Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Personal Weight Loss Plan

So, my postpartum body is kind of squishy. Since this is my third baby, it is predictably squishier than it has been before. Since I am entirely sick of my maternity wardrobe, and I gave away all of my clothes that are larger than a size six the last time I lost the baby weight, and I’m on a limited budget, I’d like to fit into my pre-pregnant wardrobe as soon as I can. I don’t own a scale, but my weight at the last midwife appointment 2 weeks ago was 168. I’m short so that really stacks up on me and even my T-shirts don’t fit. The weight I feel good at is around 130. That’s 38 pounds to lose. If I lose 1 1/2 lbs a week, I’ll look great in my favorite red dress by summer. As added incentive for myself, I hope to extract from the Genius Husband a promise that when said fabulous dress finally fits he will go with me to someplace cool enough to wear said fabulous dress to without any children in tow. (It was imagining myself in a great outfit, which I envisioned in itty-bitty detail, and attending the GH’s company Christmas party in it that kept me sprinting up and down our entrance steps 15 minutes a day to get rid of the last 10 lbs after the Girl was born. I didn’t have a treadmill back then, and stairs use the largest muscle group and so burn the most calories and I didn’t have much time so I needed to move faster and it seemed like the most efficient blahdy blah blah blah… Anyway the very specific goal provided the needed incentive to add exercise to my crazy days. I had many other far more worthy and long term goals, such as good health, strength, teaching my children to take care of their bodies by taking care of mine, and the memory of how much better it feels to move and be when not carrying extra weight around, but it was picturing the outfit that actually got me off of my butt and tying up my shoes. I guess my inner couch potato is shallow like that. Use what motivates you.)

So I have a plan to make this happen. I already do many things that will help me, as you know. I don’t eat processed fats, I eat fruits and vegetables, I eat whole grains, I avoid sugar, white flour, and sinple starches, I don’t drink sweetened beverages, and I drink a lot of water. (Oh yeah, and I’m breastfeeding which takes care of an extra 500 calories a day.)

So here’s what I’m going to add to that because pregnancy has changed my eating habits enough that I need to alter them again now that I’m not.

1.) No snacking/unplanned eating. I will only eat breakfast lunch and dinner if I can. Because I know that my blood sugar will drop and produce cravings if there is too long an interval between these meals, and breastfeeding tends to make me hungry more often, I will also plan what I will do in case that happens. So, I will have on hand things to eat in emergencies. These will be almonds, soy nuts, fruit, and vegetables. I already carry a small bag of soy nuts or almonds in my purse wherever I go. What I want to add to this is portion control. I plan to divide the almonds and soy nuts into individual portion sizes, either in zip lock bags or the reusable mini plastic containers that I use for my kids. This will keep me from eating too much. I will have to think about whether or not I am hungry enough to get myself a second portion. I’ve gotten into the habit of constant snacking in order to meet the pregnant protein requirements and this will help stop it.
2.) No eating while standing, sit down to eat, always.
3.) No eating while reading, watching TV, driving, etc. Only eating at the table during meals, or snacks. I already do this most of the time, though sometimes I find my eyes wandering for reading material during breakfast.
4.) Relearn portion sizes. I’m thinking of buying a scale to measure portions for a while until I remember what a real portion is, instead of the supersize me version. (I got this idea from French Woman Don’t Get Fat.)
5.) Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. My preferred method is to go for a brisk walk outside somewhere pretty, but since I have small children that isn’t always possible, they walk too slow and I don’t usually have help with childcare. So I have alternatives. I have a treadmill, I have exercise videos, I have belly-dancing videos, I have a weighted hula-hoop that’s great for ab muscles; I try not to get bored. My kids often exercise with me. As an addendum to this I want to sit on the floor as often as possible and stretch for a while when sitting. This would be watching shows, talking on the phone, directing my children as they clean up, etc. I’m chronically inflexible, and lot of workout time for me goes to stretching so I’m trying to do that during my regular day so that it doesn’t steal time from other things and keep me from my workout goal.
6.) If I’m still hungry after a meal with my revised portion size, I may have seconds, of salad. I always make too much anyways, this will keep it from going to waste.
7.) This one is entirely unique to myself I expect. I will not eat more Challah bread after the Shabbat meal. I will eat the piece that comes with dinner and not attack the rest of the loaf after dinner and eat it with thick slabs of butter. I’ve been kind of letting myself go on Shabbat but really, extra bread and dessert together is not exactly balanced.

The main goals of my plan of course are to avoid eating more than I need, and to make my body stronger through exercising it. I still plan to eat dessert a couple of times a week even butter every so often and to enjoy my food even more by giving it my full attention instead of mindlessly stuffing it in my mouth while I stand in the kitchen preoccupied by other things. I have found with exercise that it has to be something that I enjoy, not necessarily a “fun” activity, but something that makes it possible for me to take pleasure in the way my body is moving and working. Walking is the best activity for me, though dancing and aerobics come close. When I’m stronger and more fit, I enjoy running too, I like the feel of my strong legs and lungs as I settle into pace. I’m not there right now, but hope to return eventually. Once every week or two I will try on my favorite jeans again to see if I can do them up yet. So far I can get them up, but there is a gap at least 5 inches wide between the buttons, and the thighs are very tight. If I come across a scale I’ll weigh myself, which won’t be very reliable information since it won’t be the same scale but I’ll share anyway. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I tried a recipe for brussels sprouts last night that I liked a lot, the Girl ate, the Boy, my picky eater, wasn’t happy about the one bite rule but didn’t have anything really bad to say when he finally tried it. I stole it from Mary at Owlhaven, check her comment in the post to find the recipe.

I just made a meal this week that was really simple to make and my family really liked.

Cook quinoa in a rice cooker, add a lot of turkey or chicken bouillon to the water, or cook it in broth.

Open some cans of black beans, or make some in the morning in the crockpot. Add to the beans, cumin, pepper, oregano, Cajun seasoning, dried cilantro leaves, chili flakes, and chopped bell peppers. (I actually roasted the pepper I had and then pureed it with some of the beans and added it all back in, but my husband doesn’t like the texture of cooked peppers if they are in larger pieces.) Puree about a 1/4 cup of the beans and stir into the rest to make creamy, serve with the quinoa and a green salad.

I think this would taste really good with corn too, but I didn’t have any.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Kicking the Sweets Addiction

I have been asked by some people to talk about kicking the sugar and caffeine habit. We all know too much sugar is bad for you, we all know too much coffee can be bad for you too. In fact too much of just about anything can be bad for you.

I’m not going to try and convince you that these things are bad in excess, you probably already know. But I will give you a few tidbits to maybe help strengthen someone’s resolve. Sugar affects our body in several ways. It suppresses white blood cell production for up to 3 hours after you eat it, weakening your immune system, it causes insulin spikes in our blood which are then followed by lower blood sugar which can mean anything from headaches to cravings for more sugar to irritability to increased appetite to, in my case, irrational fits of weeping and sometimes vomiting when it gets too low. This becomes a vicious cycle for some people, and can really mess with your quality of life. The average adult female shouldn’t be eating more than 19 grams of sugar a day according to an article I once read in a natural living hippy style magazine, which isn’t much. (I wanted to find it for you, but I don’t even remember the name of the magazine, just that one fact that has followed me around ever since.)

So here are a few things that have helped me along the way to deal with diet excesses. I have gone cold turkey several times, eating absolutely no sugar at all. The benefit of doing this is that after about a week or two I really stopped wanting it, there were no cravings, I lost interest completely. The downfall of this method is that once I allowed myself a little taste again, I had very little control over how much and usually returned to eating sugar somewhat mindlessly in a matter of weeks after the first birthday cake or whatever it was that I allowed myself to have. What has made the most difference over the longest period of time is to become a bit of a snob, or connoisseur when it comes to sweets. I only eat it if it’s really REALLY good. And then I only need a little bit to be satisfied.

So if I was going to try to get rid of a sugar habit this is what I would do.

To start with, go two weeks at least without any kind of processed sugar thing. Don’t eat candy, don’t eat cake, don’t sweeten your coffee, don’t eat candy bars, etc. Do eat lots and lots of fresh fruit. Right now oranges are in season in the stores, get the little Clementine’s that you can peel and eat, get apples; I think the imported pineapples are fresh right now too. Anyway, the point is to satisfy your craving for sweets with fresh fruits, which are sweet and full of water. When you have a sweet craving, drink a glass of water, often re-hydrating makes the craving go away. At the start of this week throw away all of your sweets, don’t give it to someone else or eat it all before you start the week, throw it in the garbage. This might be hard; you may feel wasteful. You need to reprogram your brain to realize that this kind of food is junk and you don’t need it, seeing it at the bottom of the trash bin will help with that.

At the end of the second week go out and buy some really good dark chocolate. It can’t be milk chocolate, and it can’t be made by Hershey or Nestle. Look for dark chocolate, at least 70% solid cocoa mass. If you are near a Trader Joe’s they sell bars of single origin dark chocolate. Just like coffee cocoa beans have different qualities depending on where they’re grown. You can taste a difference. Most chocolate is blended and homogenized so that it all tastes the same, which is very sad. Most Americans have never tasted real chocolate as a result. Instead they have tasted chocolate flavored sugar wax. TJ’s also sells single origin chocolates, from three different countries in individually wrapped squares in gift packets, which is perfect because it’s built in portion control. If you can’t find good chocolate where you live, look online, I’ve seen some really tasty looking chocolate available online.

After you find your chocolate, your indulgence, don’t you dare eat it out of the wrapper on the way home. Make a nice meal; sit down at the table to eat it. Enjoy it. When dinner is over, or lunch, take out one square of chocolate, maybe pour a little glass of 15 year old antique tawny port, (If you have a husband who keeps it stocked, mine does, and it goes so well with chocolate) and slowly eat the chocolate. Pay attention to the texture, the flavor. Let it melt in your mouth, don’t chew it, pay attention to the smell, the look, the flavors. If it is a truly rich dark chocolate, you won’t want to have any more after you eat it as I’ve described. You will be satisfied. Depending on how much sugar you want to allow yourself, have a square a day, or only twice a week, but look forward to it. Plan when you are going to indulge, make sure it is with a meal for the sake of keeping the insulin from spiking and your cravings along with it. Looking forward to the chocolate should keep you from wanting to mindlessly snack on other less satisfying sweets. A candy bar, after a couple of weeks will taste waxy to you and you’ll wonder why you ate them.

After learning to love real chocolate, stick to a few rules. Plan to indulge, to keep yourself looking forward to something to keep you from binging. Only eat sugar after a meal, never by itself. Eat slowly, pay attention to it, and make it an event. Pay attention to the first three bites, give them all of your attention and you may find you are satisfied and don’t need any more. Give yourself permission to leave food on the plate. If the first bite doesn’t taste good, don’t eat any more.

Our whole family keeps Fridays and Sundays for indulgences. On Friday we share the Shabbat meal with family, and there is usually desert, on Sunday evenings it’s usually ice cream. My kids know to expect this treat and look forward to it. If they ask for something in the middle of the week, I tell them we can have it on Sunday, or Friday. We are all learning delayed gratification. When the boy wanted to try candy making thanks to a craft book, we made them and then waited to taste them until Shabbat, when we shared with everyone. When we lived in Canada there was a bakery near us that made the best Nanaimo bars, if you’re not Canadian you’ve probably never even heard of one much less tasted it. Believe me a good one is amazing. For weeks on end my planned Sunday indulgence was a Nanaimo Bar from that bakery. They were closed on Sundays, so every Saturday afternoon I would walk to the bakery and get my one bar and take it home. It would wait on top of the fridge until after lunch on Sunday, and then I would eat my one treat for that week. Anticipation does great things for our eating habits if we can use it to our advantage. I was able to pass up all sorts of temptations by mentally comparing them to my treat and rejecting them because they weren’t as good. If something did catch my eye, I would save it for Sunday and look forward to it instead.

One word about hidden sugar. Sugar is in everything these days, disguised as soup and crackers and bread and peanut butter. Read labels and try to eliminate as much hidden sweetener from your diet as possible, you’ll not only help your waistline, but you’ll keep yourself from the kinds of continued cravings that eating high sugar foods can cause which creates a vicious spiral effect where you eat more sugar and then crave more and then eat more an then crave more and you end up feeling sick.

I am less helpful when it comes to caffeine because I don’t like coffee. Here are a couple of things that may help those that do. Try not to drink it sweet or creamy since the sugar and fat have the opposite effect on your brain and you may need more to keep going. Drink more water!! In the morning before reaching for your cup of coffee try drinking two large glasses of water first. You may find yourself feeling much more alert even before you take your caffeine hit. Try the water thing throughout the day as well. Since I don’t drink caffeinated beverages I have to rely on other things to keep me going, like napsJ, but water does help a lot, as does eating foods high in fiber and protein at regular intervals throughout the day. If you find you still need stimulants there are drinks like Yerba Mate, which is a very strong tea, or matcha, which is powdered green tea from special leaves that my husband claims works as well as coffee. If you just really love the taste think of it the same way as chocolate or another indulgence. Treat yourself to really great coffee less often. Get some really aromatic dark roast espresso or something that you coffee lovers rave about, and enjoy a cup or two a day and stop there.

I hope this helps those who were asking. One last bit of advice is to read French Women Don’t get Fat that is linked in the side bar. She is really interesting and really helpful to those of us with a sweet tooth and a desire to enjoy things in moderation.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Christmas Man Rocks

We first noticed him because of his long Kris Kringle white beard and mustache as he sat in the corner of Del Taco eating his meal. He smiled at the Girl and she leaned over and told me, “He is a Christmas man.” (My kids don’t know about Santa Claus but they see all of these white bearded men around Christmas time and have concluded that they must be Christmas men. I know, you can whip me with candy canes later. They’re half Jewish anyway. It’s easier to keep them ignorant than explain the whole thing when they’re little.)

See we go to fast food restaurants too, and eat the bean and chicken burritos; which aren’t all that bad if you skip the mayonnaise sauce stuff and don’t get carried away with the super sizing or French fries and soda.

A little while later I looked over at the Christmas man who was much too skinny to be Santa Claus if the beard was gone, and noticed him tucking into an avocado. A glance later revealed an orange pepper and some grape tomatoes. He was enjoying his quesadilla and had brought with him a plethora of fresh vegetables to make his meal tastier and healthier. He was drinking water, and he ate slowly enjoying his meal, and most likely helping his digestion as well. For this week the Christmas man is my healthy eating hero, because he demonstrated how easy it is to make what we normally consume more enjoyable and better for us, just by adding vegetables.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Why it helps to eat tasty food.

I love turkey dinner, my husband thinks I’m weird that way, but you have to make a really dry turkey before I’ll not like to eat it. I like the mashed potatoes that usually accompany it, I like stuffing, I like sweet potatoes. I usually eat too much when faced with a turkey dinner, even before we factor in the desserts that usually accompany it.

This holiday season I dragged by postpartum body, my newborn, and my not quite as well groomed as usual older children to two Christmas parties. The first was with family, and it had the usual suspects, turkey, ham, potatoes, dessert, cheese, nuts, etc. I had to laugh when I realized that the mass of green gelatin on my plate, which did look quite pretty, with a hint of celery or something inside was what the sweet older family member was talking about when she kept saying salad. I laughed in my sleeve because she had worked hard. The other salad had more gelatin and cool whip and canned pears. I found myself actually craving cruciferous vegetables, but then, my hemoglobin was low and I need extra iron so we can blame that. Right?

It was fine as far as meals go, I ate, and then I went back for more potatoes and ham, I ate more cheese, I had a lot of dessert so I could sample everything, and took home nut and fruit goody bags.

The next night, we went to a friend’s house for her annual feast. She had veggies with yummy dips for appetizers. There was ham, and beef, maybe brisket I’m not sure, and green beans with a chipotle butter on them, and yams in lime juice and cilantro, and green salad, and creamy mashed potatoes, and a carrot salad, and it all tasted amazing. She had a trifle for dessert and little ginger shortbread cookies, (Trader Joe’s) and chocolates. I filled my plate once, and didn’t want to go back for seconds; my senses were completely satisfied. After enjoying some excellent wine, (Yay I can drink wine again) I finally looked at the dessert, had a small bowl of trifle, two tiny cookies, and one chocolate. I was done, and satisfied, and only wanted to drink a lot of water after that because I was thirsty.

This brings home two lessons for me. The first is that they say the more flavor in your food, the less you are likely to eat, because your appetite is satisfied sooner with the memorable food especially if you eat slowly enough to taste it the first time. Remember, I LIKE turkey dinner, but it isn’t a strong flavored meal, especially that one. The trick to avoiding over eating is to make sure your sense are satisfied, not just your stomach but your nose and your mouth and your eyes.

The second is that when you are bored, no offense to husband’s extended family, stay away from food because you will eat more than you planned in order to have something to do. I've often been the victim of the party buffet table. It goes like this, you don't have anyone to talk to, so you go to the table and get some food, conversations start at the table so you stand next to it chatting, thanks goodness I'm married now and don't have to worry what the guy watching me stuff my nouth as I talk is thinking, not that that's necessarily a good thing. While chatting, you load up on more food, and then before leaving the table you fill a little plate with something and finally go sit down somewhere. On the way to the bathroom you stop at the table again for another taste of something, and once more on your way out the door and it's an awful lot of food before you're done. It can be done with alcohol also which is usually just as many calories and then you are loaded before you leave.

So, I've devised a solution to all of this that works for me. Take one pass at the table, put the tasitest looking things on a plate and WALK AWAY. Sit down somewhere near a group of people you know, or like, or if there aren't any, a bookshelf, or a large group with one person entertaining the others. Eat slowly, talk to people, or look at books, heck if the party is super boring and you can't leave find a bed and take a nap, (Okay that may depend on where you are and who you're with) the point is, don't go back and hang out at the food table. Don't look at longingly as you walk by, don't stare over the shoulder of the person you're talking to at the new plate of cookies on the table, stay away from the table. If you're really hungry and snacky, you may go back once, and only choose vegetables or whatever the most healthful options available are. DRINK WATER. It helps me if I decide this before I walk in the door. I can stick to it if It's something I've verbalized to myself that I intend to do.

So basically I guess my cure for eating when bored is to decide that I not gonna, not this time, and stick to it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What do I make for dinner?

Last night I made a meal that I make all the time because it’s simple and tasty and fast, so now I share.

Start with chicken breasts or thighs, boneless and skinless. Thighs have more fat so go with breasts if you’re trying to lose weight. Three chicken thighs are enough for our family with two adults and 2 small children. Marinade in the juice of one lime, several drops of jalapeno hot sauce, about a tsp of salt, and if you have it a splash of rum or tequila. Marinade for at least an hour. (I usually defrost the chicken in the marinade by putting it in a Ziploc bag in a bowl of water in the sink.) Remove chicken from the marinade and cut into 1-inch cubes.

Start some brown rice cooking in the rice cooker or on the stove. Put the chicken in a frying pan over high heat with a little bit of oil. Stir frequently. While the chicken is cooking put a can or two of black beans (Or cooked from dry) in a saucepan on the stove. Add salt and pepper to taste, 1-2 tsp of ground cumin, and 1-2 tsp of ground oregano. Stir into beans and simmer for a few minutes.

Place rice, beans, and chicken on the table along with lime wedges, cilantro leaves, and hot sauce. Put the rice on the plate, then the beans, then the chicken, then squeeze limejuice over everything and add cilantro leaves. You can also serve with whole-wheat tortillas and grated cheese as well to make burritos. And salsa and sour cream always help if you want them, as well as avocado wedges. The entire prep time is about 1/2 an hour and it’s one of my favorite meals.

Notes: You can grill the chicken also and cut it after, which we often do in the summer, it takes a little bit longer to cook this way but then there is the lovely slightly black flavor as well.
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