June 4, 2011


I started writing another long post on some of my recent thoughts, but it got heavy pretty fast and I needed to step away for a bit. It's good for me to write this stuff out, but only a little at a time - too much can be overwhelming. My ultimate goal on this journey is a sense of balance - with eating, yes, but also with everything in general. Actively pondering my worries is healthy and good, but I need to also consider the innumerable positives in order to balance my energies and make sure I'm not totally down all the time.

So for today, something light: some quotes. I have always loved collecting them, and they're especially important to me now on my weight loss journey. They make me think, they pick me up, they push me harder, they motivate me to keep going and do more than I ever dreamed possible. Here are a few of my favorites:
"But it's much too late," you say, "for doing this now. You should have done it then." Well, it just goes to show how wrong you can be, and how you really should know that it's never too late to get up and go.
The Cure, "Doing the Unstuck"

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

If you had such a dream, would you get up and do the things you believe in?
Belle and Sebastian, "I Could Be Dreaming"

We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so we can have the life that's waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell

Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Max Ehrmann

Being a desired size is simply a perk of an already fulfilling life.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.
Chinese proverb

No dress rehearsal - this is our lives.
The Tragically Hip, "Ahead By a Century"

We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.
Rudyard Kipling

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.
Bruce Barton

We absolutely have the power to start over, at any moment, to take a deep breath and create a world, a life, a situation that we really believe in. It's an incredible connection to the universe around us, and I seriously think it might be the best, most beautiful ability we have.

We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.
Carlos Castenada

We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insolvable problems.
John W. Gardner

Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there.
Josh Billings

I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
What about you? What's your favorite inspirational/motivational quote?

June 3, 2011

Roses and thorns

Long story short, I'm down four pounds this week, for a total of 145 pounds lost and bringing my current weight to an even 200.

Long story very long, I'm content with the loss but feeling a little challenged overall. In the end of March, I started tracking my food and my weight daily. I used to just eat and mentally take note of how I was doing, but knowing that I was about to hit a bit of emotional turbulence, I wanted an extra level of accountability. When I start to fixate on and obsess over numbers, though, I struggle, and I'm willing to say that even though that can't be blamed entirely for my recent overeating, it can't be helping it. I can't give up daily weighing right now, but I might stop tracking numerically - still writing down what I eat, but not breaking out a calculator every time I sit down for dinner.

I would say that the numbers have been the only tough thing about the plant-strong eating challenge. There's a bit of an odd mental component to this challenge for me. I know I am eating well - all plants and whole grains - but I never feel full. For example: I made gluten-free organic brown rice pasta the other day, and after eating a bowl of it, my stomach didn't feel heavy like it usually does after eating pasta. Maybe it's because I had one serving (as opposed to the past when four boxes of mac 'n' cheese were an afternoon snack), but still, it was weird. I didn't feel hungry anymore, but I also didn't have the feeling that I've used for so long to identify okay, you're done now, you're satisfied. I don't miss the taste of meat, I just miss the feeling of eating it, if that makes sense.

I really like the clean plant-based eating, and I'd like to continue to eat this way even after the end of the challenge, but it's going to take some planning on my part. It's hard for me to eat only three times a day, especially when I'm stressed. What I may end up doing is pre-making my day's bigger meals and having them in two servings - so instead of a 500 calorie dinner at 6pm, for example, I'd have 250 calories of it at 5 and the rest at 7. I don't know, I'll have to try a few things and figure out what works for me.

It's funny, though: before I started writing everything down, I had only one binge in six months - in mid-February when my dad had his second heart attack. I started tracking in the end of March, and since then, my eating has been on and off. This map includes my namecalling binge, my mom's visit, the end of the semester, and my first month of unemployment. Overall, I'm not really pleased with my eating. I defined my calorie goal as being between 1250 and 1350, and since some of those red days were 1450-1500 and others 2000+, judging with a gradient scale of only five possibilities is a little tough.

I've managed to lose weight still (and to stay on-plan while following the Engine 2 challenge guidelines), but not much, and only because I've had to work out extra hard to balance out the snacking. A small positive, though: I noticed that after serious overeating (2000+ calories), I am almost always under my calories for at least a day afterwards - balancing myself out, I guess. My stomach knows what's best for me a little better than my brain does.

As for the daily weigh-ins:

Lots of fluctuation. It reminds me of a readout from an EKG machine, somewhat appropriate considering that my heart has likely been racing more these past few months than ever before.

I'm an anxious mess, panicking about so many different things in my life right now. I never heard back from the school I interviewed with last week - nor have I heard back from any of the two dozen other jobs I have applied for, either. I look for jobs in other cities, then have trouble breathing because I realize I probably can't even afford to move. I'm smart, hard-working, motivated, organized ... so why doesn't anyone want to hire me? The problem intensifies when I start to take it all personally - in my panic, I forget that just because I'm not the right person doesn't mean I'm not a good person.

For jobs, I'm trying my best to believe that everything will work out like it is supposed to. As much as I dread the idea of asking for help, my parents offer it endlessly, so at the very least, I will not end up homeless. Becoming another statistic of the boomerang generation isn't ideal, but it's important to keep in mind that I'm lucky that it's even an option.

snotm dot com
For weight loss, I'm trying to focus on the bigger picture, the results of my official weekly weigh-ins instead of the daily ones, because I really am doing a good job in the grand scheme of things, even if it doesn't always feel like it on the micro level.

A few weeks of small losses, one one-pound gain, and overall steady loss for ten months - not to mention dozens of incredible non-scale victories that I can't overlook just because I've hit a rough patch. There will always be tough times in life whether I'm trying to lose weight or not, and the best I can do is to stay strong and keep moving forward, even if I'm going against the current.

What about you? Do you track your food intake? If so, what notes do you take - just the foods themselves, calories, fat, etc.? What's your go-to 150-calories-or-fewer food for when the urge to snack hits?

June 2, 2011


Something I knew when I started to live healthier was that with weight loss would come major life changes. What I didn't fully realize, though, was the extent to which pretty much everything would change.

For example: I knew my pants would be smaller - but I didn't think that my sneakers would be, too. I knew my collarbones would surface - but I didn't think that the bones in my hands would as well. I knew my body parts would all be worked harder than ever before - but I didn't think that my brain would become the most active of all.

I find myself in a constant state of self-reflection, trying to make sense of the new facets of my smaller life that I need to quickly adapt to and attempt to understand. It isn't always easy. After wearing the largest sizes available for so many years, I still instinctively reach for the hanger at the very back of the rack when I shop for clothes. Because the extra space has only recently appeared, I still turn and shift my body while standing on the bus even though there's more than enough room for someone to walk past. Despite running 3-4 times a week, finishing races, and breaking personal records left and right, I still find myself choking when I say "I am a runner" because for the longest time, I was the girl who barely moved, who'd let her train pass by and joke that she'd only run if she was being chased. It's so new that it almost feels like lying.

Many of the words and phrases that I use to define myself are recent additions - I was-and-still-am smart, funny, and interesting, but now I'm also active, healthier, and truly happy - and saying these things out loud (and even writing them sometimes) is kind of like wearing an outfit for the first time. It's probably lovely, but you feel a little out-of-balance and not quite used to the way it feels yet - though you're likely the only one who can sense the awkwardness.

To be honest, I feel that way about my body a lot lately, too - when I walk down the street, can anyone tell I used to weigh 345 pounds? Can they sense that this body is new to me, that I'm not really adjusted to it, and that this feels really strange? The 345 pound version of myself is physically gone, but she will always be part of my identity, alive in my memories; so many of my life's experiences were had by a person that I can no longer see in the mirror, but who is still essentially me and who's very much alive inside my heart. So it's strange to think that the people I will meet in the future, whether passersby on the street, friends, co-workers, etc., will not have any knowledge of my bigger self, at least not at first sight. Even if they learn about my past as a super obese person, the girl they'll be getting to know isn't entirely the same person they would have known had they been there for the downfall, the rock bottom moments, the decision to change, and the transition.

The other day, Munchberry referenced a post of mine on her blog, and since she is a new reader, she described me in a way that caught me a little off guard:
... back when she was fat.
It really got me thinking, because even though I am starting to see progress when I look in the mirror, I am also still very focused on how much work there still is left to do. And I started to wonder at what point on my journey would I no longer self-identify as "fat." Is it a number on the scale? My BMI? Or is it a feeling? Will I ever feel comfortable enough to say "I am not fat" and truly believe it?

I turned to my generation's Magic 8 Ball for answers; I didn't even have time to get the whole question out.

It bothered me a little, for a few different reasons. First: I knew I was fat at size 28, and at size 12 I'm wondering when I won't be - but somewhere, a size 4 is asking the same question. And second: it's really disconcerting that our society consults the Internet to check and make sure our bodies are acceptable per the definitions of others. I'm the only one who will truly know when I am at a healthy weight because it will feel right for me, the only one it matters to - no need to check Google and make sure the world agrees.

And to be completely honest, I don't like to say "I am fat." Or even "I was fat." Because I am not, and I was not. My body may have been, but I am much more than the sum of my parts. I am made up of skin and bones and muscles and tissues and, yes, fat - but less than I used to be. I am a million more things than the physical makeup of my body, and more than anything, I'd like to be comfortable with some of *those* identifiers.

June 1, 2011

Workouts: May

My May workouts were pretty awesome, I must say. Some stats:
  • I ran 51.25 miles, bringing my 345-in-2011 goal to 180.35 miles logged - over halfway there!

  • I biked an incredible 104.5 miles - the most so far! Every month it seems I increase by 10-15 miles, so my goal for June is to finally hit the Ironman biking distance of 111.85 miles.

  • I swam once - not great, but I made my goal for May. I logged 0.62 miles, which is more than a sprint triathlon's swimming distance. I want to swim more, and now that it's hotter out, I think I will be more inspired.

  • I only did ten minutes of weights! The least of every month so far. Gotta work on this.

  • I burned 8075 calories on the elliptical - I have been using it less intensely than I used to, with most workouts being 750-1000 calories burned instead of 1000-1200.

  • The Wii ... let's not go there. Once I start using it, I remember that I love it, but it's so hard to motivate. I wish I could say it was because I'm out enjoying the nice weather, but there were a lot of rainy yucky days where I could've squeezed in a little Wii time. I think it may be a mental thing, and breaking it up into 20 minutes at a time might help. I usually put it off and do an hour on Sunday night if I do it at all for my SFC goal. I don't always want to do an hour, but 15-20 minutes a few times a week is feasible!
I had six complete rest days (two of which were my trip to Connecticut), but most of them weren't real rest days at all - as in, I walked 7-10 miles each day while running errands/adventuring. One day I slept about fifteen hours, though! It was fantastic.

Most of my running was outdoors and even though I struggled through a lot of it, it was so nice to actually move forward and not just in place. The difficulty wasn't with the running itself, but with adjusting to the weather. It's been really strange here in Chicago, either very cold and rainy or hot and humid - 40º one day and 88º the next. I can run just fine in the cold, and even in a dry heat, but the humidity kills me. So most of my runs have been 3-5 miles of intervals, usually 2-2.5 miles and then .5 or 1 mile increments alternating with walking a little.

I realized that one of the big problems was with hydration - I need to remember that this is not last summer, I am actually going out and doing things in the heat, and I need to make sure I am drinking enough water. Yesterday I had five 32-oz. bottles! Hopefully that helps me this morning - I need to do my last long run before my 10k race on Sunday, and I'm aiming for 6 miles. I've done 6 before, but not in a couple of weeks, and my last non-interval long run was only 5 miles. By the time this post goes live, I'll be on the path and running - another issue may be trying to run during the day; my upcoming races start at 8:20am and 7:15pm, so the temperatures will be slightly cooler and hopefully the sun won't be as harsh.

In terms of clothing, I am finally comfortably wearing the size 12 jeans (had to wait for the muffin top to be less pronounced), but pretty much all of my shirts are baggy. I've been scouring my favorite local thrift stores for plain tees - for 99 cents, they can't be beat ... plus they always have sales, too, so I usually get them for 25-75 cents each! I have replaced all my shirts about every three months, so I'm due for those; the jeans used to be monthly, but now have slowed to bi-monthly (which I am a little grateful for, at least in terms of having one less expense in my budget).

For June, I have a few goals related to my usual workouts: kick butt in my 10k, make the Ironman distance for biking, more weights/swimming/Wii. But I'd also like to look into some ab workouts - with the past ten pounds or so, my loose skin seems to have gotten a lot worse. It isn't bad, I don't think - it's generally concentrated in one area, it certainly doesn't look like 140+ pounds of weight loss, and it's a very small price to pay for not being miserable and restricted like I was this time last year. Still, though, I'd like to try and do whatever I can to help it.

What about you? What are your workout goals for June? Do you do any body-part-specific toning exercises? (If so, where do you find them? Magazines? Websites? Blogs? I have no clue where to start.)

May 31, 2011

Oil-free cooking

At last week's class, Becky and Karen (our Whole Foods Healthy Eating Specialists) showed us how to cook a few different ways without using added oil. I was skeptical going into it - I'm Italian, one of my natural reflexes is to always have olive oil in the cabinet and grab it no matter what I'm about to cook - but I can honestly say, they were right.

Mighty Muffins (from the Engine 2 cookbook), roasted asparagus, collard greens and bell peppers, and butternut squash and onions (mixed up with the asparagus and collards).

I've always believed that I needed to use oil when sautéing or else the food would stick to the pan. The ladies explained to us that the food isn't sticking because there's no oil, it's because of the heat and the pan itself. When you heat up a pan, the particles that physically make up the pan expand. When you add oil, the moisture in it makes the particles contract - but if you add your meat/veggies directly without any oil, the particles contract with the naturally occurring liquid in the food, and therefore, the food sticks. But the thing is, you don't necessarily need oil to make the pan non-stick, just a liquid. So what can you use instead of oil for baking, "steam-frying," and in marinades?
  • Applesauce (for baking especially)
  • Orange juice
  • Vegetable broth
  • Water
I went home and tried to caramelize onions myself - and wouldn't you know, it worked! Heated up my pan, added a couple of tablespoons of water to contract it, then added my chopped raw onion. They turned out just as well as any time I've made them before - brown, soft, sweet - except this time, they weren't oily. I tossed them together with a potato I had chopped up and boiled and some oil-free chorizo-flavored seitan made by a local company for a bowl of breakfast-for-dinner (the only meal I love more than breakfast-for-breakfast). A few days later, I roasted some of my own asparagus with an orange juice marinade and sprinkled them with herbes de Provence.

Flavorful, not greasy, and low in calories. I chopped them up and had it with tofu noodles for a light but satisfying lunch.

It's important to note that this eating plan is not low-fat or fat-free. The focus is on naturally occurring fats over animal-based or even plant-based added fats. It's about choosing avocado in your salad over oil and vinegar, for example. I can put coconut and pecans in my morning oats, olives in my salad for lunch, and tofu/seitan/beans in my dinner bowl with rice/quinoa/lentils - so my meals are full of healthy fats, but with no extra fats/oils added.

Is olive oil healthier than butter? Maybe. Will certain recipes need added oil, no way around it? Yes. But if it *can* be avoided, or if something else can be substituted, why not? There are 120 calories of pure fat in two tablespoons of most oils, so if you can still bake your muffins and roast your asparagus and caramelize your onions without it, that's a nice deposit in the calorie bank - room for dessert, I say! Like this frozen blackberry spinach dessert I made:

Basically a green smoothie with no liquid added. Frozen spinach, fresh blackberries, food processor (or blender if you have one). Cool, sweet, quick, only about 100 calories - and, of course, oil-free.

What about you? Do you usually cook with oil? What's your favorite summery light dessert?

May 30, 2011

SFC: Week Nine

My positive picture for the week:

When I grocery shop, I get four bell peppers and immediately chop them up - that way, I can just grab a scoopful and toss it into my salad/greens or quinoa/rice/lentils. Maybe it's kind of silly, but these pictures make me smile:

I especially like when I tossed them all together and a bit of a red pepper stuck to the side, it looks a little like a heart - how perfect is that?

What have you done this past week to help achieve your goals?
(1) I lost one pound, bringing me to 204 - t-5 pounds to onederland!
(3) I biked 25 miles, for a challenge total of 182.5 miles (or 83% of my goal).
(4) Wii fail. I have nothing but time on my hands, and it never feels like enough time. As soon as I start playing with the Wii Fit, I remember how fun it is ... but getting started is remarkably difficult.
(5) I completed goal #11 (Go vegan for one whole week) and made progress on #71 (Watch 10 movies that I haven't seen yet from the AFI Top 100 Films list - I saw "Singin' in the Rain").
(7) I had a phone interview for a teaching job for the fall - I'll hear this week if I am moving to the next round of interviews. Fingers crossed!

What did you do this past week to make you feel good about yourself?
Sometimes the reality of how much I have done catches up to me and even though it's good, it can feel overwhelming - like when I realized the other day that on July 31, 2010, I had an unbelievable amount of weight to lose, and now, ten months later, I've passed the two-thirds-gone mark. So this week, I started making some sketches for inspirational journey-related artwork. It felt good to create, and it made me feel really proud of myself and all I have accomplished in the past ten months.

What is your ultimate fitness goal in life?
I'd like to say "run a half marathon," but I'm aiming to do that this fall (provided I find a job and can stay in the city) - I don't want to reach my ultimate goal before I turn 25! So I'll say, my ultimate fitness goal is to find a way to enjoy staying active for the rest of my life. I can see myself running races with my husband and kids as part of a family vacation, and that idea makes me so incredibly happy.

Do you have something you'd like to accomplish but think you can't?
No way! I mean, I have lots of things I'd like to accomplish. But I'm capable of so many wonderful, incredible things - so nothing feels impossible right now.

Do you wear perfume/cologne? If so, what kind?
I don't usually - but funny story: I used to wear Love Spell from Victoria's Secret, but only when I was regularly hanging out with a boy. Now whenever I smell it, that's all I can think of.

May 29, 2011

Carrot cake overnight oats

A few people have asked me what, if anything, I miss while on my eating challenge. To be totally honest, I don't miss meat all that much - I pretty much only eat chicken anyway, so the diversity of trying all these different veggie recipes has me quite satisfied. I don't feel deprived.

That said, I've been oddly craving eggs lately. I don't eat them all that often, but I haven't even kept eggs in the house since my mom was here because I knew that having eggs around would lead to making cookie dough, and I didn't want to enable myself. But the other afternoon, I got hit with an intense desire to eat an egg salad sandwich on rye toast. Triple threat of things I don't really eat anymore: bread, eggs, mayo.

When I *do* eat eggs these days (pre-challenge), they're either hard-boiled (white part only) or in a whites-only omelette. My Monday-through-Friday breakfast is usually a cup of yogurt, but on weekends, I branch out a little. Because if I've said it once, I've said it a million times: breakfast is my favorite food. All of it.

I'm thrilled with a bowl of cereal. French toast is amazing. Eggs any way? I'm done for. I think I like breakfast the best because it's the easiest meal with which to go either sweet or savory. I'm just as happy with banana pancakes as I am with a spinach and artichoke omelette.

I've been enjoying green smoothies and oatmeal for my breakfasts these days, which is great because they could be completely different from one day to the next.

Peanut butter/chopped apple, blackberry/blueberry/coconut, and cocoa/brown sugar/chopped apple. Delicious, and ready in about five minutes! I always grabbed a yogurt for breakfast because it was easy in terms of both preparation and calorie counting, but I think if nothing else, the oatmeal habit I've developed during this challenge will stick with me.

Something I was a little concerned with before giving up my yogurts was the calories, for sure. A little cup of Yoplait Light has 100 calories; even before adding anything, a half cup of oatmeal has 150. Typically my add-ins bring it to around 300 calories, but you know, it's not bad - I feel full for longer, eliminating the need for the 80 calorie mid-morning snack I ate during the semester.

I've been reading a lot on Twitter and in people's blogs about overnight oats, and I was curious. I had the image in my head of a cold gooey blob and couldn't see the appeal. Then I heard mention of carrot cake overnight oats, and I was sold. (I wish I remember who suggested it! I owe them, incredibly. This recipe may have changed my life.)

Basically, you mix oats, liquid (could be regular milk, soy milk, almond milk, whatever), and your mix-ins, and let it soak up overnight. In the morning, you have a nice bowl of unbelievably delicious breakfast - not gooey, not unpleasant. Far from it, in fact. Heavenly.

For my carrot cake overnight oats, I started by shredding a few baby carrots with the thin side of my cheese grater.

Then I add a little box of raisins.

Top it off with 2 tablespoons each of unsweetened coconut flakes and crushed pecans from the bulk bins at Whole Foods.

Shake on a generous amount of cinnamon - I don't add any sweetener, so the spiciness of the cinnamon is complemented really well by the natural sweetness of my fruits, veggies, and nuts.

Toss it all up with a fork to ensure even distribution.

Then add half a cup of oats. I bought the store brand at Target in a giant canister - not the "quick cooking" ones. (Though, they only take five minutes when they're not "quick." I don't quite get it...)

And mix again! Again, we want a good, even distribution of oats and "stuff."

Now I add the liquid.

I used unsweetened vanilla hempmilk - about 3/4 to 1 cup, but really, just enough to cover it all without drowning it. The more mix-ins, the more liquid you'll need.

Now comes the hard part: being patient. It smells sweet and spicy and delicious, but they aren't ready yet. You need to let the oats get acquainted with the kale overnight.

And when you wake up ... voilà! Breakfast is ready!

It's sweet without being artificial or overpowering, not sticky, not lumpy. Just perfect. This came out to about 425 calories, and I didn't feel the need to eat again for another six or seven hours.

What about you? What are your favorite oatmeal mix-ins - for hot or overnight oats?