I would like to share a story that has a lot to do with breakfast.
I usually don’t like to talk about such things, but I think this post could be of some help to others who lived through similar struggles.
Last week, something amazing happened: I got my period.
Now, this might sound like a weird statement, but let me explain why I was so happy about it.
When I turned 16 I was diagnosed with a condition known as PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). This condition occurs when many cysts that are present in the ovaries develop and grow bigger, wreaking havoc in our hormone production and balance. The effects of PCOS can be many and diverse amongst women who suffer from it, and, worst of all, are ever-changing. Some might experience depression, mood alterations, weight gain or loss, and all ailments that are common to hormonal imbalance. This includes, obviously, irregular or absent periods.
At first, I realized there was something wrong because I was losing a massive amount of hair. When I ran a hand through my hair and saw whole locks trapped trough my fingers, I got really, really scared. I was put under some heavy medication for the following years: a birth control pill with three times the amount of hormones than normal pills, combined with another pill, which was actually used to treat prostate cancer (!!) but had hair growth as a side-effects, combined with yet another pill that acted as an anti-inflammatory for the previous two that I was taking. Sure, I had lush, lucid hair and smooth skin, but I definitely did not feel right. I was always bloated, I lacked energy and had frequent cravings and mood swings.
I later tried to switch up medications and experimented with several lighter options, but things did not change much. I still felt like everything in my body was completely off. At some point, symptoms started adding up and I started getting headaches, more mood swings and, worst of all, my digestive system started tolerating less foods and not working as well as it did before.
Two years ago, when I really started to get into nutrition and health things (mostly thanks to an awesome site called Fitocracy, which I encourage you all to check out), I decided that it was time to change something in the way I nourished my body, and I started eating ‘healthier’, so to speak. In agreement with my doctor, I decided to stop taking all medication altogether.
I started lifting, I rearranged my diet and my body seemed to have completely readjusted itself. I was happy! After a year, my hair was not falling even without meds, I had dropped 20 pounds and, for the first time in my life, I did not feel bloated at all.
There was just one tiny problem: for a whole year, I did not get my period at all.
After a while I started getting worried and decided to take some blood tests. When my doctor took a look at the results, he sighed and went “Oh, well. the people at the labs must have mixed up your results with somebody else’s. It happens every now and then. I’ll have you re-take the test.”
That is how absurd the results were. unfortunately, no – those numbers were mine. My cholesterol level was at 360, when the maximum acceptable level is 90. There was not a single value that made sense.
I got extremely frustrated. I was eating healthy, keeping fit, and did not drink or smoke. Damn, I didn’t even drink coffee, how was that possible? What was wrong?
During that year, my caloric intake was extremely restricted, extremely low in carbs (low to the point that I didn’t even eat carrots), and I never had breakfast. I did not feel tired or weird at all, and the PCOS symptoms seemed to be leaving me alone, but being period-less makes your body think that it is somehow heading towards a declining phase. As a consequence, my hair was extremely frail and brittle, my nails flaked, and my skin came off my belly and arms and left a layer of white dust on my clothes. Furthermore, the longer I went without my period, the larger the cysts in my ovaries grew, hindering menstruation more and more. The longer I went without my period, the less chances I had to get my period again.
I tried getting on my meds again, and it was a disaster. I got horribly bloated, and for the first time in my life I experienced symptoms of depression and panic, plus other extremely unattractive things. The fact that it was also when I had to leave New York did not help. I decided that it was time to take control of the situation again. I tried to do all the things that could be good for my digestive system, first and foremost. It is important to make sure that all the good things we feed our body are actually being absorbed, so, after lots of careful research and some diet optimization, for the first time in 10 years I managed to make my intestine work the way it should.
Now, I’m not sure what it was. It could have been these rearrangements, the added fats, the added calories, or a combination of everything. But after a couple months, my period came by itself. I was on the verge of tears. It skipped a couple months again, then it came. then it skipped a month, and it came again. Last month it came, without me really expecting it.
And now, for the first time in my entire life, after 28 exact days since the last time, I got my period.
I think back of all the times I heard girls complaining about their period and saying things like ‘I wish I could just not have it’. No, you don’t. Trust me, you don’t. There are so many things we take for granted about our health.
This approach to the vegan diet helped me a lot. To adjust my diet, I drastically reduced my animal protein intake and started making my own almond milk (which sells for about 6$ a carton here in Italy. SIX $ A CARTON), And I occasionally eat yoghurt, better if sheep or goat’s milk. I do not skip breakfast now, and I started experimenting with vegan breakfasts which involve seeds and some occasional superfood like bee pollen. Avocado, nuts, tahini and olive oil are now a daily staple as far as fats are concerned. I keep animal product consumption mostly for the weekend, but enjoy an egg and yogurt or light cheeses throughout the week. My body works best with a prevalence of fat and protein in the morning, so I’ll have a smoothie with avocado, chia, berries, almond milk and tons of spices, or some seasonal fruit with goat’s milk yogurt. I was never big on pasta or grains, but I added to my diet some gluten-free foods like buckwheat and millet. This does not mean I keep gluten-free, though! I love rye and barley, and I firmly believe that the quality of my life would significantly decrease if I were to be completely deprived of my biweekly pizza. I have always been a huge veggie lover, so those still make up 80% of my diet.There are foods that I have a hard time eating because they just make me feel bad: beef, lamb, chicken, some kinds of cheeses, cream, bread, white potatoes, and most packaged foods. Basically, I eat a little bit of everything, but with a plant-based prevalence.
I think that every vegetarian, or every omnivore, should approach a vegan lifestyle for at least a little bit. This past month helped me learn about foods that are usually not considered as much as others, but absolutely delicious in their own right: seeds, nut butters, plant fats, and incredible ways to use and eat vegetables. Sometimes, it is also a matter of what you are not eating, not only a matter if what you are eating already.
Unfortunately, every ailment gets incredibly worse with stress. The past year has been difficult and full of emotional struggles that are still far from being over.
But, every day, we can take a little step forward towards our peace of mind. I am a believer in the fact that every day we can do something to live through everything, even struggles, with a sense of beauty for the world. If beauty can be seen once, and that one time helps us see it in the most unexpected places, then a day without seeing it is a day wasted.
Learning photography, and learning about food, helped me greatly in learning to see it in my everyday. I will never stop thanking all the people I met through this blog and every single person who visited it. I love you all.
I shoot in an old storage room in the back of the house, or in an unused room of the house.
“Who would have thought,” said both my mom and brother today. “That someone could see some beauty in those filthy rooms. It’s cool that you’re putting all that trash to good use!”
Italians are not big breakfast people. In fact, I wouldn’t consider the average Italian breakfast pattern to be amongst the best. Most people (especially men) start the day with just espresso, and can even drink 3 or 4 before lunchtime. Many times they’ll have it standing at the counter of a café, and eat it along with a pastry. Others (mostly woman) have rusks and jam or coffee cake in milk. While it doesn’t seem that bad after all, this is the perfect way to send your blood sugar through the roof first thing in the morning. Most men seem to be fine, but all the women I know who eat like this are ravenous within a couple hours, me included. I don’t know how they do it. There are, though, a lot of people who have breakfast with yogurt and fruit, and nuts are finally being used more often. Here are 3 recipes for some of my breakfast staples, and some of the ways I use them. For that chia smoothie I mentioned before, well…stay tuned!
Spiced Nuts & Crispy Buckwheat
1 cup mixed nuts (I use almonds, cashews, walnuts)
1/4 cup buckwheat
1 tbsp Maple syrup
1 tbsp Rose water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or 1 tsp if you like it)
1/2 tsp turmeric
A pinch of salt
[EXTRA] 1/2 tbsp orange water
Turn on the oven at 350 F˚.
Roughly chop the nuts and add them to a bowl. Sprinkle the cinnamon and turmeric on top.
In a cup, mix the maple syrup, rose water and vanilla, and add them to the nuts. Mix everything thoroughly, and spread them on a tray lined with baking paper. Bake until golden, tossing them with a spoon halfway through. It might take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your oven and depending on how brown you like them. Let them cool completely.
They are obviously addictive on their own, but I like to sprinkle them on creamy breakfasts like an oatmeal or yogurt bowl with fruit, or even add them to thick smoothies.
CHOCOLATE VARIATION: Sprinkle 1 tbsp of raw cocoa powder before mixing in the liquids. you might want to use a little more sweetener. They are also great sprinkled on desserts, of course!
Rose & Turmeric Almond Milk
2 Cups homemade almond milk*
1 tbsp Maple syrup
1 tbsp Rosewater
1/2 a vanilla bean pod, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp turmeric
A pinch of salt
* The internet is full of guides on how to make almond milk, but I loved this one from The Kitchn. Some people like to remove the skin from the almonds after they soaked, but I most definitely don’t. Not only it is time consuming (and peeled almonds are more expensive), but I love the added nutty taste of the skin.
You can either make it while you make the almond milk, or add the flavorings later. If you make it in the blender, add all the ingredients in, blend, and strain. I personally add the flavorings after, as I prefer to be left with a neutral-tasting almond pulp. In this case, mix all the flavorings in a cup. In this case, it is easier to use vanilla extract. Adding a couple tablespoons of hot water makes everything a lot easier. Mix in the almond milk. If you used a vanilla pod, you might want to let it infuse overnight.
Use as a liquid base for fruit smoothies, to add to coffee or tea (see below), or as a soaking liquid for oats, chia seeds, etc. I soak chia and/or rye flakes in it and use them for smoothies with peach or apricot (or berries) and more spices.
Rose Ginger Iced Tea
4 cups boiling water
1 tbsp Earl Gray green tea leaves
2 tbsp rose water
1 tbsp dried rose blossoms
1 thumb sized piece of ginger
A squeeze of lemon
[EXTRA] sweetener of choice
Peel the ginger and thinly slice half of it, keeping the rest for grating. Boil the water, and add it to a bowl or jar where you’ll make the infusion. Add the tea, and let it steep for 2-3 minutes. Do not let it steep for too long, or it will turn bitter. Strain.
Add the sliced ginger, and grate in the rest. Add the rose water, rose blossoms, and some sweetener if you like. Let it sit overnight in the fridge for best results, then strain everything before serving. Serve with ice cubes and plain almond milk, or with the rose & turmeric almond milk.
This one pairs perfectly with almond milk. It is really a great drink for all times of day, but in the morning pair it with a slice of whole grain toast with nut butter and fruit compote in it, or with some homemade energy bars. Or, again, soak chia in it and use for smoothies. It is really a great drink for any kind of breakfast and brunch and, if you feel like indulging a little, drink it alongside some vegan brioche, croissant or pancake.