Monday, April 6, 2015

True Confessions

Hello All-

It's been awhile since I've written. Too long, I know. I was enjoying writing this blog but a little daunted by trying to write every day, so when I had some bigger writing projects come up, I ended up letting go of the blog, but I want to get back to it. It helps me personally to hold myself a little accountable for how I'm doing when it comes to taking care of myself through food and exercise, but I also love being part of a community of like-minded people like you who want to take better care of themselves. I benefit and I think others benefit as well. Not sure how often I will post, but I'm thinking about two times a week or so. We'll see how it goes.

So, to start it up again, the obvious question is, "Where am I at with my food and healthy lifestyle choices?" A funny question to ask oneself the day after Easter weekend, which also ended up being one of my children's birthday weekends as well (with the requested favorite meals birthdays involve, of course), but I've asked it and so here's my true confessions:

Overall, I am doing way better than I was in 2014. I continue to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains overall. I've also eaten less sugar. I haven't managed to kick sugar out altogether, but I am a more conscious consumer overall. The good news is that through these dietary changes, I have lowered my cholesterol 30 points, which is fantastic, but I have a ways to go because it was pretty high (LDL has long been the problem).

And so while there is good news, there is also some not so good news and here it is: I have gained back some weight and while I'm frustrated with myself for that, I'm not going to wallow in my frustration over the weight gain. I do want to lose weight and I want to keep it off, but overall, I want my focus to be more on how I am feeling than how I look, and it is super clear to me after several months of more conscious eating, that I usually feel the best on the days I eat the best.

For example, before Easter weekend (when I did overindulge several times), I went for 7 days without any sweets. I had a little sugar in my wheat bread and a little maple syrup in my oatmeal, but other than that, I had no other sugar and while oddly, I didn't lose a pound, I did feel really, really good. I slept better and my moods felt smoother. My energy level was higher throughout the day.

I want more of that. With that said, after a couple of days of crazy eating this weekend, it's going to take a few days to detox from the sugar, but I'm hoping it won't be too bad...that I'll stay motivated because I know how good it feels to feel good from eating good. Stay tuned. I'll report back.

What commitment do you want to make for yourself this week, something that will have you feeling better in the next week than you feel today? I promise to eat at least at least one large green salad a day to boost my fruit and vegetable intake. You do your part and I'll do mine, and we'll both have a great week. Here's to eating good and feeling good!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is Eating the Healthiest of Us All?

Have you ever talked to someone who conveys an air of superiority about how they are eating compared to you? Or, have you ever felt smug about your own attempts at eating healthy compared to someone else?

These days, I think it’s pretty easy to fall into either of these categories because there are so many ideas, often conflicting, about how we should be eating. I have listened to people who think that dairy products should never be consumed and others who think that only a lunkhead would consume white flour or sugar on their birthday. Some people feel that the only way go is to eat completely vegan, and while maybe that is right for them, it may not be right for the rest of us.

More and more, I have seen individuals take healthy eating on a as a competition with others. At first, it starts out as a few friendly suggestions of what the other person might consider doing better, but quickly becomes a daunting list of things that makes the listener feel like a total loser when it comes to eating healthy, and ready to give up.  

My Advice: Don’t engage in the competition. Eating healthy is not about doing better than someone else. Rather, it is about doing the best for ourselves in a way that sets us up for ongoing success. 

Click HERE to see a short and hilarious comedy sketch video by Studio C about two people who are trying to outdo each other with how healthy they eat. Great for a good laugh.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Power of Making One Change

In the past, when I've set my mind to taking better care of myself, I've oftentimes tried to make too
many changes at once and ended up failing gloriously to make any real changes at all. I don’t know why I’ve persisted in doing this again and again over the years after failing at it so many times, but I get it now – that for me, trying to make too many changes at once is the perfect recipe for failure. And I don’t want to fail anymore.

With that said, a question comes to mind – is it possible to make just one change and have that change make a real impact in our lives?

The answer is yes. There is probably not a time in my life that illustrates this better than when I started taking a weight-lifting class called Body Pump several years ago

I remember that first morning well. I had just walked into the gym when my friend Debbie (who also happens to be a fitness instructor) asked if I was there to attend her weight-lifting class. I had never attended before. I was not a fitness class person, but instead of saying no, for some crazy reason, I asked what time the class started.

Five minutes later, I was setting up my weights in the class, thinking, “Okay, I’ll do it just this once,” but on that first day I realized how much more I would get out of attending that class than lifting weights on my own, so I have returned twice a week, most weeks, ever since. And I am so much stronger than I was that there is no comparison to who I was before I started taking that class and who I am now – a woman who can easily do more squats or bench presses than I care to count.

So, if you, like me, wonder if maybe the best answer to better health might be making one real change at a time instead of attempting to make many at once, give it a try. Success is very likely just up the road.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Accountability Check-In: Starting the Week with a Bang

It feels good to be eating healthier again today. I don't feel too bad about the splurges I had this weekend because, with less effort than in the past, I am back in the saddle today. It helped that I made an extra concerted effort to eat super healthy overall today.

For dinner, I kept it simple by focusing on fresh made hummus (yum) with celery and carrot sticks and broccoli as well as some fresh grapefruit. I am stuffed and satisfied and feeling terrific. And I'm looking forward to waking up tomorrow morning feeling better than I did this morning when I woke with those post-splurge cravings.

A Different Kind of Pleasure

This weekend, I enjoyed some splurges – some Finnish Chocolates, a couple of fun-size Almond Joys, and a few pumpkin chocolate chip muffins as well as about a dozen of those Valentine’s Day conversation hearts. For some, all of that in one weekend may have been considered a binge. For me, it was a giant splurge because I’ve done worse. Much worse.

I enjoyed every bit of it as I ate it, but there was a heavy price to pay this morning. I woke ravenously hungry despite the fact that I had probably consumed more calories this weekend than I had in the previous five days. It was that terrible hunger that makes me feel like I can never get enough to eat, but I knew the answer – get back to the healthiest possible eating, so I started this morning with a big bowl of oatmeal and flaxseed with a small salad on the side, and I have felt quite a bit better since.

Not long ago, when my son and I sat down to share a perfect red grapefruit as a snack, he said, “Mom, eating healthy is a different kind of pleasure,” and I have to agree. When I eat something that is delicious and nutritious, the rewards go far beyond the moments I spend eating that food. Instead of feeling that terrible hunger, I feel energized and satisfied, which makes life overall a much greater pleasure. And who of us doesn’t want more pleasure in our lives? I’m up for some. And with that Monday morning bowl of oatmeal, I’m off to a good start. 

A different kind of pleasure for sure. My mouth waters just looking at it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

No More Constant Cravings!

I am about two weeks into a much healthier way of eating overall and I feel terrific. I’m in better control of what I’m eating than I have been in a long time, and by control, I do not mean that I count every calorie or even write down everything I eat. I mean that I am focused on eating from the food groups that will do me the most good health-wise – lots of vegetables, some fruits, and then the necessary proteins and whole grains.

I haven’t written much about proteins and whole grains, but for me, they are an essential part of a healthy diet. Having some protein at each meal (though not always at breakfast) keeps my blood sugar level steady, giving me more stamina. I will often have a protein drink after I run or lift weights too as it helps me to recover quicker from the workout. 

The whole grains give me the fiber I need to feel satisfied and full and to keep my digestive system in good check. There is no one food group that does it all for us, and I’m glad I have struck for me what feels like a balanced diet with room for some splurges. 

I still experience some cravings, but they are dramatically subdued now that I am focused on eating healthier overall. And subdued is great because there have been too many times in the past when I have felt ruled by cravings. Subdued cravings feels like a big success.

Accountability Check-In 14 Hours Late

I missed writing an accountability check-in yesterday, so I'll do it now.

My husband and I attended an important event last night and didn't get home until late. I was hungry, very hungry on the drive home. I contemplated the ice cream in the freezer but chose instead to have a more benign splurge - two pieces of whole grain toast, spread with a little butter and honey. It was good. And I felt satisfied afterwards though a little guilty.

When I tried to decide if I was going to splurge or not, I thought about just going to bed hungry...that I'd be glad I did in the morning. And sometimes, that's just what I need to do, but last night, the success for me was choosing a smaller splurge instead of an all-out ice cream pig-out. Instead of being hard on myself, I'll take that success and build on it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Run Couch Potato Wanabee, Run

The greenbelt I walk or jog down in my neighborhood. It is especially beautiful in the springtime. 
I walked into the house yesterday afternoon after a full day of teaching and felt like doing nothing more than plopping myself onto the couch in front of the fireplace, and staying there for a few hours, greeting the kids from the couch when they came home, waving them over to tell me about their day. I'd have a blanket wrapped around my shoulders and a pillow under my head. I'd be lying down, but I'd make make room for them at the end of the couch. I was completely ready to channel my inner-couch-potato self, but then the thought flashed through my mind of how disappointed I'd feel and probably tired if I didn't get my run in before the first child arrived home 40 minutes later.

So, instead of sitting on the couch for even a moment, I changed into my running gear before I could change my mind and headed out into the windy, cold afternoon, Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" blasting through my ear buds. And then, just 30 minutes later, I was back and relaxing on the piano bench as I looked out the window and down the road, waiting for the first child to arrive on the bus. I felt energized and glad I had run after all.

There are times when it is perfectly okay to let our inner couch-potato come out, but most of the time, we just need to tell ourselves, "Run couch potato wanabee, run!" We'll be glad we did.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Oh To Be Well-Rested!

Some nights I wear an eye-mask as my way of shutting the world out so I can get some shut-eye.

I haven’t slept well on a regular basis in years, maybe not since I was a young adult and that’s been awhile. I didn’t appreciate a good night’s sleep back then because I hadn’t really gone without, at least not on a long term basis. But after years of attending to little ones at night and then years of staying up late waiting for teenagers to come home, and given some of the sleepless nights I’ve experienced due to stress, and the fact that I was thrown into menopause at a very young age because of cancer, I just don’t know what it’s like to get a good night’s sleep night after night. 

Exercise helps me sleep better than I otherwise would. And meditation too, but getting enough sleep is still a struggle overall. I got only four hours of sleep Sunday night and they weren’t quality hours, so Monday was a rough beginning to the week. The thing that kept me from cratering completely is that I am eating healthier these days. I would have been a completely non-functioning mess if I hadn’t been eating food that gives me energy – lentils, salads, and whole grains.

As far as sleep goes, Monday night was better. So tired from the previous night’s sleep deprivation, I fell asleep easily and slept for nearly eight hours, and Tuesday I woke feeling like a whole new person, someone who has a reserve of energy and no fatigue headaches, someone who is well rested. And that’s how I would like to feel more often – well-rested.

So, as I continue to eat healthier than I have in a long time, I’m ready to start getting more sleep on a regular basis. Here are a few things I think I can do to make it easier –

Limit screen time in the evening. After I fall into bed at night, I pick up my smart phone to set my wake-up alarm and then end up doing one last check-in on social media, emails, and the news, and inevitably, I stay at it longer than I intended and the bright glow of the screen gives me a second wind, which makes it hard to fall asleep anytime soon. So, going forward, I will set my cell phone wake-up alarm earlier in the day and cut the computer off at least an hour before I call it a night. 

Wind down before bedtime. Overall, I need to be more conscious of winding down earlier in the evening whenever possible. Often, I go through the day full-throttle and then dive into bed as if I should be able to fall directly asleep, which is impossible because I never took the time to unwind ahead of climbing into bed. I will make a conscious effort to wind down earlier in the evening, so I will be able to fall asleep earlier.  

Establish a regular bedtime. I have read again and again over the years how much having a set bed time and wake-up time can do for the quality of our sleep. According to Lawrence Epstein, M.D., a professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert in sleep disorders, “Keeping a regular sleep schedule – even on weekends - maintains the timing of the body’s internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.” I’m ready to give it a try.

I do not think for a moment that my busy lifestyle is suddenly going to let me get enough sleep every night forever more. After all, there are nights when I am up late out of necessity or by enthusiastic choice, but if I make a few basic changes, I’m confident I will get more sleep overall. And I’m more than ready to live my life well-rested. I’m ready.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Accountability Check-In: Minimal Cravings

I am happy to report that I have now eaten healthy enough for enough days that my cravings have decreased dramatically. I did not experience the terrible hunger today that comes from eating foods that fill me with cravings, mostly sugary foods in my case, and not eating enough of what's good for me. My husband had a small chocolate bar tonight and I was only fleetingly tempted. Not for a second do I think I have somehow arrived at a place of never experiencing cravings again. I'm sure I will, but maybe not the way I have in the past if I continue to take better care of myself overall. I'm feeling great!

The Secret to Having a Splurge?

My pizza splurge (I had a second much-smaller piece) was accompanied by two bowls of salad and a protein drink.
A few days ago, I read that the secret to having a splurge that doesn't spike your blood sugar is to make sure that you eat something healthy along with it, especially a vegetable or some protein, so Sunday night, I gave it a try and it worked for me.

As a planned splurge, I ate two pieces of pizza along with a protein drink and large salad, and I didn't feel the usual white flour/sugar rush afterwards that inevitably spirals downward, leaving me feeling sluggish and filled with cravings for more of what's not good for me.

Instead, I felt just fine. I had had my splurge and didn't feel the need for anything more, not even those chocolate chip cookies my daughter made. Yes, I kind of wanted one, but I pretty easily said no, which is unusual for me.

So going forward, I want to continue to be conscious of having planned splurges instead of impulsively eating things that aren't good for me. And I want to eat smart when I have a splurge, meaning I will plan on eating a vegetable or some protein about the same time I have the splurge, maybe a little before. I am committed to doing this and will let you know how it goes. I don't plan on having more than two splurges a week, maybe only one. We'll see how it goes. I think I've had a breakthrough on splurges.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Accountability Check-In: Feeling Tired but Satisfied

It's been a good day despite the fact that I'm terribly, terribly sleep deprived. I could not fall asleep last night and ended up with 4 lousy hours of sleep before I woke for the day at 5 a.m. And as tough a day as it's been in terms of fatigue, it's been better than it might have been if I hadn't been eating so healthy.

For one thing, I rocked it on the vegetables and solid protein and whole grain sources. And I exercised. If I had eaten poorly today, including sugary and white flour things, I'd be a mess right now in terms of mood and ability to function. I definitely need a good night's sleep tonight, but I'm glad I made it through this day short on sleep as well as I did. Eating healthy can make all the difference. Would love to hear how your day went.

What's Working: One-Month Weigh-in

While my runner's feet could use a good pedicure, I'm definitely feeling good about the direction the scale is heading.
 I weighed 173.8 pounds at the beginning of the year. Today I weigh 167.4, so I've lost more than 6 pounds since the beginning of January.

And that feels like a great start to the new year, especially considering that while I've had some good, I've also had some really bad days in the last month, including days where I have fallen completely out of the saddle in a big, big way. Even so, clearly, I've had more good days than bad days. And I feel like I'm just beginning to accumulate some really good days.

With a month of eating healthier overall behind me, here's what I think is working for me so far:

First, starting the new year by making the simple choice to eat more fruits and vegetables was a big help because it was a very manageable first step to changing my diet. In fact, it was much more doable than suddenly implementing a no-sugar rule, or banishing certain foods. If I had done that, I would have been miserable, hyper-focused on what I couldn't have instead of all the delicious healthy things I can have. Also, beginning with eating more fruits and vegetables gave me more nourishment right up front, giving my body what it really needs and diminishing cravings overall, making it even easier to eat what is good for me and turn down what's not.

Second, I learned that you don't have to let bad days mean a total failure in striving to eat healthier and lose weight. In the past, I allowed myself to become so discouraged by a bad day that I would fall off the horse for days, weeks, and even months, eating and gaining instead of eating and losing. This time, I've told myself that a bad day is just a bad day and to keep going by eating a salad as part of the next meal or having a protein drink to curb the cravings that result from an especially bad eating spell. I've definitely learned that you can make progress by consistently having more good days than bad.

Third, I've learned that the more I nourish my body over time, the more easily I can have splurges without it turning into days and days of overeating. This past week, I had just two splurges - some lasagne Thursday night and two slices of homemade pizza (made by my teen daughter) last night. I am certain that the biggest reason the splurges didn't turn into binges was because my body was getting the nourishment it needed overall. Last night, I ate the pizza but turned down the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and that's a great feeling, physically and psychologically. A big success for me.

Fourth, holding myself accountable works. In recent days, I have added a brief blog post at the end of each day, reporting back about how I've done that day. Keeping that accountability report in mind makes me think twice about how I eat on any given day. So, yes, I am having less troublesome cravings overall because I am better nourished than I was a month ago, but holding myself accountable also helps to keep me in line when I might otherwise slip up. Holding myself accountable works.

An Invitation: Consider holding yourself accountable. I will write a post every morning and a brief accountability check-in every evening (though I may not post on Sundays). Feel free to post a comment in the morning with your early morning thoughts and/or commitment for the day, and then check-in at night to share how you've done. Being accountable works. It's made a big difference for me. Let's do this together.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pushing Through Gnawing Hunger

A few of the staples I purchased today to make the next week easier for eating healthy. A note on the real maple syrup. I use a small amount to flavor my oatmeal and make some of my homemade salad dressings. It is much lower on the glycemic index than table sugar and many other sweeteners. I also purchased numerous fruits and veggies. Yum! 

I was hungry almost all day yesterday, a terrible gnawing hunger, despite eating a healthy and tasty breakfast and lunch. I imagine my hunger was a consequence of Thursday night's unplanned indulgence (lasagne). My body was scoffing at the healthy food I gave it yesterday. It wanted more of the high-calorie, high-fat content food I enjoyed the night before. Even so, I've been down that path too many times - one indulgence leading to more and more indulgences that make me feel like I can never get enough of what's not good for me.

I want better for myself. I want the energy and clarity of thought and weight loss that comes from consistently eating healthy, so I persisted last night, eating a healthy dinner with a protein drink, and I feel much, much better today - less vulnerable to foods that aren't so good for me. I'm not as hungry. I'm glad I stayed the course.

To make the next week easier, I took extra care this morning in planning menus for the next seven days. Once I had the menus set, making the grocery shopping list was a breeze because some time ago, I created an aisle by aisle grocery shopping list for our grocery store, which includes foods we frequently purchase. All I had to do was circle the needed food items and add a few that weren't already on the list.

So, now I'm set with a week of foods I'm looking forward to, foods that will delight my taste buds and nourish my body, including lentil chili that is bubbling in the slow cooker at this very moment, and several loaves of healthy whole grain bread baking in the oven. The house smells heavenly!

One thing I know about striving to eat healthy overall is that some days are better than others. And I'm glad today's a good day.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Accountability Check-In: Feeling Satisfied, Thankfully

So, I'll be honest, today was hard. Like I said in my earlier post (in the comment section), I ate a healthy breakfast and lunch, but still ended up pretty hungry and with cravings this afternoon. Friday afternoons have traditionally been "treat time" at our house after a busy week. And I'm not talking about a super-healthy treat either. I was tempted several times to dive into a pan of brownies or something similar. Thankfully, I didn't have any brownies in the house.

So, instead, I went for a run and then came home and ate a delicious black bean and brown rice burrito as well as a green salad while my family ate the leftover lasagne. I still felt hungry after dinner, so I made a protein drink and I finally feel satisfied. I am especially vulnerable when I'm hungry and I don't need to be hungry tonight while my family has ice cream. I am committed to finishing this day strong.

The Rewards of Eating Healthy for Even a Few Days

Day Five of eating healthier may seem like no big deal to some, but to me, it feels pretty significant, something worth noting. Here are a few of the rewards I've experienced for eating healthier over the last few days:
  1. I have more energy. None of the energy slumps I experience on the days I eat poorly. I find that I am more productive in the late afternoon/early evening, which is a good thing since I usually feel like I'm about to tank toward the end of the day.
  2. I feel less bloated and achy. Too much sugar and salt make my hands, feet, and abdomen feel swollen, and probably causes inflammation throughout my body, which I suspect is what makes me feel especially achy at times. By eating healthier these last few days, I feel far less bloated and achy. My stomach is flatter and I don't feel that awful swelling in my hands and feet. 
  3. I am sleeping much better. When I'm not focused on eating healthy, I tend to especially overindulge in the evenings, which often leaves me hyped up on sugar and chocolate. When this happens, I cannot fall asleep until late at night, which makes me super fatigued the next day, hence chasing more sugar for energy, resulting in late and short nights. After a few days of eating healthier, I have eased into a better sleep schedule with little effort (no sugar/chocolate keeping me awake) and I sleep better once I'm out. 
  4. I am experiencing a positive ripple effect in my self-care. I am finding that when I make better choices in one area of my life, I tend to make better choices in others. I am meditating regularly now. I have returned to taking walks with my son after we get home from school and work. And I find myself pausing now when I feel stressed to take a few relaxed breaths rather than reaching for a cookie. 
On the days I'm tempted to stray well off the healthy-eating pathway, I will look back at this list and press on. What benefits have you experienced from eating healthier? I hope you'll make your own list and keep it handy. Let's all press on.
One thing that helps me to press on when it comes to walking and jogging is to keep my running shoes out where I can see them when I roll out of bed in the mornings.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Accountability Check-In: Stuffed

I did really well overall today on eating food that is delicious and healthy. Tonight, I had one indulgence - a small serving of the wheat pasta lasagne my husband made for dinner. I made sure though that I had a protein drink before eating to curb my appetite so I wouldn't overindulge. It worked. Actually, I feel overstuffed right now, something that eating less fatty foods doesn't cause. I am committed to keeping my indulgence to what I had for dinner. I am done eating for the day. And though stuffed, I am feeling great overall.

The Choice to Take Care

I do not know a single fit and healthy woman who does not make a conscious choice to take good care of herself. I've known a few who say, "Nah, I don't really make a conscious effort," but when I dig a little deeper, I find that there's the daily walk, or the wholesome breakfasts. They may not tick all of the boxes for exceptional self-care, but they have some of the important things in place.

In my case, I've long been good at getting exercise, and it's a good thing for numerous reasons, including the fact that I would likely weigh 25 pounds more if I did not exercise at all. Even so, if you've read previous posts, you know that I have some work to do on the food front but also the sleeping and stress-reduction fronts.

As far as the food goes, I don't think I will ever choose a healthy diet on a daily basis without some serious conscious thought. There are too many less healthy options easily available in the grocery store, at church or other social gatherings, or in my own home (because I am not willing to force my family to eat only what I eat). If I am going to eat healthy overall on a regular basis, I must make conscious choices.

One of my friends has chosen, for very specific health reasons, to eat vegan while her family continues to eat a more mainstream diet. She says the only way she maintains her diet is to plan and make meals in advance, which includes making multiple servings of something like black bean burritos and individually wrap and store them in the freezer.

Though I'm not a huge advance planner like she is, I am committed to better planning menus and grocery shopping trips with healthy foods in mind, especially foods that I can grab when I'm in a hurry. Even now, my better choices are adding up to a positive impact in how I feel and will eventually impact how I will look.

So, while I may always have a fantasy of eating however, whatever, whenever I want without a moment's thought about the consequences of my choices, I know that such a fantasy will not give me the energy I need to live life to the fullest. And, let there be no mistake, I want to live life to the fullest...for me and for my children. So, today, I choose to take care of myself by eating foods that will nourish and replenish my body and mind. In other words, I choose to live life to the fullest. Today. No more putting it off. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Accountability Check-In: Feeling Fantastic Though Sometimes Hungry

Another great day behind me and I don't take it for granted!

Having these accountability check-ins makes all the difference, before and after the check-in. Wanting to give a good report about my food choices at the end of the day keeps me on track during the day, but also after giving my report because I don't want to have to go back and amend it.

Last night, I did my accountability check-in fairly early (afraid I would otherwise forget), and then a little while later, I started to feel terribly hungry, especially when I spent some time on YouTube learning about RĂ©union Island where my daughter is serving on her 18-month mission trip. There was an entire segment on the Island's amazing Creole and French food. I wanted some. Bad. Though I didn't have any on hand, without the motivation of my accountability report, I might have gone off scrounging for a poor substitute in the kitchen. I'm glad I didn't because a little while later, I was off to bed with another successful day under my belt. And that felt like a big, big win.

So, whatever temptations come between now and bedtime, I am going to stay the course, committed to a third day of serious success.

How has your day gone? I'd love to hear.

Slow Cooker Heaven: An Easy, Nutritious, Delicious Pinto Bean Dinner

What would it be like to have a personal cook, someone to prepare all of our nutritious, delicious meals for us? All we would have to do is show up at the dinner table ready to eat. I could handle that, but alas reality sets in, and I have to work with what I have - me...and children and a husband who sometimes cook.

The truth is that I don't really mind cooking. It's just the cooking pretty-much-every-day that gets old, so I try to cook smart, which for me, means cooking big batches of whatever I'm making so it will feed us for more than one meal. I love using the Crock-pot or slow cooker because once I throw everything into the pot and set the temp, I'm done. I just have to get the kids to set the table before dinner and prepare a simple salad. This makes eating healthy super easy.

Not the most exciting photo ever, but for me, the sight of this pot means dinner is on it's way. When I come home to the delicious smell of pinto beans or some other nutritious, delicious meal in the slow cooker, I feel like someone else has done the cooking for me.

Here's my much-requested recipe for a delicious, steaming pot of vegan pinto beans -

Debra's Favorite Pinto Beans:

4 cups pinto beans
8 cups water
1 medium onion, diced
2 heaping teaspoons of cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 heaping teaspoon of oregano
1 generous tablespoon of minced garlic (I use garlic from a jar; use less garlic, if desired.)

Rinse beans and add them and water to the slow cooker. Add diced onion and seasonings. Set slow cooker to low for 6 to 8 hours-plus cooking time. Or, set it on high to cook in 4 to 5 hours. I do not soak the beans overnight. Depending on the size of your household, you may be able to use this for a second meal as is, or by adding some browned ground turkey and a 1/4 cup of of chili powder and, if desired, a can of stewed tomatoes. You can also freeze single serving-size portions to use as needed. Enjoy!  


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Accountability Check-in for Jan. 27th

I have finished day #2 of eating clean and nutritiously. Knowing that I have these accountability check-ins is motivating. I want to give a good report. I'm feeling great.

Beginning with the End of Today in Mind

There's a lot to be said for beginning with the end in mind in any goal we set. For example, years ago I set the goal to run a marathon. The day I set the goal, I had just three months to go from being a relatively flat-land 5k/10k runner to running 26.2 miles in the Rocky Mountains. I found the perfect training schedule and went for it. Along the way, I thought a lot about what it would be like to complete the race. Envisioning the accomplishment gave me a lot of drive and made the tougher running days more doable.

I've tried to do that same thing with eating healthier and especially losing weight - envisioning what I will look like/feel like at the finish line of losing all the extra weight. And while there is some benefit to such an exercise, I find if I focus too much on achieving that ultimate goal of losing all the extra weight, I tend to become incredibly impatient, anxious, and overwhelmed. And pretty soon I feel like giving up because it all seems so impossible, and next thing you know, I have a slip-up in my eating and another and another until I am no longer even trying.

So, here is what I've decided: If I am going to eat healthy on a long-term basis and lose that extra weight, I must take it one day at a time. Instead of focusing on how I will look/feel months from now as a driving force for my actions today, I am going to focus on where I want to be at the end of today. That is a manageable chunk of time.

So at the end of today, I want to feel good about how I've eaten and good because I have eaten well - less bloated, less fatigued and more energetic. If I navigate day by day, focusing on today rather than anticipating all the days to come, the days will add up, and I will have success.

So this morning, I begin with the end of today in mind. I hope you'll join me. Stay tuned. I'll report back tonight.
Few things make me feel as good as a protein drink after running or lifting weights. Recipe: In a blender, blend 8 to 10 oz of milk or non-dairy drink and one sliced banana until smooth. Then add 1 scoop of protein powder and a sprinkle of nutmeg and blend for 10 seconds or so. Drink and Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stepping it Up: An Accountability Check-In

I had high hopes this morning of starting the week out strong, and I've done it!

I ate healthy all day and had a great day because of it. I felt better than usual on my 3-mile run (I wasn't faster, but the run was easier), got a lot done throughout the day without feeling worn out, and felt better emotionally because of the effects of healthy eating and because I feel better about myself when I do what's good for me.

I've had ample vegetables and some fruits. I chose whole grains (oatmeal and brown rice) that filled me up, and proteins that stabilized my blood sugar (beans primarily). I also stopped eating at 7 p.m., except for allowing myself a club soda with a twist of lime while spending time with my kids. It may take some time until I adjust to the 7 p.m. cut-off. My friend says it takes her about a week (she actually has a 6 p.m. cut-off). 

I exercised today, attending my Body Pump (weightlifting class), and jogging those three miles. I even snuck in a quick walk with my son before dinner that boosted my late day energy level, and reduced my appetite.

I did it. The first day of cracking down is behind me, and I'm feeling great!

Stepping it Up

A Delicious Power Breakfast: oatmeal, diced Pink Lady apples, flaxseed, Chia seeds, almonds, a splash of soy milk, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. A filling, nutritious breakfast.
My big success so far this year is that I've upped my daily vegetable and fruit count. And as a result, I've had more energy and stamina overall. The problem is that my little splurges have morphed into bigger splurges and I've gained some weight back, and that's definitely not the direction I want to head, so it's time to step it up, time to up my game.

Here are my goals for this week:
  1. Eat Vegetables especially plentifully. 
  2. Limit Fruits to two or three a day. 
  3. Eat some protein at each meal to stabilize blood sugar and limit cravings.
  4. Eliminate sugar and white flour, focusing on whole grains instead, including oatmeal and brown rice.  
  5. Stop eating no later than 7 p.m. each day. One of my friends says that this goal alone makes a real impact on her weight loss and maintenance. 
What do I need to do to set myself up for success this week? First, I need to plan some activities to distract myself from night-time snacking, maybe a reading-date with my son (where he reads his book and I read mine), or watching an enjoyable show like Granite Flats. Second, I need to hold myself accountable each day.

As you can see, I've posted fewer entries on my blog in the last two weeks, in part, because I've had a hard time squeezing writing time in since my schedule hit full-throttle again with work and other responsibilities. The key is going to be writing earlier in the morning and then writing a quick follow-up in the evening to maintain accountability.

Though I've had some setbacks in the last couple of weeks, I've had a second success that's also worth sharing: I've meditated for 15 minutes every night this past week, and as a result, I've fallen asleep sooner, slept more soundly, and awakened feeling better rested. And that's a very good thing, hence my relative ease at waking so early this morning. Click HERE to see a terrific set of options for meditating. I'm especially keen on Meditation 2 - The Body Scan.   

Am I embarrassed that I have had some serious setbacks, even as I've blogged about eating healthier and losing weight? Yes, I am. And yet I feel good about the successes I've had - eating more vegetables and fruits, and meditating regularly - and determined to make adjustments to have greater success overall. The day is just beginning, but I feel good about it so far. After all, I've made my commitment early by writing this post. I've cast my vote for success. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Veggie Power: How to Have More Vegetables Every Day

The delicious power-salad I made for lunch today. It included 10 vegetables - romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, tomatoes, celery, orange bell pepper, Portobello mushrooms, carrots, green onions, and broccoli. My green smoothie included kale, spinach, strawberries, pineapple, 1/2 small banana, wheat grass, and about 12 oz of water. I feel super-nourished!

As important as vegetables are to our health and well-being, I don’t always get enough. Here’s my brainstorm for doing better: 

  • Eat Salad for Breakfast: The earlier I eat vegetables in the day, the more likely I am to have enough. The first time I had salad for breakfast, along with my oatmeal, I felt a little silly, but I actually liked the sense of satisfaction it gave me while eating and after. I did not feel hungry all morning. I need to eat salad for breakfast more often. 
  • Prepare Veggies in Advance: I am far more likely to eat enough vegetables if they are prepared ahead of time. So are my kids. The best time to prepare them is right after a grocery trip. As I’m putting the groceries away, I set the vegetables on the counter to rinse and cut up. Some like to put their prepared veggies in baggies. I love to fill up a large shallow Tupperware container with a rainbow of vegetables. The only problem I have with preparing veggies in advance (other than finding the time) is that my kids may eat them before I’ve had my fill.
  • Purchase Bagged Salad: As much as I love freshly cut up romaine lettuce in my salads, I have more salad if I keep a bag of triple washed salad in the fridge. On the days I’m running short on time, it takes just seconds to pour some salad into a bowl and go.
  • Take the Seven-Veggie Super-Salad Challenge: Years ago, a woman challenged me to include at least seven vegetables in my salads. Some of my favorites include cubed jicama, tomatoes, two or more varieties of lettuce, kale, spinach, colorful bell peppers, green onions, cucumbers, and celery. Sometimes to change things ups, I throw in some blueberries, tangerine sections or strawberries. 
  • Dive into a Delicious Dip –I can only eat so many celery sticks plain, but with a good dip, I could probably eat an entire head. I love Hummus, and White Bean, and want to try Baba Ganoush. Click HERE to see my go-to recipe for Hummus.
  • Tank up on Tomato or Vegetable Juice: When I’m short on available vegetables or especially short on time, I pump up my veggie quotient with a bottle of tomato or vegetable juice. It’s nourishing, cuts the cravings, and ties me over until I make the trip to the grocery store.
I’d love to hear your suggestions for increasing the veggie count in our lives.  Here's to Veggie-Power!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Exceptional Self-Care: A Great Gift for Every Woman

Taken right after running a Turkey Trot 5K. I run one every Thanksgiving to celebrate good health, something I don't take for granted as a cancer-survivor.
Five months from today I turn the big 5-0! That feels like a pretty big milestone and one I plan to welcome. The forties have been amazing in many ways, but I'm ready to embrace a new decade in my life, and one of my biggest goals is to hit 50 full-throttle in terms of energy and joy for life!

My forties have taught me that you pay a heavy price if you consistently push yourself too hard without taking good care of yourself. Too many times, I have dismissed exceptional self-care as somehow not worth my time or too self-centered or self-indulgent, but I can tell you that the consequences of self-neglect add up, and sometimes those consequences are irreversible. For example, when I pushed myself too hard after ovarian cancer surgery in my early forties, I ended up with a second surgery for an injured back. I live with the nerve damage down through my leg and foot to this day, though it's thankfully much more manageable than it was for several years.  

Life is amazing but it is also very, very challenging at times and none of us are exempt. There are health crises (ours and/or others), worries about loved ones and friends, financial challenges, difficult decisions to make, heartache and so on. And I have learned that those are the times when perhaps we should make an extra effort to take good care of ourselves. For example, I remember when my father was very sick in the hospital five hours away. Though I was tempted to just jump in the car and go, I took a few minutes and packed some fruits and vegetables and hummus dip to accompany me since I knew I would hardly leave the hospital at all. And I was glad that I took that time because eating to nourish in the midst that crisis gave me more energy and focus to be present for my dad in his final days.

As I have worked to eat healthier this year, I have really begun to wonder how much difference exceptional self-care can make in our lives. When I say "exceptional self-care," I'm not talking about a luxury spa trip, though I'm open to that being a possibility someday. Rather, I'm taking about taking good care of ourselves on a daily basis right here at home. What difference can exceptional self-care make over time?

So far, I have learned that eating healthier overall (I've had a few slip-ups) makes me less sluggish, more energetic, clear-thinking, and upbeat. I have a well of energy that I do not experience when I eat for instant gratification rather than thinking about how what I eat will ultimately impact me.

I know from experience that exercise (something I'm consistently good at) makes a huge difference in my days. When I exercise, whether by walking, jogging, cycling or swimming, I feel far less stressed and more focused overall. Though I'm not a big fan of swimming laps (I'd rather splash around), there's something about swimming laps in the summer time that makes me sleep like a baby at night. And sleeping like a baby at night is the ultimate self-care!

There is one more big thing I want to do more consistently to take better care of myself and that is having a daily meditation practice. I have become a huge fan of Mark Williams, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University,  who writes and teaches about the power of mindfulness and meditation to change our lives for the better.

Sometimes people think of meditating as esoteric or hippie-like. Not so with Mark Williams' book, "Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World." His website offers free audio-meditations that are very effective.

On the days I take time to meditate (usually 8 to 15 minutes is all it takes), I experience a wonderful calm energy. I am less preoccupied with worries, more engaged in the present and so more able to positively impact my life. Worries and stress are draining. Meditating is energizing, while I'm doing it and for hours afterwards. Among other things, meditating allows me to get more out of my daily devotionals with my scripture study because I am more fully engaged in what I'm reading and studying.

Is there something else I need to add to eating healthier, exercising regularly, and daily meditation? The truth is, I need to have a little more fun every day. Sometimes, I can be so serious about life that I forget to do something just for fun. Later today, I will watch a few silly Studio C show segments with my husband and kids. That will be good for some laughs.

So, I have five months until the big 5-0! As a gift to give myself, I'm going to find out what difference five months of exceptional self-care can make. I hope you'll join me.

Love and Blessings,


Friday, January 16, 2015

When Plan A Goes Awry (Plan B to the Rescue)

I came home for lunch today, a rare opportunity, so I wanted to make the most of it. After mixing up the prepackaged ingredients for roasted red pepper & basil quinoa, I headed to the microwave where I popped the door open, then proceeded to fumble the bowl of ingredients, splashing them all over the interior of the microwave and kitchen floor.

After cleaning up the mess, I was tempted to grab whatever I could to eat without regard for nutritional content, but something stopped me. I had a full afternoon ahead with some very social 6th grade students, and I needed energy. And, if I was going to have a splurge today, I wanted it to be tonight rather than an unplanned lunch alone.

And so I quickly created Plan B - a lunch that included a black bean burrito, cucumber slices and a V-8. It tasted good and I went back to school feeling energetic, instead of sluggish, feeling good about the choice I had made when my original plan went awry.

And that got me thinking. There's a lot to be said for Plan B. In fact, there have been a number of times in my life when Plan B has saved me. For example, the times when I have wanted to go out for a walk or a jog, but the roads have been icy, too icy to even make it to the gym. Plan B, in those instances, has been to go for a walk in my own home, walking round and round the circuit of my living room, kitchen, family room and entry. As ridiculous as this Plan B sounds, it keeps me exercising even when the weather's bad and keeps me from going stir-crazy. It's been an essential Plan B.

When it comes to food and fitness, I find myself wondering about other times when a Plan B might be helpful, Here are a few:

  1. On the days when I don't have enough time for a full 30-minute jog, I can jog just 20 minutes, or break it down into three 10-minute fast walks.
  2. When I'm out of lettuce and am desperate for a salad but have no time to run to the store, I can go through the produce drawer and pull out a few vegetables and wash, peel, and slice, making a delicious mini-veggie tray of tomatoes, carrots, celery, etc.
  3. When I have no time to fix a healthy dinner, I can have healthy freezer meals ready to grab, perhaps some vegetarian spaghetti sauce, turkey loaf, or pinto beans. 

In the next few days I will brainstorm more Plan Bs because I want to have more experiences like I had today when I ate a bean burrito rather than spiraling into a train wreck of overeating less healthy foods. Let's hear it for Plan Bs! I'd love to hear yours. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When You Want to Eat the Whole Horse (or House)

For all of my talk about experiencing fewer cravings recently, today is not one of those days. Today, I feel like I could eat an entire horse or, better yet, an entire house. And not just any house. It would be a house made of steak - a big, juicy medium-rare rib-eye with crumbled blue cheese on top and a baked potato on the side. And then for dessert, I'd have the most fantastic bread pudding you can imagine, except that...I'm not going to do it.

For starters, my food budget doesn't generally allow for rib-eye steak on just any Tuesday, and while I could raid the fridge and pantry or make a beeline to a decent fast-food joint for something affordable, quick and yummy, it isn't in my best interest.

As filled as I am with cravings right now, I choose not too succumb to what I know would turn into a binge. Why? Because, as good as it would feel while eating, I wouldn't feel so good afterwards. In fact, I'd feel awful physically - tired, and sluggish with an upset stomach - and probably worse emotionally because of the disappointment I'd feel in myself.

I believe in allowing ourselves splurges, just as I blogged about in my last post, but today feels like a splurge would turn into an all-out eating fest that would do me no good.

I note as I feel these cravings that I also feel a little down today, disappointed about a couple of things and concerned about one or two more. Those feelings may be contributing to my impulse to indulge. Eating out of control would not help remedy those disappointments or alleviate those concerns, so instead of responding with a binge, I will allow myself a splurge today that has nothing to do with food. Not sure yet what that will be, but I will figure it out.

As far as food goes today, as soon as I end this post, I'm going to go have some cottage cheese with crushed pineapple and a salad on the side, inspired by a reader's comments to yesterday's post. I think that will help, and on a day like today, it's good to have some help.