Brazil Pt. 2: Our Life in Rio

Despite getting staph during our first week in Rio, I wasn’t going to let that derail our month in Brazil. Sure, the nature of my infection meant I’d have to reel myself in a little bit — I couldn’t walk for at least 4-5 days of our trip, and the antibiotics I was taking prevented me from drinking any alcohol — but I’ve never been the kind of traveler who lets setbacks ruin my travels. If anything, they add a bit of flavor.

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Logan’s main reason for coming to Rio was to train Brazilian jiu jitsu at a school just up the road from our apartment. So while I was rehabilitating, he focused on training twice a day, and I attempted to settle into our bright, sunny apartment and live like a local.

Just outside our apartment building was the launderia we had to use throughout our trip. We didn’t have a washing machine, so while we washed some items by hand in our kitchen, we had to take some of it to the launderia for a proper cleaning. We got to know the ladies at the launderia on a very, very basic level — my Spanish was good enough to get us by in Spanish-speaking countries, but not remotely experienced enough to translate well in a Portuguese-speaking country.

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Every day, a group of jolly-looking men sat at the tables of a small bar next to the launderia, and it’s not an exaggeration to say they gathered pretty much round the clock. It was a nice sight to see, though — these men, who were all retirement age and beyond, hung out all day long sipping on beers and enjoying the summer weather, speaking animately in Portuguese.

After I’d had my staph removed and was able to walk around a little bit, we took daily walks down to the lake directly north of us, or the beach down to the south. Both were about 10 minute walks away, and both were beautiful in their urban flavor. Coconut water vendors were pretty much everywhere… and when I say “coconut water,” I’m not talking about the bottled stuff. I’m talking about literal coconuts which, when their tops are hacked off with a sharp knife, are brimming with subtly sweet coconut nectar that can then be sipped from a straw. I’d say we enjoyed 1-2 coconuts each day per person, on average.

I’m not going to pretend the area where we stayed wasn’t a little touristy. There’s a reason Ipanema is well-known in pop culture. It’s definitely Rio’s version of Chicago’s Gold Coast, though it does also have a sizable LGBTQ+ population as well.

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We did get a chance to venture around the city outside of our little enclave, though. My personal favorite neighborhood was Santa Teresa, which was a slightly dirtier yet still trendy neighborhood. Santa Teresa and neighboring Lapa both have slightly more of a local feel than Ipanema, but are also quite gentrified. Santa Teresa is characterized by its narrow, winding streets, colorful buildings and street art, the most famous of which are the Escanderia Selarón, a colorful stairway decorated with artful mosaic tiles.

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Image via The Culture Trip

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Food-wise, there was a lot to explore. All things considered, South American food as a whole is a lot less exciting than you’d probably imagine. Ninety percent of our meals in Brazil were some version of grilled meats paired with rice and farofa. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it was delicious — farofa in particular won a special place in my heart (and it’s a cheap, simple dish too… it’s basically just tapioca starch with spices). We did go to one of those fancy Brazilian steakhouses one night, but we were primarily in the company of other tourists. As you probably suspected, Brazilian steakhouses are an Americanized idea of the way Brazilian people actually eat. Far more common are cheaper meats paired with inexpensive grains and starches, as well as delicious stews.

From time to time, we got brunch from a cafe across the street that served approximately 16 meals’ worth of food per person. One cringe-worthy memory was made when we were trying to request a takeaway container, but as we realized after the fact, due to our incredibly poor Portuguese skills we may have been misunderstood to say “Take this away!” — definitely *not* the kind of sentiment we intended to convey!

Since we were in Rio for an entire month, though, we didn’t eat out for every meal. We had a lot of fun shopping at the local market and trying out all kinds of Brazilian snacks, sodas and treats. Dried fruits were a staple in our kitchen, as were fresh fruits, eggs, rice, and locally crafted beers.  As a side note: as an American accustomed to Hass avocados from California and Mexico, the avocados in Brazil were basically unrecognizable. Chart inserted below:

 

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Courtesy of http://www.freshplaza.com.

 

In short, our everyday life in Rio was pleasant, sunny, warm, fun, relaxed and wonderful. Despite my medical issue, I look back on those days as a time when I learned a lot about relaxing and living in the moment (like I said in a previous post, that may have had a lot to do with reading The Power of Now on this trip). In part three of my Brazil recap, I’ll tell you all about the SECOND medical emergency I experienced in Brazil… And then in part four, I’ll get to what you really want to hear about: Carnival.

 

 

 

 

Brazil Pt. 1: This Is What Happens When You Have a Medical Emergency in Rio de Janeiro

Of the two months Logan and I spent backpacking around South America, we spent half in Brazil. While our first month was an epic backpacking journey through Lima, rural Peru, Chile and Buenos Aires, our second month was firmly rooted in Rio de Janeiro. We did venture outside of the city for a few days (more on our trip to Buzios in a different post), but for the most part, we enjoyed discovering what it was like to “live” in Rio. We got an apartment in Ipanema, Logan took a lot of jiu jistu classes, and I started the month with the expectation of spending my time hanging out at the beach, drinking coconut water and sipping on frequent occasional cocktails.

Unfortunately, I actually spent at least a fourth of my time in Brazil holed up in our apartment, barely able to walk. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let me tell you about our apartment.

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Our Airbnb in Ipanema, a popular neighborhood for travelers and expats, was sunny and modern, located above a launderia in the heart of the action. We were about a 10-minute walk from Ipanema beach and a stone’s throw from a dozen restaurants. A charming newspaper and food stand was stationed below our Juliette balcony, weathering a constant influx of Brazil nuts that dropped from the gigantic tree next to our window. We were also a five-minute walk from Lagoa, an upscale neighborhood named for its large lake, which is surrounded by green space, walking paths, and food and drink vendors.

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When we weren’t out exploring Rio, we spent most of our time trying Brazilian craft beers and local coffees while sitting on this little balcony watching passersby. It was a bright and sunny time… I also happened to read The Power of Now, a book which ultimately changed my life for the better, making our time in Rio de Janeiro one that I look back on with rose-colored glasses.

At the time, though, it wasn’t quite so rosy. Our first few days in Rio were great. We get settled in, explored some restaurants, did some people-watching (it’s not just a stereotype that Brazilians are beautiful people, inside and out), and sampled some local brews. When things went downhill was when we decided to go swimming at Ipanema beach.

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Let me back up a bit: Ever since Buenos Aires, I’d been dealing with some kind of allergic reaction that left me with itchy hives all over my body. I was coping, but on one spot just above my right ankle, I apparently scratched the scab clean off of my skin, leaving an open wound. When Logan wanted to take a dip in the ocean, I was apprehensive, having read warnings about water quality. I only went in for a few seconds, figuring that I’d be okay. But by later that afternoon, I started noticing sharp pains in my ankle… Pains that make it difficult to walk.

The next morning, I woke up to greatly reduced mobility in my right leg. Stepping on my right foot caused pain to shoot up and down my limbs, though I couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem. It wasn’t until that evening that the area I’d scratched on my right leg began to look like it might be infected. I put some antibiotic ointment on it, covered it with a Band Aid, and tried to suck it up and deal.

By the third day, though, it had become apparent that it was a probably a nasty staph infection. Logan had gotten staph before on a trip to Thailand — it’s common to get staph from that mat in marital arts classes. After a Skype chat with my mom (who is a nurse), I was finally convinced that I had to go to a doctor.

Brazil has public hospitals, but as a tourist, I knew I needed to go somewhere where English was spoken. I’m sure Brazil’s public hospitals are just fine, but I felt a lot more comfortable going to a travel clinic. So, I went in to Clínica Galdino Campos.

I waited for about two hours to be seen… The first of what would be MANY hours of waiting over the course of the next two weeks. On my first day at the clinic, I was given an IV with antibiotics, as well as given an oral antibiotic to take for the next week. A few days later, when my staph didn’t look like it was improving, I went back to the clinic again, and made an appointment to come in a third time to have the infection lanced (that is, cut out).

Deciding to have the staph removed was the best decision I ever made. I was afraid it would be painful, but the doctor (who was, conveniently, about 30 years old, hot, and a fluent English speaker) made the experience pleasant by numbing my leg completely and joking with me the entire time. After the staph was removed, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I still had to wear bandages around my right leg, and I had to take a strong antibiotic for the following week, but it seemed like I was in the clear.

All in all, the entire thing cost about $1,000 USD, and a week and a half of my time.

The main takeaway I have from this situation is that YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE. Thanks to the travel insurance I had purchased through Expedia, my costs were fully reimbursed. I have nothing but positive things to say about Aon Affinity, the company Expedia uses to handle the medical claims. They refunded the money I had spent, no questions asked.

Despite these obvious setbacks, we did find time to do some fun things during our first few weeks in Rio. We arrived in Rio on February 1, and Carnival was coming up at the end of the month (thankfully, I didn’t have staph during Carnival!). The city heats up in the weeks leading up to Carnival, and there are lots of pre-parties around. And by pre-parties, I mean random gatherings of people in costumes on street corners. There’s nothing unusual about people drinking in the streets when you’re in Rio de Janeiro!

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The second half of our time in Brazil was a lot more exciting. In addition to partying it up at Carnival, we also explored other neighborhoods, like Santa Teresa, Copacabana and Leblon, and checked out Jardim Botanica. We even took a little road trip about two hours outside of Rio to a beach town called Buzios, where I had — wait for it — another medical semi-emergency. More on that soon!

One Week in Buenos Aires

When we left off, Logan and I had just spent an extended weekend in Santiago, and were unfortunately feeling a little drained. Logan couldn’t find shoes in his size (seriously, that’s a real problem) so we hadn’t been able to go out to a club or do any dancing, something I really wanted to make happen. We were also, frankly, a little tired of living in shared accomodations. We were ready to have a room to ourselves so we could really sink our teeth in to the experience by unpacking our backpacks and cooking with some local ingredients.

Our week in Buenos Aires would prove to be the perfect solution to all of these problems. By the time our week in Argentina was finished, we would find Logan some shoes, dance until dawn, cook for ourselves plenty of times, and enjoy a restful week in a private Airbnb after nearly a month of being on the road and living in hostels.

Our time at our Airbnb in Buenos Aires was really our first experience “living” together, and at the time, we were in the mode of trying to figure out what kind of apartment we wanted to live in after returning to the US. We both absolutely loved our place in Argentina, which was a very spacious studio apartment in Palermo, one of the trendier neighborhoods in Buenos Aires.

I really want to impress upon you what a breath of fresh air it was to have our own place — and such a clean, modern place at that! Life on the road in rural Peru and crowded Santiago had been a ton of fun, but after more than three weeks, we were tired. We were just down the road from a little supermarket, so upon checking into our place (in broken Spanish), we picked up some groceries, unpacked our clothes and stored them in an actual closet for once, and took in the scenery.

Obviously, I am writing about this trip a year after the fact, so there’s a lot I’ve probably forgotten. But the gist is this: We got caught up on work (I was freelancing full-time at the time, and Logan was handling real estate deals remotely), we spent a lot of time walking around Palermo and the nearby neighborhoods, we cooked in and we relaxed.

We did eventually find Logan some shoes to wear, which was a pretty major accomplishment. After asking numerous shop owners if they carried his size, I eventually got a yes from a salesperson at a Converse store in a nearby shopping mall. Logan paid a lot for the shoes (I think it was about the equivalent of USD$80), but it was worth it to know we could actually go out.

A few highlights that I should probably mention: We really enjoyed Buenos Aires’ greenery, parks and architecture. Buenos Aires is called the “Paris of South America” because of the European-style architecture in the wealthy areas of the city. We took a bike tour in which we got to explore the neighborhoods of BA and bike down gorgeous streets and boulevards, learning about Argentina’s political history (I still feel like I have SO much more to learn about that), exploring the famous La Recoleta Cemetery, and talking with fellow travelers.

Speaking of La Recoleta, it’s a touristy spot to be sure, but it’s an incredibly interesting landmark. I’ve seen above-ground graves before, both in Paris and in New Orleans, but I’ve never seen anything like La Recoleta. The graves are bonafide mini-chapels, decorated with expensive statues, lights, candles, and fresh bouquets. The contrast between plots is stark, as families with ample resources are able to employ keepers to ensure their families’ shrines stay clean and well-decorated. The graves of families whose bloodlines are either no longer of means or no longer exist fall into disrepair.

It’s a good allegory for the political history of Argentina, which has been fraught with corruption, political turmoil, socialist revolutions and subsequent coups. I’m obviously not going to recite the political history of Argentina here, but suffice it to say that the people of Argentina have been through a lot, and seem to have come out on the other side with a lot of perspective.

We also got tickets to a tango show, before which we took a tango lesson of our own. I doubt our tango lesson was the most authentic way to experience tango; from what I’ve read, tango clubs are pretty intense, and I didn’t want to go and gape at the locals like some weird tourist. But the show was impressive, and we got a little taste of tango without getting in over our heads. The food was less than ideal but the dancing was fantastic.

So, now for the part you’re really wondering about: Did we get to party? Now that Logan finally had a pair of shoes (enough with the shoes already, amiright?!), we were finally able to go out for a night of dancing. We decided to take an Uber to Terrazas del Este, a dance club right on the ocean that we’d read was a pretty fun place. We arrived to the club at about 11:30… And it was completely dark.

“It’s not open yet,” our Uber driver explained in broken English. Well then.

I guess clubs in Buenos Aires don’t tend to open until 1 or 2 a.m. It’s a far cry from the US, where things close around that time. But we weren’t going to be disheartened. We found a restaurant nearby and ordered some seafood and a bottle of wine to “tide us over” until opening time.

When we did finally get to Terrazas del Este, the attendant was ushering people into two different lines outside of two separate buildings. We just went along with the line he choose for us, but looking around, everyone looked to be 18 or 19 years old, at most. I’m not sure if he thought we were younger than our age (which I’m okay with) or what, but I’m 90% sure he put us into the line for the “younger” club. That, or people over 21 don’t really go out in Buenos Aires. I guess we’ll never know which.

But regardless, we had a great time and accomplished my goal of dancing until sunrise. I’ve only stayed out until *true* sunrise three times in my life: Once in Paris, once in San Francisco, and this time in Buenos Aires. Dancing to Avicii and drinking vodka red bulls all night in South America was just as memorable as my other two all-night excursions.

Our week in Buenos Aires came and went in the blink of an eye. It was the city that I had most been looking forward to exploring, mainly because of the gorgeous architecture I’d seen and read about. And Argentina did not disappoint. Buenos Aires was beautiful, sophisticated, sexy, urban, modern and fun, with a political grit and spirit about it that it’d be impossible not to respect. It was time for our final stop in South America, where we’d be spending an entire month exploring, eating, drinking, failing to speak Portuguese, and experiencing my scariest travel-related health issue yet: Rio de Janeiro.

30 Things I’ve Learned in 30 Years

Well, my friends, the day has finally arrived. This Wednesday, I will turn 30. Real adulthood. The big 3-0. Halfway between young adulthood and midlife. Too old for crop tops, too young for clogs (just kidding — I plan to keep wearing both).

I’m not going to pretend turning 30 isn’t at least a little momentous. After all, I’ve spent 10 years — an entire decade — as a 20-something. That’s 3,650 days. Approximately 520 weeks. 87,600 hours. These 10 years have been good to me, and I truly have cherished the earliest part of my adulthood.

I feel like I’ve spent my 20s inundated with articles and media specifically about the importance of one’s 20s. Heck, I’ve written some of them. We Millennials are fascinated with our youth. We live for ‘90s nostalgia. We spend our 20s — a decade that used to signify the beginnings of families and careers — simply having fun, getting to know ourselves and exploring what life has to offer. We take pride in our collective hesitation to get married and have children, and we never feel like we’re quite old enough to consider ourselves fully grown men and women.

The oldest Millennials were born around 1982, while the youngest of us were born closer to 1999 or 2000. Born in late 1987, I’m smack-dab in the middle… and I think it’s time for those of us on the older end of the Millennial spectrum to finally admit the truth: There’s no going back — we aren’t kids anymore.

But here’s the thing: We don’t need to be so afraid of growing up. In fact, it just might be the case that there is learning, fun, passion, and exploration to be found even in the realm of adulthood (!). I’m about to share a list of 30 things I’ve learned over the past 30 years, and if by the end of this list I haven’t convinced you that getting older can be awesome, I haven’t done my job. Some things I will elaborate on, while others speak for themselves so here we go:

1. Turning 30 is A Lot Less Scary Than it Sounds When You’re 25

When you finally reach 30, you kind of realize that you don’t look or feel that much different than you did when you were 25. And the things that have changed are usually positives… Like, you’re less willing to spend money at shitty bars that aren’t really that fun.

2. The Biological Clock is Actually A Thing

A lot of feminists these days argue that the “biological clock” doesn’t exist, and that it’s a social construct. As a feminist, I disagree. For women who’ve never had an inkling to have children, it may not exist, but for those of us who’ve ever expressed even remote interest in reproducing, the reality is that we do have a time frame to deal with — and for me, the awareness of that time frame started to kick in sometime around age 28.

Listen, I have a lot of things I’d like to do before having a child. But the fact of the matter is, it’s going to have to factor into my plans at some point in the next decade or so. And admitting that it’s a factor is nothing to be ashamed of, nor does it make me less of an empowered woman.

3. A Lot Can Happen in Five Years

Who knows where on earth I’ll be in five years? My life is vastly different now from my situation five years ago. A lot can happen in five years, and you never know what’s around the corner.

4. The Best Things in Life Happen Outside Your Comfort Zone

Cliche, but true. If something is making your heart race in a state of exhilarating fear, it’s something you definitely need to do.

5. You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Seen Arcade Fire Live

Talk about exhilarating.

6. Making a True, Lifelong Friend is A Lot Harder than Falling in Love

7. If You Have a Sense of Adventure, Adventure Will Find You

I used to worry deeply that I was going to live a boring life. The fact of the matter is, if you crave adventure, it’s going to find you… Primarily because if you truly have a sense of adventure, it’s in your DNA to seek it out. Trust that you’re on the right path.

8. America’s National Parks Are Not Overrated

9. Love is Worth Getting Hurt Over

10. It is Really Is Possible to Find Both Passion and Stability in a Partner

Sometimes, we get hurt. But sometimes, we find exactly the right fit.

11. With the Right Partner, Disagreements of Opinion Are Not Incompatibilities

I consider myself to be in a very happy relationship, but it definitely hasn’t been a straight line getting here. Being with a truly compatible partner doesn’t mean that you’ll have the same philosophies on every topic, or even comparable life stories or hobbies. With the right person, differences make the relationship exciting, and because you both mutually support each other’s deepest dreams and desires, differences of opinion don’t manifest in arguments or problems going through life together. There’s too much support there for that to ever happen.

12. Lasting Love Brings Out the Best Qualities in Each Person

While I’m on the relationship topic, the cliche is true that real love makes you a better person. God knows I’m not perfect, and neither is Logan — but we really do bring out the best in each other, and have helped each other grow and evolve to become better people.

13. Buying Things You Don’t Need Won’t Make You Happy or More Confident

14. Your Family is Your True Tribe

15. People’s Perspectives are Vastly Different, and that Doesn’t Make them Bad People

People today lack a real ability to sympathize with others’ situations. It’s difficult to imagine, but poor people in inner cities have very different lives from blue collar folks in rural towns, who have very different struggles from Millennials in hip urban enclaves, whose paradigms are completely different from religious families in the South. And here’s the big secret: None of these groups of people are evil. They’re just people. They have different backgrounds that have caused different pains in their lives, and those pains (as well as positive experiences) cause them to have different outlooks. The sooner we can all learn to sympathize with each other, the better.

16. You Are Not Your Thoughts

Read “The Power of Now” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m not kidding: This book literally changed my life.

17. Healthy Eating and Exercise Truly Do Make the Difference to How You Feel

18. Every Day Begins and Ends in the Same Way

Even if you were to suddenly obtain your ideal job, partner, net worth, or locale, every day would still begin and end the same way. The sun would still rise in the morning, a certain amount of time would pass, and then it would set. Days are all essentially the same… Realizing this (and acknowledging that we have a finite number of days to enjoy) helps me put my wanderlust into perspective, especially when I’m feeling “grass is always greener” syndrome.

19. If You Really Want to Party, You Need to Go to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval

20. Waste is Morally Wrong

The ocean is brimming with plastic garbage. Landfills are overflowing. I have no patience for anyone who doesn’t recycle, leaves lights on when they’re not needed, buys disposable plastic bottles on a regular basis, or drives solo instead of carpooling.

21. It’s Best to Walk As Much as Possible

Speaking of not being wasteful, walk everywhere! Your health will thank you and so will your wallet (and the environment).

22. Health Care Is Unnecessarily Expensive in the United States

I have traveled a great deal and have friends in a ton of different countries that have some form of public health care. They do not experience substandard medical care.

23. The Wellness Community Are the Some of the Most Anxious People on the Planet

I’m in the wellness industry, and while some people really do live their best lives, a lot of people that seem to be wellness gurus actually suffer from anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health issues. That’s why we gravitate toward wellness solutions. Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet — no one is perfect (or happy all the time!).

24. Over the Course of Your Life, You Will Accumulate Permanent Scars

Not talking about the physical kind.

25. Relationships Are Hard…But Not in the Way You Think

I’m not here to say that relationships don’t require nurturing, empathy and forgiveness. They do, but some people will tell you that “relationships are hard” when you’re actually just in a bad relationship. Learn to be happy being single so that you never stay in a relationship that makes you unhappy out of fear of being alone.

26. Not Everyone is Designed for a Typical Life Path…and the Odds Are Stacked Against Us

Sad but true… It is NOT easy, financially or otherwise, to live a non-traditional, anti 9-to-5 kind of life. I’m still working on figuring it out, and when I learn the secret, I’ll let you know.

27. Yoga Gets You Out of Your Head and Into the Present Moment

28. You and Only You Are in Control of Your Life

29. Exposing Yourself to New Things Will Keep You Young and Mentally Healthy

Obviously, at 30, I’m not talking about cognitive decline here (though studies show that new experiences help seniors maintain flexible neurological pathways, so there’s that). I already have friends who look at people who are 22 or 23 — literally less than 10 years younger than them — and complain about the “youth” of America, their music, their fashions… And I think it does my friends more harm than good. Learn to embrace new things and don’t get stuck in rigid thinking.

30. You Can’t Run Away from Yourself

Fellow wanderlusters, listen up: No matter where you are in the world, YOU will still be there. Only by making peace with yourself will you be able to enjoy your life and your surroundings, wherever you may be.

Cheers to 10 more interesting, exciting and adventurous years!

 

There Are Worse Ways to Turn 30: My Birthday Trip to San Diego

For the next blog post or two, I’m going to veer away from my long-running story about my travels in South America last year. But don’t worry — I WILL be writing up posts on the rest of those adventures soon! For now, though, I have other fun stories to tell you…


For the past few years, I’ve given a decent amount of thought to how I wanted to ring in my 30s. I knew I wanted to be traveling, and I knew I wanted to be somewhere warmer than Chicago. Having a December birthday is fun, but with the exception of my 27th birthday in New Zealand, my birthdays are almost always cold and snowy.

Planning a trip to a foreign country seemed too daunting with my new job, and also a little too expensive. So as Logan and I brainstormed potential destinations, one particular locale began to stand out: Southern California. We kind of fell in love there when we went to Coachella four months into our relationship. It’s warm all year round. And, frankly, it’s somewhere we might want to move one day (everyone who knows me knows I’ve been trying to move to California for years now…).

We decided to spend the week in San Diego with the intention not only to enjoy the weather and the seafood, but also to explore the area to see if it might be a good fit for us in the future. And let me tell you: I fell in love.

We boarded a flight on Saturday morning, leaving behind the cold, wintry weather of Chicago. Until that week, it had been a very mild early winter — it finally got really cold right before we left for California.

Another major weather event threatened to derail our plans, too: The wildfires that were raging across Southern California. Though a few fires had reached into San Diego County, it appeared that La Jolla, where we’d be staying, was unaffected.

We landed in San Diego, checked out our rental car, and set the GPS for our Airbnb in La Jolla. Even the 20-minute drive to the Airbnb was pleasant. Logan said, almost immediately, “Let’s move here. It just feels right.”

Our Airbnb was about as dreamy as it gets for $80 a night. The top floor of a converted single-family home in La Jolla, it had a rooftop porch that was perfect for watching the sun rise and set over the ocean. It was the perfect spot for our daily morning ritual: Books and coffee (yes, we do that every weekday morning here in Chicago).

Because of the time difference, our bodies naturally woke up at 6 a.m. every morning of our trip, giving us plenty of time to sit in the porch and watch the sun come up. By 7 or so, the weather would start getting warm… We had absolutely PERFECT weather (not that anything else exists in San Diego) with daytime temps reaching the mid-70s, dipping down into the low 50s at night.

Since we arrived in San Diego around 2 p.m., we had a half a day to explore La Jolla. Our first stop, naturally, was the Taco Stand, a little joint just down the street that had nine or ten people lined up outside waiting for tacos. The tacos were delicious, by the way.

(A side note: Logan and my second-favorite tradition, right after our morning books and coffee routine, is taco Fridays. So we eat *a lot* of tacos.)

We wandered around for the remainder of the evening before stopping at a little hookah bar for happy hour (we passed on the hookah). We watched the sun set over La Jolla before managing to stumble upon a restaurant called Herringbone, where I introduced Logan to oysters — his life was forever changed — and we enjoyed an indulgent birthday-week meal of seafood, bread and wine.

The next day dawned bright and early, and we headed out for Sunday brunch at a restaurant called Breakfast Republic in the North Park neighborhood. When I visit a new city, my first priority is to figure out where the hipsters live and descend upon their neighborhood to get a taste for the local dining and art scene. North Park is apparently San Diego’s equivalent of Logan Square, so that’s where we headed… And boy, we were *not* disappointed by our brunch. Breakfast Republic had all of the Paleo, gluten-free, and healthy options you could ever imagine, but they were hardly dainty diet food. We were full all day.

After wandering around North Park and checking out an open house in the area (yet another one of our favorite things to do together), we drove back to our Airbnb to regroup. Logan had been interested in taking a drive up to Del Mar, a seaside town just north of San Diego that has a reputation for being a fantastic beach/surfing destination. We hopped in the car and cruised north.

Del Mar was upscale. Like, really upscale… We passed an average-sized seaside house that was listed for $7 million. The town was clean and pretty, and we absolutely loved the look and feel of the beach. Surfers dotted the ocean and people lazed around on the beach and the grassy park beyond. We grabbed some fresh juice and kombucha from a little juicery down the way before heading back south.

We decided to get dinner in Little Italy, a neighborhood of San Diego proper. The downtown section of San Diego was a lot smaller than I’d envisioned, especially being used to a huge downtown like the Loop in Chicago. But Little Italy was cute, the Italian dinner was delicious (squid ink linguine for me, veal ravioli for Logan), and we spent our post-dinner evening walking around the neighborhood eating gelato and admiring the Christmas lights.

The next morning, we woke up early and got acai bowls for breakfast before venturing out to Torrey Pines State Park. We had spotted the park, which ran alongside the beach and also had plenty of big hills and hiking paths, on our trip to Del Mar the day before and had vowed to come back to do some hiking. The morning was supremely gorgeous, and we could not have been happier with our decision. It struck us both that living in Chicago, chances to reconnect with nature are few and far between. People living somewhere like San Diego have beaches, hiking trails, deserts and campsites right within the city limits.

After eating a picnic lunch on our hike, we drove our car back to La Jolla and took a public bus down to Pacific Beach. The Pacific/Mission Beach area was the only place in San Diego that left me slightly disappointed. It seemed dirty and not particularly exciting — at least the beaches in LA, while definitely dirty, had more going on. But nonetheless, we had a beer at a little bar next to the ocean and snacked on a few appetizers before catching the bus home.

That night, it was sushi for dinner and an early night for us. We had to be up 6 a.m. the next morning to leave for a mystery destination. My birthday gift from Logan was a surprise trip to an unknown place, where I was assured we’d have a great adventure and birthday celebration. I had no idea where we were headed, but I was excited to find out.

The next morning, as we hurriedly packed and started the hour-and-a-half drive to our destination, it became clear that we were heading to Catalina Island (okay, if I’m being honest, I didn’t quite figure it out until we were basically on the boat). The ferry from Dana Point to Avalon took about an hour, and gave me strong nostalgia for my days ferrying around Fiji.

When we arrived in Avalon, I was immediately escorted to my first surprise of the day: Electric biking around the island. This was something Logan had done when he traveled to Catalina with his family, and he was pretty excited to do it again. Logan is like a kid in a candy store when it comes to activities like biking or skateboarding, and at first I could barely keep up with him. Biking around the island was actually a ton of fun, though. Catalina is a bit touristy, but it’s saved by its down-to-earth vibe. We explored the streets behind the shops where the locals live, enjoying the walkable layout, narrow streets (the main mode of transportation in Catalina is a golf cart), colorful buildings, and gorgeous scenery.

That night, we dined at the Lobster Trap, a local favorite known for — you guessed it — lobster. That night, Logan also revealed to me the big surprise in store for the next day (my actual birthday): We were going to learn how to scuba dive!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. The next morning, while gearing up for our lesson, I spoke with our instructor about the pain in my left ear I’d been experiencing for weeks. In case you don’t know, ear problems = no diving. The pressure underwater is too great.

So, that was a disappointment. But we came up with an alternative plan: Ziplining and snorkeling. We tried a zipline track called Aerial Adventures in which you zipline from obstacle to obstacle. It was a ton of fun (if a little challenging) and was only bested by our subsequent snorkeling adventure, during which we saw hundreds of colorful fish and, in my case, a baby seal!

We caught the ferry back to Dana Point on the evening of my birthday, and were planning to spend our last night in San Diego in the Gaslamp District, an area with tons of nightlife and dining options. But by the time we arrived back at our Airbnb, we were exhausted. We had crammed a ton of activity into our short week, and we were both more in the mood to sleep than to party.

We didn’t end up partying that night, but we did manage to drag ourselves to a last-minute dinner reservation back in Little Italy. In the end, I’m glad we forced ourselves to go. It was my birthday, after all, and we ended up enjoying a truly fresh seafood platter complete with oysters (my fave), shrimp, lobster and ceviche.

The next morning, we had time for one last drive past Seal Beach before we had to return our rental car and fly back to chilly Chicago. Our time in San Diego was so… Dreamy. Dreamy is just the perfect word for it. It was absolutely the best way I could’ve possibly rung in this next decade of my life, with my love by my side in the warm, breezy weather of Southern California. Will we ever make that long-desired move to California? I don’t know, but I DO know that I’m more excited than ever to have a lifetime of fantastic adventures with this guy.

Beach Vibes and City Lights: From Arica to Santiago, Chile

Disclaimer: This is a long one. It’s taken me a while to get all of these South America posts written, and that’s because it’s been a super busy time in my life. Logan and I have officially moved (back, in my case) to Chicago. Back in March, when we made the decision to move to Chicago together, we were set back numerous times by various job interviews and opportunities in other cities (I had yet another flirtation with San Francisco, believe it or not).

But we’ve ended up choosing to stay in the Midwest. Ultimately, Chicago is pretty darn cool, and it’s closer to our families as well as cheaper than other big cities — which means we’ll have more $$ to keep traveling. And now, on top of all of it, I’m starting a new job (yes, a full-time one) that I’m extremely excited about. My hope is that with more of a work-life separation than I had while freelancing, I’ll be able to get back to blogging more regularly.

Basically, the past few months have been a series of job interviews, apartment hunts and other adventures. I’m SO excited to be here in Chicago with Logan, and I know it’s going to be the start of a whole new chapter in my life.

But before those new adventures happen, I REALLY NEED TO BLOG ABOUT THE ONES THAT ALREADY TOOK PLACE. And so, we left off at Peru/Chile border (I encourage re-reading that one if you’ve forgotten where I left off in our story) …

After we breathed a sigh of relief upon being dropped off in the center of Arica, we exchanged our currency and grabbed a cab to our hostel. In retrospect, we didn’t really need the cab. After weeks of being in the windy, chilly, high altitudes of the Peruvian Andes, we were now in the desert of northern Chile. Arica is a desert-landscaped beach town right on the Pacific coast. It’s really hot, really sunny and super laid-back. And our hostel was literally half a mile from the bus station.

In fact, upon arriving at our hostel (which was run by a Kiwi, I was delighted to discover), we learned just how laid-back Arica is. This hostel was very different from most of the hostels I’ve stayed in. It was more like a homeshare. We and two other couples shared one wing of the house, with each couple inhabiting a separate bedroom and all six of us sharing an open-air common space, bathroom and stocked kitchen. The air stayed kind of trapped in the bedrooms, which made it HOT when we were trying to sleep. But overall, it had a homey, beachy vibe and was just steps from the ocean.

We spent our three days in Arica walking around this little hippie beach town. There were a few shops, but we aren’t really big shoppers, so we didn’t really partake in much of that. We mostly enjoyed the beaches themselves, which — though a nice change from Peru — were relatively tiny, with the views of the ocean being slightly obscured by rocks and small cliffs. We didn’t mind though. I was just ecstatic to be warm!

We also rented bikes and peddled around the town. This proved to be really fun, and a great way to see the city without feeling confined to a a bus. We even found a Pokemon store.

Arica, and most of South America in general, is a very active place. Workout equipment is placed all over the landscape, presumably by the City, and I think that’s pretty freaking cool. We started our mornings by enjoying a daily run down the beach followed by (in my case) some plyometrics and other mini-workouts before cooling down with fresh juice. Pineapple, passionfruit, mango, watermelon, kiwifruit… The types of juice available in South America are simply endless (and incredibly delicious).

One final thing about Arica: We had already seen plenty of stray dogs in Peru, all of them friendly. They weren’t mangy or aggressive, as Logan had experienced of some of the dogs he’d come across in Asia. Instead, they were adorable and people-loving, and we met one dog in particular who followed us around for an entire three-mile walk into town. We affectionately named him Salad (long story).

Now, we had decided ahead of time to take a plane to Santiago rather than bussing from Arica, simply because the bus trip would’ve been three or four days long and we were trying to squeeze three countries into about a month. On the day we flew out of Arica, we decided to go out for breakfast before catching a cab to the airport at 10 (our flight left at 1).

Unfortunately, we had a bit of a delay getting home from breakfast, so we got back to our hostel around 10:30 and asked the hostel owner to call us a cab. We mentioned that we’d like for it to pick us up at 10:45 (in essence, right away), because our flight was leaving at 1. He turned to the clock, looked back at us, and slowly said…”but it’s 11:45 right now.”

Our jaws dropped. We’d been in Chile for three days and hadn’t realized that there was a time difference between Chile and Peru! For some reason, our phones never updated time zones — I think it was because my data was turned off and Logan had manually set our previous location in his phone. Now, an hour before we were supposed to catch a plane, we realized our mistake.

We quickly called the cab, and when he arrived I explained our situation (in Spanish, I’m proud to add.) He got us to the airport in 20 minutes flat, and it seemed like everything was going to work out just fine… Until we tried to board the plane and the stewardess at the gate told us we needed to report back to security.

Apparently, they’d found an aerosol in my bag. It was insect repellent, and it was totally fine on the flight from the US to Peru. We’d invested in a high-protection repellent because of Zika, and that stuff wasn’t cheap. After frantically tearing through my bag to remove everything and discover what the problem was, I handed the aerosols over to security, hastily repacked my bag, and sprinted back toward the gate.

And….we made it! Just in time, we clamored into our seats and buckled up for a quick and easy flight to Santiago.


When we touched down in Santiago, it was late evening, and the sun had just disappeared under the horizon as we climbed into an Uber to head to our hostel. Combine the energizing urban glow of the modern streetlights and skyscrapers with the electrifying trace music our driver was playing, and we were feeling some serious excitement about being back in a big city after weeks exploring rural Peru and small Chilean beach towns.

We were going to dine at hip urban restaurants! We were going to get dressed to the nines! We were going to smoke cigars and drink Chilean wines before hitting the clubs! Sitting in that cab and looking out over the city, just getting ready for its Thursday night, we had high expectations for our weekend in Santiago.

But alas, none of this tomfoolery was meant to happen. We checked into our hostel (a total party hostel, by the way) in a popular area in heart of the city. At this point, we were getting kind of tired of shared sleeping accomodations. We couldn’t wait to have our own private Airbnb the following week in Buenos Aires. So, entering a party hostel and getting to our bunks in a room shared with six others was fatiguing, though expected. We decided to get a bite to eat, so we grabbed some chicken from a nearby joint and then sat down at an outdoor cafe to enjoy a bottle of wine and some lemon pie. By 11, we were back at the hostel and in bed, excited to have a more rowdy night the following day.

The next morning, we, naturally, went out to explore Santiago. Like I said, our hostel was quite centrally located, so after grabbing some breakfast we simply walked around and took in the sights. We walked to a nearby park, Parque Bustamente, which adjoined to several other parks and grassy boulevards alongside the Mapocho River. As the hours ticked on, we walked everywhere… To the Plaza de Armas, around al fresco shopping malls, through parks, to the Museo de Bellas Artes. We also tried (and failed) to get a decent lunch, because our language barrier prevented us from really understanding the menu, and we ended up with expensive bite-sized small plates.

At the end of the day, we calculated that we’d walked approximately 12 miles. Like I said, it was A LOT of walking.

Oh, and another thing: Because we had all these aspirations to go clubbing, we knew we’d need proper club attire. Logan hadn’t brought any nice shoes, so part of our walking journey was in the spirit of finding him some shoes to wear. We hadn’t been able to find anything in his size (US men’s size 13, which will be relevant to our story later), so we vowed to try again the next day and turn in early for the night. We spent our evening socializing in the lobby of our hostel, where we met two other 20-somethings from San Francisco and the UK. We chatted about Donald Trump, Bon Iver, and everyone’s respective travel experiences.

The next morning, we woke up stiff, tired, and frankly, not excited to do much walking. But we would only be in Santiago until Monday (it was Saturday by now), so we knew we couldn’t waste time. We knew we’d have plenty of energy to go out and party come nighttime.

So, we rallied, and decided to do some more walking. Very smart. We decided to explore Cerro Santa Lucía (translation: Santa Lucia Hill). Santiago has a few raised parks that are essentially situated on huge hills, effectively allowing you to hike up to a cool religious monument and chapel, with plenty of wildlife viewing on the way. You read that right: After walking 12 miles the previous day and aspiring to go dancing that night (knowing full well we still had to walk around looking for Logan’s shoes), we decided to go hiking, of all things.

It was a really cool park, though, and we had a great time exploring it. Afterward, because Logan had been craving Chinese food all day, we literally got Chinese in the middle of Santiago. Later that day, as we continued our shoe hunt, I began to get frustrated with the fact that we couldn’t find anything in Logan’s size at any shoe store. So, I decided to use my shaky Spanish skills to ask the store clerks if anyone sold a men’s size 13 — and every store clerk said no.

After doing some research online, Logan uncovered that they simply don’t sell his shoe size anywhere in Chile because it’s unfashionable to have large feet. Now, this is obviously information garnered from random internet threads, but I honestly think it’s probably true. There were no size 13s anywhere we checked, no exception. I still think this is one of the weirdest cultural phenomena we encountered in South America.

So, with no luck in the shoe department and still feeling tired from our excursions, we went home early again. We ate out at some more restaurants and had a drink or two, of course, but it seemed that we wouldn’t have our fun city nightlife experience after all. The following day — our last day in Santiago and Chile in general — was more of the same. We managed to explore the art museum and walked back to the Plaza de Armas once again, and spent some more time hanging out in the parks and people-watching.

My only regret about our South America trip was that we weren’t able to fully enjoy Santiago the way we did other cities. The stars just didn’t line up in that regard: We had been on the road for three weeks now, were ready for a private room, spent WAY too much time walking around aimlessly, and simply tired ourselves out too much to really enjoy the experience to the fullest.

But, that’s not to say Santiago didn’t have its positive moments: We enjoyed leaning on each other for comfort, practicing our Spanish skills, and seeing the beautiful parks that make up the city center. Oh, and we tried the infamous El Completo, a Chilean hot dog covered with avocado and mayonnaise. So that was a high point.

Would we ever get our fun night out in a South American city? Would Logan ever find a pair of shoes? And would we learn from our mistakes and practice walking in moderation? Tune in next time to hear about our week in the beautiful “Paris of South America,” aka Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Complicated Nutrition of Coconut Oil and Saturated Fats

A new American Heart Association study is making the rounds on the Internet, claiming that coconut oil is “as unhealthy as beef fat and butter.” Scroll below the post itself, and you’ll find thousands of laughing faces, angry faces, and dissenters making comments like, “Well that’s okay, because all three are pretty darn good for you!” These days, there are two kinds of people on the Internet: those who wholeheartedly believe in eating tons of nuts and seeds, drinking bulletproof coffee every morning, and steering far, far away from gluten — and those who think anyone who falls into the former camp is absolutely nuts (get it? get it?!).

Coconut oil may be the ingredient of the moment, but this debate isn’t really about coconut oil. At a deeper level, it’s a culture war between two kinds of health-conscious people: those who believe fat is a holy grail macronutrient, and those who believe in the power of whole grains. There are sub-groups, too, like Paleo eaters and vegans. People in both camps can point to evidence that backs up their claims, but the truth is that there’s really no consensus… yet.

How Fat Became Fashionable

Until about 2005, Americans had for several decades been told by doctors, food experts, and the government to avoid fats. Eating an excessive amount of fats seemed to be connected with weight gain, and the consumption of saturated fats in particular was suspected to be linked to heart disease. But by the 1990s, given that heart disease had remained the number one cause of death in America and obesity rates had basically doubled, it had become apparent that something was wrong. The science behind fat-fear was wrong.

The first major trend to turn the tides about fats and carbs was the Atkins diet. This strict low-carb approach gained steam in 2003, but even at the height of its popularity, it was still seen as outrageous and, frankly, laughable to anyone who hadn’t experienced its effects first-hand. My parents were two of the first devotees, actually. I specifically remember hearing snide comments about how “Dr. Atkins died of a heart attack” (he didn’t) and how Atkins was actually a “bacon died” (it wasn’t).

Next came the South Beach diet, which was slightly more moderate, along with numerous other low-carb weight loss plans. These diets all garnered a reputation as fad diets, probably because they were so extreme in prohibiting even real-food carbohydrates such as those found in fruits and vegetables.

Another trend to influence the public’s attitudes about fats and carbohydrates was one that didn’t require limiting carbohydrates at all, but simply promoted the benefit of healthy fats alongside carbohydrates. The Mediterranean diet, initially conceived of back in the 1950s by none other than Ancel Keys, the fat-fear mongerer himself, was shown in a now-famous 2014 study to be the only diet proven to correlate with longer telomere lengths, a marker of healthy aging. Longer telomeres are associated with a reduced risk of not only heart disease, but all age-related problems, such as cancers, cognitive decline and metabolic disease. The buzz generated by the Mediterranean diet soon caused scientists to recommend that the public replace saturated fats (often found in animal products) with unsaturated ones, and particularly with monounsaturated fats like olive oil.

The Case for Saturated Fat

It wasn’t until fairly recently that nutritionists began recommending saturated fat as an actual health food. As low-carb lifestyles became even more popular, holistic approaches like the Paleo diet, which advocates for the consumption of protein and fats alongside naturally occurring carbohydrate-rich foods like fruits and sweet potatoes, came into fashion. And by 2014, we crossed into the newest frontier: ketogenic eating.

Spearheaded by research such as Dr. David Perlmutter’s in his book “Grain Brain,” the keto movement, which involves a high consumption of fats in proportion to protein and carbohydrates, came into the spotlight. “Keto Clarity” by Jimmy Moore and The Bulletproof Diet” by Dave Asprey (for the record: no, I am not advocating for putting butter in your coffee) posed an idea that until very recently was too scary to entertain: that fats, including saturated fats, should actually be the building blocks of our diet.

Of course, this was when coconut oil, a rich, whole-food source of saturated fat, started gaining steam. The research behind high-fat diets is more solid than you might think, but perhaps more importantly, the research against fats is a lot less solid than most people realize.

In fact, according to a Harvard School of Public Health review titled “Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review,” just one study out of thousands has ever found an association between saturated fat and heart disease. Just one. Meanwhile, a huge smear campaign against fat, one that has billions of dollars tied up in promoting “heart-healthy” choices low in fat and cholesterol, has been remarkably ineffective at improving public health.

“During the past several decades,” write the study’s authors, “reduction in fat intake has been the main focus of national dietary recommendations. In the public’s mind, the words ‘dietary fat’ have become synonymous with obesity and heart disease, whereas the words ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat-free’ have become synonymous with heart health… It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences.”

Meanwhile, here’s what we do know: obesity, metabolic disorders like diabetes, and blood triglycerides do seem to be correlated with heart disease. And these problems are linked with the overconsumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, not fats.

The Future of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is 82 percent saturated fat. Back in 1970, when Ancel Keys authored the Seven Countries Study, he took note of the fact that countries with high rates of consumption of animal products (which are also mainly composed of saturated fats) tended to have poorer heart health. That’s where fat-fear, particularly saturated fat-fear, comes from.

But the Seven Countries Study was deeply flawed in that it didn’t take into account other factors, such as countries’ smoking patterns, exercise levels, or sugar consumption. It could’ve been the combination of fat intake and sugar that caused cardiovascular disease. It could’ve been an absence of healthy vegetables. It could’ve really been anything.

So when the AHA says that coconut oil is unhealthy because it is 82 percent saturated fat, those who have kept abreast of the latest scientific studies surrounding fat consumption are left shaking their heads. If there’s no evidence to back up the theory that saturated fat causes heart disease, then we can begin to consider some of the wonderful health benefits that saturated fats provide, such as improved hormonal health, liver health, satiety, and immunity.

Nutrition isn’t as black and white as click-bait headlines would make it seem. Furthermore, real foods don’t exist in a vacuum. A diet that’s consistently low in carbohydrates and high in whole, saturated fats from coconut oil and pasture-raised animal meats will probably have very different health effects than a diet that contains breakfast sausage, bacon, and burgers with toast on the side and hamburger buns to boot. Over time, it’s real-food diets that make for good nutrition, and saturated fats can and should be a component of those diets.

*Disclaimer: I’m not an RD (Registered Dietician), and you shouldn’t take this as medical advice! I’m a health and science writer who has written extensively on the current research regarding diet and health.

Why Eating High-Fat, Low-Carb Is Good For Your Body

Those who know me well know that I’ve followed a lot of weird diets over the years. I’ve tried going vegan, I was vegetarian for a year, I’ve flirted with the ketogenic (aka keto) lifestyle, and I even tried Atkins when I initially lost 40 pounds at the age of 18. Now that I’m in my late 20s, I can officially say that I’ve been researching health and nutrition for a full 10 years. It’s my passion. And that’s why I’ve turned health writing into a career.

My health writing career has exposed me to numerous points of view, but at the end of the day, it’s extremely clear to me what the healthiest diet is for human beings: A high-fat, low-carb approach.

Of course, there are some caveats. I don’t believe in bombarding your body with butter, cheese, bacon and other processed foods, as is characteristic of a ketogenic diet. I do believe in nourishing your body with healthy carbs, such as fruits and sweet potatoes. But overall, modern science tells us that eating a minimal amount of real-food carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein from free-range animal meats, and an abundance of healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, animal fats and extra-virgin oils is the way to go. Here are the reasons why.

Fats Satiate

So, right off the bat, an easy one: Fats are naturally satiating. This is why after a heavy meal, you tend to feel full, happy and satisfied, whereas if you spring for a low-fat, high-carb meal, you may feel full initially, but you eventually experience hunger cravings and an energy crash (more on that later).

When you eat low-fat, your body constantly craves more, and it can be difficult to stick to a healthy eating style. Add more healthy fats into your meals, and you will find that you experience increased satisfaction at the end of your meals.

Fats Build Your Hormones

This one is particularly important to me as a woman. Fats (along with proteins) are the building blocks of hormones. This is why many women who eat low-fat experience amenorrhea, the loss of their period. It’s also one of the reasons why Paleo and ketogenic diets are correlated with improved skin for sufferers of hormonal acne, why they aid in the treatment of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and why many menopausal women feel better after switching to a high-fat, low-carb diet.

Carbohydrates Require Insulin Production

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t eat carbohydrates. Carbohydrates contain glucose, a type of sugar molecule, that the body prefers as a fuel source. When you eat carbohydrates, your body uses glucose first, and then after all of that glucose has been exhausted, it moves into fat-burning mode (using fat as fuel, producing ketones in the process). It is healthy to consume carbohydrates, but the modern diet contains far too many carbs. As a result, we are seeing rates of Type 2 diabetes skyrocket.

When you consume glucose, your body must release insulin in order to shuttle the glucose into your cells and use it for energy. This is all well and good, but when you’re in this state constantly, it starts to take higher and higher amounts of insulin to get the job done. This is called insulin resistance, and is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

Now back to that topic I mentioned earlier: Energy crashes. When we become dependent on glucose as our primary fuel source, the body becomes unaccustomed to fat burning and craves carbohydrates constantly. We begin to experience energy crashes as well as carbohydrate and sugar cravings, leading us to believe we need to eat round-the-clock to feel satisfied.

Gluten is Inflammatory

This one is contentious, because a lot of people get very defensive about gluten. Gluten is a sticky protein found in certain types of grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. Keep in mind that until relatively recently in human history, our ancestors didn’t have the knowledge or ability to farm crops. Things like grains that need to be processed in order to be fit for consumption are not a part of our natural diet.

Some people have Celiac disease, which means they can’t eat gluten at all. But even the rest of us still have some cause for concern. Dr. David Perlmutter’s book “Grain Brain” (keep reading for the link!) is a great read that fully explains the gluten issue. To summarize: It’s scientific fact that eating gluten produces a state of mild inflammation in the body, and inflammation is now suspected to be the real culprit behind chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, depression, arthritis…. Pretty much everything.

As a side note, if you go to the Field Museum in Chicago, take a look at the Ancient Americas exhibit. There’s a sign that talks about how no evidence of chronic disease shows up in the human fossil record until after the Agricultural Revolution (aka, the time period when we started eating grains). This totally blew my mind! I guess the Field Museum has been covering the gluten issue since before it was cool.

Animal Products Are Extremely Nutritious

Look, I hate animal cruelty as much as the next person, but even as a former vegetarian/sometimes vegan and a health writer, I have to admit that eating meat is simply better for the human body nutritionally. Vegan diets are deficient in vitamin D, vitamin K12, vitamin B12, iron, cholesterol (again with hormone health) and vitamin A (no, you can’t get vitamin A from carrots — you can get betacarotine, which may be converted to vitamin A in the body, but the pathways are very inefficient). For a great summary of why I believe eating animal products to be beneficial for good health, check out this article.

All that said, I do think it’s possible to thrive on a vegan diet if you’re really meticulous about your nutrients and don’t mind eating soy products or tons of beans/legumes. But you can see more of my thoughts on that here.

Your Body Is Meant to Shift Between Glucose-Burning and Fat-Burning

So, I mentioned earlier that your body burns glucose before turning to fat. Many people associate fat-burning mode with starvation simply because the body metabolizes glucose first, but actually, these two mechanisms are both important for good health.

Moving into ketosis (“fat-burning mode,” where your body burns through its fat stores and produces ketones in the process) happens whenever you sleep. It’s basically the body’s default way of getting energy when carbohydrates are not available, which in nature, they’re often not. And using fat for fuel has a lot of benefits. It delivers beneficial nutrients to the brain, helps with insulin resistance, helps keep your body fat percentage healthy (preventing extremely dangerous visceral fat from becoming a problem) and increases longevity.

Fats Are Good For Your Brain

Did you know that the reason older people tend to experience increases in cholesterol levels is because their body is trying to prevent cognitive decline as they age? That fact really boggles my mind. Cholesterol is absolutely beneficial for maintaining cognitive health. In addition to manufacturing your hormones, cholesterol is an important component of all the components that make up your brain.

There is a very clear correlation between the use of statins (medications that lower cholesterol) and dementia. This is so scary to me. If many modern studies are correct and it’s inflammation, not dietary cholesterol, that is behind dementia and other chronic diseases, we have a big problem. We are essentially living our lives eating inflammatory grains, and then decreasing our brain-protecting cholesterol levels even further by taking statins right when we need that cholesterol to keep our brains healthy. It’s no wonder deaths due to Alzheimer’s have increased by 89% since the year 2000.

Dietary Cholesterol Worries Are Probably A Myth

So, all the benefits of fats aside, what about the fear that dietary cholesterol and saturated fats can give us heart disease? Turns out, there wasn’t a clear correlation between the two to begin with, and now that we know how healthy fats are, scientists are starting to stop recommending that we avoid them.

For one thing, your genetics play a much bigger role in your cholesterol levels than the food you eat. Dietary cholesterol is now suspected to only minimally impact blood cholesterol, and it only seems to impact it at all if you already have a cholesterol problem. In fact, a recent government panel of scientists considered scrapping the US’s cholesterol guidelines altogether, stating that “Cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

So, with all the benefits that fats seem to provide us, and considering that rates of heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, depression and numerous other chronic conditions have only GONE UP since society started condemning fats, it seems silly to avoid them solely because of outdated science that was pretty suspect to begin with.

OK, whew, that was a long one. If you’ve read through to the end, congrats — I’m pretty passionate about this stuff and can get quite long-winded when it comes to nutrition. If you have any lingering concerns, here are some books and resources I’d definitely recommend as you consider what dietary choices to make for your health:

Grain Brain
Cholesterol Clarity
In Defense of Food (This one doesn’t even advocate for low-carb, but rather, clearly depicts the reasons why fat fear is unfounded and the science behind it flawed.)

If you give these books a read, let me know what you think!

*Disclaimer: I’m not a Registered Dietician, I’m only describing what I’ve learned through 10 years of personal study on nutrition and through my career as a health writer. Don’t interpret any of this as medical advice — do what works for your body!