Trader Joe’s Vegan Must Haves!!

I did a big shopping trip down to Trader Joe’s a couple weekends ago, and have been dying to share my new favourite vegan staples! I HIGHLY recommend making the trip down to Trader Joe’s; the selection and price is unbeatable, and the quality of their products is unmatched.

1) Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy Mini Ice Cream Sandwiches: OMG. This is the best and closest thing I have gotten to ice cream since going vegan. I have to tell you now that they are extremely addictive..they are “mini” sandwiches, so expect to have 2…maybe 3 in a sitting. They taste like the real thing- I honestly could not taste the difference. I even gave one to my brother and he was hooked! I absolutely love them and cannot imagine my vegan diet without them now!

ice cream

2) Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese: Again, another huge winner! This cream cheese beats out the disgusting Daiya version of cream cheese any day. I love adding this cream cheese to my sandwiches, or just having it on crackers. It’s a creamy spread substitute that you can actually eat on it’s own, which is actually very hard to find.

cream cheese

3) Trader Joe’s Vegan Microwave Popcorn: I have not seen vegan-friendly microwave popcorn anywhere before! When I am craving popcorn, I tend to pop mine fresh and add Earth Balance vegan butter. Now, when I’m in a rush or feeling lazy I can have great light tasting popcorn in 90 seconds! The bags are the perfect size for one portion, and are not heavily “buttered” or salted.

popcorn

4) Trader Joe’s Bruschetta Sauce: Most bruschetta sauces are vegan-friendly, but I had to add this to my list because it is one of my absolute favourites. It has the perfect balance of garlic and basil to highlight the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. I have been adding it to my sandwiches, salads, or just on crackers. It is the perfect topping for anything!

bruchettasauce

5) Trader Joe’s Vegan Marsala Burgers: I have never found a vegan burger with such an original blend of flavours. The indian spices really add another dimension to your typical bean and quinoa vegan patty. I love having the marsala burgers with a mango chutney, or just alongside a salad. They are super versatile and flavourful enough to have on its own.

88865-vegetable-masala-burger

Progress Report #8

doctor-clipboard

 PROGRESS REPORT #8

 

 

  1. How many days of adopting a vegan diet have I accomplished?
    I am on my 170th day of eating vegan. I am at my 6 month mark now, and I am feeling great. I am still shocked I have not slipped off track one bit! 🙂

  2. How do I feel today?
    Today I feel well. Now that I am done with school for the holidays, I am able to catch up on sleep, my friends, life, and just reenergize. As well, I can really focus my energy and time on physiotherapy for an injury that happened from a car accident two months ago. I have been doing physio twice a week for the last month, so it really has been consuming all the free time I had for myself. Now that I am on break, I can breathe again 🙂
  3. How is my energy level?
    My energy level has been depleted the last few days. Finals ended on Saturday, and since then I have been sleeping a solid 10 hours each night. I know my body is trying to catch up on all the sleep I lost during the final weeks of the semester, so I am being patient and allowing myself as much rest as it needs.

  4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how prevalent are my Lupus symptoms? Joints? Skin? Fatigue? Kidneys?

    My rating: 2-3

    Joints: My joint pains and morning stiffness have been more noticeable with the cold weather. It is sometimes a challenge in the morning doing things with my hands, but by mid-morning I am good to go.

    Skin: The rashes on my scalp have been extremely noticeable the last few weeks, which I know is related to how much stress I have been under with school and work. I did bring this issue up to my Rheumatologist but he explained it was one of the side effects of the steroids I am taking.

    Fatigue: My fatigue levels have been really prevalent the last few days, but again I know it is because I barely slept last week during final exams. I am sure it will start to mellow out in a week or so. Kidneys: I am still experiencing swelling in my legs when I have a meal that has too much sodium. I talked to my Nephrologist about this problem, and she suggested I just watch what I eat. I explained I’m already on a vegan diet, so most of the food I have has very little salt. She also recommended another medication to help with the swelling, but I haven’t tried it yet. 

  5. Have I displayed any new symptoms? Good or bad.
    No new symptoms to report this week.

  6. How long have I been back on my steroids?
    It has been 82 days. My Nephrologist increased my kidney steroid dose a month ago, I am doing weekly blood work to monitor it and see if it interacts negatively with my liver, like it did the first time. I have a 24 hour urine collection due at the end of the month to see whether or not the protein levels in my urine have decreased with the higher dose. If it hasn’t, my Nephrologist wants to switch me to a new, stronger steroid. I am uneasy about this, because switching to new steroids is always problematic. You never know how your body will react, and if it will adjust slowly or quickly.
  7. Have I learned anything new to adopt in my natural approach?
    The last month I have been so consumed with school, work, and physio that I have not had the time to make all the vegan meals I love to cook. I have been opting for eating out and quick on-the-run food, because I have been so busy. I can’t wait for the holidays because I plan on experimenting a bit with traditional holiday dishes and veganizing them! I will definitely share them on my blog, once I have perfected the recipe.

 

The Tears That Will Never Dry Up

I have had Lupus since I was 14 years old, almost nine years now. It takes a lot for me to cry about my health or situation. I mean, I cried endlessly in the beginning when I was first diagnosed, but after that I vowed to never feel sorry for myself, or to cry again. These moments are few and far in between that I can remember the specific moments; when I was diagnosed, when I was hospitalized for flare ups in the early years of my disease, when I diagnosed with Nephritis, and more recently while I was on the natural medicine and off my steroids. In the nine years and with all that I have been through with my Lupus, that was the first time I had cried from the physical pains of my disease, that was when I knew I had to stop the natural medicine and get back on my steroids. Now the reason why I am sharing this is because I had an experience today that really shook me emotionally, and brought me back to feeling vulnerable, as if I was just being told about my Lupus for the first time.

Today I had my six month check up with my Rheumatologist. I had lots of new things to discuss with him, because he wanted to know about my experience with the natural medicine and where my health is now. After I explained how the last 4-6 months have been, he is happy I am back on my steroids. He asked me how I am doing and if I had anything I was concerned about. I mentioned to him I have been having extreme difficulty with my sleep pattern and fatigue levels, and that I was recently involved in a car accident, and am unsure if it is Lupus related or injury related from the accident. One week, it took me 2-3 hours to fall asleep; I would be tossing and turning for hours so frustrated and beyond exhausted. Now this week my fatigue has really kicked in and my sleeping regime is the complete opposite. I have been going to bed around 6pm-7pm, and sleeping for 12-13 hours every other night. I have had to miss work too, because I just don’t have the physical and mental energy to go to work. He reviewed the lab work that I have done since going vegan and revealed that my hemoglobin levels have gone down, and that my diet change may be a contributing factor to my fatigue. I am at a count of 100 for my hemoglobin, when the normal range is 120-150. He did make an effort to tell me that a low hemoglobin count could be due to diet or lupus related, so I will be doing iron deficiency testing with my next month’s lab work. We then reviewed my urine collections and the amount of protein in it; my Neurologist and Rheumatologist are frustrated that I have been on my kidney medication, which is a very strong steroid,  for a year now, and it still has not stopped my protein loss completely. The plan is to now increase this steroid again, and if it reacts negatively with my liver, like it did the first time, we would try a new stronger steroid. Like I mentioned in my first post, treatment is a constant battles of drugs, at varying doses, seeing if there are any negative side effects, and then changing them if there are. I left the appointment feeling very meh about everything. I know ‘meh’ is not a real word, but I don’t know how else to explain how I felt. I just felt so helpless and careless at the same time.

Now I was out for lunch with my mom when I decided to go see her pharmacist to get my medications refilled. I usually go to London Drugs, but the lineup is always so gosh darn long. Plus my mom’s pharmacist is Vietnamese, so it’s nice that he can explain things to her more effectively than I can when it comes to my Lupus. So we walk in and she hands him my prescription, and he says to my mom “oh wow you are starting all these medications at this age??” And she goes, “oh no, this is for my daughter.”

The way he looked at me said it all. It was a look I was so used to getting. I hated that look. It was the look of sadness and pity.

After a brief pause he says “oh wow. I’m so sorry for you. The types and amount of steroids you are on are extremely harsh, it must be very serious.” I looked at him and said “I have Lupus.” He then asks “what have they said about your future?” To be honest, I was speechless. I have never had anyone ask me that question before. I replied, “I mean I just keep taking new drugs and more of them as new problems arise.” He replied, “and has it been getting worse since you have been diagnosed?”, and I said “yes it has.” His last remark was: “well I can only pray it gets better for you with these steroids, otherwise you are looking at more severe treatments like steroid IV injections, or chemotherapy.” At that moment my heart sank completely. I don’t know why. I mean, this wasn’t news to me. The possibility of more severe treatments is something I have always been aware of, but for some reason today it really hit home. I guess, because I have had Lupus for so long now, I sometimes even forget I have a disease. It is when I have experiences with people who find out for the first time, that it brings me back to that day I was fourteen, and alone in the hospital where I was told I had Lupus.

Today has been a complete emotional roller coaster. I had intended on writing a vegan recipe to share with you all, but I couldn’t produce that blog piece with so much weighing on my mind. I realized this was the reason why I made the blog, to share my experience with people, however raw and emotional it may be at times. One thing I know my family and friends can attest to is that I always try to be as positive and optimistic about my health as possible. Talking to the pharmacist today really just put things into perspective for me. Today he just reminded me about the truth-that I am only twenty-three years old and on some of the harshest steroids out there, and that I am suffering from kidney dysfunction. It makes me wonder, what will my health look like in five-ten years? Experiences like this one are just a reminder that Lupus is something I have to struggle with for the rest of my life. Most days I am strong and occasionally think about my health, nothing beyond my regular pains or taking my medications. Some days I am an emotional wreck, feeling discouraged and hopeless. Today is one of those days, and I thought it would be valuable for people to see that I don’t always have a brave face on. Even after all these years, certain experiences can bring me back to the day that changed my life forever.

Progress Report #7

 

doctor-clipboard PROGRESS REPORT #7

 

 

 

  1. How many days of adopting a vegan diet have I accomplished?
    I am on my 136th day of eating vegan! It honestly feels like it has been longer than four months since I have had any meat. To this day I still have not slipped at all, yippee!!
  2. How do I feel today?
    Today I feel okay. I was involved in a car accident a few weeks ago, so I have been experiencing a lot of stiffness and pain in my back ever since. I  noticed I was getting more stiffness in my joints, specifically in my hands, since the accident. It probably is stress-induced.
  3. How is my energy level?
    My energy level is not great today. I slept for nine hours last night, yet I feel like I could use two whole days to sleep. I have been back at the gym for a few weeks now, which is super exciting. I took a long break from working out and doing any physical activity, because I was in so much pain from being off my steroids. Now that I am physically able to workout, I just have to find time between full-time school, and work. I am hoping that a regular workout regimen will help get my energy level up.
  4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how prevalent are my Lupus symptoms? Joints? Skin? Fatigue? Kidneys?
    My rating: 2-3Joints: My joint pains and morning stiffness have been more prevalent since the car accident, which I am sure is due to stress. I am happy though that I am able to go about my regular routine everyday without any assistance.

    Skin: Since being back on my steroids, the rashes on my scalp have returned. How bizarre! It is something I will bring to the attention of my Rheumatologist when I see him next week. 

    Fatigue: My fatigue levels have been all over the place this week. Most days I am feeling like I need at least another 3-4 hours of sleep. Some days I have had to cancel my plans or errands and take a midday rest to get energy for the evening. 

    Kidneys: The swelling that I get in my legs are back to being very prevalent. It is extremely sensitive to my diet, specifically my sodium intake. It is quite odd that when I was off my steroids I rarely ever got any swelling in my legs from my diet. Now that I am back on my steroids, I am experiencing it more frequently, yet I am still on the same diet. This is something I will definitely mention to my Neurologist when I see her in two weeks. 

  5. Have I displayed any new symptoms? Good or bad.
    No new symptoms to report this week.
  6. How long have I been back on my steroids?
    It has been 49 days and  I am back on my regular dose of steroids now. I am relieved that I am feeling well enough to get back to my usual dose.
  7. Have I learned anything new to adopt in my natural approach?
    I recently started an at home meditation practice. It has been a wonderfully empowering experience. Being that I have a Type-A personality,  I am constantly on-the-go, multitasking, and planning my daily and weekly schedule; it is extremely challenging for me to shut my brain off. I have learned to exercise my mental strength and tune everything out, which is something that doesn’t happen easily for me. I am trying to meditate once a day for 15-20 minutes, either right when I wake up or right before I go to bed. I have found it to be incredibly calming, centering, and relieving. I think that it will really help me alleviate stress from school, work, and life, which will hopefully in turn help my Lupus. 

 

No -Bake Vegan Protein Bites

These vegan protein bites are amazing replacements for your store bought granola bars. You would be incredibly surprised to find out how much sugar and sodium one of those granola bars contains! I absolutely love these protein bites; even if you’re not vegan, they are a great healthy on-the-go snack. I have them as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, or as a post-workout snack. They pack a lot of protein and fibre per bite, so they can definitely tie you over in between meals. And because I am a tad bit more generous with the chocolate chips, I find that they help curb my cravings for other unhealthier sugary snacks. This recipe makes roughly 8-10 bites, depending on how big you make the balls. I scaled down my recipe, so that you could test it out and see if you like the flavour of my protein bites. If you do, you can then multiply everything by two to make 16-20 bites, that’s the normal amount I make every time I make this recipe. They can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for up to two weeks.


Ingredients:

1/3 cup roughly chopped unsalted, raw almonds

1/4 unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup of quick rolled oats

1/2 cup ground flax seeds (I bought mine in the bulk aisle and noticed they are the same price as the whole flax seeds, so why not get them already ground up to save you the work!)

1/3 cup of vegan chocolate chips ( I prefer the mini chips, I find they bind better in the mixture.)

1 tsp. of pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. of cinnamon

1 generous tbsp. of raw peanut butter ( I would prefer to use almond butter or cashew butter, but this was what I had on hand.)

2 generous tbsp. of coconut oil

1 tbsp of water (this amount may vary)


Directions:

  1. Mix all your dry ingredients together ( almonds, shredded coconut, rolled oats, and ground flax seeds).20141021_205431
  2. Combine all the ingredients well.
  3. Add vanilla extract, cinnamon, peanut butter, and coconut oil.20141021_205501
  4. Use your hands to mix the ingredients (the temperature of your hands will help the coconut oil melt and blend into the mixture much better than a spoon would).
  5. Combine the ingredients until it is all thoroughly distributed and just holding together.
  6. Add 1 tbsp. of water to start – continue mixing with hands.
  7. The mixture should hold together, but not be sticky. If it isn’t holding together add another tbsp. of water, if it is too sticky add more rolled oats.20141021_211201
  8. Once you reach the right consistency you can start forming your balls!
  9. You can pick the size of your balls, just make sure when forming them to really apply some pressure to ensure they keep their shape.
  10. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.

no_bake_energy_bites_Closeup

Progress Report #6

The last blog that I posted, I wrote it with the intention of it being my last. With me being unable to continue my journey on natural medicine I figured it made sense to stop my blog, because that was the whole purpose of it- sharing the experience of treating my Lupus naturally. I was overwhelmed with friends and strangers reaching out and encouraging me to continue sharing my story, regardless of the absence of natural medicine. People still want to hear about my journey with veganism and what it is like living with Lupus. I was incredibly touched that so many people had a genuine interest in my story. It just made me realize how something like a chronic disease could bring people from all walks of life together for a greater cause. It is truly inspiring. So for that reason I decided to continue my blog. I want to thank everyone for opening up  their minds and hearts to me. It is an indescribable feeling; to know that I am lucky enough to be in a position where I could possibly help, inspire, or move someone. That is something I will forever be grateful for.


 

doctor-clipboard PROGRESS REPORT #6

 

 

 

  1. How many days of adopting a vegan diet have I accomplished?
    I am on my 115th day of eating vegan, that’s almost four months! I can’t believe I have not slipped or caved into my old meat-eating ways!
  2. How do I feel today?
    Today I feel great. I feel like myself again, as strange as that sounds. The last couple months with the amount of pain I was experiencing, it really got me down and feeling helpless. I would wake up with no desire to do anything, because of the debilitating pain throughout my body. I have always been one to wake up and be excited to conquer my day – I’m happy to say that I am back at that place!
  3. How is my energy level?
    My energy level has been lower than normal the last few days. Some days I feel like I could sleep all day and never leave my bed. I’m unsure if it is solely from my Lupus, or maybe from the change in seasons as well.

  4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how prevalent are my Lupus symptoms? Joints? Skin? Fatigue? Kidneys?My rating: 2-3

    Joints: My joint pains and morning stiffness have improved immensely. I can do everything myself again, like brushing my teeth and tying my hair. It is a great feeling to regain my independence. I still have pains in the morning, but I honestly cannot complain when I compare it to the pain I was experiencing the last couple months.

    Skin: I have noticed a couple minor rashes on my scalp in the last week or so. It is quite odd, because while I was on the natural medicine I don’t recall ever getting a single rash. Now that I am back on my meds I am seeing a few. 

    Fatigue: My fatigue levels have been a bit erratic this week. Some days I wake up feeling like I haven’t slept in days and could go back to sleep for days. I am sure it is my Lupus and my body adjusting to my meds. One of the side effects of my steroids is that it can cause fatigue, and it is something I have been struggling with for a while now. 

    Kidneys: I have not been experiencing any abnormal swelling in my legs from sitting for an hour or more, which I am very happy about. I can now focus during my lectures at school without experiencing tightness in my legs and ankles. I will be doing another 24-hour urine collection test in a month to see where my protein levels are, and if it has decreased at all since starting my kidney medication again. 

  5. Have I displayed any new symptoms? Good or bad.
    Seeing some minor rashes appear on my scalp took me by surprise. I have not had a rash since I went vegan, so it is quite puzzling that once I started my steroids, they reappeared. It is something I will mention to my Rheumatologist (Lupus Doctor).
  6. How long have I been back on my steroids?
    It has been 28 days. I am currently on a higher dose of my steroids, because my Lupus was flaring and my pains were excruciating. It is just for the time being until my body adjusts to being back on meds. Once that happens, I can then talk to my Rheumatologist about decreasing them.

  7. Have I learned anything new to adopt in my natural approach?
    I have started experimenting more with cooking vegan dishes. It really curbs any cravings I may have for dairy, fish, etc. when I recreate one of my favourite meals, with a vegan twist of course! This way I don’t feel so deprived and limited in my food options. Recently I made a vegan fried rice and a vegan spicy lemongrass pho with mushrooms and tofu. I will share some of my recipes in future blogs!

 

A Brief Pause

The last few weeks have been a complete whirlwind of emotions, events, and discoveries. I have been tested and pushed to my wits end entirely: physically, mentally, and emotionally.I have had such conflict with myself, in what I want now and what will come to be.  I started along this path of natural medicine and veganism, assuming this would be one long straight path. I mean- I did a lot of research and educated myself as best I could with the resources I had available to me. I wasn’t going into this completely blind. I  never could have anticipated the path I was on would turn into a bendy and windy road that had no clear direction. I am at the point in my journey where I am experiencing the worst symptoms of my Lupus that I ever have in the last eight years. My arthritis has gotten out of control and is completely debilitating. I cannot brush my teeth, wash my face, or even lift a cup on my own. I struggle to sleep at night, because the pain keeps me up. I can’t roll over in bed, or even pull the blanket up if I feel chilly. I have hit complete bottom in my journey. I am at the stage where I am physically unable to do my basic routine, and get through a normal day.

It is at this point I have to throw the towel in.

I have endured so much pain in the last month, it is honestly unbelievable to me that I didn’t crack earlier. It is now time that I listen to my body, and not choose to be naive or selfish in my treatment plan with my Lupus, because I want to experiment. At the end of the day, as much as I want to find a natural cure for Lupus; I do have a real and serious chronic disease. That is a fact that I cannot overlook or make light of.

Please know that this is an extremely difficult decision and realization to come to; it is definitely the most humbling experience I have had. I have cried countless tears, had major breakdowns, and was pushed to the edge more than I could tell you. It was not an easy decision and not something that sits well in my mind and heart. I am extremely stubborn, prideful, and an overachiever in every aspect of my life. My friends know too well that when I set my mind to something, I am committed beyond the means of normality. This experience has really shaken me and made me realize what you take away from an experience is not strictly black and white – not just a success or failure. Once I set my mind to something I have to come out in the end succeeding in whatever it is. I do not accept failure or excuses, and I am my toughest critic. I am the individual who will put all her eggs in one basket, give it 150%, and come out accomplished. I do not want this to come across in a condescending or arrogant tone, but that is what my young adulthood life has consisted of. I commit myself fully to something, whether that be a new job/career, education, or hobby, I work extremely hard, persevere, and come out conquering what I set out to do. The natural journey I started three months was absolutely no exception to that. I went all in; I went completely vegan overnight and began natural medicine almost immediately. The reason why I do everything whole-heartedly is because I never want to live with an ounce of regret. I will only accept a failure in life knowing I did my absolute best. This experience has really changed the way I had initially viewed this journey and life. My goal was to reverse or cure my Lupus naturally, if that was achieved then I succeeded- I was a winner. With everything that has happened in the last few weeks I have done more self-questioning and self-reflection than I ever had.

I had to sit down and really think, “What was my end goal?”. Was it to be off my steroids? And at what cost? At the cost of experiencing pain every second of every day?

I had an appointment with my Nephrologist earlier this morning. It was an extremely eye opening meeting. She showed me my lab results for my kidney function over the last year. She explained when I was first diagnosed with nephritis, my protein levels in my urine were ten times the amount of a normal person. It took about a year and new medications for my protein levels to go down by a third, but I still was not in the healthy or safe range yet. Then we looked at my lab results from last month. My protein levels were at the worst they had ever been, and were twenty times higher than a normal person’s. This news was startling. I mean- I knew I was experiencing the worst pains I ever had, but I didn’t know internally that my body was experiencing the same thing. She explained that if I were to continue on this path and leave my nephritis untreated, it could do permanent damage to my kidneys. This could lead to treatments such as dialysis or transplants a few years from now. She was extremely honest and reassuring when she explained that her goal and my Rheumatologist’s (Lupus doctor) goal was to not have me on steroids forever. They are well aware that there are negative side effects to the long term use of these drugs. They do their absolute best to treat me, without overexposing me to drugs. She wanted me to understand that when my Lupus is flaring I need those drugs to get it under control. An untreated flare could manifest itself and I could be ten times worse than when I started. She explained that once my Lupus was in remission and stable for at least two years, then obviously they would want to taper the steroids and eventually get me off. This was very reassuring to hear that my doctors were looking forward and planning for the future. She explained that at the end of the day, if my Lupus is flaring and I do not treat it with the proper medications, it will only backfire and cause more damage to me and my health in the future. What resonated the most with me is what she said about the likelihood of me having children. If I am not healthy, I will not be able to carry a baby, or even become pregnant. I need to consider my future and what the consequences of not treating my Lupus might look like.

Do I want to take the all natural path and experiment for now, with the risk of damaging my kidneys and possibly other vital organs? Or do I take my steroids until my Lupus is at a better place, and pray that one day I will be in a good place to healthfully get off my medications?

I left my appointment today being able to make a better educated decision about my treatment plan. It was hard to hear the real facts and results of my tests, and to be told my Lupus was not doing well with the natural medicine. But it was exactly what I needed to hear; I needed affirmation that I had hit rock bottom and I had to do something about it. I have made my decision and plan on staying on my steroids until I get my Lupus under control. It was not what I had intended I would be doing at this point in my journey, but it is the right thing to do. I have to respect my body and look past my pride, and just understand that this is what I need to do for the time being so I can live contently. I am not viewing this as a failure, or even that I am giving up. I have chosen to be responsible and look at the bigger picture. I need to do this for my future, and as impatient as I am, I need to be patient with my treatment and my Lupus. I have come out of this experience having learned so much about my Lupus and myself – that is something I will never forget. I am happy to say at least I tried to take the initiative to do something for my Lupus; it was a completely empowering feat. I don’t think this will be the end in terms of natural medicine for me, but for now it is a brief pause in a lifelong journey of treating my Lupus.