The Write Everyday in May Challenge

pexels-photo-316465.jpegToday I will tell you how a tiny bit of success ruined my life (or just derailed my blog). If you check out the archives, you’ll see that this blog was started in 2016. I didn’t start writing regularly, however, until October. Starting in the middle of October of 2017, I tried to write everyday. I didn’t quite make it, but I created enough of a habit that I posted more in November than any month before or after. It felt good building the habit.

Then in late November, I got featured in Rockstar Finance. I can tell you honestly that was not the goal because I didn’t know regular sites got featured on Rockstar Finance. But with that feature, my middling viewership skyrocketed, even if only for a few days. But the surge had a profound effect on me. I changed from thinking, I’m just writing for myself, to, I COULD BE POPULAR. And for a hot second, I chased popularity. I read up on SEO and (ugh) Pinterest. I tried social media, which was great because 1) I finally could claim some Millennial cred and 2) I met some cool people and 3) had very cool experiences like attending CampFi on a last minute ticket. I’ve even set up some interviews with people I met on Facebook that will soon become posts. All in all, I don’t regret social media the way most people do.

But I found that the social media and other activities were distracting me from what I really wanted – which was writing. Yes, the number of people visiting my blog went up a lot, but I only made 6 posts in April, the lowest number I’ve done in 6 months. I’ve heard that successful bloggers focus more on marketing than writing and I’m sure that’s true but that’s not my vision of success.

I think some people may be misled to think that I’m trying to make my blog popular and then monetize like every other personal finance blogger. I mean, I wouldn’t hate it (the monetization anyway, though I’m terrified of popularity) but the overarching reason I write is because writing benefits me.

I have a lot of stories I want to tell. I have 165 drafts in my inbox that represent posts that I’m trying to write. When I started writing my blog, I had 150 drafts. Rather than diminishing, the number of drafts has increased because I haven’t finished them and I keep adding more. My blog wasn’t accomplishing its mission of inbox zero.

I have to remember (sorry readers) that this blog is for me. I mean, I hope it’s helpful to you too, if only in that I encourage you to write more. For instance, here are some ways that writing has helped me:

  1. It helps me store memories and experiences away like Dumbledore.  It’s just a relief that I don’t have to remember everything in this tiny little mind I have. Without my journal and my blog, my life would just pass me by and I wouldn’t spend the time to reflect on my experiences or learn from them.
  2. It helps me synthesize thoughts and ideas and organize my thoughts.
  3. It has helped me to connect with others. It’s been lovely reading comments.
  4. Writing helps me remember the things I read in the tons of books I read per year. Otherwise it’s all in one ear out the other.
  5. It helps me chart my progress. It’s amazing when people take pictures of themselves every day for years – you can see the changes as they happen.
     Writing down your thoughts is like seeing your mind change. It doesn’t always seem like we are changing but we are, often subtly. If we don’t make a record of who we were before, we might fail to see the progress and think we aren’t getting anywhere. It’s very difficult to take a picture of your mind though – but writing can help take a snapshot of who you were at this period of time.
  6. It helps exercise the creativity and self-expression muscles.
So I’m going back to my original purpose. I pledge to write every day in May. Why don’t you join me? My challenge to you – whether you’re a blogger or not – is to spend some time writing every day this month. It doesn’t all have to be perfect or even intelligible. I will try to make my posts as intelligible as possible, readers, but mostly I just want to make a dent in my pile of ideas and take some weight off my brain. I hope you do the same.

Will you join me in my writing spree? Why do you write?

The Two Cheap Products and 1 Free Action that Saved My Hair (and peek into my All-Natural Beauty Routine)

I’m a little obsessed with hair. I have naturally thick black hair, which I have dyed, at times, red, brown, purple, green, and blonde. Needless to say, my hair has been through the ringer.

My hair has been really dry and broken ever since bleaching it. I have read tons of blogs and magazine articles that advocated keratin treatments but no matter how many treatments I tried, my hair was brittle and dry. But after much trial and error, four things (3 products and 1 action) helped me fix my hair and they were, surprisingly, not the most expensive ones I tried.

1. Castor Oil
I learned from Reddit that hair needs a balance of moisture and protein. Only using keratin treatments made my hair drier and more brittle. There were a number of oils recommended for optimal moisture content but castor oil was the cheapest and most readily available. Once a week my hair soaked up a ton of castor oil and my hair steadily improved. After a few weeks, my hair didn’t look or feel as parched. It still wasn’t that soft yet though, which led to:

2. Mielle Organics White Peony Leave-in Conditioner

This product was invaluable for protecting my hair from the change in weather, from the sun and wind when I ride my bike or walk outside and just kept my hair safe and manageable while it was still healing with the castor oil.

4. Wearing my hair down

Even after my hair got much softer. I noticed that it was bent at the ends. I did some research online and discovered it might have to do with my hair elastics. Whenever I take a hair elastic out, it always takes a fair amount of hair with it. So I decided to wear my hair down for a few days and sure enough, the kinks in my hair disappeared.

Now this isn’t necessarily a forever situation – I will probably need to get hair elastics in the future. But for now I’m using more gentle barettes, hair claws or just leaving it down. I even wear it down when I go running – but it stays out of my face with a headband. It also gives my scalp a rest.

My Mostly Natural Beauty Routine

I’m one of those annoying people who will scrutinize ingredient labels on all my personal care products and eventually leave the store empty handed because nothing will match my expectations. Either that or if I find something with good ingredients, I’ll see the extravagant cost and just vow to buy the top two ingredients in their most natural form.

Now I’m not exactly a hippie. This is not my complete beauty routine – though it does represent a lot of it. I mean, I’m a blonde Asian, and my hair wasn’t bleached by any kind of natural process. But that doesn’t mean I should add to my toxic load. For me, it just makes sense to have the simplest products that I know will work without all sorts of other ingredients I don’t want. It’s also easier on the wallet. Plus, non-natural products can sometimes be filled with tons of ingredients, like silicones, that appear to make your hair healthier but are really wreaking havoc in the long run by creating a barrier to your skin and hair that prevents better ingredients from getting through.

So without further adieu, I’ve searched and found the following to be good, effective products, none costs more than $20 and they’ll last you a long time.

Skin

I don’t wash my face. I read a blogger write once that her face improved so much after she stopped washing it. So I stopped washing it and had the same result. I don’t work in a mine or some really filthy area so it’s fine. At the end of the day, I remove my makeup with coconut oil ($11) and take a cotton pad soaked in witch hazel ($2.5) and tea tree oil ($14) and remove any sweat or dirt from my face. For moisturizing my face, I alternate between Radha Argan Oil ($14) and Rosehip oil ($14).

I’ll do a weekly mask with Aztec Healing Clay ($9). I also like to do a little mini peel ($5) in the office when my skin needs a little pick me up. I know sheet masks are quite fashionable right now, so I bought a bulk order of cotton masks off eBay and I put some cocktail of oils and aloe vera gel ($9) and just zone out.

For the rest of my skin, I use grapeseed oil ($8) to keep it soft and moisturized. I will often just squirt some oil directly onto me and add it to my baths. In the summer, I use monoi oil ($15) on my legs to keep bugs away. It works as well as other bug repellants, doesn’t make me smell weird and also keeps my legs silky.

After taking some time in a sensory deprivation chamber, I’ve started paying more attention to keeping my hands in tip top condition (having little cuts on your hands and then going into a massive saltwater chamber is a new kind of pain). I’ve relied on old favorite, Burt’s Bees cuticle cream ($6). For a somewhat greasy hand lotion, I use lanolin oil. I just started this and more research may need to follow.

I find that I don’t really need deodorant but sometimes I like to use Schmidt’s rose deodorant ($10) because it smells good.

Hair

The fact that saved my hair was learning that my hair needs both moisture and protein in balance. And no matter how “moisturizing” a hair conditioner can say it is, it can actually be a major source of protein; thus, an oil may be the better way to go to get moisture without additional protein. A good, inexpensive oil that can really penetrate into your hair is castor oil ($9). Once or twice a week, or just when my hair is looking parched, I’ll pour castor oil into my hair (my hair just sucks it up) and let it sit for as long as I can stand – sometimes overnight. Then I wash it out with conditioner. Castor oil can also be applied to your lashes to make them grow or used in oil cleansing.

My hair can get really dry throughout the day, just being out in the sun or in the dry air of my office. I started using a leave-in conditioner from Mielle Organics ($13) and it makes my hair much more presentable throughout the day.  This is one of the only products on here with more than one ingredient but the ingredient list looked pretty good to me and it’s available at CVS.

Lips

The best beauty secret I have is pure lanolin($8)  for your lips. It’s super hydrating and I think makes them plump up over time. I also use a scrub made of kosher salt and olive oil to exfoliate.

What natural beauty products do you use?

What I’ve Learned from Eating One Meal a Day

what i've learned from eating one meal a day

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I’ve tried Gen. McChrystal’s one-meal-a-day diet for two weeks. For me, it hasn’t been that difficult a transition. I had already started an intermittent fasting regimen a month or so earlier. I have learned a lot about my eating habits from this little experiment – that, spoiler alert- I think I will continue.

1. I am not in tune with my hunger or my body.

So many diets come up with newfangled ways to keep you from being hungry. This diet also kept me from being hungry – by not giving me any food.
I’ve never counted calories. According to my age, weight, gender and height, I should eat about 1,500 calories a day. Looking at 1,500 calories a day meal plans, this is way more food than I ever eat even on a normal 3-meal a day meal plan.
I would typically eat (when I was trying to be a good paleo dieter) a small chia pudding for breakfast, and then a salad for lunch and then meat and veggies for dinner. No snacking, no dessert. If I were to guess, I’d say I probably ate 1,200 calories a day. And I would exercise for an hour a day as well. And I did not lose weight. And then other reports say that 1,500 is way too low, even for sedentary females.
When I read about this diet, I had read that one could just get all daily calories from 1 meal instead of 3. As one would expect, you eat a lot more in 3 meals than 1. And at least for me, I eat less when I’m hungry than when I’m bored.
So when I got around to dinner having eaten nothing at all, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t starving. In fact, I was not hungry at all. I definitely ate far fewer calories than I had previously and with no hunger pangs. It should come as no surprise that I lost weight on this diet. But my energy was consistent throughout the day. Without my body working on digesting all day, I had consistent energy and no cravings.
It got me to thinking that maybe I wasn’t eating three meals a day because I needed it but because it was a habit. I never asked myself if I was hungry. I just ate at my scheduled times. My lack of hunger pangs was a huge red flag that I was eating too much and that had led to weight gain.

2. You may need supplements

Because I wasn’t eating meals, but well, I got thirsty, I would drink a lot of tea and water. Super healthy right? Well a few days in, I started to get very slightly lightheaded but I could tell it wasn’t for being hungry. I think it may have been that
 I needed to supplement with potassium, magnesium and calcium, which were low with the decrease in calories. Once I added some lemon water and sea salt to my water, it seemed to help my lightheadedness.

3. Counterintuitively, eating less makes me less hungry.

After a long day of denying myself food, I was delighted to treat myself to dinner. The totality of the diet was skipping breakfast and lunch – I didn’t give myself any restrictions for dinner. But when I sat myself down for my final meal, I wasn’t salivating. I wasn’t even hungry.
I had read that competitive eaters always eat before their competitions. It helps to stretch out their stomachs. I think my 3 meals a day regimen was stretching out my stomach as well so I would seem hungry consistently throughout the day. I had previously thought that I had needed to eat because I had felt hungry. But maybe I had just stretched out my stomach so much that I needed to eat to feed this larger stomach rather than the needs of my body.

4. People can get freaked out about this diet. 

There’s a joke about how you know if someone is a vegan (Answer: they will tell you). With this diet, it’s a bit hard to hide it. Someone will invite you to lunch, it’s very difficult to go out for drinks on an empty stomach or you’ll be quite impatient at dinner time.
But everyone I told about it was extremely intrigued. Most of the comments were that I didn’t need to diet and not to lose too much weight. Some worried that I wasn’t eating enough. Don’t worry – if I start to diminish to nothing, I will certainly eat before I perish!

5. I spent a lot of time thinking about food.

If you think theoretically about cutting out breakfast and lunch, it seems like at most it would save you 40 minutes a day with our rushed eating schedules. In reality, it seemed like I had so much extra time per day. It’s not just the time spent eating these meals (est. 15 minutes/day), but the time anticipating eating (10 minutes), figuring out what to eat (20 minutes), shopping for food (20 minutes) preparing the food (20 minutes) and cleaning up after (5 minutes). I could work through lunch (because honestly, what else was I going to do?).
Overall, I am saving time, money and food, while losing weight and reducing cravings. I’m more aware of what my body needs and wants. I think it’s a great diet for me and I’ll see how long I can maintain it.
What about you? Would you try a one meal a day diet?

A Controversial Way To Save Money on Groceries

controversial way to save money on groceries

Back in the heyday of my student loan pay off blitz, I would sometimes, as people do, forget my lunch at home. Or forget to make one. Now, a periodic $10 is not a big deal when you’re paying off tens of thousands, right? Right. Logical. But the hunger and the deprivation were making me illogical. On many of those days, I skipped lunch. I was cutting back on everything, and I didn’t want stupid mistakes to derail me.

Since that time, I have reversed course into thinking, yeah a $10 lunch here or there will delay your loan payoff by a literal minute, if that. Health is more important.

Now I still believe health is more important than money but I may be revisiting the idea that skipping meals is a bad thing.

A New Diet Plan

What I had found when skipping lunch was that it was unbearable to work for about an hour.  After the pangs stopped, I wasn’t hungry.  I didn’t eat a giant dinner to compensate. I wasn’t irritable. The only effect was that I felt guilty for skipping a meal and treating my health so flippantly.

After reading about intermittent fasting in a few publications, I decided to take the plunge.  I’m starting a diet whereby I only eat one meal a day, typically dinner. 

I’m sure this sounds disordered. But there have seen some studies that show that intermittent fasting might actually lead people to live longer. And General Stanley McChrystal eats only one meal a day. He has a much more demanding exercise regiment and a much more stressful job than I do. Here’s a man who needs more calories and likely does not have an eating disorder. If he can survive, then surely I can too.

There doesn’t seem to make any rhyme or reason why we eat three meals in a day. Looking at our primitive ancestors, they ate whenever they could. They didn’t have set meals. If given an abundance of food, it would still make sense to eat only when hungry, rather than by habit.

I’m not going to starve, darlings.

No one dies from starvation from having one meal a day. Or at least, one big meal a day. And I can foresee a lot of benefits.

Benefit #1: It relieves stress

After we stopped that whole hunting and foraging for food thing, you would think procuring and planning meals would be a breeze now. When I think about planning 21 meals for myself, it seems like a lot to wrap my head around. Each meal has to be balanced in terms of nutrition and I have to figure out where I’m going to eat it and when I’m going to cook it. Then I actually have to shop for and cook it. By forgoing two meals a day, I can focus all my energies on shopping for, preparing and cleaning up one great meal.

 Benefit #2: Reduced environmental impact

I’ve heard a number of people say that the positive environmental impact would be huge if people would eat one meatless meal a week. Well, by cutting out 2 meals a day, you’re cutting out potentially 10 meaty meals. You get all the environmental impact with none of the work (figuring out vegetarian meals can be hard!). 

Benefit #3: Spartanism can be pleasurable

I’m a bit of a masochist. I’ve run 2 marathons. I never turn on my air conditioning. In the winter, I bike to work so long as it’s above freezing. In the summer, as long as it’s below boiling. I had listened to this podcast entitled “Your Climate Controlled Life is Killing You” and it really spoke to me. I really was getting tired of the comfort. There’s that line in that Goo Goo Dolls Song “You bleed just to know you’re alive” and while that sounds perfectly emo and high school, it does make me feel more alive to suffer a bit.

On my morning bike rides, I’ve learned to enjoy this incredibly empty feeling. It’s not hunger. It’s just ….being. You don’t always have to feel completely full. You don’t even need to feel sated. You can function perfectly fine without thinking about food at all – when there’s no food to be digested and when you’re not desirous of any food. It’s at these times when your mind might actually be clearest.

But honestly, I suffer for maybe 10 minutes when I’m hungry. And then the hunger pangs go away. That’s the only difference between eating one meal a day and three meals a day for me.

Benefit #4: Weight Loss

I’ve had this stubborn belly fat for some time now. From eating one meal a day, my stomach shrank. I lost 10 pounds. I looked better, had more energy. My body wasn’t spending all of its time digesting food. Furthermore, I didn’t have to kill myself going to the gym to burn off excess calories I never should have eaten. Now I understand why they say that losing weight is about changing your diet,not about exercise.

Benefit #5: Hunger Control

I was on a budget cross-country flight with a friend. We left at around 4pm and would arrive around 9pm our time. We didn’t realize that there wouldn’t be any food offered on such a long flight. She had brought some snacks and offered them to me, but I was fine. I had had lunch. She devoured all of them and was ravenous when we arrived. This reminded me that I’m used to taming my hunger by now.

I’ve also learned to appreciate hunger. It’s not a bad feeling. I’m not hangry. I get the feeling that my body is starting to figure out it’s hungry but I’m more than my feelings. I’m in control of the way I respond.

Benefit #6: The Controversial Way I Save Money on Groceries 

And we come to the headline of the post – of course this will save money! While it seems like you would eat all the same calories you would have in one day, just in one meal, I ended up eating a normal sized dinner. Plus I don’t buy snacks or any other foods for breakfast or lunch. I doubt you’ll cut 2/3 of your food budget, particularly since breakfast tends to be a pretty cheap meal. But it’s impossible not to save money. Even if you ate out for dinner every day – say $10 a meal –  you would only spend $70 on food for the week and never have to cook. That’s quite a low number for eating out, and you could get it much lower if you cooked.

You can easily cut half your grocery bill (by cutting 2/3 of your meals). You’ll find that you don’t need to buy very much food. Eventually you’ll cut down on food waste, because you won’t need to buy as much food. You won’t need to go to the grocery store as often, cutting down on spontaneous shopping. You will cut down on gym memberships because you don’t need to burn off as many calories. It becomes a virtuous cycle of saving.

In the end, it’s just an experiment I’m doing to see what works. If I’m hangry and irritable and my hair starts falling out, you best be believing that I’ll stop.

What about you? Have you ever tried intermittent fasting or some other crazy diet?