Fitness and Body Image: The Existential Crisis

I have never really known “what I want to be when I grow up.”  At almost 29 years old, this would seem to be a problem, no?  But it has recently dawned on me that I am doing exactly what I have always wanted to be doing.  I basically made up a career out of intersecting interests and talents.  Even as recently as a year ago, I wished on a star that whatever I ended up doing, it would involve helping people.  I was afraid of getting sucked into a career of selfishness.  And secretly, I have hoped since I was a child that whatever I ended up doing, I could be writing.

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I do not feel I should be doing something else.” –Gloria Steinem 

Well, shit.  This isn’t exactly what I had in mind.  I thought I’d be in Africa volunteering and writing about it.  Turns out, I help people get fit and I write about it.  Fitness?  Really?  God, are you sure—this must be some kind of mistake!? Not exactly earth shattering stuff, and I have a tendency to get discouraged.  How is fitness important in the grand scheme of things?  Why, of all freaking things, would God put me to use in this way?  I have spent the past two years running desperately away from fitness because, as important as it is to me, I haven’t wanted to see its importance to others.  I wanted to employ my mind, not my body.  I wanted to lead people, help people, and write. Once I use the word “bodybuilder” to describe myself, no one remembers or hears anything else I say.  This used to severely frustrate me!  Besides that, I have two degrees in Women’s Studies—if I were supposed to focus on fitness for a career then why didn’t I go for kinesiology or some other health-related degree?

I have recently changed my outlook on things, as I have come to realize what it really is I am supposed to do with this opportunity.  The truth is, my purpose in life is not to push fitness on anyone.  I am not here to send the message that going to the gym is a life priority.  I encourage it, and I love it and want to help others learn to love it, but that is not the end all of what I am called to do.  My degrees in Women’s Studies have been, ultimately, focused on body studies—how we think of the body, how we learn to use our bodies, body image and the influences surrounding it.  Through bodybuilding I have pushed the boundaries and helped to redefine it.  And these things put me in a perfect position to do what it is I really am meant to do: affect change in the way we think of our bodies.

For some people, positive change happens when we employ our bodies in some physical way, pay attention to what we put in our bodies, and find pride in what our bodies can do.  For others, it comes from the realization that “bad” food tastes good and fat is ok.  I am not a mlitant health and fitness evangelist—I am not trying to save the world by forcing everyone into fitness.  If you don’t work out, we can still be friends.  I am, however, attempting to question the norms of what we consider healthy.  I am calling into question what healthy can look like, what bodies should look like, and how we define fitness.  If you define fit as skinny, or use the term “fat” as a slur, then the odds are pretty solid that we are not friends.

There are, truly, people who are content with their bodies and have absolutely no desire to change them; I envy these people.  But there are also a lot of people who have given up on themselves and would rather pretend to be ok with their bodies than to face the public admission (by way of gym membership or any other public act of fitness) that they want to change and don’t know how.  I have met both types, and I have also been surprised at my own mistakes in identifying them.  I am frequently surprised to learn that people I’d have never expected to care are suddenly in the pursuit of fitness.  I have learned that there is no community, no subculture, no type of person, no religious or political subset, that is immune to the desire to be fit.  Fascinating!

Do you ever catch yourself prioritizing fitness in a way that scares you?  Really—in the

This is one guy who could have used some heavy compounds!

grand scheme of things, how important are these miles I’m about to run?  People are starving and here I am counting calories.  I call this my Fitness-Induced Existential Crisis.  But I am reminded that people commit suicide over body image and low self esteem.  They eat themselves to death in self-pity.  They harm others to make themselves feel better.  Maybe Napoleon wouldn’t have been such an asshole if he’d have realized short guys make good squatters.  Maybe Hitler wouldn’t have committed mass genocide if he’d have learned to deal with his own insecurities.  Did I really just suggest that fitness could change the world?  Don’t let me make more of it than it is.  My point is that rather than reaching out for help, people hide their own insecurities and act them out in terrible ways.  My job is to send the message that we all have them, and we need to rethink the sources of those insecurities.

There is no moment more absolutely flattering than when a woman comes to me for help with health and fitness—this moment is so incredibly personal and requires a tremendous amount of trust.  For her to approach me, she has to feel certain that I will not judge or criticize her, and she has to feel comfortable admitting to me that she wants to change.  As a trainer, it is absolutely necessary for me to honor this trust.

To that point, I want to thank every single reader and subscriber to my blog.  If you’ve clicked on my blog EVER, I’ve gotten your attention to the extent that you care what I have to say.  If you’ve made it to this paragraph, then I’ve succeeded as an entertaining writer.  If you’ve visited my blog and read more than one post then I have succeeded as an engaging blogger.  But these things also mean something more—it means that I have earned your trust.  Thank you; my site stats alone are reminders that what I’m doing with my life is not insignificant and unnecessary.

Tell me about you—your experience with body image, your outlook on health and fitness, your struggles and triumphs.  Leave a comment below!

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It Takes a Village to Raise Your Fitness

  • I used to be fit, but then I had children and kid food isn’t the healthiest….
  • I would eat more healthy foods, but my husband doesn’t like vegetables…
  • I like healthy foods, but my kids/husband/partner won’t eat anything but pizza…
  • I get busy trying to get the kids off to school, and McDonald’s is on the way to work…
  • It’s just so hard with all the junk food in the house…
  • My kids take up all my time—I never have time to eat/go to the gym/etc
  • I can’t seem to make time for the gym because my family needs me…

These are all very common statements—I hear them each at least once a week.  Almost everyone seems to remember a time when weight wasn’t an issue and it was easier to maintain a healthier lifestyle.  For many, getting married, having children, or moving in with a partner can be major disruptions in a fitness regimen.  Face it—when you live alone, you live without the responsibility of what other people eat and you aren’t on someone else’s schedule.  But even living alone is not without challenges—there is no accountability.  With no real reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning, one can sleep until 11:00 a.m.  and the next thing you know it’s dinner time and you’ve done nothing!

I couldn’t do anything without their support! So we do it all together. 🙂

So what’s my point?  Being healthy is not about isolation.  It can’t be.  In fact, if you can only achieve it in isolation then are you really healthy? We need partners for accountability—someone to encourage us and push us to keep our commitments during those moments of weakness.  We need people to motivate us.  Married with children is the BEST time to establish a healthy and fit lifestyle, because when we do so we set an example for our children that they will have for the rest of their lives.  Healthy eating does not have to mean cabbage soup and tofu or a really expensive grocery bill.  It can mean flat bread pizza—with extra cheese for your husband or children.  It can mean modifying all of your favorite recipes to include vegetables where you didn’t know they could go!  It means setting good habits, understanding how to balance your meals, and making good choices.  It’s not as out of reach as many people think it is.  I promise! 

 

When I take on a new client, I expect progress.  In fact, I refuse to stand there and watch someone do dumbell curls when I know that as soon as she leaves, she’s going to be a mess.  I ask a lot of questions—allergies, injuries, family history of illness, food aversions, craving times, etc.  But I also ask questions about social life and home structure—because I know that in order to see results, the magic plan I come up with has to support and be supported by people at home.  It’s your job to make fitness a priority in your life, but I consider it part of my job to  come up with a plan that is compatible with the parts of your life that are important to you.

People want to be “healthier” but have no idea where to start.  Start with a PLAN.  A

A busy work day doesn’t have to prevent you from eating and sticking to your plan! Bring it with you.

routine that is manageable and realistic—I don’t care if you eat tuna fish and oats six times a day (don’t take that literally…I do care), but for goodness sake, have a plan and follow it!  For several of my clients who have children, I have found that meals 1-4 on a plan are easy enough, but things fall apart at dinner.  For clients who are single, they fall apart over food preparation–they don’t want to cook for one person so they gravitate to fast food and the freezer aisle.  So once you identify your weaknesses, why not plan for these disasters ahead of time? Keep reading.  It’s about to get dense, so stick with me to the end of this, and leave me a comment if you need clarification.

If you took my advice in the last post, you looked up your maintenance calories.   If you didn’t, look them up here  (keep in mind this calculator puts you in the ballpark, but experience helps you hone it–my maintenance calories are a little lower than the calculator comes up with).

Let’s say, to choose a round number to work with, your maintenance calories (the number of calories your body needs in order to maintain its current weight) are 2,200.  We decide that to lose one pound a week (=3,600cal/week), you have to have a deficit of 500 calories a day (for some people, that’s one latte and two sodas!).  So you need to eat 1,700 calories a day if you want to lose one pound per week.  Let’s say we decide you should eat six times a day.  You have, roughly, 285 calories per meal (1,700/6=.  Now, some meals will be higher than that, and others will be slightly lower than that.  We are looking for an average.  Meal 1, for instance, should consist (arguably) of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.  This means that in order to balance that meal properly, you’ll need at least 300 calories to work with.  A post-workout meal, on the other hand, which could be a banana and why protein shake, is more likely to be around 200 calories.  Meal six might be cottage cheese, which is about 150 calories.

So let’s say you’ve averaged it out so that once all the other meals are accounted for, you have about 350 calories to work with at meal 5 (“dinner”).  That’s a lot of stinkin calories to work with if you’re trying to achieve a relatively clean meal that tastes good!  That’s three hard taco shells, 1/2 cup pintos, and ¾ cup of lean ground turkey.  Live without some cheese or use a tiny bit (grated carrot is a good sub).  Your family can enjoy tacos their way, while you manipulate the recipe to fit you own needs.  You can do this with so many other things!  Make oven-baked chicken nuggets (coated in raisin bran or corn flakes), or flatbread pizza (using THESE), or baked sweet potato “fries.”  It’s possible to cook a dinner your family loves while maintaining a meal plan that will help you to reach your goals.

So create a plan.  Decide what you’re going to eat every day for breakfast and lunch.  Plan two meals in between.  Stick to it.  Make sure you have what you need—if you’re going to eat oatmeal, for instance, make sure you have oats on hand!  Prepare those meals ahead of time and have them ready so that you can take them with you or pull them out of the fridge when it’s time.  I highly recommend having two “lunches”.  I swear by it.  Let’s say you go with chicken, rice, and veggies.  That’s 300 calories on the dot if you follow appropriate serving sizes.  The alternative might be a protein shake and some nuts, or greek yogurt and some granola—both of these are easily skipped.

This reminds me: People tend to think of snacks as little mini meals, but in fact they should be thought of as meals or you will have the tendency to skip them because you overlook their significance.   The meal you eat after meal 3 (lunch) is not a snack—in my world, that’s called meal 4.  Treat it like one, and eat it like one.  If you skip a meal on your plan, you will be hungry when you don’t want to be and you will make mistakes. Don’t be that guy.  Half of what prevents binge eating and emotional eating is…well, eating.  If you eat what you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to, you’re much less likely to binge.

Once you have 5 meals planned, leave dinner open.  Shoot for balance, make good choices, and eat within your calculated calorie range.  This way, your family or friends don’t feel totally shafted just because you’re getting healthier—and if you do this right, you can introduce health in a way that they can appreciate rather than fear.

Dinner ideas on 350 calories or less:

Note: these ideas are for people hoping to sustain a healthier lifestyle.  The idea here is to show you how you can set and maintain a plan that is reasonable and achievable in the long-term.  If you’re looking for a short-term, ASAP weight loss plan, then these meals may not be for you.

Flatbread BBQ chicken pizza:
1 flatout (90 cals)
1 tbsp bbq (30 cals)
1 oz cheese (85 cals)
veggie toppings
4 oz chicken (120 cals)

Tacos:
3 crunchy shells (140)
4 oz lean ground turkey (120)
shredded carrot
lettuce, tomato, etc
1/3 avocado (90)

Oven “fried” chicken tenders and sweet potato fries:
chicken, cut into strips (4 oz, 120 cals)
3 cups corn flakes, flax flakes, or bran flakes (you have to eat a full cup to get 120 calories…you might get a quarter of a cup per serving of chicken here)
spices–I like Mrs. Dash
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 medium sweet potato, julienned (6 oz, 150)

Whisk egg and milk together; set aside.  In a plastic bag, mash up the flakes and add seasoning.  Dip chicken pieces into egg mixture to coat, then place them into the bag a few at a time and give it a good shake to coat the pieces.  Bake on 425 for about 15 minutes–adjust time depending on the size of your pieces, as larger pieces may take longer to coat.

Coat sweet potato lightly in Pam cooking spray.  Lay flat on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for about 20 minutes.

Poop Talk

Alright, so here’s the deal: you need to…er…go…more.  First, let’s just be frank and get it out there: I’m writing a blog post about poop.  More accurately, about pooping. The more I tiptoe around it, the worse I’m making the problem.  We’re all friends here, right?  But I will make a deal with you: in order to make this comfortable for everyone, I am going to avoid horrible puns and poo-related jokes.  You are now safe to read on.  Note: There are no pictures because…well…what would be an appropriate image for this topic?

I recently wrote a Facebook status about a phenomenon that I have experienced with my female clients: our fitness—or at least, our perception of it—is often profoundly affected by our pooping regimen.  Or lack thereof.  It happens often that, for no reason at all, we are bloated and heavy-feeling.  Our weight loss is on hold.  We are doing everything right, and yet we can’t figure out what the heck is so…off.

For competitors, this can be a nightmare!  We are looking for steady progress on a weekly basis.  While we don’t judge our progress solely by the bathroom scale, we do rely on a combination of how we look and what we weigh.  So imagine our mortification when, after five days, we are WORSE when we are supposed to be better!  After a while we learn our bodies well enough to know, for example, that Tuesday is not a good day—we’ll poop by Friday and then Saturday everything will be back to glorious perfection.  Until the following Tuesday…sigh.

But even for those who are not competing, the mental frustration can be devastating.  Again, you’re doing everything right—you’ve been seeing some great progress, but then for no reason at all you’ve had five days of steadily getting worse.  Maybe the difference is on the scale and maybe it’s not; maybe your pants are a little tighter when they should be looser.  Maybe you just feel…yucky and you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Don’t immediately assume that you’re doing something wrong!  It is common for me, at this point, to ask a client very bluntly: “when was the last time you pooped?”  (Yes, my friends, your trainer will know more about your poop than your immediate family members).

And then, just when you can’t take it anymore, you have what I called in my Facebook status a “hallelujah moment” when all of your progress comes together at once.  You’ve pooped!  You feel flatter, lighter, healthier, and…just plain better.  This moment feels like it deserves some kind of applause and recognition, but you can’t tell anyone.  (Unless you’re my client, and then you’ll tell me and I’ll be excited too.  I love my job).  Maybe you pooped once or twice this week already but you know it wasn’t…well, you weren’t finished.  I’m not talking about those.  I’m talking about the one that you’ve waited for at least a week for.   The big one.

How can we have more of those?!  Is this what men do every morning?  Is this why they have so much pride in their poo?  Ah-ha!  This must be why they show each other and talk so openly about it!  They’re onto something.  Why the hell can’t we do that?  As you may know, my academic background is in gender and body theory—how do we think of the woman’s body?  How do we use our bodies, move our bodies, and constrain our bodies?  How have we come to be the way we are?  What does it mean to “throw like a girl,” and why do we do that?  These kinds of questions have helped me re-learn how to use my body for things like pullups, squats, and other movements that I struggled with as a result of social pressures to sit, act, and present myself “like a lady.”  And they have helped me learn to poop.

What does theory have to do with poo?  (Go ahead, make a joke).  Maybe the answer is less about food and more about attitude.  Or at the very least, a combination of both.  When was the last time you made pooping a priority?  I swear sometimes my partner only goes to the bathroom every morning to read a magazine.  Can he really be pooping all of that time?  Whether he is or isn’t, he’s got a good idea—he reserves time every morning just for it.  Nothing—I do mean nothing—comes in the way of his “morning routine.”  Maybe we could all benefit from this undying commitment to the toilet.

If you’re still not convinced that pooping is a learned behavior, then you’re wondering what the heck you can do about it.  As for the science of the body and how to establish regularity, I think it’s going to depend on the cause of your problem.  While I believe that, to some extent, the best explanation for why these issues seem to primarily affect women probably has to do with the mental blockage I have discussed, from a physical standpoint I refuse to believe that every body is the same.

There are so many websites that offer tips.  So much contradictory information—one site tells you what not to eat, and the next tells you to eat it.  Everyone has a different answer, and if you’re like me, you’ve tried them all.  I hate to tell you that I don’t have The Answer.  But I have compiled a few posts that have informed me from multiple perspectives.   Drawing from the links below, here is a rough synopsis of common causes:

  • Not enough fiber
  • Not enough water
  • A lack of time
  • Gluten allergy
  • Grain intolerance
  • Not enough grains (see the contradiction?!
  • Too many legumes
  • Too much red meat
  • Dairy allergy/intolerance
  • Too many processed foods
  • Too much caffeine (although coffee is my perfect go-inducer)

Is your head spinning?  Try these five steps first:

  1. Drink more water –buy a gallon jug, fill it, and aspire to finish at least half of it by the end of the day
  2. Reduce or eliminate processed foods
  3. Make time every morning to poop; if you don’t have to go, just sit there for ten minutes
  4. Add more green vegetables to your diet (try my green smoothie below)
  5. Add a probiotic to your diet

From here, it’s a process of elimination (joke not intended) and experimentation.  But don’t try eliminating more than one thing at once, or you’ll never know which one worked!

Today’s Green Smoothie Recipe:

1 cucumber, peeled
2 cups spinach
1 carrot
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 avocado
1tsp stevia
1tsp cinnamon
5 ice cubes

Blend together, drink while cold.  Just trust me on this one.  🙂

For an overview:
http://www.realage.com/gastrointestinal/bowel-health

Legit, helpful tips:
http://welladjustedbabies.com/13-tips-for-better-bowel-health/

From the Gluten/Grain People:
http://glutenfreehelp.info/gluten-free-research/gluten-sensitivity-and-constipation-understanding-the-link/
http://www.smart-healthy-eating.com/foods-that-cause-constipation.html

From the Paleo people:
http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/05/treating-constipation-without.html
http://healthyedge.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/the-paleo-diet-for-constipation/

What Does a Bodybuilding Diet Look Like, and What Can You Learn From it?

First things first, I want to introduce an idea that I am toying with—I think I may actually start another blog, in addition to this one.  Maybe.  I want to help people, but I am coming to a point where I literally cannot afford to answer the emails I receive.  Everyone who has ever known me now feels comfortable asking me diet and fitness questions—and I absolutely love that!  How is this my life, and what did I do to deserve so much trust?!  Keep them coming—I enjoy helping in any way that I can!

However…I sat down recently and timed myself to see how long it took me to respond to the emails I received in one day—an hour and a half later, I still had not even touched my “real” (read: paying) work.  I actually started training people because of this—it’s the only way I can afford to answer all of the questions! But the thing that makes me a good trainer makes me a terrible business owner.  I hate the part where people pay for health, because this implies that health and fitness involve access and privilege and I hate being a part of that machine.  (Sounds like a personal problem, huh?)

So, check back in from time to time and be on the lookout for my new blog, which will feature nutrition and workout tips and articles based on my experience.  Don’t expect me to tell you the best way to work out, or the best way to eat—I will tell you what works for me, and do my best to point you in the direction of how to figure out what works for you.

BUT….since I don’t have a new blog yet, you get to read about how I eat and pick up a few tips about how you can [re]learn how to eat to maintain, lose, or gain weight.  If you get too lost in the words, skip to the bullet points at the bottom.  This one is dense, but I’ll make it as painless as possible.  It answers a basic question I spend way too much time answering: “Sheena, teach me how to eat right…”

Maybe you don’t want to change how you eat—that’s cool too.  But I have created confusion among some of my non-bodybuilder friends, and I need to clear that up.  I often take for granted that people understand what a bodybuilding diet is and what it looks like, but I realize that for the most part people just assume it’s a very extreme diet that leaves me hungry all of the time.  Beyond that, I don’t think many people know what this looks like.  Curious about the secret world of bodybuilding diets?

First of all, there is a difference between a “clean” nutrition plan and a bodybuilding cutting program.  It’s possible to be on a diet that does not involve weight loss—this is what I do in the “off-season,” for the most part.  Now that I am in preparation for a contest, my goal is to “cut” the bodyfat and water, while preserving as much of my muscle as possible.  People tend to think I’m getting bigger, but this is a myth—I’m actually getting smaller, but the illusion of size is created as the bodyfat on either side of a muscle peak goes away, basically making a mountain out of a molehill.  It’s like digging on both sides of a hill—but if I do it wrong, I could risk digging the whole damn hill.  So I’m about to tell you how I avoid that.  In order to lose body fat and preserve muscle, there is actually a lot of science and some math involved.

Weight loss is based on a pretty simple rule of thumb: calories burned must be more than calories consumed.

Once I have my magic number of calories, it gets more complicated.  What kind of weight do I want to lose?  I have to think about how to spread those calories out over the day, how to balance diet and exercise to reach that number, and what kinds of calories will fuel me through my day while allowing my body to lose only the weight I want get rid of.  See, weight loss and fat loss are not necessarily the same thing.

People ask me often if I can or cannot eat something.  Lunches and dinners are the worst because, bless their hearts, no one can satisfy the needs of my diet.  I’m impossible!  “You can eat chicken, right?”  And, “what about nuts, you can eat those right?”  Sure I can.  And I do.  But if you’re asking me at 2:15 if I can eat a handful of walnuts, you’re going to see my frustrated-hungry-embarrassed face.  You’re asking the wrong question!  The right question would be more like, “hey, does your diet specify that you’ll eat a handful of walnuts at 2:15 in the afternoon, assuming that you lift at the same time every day?”

I eat five or six times a day, depending on the day, and according to my evolving knowledge and understanding of how my body reacts to food.  My goals look like this:

  • lose body fat while maintaining muscle
  • avoid being hungry to the greatest extent possible
  • avoid cravings to the best of my ability (note that I see cravings and hunger as separate issues!)
  • fuel my workouts
  • recover from those workouts

A TON of information has to come together in just the right way in order to determine that every morning at 9:30 I will eat exactly 11 almonds (not 8 or 20,  and not peanuts, not olive oil, not avocado…).  Because years of experimentation has taught me that to meet my goals listed above, I need a fat at that time, and my body responds well to almonds at this particular stage of my process—in two weeks it will be different!

So if you ask me if I can eat almonds, the answer is yes.  But I eat them when my meal plan says I will eat them.  I do not do this because I am neurotic, crazy, and anal (ok…maybe I am those things…), but because I have already calculated the timing, based on years of research and observation of my body, for a specific purpose.  The following points apply to my body, but may not all apply to yours:

  • If I eat those almonds at 5:00 p.m., I risk inhibiting my growth hormone production
  • If I eat them at 7:00 p.m., I slow down protein synthesis
  • If I eat too many, I slow down my loss of body fat
  • If I don’t eat them at all, I will burn through my food too fast and be hungrier sooner

My diet may appear extreme, and in some cases it can be.  I would never recommend this to someone not competing.  HOWEVER, it has taught me a healthy relationship with food, because I understand that every single thing I put in my body has a valuable purpose and I know what the purpose is.  I also understand that when I’m not doing this, I will enjoy a damn Christmas cookie.  I am not guilty when I eat ice cream or pizza, because there is a time to eat those things.  The time is not now, and I am comfortable with this.  I understand the science of my body and how it reacts to foods, so I am not afraid to eat when it is time to eat.  I do not subscribe to Paleo, Atkins, Veganism, or any other restrictive plan because I believe there is a time for everything.

If you are interested in learning about your body and how to balance your food, START HERE:

  • How many calories do I need in order to sustain my present body weight? (hint: search BMR)
  • What is a safe rate of weight loss in pounds per week?
    How many calories do I need to cut in order to lose one pound?
  • What is a deficit and what should mine be to lose my safe pounds per week?
  • How many calories do I need to eat each day to make that deficit?
  • How can I spread those daily calories out to best fuel my body?
  • What is a macronutrient and how can I balance mine?

People are shocked to learn that there are magic numbers and mathematical equations that can tell you how to eat!  Go learn it!  I’d rather teach you to fish than give you the fish…Although, I enjoy being employed—so if you’re stumped and you want help, contact me for consulting services.

Cooking With Odds and Ends: Quick Lentils

Part of what I love about being a member of a CSA is that I get more than a week’s worthof produce every week.  I almost always have some left over by the next week, and this has forced me to work a little faster to come up with creative ideas.  It has also led to an increased emphasis on vegetables at every meal.  For about $30 a week I make creative, vegetable-based meals that support our local economy and add nutritional value to our bodies.  We have both recently eliminated our multi-vitamins.

What follows is a true story of my life as a busy athlete and socially-and-environmentally-conscious-psuedo-quasi-wannabe-chef-on-a-budget for a hungry family:

It was 8:02 p.m. and I had just made it back from my third work out of the day.  I was tired and cranky when my phone rang.  It was Mike—he was on his way home from jiu jitsu and wanted to know what was for dinner.

Translation: he wanted to know what he was having for dinner.  I’m in contest prep so all of my meals are already cooked.  He would starve without me. 

This is the point at which most Americans take a quick trip to their favorite fast food joint, but since for us this is not even considered an option, he was prepared to go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients he would need for whatever dinner idea I gave him.  Yep, I forgot to mention that it was the day before my weekly CSA pickup and grocery shopping trip, so we were basically out of everything.

I told him to hang on while I did a quick survey of what we had on hand.  Despite the fact that our cupboards were ridiculously bare, I found inspiration in the few ingredients I had laying around.  It turned out to be what I think is my best recipe yet, though Mike maintains that my pizza dough is #1 and my daughter is more of a cookie lover.

So here’s what I had to work with: about 2 cups of red lentils, 2 carrots, 1 ear of corn, 1 jalepeno (that he swore he’d eat if I bought….), garlic, and a flour tortilla.  Yep, just one tortilla—he loves them but there’s almost always one or two left that end up going to waste and it drives me nuts!  What does anyone do with just 2 carrots and only one ear of corn?  How did we end up with only one ear of corn!?  See—these are the kinds of odds and ends that, if not for some creativity, often go to waste.  This week I was determined not to let that happen!  Instead of having to make a trip to the grocery store for something that, let’s face it, probably wouldn’t have been the most nutritious choice that late in the evening, I managed to whip up a great meal by the time he even made it home from the gym.  Note that our gym is only about ten minutes away and I was exhausted—this was not a complicated or time-consuming effort!  You could make this in the time it would take you to drive to your nearest Chic-Fil-A.

I haven’t decided what to call it yet.  Quite frankly I have many, many versions of what we have begun to affectionately call #$%^ in a bowl, @#$% in a pot, @#$% in a pan, or sometimes just baked @#$%.

This meal is more of a Mexican-themed $#%^ on a tortilla.  Enjoy!

2 Cups red lentils, rinsed
2 carrots, shredded
1 ear of corn, de-cobbed (is that a word?)
1 jalepeno, chopped
1 tbsp garlic (this is one of those items I mentioned in my last post that I prefer to buy pre-packaged…)1 tbsp-ish cumin
1 tbsp-ish chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
3 cups of water

Heat oil in pan; add garlic, corn, jalepeno, and carrot.  Cook vegetables for about 2 minutes; add lentils and spices.  Cook over low heat, stirring frequently until all ingredients are mixed and lentils are lightly coated with oil, about a minute or two.  Add water and bring to a boil; cover and cook on low for about ten minutes.*   Serve on a warm tortilla and top with whatever you want.  He used cheese.  This would be excellent with avocado or diced tomatoes, but I didn’t have either on hand.  🙂

*Note that this cooking time and the amount of water are specific to red lentils—green lentils require more water and take a little longer.