May 28, 2011


Ever since I was an undergrad, I have been getting an e-mail every morning from Daily OM with a wonderful inspirational message. They're fairly general, so I usually find that I can apply them to whatever situation I find myself struggling with at the moment.

This one was sent out earlier this week, and I thought it was too good not to share.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Nothing is Insurmountable
(From Daily OM)

When our next best course of action seems unclear, any dilemmas we face can appear insurmountable. Yet there is nothing we cannot overcome with time, persistence, focused thought, help, and faith. Whatever the situation or problem, there is always a solution. And if you remember to look within, even as you search around you for the "right" course of action, you will be able to center yourself, clear your mind, and see that nothing has to be impossible.

The first step in overcoming any obstacle is to believe that it can be overcome. Doing so will give you the strength and courage to move through any crisis. The second step is to make a resolution that you can prevail over any chaos. Enlist your support network of family and friends if necessary. The more minds there are to consider a problem, the more solutions can be found. Don't discount ideas just because they seem impractical or "unrealistic," and don't keep searching for the "best" alternative. Often there is no "best" choice, there is only a choice to make so we can begin moving beyond whatever is obstructing our path. At the very least, making a choice, even if isn't the ideal one, can give you a sense of peace before you have to figure out what your next course of action will be.

If you feel overwhelmed by the scope of your troubles, you may want to think of other people who have turned adversity into triumph. We often gain a fresh perspective when we remember others who have overcome larger obstacles. It can be inspiring to hear of their victories, helping us remember that there is always light at the end of every tunnel. It is during our darkest hours that we sometimes need to remind ourselves that we don't have to feel helpless. You have within and around you the resources to find a solution to any problem. And remember that if a solution or choice you make doesn't work, you are always free to try another. Believe that you can get through anything, and you will always prevail.
What about you? Besides writing/reading blogs, do you have any daily habits related to seeking/fortifying your motivation/inspiration?

May 27, 2011

Roses and thorns

This has been a roller coaster-y week. My workouts were great and my eating was good and totally on-plan, but my weight went up and down mid-week for seemingly no reason (I'm weighing in at 204 today, down 1 pound - not the lowest I saw all week, but seriously, I have no idea why it jumped back up. So I'll take whatever loss I can get!).

Emotionally, this was a very rocky week - lots of extreme highs and lows. I had a phone interview for a teaching job, but I was nervous and shaky and I'm not quite sure where I stand on it. I hung out with a boy that I'm totally crazy about, but it's fairly clear that the feelings aren't mutual. (He'll get his own post soon enough, I promise.) And it's cold and rainy in Chicago, feels more like mid-autumn than nearly summer, and that has me feeling a little down and out as well.

It's easy to stay motivated when everything is going well, but as soon as one thing starts to slip, it can feel like everything is at risk of falling apart. It's irrational, I know - the weather will improve, my heart will mend, and I will find a fantastic job. But in times like this, I find myself grasping for every little bit of control that I can. I'm proud to say that I did a good job of not eating emotionally, choosing instead to bawl my face off several times. I forget how cathartic sobbing can be, especially when paired with a really great sad song.

When we were in college, Sam gave me a copy of the Magnetic Fields' album "Get Lost" and told me that it's the perfect sadness soundtrack.

He was right, I'll give him that - because when you're sad, you don't always want to listen to cheerful music and pop right out of the bad mood. Sometimes you need to splash around and revel a bit in being a giant depressed mess, then get up and clean yourself off and move forward. Feel the sadness, totally experience it, and then dry your face and carry on.

In spite of having cried at least a dozen times this week, I'm feeling pretty good right now, and I'm happy overall about the work I've done this past week. I'm ready to start the weekend positively: I'm healthy and strong and capable of incredible things. What's not to celebrate in that?

What about you? Do you have a song/band/movie/etc. that you can always count on to get the tears flowing? What NSVs and positive progress will you celebrate this weekend?

May 26, 2011


When I run along the lake, I don't take my phone because there's really no purpose, and there's nowhere to put it anyway - the zipped pocket of my running pants is full of my ID, my bus pass, my health insurance card, my apartment keys, and a couple of dollars just in case. It's a nice reprieve - no phone calls, no texts, no Twitter ... not that my phone is usually blowing up with incoming messages, but still, I like stepping away from it all for a couple of hours.

I get home, take off my running shoes, turn on the hot water for a shower, and check my phone to see what I've missed. Usually it isn't much, but the other day, there was an odd voicemail from my father:
"Hi Mair, it's Dad. I wanted to talk to you about something, I will call you back later when I get a chance, um, I want to be able to talk freely, and, uh, um, I need to go outside or something - which I'm doing right now, I'm calling you from my truck. But, uh, I'll call you. I'll talk to you later. Bye."
I wasn't deeply concerned, per se, but his tone of voice was pretty revealing. When he called me back a few hours later, we ended up talking for quite a long time. He's frustrated with the situation at home, and he talked about driving out here to stay with me for a while. I lightly pinched the part of my hand that supposedly relieves stress and got very quiet for a minute to gather my thoughts.

All of my family members are very different, but something we all have in common is that when the going gets tough, we tend to flee. The problem with this is that while a change of scenery can make you feel temporarily better, it isn't an actual solution. Vacations are nice, but eventually you have to head home; moving halfway across the country can be great, but your troubles will catch up to you, no matter where you live. Biting my lip, I told my dad he was welcome to come stay with me since I am not working right now and therefore wouldn't have all the same issues that I had to deal with when my mom was here. I told him to also keep in mind, though, that this was a band-aid, that his frustrations with the family situation wouldn't be solved by coming out here, that all the problems would be waiting for him when he got back. It would be better to try and work things out as best as he could and not just run away for a while.

He agreed, but I'm still not quite sure where we ended up on the subject. I hope he doesn't come out here, for a few reasons. First and foremost, because he's physically handicapped and simply driving across town is something he shouldn't do all that often, but a nearly 900 mile trek? Dangerous, for himself and for everyone else on the road. And second, because these issues need to be talked about, not just ran from.

This is precisely the issue I'm having with my mother right now, with whom I have not spoken in nearly a month. Something I included in the letter I wrote to her a few weeks ago was my frustration at not being able to talk openly about our family issues. Because in addition to physical flight from issues, we emotionally flee situations, staying quiet and pretending things are fine when really, they are far from it. Again, a bandaid - the wound is still there, needing to be treated, it's simply been covered up.

Something I have been striving for since beginning my weight loss journey is honesty - with myself *and* with others. It was always so easy to justify daily binge eating because I wasn't honest with myself about having an eating disorder. Even outside of the realm of weight loss, I haven't always been an honest person - for example, if you meet me on the street and ask me my name, you are likely to get any of a thousand responses not including Mary. I don't like feeling vulnerable, and so telling a stranger that my name is Helen gives me a strange feeling of protection. My identity is safe - I must be safe, too.

I don't want to lie anymore. I don't want to hide. I want to deal with my issues and make peace with them, not lie and pretend they don't exist or that they aren't tearing me apart. (It brings back to mind a Geneen Roth quote: If you don't allow a feeling to begin, you also don't let it end.)

And so with that, I'd like to share an award that Ellen gave me earlier this week. I can't begin to tell you what this means to me, not only to receive it, but to get it from Ellen. It seems like no matter what stage of my journey I find myself in, I can find comfort and understanding in Ellen's posts. Her honesty inspires me incredibly: she doesn't gloss over the struggles of life in maintenance. I like hearing that it's going to be tough sometimes - because that's the truth, and so I can prepare a little and brace myself for when that becomes my life as well.

I'd like to pass the award on to Amy - I read dozens of blogs by people at all different stages on their journeys, and I am completely inspired by Amy - she writes not only about weight loss, but life and love and family. Her honesty and emotion never fail to move me, and her comments are completely invaluable to me. There are so many bloggers out there that I wish I could just walk next door and hug and cry with when I'm feeling down and out and motivation is at a low, and Amy is certainly one of them.

What about you? What are your non-flight ways to cope with stresses and anxieties? Who inspires you lately?

May 25, 2011


Clothing has played such a key role in my weight loss journey so far - even beyond being a physical measure of progress. I recently got rid of a ton of old clothes - a lot of it had to get trashed, unfortunately, since it was ripped or stained, but most of it went to the Salvation Army. It took a very long time to part with it all - I must have put it in piles ten different times before finally bagging it up and dropping it off.

When I finally buckled down and did it, it felt amazing - like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. But for a very long time, every time I thought about cleaning out the closets, my stomach would tense up and a flood of anxiety would wash over my body, and I'd mentally change the subject as fast as possible. They weren't just t-shirts and sweatpants and sundresses ... they were some of the last physical remnants of my old life.

And it wasn't that I worried about needing the clothes after regaining the weight I have lost - that thought, surprisingly, never crossed my mind, and I'm hoping it's because the changes I'm making this time around are much more sustainable. What worried me was more a loss of comfort: even though I couldn't wear the clothes any more, having them there in my closet was something consistent from my old life to now.

Losing weight changes your life; with extreme rapid weight loss, these changes are multiplied. For the past ten months, I've been desperately clinging to some of the oddest things, seeking comfort wherever I can find it. Clothes have been an easy way to do this - something material to carry over from one phase to another. It's interesting - before I started to get healthier, I never really gave thought to the new clothes aspect of my weight loss journey besides wanting to be able to shop at more than one or two stores. When I was in high school and college, though, there was one shirt I always wanted to fit back into.

In eighth grade, I was living with my dad and my grandparents. I hadn't had a birthday party since I was about four years old, and somehow I persuaded my dad to let me have a friend over for my birthday dinner. I really don't remember the "party" itself, but I remember what I wore: a black skirt and a button down shirt from Lane Bryant. It was white with little blue and green flowers all over it, and I loved it. A lot of clothes at Lane Bryant have a mature style about them, which made me feel incredibly depressed, awkward, and out-of-place as a 12-year-old needing to shop there. But this shirt had a youthful quality to it, and I remember feeling so lovely when I wore it. That day I was turning 13, and I thought I looked pretty - at that point, it was my best birthday ever.

My aunt took a picture of my friend and me standing on the front porch, and for years afterwards, that was my goal picture. All I wanted was to wear that shirt again - not just for how it looked on me, but to recapture how I felt when I wore it. In my 12th year, my parents' divorce was finalized, my best friend moved halfway across the country, and I developed a binge eating disorder that lead to my gaining a hundred pounds in about a year - but here I was, on my 13th birthday, feeling honestly and genuinely good about myself in spite of it all.

The next time I'm home, I'm going to try and find that shirt, even if I can't wear it anymore. (It was a size 20, I believe.) I'll put it on once to marvel at my progress, then drop it off at the Salvation Army so that perhaps someone else can wear it and feel lovely.

What about you? What do you wear to feel your best? Do you have a "goal" outfit? Do you plan to have any clothing-based weight loss rewards?

May 24, 2011

Go Greens!

Last week, I attended a dinner and a Challenge class at Whole Foods. The dinner was quite good - a kale lentil stew with quinoa and a coleslaw made with avocado dressing and blueberries.

(Side note, I want to get more adventurous with my salads and mix fruit in with savory ingredients, because this combination was surprisingly delicious!)

Then Becky and Bonita, two of Whole Foods' Healthy Eating Specialists, lead a class for me and some of the other Challenge bloggers about cooking with greens. It's easy to fall into the routine of just steaming them - or cooking them up with oil, which seems pretty contradictory to choosing to eat greens in the first place.

They showed us a few different kinds of greens, then made a few different recipes to highlight their versatility. Becky made pinwheel sandwiches using collard greens, hummus, and broccoli slaw; Bonita made the massaged kale salad I recreated for lunch a couple of days ago.

They also cooked up bok choy with liquid aminos and made a spinach and frozen fruit smoothie - all delicious, and outside of the plain-iceberg-lettuce-salad box.

We all received a bunch of collards and were told our homework was to cook them up in a new way and report back at tonight's class. I made them last week with tomatoes and spices alongside a seitan and potato hash. I found the recipe on this blog but modified it to eliminate the oil.

(Yes, some of those little marble potatoes were purple! So much fun.)

Tomorrow starts week 3 of the challenge and I'll be using only naturally occurring oils, no added ones (though, to be honest, I've already pretty much been doing this). No matter what eating plan you follow, you need to have some fats; the goal of this elimination is not to get rid of fats but to make them more plant-based. So, instead of using olive oil, I eat olives; instead of sunflower oil, I toss some sunflower seeds on my salad.

Even though olive oil is a better choice than, say, bacon grease, it's still added fat and calories that aren't necessary for many cooking processes. You can easily replace it with something like wine, orange juice, or even just water. We'll be talking more about cooking without oil at tonight's class - I can't wait to report back with what I find out!

What about you? What's your go-to healthy swap/substitution in recipes? What are your favorite leafy greens? How do you like to prepare them?

May 23, 2011

SFC: Week Eight

My positive picture for the week:

A view of downtown from the El platform from one of my adventures this past week.

What have you done this past week to help achieve your goals?
(1) I lost 5 pounds this week, bringing me to 205 (T-6 pounds to onederland!!!)
(3) I biked 20 miles, for a challenge total of 157.5 miles (or 71.6% of my goal).
(4) Didn't complete the Wii time. I'm not upset, though, because the weather was absolutely gorgeous this week, so I made sure I was out and about as much as possible. I walked over a marathon's worth of miles last week!
(5) I completed goal #75 (try 2 new fish) when I tried octopus for my final meal with meat (I made seafood tacos). I wasn't a fan - which is odd, because I like squid! I've been trying a lot of new vegetables, so goal #73 is coming along nicely as well.
(7) I applied for six or seven more jobs. Now I'm looking outside of Chicago, outside of Illinois, and even outside of the country. *sigh*

What did you do this past week to make you feel good about yourself?
Three words: chocolate mud masque. Oh my goodness gracious. I love how relaxing mud masques are to begin with, but this one smelled sweet and chocolately. It was heavenly.

How do you measure success of your goals?
I think it depends on the goal. With weight loss, I like seeing the numbers drop on the scale, but more important to me is feeling in control and not eating emotionally. For non-scale goals, maybe it's a little silly, but I fully believe when I have tried my hardest, I've succeeded.

What is failure to you when it comes to goals?
Falling short isn't failure to me - that means I'm on the right track, I just need to try harder or differently. For me, failure is the second I give up.

If you could hop on a plane right now, where would you go?
Lately, I've had this overwhelming urge to go to Morocco. It's hot, colorful, and they speak French. Not to mention the intrigue of spicy couscous with apricots...

May 22, 2011

Date nut truffles

Yesterday was the ultimate rest day. I had been up until about 2am, between Sarah's party and then a late night conversation with a friend of mine. I woke up early-ish for a Culinary Historians meeting about Indian slow cooking, then headed home and ate the cold oatmeal I cooked before the meeting but just didn't feel hungry enough to eat yet:

1/2 cup oatmeal with a handful of blueberries and blackberries, plus a tablespoon of unsweetened coconut flakes from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. The berries were super sweet, it was wonderful.

I thought about going to the gym, and then realized that laying down on the couch sounded a lot better. I ran 3.5 miles on the lake shore paths on Friday and just missed the bus home, so instead of waiting for the next one, I just kept walking until I got home - about 6 miles. Add in a mile and a half of walking to/on the lake shore path earlier, plus a little sunburn, and my whole body was still quite tired on Saturday afternoon.

I slept for about two hours, woke up and ate some lunch:

Quinoa with mango, rainbow peppers, and baked tofu. I sat on the couch, crunching away, and decided I felt like sleeping some more. So I put my bowl in the sink, drank some water, and passed out ... for another three hours.

When my body wants to sleep for five hours midday, I need to listen to it and just let it happen. I haven't taken a proper rest day in a while - my last few have been pretty active, with walks at least 5 miles long. So it was really kind of nice to just curl up and let my body recuperate.

I woke up and took stock of what was in the fridge. I wasn't feeling too hungry, but I cooked up a bunch of greens I had in my fridge that were starting to wilt that I'll eat today:

Bok choy, and a mix of spinach, kale, and collards that I tossed up with garlic, two diced tomatoes, a handful of diced rainbow peppers, and some spices (my Usual Suspects - cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes).

While cooking, I set my camera on the counter next to the sink and turned on the self-timer:

Nothing makes me smile like a progress collage. I really love cooking - structured and repetitive, it's always been something I do to calm my stresses. So I love that I can still do it in a healthy way, without going overboard with my eating.

For today's recipe, I'd like to share a delicious treat I made for Sarah's birthday fĂȘte: date nut truffles. Think Larabar, but in a delicious poppable form.

I made two varieties: chocolate orange and ginger snap. Oh my goodness, delicious.
2/3 cup pitted dates (about 15)
1 cup almonds
1 tbsp. unsweetened coconut flakes

For chocolate orange:
1 tsp. orange extract
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

For ginger snap:
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Grind almonds in a food processor until very fine; set aside. Chop dates in a food processor until finely chopped. Add in your spices, coconut flakes, and almonds, and pulse until well mixed. Using a melon baller or tablespoon measurer, scoop out truffle-sized balls and place them on waxed paper - it should make about 15 truffles. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

I then decided to take them to the next level and spoon over some melted carob chips - the chocolate orange ones I covered, and the ginger snap ones I just drizzled with leftover carob. Delightful, chewy, and sweet without being overpowering.

Like many vegan desserts, it's important to keep in mind that "vegan" doesn't mean fat free or calorie free (for these, the ginger snap ones are about 90 calories each, and the chocolate orange ones are 100 [with carob]). It just means no animal products and less processed, and you can hopefully feel a little better about enjoying it.

What about you? What's something delicious-yet-healthier that you've enjoyed lately?