Breaking Bread, Pita, and Challah

When I took my shahada (declaration of faith) and became Muslim at the tender age of fifteen, I knew some people would be opposed to my decision. I also knew others would respect it. My friends, family and classmates surprised me more often than not when showing me which side of the fence they fell on. People I expected understanding from went out of their way to make life difficult, while I found support in some very surprising places.

When I explained to my grandpa why I wouldn’t be attending church with him anymore, he stopped eating and looked at me thoughtfully. I braced myself for the wrath of a man who had been a deacon at Ebenezer Baptist Church for more years than I had been alive. “Do you still love the Lord?” he asked in his thick Alabama accent. “Yes, Grandpa,” I responded, “I still love the Lord.” He nodded his head several times. “Well alright, then.” He went back to eating his biscuits and syrup, and that was that. As a man who loved his religion, I never imagined that he could be open to his beloved granddaughter choosing a different path.

With all the conflicts in the world today, it’s easy to lump all the followers of any religion into one category and hate them equally. At an Annual Interfaith Iftaar I attended a few days ago, it was refreshing to be able to sit down with Jews from the synagogue across the street and Christians from the church up the road and share a meal. Rather than argue about the differences between us, we chose to embrace our similarities. Instead of seeing one another as outsiders, we realized we are all ultimately members of the same club – humanity.

Over a meal of fried rice, beef and broccoli, and sweet and sour chicken, we got to know one another on a more personal level. Some of the non-Muslims present had opted to fast for the day in order to fully experience Ramadan. They shared their experiences with us, and let us know that we would always be able to count on them for friendship. They have no idea how much their kind words meant to us, considering that the general consensus when it comes to Muslims. In a world where religion serves as the basis of most conflicts, it was nice to take a moment to be human beings.

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Bubble Guts

In an effort to combat vitiligo holistically, my husband decided to go gluten free. That means that I have also gone gluten free by default. We didn’t make this decision lightly; we did a fair amount of research. I am really embarrassed to admit that at one time, I didn’t care where my food came from. As long as it was pleasing to my taste buds, I was happy. I never gave much thought to the impact this approach would have on my health.

After watching the documentary “Food Inc”, I knew I needed to be more mindful of where my meat came from. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly urge you to watch it. It will change the way you look at food forever. Even after watching the documentary, I didn’t give much thought to something as simple as grains. As long as I stick to whole grains and avoid highly processed foods, I should be good to go, right? Not necessarily. Thanks to scientists fiddling around with the properties of wheat for the sake of increasing yield and durability, we are left with a product that our body isn’t quite able to translate.

I can’t speak for everyone when I mention the benefits of going wheat-free; I can only share my own experiences. Now if you have been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I am a hypochondriac. I’ve successfully diagnosed myself without needing any input from medical professionals. You can laugh if you want, but I know my own body. One of the disorders I believe I have is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. I should warn you that I am about to take a left turn into the land of TMI, so you may want to leave this page if you are squeamish about that sort of thing. If not, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you all about my bathroom habits.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with gallstones. Yes, actually diagnosed by a medical professional after a bout of biliary colic put me in the hospital. Gallstones are calcified or hardened bile. I have so many of these stones that my gallbladder is pretty much nonfunctioning. You may wonder why that’s such a big deal. That’s where the TMI comes in. Bile is necessary for digesting fat. If your gallbladder can’t release bile to digest all the fat in that monster grilled cheese sandwich you had at lunch, guess what happens to the fat? It leaves the body indigested. And its exit is not a pleasant one. The fat is apparently disgruntled at having been told to leave the club after having just arrived not long ago, so it decides to wreak havoc on its way out. This means the unsuspecting consumer of a monster grilled cheese sandwich is going to experience some really nasty gastro intestinal effects. Diarrhea is the most prevalent. And of course, Diarrhea is a coward who can’t show up without his posse. His homeboys Gas, Cramps, Cold Sweat, and Goosebumps act as emcees announcing his arrival. And they don’t wait until for a convenient opening. Whether you are in the checkout line at the grocery store or in a meeting with a group of executives, Diarrhea and his crew are coming through with live entertainment at your expense.

You may wonder what one issue has to do with the other. Well, one of the symptoms of gluten intolerance just so happens to be the body’s inability to absorb fat. I usually keep tablets of Pepto Bismol in my purse to avoid public humiliation when I am eating away from home. Now I am not going to tell you that eliminating wheat will change your life, but it changed mine. At a potluck recently, I indulged in some foods containing moderate amounts of fat. And I had no side effects. Guacamole was tolerated without as much as a whimper from my lower half. Considering the amount of fat in avocadoes, I never would have expected to eat guacamole without the accompaniment of pink bismuth. I also managed to eat sautéed veggies without embarrassment. Clearly, fat is not the culprit here.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to diagnose myself with Celiac Disease, but I am claiming gluten intolerance for now. I miss bread, but more for its convenience than flavor. Avoiding gluten seems to have reduced my cravings for carbs, which leads me to believe that crack is a real component of gluten. I’m not kidding; there is something suspiciously addictive about the food we are eating.

Since giving gluten the boot, I’ve actually dropped a little more weight. As of today, I am down a total of 43 pounds. I put my hands on my waist today and it dawned on me that I actually have a waist again.

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I think it’s in our nature as human beings to be vocal about the things that displease us, while keeping silent on incidents that bring us happiness. I have written many posts about my pet peeves and random idiosyncrasies, but I have yet to talk about the things that I am grateful for. When I gave real thought to everyone and everything I appreciate, I figured I could do a whole series on gratitude alone. We very easily disregard the importance of gratefulness.

Healthy Children

I know no one is ever ungrateful for healthy children, but do we really take the time to think about how fortunate they makes us? I read a blog post recently and was bawling my eyes out by the time I reached the end of it. A mother watches her daughter’s daily decline mentally and physically as the result of a rare birth defect. She knows that her time with her little girl is limited, so she makes it her business to be present in every moment she has left with her. She takes joy in the time they share, and records her memories on her blog where she can access them easily when her daughter is no longer available to hug. God, that gets me choked up even writing a paragraph about it. As a mom, I can’t imagine planning a child’s funeral. I can’t say for sure what I would do in her situation, but I don’t know that I could accept the inevitability with the amount of grace this woman has. Although I don’t know her, I wish I could embrace her through the computer.

Thank goodness that my children are pretty healthy. Little Linebacker suffers from Asthma, but is still able to live a pretty normal life. When I lose patience, when I feel like running away from the sibling rivalry and rough-housing, when I want to beat someone with a fly swatter for using my walls as dinner napkins, I remember the woman who already has her daughter’s casket picked out. And I pray that I never know the pain of outliving my babies.

My Husband

Bring thankful for my husband seems like a no-brainer, as does being grateful for the health of my children. Having been in a really bad marriage my first time around, I have a level of appreciation for my current marriage that someone who never had it rough might not be able to relate to. I really believe that my husband was made just for me. We have disagreements like any other couple, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about him. Every aspect of his character is something I need in my life. I won’t say that he completes me, because I believe that a person should be complete before entering into a relationship. Another human being doesn’t have the ability to make you whole. They do have the ability to balance you, though. His strengths complement my weaknesses and my softness smoothes his edges. I had an idea of what I wanted in a spouse prior to marrying him, but didn’t take the time to think about what I needed. He is both my dinner and dessert wrapped up in one handy dish.

My Imam

I don’t consider myself a overly religious person, but I like to think I have a good relationship with God. After doing some soul-searching, I converted to Islam at the tender age of 15. It just spoke to something deep inside of me. I’m thankful that I took the time to learn about the religion for myself instead of observing it in practice by others, because some of the experiences I’ve had with other people who call themselves Muslims would have seriously derailed my faith. I’ve been to masjids where I felt unwelcome because I didn’t fit in ethnically, or because I didn’t dress a certain way. When I first moved to Orlando, I spent a good amount of time around people who taught their children to memorize Qur’an for the sake of boasting about it to others. They were brash in the manner in which they interacted with one another, and were heavily critical. Every week, I learned about how deficient I was as a human being, and especially as a woman. Classes I attended focused so much on the perfecting of rituals that it all began to feel very mechanical to me. I got to a point where I prayed solely out of obligation. It was really a somber point in my life.

After meeting a pretty awesome group of people at an Eid (holiday) celebration, I began attending a class that a local imam gave on Sundays. The moment I walked into the classroom, I noticed that the vibe was different from anything I had encountered before. People from all walks of life were embraced and made to feel as though they belonged. We became a family, despite differences in skin color and background. The imam stressed the importance of love and kindness, something that had been hugely absent from masjids I had gone to in the past. He not only expounded on the basics that most of us were already familiar with, but helped us figure out how to apply those fundamental principles to our lives to become better people. He doesn’t realize it, but he reminded me of why I fell in love with Islam in the first place. I will be forever in his debt because of that.

Good Friends

I’ve learned to stop regretting the toxic relationships I have had with people. Regardless of the pain or inconvenience they may have caused, they each served as a learning experience. Whether positive or negative, they have helped define my character in some way. I had friends who have stolen from me, engaged in wanton acts with my ex husband while I was still married to him, and sought to besmirch my reputation in my absence. Believe it or not, I am thankful for all of it. I honestly believe that you need to feel pain and sorrow in order to fully appreciate joy. I have formed bonds with people that I don’t think I would value as much as I do, had I not witnessed such callousness and animosity in people. I have a pretty awesome family that means the world to me, and friends who have become an extension of that family.

I may not communicate with the people I love as often as I should (and I promise to work on that), but I think about them every day and I treasure the impact they have had on my life.

It probably seems redundant to write a blog post about such obvious things, but I think we all need a reminder. Not a single one of us can affirm that there isn’t anything we take for granted. I encourage you to think about the people who are essential to your emotional well-being, and take the time to thank them for giving you the opportunity to love them.

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I Am Barely Breathing, I Can’t Find the Air

I have the ugliest toenails on the face of the Earth. Well, maybe not the absolute ugliest (because I have seen some really nasty pics of toenail fungus), but they are pretty close to the top of the list. Thanks to my new love of running, the toenails on both of my second toes have turned black. One of them has fallen about halfway off. It’s like a badge of honor that I force my husband to admire every day. The other is still holding on strong in all of its thick, black glory. I’m hoping that when they eventually fall of completely, they grow back as unblemished as they were the day I came into this world.

I really didn’t come here to talk to you guys about my talons, though. As you know, I’m a runner now. Go on; get all your laughter out of the way. I’ll wait.

As I said, I’m a runner. I can call myself that because, well, I run. Not as often as I need to for a chick who’s about two months away from a half marathon, but I do run. I got on the treadmill at work yesterday, and cranked it up. At least it was cranked up in my opinion. But then the running guru in my department hopped (quite literally) onto the treadmill right next to mine and scoffed at my speed. “Dude,” he said loud enough for me to hear him over the music blasting through my Skull Candy ear buds, “you need to pick that up. Seriously. How are you going to finish your half marathon in 2.5 hours?” That’s an ongoing debate with us. I have no desire to finish this race in 2.5 hours. My goal is to finish before the streets are reopened to traffic. I don’t care if it takes 5 hours. Despite our differences in goals, I increased my speed from 4 miles per hour to 6. Then I immediately started to drop the speed back down because I’d just remembered I had the incline up high, and only a crazy person would combine that speed with that incline. Running guru made me leave it though, telling me that I wasn’t pushing myself to do what I was capable of. So I left the speed at 6 miles per hour for a full minute. At the highest incline I’ve ever attempted. If I hadn’t been so hesitant to part with my music for a few precious seconds, I would have snatched my ear buds out of my phone and whipped the cord at him relentlessly. But then I saw the “proud papa” grin he was sporting and decided to let go of the rage I’d been holding in.

I really do a sorry job of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I know I talked about that in my last post a couple of weeks ago and promised I would work at it. And I have been working at it. I just have these limitations in my mind based on my weight prior to losing 37 pounds (yes, I finally got the ball rolling again and lost two pounds this week!). I remember how tough it was at my starting weight to walk up a flight of stairs, let alone run on a treadmill. But yesterday, I drifted between speeds of 3.3 and 6 miles per hour at a ridiculous incline (at least by my standards), and I’m still alive to tell about it. Never mind the fact that I was huffing and puffing like an old woman trying to blow out 90 candles on a birthday cake. The worst part is that I forgot to bring my Polar FT4 along, which means I didn’t get to see how many calories I burned. I need to see that. It is absolutely essential that I have visual proof of my workout in the form of numbers on my little pink watch. Otherwise, it may or may not have happened in real life.

Although my hijab was soaked with sweat and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to wash the stink out of my tech tee, I’m heading back to the gym again today. Running Guru won’t be there to encourage me, but I still plan to give this run everything I have in me. I have a major craving for that endorphin rush.

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Running in Place

I just had a major “Oh, crap” moment. My half marathon is just under 12 weeks away. And guess how far into my 15-week training program I am? If you guessed 0, that would be correct. Don’t get me wrong, I am working out. In a moment of desperation, I went to the library to check out Zumba Exhilarate because mine is on loan to a friend in exchange for Brazil Butt Lift. But I still needed my Zumba, so now I have more variety. Also, I have been swimming and hitting the treadmill in the gym at work. As much as I HATE the treadmill, I use it because running makes me feel awesome. Not to mention, it’s sweltering outside.

Although I have lost 35 pounds, I’ve been stuck for longer than I like. I’d hoped to be about 10 pounds further along than that right now. I’m trying hard not to place so much emphasis on numbers, but it’s still a struggle for me. While that change in numbers brings me much needed gratification, I know that focusing on the scale alone can lead me down a very dark path. But I still need to move in the right direction, because stagnancy sucks. I once heard someone say that you can’t make progress if you stay in love with your comfort zone. I’ll admit, that’s been my problem. I still eat pretty well for the most part. And I still work out, but I have been sticking with what I already know I can do, instead of pushing beyond my perceived limits. Despite getting my behind onto the treadmill, I didn’t go any further than I normally would. Of course, walking/running on a treadmill instead of outside is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but I really need to take advantage of the resources available to me. So the treadmill is my new lunchtime companion during the workweek. And the great outdoors will be my weekend companion, however hot it may be outside.

I consulted the running guru at my job and was told that long runs are imperative to successfully completing a half marathon in two and a half hours. Wait, what? Who said I wanted or needed to finish in two and a half hours? My goal is just to finish, preferably before the streets are reopened to traffic. But long runs are important either way. So this weekend will be split between laps in the pool, and the soles of my sneakers caressing the pavement for 7 sweaty miles. If I’m still alive to share the story, I’ll tell you all about it on Monday. Maybe. You know how I can be.

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Just Keep Running

I am officially opposed to commercials advertising prescription medicine. As a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, I fully understand the dangers of warning a person about a particular condition, and then offering up a cure for said condition. Thankfully, I don’t usually fall victim to the sale of the so-called cure. I usually conjure up a diagnosis, and then follow through with a home remedy. This afternoon, my feelings about those commercials were cemented when my lunch was interrupted by talk of dry, painful intercourse. There are just some things that should stay between a doctor and patient. Needless to say, I didn’t feel the need to finish my lunch. So thanks, Premarin. You served as my unintended appetite suppressant today.

That’s not what I came here to discuss, but I really needed to get that off my chest and 140 characters was nowhere near sufficient. What I came here to tell you is that I am still alive. I am still embracing my journey to fitness; I just realized I needed to make some adjustments in that embrace. If you recall my previous posts, I placed a great deal of emphasis on the number of pounds that I lost over a period of time. While there’s no harm in keeping track of progress, there is something terribly wrong with the importance I placed on that number. You may not have been able to sense it in my posts, but I got extremely discouraged when the numbers on the scale started to drop more slowly. I was so dispirited that I actually considered resorting to some unsavory methods to speed my progress back up. By unsavory, I mean methods of the food-restricting variety. I’m really embarrassed to admit that out loud, but it’s imperative that the admission be made. I won’t lie, I assumed only my family members and close friends were reading my blog, and most likely doing so out of obligation. I didn’t realize there were other readers looking to those weekly posts for inspiration. And I couldn’t continue to serve as an inspiration if I fell into deceptive weight loss practices.

Thankfully, I remembered fairly quickly that I actually love food (hence my fatassedness), and would never be successful at depriving myself. But the fact that I considered it for a few short minutes made me realize that I might be sending someone the wrong message out there. The number on the scale is not the end of the story. Going forward, I am going to try my best to place less emphasis on the numbers and devote more attention to the lifestyle itself. I’ll still keep you up to date on my progress, but that isn’t what I want to focus on. My focus is on getting healthy, and running as many half marathons as my body is capable of. Hopefully, you’ll stay with me on this expedition.

A Side of Frozen Stuffing

I remember the exact moment that I realized I had a problem with food. It wasn’t when I sat in the seat of a rollercoaster, only to be humiliated when the safety harness wouldn’t fit around my girth. It wasn’t even when my clothing options had been reduced to the only four abayas I owned that fit anymore. The moment of realization for me was when I was heating up two frozen dinners for lunch at work. I had long since discarded any ideas I had about eating foods that I enjoyed, and resorted to eating just about anything that didn’t contain pork or alcohol. I stopped caring about quality. Cranberry chutney and brie all baked up together in a blanket of phyllo didn’t hold the same meaning for me anymore. Food was all about quantity; the more, the better.

I was embarrassed that I was eating enough food to make use of two of the microwave ovens in the break room, and silently prayed that no one would need to use one. That was why I always ate lunch late in the afternoon. There was no way I could bring myself to heat up that amount of food during the lunchtime rush.

Once my food was heated, I stuck both containers into my bag and brought them back up to my desk. I always ate at my desk. It was the only place I could scarf down my food without worrying about who might be watching. Safe within the tall, taupe fabric walls of my cubicle, I burned my tongue on rubbery turkey and substandard mashed potatoes that I was too impatient to allow to cool off. I made sure to discard one empty container at the trash can under my desk, and the other into the trashcan in the break room. That way, no one would be the wiser. Except me. I was like a drug addict when it came to meal time. Beforehand, the excitement I felt would just about make me dance. Afterward, I would berate myself and curse my gluttony. And I would spend the rest of the day in a funk so deep that I needed a six-foot ladder to climb out of it.

I’m not writing this post to garner sympathy from my readers. The behavior I was guilty of didn’t deserve sympathy. It deserved a swift kick and the behind, and a stern talking to. And on that day, as I left the office, I vowed to kick my own ass into gear. It would be the last day that I tipped the scale at more than 300 pounds without doing anything to fix myself.

I went home that night and made a few lists. I am a master list maker. I just don’t always follow though. This time, I truly did follow through. I made a list of a list of the wellness goals I wanted to achieve. Wanting to lose one hundred and forty pounds sounded ridiculous to me. I mean, there are adults in this country who don’t even weight that much. I was looking to lose an entire person. And the thought of that was overwhelming. So I broke that huge goal down into smaller pieces and focused one checking off one piece at a time. So far, that method has brought me a quarter of the way to the finish line.

I once saw a post on Instagram that said: “Don’t get discouraged by the amount of time it will take to achieve something. The time will pass anyway.” I don’t allow myself to forget how far I’ve come in the past few months. I still have a long way to go, but the time will pass one way or another. It’s up to me to make sure it counts for something.