This past January I turned 39 – It hit me a little hard. The last year of my 30’s and probably the last year that my body will allow me to take my health for granted. After having two kids and living in a whirlwind of toddler life for the last half of my 30’s, I decided that my health and wellbeing will now come first. I am making efforts to demand “my time” rather than just fitting it in between diaper changes, play dates, laundry and work obligations.
I started the year out with a new-found mentality and the realization that the 30 lbs I have been desperate to shed for 2 years isn’t coming off on its own. Enough is enough. So I had to go extreme. On my birthday (Jan 4th) I had my last piece of chocolate, last glass of wine and last piece of cheese for the next 60 days. It started out as an “experiment”, to see if I could actually go vegan, cut back to 7g of sugar a day and avoided alcohol for the first 60 days of 2016. I also went gluten “light” and vowed to find the time to exercise at least 4 days a week (or more!). Much like how I ventured into vegetarianism in the early 2000’s, this was an experiment that I believe has changed my life for good.
It is now April; 4 months since I started my “experiment”. I am down 13 lbs (nearly half way to my goal) I have lost 2 or more inches in almost every area of my body including the inner-tube of blubber that has formed around my hips. (I blame wine and two c-sections for this lovely addition to my physique). I have made significant progress, but I still have a long way to go. This change HAS to be permanent to make my “experiment” successful. Although, not as extreme as when I started.
SO. Here I am, back on my blog. I was inspired to start writing again when I had a conversation with a co-worker about how she REALLY wants to be healthier and make better diet decisions, but can’t really “get there” because it seems too daunting. Hopefully I can share some things that I have learned to make it less scary for those who have a hard time leaving their comfort zone. Break those barriers – don’t be afraid to go out of your zone if it means a better you.
One lesson I want to share is: EVERY diet decision counts. Whether its sneaking that one cookie, skipping a meal or going for a soda instead of a water. It all counts. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog – its helping me to be more accountable on my own journey, and I hope it will help some of you out there as well! Here it goes….
Choice 1: Don’t Drink Your Calories
We have heard this over, and over…and OVER. Don’t. Drink. Your. Calories. Summer is coming, and its the season of cold beers and foofoo drinks. I would love nothing more than to sit pool side this summer drinking lemonade, moscow mules or Bells Soft Parade.
Although that sounds delicious, those choices are also full of sugar, empty calories and a buzz that I’m sure will give me empty promises of long-term happiness (haha!). To fulfill this urge, I have found some fresh fruit alternatives that don’t include chemical sodas or sugar-filled juices, that are just as refreshing!
Try this recipe: 2oz Tito’s Vodka (or gin of choice), 1/2 can Lime Lacroix, pour on top of muddled lime, fresh cilantro, orange. Shake. Pour over ice. Delicious. If you need more sweet than this, drop in 1 tbsp of local, unprocessed honey. Or drizzle on top!
Another really good option is to brew a pot of fruity herbal tea (passion fruit, hibiscus, citrus green etc.) for a cocktail mixer with lots of flavor and no sugar.
Choice 2: Don’t Drink Chemicals
Replacing fruit juices and soda’s with diet alternatives are not the answer…for anyone. Diet soda and chemical juices such as Crystal Light have been associated with increased weight gain, heart disease, reproductive issues and increased sugar cravings. Artificial sweeteners found in “diet” drinks include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are much more harmful than their sugar alternative. The lesson here: chemicals are not the answer to weight loss.
My Advice: Drink water. While following the 21-day fix last summer, I learned that one of the real contributors to weight loss success is drinking enough water. It is recommended to drink half of your body weight in ounces every day. So if you are 140 lbs – you should be drinking 70 oz. of water every day. More if you are doing outdoor activities during the hot summer months.
Tip: You will be amazed how nice a tall glass of ice water can be in the summer by simply dropping in two slices of cucumber. And again, if you can’t drink your vodka straight – make a cocktail using natural sodas and fresh fruits or cucumbers!
Choice 3: Pay Attention to Portions
In the U.S. we are the kings (and queens) of huge portions. Think about ordering an “All American” burger at a typical ‘merican restaurant. A meal will probably look something like this: a pound of beef, white bread grilled in butter, a mound of cheese, some kind of sauce (that probably had 20g of sugar in it) and a side of fried carbs. We all know this is bad all the way around but we eat it anyway because being at a restaurant generally means you are ready to indulge, and everyone around you is doing the exact same thing. Indulging.
A good rule of thumb: every portion should fit in the palm of your hand. If you really want to train yourself to follow portions, try joining Weight Watchers or 21 Day Fix. Weight loss programs not only TEACH you about portions and clean eating, they TRAIN your brain to be OK with those portions. I have found that counting calories are a waste of time – counting portions is a much more effective way to achieve a healthy weight and healthier lifestyle.
Choice 4: Eat Your Vegetables
Mom said it – grama said it- we say it to our kids. We have been “hearing” this our entire lives, but its time to “listen”. Fast food, convenience foods and frozen dinners coupled with a fast paced life have made eating vegetables harder and harder to incorporate into our diets.
Vegetables get a bad wrap. They don’t have a long shelf life and many people don’t know how to properly prepare them, which often leads to over cooking (who wants a mushy green bean!?). Vegetables can be very boring until you do them right! I have found that utilizing fresh herbs and seasonings make all the difference! For tips on how to cook vegetables to get the best taste and texture visit EatingWell.
I have also discovered that grilling can make any vegetable taste amazing. The best part: you can spend an hour per week grilling veggies to extend the shelf life and they become a healthy convenience food that is already “cooked” you just need to reheat throughout the week.
The simple method of grilling brings out so much flavor and texture – I’m kind of addicted to it. Here is a plate full of my favorites from recent days:
- Grilled Avocado (filled with black bean/corn salsa)
- Grilled broccoli (sprinkled with garlic salt and brushed with olive oil)
- Grilled carrots: I steam grill the carrots to keep them from drying out on the grill. I finish them off directly on the grill so they have the grill marks & smokey flavor that I love!!
If you want to get super fancy with carrots- mix up some 100% maple syrup with some water and cinnamon and brush that mixture over the carrots before and after grilling. DELISH!!
My All Time Grilled Favorite: Grilled Eggplant Parmesan
1 large eggplant – peel, cut long way or in short rounds (you can leave the peel if you want, I personally don’t like biting into rubbery eggplant skin!)
Brush cut eggplant with mixture of: 1/2 c. olive oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic (fresh), fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, oregano) to taste and 1/2 tsp. garlic salt.
Grill until tender. Remove from the grill, let them cool (10 minutes)
Coat grilled pieces with plain greek yogurt, dredge in bread crumbs (I make my own, see next weeks blog!) place on Jelly Roll pan coated in olive oil ==> this part is very very important!
Broil at 425 degrees for 8-12 minutes (or until golden brown)
Flip each piece, broil the other side for 8 minutes (or until slightly less golden brown)
Top with cheese of choice (goat cheese, mozzarella, havarti or vegan mozzarella) and finish under the broiler until golden and bubbly.
You can stack the pieces on top of brown rice pasta, sautéed spinach, veggie noodles and/or sauce of choice. I make my own spaghetti sauce (see next weeks blog!!) because jarred sauce is filled with sodium and sugar, and should just be avoided unless you are making this for a quick week night meal!
Choice 5: Read Labels & Watch out for Hidden Sugars!
Sugar (and sodium) are literally in everything. Well, I should clarify: in pretty much everything processed or pre-packaged. Salt is a preservative, and sugars make processed foods tasty. Some of the best weight loss stories I know include the reduction of salt and sugar. Sugar is known to cause type 2 diabetes, excessive weight gain (especially in the belly area) which is a factor in heart disease and certain cancers. Salt makes you retain water and is a huge factor in hypertension & high blood pressure.
Hungryforchange.tv has a great article on this very subject. Since I am not a Dietician or a Doctor, I figured I should lean on the experts to tell us what makes sugar in processed foods so bad for you: P.S. Coconut Sugar is my new favorite sweeter – I use it in everything from coffee to baking.
Why Worry About Sugar?
Sugar is often a hidden ingredient in processed foods. Among other things, it enhances flavor, promotes browning and aids in preservation; however, the high sugar content in foods comes with a trade off. Excessive sugar intake can lead to type 2 diabetes, contribute to metabolic syndrome and lead to excessive weight gain. The empty calories in sugar don’t provide any nutritional benefit to the body, which is why it is important to know other names for sugar on food labels.
There are many different names for sugar. Two really good ways to disguise sugar on food labels is to use a long, scientific sounding word or to rename the sugar altogether.
One of the easiest ways to recognize sugar on a food label is by recognizing the -ose suffix. When you find words that end in -ose, there’s a good chance it is sugar.
Sugars ending in -ose include: Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High fructose corn syrup, Glucose solids
Just because it doesn’t end in -ose, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t sugar. There are plenty of other names as well that may or may not sound like sugar.
Regardless of how they sound, the following are all sugar:
Cane juice, Dehydrated cane juice, Cane juice solids, Cane juice crystals, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Caramel, Buttered syrup, Carob syrup, Brown sugar, Date sugar, Malt syrup, Diatase, Diatastic malt, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Dehydrated fruit juice, Fruit juice crystals, Golden syrup, Turbinado, Sorghum syrup, Refiner’s syrup, Ethyl maltol, Maple syrup, Yellow sugar
One last tip: The #1 way to make easy & healthy food choices all week long is to prep your meals every week.
Cut up veggies, chop your greens, grill your proteins, make quinoa, rice & pasta ahead of time.
Spending a couple hours on Sunday afternoon will save you time and agony of “what’s for dinner” all week long. Yes, my Sunday often looks like this: