Fail-Proofing your Fitness Resolutions: 5 Silent Killers

I do not enjoy New Year’s resolutions.  From where I’m sitting, they are awful and annoying.  They bring a temporary surge of optimistic gym-goers who crowd my space just long enough to annoy me–and just when I figure out how to work around them, they’ve disappeared.  I am not as cynical as I sound (well, that may not be entirely true…), but I have spent so much of my time trying to help these people that I am now very guarded about accepting New Year newcomers.  By the way, if you are one of them, understand that the gym regulars may take a while to warm up to you–prove their assumptions wrong and you’ll have new friends in no time.

I do not subscribe to the idea that January 1 comes with a magical reset button.  However, I do believe in setting goals and making transformations, and sometimes the new year gives us the opportunity to stop and really think about our lives.  So, for those of you who will be starting, re-starting, or reaching for new levels in your fitness journeys, let’s talk about what stands between you and year-long commitment.

First of all, let me be clear: You WILL mess this up.  Accept this, and you will be fine. The difference between keeping your resolution and giving up before Valentine’s Day is sticking to your plan even when you don’t feel like it and things begin to go wrong.  At some point, usually before you reach the one-month mark, you will make a mistake.  And it’s never for the reason you’d expect.  Here are some of the silent killers—be prepared for them.

  1. You will run out of something.  Often.  No matter how perfect your meal plan is, it is impossible to be stocked perfectly with everything all of the time.  This is where it becomes important to understand WHY you are eating WHAT you are eating.  If your diet plan calls for almonds, you need to know that a handful of pretzels is not a good substitute.  If your meal plan calls for chicken, almonds aren’t going to do it.  If you’re reading this and don’t know why these are bad subs, google the term “macronutrients” and get started.
  2. Somebody at the gym will be mean to you, and it may make you feel so bad that you dread going and/or eventually give up.  I don’t mean to scare you, but there will always be one person of the same sex who absolutely hates you.  You are not crazy—she definitely hates you.  It’s not your fault.  Kill that bitch with kindness.  Bitches hate kindness.
  3. All of your cute clothes are dirty.  At some point you will get behind on laundry, and your “cute” pants/top/bra/socks are dirty.  Buying more does not help.  Trust me.  I buy several pairs of the same pants, and still ONE becomes the “good pair” and the others get pushed to the back of the drawer and dragged out in priority order until laundry day.  And despite the fact that all of my gym clothes match each other, there are still some tops that I swear only go with certain pants, or sports bras that can only be worn with certain tops.  And then there are the priority underwear.  It’s true—you can predict what kind of day it is going to be based on how far back you had to dig into your underwear drawer.  Don’t let this affect your workout!  Do more laundry, buy more underwear, but face it: sometimes you just have to go to the gym in your ugly stuff.  Do it.
  4. You will try to get creative.  The “healthy food” at the health foods store will begin to call your name, and the next thing you know you are adding coconut oil and agave to everything you cook.  In fact, you will be inspired to bake more in general, with all of your newfound healthy ingredients.  But you will fail to notice that your “healthy fats” and gluten-free products are calorically dense and contain 200 calories per teaspoon.  Don’t try to be a hero–just stick to your plan for now.
  5. OPP.  Other people’s plans.  In order to be successful, you’ll have to find community with other people who are doing what you’re doing.  You’ll hear about high carb diets, high fat diets, cheat meals, refeeds, carb loads, and all kinds of other approaches to dieting.  In fact, right now you may be wondering what a carb load is, so let me help you: if you don’t know, it’s not on your plan.  So don’t look it up and start trying to justify it.  You will see these terms, read some crap about why they are great ideas, and soon you’ll be piecing together some Frankenstein version of a diet plan that will do nothing but make you fat.  Stick to your plan.

Ultimately, you have to be committed to your goals. You will make mistakes, and you will have bad days.  You will not always feel like working out, and pizza may be much more appetizing than chicken–the honeymoon phase will wear off, and you will have to find a way to keep going.  Along the way, little things–and big things–will stand in the way of your success, and you will have to overcome them.  But your progress is made and broken by what you do consistently–so if you can get past these hangups to set a new habit by February 1, you will be half way to keeping your resolution.  Good luck!

Have Your Progress and Own it Too

I have been noticing a terrible trend in the men and women around me, and it is time to address it. I apologize to my friends who will likely recognize themselves in the following examples—I write only out of love for you all.  But you are driving me crazy.  These are all real-life examples from friends and clients (male and female!) in this past week alone:

  • “A 105 squat isn’t that good, but it’s good for me…”
  • “This may not sound like much to the runners out there, but I ran 3 miles in 42 minutes!”
  • “I still can’t bench press very much, but it felt so much easier!”
  • “I can’t dead lift as much as [some random dude], but that was a personal record!”
  • “It’s not a lot, but three days in one week is good for me.”
  • “I put on ten pounds of lean mass! I know I’m still not very big, but it’s a lot for me.”
  • “I know I’m still fat, but I’ve lost six inches!”

STOP MINIMIZING YOUR SUCCESSES! Your journey is personal, and that makes your progress personal.  It’s yours, you earned it.  If you accomplish something, don’t downplay it! If it’s awesome for you, it’s awesome. Period.

strongforgirl

What I love most about power lifting is that it is ultimately an individual sport. And, to ensure fairness in competition, it is divided into multiple categories.  These categories exist for a reason!  I can’t bench press anywhere near the amount of weight my training partners put up, but they are men who outweigh me by well over 100 pounds!  It’s the same for runners–how could someone who has been running for three weeks possibly be expected to run as fast or as long as someone who has been running for 20 years?  We can apply this perspective to any sport or goal–it’s important to keep things in context.

Women have been taught to be humble, to be thin and weak, to be quiet about our accomplishments, to be unimposing and docile. To see so many women breaking past those boundaries to pursue strength, muscle, and endurance is absolutely mind blowing.  But it’s not enough to do it—we have to OWN it.  You may be new, face challenges, experience setbacks…but you are HERE dammit, and there is no reason not to claim your achievement.  If you do something awesome, let yourself have it!  No one is going to laugh if your progress isn’t in the same range as theirs.  The people who are ahead of you have just been doing it longer or have a different set of circumstances.  Men, you aren’t off the hook either—for you guys, it may even be harder because masculine ritual basically requires you to laugh at each other, but suck it up and keep your focus on what you’re doing.

You can own your accomplishments and be humble.  In the same way that health and fitness must be a lifestyle, not a short-term endeavor, change is a long-term work in progress.  This is why I urge clients to choose goals that don’t focus on weight loss—the weight loss will come, but if that’s your only goal you will eventually tap out your potential.  With healthy fitness goals, there is always room to be bigger, stronger, faster, and to have more endurance.  You can recognize that you’ve gotten stronger without suggesting that you set the standard for strength.

Powerlifters and Strongmen set a pretty good example, in my opinion, of what it looks like to have tons of pride but still be humble.  I have seen 250 lb men who can squat 800lb (and aren’t ashamed to tell you all about it…) get excited about a 120lb girl who can squat 135.  It is understood that “awesome” means awesome to you.  Surround yourself by true athletes and good trainers who see past what you’re doing to recognize your potential, and learn to recognize this in others.

Also, never underestimate the influence you have on other people!  I know two women, one a friend and one a client, who don’t know each other—each has talked to me about how the other has inspired her at different times and in different ways, as they are both at different places in their journeys.  Whatever shape you’re in, wherever you are in your goal, remember that there is someone behind you trying to summon the courage to go forward, and sometimes it’s more inspiring to see someone else struggling to “get there” than it is to watch others who make it look easy.  Even elite athletes, coaches, and trainers can be inspired by your progress! I am humbled and inspired daily by the progress of my clients and others in my gym.  Here are a few examples:

candice

  • A client who brings her baby to the gym just to get her fit on! While the rest of us whine about what a pain in the butt it can be just to drive over to the gym, she’s lugging a pack and play in one hand, gym bag in the other, with a baby on one hip!
  • A young strength athlete in the gym with a prosthetic leg.  Remind me never to make an excuse for giving up.
  • A friend who recently overcame self-consciousness and self-doubt, bit the bullet, and is now learning how to lift in her mid-30s.
  •  A young athlete, one of three 12 year olds on a team of 15-18 year olds (and the smallest girl on the team), who pushed herself through the same rigorous team workout long past when her body began to fail, far beyond when someone else would have given up, to the point of crying.  And kept going! 

 Who inspires you?  Who do you inspire? If you keep your accomplishments to yourself, or if you make less of them, you rob others of the inspiration you could be providing.  Marianne Williamson said it best:

As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.

Speaking of my awesome clients, one brought me cookies yesterday!  Big shout out to Candice, who gave me permission to share the recipe:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Ingredients
  • 1¼ cups old fashioned oats (instant will make the cookies a bit softer, I prefer traditional)
  • ½ cup white, almond flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp butter
Bake @350 for 10-12 min.  When mixing, mix all wet and dry separate first, then combine.

Children are the Greatest Inspiration!

 

Last week, I watched my daughter become aware of her body for the first time.

“Mommy,” she asked, “how come I’m not skinny like you?” I’m pretty sure I felt my heart stop at that moment.  There really are no words for what I felt at that moment. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “my tummy pokes out.  I can suck it in and make it like yours but I can’t keep it like that. Is that what other people do all the time?”  I felt like I had just been dropped off the side of a cliff.  At an age where “beautiful” means a long dress, and “rich” means ten dollars, it makes sense that “fat” means a big belly—including her beautiful child’s tummy.  I was crushed.

I wanted to scoop her up and run with her all the way to the North Pole, where I could find a cabin and hide her away from the world.  But I realized that the world isn’t the problem yet—she is human, and she is simply understanding her Self in comparison to Others.  Isn’t this one of the natural stages of development?

Instead of panicking (ok, maybe in addition to panicking…), I took a deep breath and listened.  Really listened.  Now, if you haven’t experienced a deep conversation with a seven year old, then let me tell you—it’s harder than it sounds.  But you don’t know what you’re missing.  We talked about our plants, friends, shiny things, tummies, TV shows…and luckily, I began to understand that the crisis I was prepared to face really wasn’t a crisis at all.  She was just genuinely curious.  It still has not crossed her mind that different equals bad, or that her body might be somehow flawed.  She had simply observed a difference and was trying to make sense of it.  But how amazing to be present for and aware of this critical moment in her life!  Now it is my job to introduce her to the different ways of appreciating her body, and to make sure she grows up plugged into things that make her body make sense to her.

As a personal trainer and coach, this is very similar to the situation I’m in with my clients–only they’ve had years to make sense of things in their own ways. I have become the confidant of all things body related, the listener to the rambling thoughts of the body conscious, and the answerer of all questions health-related.  I am often the first person to explain body types, to help them understand why they have fought with their bodies for so much of their lives, or to introduce even the concept of non-aesthetic body goals.  Often, I find myself wishing I could go back in time and catch everyone at age seven and present a greater variety of body ideals.  The body best suited for sprinting, for instance, may not do so well in volleyball.  The body best suited for gymnastics may not excel as well in ballet.  If someone could have told us these things early, how differently might we perceive our bodies now?

 

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

― Albert Einstein

 

It is not enough to simply put people on a cookie cutter workout plan or meal plan that will help them burn a few calories and lose a few pounds —I must instead attempt to plug each one into a style of training that best suits his or her body and interests, and help to re-program his or her understanding of body ideals, health, and fitness.  “Fit” for an endomorph is quite different than “fit” for an ectomorph—and without that understanding, we will get absolutely nowhere in setting, defining, and reaching goals.  And I think this is the step where many people get lost and give up.  They resign to being “too skinny,” or “too fat,” or “too muscular” and simply give up—or worse, fall into unhealthy habits that set them further back in the long run.  We could prevent this simply by setting performance goals that are appropriate for our bodies.

So how do we quantify non-aesthetic goals? Can we conceptualize a fitness goal that has nothing to do with pounds or inches lost? In some cases, these are critical goals that can mean the difference between health or a future with life-threatening illnesses.  But for many, these could really be seen as peripheral goals.  I promise that with good nutrition and training programs in place, we can make inches and pounds disappear.  Why focus so much of our attention on how our bodies look? Why run for the sake of weight loss but hate running?  Why not focus more on what we can do when we apply ourselves at something we enjoy?  What kind of life will you lead if every day is spent in misery over the pursuit of an image in the mirror?

Here’s where you can call me out.  But Sheena, you may be thinking, aren’t you involved in a purely aesthetic sport?  And yes, I am.  But believe it or not, I am not motivated by an aesthetic goal to train every day. Even the best bodybuilders I know understand that the pursuit of a perfect physique has to come in cycles in order to be effective—that is, to look our best for one night on stage, we have to be willing to step away from that as an immediate goal and focus on strength, rebuilding, and repair.  And we all set goals during that time—a bigger bench, a stronger squat, a faster sprint—that keep us motivated even when we’re taking time off from the immediate aesthetic reward.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about our aesthetic outcome—I am suggesting that we consider our bodies in other ways as well.

This week, don’t look at your tummy (yes, tummy…) and wonder why it doesn’t look like someone else’s.  Don’t envision what your body will look like when you grow up…er, I mean, reach your goal.  Don’t look in the mirror and wonder if it could be different—not today.  Don’t skip breakfast because your jeans were tight this morning.  Look at the bigger picture—learn to understand your body in a greater sense.  It would have been great to have started at age 7, but it is not too late to start now.

I am challenging everyone to set (and achieve!) a non-aesthetic fitness goal.  Push yourself in a way you normally might not.  Get stronger, get faster, get moving when you often wouldn’t, or achieve consistency when you think you can’t.  Get started, or get re-started.  Get through one training session without being motivated or shamed by an aesthetic outlook.  Test yourself and fall in love with what you can do. 

Example: that’s my daughter in the photo at the top.  She hiked Blood Mountain at age 6.  In the dark. On New Year’s Eve, in the cold.  The second time, just a month ago, she looked up and wasn’t sure she could do it.  That photo was taken at the top.  Now, she defines herself as a good hiker who set a goal and achieved it.  🙂

Time For Change

I don’t do this often, but I stumbled upon a friend’s blog post and felt compelled to share this with my readers!  Some of you may know her, but most of you won’t.  She has recently made a choice to change her lifestyle, and the amount of motivation and commitment emanating from her is so inspiring!  I can talk all day long about how to get started, but my point of true change happened several years ago, and maybe for some of you it would be helpful to hear from someone who is just starting out.  Much in the same way a couple might fall in love again at the memory of a first date, I am completely inspired by the memory of what it was like in the first moments of what is now my lifestyle.  Sandra captures this moment so beautifully that it took my breath away and I had to share it!  

Maybe some of you want to make a change but you’re afraid, or there’s something holding you back from moving forward–read what Sandra has to say about that!  

You can follow her here.     

 

Beautiful on the inside and out!

TIME FOR CHANGE

Ok so here comes some hardcore truth.  I’m spilling the beans and it won’t be pretty but it’s ok b/c I’m going to change that now and that is the beauty of it all.  It is never too late to change.  Thank Goodness!

So first some history and let me start by saying I had a great childhood so the following is more on the history of my knowledge of fitness and nutrition.  I grew up in a Latin household eating all the rice, beans, maduros, and meat my heart desired.  I had soda for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and yep even before bed.  Cookies, chips, Swiss rolls, cakes, sweet cereals were all easily accessible.  Fruits and vegetables? Yeah, what are those again?  It was bad but I don’t blame them.  Food was a source of enjoyment, family time, reward, and success.  Yes success.  A full belly meant you had enough money to splurge on all the food you’d like and when the country you were born in has a low food supply the idea of limiting foods is unheard of, but abundance is a dream.  So we live and learn and it’s time for change.

Fitness.  Thank goodness for P.E. or I’d have never exercised a day in my life.  I lived in a big city with lots of “bad” people, going out to ride bike was a big no no.  My parents, God love them, didn’t care much for fitness.  Going to the park, or riding bike, or even tossing the ball with me, was not a high priority and let’s face it it’s not like I asked either.  So I watched TV, played with dolls, talked to friends, but  there was very very minimal physical movement going on.  In fact it was not till I was 16 and met the love of my life that I found out regular people go the gym.  Gasp!!!  Hysterical, or a bit sad, but true none the less.  My husband (Alex) was a gym rat, well still is.  I thought it was cute. “Awe look how cute he looks in jeans.”, “He’s so health conscious.”  So we dated for a minute and soon after got married.  That is where I met my first gym in Aventura, FL, Olympia Gym.  Awkward? Yes, very.  We went together and I got on most of the machines and did what I thought I was supposed to do.  I realized I was pretty strong but my body didn’t really change.   Since then I’ve been a member of at least 7+ gyms and I’ve learned nothing.   Well I’ve learned a lot but not how to implement it or use it for MY benefit.  I’ve lost 40-50 lbs and then gained them, then lost them again.  I’ve lost biggest loser contests and I’ve won them.  Yet here I am and I’m so tired of not knowing.  Again, Time for Change!!!

Now comes the part so many don’t talk about.  Recently some T.V. shows are bringing to light another incredibly important factor in your health.  Emotion!!  The psychology of why you are where you are and why you can’t get out of that vicious cycle.  This is the hard part.  I believe I actually enjoy working out.  No, I know I do.  Once I start there is a sense of accomplishment and instant gratification unlike so many aspects in life beyond your control.  However there is this damn voice in my head that tells me now and then “Wonder what they think of me?”  Wish she’d shut the hell up but no she’s there loud and clear and it makes me doubt myself, plays havoc with my self-esteem, and sadly makes me walk away.  My constant wondering of how people view me and what I want people to view me as, has been my downfall in so many ways.  It has stopped me from going where I’ve never been, reach new limits, and take certain risks.  But worst of all it has stopped me from believing in myself.  I valued others more than myself and let me tell you that is in most cases a fail fail situation.  Instead of seeing myself as a possible inspiration to someone, I saw myself as the “fat” one at the gym.  Instead of being proud of my workout, I criticized my form and performance.  And before too long I had talked myself out of all the progress b/c for heaven’s sake someone in that gym may be laughing at ME!
It is not a good place to be and I’m still struggling with it.  However I guess age teaches you a thing or two or you finally just stop giving a damn about a lot of things.  I truly believe out of all 3 aspects in my life the psychological one has been the absolute hardest and most straining.  Honestly I don’t even know why it is there.  I can’t say I’ve had a lot of negative influences in my life.  My parents love me unconditionally and I have a husband who adores me in ways I didn’t think truly existed.   As for everyone else their views of me, or should I say the views I forced upon them of me, has built walls so high I can’t even measure them.  So if I ever feel an instructor thinks I’m slacking (when I know I’m not) it has hurt me.  Disappointing someone that I feel I need to gain the respect of is just not something I deal with well.  I’ve never done well with people not liking me simply just because, however add the fact that I may care about that person and it’s just a blow to my ego that I have not been strong enough to overcome. Well it’s time for some real f’n change!!!!

I have, I think come to terms with who I am (it’s a work in progress).  It happens a little bit more each day, month, and year.  Now I’m truly ready to make the changes for me. It’s not just about changing my body anymore.  It’s not about what society says I should be or look like.  It’s about valuing myself and giving myself some damn credit. Dang it I am good enough and if you don’t agree with my effort well screw you because at least I’m putting effort.  I’m doing this for me so your view is no longer my concern. So what if I don’t look the way I’d like in my workout cloths, so what if I shake as I push that weight, so what if my hair is all over the place, so what if I need a break or if I have to call it a day sooner than later sometimes.  I’m giving it my best and I’m making this my life not a hobby.  I have different goals so your generalizations do not include me. As for criticism, go ahead and offer it, but be constructive with it.  I may do something b/c I’m injured or have limitations or am getting older (lol) however I will come up with alternatives and I will keep going.  I’ve had a lot of positive influences in my life.  A lot of support!  However it is not till your mindset changes.  Till you make the decision for yourself and no one else that you can finally succeed.   This Change is for me because I’m ready and you can either guide me or get the hell out of my way.

Ok so maybe I still have to work on emotion a bit or a lot but you get the idea.  Just like me I’m sure there are many.  There are those who are lazy, those who have not committed, and those who are mentally weak.  Help them and realize that all of the above, Nutrition, Exercise, and Mental health are dependent of each other.  We don’t all have the same background, same will, same wants and needs.  There are physical restraints that stop some, don’t roll your eyes, show them an alternative.  I know some need more time than others but we all want to succeed we just need our minds to say,“It’s time!”

Post-Contest Update, and New Recipes!

As many of you know, I competed in an NPC bodybuilding show a week ago.  The 16 weeks leading up to the show were incredible, and as always, I learned so much.  Every time we compete, we become scientific experiments of cause and effect.  The greatest bodybuilders are usually the smartest–to be successful, it’s important to understand how the body uses food.  “If I eat _____, then my body responds by ________.”  How cool is that?  But this time, I came at it from a slightly new perspective.  Those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning may recall an earlier post in which I explained why I took a break from bodybuilding, and what I had hoped to gain—and keep–by coming back.  I think my most recent experiment has a lot to offer in terms of how we reconcile body recomposition with eating for overall health.  Sometimes it seems like two different conversations, and I feel that I was successfully able to blend them.

About two weeks post-show. A little fluffy but thank god the cankles are gone!

About a week and a half before the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodybuilding nutrition is often so focused on macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) that micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from food sources often get overlooked.  Tired of knowing we weren’t as healthy as we could be, last fall my family took on an adventure—we wanted to go package-free, rely mostly on local produce, and find a more sustainable meat source.  We did not want to continue consuming the pounds and pounds of chicken and overlooking the importance of fruits and vegetables.  We went from a chicken-with-vegetables outlook, to a vegetables-with-chicken approach.  In doing so, we eliminated our multivitamins and several supplements that we were taking.  A year later, we are still maintaining our new lifestyle.  In fact, we’re just getting better and better at it!

Backstage with a client–she ROCKED her first show!

My decision to compete presented a problem—we knew how to use foods to manipulate my body, and we weren’t sure how our new lifestyle would fit into a bodybuilding contest preparation diet.  With some adjustments, we continued right on as best we could and I actually benefitted greatly from the new approach.  My meals were big, filling, and absolutely satisfying.  Using a variety of vegetables, I was able to blend flavors and textures that transformed my boring chicken into amazing meals.  Where before I would eat 4 ounces of chicken with a little bit of green beans, now I was eating mounds of vegetables with a little bit of chicken!  I was also able to incorporate my green smoothies—a boring, watery protein shake was transformed into a very satisfying smoothie by adding half a cucumber, a cup of spinach, and some cinnamon!

I basically ate my weight in fruit while everyone else was eating peanut butter cups. To each her own!

The one question everyone kept asking me, and understandably so, was “what are you going to eat when you’re done?!”  In my previous shows, I gave this a lot of thought.  Oh my gosh did I think about it!  I actually brought an entire cake to the restaurant after the show and dug in by myself with a spoon!  The next year may or may not have involved gas station goodies for the entire 8 hour drive home…but this year I had a different plan for my recovery phase, so I found a gluten-free, vegan, no-sugar-added cake that I had planned to eat right after.  But a funny thing happened—I found that I genuinely, after all of those weeks of dieting, really just wanted some fruit!  Similarly, I didn’t have any big cheat meal planned for the days after the show.  I had an eggplant on my kitchen counter that I was dying to cook—and so after an initial cheat meal (sushi!) and an omelette the next morning, the first thing I did was cook that eggplant!

Since then, I’ve had my cheat meals on Saturdays, but with the extra calories and macronutrients in my life, I’ve been mainly focused on having fun with the “clean” whole foods I already loved and grew to miss while dieting down.  If I had to make a list of these foods, I would include coconut, nuts, quinoa, lentils, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, almond milk, and the variety of fruits and vegetables I use in my green smoothies.  On a bodybuilding diet, everything you put in your body “counts,” so for instance, while kale is a great “clean” food and a nutritious green vegetable, a physique athlete must still be conscious of the fact that it contains three times the amount of carbohydrates and calories as other greens such as collards and mustard greens.  It might now seem to matter much, but when you’re hungry it’s easy to eat three or four cups of sautéed kale at a time!

I have made so many awesome meals since my show!  Among them has been a pasta-less lasagna, a fruit/nut “cookies”, a veggie saute/sauce that blew my mind, and a new post-workout protein bowl.  Enjoy!

No-Pasta Lasagna

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into ¼ in rounds
  • 1 small container of fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • spinach

Sauce:

  • 5-6 tomatoes
  • carrots (the more the merrier, I say!)
  • zucchini or yellow squash (or both!)
  • onions (or onion powder—Mike hates onions)
  • minced garlic
  • fresh basil leaves (dried would work)
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

1.  Lightly salt the eggplant slices and lay out on a towel for about 20 minutes.  Lightly press another towel on top of the slices to absorb any excess water.  This dries out the eggplant just a little and keeps it from getting slimy when you bake it.

2.  Place the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.  If you make a batch of this sauce ahead of time it is so much more flavorful!  But in a pinch you can make it as needed.

3.  Thoroughly mix egg and ricotta; set aside.

4.  Lightly salt the eggplant slices and lay out on a towel for about 20 minutes.  Lightly press another towel on top of the slices to absorb any excess water.  This dries out the eggplant just a little and keeps it from getting slimy when you bake it.

5.  Lightly grease (I use Pam) a large glass baking dish.  Spoon a small amount of sauce into the pan to form a light coating.  Lay down slices of eggplant, slightly overlapping, to create a single layer in the bottom of the dish.  Spoon ricotta mix onto the eggplant; use the back of a spoon to spread evenly.  Cover with a layer of spinach, and then add another layer of eggplant.  Cover with the remaining sauce.  If you prefer, you can cover this with a layer of mozzarella cheese before baking.

6.  Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling at the sides.

Fig/Banana/Oat/Peanut Butter bars

  • 6 large figs
  • 1 large, very ripe banana
  • 2 cups oats
  • ½ cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup coconut flakes (look for some with no added sugar!)

Mash the figs and banana until blended and in almost liquid form.  Mix in oats, peanut butter, and coconut.  Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.  Cool in pan, and refrigerate.  Serve when cool.

Vegetable “sauce”

  • ½ lb okra, sliced
  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • yellow squash, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1tbsp olive oil in pan; add garlic and heat for about a minute.  Add vegetables, onion powder, salt, and pepper.  Cook until squash has reduced in size and okra is soft.  This will look like a slimy mess, but when I served it over mashed potatoes with baked chicken, my daughter fell in love with this flavorful “vegetable gravy”!  Okra can get slimy, and this characteristic makes it ideal for soups and stews.   Otherwise, people fry it or avoid it altogether because they don’t know how to avoid the slime.  Embrace the slime in this saute!

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!

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/

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.

Great Greens!

As some of you may recall, last fall and winter I took a hiatus from meat.  In fact, my whole family did this with me.  We did this for two reasons: first, we didn’t feel good about the ethics or sustainability of the meat we were buying, and second, we saw it as an opportunity to re-learn how to prioritize vegetables.  We realized that we would plan a meal around what carb source and meat we wanted, and then the vegetables would be thrown on sometimes and other times left off completely.  We became interested in more ethical and sustainable food sources in general, and this led us to our local farmers market and eventually to a close relationship with one or two local farms.

If you’re interested in my homemade pasta, check out my recipes.

 

If you missed those early posts and want to go back to where I started, you can READ MY OLD POSTS HERE.  You’ll find some of my first recipes and experiments with package-free eating.

 

 

 

Our break from meat forced us to look for other sources of protein (like lentils!), and our weekly trips to the farmers market forced us to get creative with vegetables we had never even heard of but which were in season.  During this time we also gave up all packaged foods in attempt to understand why and how pre-packaged foods became so popular and necessasry.  I learned to make tortillas, pasta, bread, sauces, and a number of other staples that I had always assumed must be bought in the store.

Since then we have identified the products we’d rather buy than make ourselves, and we have returned to eating meat, but the lessons learned during that time have forever changed how we approach food and make meal choices.  It also brought us closer together as a family, and my daughter officially became our team member, willing to take on adventures with us.  Buying foods like pasta and breads is a much different experience now that I know we aren’t dependent on someone else to make them.  And there are still some foods, such as sauces, that I will probably never buy pre-packaged again.

Contest prep diets never tasted so good!

Now that I am back to competing it is a whole new experience now that I have had time to re-prioritize the role that vegetables play in my diet.  I am currently on a very low carb nutrition plan (I don’t recommend this normally, but I’m 5 weeks out of a competition) and not feeling anywhere near as hungry and miserable as I did in the past at this time.  I now eat copious amounts of kale and ENJOY it, where before I would just choke down some spinach as an afterthought.  Where before I’d eat 4 ounces of chicken and some veggies on the side, now I see my meal as a full plate of delicious kale with a little bit of chicken to go with it.  Totally new outlook on the same macronutrients.

I have also benefited greatly from the green smoothies I learned to make from my CSA share.   Each week I get a large basket full of more veggies than I know what to do with!  A simple solution is to make either a sauce or a smoothie out of them.  What does anyone do with two pounds of cucumbers, knowing that in a week they’ll get two more?!  For me, kale and cucumber pair very well with some diet Sprite for a delicious and easy to make green drink that not only satisfies my taste buds, but also adds nutritional benefit to my life and takes advantage of the bountiful harvest from my local farm.

 

So now for some recipes and ideas!

Sauteed Kale:

I got this recipe from my mother-in-law, whose kale sautee tasted like candy to my low carb taste buds!  I enjoyed hers so much more than my own that I asked her to walk me through EXACTLY how she made hers.  Somehow just the smallest differences made a huge difference in taste!
2 bunches raw kale, chopped
1 whole onion, chopped
½ cup apple cider vinegar (ok, who am I kidding…just dump some in!)
1 cup of water
1 or two cloves of garlic, minced
1tbsp veggie boullion
3 tsp sweetener (I use stevia)

 

Add chopped onion to lightly greased pan; cook until onions are transluscent.  Add kale, water, boullion, and cider.  Cover just long enough to allow the kale to shrink up.  Uncover and stir; add garlic and sweetener.  Cook on medium heat with lid on until stems are soft.  The amount of time this takes depends on your kale—some takes as little as 20 minutes, but I’ve gotten batches that took 40 minutes.

Green smoothie (makes two)

Honestly, you can just make this with whatever you have handy.  You can’t mess it up, but it’s important to balance the bitterness of the greens with something sweet like carrots, cucumbers, apples, etc.  Sometimes I leave out the apple when I can’t have the extra sugars, and it tastes just fine!

1 whole cucumber  
2 whole carrots
1 whole apple
¼ lemon (with peel!)
1 or 2 cups of greens—any will do!  Romaine lettuce, turnip greens, kale…whatever you have on hand
1 tsp stevia, sugar, honey, etc
water or diet soda such as sprite or fresca

Add all ingredients to blender; blend until smooth.People often ask me what kind of blender I use for these, and to be honest I use whatever cheap blender I bought on sale at Target two years ago!  This blender has been through hell with me but continues to make good smoothies.  I won’t tell you that sometimes I don’t have to chew the pulp a little, but since I don’t know how smooth a Vitamix or other expensive blender would get it, I’ll just continue to chew my pulp happily.  J