My Food Rules

Discovering the path the health by creating my own rules

Weekly Weigh-In: The Chocolate Onslaught Continues…

It’s probably not a surprise reading the headline of my post to know that I haven’t lost any weight this week.  Same old, same old at 148.4.  At this point I have to ask myself: Do I really want to change?  The answer, definitively, is yes.  My yearning to be at a healthier weight where I look and feel good is no less than when I created My Food Rules.  But clearly something needs to change to get there or I will be stuck here, forever writing Tuesday after Tuesday about how I want more, but never actually seeing the results of that desire.   I am a person of action, so I created a plan of attack.  This is what I am going to do:

  1. Buy a bag of apples to put on the chocolate table in my office.  Without a healthy option readily available, my two choices were chocolate or nothing.  Now the choice is chocolate or apple.  Yes, I realize the chocolate will still be tempting, but I think the constant visual of the fruit will help me make the right decision.
  2. Refresh My Food Rules and update My List of go-to meals (Here’s a link to read My Food Rules: https://mydietrules.wordpress.com/about/the-rules/).  I have been having a great time experimenting with different recipes and even creating some of my own recipes for the first time in my life.  This is a good thing for me – I love variety and if I eat the same thing day after day I will get bored and stray from healthy choices.   But the whole purpose of having The List is to know how I should plan my meals.  By straying from The List, I have given myself permission to break My Rules.   And since I’ve already broken them once, why not again?
  3. Bring a ton of healthy snack options to work.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t eat everything I bring each day.  Fruits, veggies, and yogurt will always last until tomorrow.

There it is.  This week I will do my utmost to make healthy options available to me at all times.  I will re-commit myself to My Rules because I know that they work – I just need to follow them and the results will happen.

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Southwestern Chopped Salad

I love Mexican flavors.  Lime, cilantro, the soft hint of chili.  Mmmmm…..I think I crave them even more now living in Australia because they are not readily available.  Canned black beans, a staple of my diet in the U.S., do not exist in Melbourne grocery stores.  Out of season, limes can cost well over a dollar apiece and avocados can be upwards of $3, making a simple burrito prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, it is the season for these wonderful flavors right now and I felt inspired to make a tangy, healthy, and delicious chopped salad.  This is essentially Chili’s Southwestern Cobb Salad – just with a tad less calories and fat.  Like probably 700 less calories and 50 fewer grams of fat.  Not much, just a smidge.

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Chili Lime Marinade

  • 2 small boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • Chili sauce, to taste

Mix lime juice, soy sauce, and chili sauce together in container or Ziplock bag.  Push garlic cloves through a garlic press into marinade.  If you don’t own a garlic press, it is fine to mince the garlic, but putting it through the press will really bring out the flavor.   Add the chicken breasts and marinate for 4-10 hours.  I put the chicken in the marinade before leaving for work and it is perfect when I come home.  The chicken will turn a little white in the marinade – this is just the lime “cooking” the chicken, like it does with fish in ceviche.  In a perfect world, you would grill the chicken before adding it to the salad, but since we don’t all have grills (including me), cooking the chicken on the stove over medium heat will work as well.

Cilantro Lime Dressing

  • ½ cup lowfat Greek yogurt
  • Juice of one lime
  • Handful of cilantro, including stems
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and chop until fully blended.  It’s that easy!  I love lime and this dressing is quite potent, so if you aren’t quite as big a lime fan as I am, you might want to use only ½ lime.

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Salad

  • Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 large avocado, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 2 ears corn boiled and cut off the cob or 2/3 cup canned corn
  • 2 grilled chicken breasts, marinated in the Chili Lime Marinade
  • Lime Cilantro Dressing

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Distribute salad ingredients evenly between two plates. Drizzle dressing over the salad or serve dressing on the side for the fork method of distributing salad dressing (maximum taste, minimum calories).   Enjoy!

Weekly Weigh-In: April 30

I am not very happy to be writing this post.  In fact, I really wanted to skip the weigh-in and post for this week and move right to next week.  It wasn’t a terrible week, but after writing last week about planning ahead and moving forward, I knew that other derailers had gotten in the way of success at the scale.  And it was true – I weighed in at 148.4 – a loss of .2 pounds.

I wanted to write that a .2 loss was not what I had hoped for, but I have come far enough in my weight loss journey to know that I cannot “hope” weight away.  The desires and plans in my head need to translate to action or nothing will change.  I realized this week that when I have control over my environment, I generally stick to my plans, but if my environment changes, then I lose control and make poor decisions.  I am nearly always able to say no to buying a toasted panini for lunch, but when they are sitting in the kitchen at work leftover from a meeting, they are very hard to resist.  This is exactly what happened this week – I walked into the office on Monday morning and there were 6 different containers of chocolate sitting on our table – chocolate covered caramel, chocolate mints, a mix of dark and milk chocolate chips, Ferrero-Roche, and a variety box of Cadbury treats.   My manager bought them for us as a treat for a busy week ahead.  I appreciate the thought, but sugar and fat is not the treat any of us need!  On top of that I was unexpectedly invited on a wine tour for Saturday.  I love wine, it was a beautiful autumn day, and it may have been my only chance to go wine tasting in the Yarra Valley.  I’m not sorry that I made the decision to go, but I didn’t plan ahead for it and save my indulgences for Saturday – no, the indulgence had already happened with chicken parmigiana on Wednesday night.

As I reflect, I believe this has been my biggest roadblock over the years to reaching my true goal weight.  When the unexpected happens, I usually say yes when I need to say no. I need to figure out a way to control myself when I can’t control my environment.  I am at a bit of a loss.  What has worked for you?   How do you make good decisions when faced with the unexpected?   Please share – I welcome any suggestions!

Chili-Ginger Roasted Pumpkin

I am a fantastic modifier.  Give me an essay and I will edit it magnificently.  Hand me a deck of training materials and I will adapt them to fit the needs of the audience.  I scour websites to combine recipes and tweak them to my liking.  But creating something entirely new from only my instinct and imagination?   That is not my forte.  But this time I decided to try something different.

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In the U.S. pumpkin is served as pie or maybe soup and generally in the autumn during harvest.  In Australia pumpkin is the generic term for many types of orange and yellow squashes and is served all year around in everything from curry to salad to pizza.  It’s delicious!  A few weeks ago I had spicy roasted pumpkin at a restaurant and decided I wanted to make it myself.  Instead of looking for a recipe online, I decided to throw caution to the wind and throw together ingredients I conjectured to be a good combination.  I created a dressing of chilis minced in the food processor, honey, and cinnamon.  I basted the pumpkin, stuck it in the oven at 400 and waited to see what would happen.  My apartment smelled delicious as the pumpkin was baking.  Unfortunately, though, the honey melted off the pumpkin, taking the chili with it, and burnt to a crisp on the bottom of the pan.  The pumpkin itself was still edible, but not as spicy as I wanted, way too sweet, and very much in need of salt.

And so I tweaked.  I eliminated the cinnamon, decreased the honey, and added olive oil, ginger, salt, and a touch of cayenne pepper.  The end result – delicious!  And even better, it was easy to make and great for leftovers.  Here is my very first personal recipe creation:

  • ½ large Kent Japanese pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 diced chilis
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, diced or pushed through a garlic press
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
  • Coarse salt, to taste

Cut the pumpkin into slices like you would a melon.  Discard the seedy flesh from the middle of each slide.  Cut the slices into similar-sized pieces approximately 2×2 inches. The pieces won’t be exactly uniform, but making them about the same size will ensure even cooking.  There is no need to remove the skin.  It will be very easy to cut the skin away from the meat once the pumpkin is cooked.  I used a Kent Japanese pumpkin, but I think you could use a wide variety of pumpkins, including the common butternut squash and acorn squash.

Place your pieces of pumpkin in a single layer into a 13×9 pan coated with nonstick cooking spray.  Mix the honey, olive oil, ginger, and chili in a small bowl.  Add cayenne pepper to give the mix as much or as little kick as you would like.  Baste each piece of pumpkin and finish by sprinkling salt over the entire dish.  Bake at 400 degree for 30-40 minutes, testing the tenderness of the pumpkin at 30 minutes by piercing one of the pieces with a fork.  I prefer the pumpkin cooked very well, but not yet mushy, so I cook it 35-40 minutes.  Cook less for firmer pumpkin, more for mushy, sweet pumpkin.

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I ate the pumpkin this week with sautéed green beans and chicken in a Thai marinade.  It was a great combination.   Pumpkin is very versatile and this recipe could be altered to your liking – I tried garam masala, olive oil, and salt later in the week and it was also great!  Be creative!  Let me know what works for you!

Ask Yourself: When you do feel bad?

I usually like to focus on the positive, but when it comes to food, I think it’s equally important to examine what makes you feel bad in addition to when you feel your best.  Thinking back on the last month of eating, when have you felt low-energy after a meal?  When has your sleep been interrupted?  When have you just felt blah? My trends are pretty easy to pinpoint – overconsumption of sugar and refined flour are the biggest culprits.  Alcohol is another, particularly wine.  If I don’t consume any alcohol, I nearly always sleep through the night.  With even one glass of wine at night that percentage plummets.   More than a glass and I wake up dehydrated and with acid reflux.  It’s awesome.  I love wine and sometimes decide it is worth the side effects, but I have stopped drinking a glass of wine with dinner on a nightly basis.

Now back to the sugar and flour.  Hot cross buns are a traditional Easter treat in Australia.  Being American, this was a new food to me (if you would have asked me two months ago, I would have told you that Hot Cross Buns was the first song I learned to play on my recorder in fifth grade!) and I wanted to taste – and taste I did.  Hot cross buns are sweet cinnamon and raisin doughy goodness that only improves when toasted and covered in butter.   Hot chocolate chip buns with Nutella aren’t bad either.  This wasn’t just a one-day affair – hot cross buns showed up at work every day the week preceding Easter.  Oh’ and there were chocolate eggs daily as well.  By the end of the week I felt like I needed to go on a vegetable juice fast to rid my bod of the hot cross buns and Cadbury chocolate toxins.

When do you feel this way?  Choose to eat these foods sparingly and try to remember the motivation to feel your best when saying no.  It’s not easy and I am still working on making the right choices, but I’m always rewarded when I do!

Weekly Weigh-In: April 23

I stepped on the scale on Tuesday morning and the result for the week was 148.6 pounds.  The same as the week before.  This wasn’t a huge surprise, but I certainly didn’t want the trend to continue, so instead of just pushing ahead through to the week ahead, I reflected.  What were the differences between weeks 1 and 2, when I lost weight, and week 3, when I plateaued?  Last week I attributed my loss to planning ahead for a busy week.  This week, unfortunately, was the opposite.  I planned a few meals on Friday and bought fruits and vegetables at my Saturday market, but by Wednesday I was completely out of food with no time to shop.  As an example, on Sunday night I made delicious oven-roasted veggies (recipe here: https://mydietrules.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/oven-roasted-veggies/) with chicken koftas.  Monday lunch was leftover veggies and koftas.  Tuesday lunch was veggies and plain chicken breast.  Wednesday lunch was more veggies – and chili tuna straight from the can.  Now that is desperation!  I also hadn’t planned for snacks, so when I was hungry on Thursday afternoon, I bought pretzels and a Coke Zero at work instead of having my usual healthy snacks of hard-cooked eggs or yogurt with fruit.

This week on Sunday night I made a giant vat of chili with lean ground beef, kidney beans, pinto beans, green peppers, onions, and carrots.   This dish makes me feel great – protein, legumes, vegetables and a ton of flavor.  I also made a marinade for chicken and stuck it in the refrigerator.  I marinated chicken for Monday dinner and have enough to for another dinner this weekend.  Additionally, I bought yogurt to keep at work so that I have no excuses to give into salty carb snacks when I’m hungry.  We will hope this is enough planning to get me through a crazy week at work – and enough filling food to keep me away from the chocolates my manager brought our team on Monday for the busy week ahead.  The scale will tell the truth on Tuesday!

Hidden Sugar: My Worst Offenders

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I read an article on Yahoo this week that stated there were 57 different names for sugar.  FIFTY-SEVEN!  Of course, we can all recognize the common labels – white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar.  But what about the other-worldly galactose?  Dextrose and maltose?  Some sugars almost sound healthy.  Brown rice syrup, anyone?  Despite a name that provokes an image of a bee happily buzzing from flower to flower, honey is still sugar.  And raw sugar, invert sugar, and turbinado sugar?  Yep, all still simply sugar.

I have no issues occasionally indulging in a great dessert.  Whenever my Mom bakes our family’s famous Chocolate Sad Cake (so named because it is downright ugly, but oh so delicious) I am the first to jump in line to have a piece.  But I want to choose when I’m going to indulge and have something sweet.  I don’t want sugars sneaking into my diet leaving me believing I am eating something healthy when really there are six different sugary components, hidden with fancy names and split up so that none of the sweeteners is at the top of the list of ingredients.  After all, Dr. Oz says not to eat anything with a sweetener in the top five ingredients, right?  But what if they are ingredients 6, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 15?

Even during my Weight Watchers years when I was dutifully counting points I didn’t pay much attention to sugar.  But now I look at grams of sugar and search labels for hidden ingredients.  Why?  Of course, there are a plethora of medical reasons to avoid sugar.  But it’s mostly because I don’t feel good when I eat too much added sugar.  I do differentiate between processed and naturally occurring sugars – too many gummy worms and I feel sick.  Bananas, on the other hand, have never left me with gut rot.  When I started looking at labels there were a few surprises.  Many foods generally classified as “healthy” are full of sugar.  Here are my worst offenders:

Flavored Yogurts: A few years ago my Dad and I had an argument about this one.  He had a firm belief that his Yoplait fat-free yogurt was an exceptionally healthy breakfast.  He really didn’t believe me that it contained an inordinate amount of sugar.  The good news was this was an easy argument to settle – we got a container of yogurt from the refrigerator and examined the label.  14 grams of sugar.  Fours grams more than a glazed Krispy Kreme donut.

Lesson Learned: Choose plain regular or Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit.  My favorite combination is apple and cinnamon.  Still tasty and much more nutritious!

Low-Fat Peanut Butter: Creamy Jif peanut butter has 190 calories per two tablespoon serving.  Reduced-fat Jif peanut butter has 190 calories per two tablespoon serving.  Wait!  Lowfat is supposed to be lower in calories!  So what is happening here?  Simple – peanuts are naturally full of fat.  Taking the fat out of peanuts makes them taste bad, so sugar is added to make the food more palatable.  Although, in the case of peanut butter, I have to say it was a miserable failure.  Have you ever tasted low-fat peanut butter?  Terrible!

Lesson Learned: Peanut-butter is high in calories and fat, but if you’re going to have it, by all means, eat the kind that tastes good!

Granola Bars: A few weeks ago the Be Natural brand was giving away granola bars and oatmeal in Federation Square on my walk to work.  I grabbed one of the Nut Delight bars and went on my way.  That afternoon I opened the bar and took a bite.  I was immediately hit by overwhelming sweetness.  To the eye, the bar was mostly a mixture of different nuts, but the glue holding it all together was a syrupy, honey sugar.  Looking at the ingredients confirmed my suspicions – the first ingredient was mixed nuts, but ingredients 2, 3, and 4 were invert sugar, glucose, and honey.  Even Kashi, which I very much regard as a great brand with excellent products, often have multiple kinds of sugar in their granola bars.  Their Fruit and Nut bars contain brown rice syrup, dried cane syrup, cane syrup, honey, and molasses.

Lesson Learned:  Granola bars can be a great snack on the go.  Just make sure to look at the nutritional info and ingredients list to know what you are eating.

Tomato Sauce: Until recently it had never occurred to me that marinara sauce contained added sugar.  After all, tomatoes are relatively sweet on their own and marinara sauce doesn’t taste overly sugary.  But I was wrong.  The epiphany came when looking at the calorie count of different kinds of marinara sauces and I saw that the sauces ranged between 40 and 110 calories for a ½ cup serving.  110 calories for a ½ cup of marinara sauce?!?  How could that be?  The answer: Sugar (and sometimes oil).   As a point of comparison, Classico Tomato and Basil sauce has 45 calories and 5 grams of sugar per serving with no added sweeteners.  Prego Chunky Garden Tomato, Onion, and Garlic sauce has 90 calories and 10 grams of sugar.  Put “garden” in the title of a food and it sounds like it should be the healthier option, right?  Wrong!

Lesson Learned: Read the label and choose a marinara sauce with no added sugar.  Or better yet, pick up a can of diced tomatoes with Italian herbs.  Delicious and, for the most part, what you see is what you get.

Weekly Weigh-In: April 16

I wasn’t sure about this week.  I got a terrible cold on Thursday and wasn’t able to do my normal intensity or length of exercise for the entire second half the week.  I was also exhausted – I almost fell asleep while riding on the tram on Saturday!  Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to put the little energy I had into cooking.  My saving graces were the pumpkin soup I had purchased the weekend prior, salad ingredients ready to go in my refrigerator, and veggie burgers in the freezer.   Because of planning for the unexpected and including easy meals on My List, it was easy to follow The Rules when I normally would have gone completely off track.

And the efforts paid off – 148.4, a 1.2 pound loss!  I would be ecstatic if I lost that amount every week.  The goal for this week?  Get back to normal with my exercise and just keep on keepin’ on with everything else!

Ask Yourself: When do you feel your best?

I originally created My List of meals and snacks to have a quick reference of healthy meals so that when I didn’t have time to think about what I was cooking for dinner I had a menu full of healthy choices.  Deciding what made it on The List and what might be better saved for a meal of indulgence was somewhat about fat, fiber, and protein, but it was even more about what foods make me feel good and what I find satisfying – and delicious!

I know that I need some protein at every meal otherwise I will go off the deep end with carbs.  But I also know that a high-protein diet, particularly one high in meat, leaves me feeling blah.  Legumes are a wonderful thing for me – high in protein and fiber, but not so much roughage to mess with the digestive system.  Fruits or veggies are a must at every meal.  I often modify my recipes to include more vegetables – for example, soup might call for onions, carrots and celery and I will add swiss chard, zucchini, and red peppers to the mix.  I also know that I need to feel full from each meal so that I’m not reaching for a snack 30 minutes after I’m finished eating.

Keeping this in mind, I started to create My List.  Breakfast is often oatmeal with cinnamon, blueberries, banana, and walnuts or scrambled eggs with fruit.  Some of my favorites for dinner are Moroccan spiced tomato stew with chickpeas and lamb meatballs, chicken stuffed with spinach and feta, roasted vegetables with chicken koftas (bought from my local market), and chana masala.  These take a fair amount of time and work, so I also have salad with grilled chicken, soup, and veggie burgers on my dinner list.  Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner the previous night.  Snacks include plain yogurt with fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and veggies with hummus.  Eating these foods keeps me going, makes me feel good, and most importantly, I look forward to eating them!

What are you eating when you feel your best?  When do you have the most energy?  Feel the most satisfied?   Use your answers to create your own list of meals or perhaps to start discovering your food rules.

Oven-Roasted Veggies

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I can take no credit for this recipe.  My mom started making it years ago and I have no idea where she got it.  But it is so delicious that it needs to be shared.

  • 10 unpeeled red potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup baby carrots or two large carrots cut into 1-2 inch sticks
  • 1 onion, cut into wedges and separated into pieces
  • 1 red pepper, cut into large bit-sized pieces
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pushed through a garlic press
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary or a few tablespoons fresh rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine oil, lemon juice, garlic, and rosemary.  Place all vegetables except the pepper into a 13×9 inch pan, drizzle dressing, toss to coat and add salt and pepper as desired.  Roast uncovered at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.  Add red pepper, toss vegetables to mix, and return to oven for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are fully cooked.  Serve immediately.

Mix up the flavors of the dish by adding vegetables such as parsnips, rutabaga, zucchini, or snow peas.  Substitute oregano for the rosemary for a twist or add a sprinkle cayenne pepper for a little kick.

This is a great side dish for nearly any kind of meat.  Tonight I ate it with chicken koftas I purchased from my local market, but my favorite combination is with pork tenderloin and mustard sauce.  Yum!

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