One month on a food stamp budget – Week 1

I accepted a challenge to live off $200 for food this month: $25 for the week and $25 on weekends, for my bank accounts and my waistline.

The first day I discovered the local grocery store overcharged me on two items, so that was kind of satisfying to catch that.


On the other hand, my shopping cart looked way emptier after $25 than it had in over a year!

I’ve been, um, resourceful this week since I have other food I am still eating up. I think PB&J and noodles/meat would get old pretty fast otherwise. So I’ve mixed in small chunks of aged cheese for a filling “treat”, or used up my boxed soup for lunch. Cold soup is just as delicious btw!

Today I found protein bars on sale for $1 each so I bought 5. I’m finding I’m getting by on less carbs and more protein.

I’ve also been using my gym’s coffee shop, which is free and less crowded, compared to a chain store for wifi access.

So I’ve avoided a fair amount of extra calories from coffee shops, as well as even in grocery store checkout lines–no more impulse purchases!

Using my wonky bathroom scale I’m around 2 bills tonight, so all the more motivation to continue! I’m still healing from my ankle break, so diet will be key until I can push any vigorous exercise again.

Onto Day 4!

Hair-pulling, nail-biting, and teeth-grinding connections

I’m super chatty tonight, but hopefully you’re out having fun and not paying much attention anyway. I had a half-caf latte earlier, that’s my excuse. Anyway…

One more addition to my “personal ticks theory of everything”:
~Biting nails means you’re having nagging thoughts (“Nag” likely from “gnaga”, meaning to bite, gnaw)
~Pulling at your hair means you’re feeling frustrated (“I’m pulling my hair out!”)
~Grinding your teeth means you’re angry (“Gnashing of teeth”)

Ideas for dealing with these emotions? I welcome your thoughts too.

Dealing with nagging thoughts: take action about whatever is worrying you or reevaluate the control you have or don’t have over that situation. A thought should be like paperwork – let it pass through your hands/mind only once before you decide what to do about it!

Dealing with frustration: take action about whatever is bothering you, or find another way to expend your energy until you can take action

Dealing with anger: find out what is making you angry, find out why (i.e., what is important to you which is being compromised or threatened, and is it still important to you?), make a creative change either in yourself (the way you think about a situation or react to it), or in the world to deal with the problem so that things more closely align with your core values

Eye Experiments Update

20/20 Vision Naturally

To summarize, in the past almost 3 years, I have tried: Going without glasses/contacts for over a year (no improvement, and some scary night-driving), eye exercises (no improvement), eye relaxation exercises (hints of improvement), and now eye-patch wearing (not enough data). I’ve learned:

(1) simply not-wearing glasses makes no changes to the vision. The eyes are “used” to being blurry and won’t “try” harder just because there’s no “crutch”.

(2) Eye exercises seem to stimulate tear production, balanced musculature, and cause relaxation in overworked muscles. These may be worth doing at least every other day

(3) Eye relaxation exercises are the most difficult but probably the most useful thing, Related:

(4) Focus exercises: Focused relaxation seems to be the most helpful. But it takes focused effort. It’s an actual step-change in trying to “see” better.

(5) Eye patch: I learned wearing it over the “bad” eye was more effective than wearing it over the “good” eye. Seems the “bad” eye may be straining more than the good eye, and benefits from relaxation. I suspect my right eye got pretty bad from inspecting my own hair of split ends from right around age 12, when my vision became so bad I had to start wearing glasses/contacts.

Things I haven’t tried (yet):

-Drastic diet changes (eliminate alcohol, eat more liver, etc.)

-Acid/base experimentation (though I did experiment with Iron/Calcium balance some last year

-long-term eye patch experiment (wearing it 3-4 hours/day)

Overcoming traveler’s sickness: A personal experiment in Pakistan

I’m on my sixth day in Pakistan, and my third day of overwhelming illness. Nothing I eat stays in, it all passes through and then some. There is a bathroom scale in my hotel room and it looks like I’ve lost about ten pounds in three days. I was about 10 pounds overweight when I started my trip.

This same illness happened to me with nearly the same timing the last two visits to this country. I will begin to have diarrhea on day 3 or day 4, and it gets progressively worse until I leave with severe cramping.

So the Chemical Engineer in me comes out naturally and I’m doing some experiments to get to the bottom of it!

What is the Problem?

First, I researched Traveler’s Diarrhea, which I learned was mostly caused by the E. coli bacterium.

A typical prescription for someone like me who has had the condition for more than 24 hours is to begin a course of antibiotics for 3-4 days. But I am not a proponent of antibiotics, mostly because I feel (and the rest of the scientific/medical community is beginning to realize) that they are a nuclear bomb or drone, killing both the good and the evil, when all that is needed is a targeted sniper, and leave you more vulnerable to the antibiotic-resistant superbugs that they create.

The trouble with the targeted sniper approach (and why doctors are too lazy to pursue it) is that you need to precisely identify the enemy and its Achilles heel. This takes time and effort (as you will see  below).

I had some success while in Holland, of “curing” a brief bout of diarrhea (probably caused by eating too much gouda cheese), with a glass of wine before bed. My mother had told me that drinking wine was an old home remedy she had in a homeopathic health book she found for travel sickness. It made sense to me: Alcohol is a poison, it could kill bacteria.

First Hypothesis: Drink Wine to kill my E. coli

There were two problems with this hypothesis.

One: I am in a Muslim country for 7 days and alcohol is frowned upon/heavily regulated. It’s not even listed in my room service menu so I’d have to go out of my way to get it. (Later – I found this (alcohol deaths) and (targeted wine store attacks), so yeah, right intuition!)

Two: I researched “wine effect on e coli” and found this great study in the Journal of Food Science showing that wine in simulated stomach conditions killed Salmonella but not E. coli. And white wine was more effective than red wine. But the interesting thing was that they isolated not the alcohol but the acidity of the wine as having killed the bacteria.

So I figured….

Second Hypothesis: Drink a ton of Coca-Cola to kill E. coli

Even though the experiment showed E. coli was not killed, I thought, why not give it a try. I didn’t have any other good ideas at the time, and maybe if I drank enough…? Coca Cola is readily available, so I set out that morning to follow through on my experiment. I ordered two coca-colas room service, and researched “acidic foods” to see if I could acidize my way out of my illness. I learned Coke has a pH of around 2.5, which I figured would be plenty acidic enough to do the job in large quantities. It would truly be an assault, considering I never drink sodas back home.

I had four Coca Colas from 10 am to 1pm, and a few French Fries. I was feeling great! (see: Caffeine and 10g sugar/can) and the diarrhea and stomach churning ceased for three-four hours.

I was feeling so good I decided to have some rice biryani and some electrolyte replacement, and some Sprite (I had run out of Coca Cola). Then, BAM. Back in the bathroom the rest of the afternoon and evening.

At first I thought that I had just pushed my luck too soon, and if I had just stuck to my diet of Coca Cola and french fries as long as it took, I could have been in the clear…But that night, I had two Pepsis (and a bite of naan) for dinner, and didn’t feel any better, in fact I was feeling slightly worse.

I went to bed, and this morning, I thought about the day before that, when I had taken some Airborne (high in Vitamin C) and some tea, and immediately vomited it up. However, not being sure whether it was the E. Coli hijacking my stomach that made me throw up or my own body being sensible, I decided to try the Airborne approach again. I remembered that my last trip in Pakistan, I was doing pretty well until I ran out of Airborne tablets…

Third Hypothesis: Kill E. Coli with Vitamins/Airborne

I mixed up some Airborne this morning and began to take a few sips, wary of an impending vomit reflex. But this time, I Googled “vitamin c and e coli” while I drank. What I found in this article made me stop drinking immediately:

E. coli thrives on acid, and will metabolize Vitamin C/Ascorbic Acid to make itself STRONGER! So, my first three hypotheses were dead wrong, and probably making matters worse.

So, time for a course correction!

Fourth Hypothesis: Kill E. coli by alkalizing my body (effectively suffocating them in their own waste)


Luckily, I traveled with these amazing Alkalizing Greens Energy Bars, and I had three left out of a box of 12. I was wary about eating them, because the last trip I had brought some probiotics and “healthy” stuff like fish oil, multivitamins, and Airborne, and still got violently ill.

But I was losing options. I ate my green bar, and slowly started into the second one, taking small sips of water along the way.

I immediately put away the Vitamin C and read my water bottle label, noticing the pH was measured to be around 7.4 (slightly alkaline). I remembered I had purchased an amazing bottle of water in Amsterdam airport which was a pH of 10, so I may try to find some of this in the hotel shops as well.

Having done limeade fasts in the past, I also know that lemon juice, while acidic (citric acid), inside the body turns alkaline, so I may try to do some lemon tea with a little honey today as well, as I don’t think I’ll be able to procure any Canadian maple syrup easily for the regular formula.

I also read about alkalizing the body on the go, just to check some more options (clean veggies may not be available here, so it makes it a bit harder).

So far, so good! I had to use the restroom fairly quickly after eating the first green energy bar, but my stomach feels more settled already.

I will post an update below at the end of the day, or when I have more information.

Update! Success!!

I was feeling awful and went down to the hotel pharmacy and found a couple citric acid supplements.


So for the entire day, I sipped two glasses of citric acid, drank as much water as my body was craving, and a few nibbles of my green energy bar. I stayed in bed all day, and fell asleep around 5:30/6pm, woke up after midnight, and became hungry by 7am.

I had a light breakfast of salted tomato slices, cucumbers, olives, canned mushrooms, baked beans, and one potato slice, and ordered lemon water for tea.

I was feeling better and better throughout the day. At lunchtime, I had a cup of lentil and chicken soup and two bottles of water. Then, we went out for lunch and had local dishes (nihari!), chicken korma, naan, sweet naan, and kulfi (ice cream). I also had two bottles of water with this lunch.

I think keeping the acid somewhat neutralized by drinking enough water was VERY effective.

At this time, pea-sized stools were starting to form again (TMI). I ate a whole dinner of paki-chinese and thai food, and ice cream, and had a whole pakistani chai, but didn’t want the sugary “chiller” fruit drink when we went out for “coffee” a little later. By that evening, my digestion/stools had returned to normal (pictures omitted)!!

I probably had at least 8 bottles of water all day.

So, I think I’m on the right track with balancing acid-base chemistry.

The nihari and local dishes, and ice creams were pushing my luck for sure.

Will be sure to have a good veggie breakfast again and maybe one more “local” dish before I go.


Pakistani Pirate Poet


One more day before I head across the oceans once more for a Pakistani wedding journey. I spent all day today compiling my better poetry into a semi-organized collection. It still needs a lot of editing I’m afraid, so not sure if I love it or hate it yet. Also not sure why I took up that task at this time, but it has been useful going through my blog posts back to 2006, when I took up journaling again, to see what I was thinking when I made my last major life transition.

I also happened upon a conversation with PM from 2010, talking about how he stopped doing certain creative/experimental projects when he went to work in corporate, and wasn’t sure why. That is a concern of mine. I have two interviews this week, one which would support continuing a freelance/piecemeal lifestyle, and one which would be a full-time gig. Not having worked full-time for any one employer for 7 years now, that would be a transition for sure! We’ll see what the future holds…

It’s like a whole new round of courtship beginning. I’ll make the first move, flower to the bee, and see what kind of drones drop by :-)

I also wore an eye patch for more than half the day today over my good eye. Noticed some strain in right eye adjustment. Will try again after Pakistan.

Peace, chilling the planet out, one heart at a time!?!

While meditating tonight, I was reminded of a hypothesis I started a few months back.

I learned in yoga that the heart slows down when you exhale slower, because carbon dioxide begins to build up in the blood.

This made sense to me because I was the overachiever jock who wanted not only to make varsity in every sport, but to have the lowest resting heart rate on the team. I found out I could manipulate a lower pulse rate by not breathing in while the doc was measuring. 40 bpm, win!

But in yoga, retaining or slowing the out-breath is done to calm the body, and therefore also the mind.

Earlier today I mailed a meditation pamphlet to a new friend who wants to learn, and later today I perused the website of a monk whose aim is to help the world heal through love, accomplished through meditation and chanting (bhakti).

So meditating has been on my mind.

The opposite of breath control, pranayama, might be hyperventillation. Somewhat paradoxically, people who hyperventillate are not breathing out, only mostly breathing in. That is why a paper bag is given to someone hyperventillating–so that they will breathe in their carbon dioxide instead of so much oxygen, causing their heart to slow back down.

I suppose this is a “benefit” of many drugs on the market as well, the most popular being the downer drug alcohol.

I believe that one overlooked fact is that the breath is retained quite long when a person is chanting or singing. I think this may be one reason why many people derive mental health benefits from these activities. In a way, chanting does connect you to your heart: it slows it down.

My mother sang constantly during my childhood. I found it rather stressful and annoying actually–it seemed she did it without regard for anyone else’s pleasure. But looking back I suppose it must have helped her deal with the stress of raising three kids without much support and under constant threats of hunger and violence.

I wonder if a lower heart rate has been positively associated with more right brain activity, or more feelings of oneness or peace–I would not be surprised.

In a sympathetic nervous system response, pulse goes up to supply oxygen to muscles for fast activity. Its purpose is to protect #1 at all costs.

It should not be a stretch to imagine then, that a lower O2:CO2 ratio might lend more to receptivity of one’s environment rather than reaction to it. The parasympathetic nervous response is one of “rest and digest.”

I am working on the connection as to why many professional singers and meditation gurus are so plump, I do think it is CO2-level-related, just as the bodies of pregnant mothers become more acidic. Accelerated tooth decay being one outcome of a lower pH.

I would think most people in our rushed, dangerous, solitary modern world would be spending more time taking in too much oxygen, and not breathing out long and slow enough. Chanting and singing can help with this, as can focused breathwork. Drugs are recommended only as a last resort for their negative side effects.

I Wore Shoes Today

Well, sandals actually, but given I’ve spent much of the past 4 months barefoot that does deserve a headline.

I wore sandals someone bought me from Pakistan that have flexible soles, don’t constrain the toes, and have a heel strap so that the foot strike isn’t dramatically altered.

When I went to Pakistan for 10 days, I chose to wear shoes (flip flops) in order to avoid any delays or confrontations with foreign authority, and to avoid drawing extra attention to my blonde, 5-10, blue-eyed self. I was attending a friend’s wedding, after all, in a semi-hostile country, so this wasn’t the time to make a hard stand for my foot freedom.

In those 10 days, probably within the first 5-7, I lost a protective layer my feet had built up. Basically one layer of skin on the balls of the foot (and a patch on the heels) turned white and shed. Up to this point I hadn’t really known how the feet had adapted to mostly concrete sidewalk-walking. I knew my feet felt more “plasticized” on the bottoms. So that was interesting. Seems a layer of skin just somehow adapts to the rugged pressure but dies when not used. I got my “baby feet” back pretty quickly.

So upon my return from Pakistan, it took about a week of city barefoot walking again and the skin on my foot started getting too sensitive to walk on. But this time, a new complication. I think that the sandal-wearing for 2 weeks actually helped my arches build up a bit more than barefoot walking does (when I keep the same ball-of-the foot striking emphasis). Also, I became dehydrated/malnourished and experienced bad foot cramping upon return. So when I started walking barefoot again I could really feel my arches cramping, especially in my left foot.

And the cramping was not in where one typically thinks of the arch, it was more in the middle of the sole of the foot, where the arch also exists, and where I know my “arch” is more atrophied. So it was actually kind of nice to feel that area activated for the first time in my life. I spent some time massaging it, which helps, and am still dialing my nutrition and salts back to a healthy range. I became riboflavin-deficient as well, evidenced by cracks in the corners of my mouth. I hadn’t experienced that since I was a vegetarian. I digress.

So wearing sandals yesterday and today enables me to keep my arches activated while letting the sore spots in the balls of the foot recover. I think I might go ahead and do 6 weeks in these sandals just to build the arches up, since I’m failing to “exercise” them at home. The downside is that I will lose a little bit of my balance capability, my foot toughness will have to start over, and I don’t get to be barefoot, which is simply an awesome continuous sensuous experience.

I’ll give it a week and re-evaluate I suppose. The other thing is I will get a lazy and start heel-walking more, so I will have to stay on extra conscious alert.

Finally, I have been putting more emphasis the past few days on walking with the feet slightly farther apart. It feels amazing on the sacrum/low back, even if it still feels awkward due to my current calf bone shape and femur rotation, which I suspect will take another 6 years to re-shape!

Vitamin D and Menopause Symptom Relief

Professor Rees, and whom it may concern:

I am respectfully submitting a hypothesis I have come to regarding the link between menopausal symptoms and the importance of Vitamin D.

I am a hobbyist health researcher and educator, an athletics coach at San Francisco State University, with an Environmental Chemical Engineering degree from Montana State University in Bozeman, MT, USA.

I began studying this topic after suffering through my mother’s and now a dear friend of mine’s menopausal symptoms. My mother suffered horrible bleeding for years, which was only stopped by a hysterectomy. My friend has had very strange symptoms for the past 3 years, including unbearable hot flashes and a collarbone popping out of place suddenly.

Putting their stories together, I found a common link: Both women spent nearly all their time indoors while their menopause was beginning. My mother, because her dog passed away, and then moved to the northwestern United States near Seattle, WA, which is known for over 300 days a year of no sunshine. She told me that she went on a walk one day, and was stalked by a truck driver from a nearby truck stop, and decided it was unsafe for her to walk during the day anymore while my father was at work.

My friend opened a business 6 years ago, and has been working 5-6 days/week indoors at her business. Living in San Francisco, CA, it is often overcast or foggy, and she hasn’t gotten much sunshine at all.

I understand the role Vitamin D plays in bone health. But I think it is important to consider Vitamin D’s effect on Iron (Fe) to understand how it can exacerbate menopause. I will start off with the statement that I believe it is not in our birthright to suffer unduly from processes that have been a natural part of life for hundreds of thousands of years, such as menopause.

Vitamin D is made useful in the body via contact with Iron. Therefore, it is plausible that without adequate Vitamin D, Iron levels may rise proportionally in the body. We know that menopausal women have high iron levels and low estrogen levels.

The body does not have a need for extra iron, so I believe its response to rid itself of the extra iron is to signal production of testosterone. Testosterone would cause a woman to want to exercise like crazy, or have sex, and she would feel anxious or moody, i.e., testier unless the testosterone’s demands are met. Why more testosterone? Because when the body expends energy anaerobically, it builds up an aerobic deficit and must take in large quantities of oxygen.

The body could use that oxygen to convert the extra Iron to hemoglobin, thus keeping body chemistry safe. However, women don’t always jump up and exercise like crazy when they feel extra levels of testosterone. They might just get more anxious. Extra testosterone causes very uncomfortable hot flashes. (I know this because I was an ovum donor six times and hot flashes was a side-effect of the testosterone they gave me for the treatments).

Too much testosterone can lead to other unpleasant effects associated with menopause, such as PCOS (Poly cystic ovarian syndrome) and the heavy bleeding and cramps which accompany it.

Unfortunately I am too busy to pursue research of my hypothesis on a large scale. I am going to have my friend supplement with Vitamin D or begin safe UVB exposure to see if we can reverse some of her worst symptoms. I am confident that she will improve.

She is currently supplementing with 1000 IU D3 as well as 1000 IU D3 in her multi-vitamin. I read online that approximately 1000 IU’s/minute are synthesized by the body when exposed to UVB rays, and that, for light-skinned people, 10-15 minutes of sun exposure/day is adequate. This means, due to the negligible sun she is getting on her skin, she is under-supplementing her D3 by at LEAST 8000 IUs/day, assuming the absorption rate of her supplements is 100% (a poor assumption I’m sure!).

I would appreciate any response you would have to my inquiry, and hope it can be helpful. Perhaps others have already reached the same conclusion for a hypothetical pathway back to health.

Thank you for your time,


Christina Margaret McKinstry

Warning: Feet Haters – Graphic Images

I thought as a followup I should post the bottom-sides of the feet at the 12-week point of barefoot living in Berkeley/San Francisco, CA! People seem to be curious what the bottoms of my feet look like after walking barefoot everywhere. Are they all thick and nasty and calloused? No…not so much.

Feet Crossed, No Weight on Them

These are my bare feet after a shower. I have not done ANY maintenance on them in the past 1.5-2 months probably. I could easily file off the small amount of permagrime (and will after posting this!) – it’s about what you’d have walking around your house barefoot I suppose. I don’t have “callouses” built-up. That would be counterproductive to the feet’s “job” of sensing the ground and helping you make adjustments.

Bottoms of Feet

My arches, or still lack thereof…



You can see the amount of new skin my toe has had to grow as my pinky toe uncurled, it’s a bit darker. It’s this type of shit that makes me feel like an old school Chinese princess. Frickin’ foot emancipation society. My toes love me more now and that’s all that matters :-) <3

New Toe Skin

12 Weeks No Shoes

Today is a big milestone for me in my barefoot experiment – 12 weeks/3 months sans shoes!

I was very pleased at how well my feet recovered after having to wear shoes all day for one day this week. My thin skin healed up well and I was able to walk without the extra sensitivity today. Back to normal! The feet heal so fast!

The changes in my feet are subtle to detect in pictures.

Here is Week 1, Compared to Week 12, topsides:

Week 1

Today, Week 12

I feel that my 4th and 5th toes have more knuckle functionality, and that they have untwisted slightly to face more downward instead of inward.  They operate a bit more independently. They are also slightly longer, as the skin underneath has broken and stretched the toes to nearly full length. There may be an additional 2-3mm more of stretching to take place, ouch! The spacing is also a bit more even, the weight is being distributed more evenly.

I feel the biggest difference is probably in the strength of my hamstrings and the shape of my calves, neither of which I bothered to collect data on along the way! I walk totally differently now. It would be fun to find a video of my walk before and make one after. It is night and day. My legs spend so much more time behind me, and my steps land under me instead of way out in front of me. One of these days I’ll get on a ham/quad machine and test my relative strength. I used to do about 2 times more work in my quads than in my hams. For example, if I was extending 110-120 pounds on quads, I was curling only 50-70 pounds in my hamstrings for the same number of reps and fatiguing just as fast. I probably could get this data from my college workout cards. A new acquaintance remarked at how differently I walk compared to other people, in a complementary way.

So many things have changed, that I sometimes get discouraged that my arches haven’t developed drastically just yet. But they are coming along. This week I finally started to feel some perpetual soreness in the muscles in the arch along my 4th toes. The entire structure of the foot and the way it lands has had to change, in order for me to have a foundation on which to reconstruct my arches. I suppose it is all happening in due time. Now I nearly have the hamstring and calf strength to perform additional strengthening exercises for the arches. The calf muscles really have to support the arch work, I have found, and the calf muscles are still not fully developed, as they are sore every day I walk any distance. I predict it may take another 6 months before I see major, lasting change in my arch shape now.

All in all, still a very satisfying experiment. I have learned so much about my fantastic feet and have come to appreciate them and the muscles that support them so much more.