Refreshing

There is something about heading into the fall that makes me want to embrace the remains of summer and start refreshing everything around me! I want to bask in the warmth of August and eat the fresh, beautiful foods of the season.

I also want to start cleaning everything out! Since I returned from our family vacation at the beginning of the month, I’m on a rampage to clear the junk out of our house and organize. I’m slowly working through the rooms in the house, and I feel like I’m reviving the energy throughout the whole house. Ahhhhhh!

One of my food challenges continues to be getting in enough servings of fruits and vegetables. I wish I liked more of them. Maybe that would help. But I’m giving up the self-judgment on that topic. I am willing to try new things, but I’m not going to beat myself up when I don’t like a food.

Still, I’m always looking for ways to bring those good-for-you fruits and veggies into my life. Sometimes I resort to a tried and true mom trick: I sneak them into my food 🙂  I roast veggies like eggplant and butternut squash with a little olive oil and salt. Then after they cool, I put them in the food processor. From there, I spoon the pureed veggies into an ice-cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, I pop them into a zip-top bag and put them back in the freezer. Then I have them ready to go when I want to add them to a sauce or soup, such as into a tomato sauce for spaghetti. It adds a bit of texture and the sweetness of the veggies that roasting can bring out. But I hardly notice that it’s there.

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Another thing I do to have fresh fruits and vegetables on hand is have them delivered. I use a service that delivers fresh, organic, local, in-season fruits and veggies. I just get the little box, and I only get it every other week. That’s enough for us! Sometimes I try something new, but I also tend to use all 5 of my substitutions to make sure I get foods that I and my family will actually eat.

Last week, I got a whole bunch of tomatoes. Boy are they amazing right now! And I knew just what I wanted to do with them: make a fresh, cool batch of bruschetta. I love this recipe from the Pioneer Woman. Cooking the garlic not only brings out the flavor, but it saves me and my sensitive stomach from a night of heartburn that I would otherwise get from raw garlic 🙂  She used 2 pints of tomatoes, but since mine were whole, I just used about 300g instead (I think it was about 4 or 5). I sliced up some French baguette and melted some fresh mozzarella on some of the slices and practically swooned over the flavors bursting in my mouth!

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Don’t those vibrant colors just make you want to get in your kitchen and whip up a batch, too??

My Food Plan

In a recent post, I talked about various strategies to get – or get back – on track. One of them was tracking my food. And that is my basic food plan. I am not on a diet where I restrict a list of foods. In fact, there are almost no “off limit” foods for me. So how does that work?

I started using the My Fitness Pal app (it’s the one I read about in Cooking Light, January 2014). It takes some effort, especially in the beginning. But the more you use it, the more it knows about the foods you eat, so they are easier to look up and enter. You can use the app on your phone or the website on your computer. I use both, depending on what I’m trying to do. I set up my goals by telling it some basic information: my current weight, my goal weight, how much weight I want to lose per week (I started with one pound per week and now have it set to half a pound per week), and my activity level. Then it comes up with target nutrition goals. I focus mainly on the calories but am also aware of fat and carbs, as those are of course the things I crave!

After that, I start logging. I am most successful at staying within my target if I plan most or all of my food the day before. Of course I still make adjustments throughout the day, depending on what happens or what I’m craving. But having an idea of what’s coming throughout the day helps stop me from mindless snacking.

As I said, I do not deprive myself of any foods. I’ve gone down that road enough times to know it does not work for me. If I say, for example, that I can’t eat chocolate, I become this crazy person who can’t stop thinking about food and ends up eating all kinds of other things that are really no better. I become so irritable and most unpleasant to be around! And wasn’t I just writing about how this is still supposed to be fun?! I may be trying to make changes in myself when it comes to my body and my health, but that doesn’t mean that my personality has to suffer (especially at the expense of the people around me!).

So instead of depriving myself, it’s all about portions and balance. I measure most of my food (unless it’s already pre-measured for me, like in those 100 calorie packs). I have to admit, the math geek in me actually enjoys measuring! And I have some fun playing the numbers game. It goes something like this: “I really want some chocolate. But I only have 50 calories to spend. Okay, so that’s about 2 dark chocolate Hershey Kisses.” I used to be the person who couldn’t have just one or two – I wanted a whole handful, if not the whole bag! But now I can be much more disciplined about it … most of the time 🙂 And I really savor those one or two little chocolates.

Of course, I do try to make healthy choices, too! That is sometimes a struggle for me. I use another app called Healthy Habit Tracker to try to eat enough fruits and vegetables and drink enough water each day. It’s amazing how a day can go by so quickly before I realize I haven’t had enough!

The balance comes from looking at my whole day. If I want to have some light ice cream at night (I’ve become hooked on Edy’s slow-churned mint chocolate chip!), then I can’t have a cookie earlier in the day. So maybe I’ll have that cookie the next day instead.

So I still eat cookies and ice cream and chips. We still have hamburgers and french fries. We still order pizza. And we still go out to eat. In fact, my husband and I have date night every Thursday! When I eat out, I look up the nutritional info online, if it’s available. That means eating at a lot of chain restaurants – at least in the beginning. But now that I’ve gotten a better sense of food, I feel more confident to eat at other restaurants, too. I just look up the food I want to eat on My Fitness Pal and choose one from the list that sounds about right. And when I know we’re going out at night, or ordering pizza, then it’s especially important for me to plan the day ahead of time!

What I really like about planning out the day like this and balancing my foods is that I really get to enjoy eating! It takes the guilt completely out of the equation, because I’ve already accounted for it. I can really dig in to that slice of cheese pizza. Or savor the creaminess of the mint ice cream and the richness of the dark chocolate chips. Yum!!

Wait for it…

So far, most of my posts have been more abstract about things like being kind to your self or getting inspired or taking it one step at a time. Here’s something a little more practical.

A strategy that has worked for me in the past  –  and one I’m trying to re-implement now  –  is to wait for it. In other words, if there is something I know I want to eat, I wait until at least the afternoon to have it. If I splurge in the morning, I could be in big trouble all day long.

For example, I am a Coke-drinker. I just really enjoy the taste of a good, cold Coke. I’ve tried cutting back – or cutting it out – a million times. But it’s hard! Right now, my goal is to drink a maximum of 4 ounces a day. However, if I indulge in the late morning, it’s almost a given that I will be giving in again in the afternoon. And I end up way beyond that 4-ounce limit. But if I wait until after 2pm – or later – then I’m usually good! It also helps me to get in some much healthier water earlier in the day. (Another tip here, if you also enjoy soda, is to switch to seltzer water. It’s an acquired taste, for sure, but the flavored ones can be pretty good. And sometimes, I really just like all that bubbly carbonation.)

Here’s another example. I love chocolate. In fact, I’m always a little suspicious of people who actually don’t like chocolate. Really?? Come on! I’ve gotten pretty good at choosing dark chocolate. Sometimes I don’t even want to waste the calories on something that is only milk chocolate (except perhaps the occasional Snickers bar!). Again, if I can hold off until the afternoon for that sumptuous bite of rich, dark chocolate – perhaps coating some crunchy, salty cashews – it really works. I make a healthier choice in the morning and at lunch and then I can really savor the delicious treat later in the day.

It may seem obvious, but sometimes those are the best tips of all!

Now I’m going to go enjoy that taste of dark chocolate!

The Body

I love that my body has remained neutral through every step. It never sought revenge for all the negative abuse I gave it. All those awful words and feelings I threw at it throughout the years. The weight may have piled on, but still my body continued to work for me. It moved and healed and did all I asked of it.

When I was ready to be kind, to appreciate it for the extraordinary thing that it is, it was ready to respond. I think perhaps it was eager  –  chomping at the bit  –  so ready to get going!! The results came quickly and continued. Even as I had my doubts and slips back into old habits throughout the year, it kept on going.

Have you ever stopped to think about how much your body does? In every moment of every day, it is accomplishing all kinds of feats from behind the scenes. Inside us, there is a veritable symphony of workings going on. Do you ever stop to thank your body for all the things it does without ever being asked?

I never did. Until I became pregnant. During my two pregnancies, my perspective on my body shifted drastically.

The first thing that happened was that I no longer hated my belly. I always carried my weight in my stomach. How many times I would try on clothes and think, “Nope. Can’t buy that. It makes me look pregnant.” But, ta-dah! I actually was pregnant. My body was supposed to look like that! For the first time in my life, I felt beautiful from head to toe. It was thrilling!

So with my first pregnancy, I began to really appreciate my body from the outside. With my second pregnancy, I turned inward. I began to have a stronger awareness of all those wondrous things the body just does. All on its own. It just knows what to do. A life was growing inside of me. My body grew a whole new organ to support that little life. It’s extraordinary when you really stop to think about it.

So if my body could do all that, surely it could change on a cellular level. I could retrain it to slim down.

For me, losing weight was not just about food. It wasn’t about calories in and out. It wasn’t about exercise. Yes, all of those things were a part of it, but it has been vastly bigger than all that. First, I needed to change how I thought about my body. I needed to appreciate it. I needed to be grateful for it. And I needed to be kind to it.

The Magic of Yoga

Almost six years ago, I started practicing yoga. At first, I went to relieve muscles that were tight from so much time spent in front of a computer and hunched over books. I had no idea at the time that yoga would propel me down a life-changing path.

In the beginning, I felt awkward and conspicuous. But it felt good, so I kept at it.

My yoga studio is really special. Each 90-minute class begins with a short lecture on various aspects of yoga history, culture, and philosophy. Then there is focus on the breath and encouragement to set an intention for the class. It offers a beautifully supportive environment and encourages students to be true to themselves and listen to their bodies.

Two years later, I happened upon a special edition of Yoga Journal magazine that focused on weight loss. Every single article in the magazine spoke to me. I knew yoga would play a significant role in my journey.

This journey of change still had to wait a bit, as I was about to become pregnant with my second child. Through both of my pregnancies, I continued my yoga practice in a prenatal class. Not only was it beneficial to my physical self, but the groups were so supportive and provided a wonderful space to exchange information and make friends. Knowing there was a little life growing inside of me also helped me listen more carefully to my body and not push myself beyond my limits merely for the sake of keeping up with my neighbor.

What have I learned in yoga?

Throughout my years of practice, I have grown stronger and more flexible. I can now do poses that I thought I would never get into. My heels touch the ground in downward dog (well, most of the time!). I never thought my tight shoulders would allow me to get into eagle arms, but not too long ago I tried again and was thrilled to find I could twist my arms into the previously impossible pose! Hurrah! Ooooh, it feels so good to see and feel the progress! Does it matter that it’s take 5 years to get there? No way! If I’d never tried, I never would have gotten there.

But the benefits have been far more than physical. I have learned  –  and continue to learn  –  to focus on my own body and not compare myself to others in the class. My teachers always encourage this mindset of non-judgment. “Listen to your own body before you listen to me,” one says. As I practice the skill of non-judgement, I have become more accepting of my body. And in turn, I have come to appreciate my body more and more. Look at what it can do! And the more I appreciate my body, the more it is capable of doing.

Yes, I have become stronger and more flexible. But even from the very beginning, there were poses I could easily slip in to. I not only felt strong and flexible in these poses: I felt graceful … even beautiful at times. Focusing on these positive feelings inspires me to continue my practice. And I was further able to take these feelings of grace and beauty with me off the mat and into my daily life.

I learned that I have strengths and weaknesses. And both can always be improved upon. I know that my body still has certain physical weaknesses, including a back left sore from my pregnancies and childbirth. So instead of trying to force myself into backbends and further injuring my low back, I lie face-down on the mat and simply breathe. Sometimes I still have to talk myself out of my fears of judgment from others: even if someone is looking at me (which they probably are not, as they are focused on their own poses), there is no reason for anyone to judge. Remember? We all have strengths and weakness, and we need to honor our bodies for where they are in that moment.

I will admit to a moment of comparison. It was a moment of great revelation for me. A young man accompanied his mother to class one day. He looked to be about college-age and very athletic  –  maybe a baseball player. I had never considered myself to be athletic. Although I had played a variety of sports as a kid, I always felt inferior  –  largely due to the feeling of being overweight. It didn’t help that gym teachers never encouraged me or made me feel that I was capable of improving. So there I sat in my yoga class with this young man a few mats over from me in the back row of class. The old feelings of inferiority crept in. But as I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye, I was astonished to see how much difficulty he had with the poses  –  poses that I easily got into! What? Could this be? This comparison, however, was not one of self-deprecation and was by no means a feeling of superiority over this young man. It was, as I said, a revelation. It may sound obvious, but in that moment I realized that “being athletic” had a thousand different interpretations. It did not simply mean one was good at sports. I finally realized that I, too, was athletic in my yogi way!

It was a huge moment for me. I was no longer that big girl, so horribly self-conscious. Through my yoga class, the awkward, bruised little girl in me, who had felt so inadequate for so long, finally began to feel soothed. My confidence began to grow more and more. And as it did, so did my appreciation and love for my body.

It felt amazing.

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I was inspired to finally write this post in part by an article I just read in the latest issue of Yoga Journal about the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and their efforts to raise awareness of yoga as a practice that embraces and can be embraced by every body. (See Yoga Journal, February 2015, p. 50) You can read more about the coalition here.