May 14, 2011

Carb Queen / Giveaway!

Last month, I won Jess' book giveaway on her blog. She had received the book from another blogger, and I am meant to pass it on. It's our community's traveling book, and it makes me so happy to have this kind of connection to people I've never met. A blog is wonderful, but a book is something to hold - and better yet, to pass on to someone else who might be able to appreciate it in his or her own way.

The book is Susan Blech's "Confessions of a Carb Queen: A Memoir." This is the book my mom read when she was out here visiting, and she went into it under the assumption that it would be a diet manual. Interestingly, though, I didn't find the weight loss to be the main focus of the book. She details her struggle with binge eating while talking about her childhood, her interactions with family and friends, and the mental/emotional struggle of going to a weight loss clinic to work through her addiction to food.

Something I really appreciated about this book was Susan's candor, especially when talking about the less-often-mentioned aspects of the day-to-day life of a super obese person. Specifically, she talked an awful lot about sex and dating, and I found it really comforting, in a way. It's such a relief to feel like I'm not the only one who's had these kind of experiences ... I could see myself in her descriptions of the things the men would say and do (like being okay with a physical relationship, but not okay being seen together in public) and the things she would say and do because, like me, she just wanted to feel loved, or at least less alone.
"You know the best kind of sex?" I say.
"What?" says Joy, wide-eyed.
"Any sex after you've lost weight."

p. 300
The book read like a conversation - I found myself crying, then I'd turn the page and be cracking up with laughter. And when I finished it, I was a little sad that I couldn't call her up and ask her for a hug. It was great, and I can't thank Jess enough for passing it on to me!

And now, I'd like to pass this along to one of you!

Here's how to enter!

1 - Post a comment here completing this sentence: "The most important thing I've learned about myself while on my journey is..."

2 - Follow me on Twitter! @oh_mg (and post a comment here letting me know!)

3 - Post the following on Twitter: "I'm entered to win @oh_mg's Carb Queen giveaway on - you should be too!"

You have until midnight on Thursday, May 19, to enter; I will announce the winner in next Friday's Roses and thorns. Good luck!

May 13, 2011

Roses and thorns

I am always so fascinated by stories of what people can accomplish when adrenaline kicks in. Have you ever heard of the women whose children are trapped underneath something big, and somehow they get the physical strength to lift it and free their child? That stuff amazes me, and I've always wondered what situations I would have to find myself in in order to discover my situational superhuman strength.

Here's a little secret: Sometimes it's hard for me to hear people say that I inspire them with my weight loss story ... and it's even harder to hear when I feel like I am not doing much to be proud of. The reality of my weight loss is that it's really only a side effect of my true goal, which is to overcome my emotional eating and learn to live a healthy life as a recovering compulsive/binge eater. As I improve in one area, the situation in the other reflects that; this week I struggled through a relapse, and the results of my weigh-in were thereby affected.

This week, it was one great day followed by a day when everything felt out of control, over and over. On Wednesday, I was unbelievably depressed and asked my sister Katie if she was around to videochat. We connected, I asked how she was doing and how finals were going for her, she filled me in quickly on her last week, and then asked how I was doing.

Cue the sobbing.

"I'm having a really hard time right now, Kate..."

A simple thought, plainly stated, but as heavy as a ton of bricks on my heart, seemingly impossible to lift off and free myself. I told her that I had been binge eating, that I was so upset by everything happening with Mom, that I felt stressed and overwhelmed and out of control in so many areas of my life. I apply for jobs and don't know if I will get them, but if I eat enough, I know I'll get a stomachache and fall asleep - I just wanted to feel certain about something, even if it was something that I knew would hurt me and get me further from my goals. It felt like rock bottom all over again.

Katie is an incredibly wise kid, definitely the voice of reason in our house, and she talked me down calmly and logically. I can't control the job situation and I can't control the situation with Mom - but I can control my food and my workouts. Everything will fall into place - the situations will improve, just stay focused on this one thing, she said.

So that's what I'm doing. I'm trying my best to focus on one day at a time, and right now, I'm two days strong since my last binge. I lost nearly five tons of emotional weight yesterday when I handwrote a nine page letter to my mother. (I figure the exchange rate is about a thousand pounds per page. That's kind of what it feels like.)

I told her things that I knew were painful to write and that I know will be painful to read, but that had to be said in order for me to move forward with my healing. I'm proud of myself for finally sticking up for what I believe in (me, my lifestyle, my goals), as I generally tend to remain quiet in order to avoid confrontation. I don't think the letter was overly accusatory - my intention was more of a catalyst for open and honest conversation. It's getting mailed off today with a copy of "Women Food and God" that I bought for her.

So, there you have it. This week, I did a lot of snacking, much of which was not fueled by physical hunger, and so in turn, I did a lot of emotional and physical hurting. At my lowest this week, I was down one pound; at my highest, I was up five. I'm checking in today up one pound, back to 210. I don't feel bad - I've punished myself enough this week. I've also done a lot of self-reflection, of reading, of writing, of listening. And you know, right now I feel like one of those adrenaline moms, finding the strength I didn't know I had just when I needed it most.

What about you? What great strengths of yours have you discovered (or rediscovered) on this journey? Who/what motivated you - a person, an event, a blog post, etc.? This week, I was incredibly moved by a series of posts on Andie's blog called What I Miss From 135 lbs Ago. Her 135 pound loss has her at goal; while my similar loss is only slightly more than half of the losing part of my journey, I related to her story so deeply. It's such an important read, I urge anyone - at goal, on the way, just getting started - to check them out: here is Part 1, then Part 2, and finally Part 3. I also highly recommend her blog in general - great recipes, incredible wisdom. One of my favorite quotes of hers on weight maintenance:
Thinness is like Ikea furniture. Looks great in the showroom, but you have to get it home and assemble it yourself. Most times it doesn’t look quite like you’d hoped.
I just love the honesty.

May 12, 2011

Women Food and God

There is a stranger in my house.

Okay, maybe not a stranger, but a former acquaintance I've phased out of my life in favor of a more preferable companion.

Hello again, jar of peanut butter.

Peanut butter is, by all accounts, incredibly delicious. My afternoon snack for most of the school year was peanut butter and Teddy Grahams - I would buy single-serve containers of Jif because even though they were a little more expensive than buying a jar, something about the individual cups made me less likely to binge on them. I stopped bringing them for my snack in the last few weeks because each container was 250 calories, and I wanted to get the most out of my calories, so I'd bring fresh fruit instead.

Now that I am transitioning to veganism for a month, nuts and nut butters are on my recommended eating list. Though packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, they're also really high in calories. I'm hoping that with this jar, I can have my peanut butter and eat it too - one tablespoon in my oatmeal, for example, for 100 calories gets me the health benefits without blowing nearly a quarter of my daily calories like the little containers would.

Could I still get the individual cups and just use half or less as I see fit? Of course. But I want to try this. This is a test of my resolve, of my progress, a true NSV I could really be proud of. Because despite losing over a hundred pounds and being able to control myself under most conditions, something about a jar of peanut butter makes me want to grab a spoon and just start eating until it's empty.

It brings to mind an amazingly incredible book I read a few weeks ago after hearing so many glowing recommendations from other bloggers: "Women Food and God" by Geneen Roth. She talks about how our relationship with food mirrors our relationships with others, with ourselves, and with however we define a higher power. In one section, she talks about loving food in excess - it ceases to be about the food itself and becomes a quantity fixation. If chocolate was really the answer to the problem, then you could eat one kiss and be fine ... so why then do we feel the need to eat the whole bag?
Sometimes people will say, "But I just like the taste of food. In fact, I love the taste! Why can't it be that simple? I overeat because I like food."


When you like something, you pay attention to it. When you like something - love something - you take time with it. You want to be present for every second of the rapture.

Overeating does not lead to rapture. It leads to burping and farting and being so sick that you can't think of anything but how full you are. That's not love, that's suffering.

p. 53
So much of this book gave me chills. I saw myself reflected in so many of her patient's stories - the Permitters who binge eat in order to numb themselves and thus float through life unaware, the career dieters whose weight loss efforts consistently fail because they see it as a way to become someone different and new instead of realizing that your problems exist no matter what size pants you wear. She talked a lot about using food to soothe past aches, something I most certainly am guilty of:
It's not life in the present that is intolerable; the pain we are avoiding has already happened. We are living in reverse.
p. 40
Physically I'm digging and scraping the peanut butter from the sides of the jar, but emotionally, I'm trying to dig my way away from my problems and my stresses. Peace with my mother is not at the bottom of that jar. A job is not at the bottom of the jar, either. The problems aren't hunger, so the solution shouldn't be food.

Instead, her solution is to make peace with food. Stop seeing it as something you can or cannot have, and stop using it to punish or reward yourself. Obsession with food can be as dangerous as any other addiction, and ought to be dealt with as such.
The obsession will end when you love discovering your true nature more than you love being loyal to your mother or father. The obsession will end because you care enough about yourself to stop damaging yourself with food. Because you love yourself enough to stop hurting yourself. Who doesn't want to take care of what they love?
p. 193-194
She also emphasizes the importance of feelings - as a Permitter, I binge eat to numb myself of my feelings, because who wants to feel sad or stressed or depressed or angry when you could eat yourself numb and then go to sleep? This is something I still struggle with, even three-quarters of a year after I started my journey.
If you don't allow a feeling to begin, you also don't let it end.
p. 123
After I've chewed, swallowed, and napped, I'm still jobless, I still have damaged and broken relationships. If I don't face it in an appropriate way, then it's still there - nothing has been resolved. I need to take time to cry - because that's what people do when they're sad. If I'm mad, I need to scream into a pillow, or write it all out. Face the issues - actually confront and deal with them - and only then can there be progress.

I have to confess that lately, I've been slipping up an awful lot. I'm hurting emotionally for a lot of different reasons, and I haven't taken the time to mindfully process these feelings. Instead, I remember how comforting homemade cookies are - the process of making them, the waiting for them to bake, the taste and the texture. It's painful, but it's familiar, and when I'm stressed or depressed, I crave familiarity and comfort. Lately it's been easy to forget how much of a relief a good, full-body bawling can be, or how much better I feel after a long run than I do after excessive snacking. Today, I'm rereading "Women Food and God," recapturing my motivation, and falling back in love with the girl I've spent the past nine months trying to get to know as I work hard to make her as healthy and happy as possible and look as lovely as she feels - and rightly deserves to feel.

What about you? Have you read any of Geneen Roth's books? What's your favorite non-food way to soothe stress and anxiety?

May 11, 2011

Forks Over Knives

Last night I attended a dinner with the other Whole Foods Challenge bloggers, as well as a screening of the film "Forks Over Knives", which focused on medical research in favor of eating a plant-based diet.

The dinner was really great. I got to talk with a couple of the other bloggers, which was neat - it seems we all have a very different niche, but we can unify with this eating challenge. I got to meet Rip Esselstyn, a former professional triathlete whose book, The Engine 2 Diet, is full of information on going veggie, as well as lots of manly recipes - these were the recipes that helped him win the stomachs of his fire company in Austin, TX. And I got to eat some super delicious vegan food:

Dinner was Black Beans and Rice Extravaganza (from Rip's book) and a kale salad tossed with avocado and lemon dressing. For dessert, a chocolate mousse made with soft Silken tofu and raspberries on a thin crust made of dates and nuts (very closely resembling a Larabar). It was really delicious and very filling - the only unsettling part was when I was getting my plate together, and Rip commented that my plate wasn't very full, I'd have to get ready to eat more than that. The comment he made was before I introduced myself and talked a little about my blog - mentioning losing over 135 pounds in 9 months stunned him a little, and I'd like to think it put my portioning into perspective.

Per the recipe, a serving of the beans and rice is 550 calories - or roughly half my daily allowance. The dessert didn't list calories, but knowing how many are in an average Larabar, I can reasonably estimate. So, needless to say, I'm feeling a little anxious about the challenge. Reintroducing rice and pasta would be a bit tough for me - so I don't plan on doing very much of it. I'm fine with my pasta substitutes, and I'm looking into different things to try like quinoa and bulgur, which are still calorie-dense but at least are packed with protein and nutrients.

Rip isn't a doctor, but his father is - he's Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, one of the doctors whose work is featured in the documentary.

(Unrelated to the film. I just loved it.)

The film was about what I expected: lots of statistics on cancer and food/weight-related illnesses in countries where the main staple of their diet is meat vs. those with more plant-based eating habits. They discussed the noteable increase of instances of cancer and cardiovascular disease that parallel the increase in popularity of fast food diets, citing that only "1-2% of cancers are actually gene related." They interviewed doctors, patients, and even a vegan athlete, all of whom swore by the plant-based way of eating.

I have a hard time with a lot of movies classified as "documentaries," as I feel that a true documentary is factual and unbiased (things like NOVA presentations on whales or indigenous peoples); the term "propaganda" seems a bit too harsh, but films like this tend to only document one side of an argument. (My cousin Sarah, who went with me and who has also agreed to try the challenge, calls them "advocacy films.") There were a lot of claims made in the film that I agreed with, and some of which I was not entirely convinced. With films like this, it's important not to necessarily take every word as fact but to still glean (!!!) information and help define your own opinion on the subject. I'm not a doctor so I can't really argue with the results they presented, but I also couldn't walk away from the screening feeling completely unaffected. One quote stood out to me above all others:
"The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition."
Thomas Edison
Dr. Esselstyn, along with Dr. T. Colin Campbell, talked about doing research in this field at a time when bypass surgeries were first being completed - it was a remarkable achievement, but the studies were focusing more on treatment for symptoms than prevention of causes. Will going vegan solve every health problem? Unlikely. But thinking about how, personally, my body feels much better (and cleaner) after eating a bucket salad than it does after eating a fast-food cheeseburger, I can't help but wonder if they're on to something.

What about you? Do you think that you incorporate more whole foods into your diet now than, say, six months or a year ago? What's your favorite whole/natural/unprocessed snack?

May 10, 2011

The Gleaners and I

Tomorrow starts my 28-day healthy living challenge. I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject, and I'm really interested to see how this all plays out. I think the keys to success with this are (a) diversity and (b) creativity. I've heard from so many people that their attempts at going vegetarian and/or vegan were thwarted by either boredom or intense cravings, so I've been researching ways to combat both. I have nothing but time on my hands, so trying lots of new recipes is not out of the question. And I'm incredibly open to trying new things, from different combinations of ingredients to foods I've never tried before.

I've reviewed the information Whole Foods sent me about the basic gist of the eating plan, and essentially I'll be eliminating something from my diet each week: first up, dairy. This is a relatively easy baby step for me into plant-based eating, as I don't really consume much dairy to begin with. I don't like milk and I can't keep cheese in the house.

The biggest transition here is giving up the breakfast I've had almost every day since August: yogurt. I bought a container of oats to make oatmeal and started yesterday with some oatmeal, pumpkin pie spice, and a banana. It's delicious, but my newly mathematical brain is a little worried. My cup of light yogurt is 100 calories; oatmeal and a banana is 260. I am trying so hard to stay within 1200-1300 calories, and lately, it's been a struggle. from imdb dot comSome days are 1400-1500 ... some are a lot more. I'm eating my stresses, and while I hit the gym hard enough to work it off, I am upset that I'm emotionally eating again in the first place.

Especially with my plant-based diet research, I've been thinking a lot lately about "junk" food. A few weeks ago, I showed my students a documentary by Agn├Ęs Varda called "The Gleaners and I" ("Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse"). We had been talking about the ways that we measure time and how we spend our days, and this was an incredible film showing non-traditional means of recycling and reusing products. In the documentary, Varda shows people who go out in fields after a harvest to pick up any remaining food: tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages, grapes, etc. She also shows urban gleaners who scavenge through grocery store dumpsters and empty market stalls looking for still-fresh produce or items freshly past their sell-by dates. It's still good to eat, but the stores need to discard it to make room for fresher items.

The reactions of my students were varied, and I was really quite pleased with the discussions they had afterwards. One of the questions I asked them was if they thought they could survive as gleaners in modern Chicago. student said absolutely not - what if his friends saw, or his neighbors put a video on YouTube of him going through trash cans? A few students said they might, but only if they were absolutely certain that the food was sanitary and still fresh enough to eat. In general, most of the students seemed open to the idea of gleaning - of course, this was under hypothetical circumstances, and their reactions might have been different in practice than they were in theory.

I watched the film before screening it, then showed it to each of my three classes, so I got to notice some of the more subtle nuances of the film. Something that struck me was that the gleaners all referred to what they were collecting as food, but the store owners (and my students) all called it garbage. The gleaners are taking mostly fresh produce, with very limited meat and cheese, and that's garbage - but we're okay with going into a store, paying full-price for junk food, and thinking nothing of it.

I closed the discussion with a question: who do you think eats the best, you or these gleaners? I didn't require an answer, but I could see their minds actively considering the idea.

What about you? Do you think you could be a gleaner? What, if anything, would stop you? (Besides laws, of course.) Any low-calorie (and dairy-free) breakfast ideas?

May 9, 2011

SFC: Week Six

My positive picture for the week:

Lorelei and I went to Forever 21 on Friday afternoon - she was looking for an outfit for a wedding, and I was just goofing around. I totally fell in love with how this dress looked and fit - and the fact that it fit at all! It wasn't expensive, but I still didn't get it ... I need to be careful with my finances these days. Which is really tough, because everything cute fits now, so all I want to do is buy adorable new clothes.

What have you done this past week to help achieve your goals?
(1) I lost 3 pounds, down to 209. T-10 pounds to onederland!
(2) I did not weigh Monday but was back on Tuesday and daily since. My goal for this week: no weighing myself Tuesday or Thursday.
(3) I biked 26 miles, for a challenge total of 110 miles (exactly 50% of my goal!).
(4) Finally! I logged over an hour of Wii Fit time. I finally found the 22nd flag of the Advanced Course of Island Cycling, which is an awesome calorie burner - getting all the flags takes me 10 minutes and burns 40 calories, which is really good considering most activities aren't real calorie roasters anymore.
(5) I met this goal last week but I've still been working on my 101-in-1001 list. This week, I completed #34 (Move my blog to my own website) and made progress on #16 (Read 25 English books) and #19 (Reread five books that I loved as a kid).
(6) Tried new thing #1 of 5: I've been running silent. I'm so music dependent during my runs, and I wanted to try just enjoying the run (also, I'm getting kind of bored of the same 20 songs). It's tough at first, but I really like it.

What did you do this past week to make you feel good about yourself?
I got my eyebrows waxed ... and my lip. I've never had my lip done before, and recently I've been super self-conscious about it. I'd never really noticed it before, but lately it's all I focus on in the mirror. Problem solved, and I feel super lovely.

What goal are you having the most difficult time with? Do you have a plan to make it better?
Using the Wii! This should be the easiest one! It should be a little easier now that the semester is over - I'd like to try and wake up and do a little each morning. This week, I need to really start working on goal #7 (my plan for summer/fall) - I can't sit around the house snacking and feeling sorry for myself, which is unfortunately pretty much all I did this weekend. I have to have some sort of schedule so I stay busy and focused.

What goal are you rocking? Do you plan on keeping up the momentum?
Pushing forward with getting to onederland and totally blazing through my 101-in-1001 list. I'm doing my best to keep moving with them!

What's your favourite board game?
Scrabble - it was my great aunt's favorite, she and my grandmother used to play for hours and I'd just sit and watch. I have three boards: a deluxe turntable one (the pieces don't slide everywhere, it's great!), a Super Scrabble one (bigger board and more tiles!), and a French one (different point values for letters - tough but really interesting!).

May 8, 2011

Vampire-proof pasta

In general, Friday was a relatively relaxed day - I had to make a couple trips from the office to home since I have accrued an awful lot of stuff. Like my giant tote of plastic toy food. (Yes, I was teaching at a university, why do you ask?) I packed everything up, took my nametag off my door, turned in my keys, and walked out of the building feeling just like the last time you leave somewhere ought to feel. Resolution. Contentment. Satisfaction. A little worry, but not about leaving. More about where I'm heading.

I can't get this quote out of my mind from the movie "Half Nelson":
"Change moves in spirals, not circles. For example, the sun goes up and then it goes down. But everytime that happens, what do you get? You get a new day. You get a new one. When you breathe, you inhale and you exhale, but every single time that you do that you're a little bit different then the one before. We're always changing. And it's important to know that there are some changes you can't control and that there are others you can."
Not having my contract renewed wasn't ideal, but it wasn't within my control. My boss got just as emotional as I did when she told me they'd be filling the position with new graduate students - I'm a great teacher, she said, and so much of our student retention rate is thanks to my passion, dedication, and the comfortable atmosphere I create in my classroom. She said she'd fully support and endorse whatever ventures are next for me, and so I'm trying to remain hopeful. I can't help but think that there's a purpose for it; the sun has gone down, but it will come back up. It always does. Today is a new day!

Knowing that Friday was going to be a tough day emotionally, I made sure I was prepared by having a chocolate brownie Balance bar on hand - it was enough like a treat to prevent the urge to go crazy and use food to forget that I'm *gulp* unemployed. A king-size Snickers bar has almost 550 calories - the Balance bar has 200 calories, plus vitamins and protein. I'm very pleased with my decision - a year ago, I was feeding my stresses with enought takeout to feed a whole family.

One of my big challenges right now would have arisen whether my contract was renewed or not: my lunches for the past nine months have almost entirely consisted of Lean Cuisine frozen meals cooked in the office microwave, and I don't have a microwave at home. I don't want to get one, because I'm nervous about having that kind of convenience ... and because I honestly like preparing my meals from scratch. I just need to think of some lunch foods, and quick. Things to keep on hand, things that prepare quickly and are generally 250-350 calories. I've requested the Hungry Girl 200-under-200 and 300-under-300 cookbooks from the library - I've made a recipe of hers before and loved it, so I'm hoping to get some good new ideas.

For today's recipe, I made one from her website: Vampire-Proof Chicken 'n' Veggie Pasta, a healthier version of a dish from the Cheesecake Factory.

Oh my goodness. Go make this, now. It was so incredibly good, and currently holds the title of My Favorite New Recipe.
2 bags House Foods Tofu Shirataki Spaghetti Shaped Noodle Substitute
8 oz. raw boneless skinless lean chicken breast cutlets
1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt, divided, or more to taste
1/8 tsp. black pepper, or more to taste
20 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
(about 2 1/2 cups)
1 cup sliced brown mushrooms
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and thinly sliced
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tbsp. light whipped butter or light buttery spread (like Brummel & Brown)
1 tbsp. reduced-fat Parmesan-style grated topping
Use a strainer to rinse and drain noodles well. Pat dry. Cut noodles up a bit, using kitchen shears if you've got 'em. Set aside.

Bring a skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to medium-high heat on the stove. Add chicken and season with Italian seasoning, 1/8 tsp. salt, and pepper. Cook for about 4 minutes per side, until fully cooked. Remove chicken from the skillet. Once cool enough to handle, slice chicken and set aside.

Remove skillet from heat, re-spray, and return to medium-high heat. Add asparagus and 2 tbsp. water. Cover and cook for 4 minutes. Remove cover and add mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic to the skillet. Stirring occasionally, cook until veggies are tender, about 4 minutes. Add noodles to the skillet, stir, and cook just until any excess water has evaporated and noodles are hot, about 2 minutes.

Add butter, remaining 1/8 tsp. salt, and sliced chicken to the skillet. Cook and stir until ingredients are well mixed and butter has melted, about 1 minute. Add Parm-style topping and mix well. If you like, season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

The vampire business is due to the garlic, which I always approve of. I liked this recipe because it could easily be made meat-free by using tofu or a meat substitute in place of the chicken. The tofu noodles were surprisingly good, and I imagine there will be more where they came from in my kitchen over the next few weeks. I also swapped out the butter for olive oil, which I usually do anyway, and skipped the parm topping, because I didn't have it in the house and didn't want to buy any for just a little pinch. As her recipe stands, it's two servings at 274 calories each. I had about 2/3 of the pan for dinner last night, and I'll be having the rest for lunch today. There's one lunch taken care of! But tomorrow will be another day...

What about you? What's your favorite lunch food? What are your go-to, quick, low-calorie lunch recipes?