If you know me at all, you will probably agree that I don’t always know how to take a compliment (though even I will admit I’ve gotten better at this), and will most likely resort to self-deprecation. If there’s something I’m painfully aware of, I try to jump the gun and make my own remark about the obvious offender (bad skin, being overweight, even messing up a recipe). In this respect there is, unfortunately, always food for fodder; there room for improvement is never-ending. I will be the first to admit that I’m nowhere near perfect – in any regard – but there are times when I mentally pat myself on the back for an accomplishment.
It’s been a couple years since I saw happy numbers on the scale, and I truly never thought I would see them again. Since having children, I know my body will never look like the same; but my pre-baby body was never bikini-worthy anyway, so big deal. With both of my pregnancies, I skyrocketed past two hundred pounds. This was compounded by the fact that I had high blood pressure during my first pregnancy, and experienced a lot back and joint pain with my second (not much room for exercise). After giving birth to Josiah in November of 2009, I lost the few obligatory postpartum pounds, but my body stubbornly clung to the excess. At my annual exam, I hadn’t lost anymore weight than at my six-week postpartum checkup. BIG. SIGH. My midwife and I talked about how fast time flies, how big the baby had gotten, yadda yadda. Afterwards, I saw in my car for a bit and mulled the ubiquitous “time flies” concept, applying it to the potential improvement I could make. With kids, they’re older and bigger before you know it; with weight loss (and many similar challenges), you want instant gratification and each day seems like a never-ending array of hard choices and disappointments. I knew that my next annual exam would be here before I knew it, Josiah would turn one in the blink of an eye – and in that same amount of time, I could make significant progress. Amazing, what a bit of perspective can do.
Now, I am not new to this Weight Loss Thing. I was a pudgy child, and joined Weight Watchers with my mom before I was a teenager. There were only a few times in my life when I’ve lost a significant amount of weight – Once, in junior high, when I decided to give up food. No fun. Another time, my mom and I went to the gym every single day for a few months. Lovely vacation. And again a few years later; I was waitressing (walking around all day, basically), rollerblading on the bike path, exercising morning and night. No fun either. It seemed I simply could not lose weight by any realistic means. This knowledge would defeat me before I made even the simplest of healthy changes.
But I knew something had to be done. I was sick of myself. My mom had given me a couple Eat Clean books; I poured over them and decided to implement a few of the changes. Watching Food, Inc., Supersize Me, and Food Matters (in addition to other resources) further opened my eyes and only reinforced how important and essential these healthy lifestyle changes are. I decided that – as yummy, cheap, and convenient as it can be – we would never eat fast food again. I decided to limit refined foods, especially sweets. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, put the package down. If sugar is among the first few ingredients, put it back. The goal is to have the shortest list of ingredients, and to be sure they’re natural. Think, produce – there’s NO ingredient label on, say, an apple because it is what it is. Think whole grains (rice, oats) – they’re just packaged whole grains, one ingredient. Now, pick up a box of sugary cereal or a packaged dinner from the freezer and that’s another story.
Here are some of my tips: Try to have protein at every meal or snack – walnuts on top of hot cereal, apple with peanut butter, trail mix, tuna melt, pasta with chicken, quesadillas with black beans. Pick sugar-free varieties of items you already use – for instance, natural peanut or other nut butters. A good ol’ PB&J on wheat bread with natural peanut butter and all-fruit jam tastes like dessert! Substitute whole wheat flour for white in baking. I already prefer wheat versions of things, so getting wheat bread, wheat tortillas, wheat pasta, brown rice, and other whole grain products isn’t too hard for me, but I do try to pay attention to the sugar content on the nutrition labels (“white wheat” isn’t any better than white). One of my favorite hot breakfast cereals is cream of wheat, and whereas I can’t stand oatmeal, I’ve been cultivating a taste for other whole grain cereals. I currently use Hodgson Mill Multi-Grain, topped with apple butter and walnuts, sometimes with a drizzle of maple agave syrup. Let me say that I do not count calories – that just drives me crazy. I try to make healthy choices, eat when I’m hungry (yes, I do snack), occasionally have seconds, and make water the main beverage. Aside: Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program has been great for some of these products that we use all the time. You can often get an item on sale for 15% off or more on top of the 15% off plus free shipping you get with the program.
We eat many of our meals at home, and while it’s not only economical, it’s so much easier to monitor your food intake when you make it yourself. I hardly ever follow a recipe – I’ll substitute wheat flour and flaxseed or other grains for the white flour; omit the sugar or substitute a lesser amount of brown sugar, maple or agave syrup, or honey (natural sweeteners); use yogurt or applesauce for some of the fat. We love pizza, and I make my own wheat pizza dough topped with homemade pasta sauce. Phil loves salsa – we have it with chips and top quesadillas with it – so I make a big batch of homemade salsa. I even found a recipe for homemade ketchup and will never buy the commercial variety again!
I sneak veggies into everything. Whenever I make pasta, I add chopped carrots or peas to the cooking water, chopped spinach to the cooked pasta. Sauteed onions and chopped spinach make a great pizza topping in addition to chicken or kielbasa. I’m always playing around with pizza toppings, and my latest creation involves chicken, onions, garlic, spinach, and apple – yum! Sweet potatoes and carrots for some of the potatoes in a recipe not only add nutrition but color and flavor as well. Even at breakfast, pureed pumpkin or sweet potato boosts the nutrition of a whole grain pancake mix (or you can make your own from scratch). Don’t forget to add a few chocolate chips for good measure!
During the Summer, I made a point of drinking water, water, and more water, which is very hard for me because I hate plain water. Each step of the way has been accompanied with a change here, a tweak there, and I’ve been delighted to find I can have the occasional treat and – despite the guilt that sets in – I don’t gain ten pounds overnight. For a while I was having dark chocolate every day (70-80% cacao); lately I have a mix of nuts and dried fruit and sprinkle in some mini semi-sweet chocolate chips. Some of my the things I’ve gotten used to – like pancakes – now feel like treats even though they’re actually quite healthy (I don’t put sugar in the pancakes).
One of the other changes I decided to make after reading into it was eliminate milk from our diet. The top reasons include the fact that all the nutrients have been eradicated during the pasteurization process, humans are the only mammals who continue to drink if after they’re weaned, and it’s been associated with more allergies and health problems – so why drink it? Sadly, we have not been able to give up cheese, but I have replaced milk with almond and coconut milk (The latter of which has a high fat content so is great in baking) with great success.
Sometimes I experiment with new recipes, but I tend to stick to familiar favorites. These are my tried-and-true meals:
Whole Grain Pancakes (substitute coconut or almond milk for the milk, omit the sugar) top with natural peanut butter and a drizzle of maple agave syrup
Whole Grain Cereal make with coconut or almond milk and/or water, add cinnamon, and top with chopped walnuts and apple butter
Eggs I like to scramble eggs with spinach and cheese, and serve with wheat toast or organic cold cereal, along with fresh fruit
Lunch Whenever I asked Gwen what she wants for lunch, it’s either “pasta” or “grilled cheese.” So there you have it.
Pasta whole wheat pasta with carrots and spinach, sprinkled with asiago cheese
Grilled Cheese Wheat toast with cheese, sometimes with sliced avocado for healthy fat, and spinach, served with fruit or veggie slices. Both the sandwich and veggie slices taste great with homemade hummus.
PB&J as aforementioned, wheat bread with natural peanut butter and all-fruit jam. Peanut butter and banana is pretty good, too. Sometimes I make a peanut butter and banana quesadilla and throw in some chocolate chips for a dessert sandwich.
Tunamelt this could either be made open-faced in the toaster with one piece of bread, or like a grilled-cheese on the stovetop with two pieces.
Chicken and Apple Quesadilla I’ve been making homemade chicken salad for Phil’s lunches, and wanted to use some of the leftover chicken. This tastes really good in a wheat tortilla with chopped apple, spinach, and cheese.
Pasta the above pasta idea is a favorite, or we have wheat mac & cheese with veggies. We also like Mexican mac & cheese, which includes ground turkey, taco seasoning, salsa, veggies, and cheedar cheese. Cheese is so good.
Rice sometimes I make homemade chicken fried rice, which is its own meal, or make plain brown rice with some sort of topping. Our two favorite toppings include a variation on the meat mixture for Sloppy Tom’s, and another variation on the beef and potato filling for a Real Simple recipe.
Quesadillas wheat tortillas filled with black beans, corn, chopped spinach, taco seasoning, optional spinach (beans already supply the protein), and cheese. Top with homemade salsa.
Trail Mix (with chocolate chips, of course)
Plate of Chips Tortilla chips with salsa, cheddar cheese, and green onion – nuked in the microwave till melty.
Apple (with peanut butter)
Popcorn Air-popped with the least amount of butter and salt
Savory Bread I like to take a recipe for banana bread or apple cake and turn it into more of a bread, so it has the least amount of sugar with some healthy additions like wheat flour and flaxseed.
Crackers Wheat crackers with hummus or slices or pepperoni and cheese
Well… time has flown since sitting in the car at my last doctor’s appointment. On top of the fifteen to twenty pounds or so I lost after giving birth, I’ve lost about thirty more since then. Yay for shedding fifty+ pounds! I am now at the weight I was when I got pregnant with Gwen – still slightly overweight, but definitely on the healthier side of things. May I add that this has been without exercise other than what I get in my day-to-day activities, which I think should suffice: going up and down the stairs to clean and do laundry, running around after the kiddos, cleaning the house, parking farther away from store entrances, taking the kids down the road to see the horses, meeting the occasional friend for a walk once in a blue moon…
I’m excited about the healthy changes I made, and though it isn’t always easy, I feel more informed and therefore more convicted about making these changes stick. Maybe when kiddo #3 comes along I won’t gain another fifty pounds.
Now that I’m getting the hang of this healthy eating thing, onto my next self-improvement project…