Luckily, neither. Although maybe a bit of the latter. And before I get into the details, I would like to provide some medically-backed reasons behind why I decided to do this, as most people don’t know and have serious reservations when they hear this:

  1. I wanted to stop relying on eating as a source of instant energy.
  2. I wanted a full reset on my body and to cleanse YEARS of built-up toxins.
  3. I wanted to test my mental strength and will power to push through what I used to refer to as irrefutable hunger.
  4. I wanted my body to naturally to kill off old cells and produce healthy new ones (called autophagy)
  5. I wanted my cognitive functioning and my brain in general to grow, improve and regenerate.
  6. Although not important or a goal, I didn’t mind if I got to lose a couple of pounds (it’s bikini season after all).

Yeah, even for the reasons above, the idea of purposefully withholding food and nutrients from my body sounds like a torture tactic for prisoners of war. It’s unappealing and almost idiotic, right? I mean, you need food to function and survive.

Not true, it turns out. Our neolithic ancestors went days without food, as they relied on hunting and gathering to secure their next meal. They weren’t fortunate enough to have grocery stores, restaurants at every corner and apps that bring food to them. And they needed to be on top of their game and focused to find food, whether it’s killing a wild animal or foraging for berries that may or may not be poisonous. Fasting was a regular thing, because they didn’t have a choice. And they survived.

We slowly adapted to easily accessing food and going very short periods without eating. That’s great, right? Well, along with those conveninces came diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer… you name it. A lot of which did not exist in such high numbers before.

And trust me, I’m not telling as an expert in any way, I’m simply sharing my experience of what I learned, what fasting felt like, and what the results were. I am not offering dietary or nutritional advice either, just sharing what I’ve researched and discovered.

I saw a few of my fitness role models do long-term fasting and document their entire experience on Instagram (shout out to @daniellenatoni and @darrennatoni for the initial inspo!). I was HOOKED, partly because I was in disbelief and also a major nay-sayer to this in any way healthy or beneficial. Then I began researching online other people’s experience and results from it. Finally, I downloaded arguable the BEST book written on fasting, The Complete Guide to Fasting. Written by a renowned doctor on kidney disease and Type 2 Diabetes Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore, a man who has had experience fasting for years and has a health podcast, it piqued my curiosity. What did I have to lose? I began listening, and I became engrossed in the information I was learning. But I won’t get into all that here, because countless others have articulated the benefits and risks of fasting. I recommend reading it for your benefit and background, and find out what sort of fasting fits your schedule and lifestyle – or if you’re even into this at all.

But let’s cut to the chase.

You want to know how the hell I stopped eating, right? Well here is my little diary I kept track of on my phone. I must apologize for some of the profanity and mean things I may have said while fasting, but this is the real and raw truth of my experience (it may crack you up too!).

I had planned on doing a 5-day water-only (or low calorie liquid) fast. During this period, you don’t eat, you only consume liquids like water, unsweetened tea, coffee, broth, and water with lemon or cucumber for flavor. No smoothies, no full meals, nada. This sends your body from burning sugar from your last meal to burning your plentiful fat reserves – ketosis. Many of you may have heard or are even on the ketogenic diet. Water fasts kick this process into gear faster. That’s the gist of it. Read more about it from the experts, because I am not one.

Well, my fast didn’t go exactly as planned at times, but that’s okay. First timer over here. I’m proud of myself for trying, and I will know how to plan for the next time. So here goes!

My experience with a 5-day fast:

Monday, July 30, 2018

00:00 (midnight): Began fast after last meal (cous cous and vegetables, ooh wow… wish I had eaten something way more fulfilling and tasty, like burger with fries, but I got back late from a road trip) and went to bed immediately.

Morning weight: 57 kg – 125.6 lbs

10:00am: I had black tea and boiled water with ginger and half of a fresh squeezed lemon.

11:30am: I feel fine, not hungry, not thirsty yet, riding in metro to my Spanish class.

13:00: Had iced green tea with a bit of cinnamon, not hungry but a tad spacey when walking, although mentally focused.

14:00: Felt a bit weak, spacey and super cold (indoors from AC), so went for a walk in Madrid’s awful heat on the way home. Not hungry though, just weak. My instinct is telling me food will give me strength, but I’m not hungry, if that makes sense. Guess my mind is trying to make sense of loss of frequent feeding.

Lesson: No more long summer walks while it’s hot AF, especially with the smell of food every three steps!!! Fucking Spain and its tempting food culture!!!

15:00: Feeling very blah, something between tired and weak… lethargic, I suppose. It’s very tempting to eat, but I’m sipping on water with a bit of fresh-squeezed lemon and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I feel cranky and have decided to minimize seeing people for the rest of the day, because all Spaniards do is eat, drink and talk about eating… the culture is centered around eating (just reiterating in case you didn’t catch it the first time), and it’s making this experience more difficult. Stupid… I want to take a nap, but I can’t sleep.

16:00: Stomach is growling and I’m definitely feeling hunger pangs. Ugh, trying to stay distracted on social media, but idiots keep posting food porn.

17:00: I couldn’t handle the weakness and decided to heat up 100ml of meat broth (a good homemade recipe here, but I bought a ‘natural’ one in store – bone broth takes like a day to prepare, fuck that, ain’t nobody got time for that) with a sprinkle of Himalayan Salt. I felt better IMMEDIATELY and replenished my hunger.

I’m thinking about my re-feeding meal, more like fantasizing: so far it’s a burrito bowl from La Tierra (the equivalent of Chipotle in Spain) and a classic cheesecake. I NEVER crave cheesecake, what the fuck?

19:00: Boiled ginger and lemon water, plus chai cinnamon tea.

20:45: Hunger pangs intensified so made another 100ml broth w/Himalayan salt. Helped.

I’ve definitely had several ‘FUCK THIS, I wanna quit and eat’ moments.

22:30: Having serious doubt if I’ll be able to do this much longer, I’m feeling spacey and blah. Regretting all the foods I didn’t eat before starting the fast, and thinking about the food in my fridge and pantry. FUCK!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

00:30 – I have broken my fast, because I really felt weak and hungry. After fasting for 24 hours, I ate a small bowl of leftover cous cous with vegetables and cheese (from last night). Instant gratification!! So good… but also disappointed in myself for caving. Ugh.

10:00: I woke up after a pretty good rest, woke up once or twice though, not hungry yet. Went to bathroom.

Morning Weight: 56.4 kg or 124.3 lbs

11:00: I worked out for about 30 min with light weights and plyometric exercises, low cardio workout. Felt a little tired after, less energy for sure.

12:00: Had some broth w/salt and several spoons of chia seed jelly (put a spoon of chia seeds in water and let it sit for 30 min). It tastes like absolutely nothing with texture the consistency of tadpoles… ugh. But I read they’re good to consume during fasting.

12:30: Went to a coffee shop to work, ordered iced green tea without any additives. For the most part I could focus and wasn’t terribly hungry, but I feel physically more tired on the second day (probably due to my workout earlier today).

14:30: Headed home now, the walk back in the sun and heat is tough. I’m usually a speed walker, and this time I’m going at a leisurely pace partly bc that’s really all I can manage. I think bc I know what to expect this time after yesterday, I’m a little less dramatic and anxious about what I’m going to feel. I know the late afternoon and evening will be hard, so I’m prepared to stay distracted through then.

15:00: Drank two cups water and lemon and cayenne.

17:00: Had some broth and salt.

Not very hungry, not super weak but laying down this afternoon.

19:15: I think I have a very mild headache, not sure if it’s the fast or because I’ve been laying down. But not taking any medicine.

20:00: Breaking my fast and allowing a feeding window (much like the warrior fast, 20 hour fast and 4 hour feeding schedule). Let the food games begin!

20:00: I ate a steak burrito bowl to replenish protein, a large cookie and 20 pieces of dried strawberry. I almost didn’t finish the bowl, but after an hour I finished what was left.

22:00: The meal feels very heavy in my stomach, and I felt like sleeping. I’m not bloated, I just feel full. Instead I decided to go for a walk since it’s dark and cooler to go outside, plus I love the renewed energy, so I feel unstoppable. However halfway through my walk I felt cramps like I need to use the toilet… probably ate too much too fast… but kept walking around anyway (10k steps a day is my minimum while fasting).

Wednesday, Aug 1, 2018

Morning Weight 57.3, 126.3 lbs

8:00: Woke up feeling fine (12 hours after eating), not hungry, however a bit bloated from meal last night, like I can’t wait to go to bathroom but can’t go yet 🤔.

Okay, so I went to the bathroom but still weigh the same as first I began my fast 🤬. Maybe the scale is wrong? Stupid Spanish scale… Still, I felt bummed cuz it seemed like fasting wasn’t worth it. Also it made me hate that I ate that burrito bowl last night with a cookie, even though I’d normally eat that and other meals within a 24 hour time period. Now I’m also mad at myself for not being able to do an extended fast cuz it would be day 3 by now! Emotions are high, and I realize I need to chill. I didn’t do this for the weight loss, I did it for a hundred other reasons. That reminder helps.

12:00: Feel absolutely fine, not hungry at all. Made some broth (100 ml) for some energy and electrolytes to concentrate with work, but otherwise feeling good. No longer bloated either. Going to work for a couple of hours.

13:45: At coffee shop, got a cold brew with a bit of whole milk. I read it was okay to have that, if I’m gonna consume fat it might as well be milk (as long as intake is less than 500 calories per day, almost all of the same benefits of water fast occur). I don’t feel weak or hungry. I do hate coffee though, so I won’t be finishing this nasty ass drink 😫. 

I’m also more emotional today, partly bc of whats going on in my personal life, but also bc I’m bummed I cannot even do this fast more than 24 hours. I need to be nicer to myself and more patient. I’ve never fasted before, not even intermittently.  I am brave for trying, and I am proud that I still want to continue. You got this, girl!

15:30: Still not hungry, feeling good. Working and focused.

17:00: Had some broth to reinvigorate myself and keep energy while I work through the afternoon.

18:45: Feeling good; working laying down on couch. Not hungry but beginning to feel stomach rumbling. Will try to push past 24 hours today!

19:00: approaching 24 hours of fasting, and this is the first day I haven’t fantasized about food!! The urge to eat is so low, that’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy a meal if I had one, but it’s already a different mentality. I can think about other things freely. My day is not planned around meals.

Okay never mind… now I want french fries (like the roasted, seasoned wedge ones, not regular fries) because of stupid Instagram. But I feel like I can wait to have them another day, not right now. It has definitely helped to stay busy all day, in addition to feeling energized and not weak! I feel encouraged to keep going.

21:00 – Made some broth. Tempted to eat bc I feel like I have to, but I’m actually not hungry! Wtf.. it’s almost freaky but I’m very encouraged by this. Dealing w/ some emotional shit in personal life, so maybe putting my energy into this fast is where I should be focusing! In any case, I am watching Orange is the New Black in my free time, and that’s very entertaining and doesn’t show amazing food to tempt me.

23:00: Had a tiny bowl of broth to sustain me.

Thursday August 2

00:30am: Okay, it’s getting harder to resist eating something and I definitely feel weaker, but not as bad as the first day. I really hope I can sleep. Aiming for 36 hours, you can do it!

Morning Weight: 56.2 kg, 123.9 lbs

9:00: After a night of semi-bad sleep (kept waking up and falling asleep, but not from hunger), I woke up at 37 hours into water fasting! New record! Proud of myself! Not feeling hungry but definitely a little weak. Will have some lemon water and broth to replenish. I do want to eat the cheese in my fridge, but I won’t. I feel like I don’t have energy from the lack of sleep and not so the fast, but we’ll never know, will we? Lol even making my bed was a struggle, I’m now winded, so I doubt a workout will happen again today! Although maybe later on.

10:00: After feeling weak and just blah, I decided to fuel myself with unsweetened Greek yogurt and about 10 blueberries inside. It will fuel me through my class and walk around the city. I don’t feel guilty. But I literally got chills swallowing that first bite!

13:15: I don’t feel weak or hungry, but seeing food everywhere cuz all Spaniards do is fucking eat is driving me crazy!! I got water with cucumber, lemon, grapefruit and mint, and I couldn’t help it, I wanted something sweet. So I got a sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free cookie from a health food place. I normally don’t eat cookies, but I didn’t want a smoothie cuz it was too sugary. Now I will not eat until at least end of the day. I had maybe half of it, but I still feel bad for eating that and yogurt already. But I need to relax and stop being so hard on myself! I’m human. This is an experiment, and you are supposed to learn from the first few times to perfect the process.

14:30: Working on my blog, not hungry or thirsty (I’ve been drinking probably 1.5 liters of water a day, plus teas). I feel determined to not eat anymore today, but I also know that if I do have to eat, I will and that is still a huge accomplishment! I will definitely avoid working out of cafes or restaurants while fasting, because the temptation to buy a snack (not even a meal) is so high. Heading home now, will walk.

16:00: Had some broth, feeling hungry but more like a craving, I’m trying to convince myself to hold off until night or even by tomorrow. Made it this far, right?

18:00: Took a nap and feel so rejuvenated. Going to try and distract myself so I don’t eat. For me, the most dangerous time is when I wake up, because I’m groggy and may eat out of habit.  The heat outside is making it harder not to eat 😫. I’m thirsty, so I will drink to quench my hunger…

16:30: Fuck me, I ate the second half of my sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free cookie. Writing to make myself feel better. My resolve feels like it’s waning. I need to pump myself full of motivation and keep busy, otherwise food clouds my mind. The crazy thing is I’m not even hungry! I can see the difference now. It’s just a habitual craving for food. Instead I will work out now.

19:00: I worked out pretty intensely, holy shit I was sore especially on squats and lunges. More winded than usual but still finished strong. And no light-headedness. Pushed through like I would on eating days, or maybe even more, because I know I won’t feast right after this. Motivation is different.

20:00: I’ve hit my 48-hour fasting mark (although, yes, I had a yogurt and cookie admittedly)! Not hungry but could eat! It really is getting easier. Never ever thought I’d say that. I’m staying distracted, but I can’t say that I’m hungry or stomach is grumbling.

20:30: Having some broth and salt. May I’ll eat some cherry tomatoes and cheese. Should I? UGH. Of course I want to, but would it defeat the purpose. I’m still annoyed I ate yogurt and a fucking cookie on a fasting day. (It just tasted so good).

21:00: Had some cherry tomatoes, half of an avocado and a few slices of cheese. I feel bad but also feel accomplished and deserving of this mini-meal.

Now, I will try to abstain from eating for 36 more hours.

Friday, Aug 3

12:00: Nevermind, at midnight I had a few blueberries and a small package of dry strawberry snacks (less than 100 calories total) 😫

8:00: Woke up, rolled around a bit, was super thirsty so had water, then went to the bathroom. Back to sleep.

Morning Weight: 55.8 kg; 123 lb

10:00: Waking up now for real, guess body needed sleep. Have slept way better the second half of this fasting week. Again, I’m thirsty so just want to drink a lot. One thing I’ll say is on this fast is that my breath has not smelled fresh, who knows what’s going on in the ol’ digestive track to fuck that up. Having some black tea with lemon. And no shit, of course I brush my teeth and floss.

11:00 am: Was doing great doing a workout (legs) with burpees and weights, but stopped 3/4 through, because I felt a little dizzy. I’ve been drinking black tea and water with lemon only. Gonna finish it off on lower impact (no jumps or weights).

12:00: I feel a bit weak after the workout, I drank water dissolved w/ half of a Nuun electrolyte tablet to help replenish any salt lost (less than 5 calories). I wanted to go today without any broth (given I’ve run out of it at hone, so should be easier, right?), but I’m finding it difficult. I may go buy some, in addition to more water. It doesn’t help we have record high temps in the Iberian peninsula this week! Fuck that shit… I’m ready for cooler summer weather. The heat makes me more tired; call me weak, but it’s true. AC is my best friend.

12:45: Walking to grocery store for broth, lemon and water. I am weak AF, but I really think it’s after the workout… plus no food to replenish. Body is prob confused like wtf. Broth will help.

13:30: Damn, that broth hit the SPOT! I sprinkled it with Himalayan salt, cayenne pepper, dried dill and ground pepper. I feel like a new person and alert again. FUCK YEAH! I’m now 22 hours out from breaking this fast altogether, I have brunch with girlfriends Saturday at noon. LAWD, it can’t come soon enough. Let me clarify that I don’t feel hungry or weak now. But this week has been tough. I will also blame the weather, cuz it hasn’t helped.

14:30: Feeling lethargic but not weak. Stomach is growling and waging a war in there. I’m not hungry but I could eat. Instead drinking a bunch of water.

15:00: Made broth with shaved ginger and a tiny piece on butter. Feel satiated and not hungry anymore.

16:00: I would like to have a donut when this fast is over. In fact, I will definitely be buying a donut after brunch tomorrow.

18:30: Went for a walk around the neighborhood to get out of the house, but the heat is miserable. I got an iced chai latte barely sweetened, to get some liquids in my body. I have 17 hours left of this fast (most of which I hope to sleep through) and it can’t come soon enough.

19:00: Incredibly, Madrid’s heat gets hotter towards the end of the day… walking home just a few blocks was awful, I’m weak from the heat more than the fast. So the timing for record-setting Iberian heat could not be fucking worse to do a fast! GAHHH!

19:30: Need broth, feeling bleh. I think that heat really wore me out! I am not tired though, in fact I’m pretty awake and alert.

21:45: Took a nap, felt good – woke up hungry. Don’t want to slip after sleeping like the other day, drank water and had some chia seeds soaked in water (aka tadpoles). Trying to watch Deadpool 2 to distract me until I go to sleep tonight (but that nap will probably mess my sleep up). Having some broth with shavings of ginger to lower the hunger (and it’s not like hunger pangs, it’s just a craving for some food!). I can do this, just a few more hours left. Relax until then, or take a walk. Tomorrow I will eat again, anything I want, whenever I want. But I must finish what I started. I will feast!

22:30: Chewing gum, surprisingly it helps with the hunger and keeps mouth salivated.

23:o0: Went for a walk in the night heat, still feel a bit hungry.

Saturday August 4

00:00: Caved and had three slices of cheese and a couple of cherry tomatoes. I know that’s nothing, and I stopped myself before eating more. Gonna try and sleep after finishing Dead Pool 2. Also, fuck me for having food in my fridge. I designed my own mouse trap and fell for it.

Weight: 55.7 kg, 122.8 lbs.

8:00: Had a glass of water with lemon, feeling good and full.

8:30: I can’t believe I made it after a week of my first attempt EVER at any type of fasting (besides when they tell you to fast the night before for blood work). I don’t feel hungry, but I am looking forward to eating normal again. Or, not restricted. And I will outline my learnings, mistakes and successes in a bit once the fast officially ends at noon today.

9:00: Squeezing in a final fasted workout, knowing DAMN well I’m going to pig out today, or more appropriately FEAST and nourish my body once again. The only way fasting doesn’t become starvation is resuming normal eating again (preferably and with any luck, healthier food).

12:00: Fast is officially over! I feasted with friends over brunch (which included eggs benedict, croissants, pancakes, poached eggs, Iberian jamon, fruit, orange juice, bread and jam, avocado, and later on ice cream) and everything tasted absolutely wonderful. I ate slowly and chewed well, knowing this is a meal I should relish and enjoy. I didn’t stuff myself either. I stopped eating when I felt full, which was pretty quick. Then, in 15 minutes or so, I’d continue eating small bites. No stomach cramps, no need to run to the bathroom. What an experience!!

Post-fast learnings:

  1. When I attempt this again, I will try this on a very busy week, meaning when I am busier with work and other projects. On my busiest days, the fast was more successful and I didn’t really think about food or cave into eating. As soon as I had free time, the temptation to eat and food cravings were much higher. Also, we eat when we are bored more than when we are hungry.
  2. I should have started by training my body with Intermittent Fasting and building up each week with a longer fasting time. Starting cold turkey, telling yourself you can’t eat for 5+ days is, for lack of a better word, awful. It seems insurmountable at first, an Everest of impossibility. Taking away without any reason the one source of guaranteed happiness and fulfillment is harsh. This takes practice and training.
  3. I will be sure NOT to keep any food in my fridge or pantry, as this was ultimately the failure of fasting. If you have food, you’re gonna eat if when you’re hungry. Nor will I work out of coffee shops, as it’s so easy to buy something tasty there; better to grab a drink to go and get out.
  4. I won’t be doing prolonged fasting in summer, especially the hottest week of recent history… this severely affected my energy levels, as extreme heat is very draining. And when you feel more tired than necessary, you can’t concentrate as you normally could, and this can lower your threshold to control your cravings. When I do this again, it will be when the temperature is cooler (but not necessarily in winter). For example, I thought taking a walk would distract my hunger and also help burn calories; but in hot weather, you can’t walk much and you feel worse after instead of distracted.
  5. Stop relying on the scale so much. 5 days of my first fast ever, which I failed to adhere to strictly, I think I expected to lose like 10 pounds, because that’s what other YouTubers had posted… much of that is water weight anyway, which is ridiculous, considering I didn’t follow a clean, water-only fast that would yield such results. So on mornings where I ate a little after breaking my fast, I was really disappointed in myself and felt angry when seeing the number on the scale. And I realized I need to be kinder and more patient with myself. It was an experiment, and you learn from your mistakes. And a scale only tells you a number, not the true story of what’s happening inside your body. I did this for the multiple benefits and as a challenge to myself. If at first you don’t succeed, try again!
  6. Do it on a week you are emotionally stable. Fasting is an emotional experience, no sense of adding additional stress.

Looking forward

Living in Europe does not afford me the luxury of going to Whole Foods or Sprouts or every health food easily available. People don’t live like that here. They eat, drink (sometimes smoke) whatever they please and just enjoy life. And being a true integrated member of society, I won’t complain to join them on this. I hate diets, and I suck at staying on them.

BUT that’s not to say I won’t be implementing healthier eating regiments going forward. I will begin incorporating Intermittent Fasting (IF) into my daily eating schedule now, which most likely will look like no eating after dinner until lunch the next time. Now that I’ve fasted for prolonged periods, I recognize that IF is super easy and very doable. There are many, many benefits: burn more fat, become leaner, more focus, easier than dieting, prolongs your life (not kidding, read about the stimulated growth hormone), and it’s so simple. Not eating – it’s not like I have to go out of my way to buy special ingredients and cook something fancy. It’s literally zero effort. More will power at the beginning. I’ll take it!

Next, I think I’ll attempt a prolonged water fast of at least 3 full days (maybe longer, who knows), but it won’t be for another few months.

Updated August 23:

Since finishing my prolonged fast, I have incorporated daily Intermittent Fasting on a 16-8 schedule, essentially skipping breakfast and beginning to eat at 3-4:00 p.m. It has helped maintain my weight, and I don’t get hungry in the mornings like before. I allow myself calorie-free liquids like tea, coffee and water. So far, so good!

Have you ever tried fasting or are in interested now? Comment below and share your tales!

 

Lifestyle

The ugly truth of expat life

Pondering the expat lifePondering the expat life

I recently reflected on the conflicting emotions behind being an expat. On one hand, you’re doing something unconventional, you’ve left your comfort zone (perhaps more than once, and you know the drill). You’re learning the local language and have made some expat friends (if you’re lucky, some local friends). You’re getting a hang of your new job, getting along with colleagues (more or less), and you even have some cool trips planned to nearby destinations. All the bureaucratic paperwork is sorted, and life at home alone or with your partner, family and/or flat mates is getting easier. What could be better?

Then you notice cultural differences that at first made you chuckle but now begin to truly frustrate you. The work ethic at the office (or home office) is different than what you’re used to, and it’s either too fast-paced or too relaxed – and that is stressful. Your friends in the new place are all in the same boat, probably here temporarily, in varying stages of their career or family life, but they’re sort of superficial. They don’t know you profoundly from your early 20’s or high school. The memories you share with them are only recent, and frankly, it’s harder to connect with new friends as you get older. And then you begin to get sick of the local cuisine and crave that food from back home, that special snack you’d indulge in that would always bring you comfort, and you can’t get it anywhere now. Suddenly, your honeymoon is over, and you see things for what they are.

You’re a stranger in a new land, and no matter how acclimated you get, you’re still a foreigner and that’s exactly how you feel. Out of place, annoyed at times (or all the time), and scrolling through your social media feeds to see all the faces of friends and family back home doing what you used to do together without you stirs a huge FOMO.

I experienced this cycle three times now at different stages of my life. Third time’s a charm, right? No – the third time is hard as sh*t. When I was little, my family moved from Russia to the USA for my dad’s job. I remember everything quite vividly, especially flying in an airplane where I was convinced the pilot was talking directly to me when he came on the loudspeaker. Never mind that, moving abroad as a kid feels like it’s much easier, because you don’t have a choice, and your family is there with you adjusting as well. And children adapt quicker to new environments, where their identity is still forming and things like learning a new language come easy.

The second time around, I moved to Moscow from Houston for my job when I was 26. This time I was parting with everyone and everything I knew (including my partner) and was going alone at my own volition for a career opportunity in my motherland. So there I lived a lavish, fun and adventurous life for three years, physically single, but mentally my mind was elsewhere and silently doing a countdown, because I knew this experience would end one day. I had one foot in Moscow and one foot back back home. I was home, technically, in my homeland; I spoke the language; I knew the customs and people; but I still felt foreign. Not unwelcome though, just observing life through a translucent crystal ball, if you will. The experience was enriching but it seemed always at a safe distance, so I could pull away at any time.

And coming to the third and most profound move yet – moving from Houston to Madrid for my partner’s job. This time, it wasn’t for me – it was for him, or more correctly, for us. One huge hurdle was behind us (long distance for four years… that’s another story) and now loomed another cycle of adjusting to a new place, but one with a new language and no job for me. I remember looking at the metaphorical mountain of another expat life as I got on the plane to Spain – every cell in my body was tired in advance, but also excited. It was trading one huge stress for another. Starting over is hard, y’all. Even if your loved one is by your side or the destination is very comfortable. I think once you know the cycle, the emotional rollercoasters aren’t as frightening, but you still can’t help but wait for the ride to stabilize.

I’m over a year now into my third cycle of expat life, and I am coming to accept the bad with the good. It’s just part of the package. No, I won’t get to see my friend’s kids grow up, but I will get to live in Europe and have that on my life’s resume. No, I won’t get to spend much time with my mom, brother and grandmother, who aren’t getting any younger, but I will always have cool stories and photos to share with them when we are together. No, I won’t be able to have happy hour with my best friends whenever I want, but do I get to make new friends from all over the world who can teach me something new about living abroad. And that’s the ugly truth – or maybe, that’s the beauty of it.

What are some of your ugly truths about expat life?

Lifestyle

Amazing eats in Madrid

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Food is of utmost importance to me, and when moving to a new place, I make it a point to figure out great places to eat so I can share with others coming to visit. I was lucky to have met like-minded foodie friends when I first moved to Spain. Spanish food is great and all, but who doesn’t love discovering new and delicious places to consume some calories and check out the scene. While I will continue to update this lists as my stomach encounters more delicious spots, here are a few places I recommend if you’re looking to change up your cuisine while visiting Madrid:

  1. Khachapuri
    Delicious khachapuri dishes
    Eggplant and reg peppers in spiced mut sauce

    If you have ever tried Georgian food, you may already know that it is ridiculously delicious. While living in Moscow, I had my fair share of Georgian food because the cuisine was offered on every corner. But in Madrid, I was limited to just ONE restaurant that shared a bit of motherland cooking – and thank goodness it’s REALLY good. The owners are Georgian and the staff speaks Russian.
    Dishes to try: The Georgian pizza dish called Khachapuri “po-mengrelski”.  Try the Khachapuri “po-adjarski”, which is a similar food but with an egg baked on top of what looks like a breaded ‘eye’. The pork and meat dumpings Khinkali are amazing. And finally, the mixed salad eggplant and red pepper, coated with a spiced nut sauce.

  2. Canadiense
    Burger and ribs
    Sweet potato fries and popcorn chicken

    As you may surmise by its name, Canadiense boats dishes from Canada with a key ingredient made famous in its homeland: Maple Syrup! Seriously though, most of their dishes incorporate maple syrup (or ‘arce’ in Spanish). Don’t let that put you off – the food here is delicious.
    Dishes to try: The Canadian “Canadian Burger” on a brioche bun, braised ribs and chicken popcorn, sweet potato fries.

  3. Peko Peko

    Bao Bun
    Kimchidillas


    Feeling like flavorful asian street food with a Spanish twist? Then this is your place. The portions are quite small, so you can try an assortment of things! The ambience of the place is pretty interesting – at first glance it looks like a fast food (or street food) joint, but it’s pretty well designed and most importantly, tasty.
    Dishes to try: Miso Curry, Gyozilla, Light and fluffy Bao buns and Kimchadillas (a Kimchi twist to the Mexican quesadilla).

  4. La Huerta de Almeria

    The grocery section with fresh produce
    Heathy wraps

    I recently discovered this grocery store/quick bite restaurant, in an effort to get back in shape for the summer. I wanted a place where I could buy healthy, prepared foods besides just salads, and this place had a good selections of yummy alternatives. Their fresh squeezed juices are also a welcoming refreshment, especially during the hot Madrid summers.
    Dishes to try: Tex-Mex wrap; any of the fresh-squeezed juices (my favorite was the strawberry, mango and orange; and one of their homemade vegan carrot cakes.

  5. Apartaco for a twist on Venezuelan cuisine


    Madrid has a large Venezuelan population, and luckily their locale cuisine is plentiful around here! In fact, I hadn’t tried Venezuelan food before moving here, and I certainly am not sick of it yet. Apartaco bring authentic Venezuelan cuisine, both simple and delicious, that satisfies your taste buds – and it has vegetarians options!
    Dishes to try: Tequeños, arepas (of course!), tostones (fright bananas covered in guac, salsa and cheese), and llanero a la plancha (which looks like lasagna).
  6. Habanera for a Spanish-style brunch
    The set brunch menu
    Arepa twist on eggs benedict
    Pancakes a la Nutella

    The brunch culture has caught on in Madrid, but I don’t think quite to an extent yet as in the U.S. I struggled for a while to find a decent brunch spot that really impressed me, but I finally found one! Habanera not only has a gorgeous colonial interior and is immaculately decorated, but its brunch food is so delicious. Be sure to make a reservation – this place books up quick!
    Dishes to try: I highly recommend getting the set brunch menu (for 2 pax minimum), which includes everything you could ever want, from croissants to poached eggs. Then try the La Habanera eggs benedict, a twist on the original recipe with a Venezuelan arepa. And for sweets, be sure to try the Tortitas americanas (cupcakes) soaked in a Nutella mouse and sprinkled with berries and chocolate candies.

  7. Socarrat for authentic Valencian paella


    Paella is a notoriously delicious Spanish dish, but it tends to be two things: seafood and GIANT portions (2-4 persons). Finally, I have discovered a delicious and authentic paella restaurant with perfect single portions in many flavors, including meat and vegetable, AND the vibe is great! The paella is savory for a great price (8€). You’ll be full for the entire day!
    Dishes to try: The traditional Paella Valenciana (chicken, rabbit, artichoke, carob, rosemary) is a hit for the non-seafood lovers. From the sea, be sure to try Arroz a Banda (an array of seafood, calamari) or Arroz Negro (black rice, squid and a seafood medley).
  8. Bump Green – healthy and tasteful
    Green mint fresh juice and Hummus de Garrofó o remolacha with vegetable chips
    Noodles de Boniato and Burger de Kimchi
    Brownie de Algarroba

    Looking to enjoy gluten-free, vegan, green options? Check out Bump Green – it’s super tasty and innovative ways to eat clean. Very nice staff and cool, green interior.

  9. Toast Cafe for brunch, because you can never have too much brunch

    When you begin to miss good ol’ brunch from the States, head to Toast Cafe, where you can get a very fulfilling brunch menu for 16€. This includes two courses with a coffee and orange juice. And bonus: if you’re a beer lover, this is a bottle craft joint!
    Dishes to try: Definitely the pancakes and french toast, which you can top with seasonal fruits and syrup. I also am a huge burrito lover, and this place has a legit breakfast burrito! The eggs benedict with salmon are also worth trying.
travel

How I quit my job and backpacked the world

IMG_7975Backpacking ready

So, let me begin by saying that there’s not really a magical recipe for quitting your job and traveling for a while. Many will fantasize and ponder of doing so, but few will take action. It’s not for everyone (or, not everyone can afford to do so, due to family obligations, money constraints, or they aren’t ready to part with their job for so long). I will say that circumstances tend to gravitate toward one outcome, even one that may surprise you. Traveling is a great excuse to do what you want and take control of your experiences. Up until a certain point, I as always told what to do, what to study, what career to pursue, what security to aim for, what kind of guys to date even! As much as I appreciate sound advice, there comes a time when you just scream STOP! to all the outside noise and try to make a decision for yourself based on your own rationalizations.

When life presents you with a junction, you pick a road to take. Not to get all Robert Frost on you, but I took what I believed was the road less traveled by (ironically, the traveling road) when I decided to travel for a while. I hung up my 8-year corporate badge and the career identity I was convinced defined me for so long, and within one week, I was on a one-way flight to Peru with no further plans or ideas of what to do with myself. I didn’t think about money or what to do after I might finish. I had hastily packed my shit into a new Osprey backpack, thinking “So this makes me a backpacker, right?” No, it turns out a backpacker is more of a mentality than a physical pack. All I knew was that I wanted to see Machu Picchu, and the rest would fall into place.

As for traveling alone, nothing felt more natural. Look, I’m an extrovert, in a committed relationship (long distance at the time), love being social and making friends, but traveling alone is a really cool experience. You’re alone but not lonely. It warms my heart to see so many women of all ages choosing to travel on their own, even if just one trip – we’re not only taking power into our own hands, but we are breaking this stupid societal norm that a woman traveling alone is odd, lonely or dangerous.

For those who think that traveling always requires planning in advance, I challenge you that it’s not always the case. With internet at our fingertips, the planning can happen within minutes, instead of months. Granted, some things I did miss because tickets were sold out in advance of when I was going, or airfare at the last minute wasn’t the most affordable. I never really let that discourage me though. If something is sold out in advance, that’s usually an indicator that it is very touristy and crowded. The chance to breathe a new country’s air and witness their landscape is good enough for me; there’s plenty of off-the-beaten-path place you can discover, you just have to ask the locals.

“But income,” you might say, or “career growth!” “How can you leave a secure job for a life of aimless wandering?” “What will people think?” “What will you do with your life after?”

Let me share with you a post I found sobering – the top 5 regrets of the dying:

Source: https://goo.gl/images/81mKQr

Yes, this is pretty sad stuff, but it’s also a good reminder to focus on the now and to stay true to yourself. If your passion is traveling, why not do it? We often set our own obstacles and convince ourselves we can’t surmount them, therefore something like traveling is just not feasible or appropriate right now. You may hate your job, but quitting it to travel sounds too risky – what if you get offered a great position in two years? Or you’ve got a family or partner that can’t join you or doesn’t support you going somewhere alone. Regardless of the reason, if you do decide to go on a journey, don’t look back or second-guess yourself.

Look, I left unsure of what to make of my life up until that point. I just knew what I was doing every day, waking up at 4:45 am to get ready and be at work by 7:00 am to perform a job I could care less about and impress people who viewed me as expendable. I knew I loved traveling and I hated limited myself to going somewhere two times a year. So I left. Just like that.

I came back after 4 months from a world tour of 13 countries, hauling a heavier Osprey on my back and a fuller heart. Above all, I realized the insignificance of what we trivialize in daily life (such as working too hard, pleasing others, comparing ourselves to impossible equals, etc.). I may not have figured out what I wanted to do next, but I was more certain than ever it wasn’t what I had been doing before. And maybe that clarity of mind of what you don’t want is an important step to figuring out what you do what.

And so, consider where you are in life and think if traveling is what you really want to do. You’ll find that justifying or rationalizing your thinking is a learned skill, and as humans, we are innately irrational – so don’t be afraid of letting your instincts drive your decisions to travel. You’ll be glad you did!