My Food Rules

Discovering the path the health by creating my own rules

Archive for the tag “Food”

The 30-Day No Sugar Challenge!

I am returning from the blog-post death!  After 3 weeks of no posts I am back with a brand-new challenge to myself – no sugar for 30 days!  The details: No added sugars – all sugars, like honey, cane syrup, high fructose corn syrup, etc – AND no no-calories sweeteners, like aspartame or stevia.  Fruit or other natural sugars, like those found in some dairy products, are not included in the challenge, although I am watching it.

What brought on this challenge, you may ask?  Two things.  First, through tracking on My Fitness Pal, I have noticed that I consistently eat way above what the app is recommending for sugar intake.  Even on the days that I didn’t eat something known to be sugary, like chocolate, I would eat 30-50 grams of sugar.  Since everything I read about sugar makes me believe that it is pretty much the devil food, I knew I needed to cut back.  Second, I way overate sugar on a recent trip home to the U.S. (we had dessert every night and my mom made two batches of cookies in the eight days I was home) and it left me feeling the need to rid my body of its sweet, granular residue.

Today is Day 7 of the 30-day challenge and with the exception of 10 minutes of weakness on Saturday that ending in me eating 3 Ferrero Roche’s, I have held to my challenge.  I am feeling really good – much better than the gut rot I woke up with multiple days during my trip home.   Knowing I’m challenging myself has made me stop several times from grabbing a sugary snack – I’ve held my hand back from the sweet biscuits at work, said no to a co-worker offering a chocolate-coconut treat, and eaten almonds instead of All-Bran and milk for a morning snack (Did you know that sugar is the #2 ingredient in All-Bran and 30% of its calories come from sugar?  I didn’t!).

Will I lose weight from only this challenge?  I’m not sure.  But I do know that it will challenge me to think of new snacks and new ways of cooking, which is always a positive!

Stay tuned for more updates on the no-sugar challenge!

Weekly Weigh-In: Chaos!

If you’ve been following my blog, you may have realized that I didn’t write a post last week about my weekly weigh-in.  I did weigh myself, I just didn’t have time to actually write the post, so this week is going to be a two-for-one.  Last week I weighed-in at 143.  Not a complete shock that there was a bit of a gain after a 4-pound weight-loss the week prior that didn’t really make sense to me.  This week I expected it to be about the same – I had indulged a little more than necessary and exercised my heart out, which usually equals no gain/no loss.  But when I weighed in yesterday, the scale read 146.6.  WTF!?!?  How is it possible that I gained 5 pounds in two weeks?  Just for the sake of curiosity, I weighed myself this morning and today I am 144.4.  Clearly my body has absolutely no idea what it’s doing.

I’m not going to lie.  This roller coaster has left me frustrated, annoyed, and with an “I don’t care” attitude – a very dangerous place for me to be.  Case in point: Today I brought a very healthy chicken quinoa stir fry to work for lunch.  Did I eat it?  No.  Instead I chose to buy a turkey and brie toasted sandwich.  And then my colleague brought in a flourless chocolate cake from a French bakery and I had a piece of that, too!  (Let’s be honest.  The cake was amazing and I would have eaten it regardless of my current attitude.  But a small piece of chocolate cake sandwiched into a day of eating excellently isn’t too bad.  But when followed by a lunch that included brie, it is no good.)

I need to get myself out of this funk.  I’ve lost somewhere between 6 and 11 pounds.  I don’t want to go back to a loss of zero pounds, which is what will happen if I continue to eat like I did today.  I can’t control the number on the scale, but I can control what I eat and how I exercise.  I know the decisions I made today were not healthy.  I also know that eating well will lead to overall good health, a long-life (and more importantly, a high quality of life!), feeling great, sleeping well, and being able to hike up mountains – regardless of what the scale says.  I need to continue to track my calories because that is my accountability right now (I even tracked today, with some guesses on the calories in the sandwich and cake), but before eating I also need to ask myself: Will this make me feel good?  If the answer is no – whether it be a piece of chocolate cake or one too many celery sticks (gurgle, gurgle) – then I shouldn’t eat it.  Easier said than done, I know, but I think it’s a good filter.  For the next week I commit to asking myself that question before putting anything in mouth.  If nothing else, I think it will cause me to become more mindful that I am actually making a decision when I eat.  I’m not just eating a cracker because I’m passing by the jar in the kitchen at work.  I’m not consuming chocolate just because a co-worker bought some to share.  I will pause, ask myself if the food will make me feel good, and then I will proceed.  Conscious.  I’ll report back next week on how it goes!

Weekly Weigh-In: Entering a Whole New Territory

This is how I feel writing this blog post today:

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That’s me in February on top of Mount Amos overlooking Wineglass Bay in Tasmania.  The view was, without a doubt, one of the best of my life.  It was a short, but challenging hike to arrive at the top – we literally climbed on our hands and knees in sections to scramble straight up the rock face (and then had to butt-scoot back down!).  But it was worth every step for that view.

And so goes my weigh-in today.  141.6 pounds!  Not only is that a 4-pound loss from last week, but I can officially say I have never been this thin in my entire life.  That’s right – the last time I weighed 141 pounds I was 12-years-old and an inch or two shorter than I am today.   It’s a whole new territory and I don’t know what to expect.  I think that most people who have gained weight have an idea in their mind of a time they were comfortable with their weight and a specific number where they felt good about their bodies.  I have no such anchor, no number that I am striving towards on the scale.  I’m just meandering along, waiting to see how my body changes and at what point I feel good and want to stop.  I know that I’m not there yet, but that end point feels within reach like it never has before.

I think it’s worthwhile to stop for a moment and reflect upon what has changed to supercharge my weight loss.  First, I need to point out that I don’t expect this rapid weight loss to continue.  In fact, if I lose no weight next week I wouldn’t even be frustrated.  For some reason my body is shedding weight right now and I will ride the wave as long as possible, but I know that it will inevitably slow down or even plateau before I hit whatever my goal weight will be.  But there have been significant changes in my behaviors in the last few weeks:

  1. Tracking: As I mentioned in my last post, I started tracking my food intake on My Fitness Pal.  Honesty in, results out.
  2. Choosing Veg: I have been eating beans instead of meat.  I made Mexican lasagna on Sunday with pumpkin and black beans instead of beef (recipe to be posted soon!).  I am eating salads with lentils instead of chicken.  I often start my day with eggs, refried beans, and salsa.  250 calories and it packs such a punch of protein and fiber that I don’t need to eat for hours!  I have read that beans keep your blood sugar steady and I find it amazing how slowly I get hungry when I eat a lot of legumes.  The hunger comes on gradually over many hours.  I’ll notice a twinge and an hour later be only slightly hungrier.  Compare that to before when hunger attacked!   I also simply feel lighter when I consume a large amount of beans, veggies, fruits, and yogurt.  Yes, it does take a bit for the digestive system to get used to that much fiber and I definitely wouldn’t recommend incorporating beans into every meal overnight, but my system adjusted quickly and now my body is happy.  Aside from losing weight, feeling good day-to-day is its own reward.
  3. Strength Training: Six weeks ago I met with a personal trainer to redesign my weight routine.  I had been doing the same thing for months and my body wasn’t challenged anymore.  She gave me a quick routine and each exercise works multiple muscle groups.  It only takes 20 minutes and by the end I am dripping with sweat and I can feel every single muscle I have worked.  Because my heart rate stays high, I am getting cardio at the same time as strength.  Not only is this good for immediate calorie burning, but I believe that I am starting to get the long-term calorie burning effects of having more muscle.  I am burning more calories all day long!

Weekly Weigh-In: Back on Track!

You may have noticed that I did not write a weekly weigh-in post last week.  After having a minor cold for about 5 weeks, everything took a turn for the worse and I ended up at the doctor with prescriptions for a dual-antibiotic mix and an inhaled steroid.  Lovely.  For five days life was limited to working, sleeping, and eating.  No staying up past my bedtime to write the latest post – I needed to get better!  Working out became walking to and from work (still 80 minutes of activity a day) instead of walking to walk in the morning and then going to the gym for hard exercise in the evening.  I’m still not at 100%, but each day I feel better and I’m starting to realize how much that ongoing cold was dragging me down.  I have more energy, I’m happier, and my workout today had punch!  I was only on the stationary bike and treadmill, but I was gritting and pushing it and loving every second!

I’m also happy to announce that my weight this week is 145.6 pounds.  Yeah!  That is a total loss of 7 pounds since I started My Food Rules at the beginning of April.  I feel like I am back on track.  I’m experimenting with different foods, eating more vegetarian meals, and my cravings for chocolate and bread have decreased.  I also started tracking my food intake again.  After years of Weight Watchers I was tired of tracking, but following my last blog post about the frustration of working hard and not losing any weight, a friend emailed me with a suggested weight-loss program to try.  While I don’t want to do the exact program he recommended, one thing he wrote struck a chord with me – the program determines how many calories you should eat based on your activity, height, etc.  You eat those calories and then exercise to burn more, go into calorie deficit and lose fat.  Simple, yes, but it made me realize that I was probably consuming more calories than I realized.  I started tracking my food on My Fitness Pal on Saturday and have been eating between 1200-1600 calories per day, depending on exercise and hunger levels.  Let me tell you – for me to feel satisfied on that number of calories takes some planning!  There’s no room for chocolate because I need those calories to feel full!  I know that I won’t track forever, but right now it is bringing me greater awareness to my behaviors.  We can only change once we see and understand the obstacles in our way and tracking is one tool to helping me to move past the obstacles towards my goals.

I’m looking forward to the week ahead.  I hope you have a great week as well!

Ode to the Persimmon

First, a haiku:

Succulent sweetness

Gentle against my taste buds

Drowning in each bite

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On Friday a colleague told me it was persimmon season.  Per-what-ah?  Persimmons, she said.  They look like tomatoes, but they are orange and sweet.  She went on to tell me that there are two kinds – the soft kind you eat with a spoon or the firm kind that you eat like an apple.  Sounds interesting, I thought, and I put them on my list for the market.

On Saturday morning during my normal weekly visit to the Gleadell Street Market, I looked for the persimmons.  My colleague was definitely right about them being in season – an entire box was only $5!  I chose to buy three of the firm kind – mushy just didn’t sound good to me.

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After dinner on Saturday night I felt the need for something sweet – and I was a little curious about my persimmons.  So I cut the dried leaves from the top of one of the fruits and sliced it into four sections.  I took a bite.  Nothing could have prepared me for the texture and flavor of the persimmon.  It was firm, but delicate; the midpoint between the consistency of an apple and a tomato.  It was neither juicy nor dry.  A soft sweetness emanated from the fruit.  The taste didn’t explode in my mouth; rather it sunk slowly into my tongue, taking several seconds before my brain registered the complete flavor.

I have tasted fruit heroin.  I went to the supermarket yesterday and bought three more.  I am waiting until after dinner to savor my persimmon and am looking forward to it more than I would most desserts (my mom’s chocolate sad cake excepted).  Do persimmons exist in the United States?  Someone please tell me yes!  If not, I’ll just have to eat one every day while I’m in Australia!

Weekly Weigh-In: Finding Success Without Results

I want to lie and tell you that I had a great week at the scale, but the truth is I’m annoyed.  I followed through on my action plan and I went 5 entire working days chocolate free – a major feat with a stash readily available less than 15 feet from my desk.  I ate carrots, apples, yogurt, and popcorn for snacks.  I ate my one meal of indulgence and it wasn’t even all that indulgent.  After a 4-hour hike on Sunday, my hiking partners and I went to a café.  Carrot cake, hot chocolate, a blueberry muffin, and a chocolate muffin were all ordered.  I had a peppermint tea.  I worked hard and I was happy with my decisions.  This is why it was so frustrating to get on the scale and see a downward movement of only .2 pounds.  There is a part of me that wonders why I put in so much effort for virtually no result.  If I’m not going to lose weight anyway, why not eat chocolate?

But I have to ask myself – is this only about what is on the scale?  Before getting on the scale on Tuesday morning, I was pleased with the week.  I made healthy choices.  I ate fruits and veggies, worked out 6 days, walked to work 4 days, and enjoyed a walk by the bay and a hike to a waterfall on what may have been the last warm weekend of the autumn.  Isn’t this success?

Over a year ago I bought a pair of pants at The Limited.  The store clerk convinced me that they were the right size.  Although they did fit well in the legs, the muffin top that ensued was both unsightly and uncomfortable.  I can now wear those pants and a tight shirt with comfort, ease, and no visible muffin top.  Isn’t this success?

I was on the elliptical trainer last week and in my reflection I could see my biceps flex with each pull of the arm handles.  These biceps didn’t exist six months ago before I started my weight-training program.  Isn’t this success?

Today I find success in the small achievements.  I’m still frustrated that the number on the scale didn’t move, but I will get over it.  If it continues to stay put, I will reassess my goals.  But for now, all I can do is make decisions every day to become the best, healthiest version of myself that I can be, no matter what the scales tells me.

Oatmeal: Three Ways

The weather is cooling down in Melbourne.  I turned my heat on for the first time last week (I thought my adventures with appliances were over after living in my apartment for six months, but after several attempts to turn the temperature up and still have the air con spit out streams of cold air, I ended up searching online for the user manual and discovering there was a whole section of the remote control I didn’t even know existed!  One press of a button and presto – heat!  So simple.).  The change in weather likewise brings changes to my diet.  Two weeks ago I made chili.  Last night I made Mexican-inspired tacos using this recipe from Ambitious Kitchen.  I now keep soup stocked in my cupboard for those days I don’t feel like cooking and need something healthy  to eat.

And so it goes for breakfast.  What is better than waking up on a chilly morning and consuming a warm bowl of gooey oatmeal and a cup of tea or coffee?  The fact that oatmeal is quick, easy, and healthy makes it even better!  After years of making oatmeal in the microwave, I recently uncovered the deliciousness of cooking oats on the stove.  I don’t know what happens on the stove vs in the microwave, but the resulting texture is creamy, thick, smooth, and simply amazing.

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I have a formula for oatmeal: oats + fruit + nuts + spice = delicious!  I normally use half soy milk and half water for the liquid, but you could use regular milk, almond milk, or all water as well.  You will also notice that cinnamon is in every single recipe.  I love cinnamon.  I go through more cinnamon that any other spice – even salt.  But it is especially great with oatmeal.  Here are my three favorite combinations:

Peanut Butter Banana: Mix ½ cup regular (not quick) oats with ½ cup soy milk and ½ water in a small saucepan.  Turn the stove to medium heat.  When the mixture begins to boil and thicken, turn down the heat and add 1 sliced banana, 1 heaped teaspoon peanut butter, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and a dash of salt.  Add more liquid to reach desired consistency.

Blueberry Banana: Mix ½ cup regular oats with 1 cup water and ½ cup frozen blueberries in a small saucepan.  Turn the stove to medium heat.  Similar to the first recipe, when the mixture starts to thicken, add ½ sliced banana, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and a dash of salt.  Add liquid as desired and top with toasted slivered almonds.

Apple Raisin Spice: This is my favorite!  Mix ½ cup regular oats with ½ cup water, ½ cup soy milk and one diced apple in a small saucepan.  Make sure to chop the apple into fairly small pieces if you want them to be soft in the final product.  As the mixture starts to boil add ½ teaspoon cinnamon, a dash of allspice, and a dash of salt.  When your oatmeal is ready, stir in 1/8 cup raisins.  Top with chopped toasted walnuts and relish every bite!

I highly recommend that you cook oats on the stove (it only takes about 2 minutes longer than the microwave and is SO much better), but if you’re really in a time crunch, any of these recipes can be made in the microwave.  If using frozen fruit or an apple be sure to cook them with the oats and liquid for four minutes to ensure they are hot and soft.  I recommend stirring in the banana at the halfway point in cooking otherwise it will become complete mush.  But please try the stovetop method – you will be amazed at the difference and want to eat oatmeal every morning!

Ask Yourself: What Are Your Trigger Foods?

There are decadent foods that I can eat, enjoy, and then move on without wanting more.  Cheese falls into this category.  I buy small quantities of great cheese at the market, savor it in tastes, and rarely overeat.

And then there are foods where one taste is like opening the flood gates.  Eating a single slice of banana bread with fruit or an egg for breakfast would be reasonable.  But put a loaf of banana bread in front of me and it will be nearly impossible for me to stop at just one piece.

These triggers food can put a serious damper on weight loss efforts.  No matter how well we eat 95% of the time, if that other 5% is spent binging on hoards of food it’s going to be hard to meet weight loss goals.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself to identify and manage your trigger foods:

1.  What foods do you consistently overeat?

My trigger foods are white and fruit breads (wholegrain is fine), milk chocolate, homemade cookies, sweet cereals, ice cream, and corn chips (particularly the lime chips – my god, they are good).   For you they might be Doritos, gummy worms, pretzels, or peanut butter.  They don’t necessarily have to be foods that are bad for you in reasonable quantities.  The goal is to identify the foods that cause you to lose control over your portions, eat more than you planned, and derail your goals.

2. What are your gateway foods?

I love wine.  To me, a great meal is not complete without a glass of red wine.   Turkey and stuffing without Beaujolais Nouveau and it wouldn’t really be Thanksgiving.  While I don’t usually over consume the wine itself, I know that when I’ve had a glass or two of wine, I am more likely to munch on other foods I don’t need.  I’ll find myself eating the leftover slice of bread while cleaning up after the dinner party is finished or running down the street to buy ice cream for dessert.  This is one of several reasons that I no longer consume a glass of wine with dinner every night.  I absolutely still drink wine, just not daily.  Does this happen to you when you consume any foods or beverages?

3.  How can you enjoy your trigger foods without overeating?

This is the third time in this single blog post that I have written about bread.  That gives you an idea of how much I love it.  Particularly toasted in the oven and dipped in olive oil.  My mouth is watering just typing that sentence!  But having an entire loaf of crusty, gushy, fresh bread in the house is a recipe for disaster.  I’m definitely not ready to give up bread, though, so I have learned that I need purchase it in small quantities – one dinner roll from the bakery or a demi-baguette from the grocery store.  When the dinner roll is gone there isn’t an option to eat more – perfect portion control and I still get to enjoy!

Identifying and learning to manage my trigger foods has helped me immensely in becoming healthier and moving towards my weigh loss goals.  I hope it helps you, too!

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!

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!

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