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Staying the Course

Halloween was this week… one of the most difficult nights of the year for someone who LOVES chocolate like I do. I had tracked calories all day the day before, worked out, and tracked calories all day that day… until the evening came and the candy beast was released. I indulged in enough Tootsie Rolls to give myself a great chance of developing type 2 diabetes. 

But, rather than throwing in the towel and using Wednesday night as an excuse to fall completely off the wagon once again, I got right back in the saddle yesterday. I tracked all of my food, walked on the treadmill twice, and rode the bike once. It felt good to be in control of myself. I hate that feeling of chaos I have when I’m not on track and I’m eating whatever I want and knowing that it’s making my situation worse.

Today I am tracking again, and planning to do some treadmill walking as well as a couple of workout routines for strength training – carefully of course so as not to anger my lower back and set myself back! I am also starting a shopping/packing list for our weekend away coming up. We are heading to a youth seminar at a church almost four hours away and staying in a hotel for three nights. Each evening and day there will be potlucks, full of tempting foods… so I’m trying to plan a grocery trip just before we leave to stock up on breakfast options and easily portable snacks so I can bring some healthy choices with me to the potlucks. I’m sure I won’t be “on target” for calories with the traveling and potlucks, but I’m going with the intention of doing the best I can and not beat myself up for any slip ups. I know I can get right back on track as soon as I’m home too, which is a comfort. 

I can’t believe it’s already November. This youth seminar will be so much fun, and it has special meaning for us too because one of the last conversations we had with my husband’s Grandpa was about this meeting, and he really wanted us to go so that our children could meet other like-minded Christian young men and women, so he gave us a monetary gift to cover the hotel costs for attending. We will definitely enjoy the fellowship with other Christians, and are so thankful for this one last gift from Grandpa.

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Condemned

The temple has deteriorated into a condemned state over the last couple years. After I started this blog, life got away from me… my husband graduated from nursing school and began training in his new position at work, I got busier than ever with my oldest child starting college and still homeschooling the younger one, and then last fall (2011) I was suddenly crippled by excruciating back pain that came out of nowhere. My injury was such that I couldn’t even walk more than about 30 feet without feeling like I would fall. I was forced to drive the little handicap cart through the grocery store to shop and depend on my children to put items in a cart for me, as well as loading the van and unloading it when we got home. Standing in the kitchen to cook was painful. I had to depend on my daughter to drive me places often times because I had to take pain killers to cope with the pain. Through all this, my determination to eat right fell by the wayside. I started gaining back the weight I had lost. Once my back improved slightly I got back to walking daily, but food was still a struggle. At this point I’m 30 pounds up from where I was when I last wrote here. I’m ashamed, disgusted, disappointed, and depressed with it. Last month we suffered a devastating loss of a very close member of the family, and I really went off the deep end with eating.

This week, I decided enough was enough. I look horrible and what’s more, I FEEL horrible! I want to feel good again. I want to fit in my smaller clothes again. I want to be healthier again. I NEED to stop using food as a source of comfort.

I started counting calories again yesterday… the day before Halloween. It feels almost futile to start this journey again right now, with the holidays approaching, but I need to seize the opportunity when the mood strikes me… so I am! I measured and counted everything yesterday and walked on the treadmill for 15 minutes three different times. I had set out to get an hour, but 45 minutes was more than I’d done in months, so I’m not going to belittle what I accomplished.

With some consistency, even if I “only” lose a pound a week, I should be able to lose those 30 lbs before the end of the school year. I know, from experience, that it will come off quicker in the beginning (the more you have to lose, the more you can lose in a week and the higher your BMR is), and that after I reach a certain point it will become a struggle to even get that scale to budge a pound in a week…. but I HAVE to stick with it.

On an interesting note, I had some labs done last month and the nurse said that she could tell from where I carry my weight that I must have high cortisol levels (which I’ve thought for a long time) due to stress and poor sleep patterns. For several years I’ve been told my cholesterol was high, but this year I was told that it was genetics, not my diet… since my GOOD cholesterol was also high, indicating that I eat the right kinds of fats. That was somewhat of a relief, since I’ve tried to lower my cholesterol for a couple of years, to no avail.

So… here I go again. Starting weight last Friday was 178.8. Nowhere to go but down!!!

Staples

Keeping certain things in your pantry at all times will make it easier to make healthier choices. Let’s face it, if you don’t keep a healthier alternative around, you’ll use what’s on hand. Here is a list of things I always like to keep in the kitchen, aside from the common sense items like fresh fruits and vegetables:

  1. Sourdough bread. Sometimes whole grain just doesn’t satisfy my craving for a sandwich, especially something like grilled cheese. It’s typically lower in calories than traditional white bread. Just try to buy a brand that has reasonably small sized slices that are uniform for easier and more accurate calorie tracking.
  2. Veggie burgers. My all-time favorite are the Gardenburger Portabella Mushroom Burgers, with the Black Bean Chipotle a close second.
  3. Orowheat sandwich thins. Even if you just buy a pack and stick the in the freezer, they are great for using in place of a hamburger bun or making chicken sandwiches on… plus they come in some great whole grain varieties.
  4. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Pound these babies out a little between two sheets of plastic wrap and slap them on the George Foreman for about 4-5 minutes and you have a tasty protein as part of a meal or to use in a sandwich.
  5. Minced garlic, in a jar. I keep this in my fridge and add it to recipes all the time.
  6. Olive oil, for sautéing veggies in over low heat.
  7. Balsamic vinegar. One of my favorite things on earth. The flavor is heavenly, and just a dash added to veggies towards the end of cooking adds an acidity and sweetness that is fantastic.
  8. Caramelized onions. I like to slice an onion up, and very slowly caramelize it with a little EVOO and salt and pepper on Sunday evenings after the kids go to bed. I stick them in the fridge and add them to scrambled eggs and sandwiches during the week for some awesome flavor.
  9. Roasted red peppers. I can’t say enough about these things. They are super tasty, healthy, and great added to just about anything.
  10. Chocolate. Yes, you read right, I said CHOCOLATE. I keep a bag of dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses and a bag of some bite sized candy bar on hand almost all the time. If you let yourself have just a taste of it, you won’t be as likely to go off the deep end and start gnawing on Snickers bars in the candy aisle of the local grocery store.

I’m sure I’ll add to this list over time.

Playing in the Kitchen

I mentioned in my last entry about substitutions – altering recipes to fit my new healthier lifestyle – and making my own versions of packaged foods that I could control the ingredients of.

First good rule of thumb, the longer the list of ingredients on a package, the worse it is for you!!! If the first ingredient is unbleached flour or any form of sugar (anything ending in –ose is a giveaway) … put it back on the shelf!

Second, things labeled “low fat” are NOT always better for you! Compare labels. Nine times out of ten, the “low fat” version has more sodium to make up the difference in flavor. Why trade fat for sodium? If you absolutely must indulge in a packaged treat, just eat a smaller, reasonable portion. Confession: I LOVE CHEEZ-ITS! Nothing else satisfies that craving when I get it. So occasionally, I buy a box of regular old original Cheez-its. But, I do not sit on the couch and munch away mindlessly at the box. NO SIR! I have entered the calories for the number of Cheez-its in a serving on my SparkPeople food list, and I count every single cracker and put it in a bowl. I enter the amount online and make sure that my serving isn’t going to bankrupt me for calories later in the day. Sound too picky? Tough. It works!

Third, and most importantly, pay attention to serving sizes!! When I first started tracking calories, I realized that some of the foods that I thought were healthy were only low in calories if I ate two tiny bites of them… when in reality, I was usually eating a whole bowl! This is especially handy when using condiments. Measure out that ketchup and mayo, because those calories add up quickly.

And a newsflash: Those 100 calorie treats marketed to us weight-watching fiends are typically nothing more than the same ingredients as the regular versions, but packaged in 100 calorie bags and marked up about 200%. Why not buy the real version you like and make your own 100 calorie bags using the snack sized sandwich bags? Much cheaper.

Try some of these alternatives to the norm:

  1. Swap plain old pasta for Barilla Plus pastas. They have fiber, Omega-3’s, and protein. They may not have the same amount of whole grains as some other brands, but they also don’t taste like a shoe box that’s been boiled, and let’s be honest, if you buy a box of whole grain pasta that tastes like that, you’re going to spend money on something that will sit in your cupboard and collect dust. Healthy food that tastes like dirt won’t help you. Duh, right?
  2. Skim milk. If you aren’t used to the consistency, try skim rich. The fat grams you save are worth it, and it’s a great source of protein.
  3. One whole egg mixed with two egg whites. You’ll never know the difference, and you’ll be cutting out a big portion of the cholesterol and calories. You can add a sprinkle of 2% shredded cheddar and a few spoons of salsa and still be under 200 calories for a nice breakfast!
  4.  Mustard. It’s much lower in calories than ketchup and mayo, and has tons of flavor. You do not have to eat sandwiches on pieces of dry cardboard.
  5. Avocados instead of mayo. They are creamy and tasty and give you a good serving of heart healthy fats instead of the saturated kinds usually found in traditional mayo. If you just have to have some mayo, try mixing a tiny bit of a canola mayo with some mashed avocado and spreading it on your sandwich.
  6. Smart Balance Light. I’m sure there are other spreads that are supposed to be healthier, but this one spreads easily, tastes good, has Omega-3’s, and is used in such small quantities it’s a good alternative.
  7. Prune sauce. (I just heard half of you say “WHAT IS THAT??”) It’s simple. You take about a cup and a half of dried plums (otherwise known as prunes) and simmer them in just enough apple juice (or in my case, apple juice cocktail made with Splenda to cut even more calories) to cover them for about 15 minutes. After that, puree them your food processor or blender until smooth and a little thinner than peanut butter (adding extra apple juice if necessary). This wonderful, sweet ingredient is packed with anti-oxidents, soluble fiber, potassium and the list goes on. It is an awesome substitute for oils or butters/margarines in muffin, quick bread, and cookie recipes. (Two of my personal favs are banana bread and oatmeal cookies). It gives the finished results a sweet, almost raisin-y flavor, and a stickier consistency like you get with a very moist cookie. This one staple lowers the fat content considerably, since you’re tossing out the oil/butter. I make it in large enough batches to refrigerate and keep on hand for recipes.
  8. Substitute half to two-thirds of the flour in a recipe with stone ground whole wheat. My experience is that swapping the entire amount changes the texture, but this less drastic substitution is hardly noticeable.

Have any tips you want to share? Feel free to comment!

A Fresh Start

When I decided to be a healthier person, I knew I had to be realistic with my goals or I’d never stick to them. I made the decision right away that I would stick to a few basic rules:

  1. I would not ban any food from my diet altogether. If I tried saying I’d never eat pizza, or chips, or *gasp* chocolate ever again, I would fail. Big time. So instead I told myself those foods would always be welcome in my menu, as long as they were consumed in moderation, and I had earned them by exercising and eating healthy the rest of the day. I no longer would indulge in gigantic 1000 calorie sundaes (except maybe on a truly special occasion). I now keep a bag of bite-sized candy bars in the fruit drawer of my refrigerator. This helps me in three ways: #1: I am confronted with fruit when I reach for it, and if I haven’t had any, I don’t grab the candy. #2: They are bite-sized, and generally not more than 45-50 calories for one piece, which is a reasonable treat. #3: They are hard to chew right out of the fridge, so I let them sit out for about a half hour before I can enjoy them… which means that sometimes, the craving has passed by the time I can eat them and I’ve saved myself the calories! (Just the other night I got one out, and I didn’t end up eating it until halfway through my workout the next day, for a pick-me-up.)
  2. “Falling off the wagon” does not warrant “throwing in the towel”. We all find ourselves at events like parties or big holiday dinners and giving in to the temptation of that SECOND piece of pumpkin pie, or an extra scoop of ice cream on the side of the first piece. If I have a day where I go WAY over my calorie range, it’s OKAY. It is not the end of the world, and it is not an excuse to continue to be out of my range in the coming days. I have to forgive myself, move on, and try to remember it the next time it happens. Sometimes I will be strong enough, and sometimes I will cave… and that’s okay too. I’m only human.
  3. Substitution is a challenge that I am up for. There are a lot of foods that I enjoy that I would rarely get to eat if I kept buying them packaged, or making them according to the original recipes. Recipes aren’t written in stone. One of the best quotes I’ve heard is, “Cooking is an art, but baking is a science.” This is true, inasmuch as you can play with ingredients to your heart’s content when cooking, but with baking, you have to make substitutions of ingredients that will fulfill a similar role or else the chemical equation will be out of balance and your recipe will fail. This means replacing flours or fats for similar quantities of lower fat, lower calorie, or higher fiber alternatives. (More on this to come in another blog… I have come up with some killer ways to make things like COOKIES into something more like a health food!)
  4. Exercise is a part of my reality. I no longer have the (much squandered) metabolism of my youth. I will have to move every day if I want to shed pounds, and I NEED to move every day if I want a healthy heart… which I do. If I have a heart attack at 45, it will be a fluke, not because I threw my life away with poor choices. My husband and I also have made a commitment to take care of ourselves so that neither of us leave our spouse caring for a mate who was negligent with their health. I’ve watched family members do this, and it’s a very selfish thing.
  5. I AM WORTH IT. Every second spent logging my food, every single drop of sweat, every single achy muscle, every single morning I wake up tired and have to force myself to get started on my workout… IS WORTH IT. “I give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)

Giving myself these rules, and the freedom to be fallible, has saved me from the pitfalls of “dieting”. I do NOT diet. I eat healthier and I move.

Welcome!

My wonderful husband and I, Thanksgiving 2009

Welcome to my blog! A few years ago, I found myself with two children, and weighing almost 200 pounds. I had always been thin in my younger, pre-child years, so even though the weight wasn’t gained overnight, I was still somehow shocked when I made the realization that I was, indeed, FAT. Prior to this point, shortly after the birth of my son, I had tried to lose the baby weight by jumping on a low-carb craze that was sweeping the country. While I did lose some weight, it quickly came back (plus a few extra pounds) after I returned to eating a more varied diet.

When I had my epiphany it was Christmas 2005. I was looking at the pictures I had taken from Christmas dinner…. and wondering WHY on earth I had allowed myself to be photographed in such a state of obesity. I’d been dressing that 200 pound frame for a few years by then, but somehow I was still devastated when I realized the person in those pictures had clearly at some point eaten the pretty and youthful 120 pound me alive!

My son was four at this point and I came to the conclusion that I could no longer live in the denial that I just had some “baby weight” left to lose. I also knew that I was getting older (I was 31.. gasp!) and if I wanted to be here to watch my children grow into adulthood and raise families of their own, I HAD to do more than lose weight. I had to change my views of food, exercise, health, fitness… the whole sha-bang!  I’ve realized that growing up skinny handicapped me. I never paid attention to the nutrients in my food or made any effort to exercise, because frankly, I looked great without giving them a second thought. After having children, that wonderful metabolism of my youth waved bye-bye to me, and I was left overweight and needing to change every misconception I had about food and fitness.

So that day, after Christmas dinner was put away, I decided I would be a new person, transformed by the simple common sense of calories in vs. calories out. It made sense. You eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, providing your body the protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals it needs to carry you through life, and you move everyday… getting your heart rate up, building muscle, and strengthening your heart in the process. I weighed myself and wrote it on the calendar.

I had an old exercise bike someone had given us years earlier, and had given it away since I wasn’t using it. I went out the next day and splurged on a new one for myself at the local Wal-mart. Nothing fancy, nothing with gadgets, just a basic exercise bike. And I rode. I rode everyday for at least twenty minutes. Some days I rode for thirty. But I rode every single day.

Around this same time, a friend of mine mentioned a new website called SparkPeople.com. That discovery changed my life. I found that some generous soul had created a place where I could figure out how many calories I needed to be eating and how much I needed to be working out to reach my weight loss goals. More importantly, it gave me the tools I needed to do it…. a FANTASTIC calorie tracker, fitness trackers that told me how many calories specific exercises burned, and a seemingly endless supply of support in the form of articles to educate myself and groups I could join to share my struggle with others. I have made what I know will be lifetime friends there, and I am thankful each day for their support and encouragement.

I lived an overly eventful life from the age of seventeen until about twenty-five, at which point I discovered my faith in Jesus Christ, and the wonderful gift of salvation that was mine for the taking if I simple obeyed Him and lived as He wanted me to. I knew without the slightest doubt that if I made as strong a commitment to changing my lifestyle as I had to living my life with Christ at the core, I would succeed. After all, “I can do all things through Him, who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). As I thought more about my current situation, I also realized that I had been abusing the body which God had given me. We have no guarantee of the number of days we will walk upon this earth, but I do believe we have a responsibility to take care of the gift of life we have been given. Not to the point of being slaves to our bodies, but I believe that the years I spent drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes were an insult to God and the blessing He had bestowed upon me when He breathed life into me. I hope that everyone who reads this blog can find encouragement and inspiration to lead a Christ-driven life, but if it bothers you to hear about matters of faith, then you are probably in the wrong place, as I make no apologies for sharing the gospel of Christ with as many as I can.

The first week I lost three pounds… the next week, two, and so on. Before I knew it, less than six months later, I had gone down to 172 pounds! I never thought I’d be happy to be in the 170’s but after being in the upper 190’s, I was elated! Life got hectic, I got busy, and I started slacking on my workouts. I managed to maintain the weight I was at and not gain anything back, and then I got back on the bandwagon about six months later. I then dropped to my lowest weight to date of 146.

Then about two years ago, I was sidelined by a plethora of health problems. They started with unexplained stomach pains I would get after being stressed out or overexerting myself (which made me afraid to exercise too hard). I began seeing doctors and kept being told I was just anxious and that my symptoms were in my head. I was given several different medications that were supposed to be my miracle cure, but none of them helped. I became severely depressed and thought I was doomed to be in pain forever. I packed back on about fifteen of the pounds I lost and teetered around 160 pounds. The size 10 jeans I bought didn’t fit, and I found myself back in size 12’s. In addition to the stomach pains, I started having major TMJ issues. I went to doctors, specialists, and physical therapists, and the only advice I was given that seemed to help was a daily regimen of three ibuprofen, three times a day. That kept the inflammation down and the pain bearable, but the stomach pains continued to worsen and increase in frequency. Eventually, my wonderful husband insisted that we find out what was going on. He went with me to several doctors appointments and not only stood by me, but stood UP for me as the doctors tried to blow me off yet again. Thanks to his persistence, I finally had an endoscopy done in October of 2007. Low and behold, it wasn’t all in my head! I had a half dozen ulcers eating away at my belly. I was told to stop taking the ibuprofen immediately and start taking a medication to help the ulcers and control the acid in my stomach. Within a month, my stomach spasms had all but gone away. I still get the occasional one during times of extreme stress, but thankfully that is rare, and exercise no longer causes me pain.

Unfortunately, giving up the ibuprofen meant the return of my TMJ pain. This time I decided that pain was NOT going to defeat me, and I did my homework and found some vitamins and herbs that were supposed to have anti-inflammatory qualities and started trying them out. I ended up starting a regimen of turmeric, bromelain, flax seed oil, and calcium/magnesium/zinc. It didn’t take ALL of my pain away, but it did help quite a bit, and I decided that even if I had some level of chronic pain, it would not keep me from enjoying my life. I bought some books on dealing with chronic pain and TMJ (The Pain Survival Guide, by Turks and Winter and Taking Control of TMJ by Uppgaard). They helped me realize that #1 I am not alone in living with chronic pain and #2 it doesn’t have to control my life.

The purpose of this blog is to not only share my story – successes and failures alike – but to share what has, and HASN’T, worked for me over the years. I’m still on the road to being a healthier person. I know for a fact that I am healthier now than I was ten years ago, even if I was a smaller dress size then. If even one thing on this blog inspires, encourages, or helps just one person reading it, I have accomplished my goal. Thanks for taking this journey with me.