October 29, 2011

Trick or treat

At Wednesday night's dinner, my friends and I all talked about our plans for the weekend. A few people in our group were planning on going to parties in local cities, but for the most part, no one seemed all that interested. To be honest, I hadn't realized it was Halloween already - it's hard to get into the spirit of the season when it's still high 70/low 80 degree weather every day.

The conversation turned fairly quickly to candy; since four of our group of five are new to the area this year, we wanted to know if we should expect trick or treaters, and how many. The one woman who has been here a few years (Kristin) said that she wasn't sure, it varies, and in any case, she doesn't give out candy. She said she does raisins, apples, or toothbrushes. And suddenly, our group was divided.
  • Kristin is vegan and a bit of a health nut, so she doesn't like the idea of giving children candy.
  • Adam and Justin said that giving kids toothbrushes is a great idea in theory, but is pointless in practice because it is a waste of money - kids will just throw it out and go to every other house for candy.
  • Minal is from India and is not used to the American Halloween tradition, and was a little confused, and thus undecided.
And, per usual, I stayed quiet and observed the discussion, collecting my thoughts.

I thought about last year, when I was only a few months into my commitment to losing weight, and how tough Halloween was. I fought it as hard as I could - I even made a note card for my desk next to the bucket of candy I bought for my students to help me keep my hands out of it. It had calorie counts, in a way: one mini Snickers bar = 10 minutes of Wii Boxing. This year, though, it hasn't even crossed my mind. Maybe because I go to Target a lot less and am thus not as tempted by the holiday-themed aisle.

Given my plateau for the past few months, I've been trying to focus on NSVs as much as possible, and not eating any Halloween candy has been a huge victory for me. It's so easy to be a secret eater at Halloween - buying a few giant sized bags of candy in July is suspicious, but towards the end of October, no one seems to question the recipient. In Chicago, I lived in a second floor rear apartment with no doorbell - I never saw a single trick or treater - but I certainly bought my share of candy bars. Dump them all into a bowl like I was getting ready to give it out, then sit on the couch, shelling and popping them into my mouth like peanuts, watching "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and reeling in the intoxicating sugar high.

Fortunately, gorging myself on candy isn't at the front of my thoughts right now, but I still have the festivities in mind. I'm thinking mostly about kids, and in which ways Halloween is different now from when my parents were young, or even from when I was a kid. Kristin (and a few commenters on yesterday's blog post) said that a local dentist offers kids a few dollars per bag for turning in their candy, and again, we found ourselves torn. Given the rates of obesity in the United States, it was surprising that dentists are willing to intervene, but not pediatricians. Kristin thought it was a great idea - again, from a healthy food stance. And the boys disagreed with her again, saying it's one day a year and it's part of being a kid.

My own trick or treat experience is limited - I can only remember a few Halloweens - but of course, we loved it. There were no rules governing our candy, at least none I remember, or that were strictly enforced. I doubt it lasted more than a few days, and then I'd get into my sisters' bags. Lisa more than Katie - Lisa never really liked candy, so I don't think she noticed or cared if the pieces went missing.

Since I started losing weight, I've thought a lot about my own future children - wondering how to raise healthy and happy kids who don't have issues with food like I do, and especially figuring out how to approach food-related holidays and traditions. I love the idea of doing 5k races with my husband and kids on holiday mornings - even if we just walk them as a family, we'll be out there, active, focusing on family and not just food. But the food is still there, in the background. So, how do you find balance?

I can't say for sure, since I am nowhere near marriage and parenthood right now. But ideally, I think I'd let my kids go trick or treating, but then figure out some way to ration out the candy. Try to teach moderation, and don't criminalize food. It's a personal goal that I hope to master, then instill in my children via example.

October 28, 2011

Roses and thorns

This has been a pretty good week. It never fails to surprise me how wonderful it feels to eat well and exercise adequately. I biked less this week than I have in most weeks before - I even took one complete rest day! - and still managed a great loss. Perhaps because there was more of a sense of balance, because I wasn't biking like a fiend to counteract overeating and poor food choices. I made mostly good food choices. I biked. I ran. I stayed hydrated. I closely monitored my sodium intake. All that adds up to success! (Now: to just keep doing this for the rest of forever.)

(From my morning commute: fields of cotton plants, ready to harvest)

I'm weighing in at 196 for the week - a 2 pound loss. Slightly behind my Fire Up for Fall goal schedule, but I'm feeling confident that I'll be able to recoup it next week. And even if I don't make the goal on time, I'm just so incredibly pleased to have good losses two weeks in a row. It finally feels like I'm fully back on track, and I couldn't be prouder.

And it wasn't easy.

Though the weekend was, surprisingly.

And so was Monday - we had our book club meeting, and it went really well. I discussed the book like a champ and successfully avoided homemade apple pie with ice cream.

But Tuesday was incredibly stressful for some reason - I was overtired and premenstrual, and probably should have told Justin not to come over (since we had our book club on Monday, we moved our West Wing dinner date to Tuesday). I didn't feel like cooking anything fancy, so I made turkey burgers and chipotle sweet potato fries. He still loved it, and when I apologized for it being so plain, he said that it doesn't have to be so extravagant every week. I still felt like a bum, though - I wanted to cook something nice and new, but I just didn't have the energy. Then, the DVD player in my brand new TV decided to stop working. I have had this TV for barely over a month! So that bugged me. We played Wii Bowling and streamed some of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" on Netflix (decided we liked it infinitely less than the book, and couldn't finish it), and he did his laundry - by all means, it should have been a decent evening. But I had a pudy attitude all night and it was just strange.

(More of my morning commute - so lovely!)

I sent an apology text the next morning for being so grumpy. He told me I was crazy and that I had been just fine. Then, "premenstrual" became "currently menstrual," and suddenly it all made sense, and the rest of the week went off without a hitch. Wednesday night, he cooked for me and a few of our friends from the university - it's Diwali, so he made a-freakin'-mazing homemade Indian food. All vegetarian, and all incredibly delicious.

During dinner, we all got to talking about Halloween coming up, and we had a pretty interesting discussion about candy that I'm going to flesh out in a post for tomorrow. Some preliminary research, though: what are your Halloween plans? Do you dress up? Go to parties? Avoid candy like the plague? Buy some of your favorites and ration it out?

And my biggest question: for people who have kids, what do you do with them for Halloween? Do they trick or treat? What, if any, are your rules about the candy afterwards?

Looking forward to everyone's feedback!

October 26, 2011

On food and love

I love cooking, though it can be tough sometimes to cook for just one person. So I love cooking for a second person or a crowd whenever I get the chance. I love the process of creating something, and I love the reaction I get from people enjoying what I have made. My current challenge is figuring out how to reconcile my "need to feed" with maintaining balance and a healthy lifestyle.

Sometimes I will have dinner with Justin a few times during the week, but at the very least, we have a standing dinner date on Monday evenings. It started as dinner and driving lessons but after a mildly embarrassing driving-related panic attack, it has somewhat devolved into dinner and an episode or two of "The West Wing." (He's never seen it, and neither have I; I have a TV, so he bought the first season.)

It's so lovely. Whether I do the cooking or he does, it's just nice to share a meal with a good friend, to sit together and have a good conversation. We talk about a lot of different things. It usually starts with a run-down of how our weekends were and how work was that day. From there, though, anything can go.

Because we usually eat at the island in my eat-in kitchen, there's a clear view of my fridge and a copy of my "before" photo. I had told him about my weight loss before he saw the picture, and his first reaction was surprise. But seeing the photo really struck him. He couldn't believe it. He said what most people who didn't know me before tend to say: "... it doesn't even look like you."

Since finding out about my secret super obese past, he's asked a lot of questions about it. What does it feel like? What do you think when you see other big people? Did X/Y/Z ever happen when you were big? I don't mind fielding the questions - his questions aren't offensive or overly invasive, based more on curiosity. It's very interesting to him, someone who has been active his whole life and who has never had issues with his weight.

That, I think, is one of the reasons I like having dinner with him. He's actively interested in my recovery process, and has even gone running since I started back a couple weeks ago. (We'll see, but I'm hoping to convince him to run a half with me!) But the dinners are the best part. I like cooking with him and I like being cooked for, but above all, I really like observing his eating habits. Because again, he is who has never had a weight problem. So I like to see how he approaches food. Some interesting things I've noted:
  • He eats a good sized meal about an hour or two after he gets home from work - instead of something small when he gets home, then dinner, and maybe something small after dinner.
  • His portions are a normal, healthy size - then if he is still hungry, he gets more.
  • Related: he stops eating when he feels like it, not when the food runs out. We went to the movies one night and he got a medium popcorn and didn't eat it all. I avoided the snacks altogether, but in the past? That's unheard of. First - medium? Second - throwing out half the bucket? It was strange to me.
  • His plate is not usually spotless. (Let me explain: my plate, on the other hand, has been scraped clean of every drop like I was raised to do. He doesn't sweat leaving what could be pulled together into another spoon or forkful of something on the side of the plate.)
  • There's always more veggies than anything else (protein, carbs, etc.)
  • (Perhaps my favorite observation) He takes the time to really taste what we're eating. His first bite is always exploratory: he's savoring it, figuring it out. And his reaction is almost always the same: that it's perfect, so delicious, best he's ever eaten, and how did I possibly know this was exactly what he wanted tonight? The praises are fantastic, but the fact that they're genuine is the best part.
Since I have started trying to get healthier, I've been making progress on the "food ≠ love" idea, and it's certainly difficult. This is something that goes back to my childhood, to the big family get-togethers: we love each other, we take care of each other, and we're all breaking bread together. It's been incredibly important to understand that the love is in us and not on our plates - with a loaded table or if we only have bread and water, there is still love.

Something that has been incredibly important is grasping the concept of "quality over quantity." As long as I am able to, I want to help nourish the people I care about - I love you, and I want to cook for you. But: that doesn't mean I need to cook huge portions or that the food needs to be exceptionally unhealthy. I can love you without an overly rich dinner immediately followed by a heavy dessert. I can love you with lean protein and fruits and veggies, too.

October 24, 2011

Fire Up: Week Six

My positive picture for the week:

Justin and I joined a book club, and I read most of our first book this weekend, both on the couch and on the bus.

This is something I've missed from Chicago - with a bike commute, you can't just sit and take 20 minutes to yourself, not think about work or life's responsibilities, and get lost in a book.

What have you done to achieve your goals this week?

(1) Weighed in at 198 on Friday. Restricting my sodium as much as possible for a couple of days to try and purge the junk from my system. I made a little note for my fridge door to remind myself of just how hard I have to work in order to make this goal ... needless to say, it's helped a lot!

(3) My long run yesterday was 3 miles, which I did in 30:14 - not great for my sub-30 5k goal, but I'm not complaining. I biked waaay too much the day before on accident - I found a new trail and didn't realize how far I had gone until I got home. It was over 25 miles! So my legs were a little tired yesterday. I ran in the morning, then took the rest of the day off. My other runs for last week were all sub-10 minute miles, so I'm still feeling confident about this goal and my upcoming 5k race in Chicago. Less than two weeks to go!

What have you done to make yourself feel fabulous?

I cried. It might sound odd, but it was really fantastic. A deep, full body sobbing. Just what I needed. I had been watching an episode of "Ruby" where she and some of her friends go on a six day retreat to learn about food addiction and work towards overcoming it, and so many things they talked about resonated very deeply with me. I realized (and admitted aloud to myself) some of the reasons for why I've been plateauing, and then I just cried and cried. Then I took a shower to cool myself off, and I felt so entirely clean - inside and out. It felt incredible.

Do you listen to music when you work out? What gets you fired up?

I almost always have my iPod on when I run - sometimes I run silent, but I think having my power songs helps me go faster sometimes! I like songs with strong drums and/or bass that I can sync up my heel strikes with. Making playlists for my long runs has been thrilling - it's just another thing about running that I've missed so much.

I also listen to music when I bike, but only one earphone and no more than 50% volume - need to be hyperaware of what is going on around me, even if I am on trails and not on surface streets.

What's your guilty pleasure music? How does it make you feel?

I don't know if I have any guilty pleasure music ... I listen to a lot of everything, no guilt attached. I love Belle and Sebastian, the Decemberists, and the Magnetic Fields. But I also really like R. Kelly and Glenn Miller and 90s country music and anything classical. Just depends on my mood, I guess!

If today were a song what song would it be?

The Cure, "Doing the Unstuck" - throughout all of this journey, that's been My Song.

October 23, 2011

Veggie enchiladas

Let me tell you about my office mate.

To be honest, I can't tell you much. Not for privacy or security reasons, but simply because I don't really know her. What I *do* know, though, is that she really, really, really likes enchiladas. Either that, or it's just the only thing she knows how to cook.

At least once a week, she tells me that she's making enchiladas that evening, that she put the chicken in the slow cooker this morning, and it's just so incredibly easy.

After nine or ten weeks of hearing about enchiladas, I'd had enough. Needed to try them. I'd had a Weight Watchers frozen version back in Chicago - chicken enchiladas suiza - and wasn't thrilled ... mostly because after a few minutes in the microwave, the texture was too soggy in some places and oddly crunchy where it probably shouldn't have been. So for my second try, I decided to attempt making them.

The recipe I used was partly my own creation, but the meat-free idea was based on this recipe. As delicious as Office Mate's enchiladas probably are, I don't have a slow cooker ... and I just wasn't feeling like eating meat that day. So, voilà:

I wish I had a better picture, or even just a picture of them plated, but I made them last week with Justin and we were so hungry that it just completely slipped my mind.

The "recipe" is fairly easy. I shredded a medium zucchini and tossed it together with half a can of no salt added black beans (rinsed and drained) and half a can of Mexicorn (it's corn with peppers in it - plain corn would work just fine, though), and some cumin and cayenne pepper to suit your taste. I put about a cup of green enchilada sauce in the bottom of an 8x8" glass baking dish. Then I took five medium-sized tortillas and (one at a time) microwaved them for 10-15 seconds to ease rolling. I put a bunch of the veggie mixture in them, rolled them up, and put them seam-side-down in the baking dish. Then I added another 1 1/2 cups of enchilada sauce over the top and sprinkled a cup of shredded colby jack cheese over the top. Bake at 375º F for 10-15 minutes, just until the cheese is melted and the enchiladas are heated through.

They were quite delicious. The tortillas are traditionally corn, and since corn tortillas fall apart very easily when bent, you fry them first. Since I had absolutely no intention of frying anything, I used Mission brand Artisan Corn and Whole Wheat blend tortillas - they're only 90 calories each and after a quick microwaving, they rolled with no issues. The enchilada sauce was a little salty for my taste, which is why I went with the no salt beans. Justin said they were a bit spicy, which I blamed on the Mexicorn and not on my tendency to be heavy handed with the spices.

Definitely a keeper recipe, though there was certainly room for improvement - not to mention infinite other filling possibilities!

What about you? What is your favorite ethnic cuisine? Is there anything you make at least once a week like my office mate?