July 16, 2011

Falling short

Until I recently decided to train for a half marathon, my running goal has been focused on speed over distance. I set a summer goal of a sub-30 5k, and I've been browsing Active.com and the Chicago Area Runners Association website for the right race to register for. In the meantime, I've just been running and keeping track of my own times.

A few weeks ago, I did a 4 mile run in 39:58, and the idea got stuck in my head of trying to finish the Bastille Day race in under 50 minutes. My finishing time at the Shamrock Shuffle was 57:18 - so to finish sub-50 would mean taking off an awful lot of time ... just about a minute and a half per mile. An 8k is 4.97 miles - so, a little less than a mile longer in 10:01? It would be tough, but with race day adrenaline, I kept the goal in the back of my mind as being completely feasible.

But I've had my concerns. Running has been tough lately; between my knee issues and the high heat/humidity, I've barely been able to break 3 miles. I tried to stay positive and listen to my body - it isn't that I can't run longer, it's just that I can't do it today. In spite of it all, and fortified with well-wishing messages from Internet and real-life friends, I headed to the race feeling confident.

We got to the starting line just as the gun went off, and got a bit of a slow start as we tried to edge our way into the crowd. I didn't see the clock as I passed the starting line, but I figured I would just do my best and not worry about pacing. I lost Lorelei pretty quickly, but by chance I caught up to Claire, a new friend and local runner I met at the Do Life event. She knew about my sub-50 goal and set the challenge for herself as well - we finished within seconds of each other at the Shamrock Shuffle.

I kept up with her and Casey (a friend of hers) for as long as I could, but after the two mile mark, I could feel myself losing steam. I could keep going, just not as fast as they were. At first I was two or three people behind them ... eventually, I lost sight completely. I started to focus on the mile timers, and saw ten-ish minutes from one to the next. My knee felt fine, my legs weren't killing me, so I pushed harder and harder, repeating over and over in my head: Just a little farther, just a little faster...

Crossing the finish line felt incredible, as always. It was tough, and I wasn't sure if I made the goal I set for myself, but I finished, and that's what matters. I quickly found some water, a banana, the cupcakes I had looked forward to all day, and Claire and Casey. We also met up with Claire's roommate and Jessica, another Do Lifer; I kept an eye on the finishers for Lorelei but couldn't find her. After hanging out for a little while (and enjoying the heck out of my two mini cupcakes), I grabbed my stuff from the gear check, hailed a cab, and headed to Matt's to shower and change before dinner and the movie.

Dinner was delicious and on-plan, and the movie was absolutely terrific. When we got back to Matt's place, he made me check the race time - on his phone, no time to even run and grab his laptop. He'd been texting me all day to cheer me on, and even (cue blushing) made a bit of a sexy wager for if I made the sub-50. So I had a lot on the line!

With bated breath, I searched for my name and number.


I exhaled deeply. Matt rubbed my shoulders and told me that I did a great job, that it was quite an accomplishment, and that even though I wasn't sub-50, I was sub-51, so he'd still pay out on his bet. Comforting as he was, I still felt an odd disappointment - I wasn't actually upset about the race, because that's a really amazing finishing time. It's a 10:12 pace, nearly thirty seconds faster per mile than my 10k. But it was just ... so close. Less than ten seconds faster per mile, and I would've made it. But I fell short.

To be honest, I'm not sure if the disappointment about falling short was even about my race goal, but my efforts in general. I first got to onederland in mid-June. It's a month later, and today I'm weighing in at 197 (down one pound from last week). Even though I've been doing a good job at staying on track so far this month (some choices better than others, but still binge-free), I still don't feel totally back to "normal" - like the way I felt in the first six to eight months of the journey.

I used to feel so charged. I was making huge moves. But my motivation has taken a huge hit since the end of April - I haven't even lost twenty pounds since then. My personal weigh-in log reflects the mood change, for sure:

I can't help feeling like I'm falling short, even though my logical mind knows I'm not, and I'm sick of it. It comes back to the running mantra: it isn't that I can't do well, it's just that I haven't been able to do very well lately. I don't mind the weight loss slowing - I knew it would eventually, and I go to bed most nights lately feeling like I've done my best. But there's still something missing, a little oomph. I have figure out how to get the emotional fuel to push myself just a little further and a tiny bit faster, so I can get back to meeting the goals I've set for myself.

Very recently, I realized that I may have pinpointed the last piece of the puzzle of causes, so next week, I'll be hashing out some emotional stuff I've been working through lately. And hopefully letting go of this will be the boost I need to start feeling like the old new me again.

What about you? Do you set personal time goals for races? How do you feel/cope when you feel you've fallen short - with weight loss, with motivation, with any goals?

July 15, 2011

Roses and thorns

I don't have a weigh-in to share this morning. To be honest, I'm not even here this morning! I'm writing this Thursday before I even head to my 8k; after the race, I'm heading to Matt's to shower and change, then going to dinner and to see the last Harry Potter movie with him and his cousin, and I'll spend the night at Matt's place. I'm excited for so many things: to see some of the other Do Lifers at the race, to kick butt all the way from the starting gun to the finish line, to enjoy the heck out of my post-race cupcake, to see the movie, to meet Matt's cousin (not big, but ... a medium-sized deal, right? Meeting family? Yet another first that makes me happy but nervous).

I'll likely post my weigh-in tomorrow with my race recap. For accountability, though, as of Thursday morning, I'm still seeing a loss for the week. And while I may be away from my scale this morning, trust that I have not used that an excuse to undo all the hard work I've put in - I fully intend to stay on-plan while out at dinner and not waste the 8k workout. Post-race cupcake aside, my eating has been pretty good this week - and it hasn't been easy. Lots of emotional writing coming next week, I still need some time to collect my thoughts. Family stuff ... you know how that goes.

Still taking it easy with workouts - my knee feels better but still has moments where it's painful. If it's not totally fine by Monday, I'm going to look into some sort of doctor's appointment. Best to do it now since I still have my university health insurance for another month or so.

And speaking of work, I started a part-time job this week writing articles for a few small news outlets. It isn't much, but it's tremendously comforting - it feels good to be working again, and I'm feeling much more hopeful now that I have something.

Other fantastic things that happened this week:
1. I had two separate men on two separate days use the word "skinny" to describe me. While I admit that I still have a long way to go to get to my goal, it felt really great to hear that. Especially from guys, since I usually find them to be more brutally honest than some of my lady friends. (Did I ever tell you about the Frenchman I was working with who said that the best thing about my weight loss was that now I "have a neck"? I to let it slide and hoped the compliment was just lost in translation.)

2. I e-mailed my July 9 progress picture collage to my dad in case he missed it on the blog, and he sent me the greatest response: "I had to look at the new you for few minutes to tell if it was really you. I had to look for your tats to identify the body! You are an amazing person with a great ability to stick to it. I am so proud of you. Keep up the good work!!! I still love you the same as I always have. DAD" Especially with all the family stuff going on, that was really great to hear.

3. Remember my goal to 345 miles in 2011? During my first 8k back in April, I hit my 100th mile; #245 was ran at some point during last night's 8k - so, less than 100 miles to go to meet the goal. So even though my numeric weight loss between the two dates has been less than stellar, I'm feeling great about the fact that I've been far from lazy and laying around.
What about you? What accomplishments do you feel good about these days? What's the best compliment you've received lately? What are you looking forward to this weekend?

July 14, 2011

Fast food makeover

I mentioned the other day that I had passed a pretty important anniversary: June 18, 2010, was the last time that I had takeout delivered to my apartment. I've gone out to eat a few times since then, but there's a big difference for me between going out and ordering in, even if it involves the same restaurant. I love to cook, so if I am eating out, I'm not alone - it's a social experience. On the other hand, ordering takeout used to mean getting enough food to feed a small family, then sitting alone on the floor of my living room, shoveling it in as fast as I could and washing it down with soda straight from the bottle.

When I first started to eat better, it was like a detox. My body craved fast food so badly, I would shake. I cried myself to sleep a few times, I wanted it so bad. I knew if I fought it, the symptoms would clear up and I'd be better for it. But in the moment, it's hard to focus on long-term results. It wasn't that I wanted a cheeseburger - it felt as if I needed it, and not getting it would kill me.

As my body adjusted to cleaner, unprocessed food, I knew that I would need to arm myself with a fast food replacement if I was going to be successful with my weight loss. I've written before about my issues with cheese: it's pretty much my favorite food, so every time I've tried to diet, I cut it out completely ... then craved it so bad that I lost control and binged on it. This time around, I buy a single-serve string cheese or have one or two pieces sliced for me at the deli, and it's enough. I allow myself a reasonable amount of what I want, and it prevents me from feeling deprived.

And I did the same thing with my fast food cravings. I learned how to make veggie stir-frys. I made cauliflower crust pizza. And I tried all sorts of different turkey/bean burger recipes - that way, I can emulate the fast food experience without all the extra calories, fat, and sodium.

The other day, Jillian posted about a fast food sandwich on Twitter:

And my first thought was, I could lighten that up. I went to the Burger King website and got the nutrition facts. Ho. Ly. Cow. (Or chicken, as it were.) The sandwich - no fries, no drink, just the sandwich - has 900 calories! It made me think about my fast food binges and how I'd usually get two or three sandwiches (with the justification of "but I'm not ordering fries"). And how I probably saw the nutrition information on a poster or brochure in the restaurant, but still didn't think twice about it.

Having calorie counts and other nutrition information available is great, but they're meaningless until you actually understand what it means. Eating three 900 calorie sandwiches isn't a problem when the number 2700 is irrelevant to you. This is one reason why I feel this attempt at getting healthy is The One for me - I've been enlightened. I know about calories and how many I ideally need to eat/burn every day to lose, maintain, or gain weight. There may be a day when I eat a fast food sandwich - but never again will I have a portion like I used to, because I know what that means for my body in both the short- and long-term.

And honestly, compared to what you get at a fast-food place, I like my versions better. They're more filling (amazing, because it's fewer calories) and much more cost effective - the ingredients to make four sandwiches would cost only slightly more than one BK value meal.

So, I undertook the challenge of remaking this sandwich. I scoured the internet and looked through my pantry to come up with nutrition information for my version. And wouldn't you know, I shaved off over 500 calories!

Not to mention cutting fat, sodium, and sugar by more than half each! Needless to say, the results of my research efforts were tremendously worth it.

4 4-oz. chicken or turkey breast cutlets
1/3 c. plain breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
3 egg whites
8 pieces Butterball Thin & Crispy turkey bacon, cooked
4 deli slices cheddar cheese
4 Arnold whole wheat sandwich thins
Lettuce, tomato, and onion
Preheat oven to 375º F. Combine breadcrumbs and ranch dressing mix in a medium-size bowl. Dip cutlets into egg white, then into crumb mixture to coat. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 16-20 minutes, turning over after 8-10 minutes. When 3-4 minutes remain, place sliced cheese on top of cutlets to melt. Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then serve on sandwich thins topped with 2 pieces of turkey bacon, plus lettuce, tomato, and onion to taste.

Delicious. A definite keeper. The ranch flavor was definitely there but way healthier than if I had smeared ranch dressing all over it.

It's my own recipe but I made a substitution - I developed the recipe for 4 but I'm just one, so instead of the sandwich thins, I bought one roll at the bake shop and adjusted my calories accordingly. (I can't keep quantities of bread in the house just yet.) And you could probably cut calories, fat, and cholesterol further if you used reduced fat or fat-free cheese. I've never been a bacon fan (even before, I thought it was too greasy!), but I liked the turkey bacon.

It had a good flavor and I cooked it on the George Foreman grill to get it perfectly wavy and bacon-like.

Thanks for hanging in there this week with all my recipes - I only lost a few readers, so hopefully it wasn't too bad. I promise to resume with actual content tomorrow!

What about you? Do you ever recreate restaurant meals at home? What are some of your favorite healthier ingredient substitutions?

July 13, 2011

Baked zucchini bread chips

I have another recipe today, but first, a semi-apology: I hope you're not sick of recipes. I totally don't want this to turn into a food blog. But, truth be told, I don't have too much else going on these days - it's pretty routine, though I'm not complaining about it ... I eat well, I stay active, I sleep well, and I go out with my friends.

Which is not to say my mind has slowed down at all, or that I'm any less introspective about the journey I'm on. I guess the things I'm considering right now are all really big, and they need a bit more time to process. I've also written a lot of personally emotionally heavy posts lately, so this is a nice break, I think. I post here daily to keep myself accountable and to keep a personal log of what I've done so far, and some days, all I really accomplish is cooking a healthy meal or three. This week has been one of those weeks.

My best friend Jill also has a blog where she writes about photography and a fabulous random smattering of people, places, and events. Since she moved into her first apartment, she's been exploring cooking for herself, and her photo posts on Facebook always inspire my own culinary ventures.

Unfortunately for me, though, not all of her recipes fit within the plan I have set for myself and my eating. Mango BBQ black beans - good. Zucchini bread - bad. Bad to the bone. Zucchini bread is a serious childhood memory for me - my uncle John used to make it all the time, and I can still taste it to this day. I have the only handwritten copy of his recipe, and someday I'll make it - but for now, things like that aren't safe for me. It's not that I can't have it, it's just that I don't feel strong enough to trust that I'd only eat one piece. It's just easier to say no at this point, and when an occasion comes up where I need to cook for a group, I'll make it and enjoy a slice responsibly and remain in control.

So the other day when she wrote a blog post about making zucchini bread for the first time, I started thinking about it and wondering how I could possibly lighten it up. Since she had also made baked zucchini fries semi-recently, my mind put the two together, and came up with these:

Holy moley, were they good! They could easily have made two servings as 175-calorie sides, but I definitely ate them all for a 350-calorie lunch.
1 zucchini, sliced in 1/4" coins
1 large egg + 1 egg white
1/3 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
3 tsp. brown sugar
Preheat oven to 375º F. Whisk together egg and egg white, 2 tsp. of pumpkin pie spice, and 1 tsp. of brown sugar. In a separate bowl, combine breadcrumbs, 2 tsp. of pumpkin pie spice, and 2 tsp. of brown sugar. Dip the zucchini chips in the egg mixture, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 18 minutes, flipping after 8 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 2-3 minutes (they will crisp up a little).

Mixing the sugar and spice in with both the egg *and* the crumbs made it look extra brown without being too thick with bready coating. You could certainly use all egg whites or egg substitutes. Also, I used pumpkin pie spice only because it's what I had in the house - you could use a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg if you'd like.

Close enough to zucchini bread to be delicious, yet far enough away to avoid triggering anything. I'm extremely pleased with this little recipe I invented!

What about you? What do you think about people who share food pics on Facebook/Twitter/etc. - is it ever a problem for you? (I have a friend who does that and who seems to eat nothing but cupcakes. Had to hide her from my newsfeed. Love her, hate triggers.) Do you ever invent recipes? (If so, please share!)

July 12, 2011

Vegan banana ice "cream"

It has been ridiculously hot in Chicago.

Borderline unbearable - but the thing is, this is what we endure the long hard winters for. Yes, it's hot - very hot. Yes, it's humid - too humid. But it's also unbelievably lovely still, and it's worth all the sweat and frizzy hair to wake up every day in such a wonderful city.

I'm really proud to be say I have still been running outdoors to prepare for my 8k race on Thursday night. I wanted to do one last long run of 5 miles on Sunday, but I couldn't make it - I did 3.6 miles, and even that was intervals. I'm hoping Thursday night goes well - it should be a little cooler since it's in the evening, and if nothing else, at least the sun won't be beating down like it does mid-day. I'd ideally like to finish in a better time than the last 8k, but given the heat and the fact that I've never done a race that wasn't in the morning, I'm not expecting any personal records. Just need to finish!

In order to beat the heat, I've been hanging out in air conditioned places like the library and the gym. I've been taking extra showers to keep cool. And I've been eating a few frozen treats, like this:

Oh my. This creamy, delicious goodness is vegan, free of added sugar and oil, and has only 110 calories. How so?

It's just a banana.

Frozen bananas, when chopped up in a food processor, get a creamy consistency just like soft-serve ice cream. Who knew?! A lot of folks, actually - once I searched for it, I found about a million websites and blog posts dedicated to people having their own revelation about it. So, I guess I'm late to the hey-bananas-make-great-soft-serve bandwagon, but I'm totally okay with that. I know better now. And I'm going to share it with you.

First, slice up a banana into coins (not too thick) and freeze them until solid - a few hours, at least. Then, put them into a food processor...

And start processing. After a few seconds, it looks like little pebbles; after 3-5 minutes, it's as creamy as The Real Thing.

Scoop it into a bowl (or don't!) and enjoy! So easy. You could totally jazz it up with some mix-ins (chocolate chips or walnuts would go great), but then, of course, you're adding calories. And really, it doesn't need it. There's something really delicious and motivating about the fact that what you're eating is just fruit.

I've been experimenting with this a bit the past couple of days. I tried banana with peach for 210 calories - Matt loves peach and is lactose intolerant (and I made him lasagna! Mamma mia! He must like me or something.), so I hoped this would prove to be a good replacement for Italian ice and sorbet, which are very high in sugar.

It was a little grainier than the plain banana because the peaches froze more solidly, so the "grains" were little ice chunks. But it totally copied the sorbet texture, so I'll call it a win. (We'll see what he thinks, picky eater that he is.)

I also tried 125 calories of plain figs, because if I could only pick five foods to eat for the rest of my life, figs would always, always, always make the cut.

Same icy texture as the peaches, but I loved it. Next time, I won't freeze them as long, though, because they were a bit too solid and I was a little worried that the motor in my food processor was going to die.

What about you? What are your favorite low-calorie cool summer treats? Have you ever done an evening race before? If so, how do you prepare differently than for a morning race?

July 11, 2011

BTH: Week Two

My positive picture for the week:

I got new glasses, and not a moment too soon. My previous ones were stretched out incredibly from when my face was bigger; that, plus too-big lenses, made them super unflattering. Here are my new glasses inside my old ones - see what I mean?

What progress have you made on your goals this week?

This week, I worked on goal #1 - stop hiding who you really are. Stanier's explanation of this is as follows:
Take time to figure out what makes up your DNA. When it comes down to it, what do you stand for? And then, when you know who you are, turn up the volume!
I made a list of fifty nouns/adjectives I would use to describe myself and my relationships with the people/places/things I love and consider very important in my life. Then I used them to make a Wordle in order to remind myself of how wonderfully multi-faceted I am and to help me keep in mind the people, things, and ideas that make me who I am.

What did you do to make yourself feel fabulous?

I dressed up and had a little photo shoot out in my yard to celebrate the one year anniversary of my biggest "before" pictures. I wore a dress that Jill gave me, one I coveted incredibly when she bought it (not only because it was cute, but because I was so jealous of her walking into a store and being able to wear whatever cute thing she wanted). And I felt so incredibly lovely.

Did you have a moment in your life where everything changed for you, an epiphany moment, or has it happened gradually?

As far as weight loss, I had an epiphany, for sure - it was this time last summer, when I felt so ashamed of what I had allowed to happen to my body that I avoided my friends and family. Not only that, I felt physically limited - it was hard to shower and put my shoes/socks on and get out of bed in the morning. I wasn't sleeping well, and I had backaches all the time. I knew that if I didn't do something, I was going to die. So I took a walk around my neighborhood, and then another the next day. I ate better and I ate less. I stopped drinking anything that wasn't water or unsweetened tea, and I starting doing all my own cooking (the anniversary of my last takeout delivery was June 18 - looking at what I ordered, I feel sick and can't imagine eating even a quarter of it now, even on my worst days). And then I started to blog. It all just sort of fell into place - not to say it hasn't been challenging, but everything in my life came together and it was the right time for me to seize the opportunity. If I hadn't done it then, I don't know when would have been a better time.

What made you get involved with the Beat The Heat challenge?

Amy! I have loved doing all her challenges - especially because I get to pick my own goals. I love having a to-do list of things I want to accomplish.

What is your favourite TV Show at the moment?

I don't watch TV - I have a TV but no cable/satellite/etc. I mostly watch movies, either DVDs or stream Netflix through the Wii. When I watch TV shows, it's usually on DVD so I can watch a lot of it at once. I'm an exceptionally patient person, but I just don't like cliffhangers!

July 10, 2011

Baked eggs in mushrooms

It seems like every single recipe that Cara's Cravings posts gets immediately saved to my to-make folder. It all looks so delicious without seeming impossible to recreate at home - exactly what I'm looking for in a recipe. A few months ago I made her Thai peanut turkey burgers, which I loved and will be making some time soon since I'm craving a good turkey burger lately. This week, I finally made another one: baked eggs in mushrooms with zucchini ragout.

Can you blame me?

Baked eggs are delicious. Tomato sauce is a comfort food. The two together? Perfection. I like that it would work for any meal, too - I would definitely make this for a brunch. (And may well end up eating the leftovers for breakfast this morning...) Add in the meaty texture of the portobello mushroom cap, and I get to feel incredibly satisfied by my dinner while still staying on-plan.

I made my usual substitutions and omissions - I left out the olive oil, and I used 2 oz. of sliced provolone instead of fresh mozzarella to avoid triggering a binge. Still incredibly delicious!

My only problem with the recipe was that I didn't write down what I needed before I went to the grocery store and came home with crushed tomatoes instead of diced, so my ragout was more of a thin sauce with lots of delicious zucchini chunks. When I packed away the leftovers, I scooped out about a quarter of the sauce and froze it for serving over pasta some other day. Three meals for under $10? Excellent.

I'm feeling really satisfied with my eating lately. My workouts have been good but not great, but only because I'm trying to take it easy on my knee until it feels completely better. I've been running, but instead of my usual hour and a half on the elliptical or exercise bike on my non-running days, I've been doing Wii Fit and walking around the city. Still moving, but less intense on my body. The last thing I want is for this to develop into a more serious injury.

Part of the reason why July is going so well so far in terms of food and exercise is because I have so much to celebrate this month. This is a month of big anniversaries, culminating with my rebirthday on the 31st. On June 30 of last year, I took a train home for 24 hours instead of flying because for the last time, I had fears about not fitting in a seat. Between June 30 and July 20 of last year, I was visiting my friends and family and for the last time, I felt ashamed of my size and how poorly I was taking care of myself. And on July 9 of last year, I stood out in the back yard with my brother blowing giant bubbles, and he snapped this picture of me:

And I realized that as soon as I got back to Chicago, I was going to do something about my weight, or else I would die. For July 9 of this year, I decided to go out in the yard and blow bubbles again. Only smaller ... for the bubbles, and for myself.

Thinking about everything that has happened between these two pictures is surreal. It's been scary and exciting; I've both smiled and cried harder than ever before. And I've never been more proud of myself than I am these days for having committed to saving my own life.

What about you? What accomplishment(s) on your journey so far are you most proud of?