You Are Enough

Funny thing about balance…it needs to not pendulum from one thing to another. It’s about finding the right combination of everything that makes life work in a reasonable, healthy way. I’ve been a little off balance lately, hence not writing in a while.

This summer has been an experiment in finding healthy balance. Some days, weeks, even, have been great! Some, unfortunately, have not.

Life has a way of jumping in and making things harder, and my general response is to revert to obsessive TV show watching and eating like crazy. When August brought the one year anniversary of my father’s sudden death and the spreading of his ashes, I fought the urge to revert to those crutches. Some days were okay, others not. Then I turned to other somewhat destructive things, like shopping, over-eating, and not exercising as much. Oh, and being sad. That wasn’t fun either.

Dad’s resting place:

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I learned in the past couple of weeks that even when life throws you major curveballs, it can also provide you with the tools to accept and move past those things. A week and a half after the anniversary, I feel almost released of the burden of that first year of grief. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still grieving and miss my dad like crazy, but that year of firsts is over. We made it through. I made it through more grief at work. I made it through last school year. I made it through all the little and big things that have made me feel awful, and I’m trying to learn from all of it. I’m trying to not be so hard on myself, but at the same time hold myself accountable for my feelings and actions. I’m trying to infuse positive things into my life instead of harping on all the terrible things in the world.

Today marks my last week of summer vacation. Today, I got back on the elliptical. Today, I am working on redefining and finding my balance before the new school year starts.

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One of my favorite Broadway actresses, Sierra Boggess, inspired me yesterday in a video interview she did. She said making the choice to be happy is scary. It is easier for us to live in our negativity and complaining than to make the decision to accept it and leave it behind to live in the now. She said this:

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And that got me thinking. It is so hard to accept ourselves as “enough” because there are so many outside influences telling us we aren’t enough that we start to believe it.

I am going to try my best to remember that I am enough. I’m going to try my hardest to bring healthy habits into my life. I’m going to try my hardest to live here and now instead of worrying about what could be, and instead, accept what is and be grateful.

Will I fail and fall down at times? I’m sure, but I’m tired of being negative, sad, ungrateful, and stuck. Hopefully, readers, you will be inspired by the journey, too!

Who or what has inspired your life’s journey, especially in trying times? What works for you to get back up when you fall?

Homemade Sandwich Rolls and Trying New Things

One of my favorite meals is slow-cooker pork shoulder. I love it. It is convenient and makes multiple delicious meals, like carnitas, enchiladas, pulled pork, and can be put in marinara sauce. Love it!

I bought a big pork shoulder at Costco earlier in the week, and decided to quarter it and stick some in the crock pot. It made some awesome pork tacos last night, let me tell you! Well, I also used it in a scramble for breakfast, and considering I can’t seem to get enough, I decided pulled pork sandwiches were in order for tonight.

One problem. The hubby had the car for work, and I had forgotten to get sandwich rolls at the store. Our new place isn’t really within walking distance of a grocery store, so I was left with a decision to make– either no pulled pork sandwiches (gasp!), OR I could try my hand at actually making some rolls from scratch. This was a slightly terrifying prospect.

Not to be defeated, and having wanted to try my hand at bread making for a while, I decided to go for it. Only problem was finding a recipe that didn’t use a bread machine, which happened to be more difficult than I anticipated.

Alas, after some searching, I found this great recipe. I’m not going to re-type it here because I pretty much followed it word for word. The only thing I did differently was use all purpose white flour instead of bread flour, and I subbed one cup of white flour for a cup of whole wheat pastry flour. I also sifted both. Otherwise, same recipe!

Boy, oh, boy! While it was a bit intensive and a whole day experience, it was quite worth it!

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Makes 12 rolls. Serving size: 1 roll. Calories: 253. Fat: 5.2g. Protein: 7g. Sugars: 1.3g.

They came out well, and a perfect density for my pulled pork! I may have eaten two sandwiches and one roll on its own….but don’t tell anyone! I’m really proud of the results, and now I’m not too scared to make my own bread. 🙂

The other thing I love is I know what went into my rolls. No hidden preservatives or high fructose corn syrup. It’s amazing to think a couple of years ago you couldn’t buy bread at the store without high fructose corn syrup. Things are better now, but finding sandwich rolls without it is still pretty hard. It’s great knowing I’m capable of making something healthy at home on my own. It may not be the most convenient, but I’ll take it! With some practice, it will probably be faster anyway!

So, now I’m full, proud, and sleepy. I hope you try something new today, like I did!

Low Cal Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins Recipe

As you may know, I’ve been working on eating healthier, in moderation, and have been working out. All of these things are a challenge! In my quest to find foods that curb my cravings, but are also healthy, I’ve been cooking and baking quite a bit.

I pinned a skinny banana bread recipe a while ago and finally had the chance to try it. Here is the original recipe: http://www.skinnymom.com/2013/03/27/skinny-chocolate-chip-banana-bread/. The original recipe looks good, but I made some modifications. Please visit the original recipe, as there are some great substitutions and variations in the original recipe and comments!

For portion control, I took some advice and decided to make muffins instead of bread…well, that and I realized our loaf pans disappeared in the move! I also added 100% whey protein powder (vanilla) and nonfat Greek yogurt to bump up the protein. The result was a delicious, semi-healthy, banana chocolate chip muffin clocking in at only 120 calories per serving! Sweet (literally and figuratively)! 😉

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Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 17 standard-sized muffins.

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 oz nonfat Greek yogurt, plain
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 heaping tablespoons whey protein powder, vanilla
1/3 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 330 degrees.
2. Prepare muffin pans with nonstick spray and set aside.
3. In a bowl, mash the bananas with a fork.
4. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, vanilla, yogurt, brown sugar, and granulated sugar.
5. Add mashed banana and egg and mix on a medium-low setting for 2-3 minutes.
6. In another bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients, except chocolate chips.
7. On a low mixing setting, slowly add dry ingredients to wet. Mix until just combined-don’t over mix!
8. Stir or fold in chocolate chips.
9. Fill muffin tins up about 3/4 of the way with the batter. This was about 2 heaping spoonfuls for my tins, which yielded 17 muffins.
10. Bake muffins at 330 degrees for 20 minutes.
11. Cool muffins before eating- I don’t know about you,but warm banana bread/muffins don’t taste right to me!

Serving Size: 1 muffin. Calories: 120 per muffin.

They are super yummy! Just sweet enough! Here’s to not eating all 17 by myself, hahaha!

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Berry “Power” Muffins & The Sweet Temptations of Vacation

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Ahhh, summer! I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a bit, but that whole summer vacation thing got to me for a while! Luckily, I’ve still been doing all kinds of fun stuff, and keeping up with my exercise, too!

Hubby and I celebrated our wedding anniversary- three whole years! Having been together for over eleven years, this seems small, but celebrating our special day at the beach with the pup was fun, even though we had some minor setbacks along the way (i.e. getting the car stuck on the beach, blowing out a tire on the way home, the usual).

One of the most difficult things while on vacation is keeping up with healthy habits. I didn’t do a whole lot of exercising or eating perfectly over our long anniversary weekend, but it’s okay. I surprised myself by jumping right back on the wagon once the weekend was over– a pretty huge feat for me! Even more surprisingly, the exercise wagon was the easiest to jump back on. The eating well wagon has been much harder to climb back on, though.

I am tempted by food so easily, as I’ve mentioned in my earlier posts. Sweets are the bane of my healthy eating existence. Once I get started, I can’t stop, and once I get the taste, I crave sweets like crazy. I have to admit, in the last week, I have been pretty terrible at restraining myself. Honestly, though, I started off well intentioned. I made some no-bake oatmeal, honey, peanut butter and protein bars ( delicious, by the way– find the recipe here: http://thejoyofeverydaycooking.com/3-ingredient-no-bake-peanut-butter-bars/ ), that for all intents and purposes were supposed to be “healthy”. Granted, I added some semi-sweet chocolate chips and vanilla whey protein powder to the original recipe!

Unfortunately, when I worked up the calories and nutrition, they were a lot more than the original recipe stated- about 450 per bar! They were mighty tasty, and with the added protein powder, oatmeal, and natural ingredients, not horrible for you, but still, a lot of calories! The honey also made them very sweet. Enter my cravings.

Once I started on the bars, I couldn’t help eating ice cream, homemade cookies, and all other delicious treats that came into my path. Ugh, so good, yet SO bad! I seem to have no willpower when it comes to eating just one. Needless to say, I’ve been working out like crazy to try and balance out the calories from all those treats.

Anyhow, I’m trying to reverse some of the damage in the gym, but also trying to ease myself off the sugar cravings with something less sweet and more healthy. Introducing my secret weapon, Berry Power Muffins!

Berry Power Muffins

I got the original recipe here http://domesticatedacademic.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/power-muffins-blueberryoatmealyogurtpower/ and we loved it with the blueberries, but it being berry season, I wanted to try a version with raspberries and blackberries. With non-fat Greek yogurt, oatmeal, and berries, this recipe tends to be much more on the healthy side and clocks in at 250 calories per giant muffin!

This muffin is chewy, dense, moist, and not too sweet. This is not a cupcake-type muffin sugar-wise. If super sweet is what you are looking for, you won’t find it here. It is a subtle sweet and tart combination, thanks to the berries. Perfect for a pre or post workout snack, or even a fast breakfast, this muffin will help curb those sugar cravings.

You will need:

Muffin tin (makes 12 big muffins)
Non-stick cooking spray
2 cups all purpose flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill unbleached all purpose)
1 cup oats (no need to cook beforehand, can be quick or regular)
2/3 cup sugar, plus extra to sprinkle on the top
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces non-fat Greek honey yogurt, 1.5 cups (two containers of the Fred Meyer/Kroger brand)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup raspberries and blackberries, mixed

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1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Prepare muffin tin with nonstick spray or liners.

3. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.

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4. Combine wet ingredients, except berries.

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5. Add wet to dry ingredients, stirring until well combined. Dough will be thick!

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6. Fold in berries, then stir.

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In my case, the raspberries broke apart and worked into the dough, while the blackberries remained relatively whole.

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7. Spoon dough into muffin tin. They will be pretty full. I’m sure you could also split the dough between two muffin tins, making smaller muffins, but I like the big ones!

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8. I like to add a sweet finishing touch by sprinkling some sugar on the top of each muffin before it goes in the oven. I love using this organic, fair trade sugar that I got at Costco for baking.

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9. Bake muffins in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are springy to the touch. Mine took 25 minutes, probably because they were so big!

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Serving size: 1 muffin. Calories: 250.5. Fat: 6.1g. Protein: 8.5g. Sugars: 14.2g. Fiber: 2.3g. Sodium: 23.5mg. Potassium: 71.7mg. Total Carbs: 40.8g

Eat, enjoy, in moderation, of course! 😉

As an afterthought, I realized I probably could’ve added vanilla whey protein powder with good results for an extra protein punch. I’ll have to try that next time!

What are your biggest food temptations? What have you tried to curb your cravings in a healthy way?

Some pics of Baby Girl loving her first time at the beach!

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The Challenges of Eating “Right”– Knowing Your History

I read this “incredible” study in Ladies Home Journal while at my mom’s house for the 4th of July. It was all about how they finally proved that eating a Mediterranean diet is a great way to eat like a human being and be healthy at the same time. My (Italian) mom scoffed when I showed her and said she could’ve told anyone that years ago.

Growing up having a mother who grew up in an authentic Italian pizza restaurant in New York is a wonderful, miraculous thing. My mom can turn just about anything into an amazing pasta dish that you would probably have to pay $15 bucks for in a restaurant. Case in point: My darling niece just turned 17 in June. Her wish for her birthday was to have Nana (my mom) make an authentic Italian feast- 5 whole courses! And my mom, being the fantastic woman she is, did it for her! Lucky for us, we all reaped the benefits of the delicious meal.

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The thing is, I grew up a very, very picky eater. Partially, it was just being a kid, and partially it was having a list of health problems that were not discovered until I was older. Finally, as I figured out what I could eat without writhing in pain or having heart issues (a long list), I started to expand my diet to include many of the delicious things my mother made. This is awesome, but there are challenges to growing up with a mother that makes restaurant quality food every day.

First, portion sizes. Huge-normous is probably the best way to describe it.

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(Yes, this is from the “feast,” but really is not THAT unusual!)

Second, it might just be my family, it might be Italians in general, but dinner is a social experience that lasts for HOURS, and not just in the case of the five-course feast. My husband had to learn to endure the long-lasting dinners that I considered normal. Let me tell you, having dinner with his family for the first time was a shock! Everybody ate in 15 minutes and then left the table. Dinner, for us, was talking and eating, and more talking, and more eating. The social piece is wonderful, but I’ve learned the challenge is not going back for seconds, sometimes thirds, and then picking out of the bowl for hours. I’m still saying, “You mean, I DON’T need three helpings of this delicious pasta to feel satisfied and happy? Whaaaat?!”

This is one of my biggest challenges. Knowing when to stop and then actually doing it. It is easier at home to stop, but when I go to my mom’s for dinner (which has been twice this week), I lose all self-control. When I’m there, it tastes SO good, and I really have a problem stopping.

Third, food is love. Mom feeds us so well because she loves us, and we eat it because it is delicious, but also because we want to show her we love her food and her right back. You might be thinking, “Awwwww,” but this is very real. Therefore, from a young age I learned to eat ALL my food, not just because it was good, or because I was hungry, but because, subconsciously, I wanted to show mom that I loved her right back. Also, with that logic, not eating all the food subconsciously felt like saying I just liked her. This brings me back to that challenge of portion control.

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Of course, I didn’t realize this until recently, after trying to get to the bottom of why I feel the need to eat so much in one sitting. It almost seems sacrilege to not show love for the food by devouring it all, and then some. I watched my dad eat and eat and eat and so I ate too, which worked out fine when my metabolism wasn’t crap and I was super active.

Fourth, both mom and dad had weird relationships with food. Dad ate like a horse almost constantly, even after being overweight, having Type 2 Diabetes, having a heart attack, and having quadruple bypass surgery. The only thing that stopped him was when he had chemo for colon cancer. Mom, for the longest time, only ate one meal a day- a whole other issue. Needless to say, I didn’t think any of this was strange until I was an adult.

My point here is that it is important to know your food history. We all come from somewhere and there is a reason we eat the way we do. Many of the reasons above are both amazing blessings, but they have had a flip side for me that I only recently realized. I don’t like “depriving” myself of food because food is love, social, and it is delicious. So, being on a “diet” is really hard for me. This is good information because it shows me that I need to focus on portion control and moderation, as opposed to cutting out foods entirely, which I have tried and failed miserably at.

Food is sustenance, but for most of us it carries many other connotations. It is a way of life. It can make or break you. It can serve emotional and physical needs. My goal now is to focus on cooking my own food, eating it in moderation, eating whole foods, and not completely depriving myself from my vices, like sugary desserts, or cheeses, or fried foods. I think if I focus on these things, rather than on dieting, I will be more successful in my goals to be fit and healthy.

What have you discovered about your food history? How does it shape how you eat today?

Finding the Motivation to Exercise- Not an Easy Task, If You Ask Me!

As explained in my last post, I kind of hit rock bottom when it comes to feeling comfortable and healthy. It took a while to get there, and it’s not like I didn’t try to get things under control before, but I tend to lack two things when it comes to nutrition and exercise- self-control and motivation.

So, how have I worked on the motivation issue? Well, as a self-proclaimed gym hater, for the longest time it was finding things that weren’t boring. For me, that usually means falling back on an old stand-by, dance. I started dancing when I was two, and didn’t stop doing it regularly until I was about 22 or 23. I firmly believe this helped me stay fit and trim for a long time. It’s amazing what muscles you never knew were there pop up when dancing!

When my heart issues started to create some major life issues, I stopped dancing regularly, mostly because I was afraid it would kill me, or send me to the hospital (both very real possibilities). Once I got my ICD, I didn’t really have an excuse anymore, but fear and anxiety kept me back. I got out of shape, and it got even harder to get to dance class. That, and it costs money, which is not always plentiful.

In turn, my figure and my skills started to dwindle in ways I didn’t like, but was both too lazy and/or afraid to deal with it.

What turned things around, you ask?

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This beautiful Labrador-Pointer rescue! She has a lot of energy, and when we rescued her from our local humane society two months ago, I knew she would need to exercise. Boy, was I right. What was awesome was that I no longer had an excuse NOT to get outside and get walking– she HAD to go out for walks. No more choice on my part. i had to get home from work and walk the dog, instead of sitting on the couch. This has been my biggest motivator- a big, beautiful dog. One of the best decisions I ever made, by far. She challenges me in ways I never expected.

With that said, everybody has to find what works for them. For me, it is my dog and the need to feel comfortable in my own skin again. Of course, now I’ve added things like the elliptical, strength training, and interval training to our twice-daily walks, but it was my pup who started giving me more confidence.

How about you? What motivates you to get moving regularly?

Easy Strawberry Dessert (Low Cal!) and Some Candid Thoughts on My Weight

Guess what I just did?

I ate almost a whole pound of strawberries and some chocolate, and I don’t feel guilty at all! I’ll share the easy-peasy recipe below.

So, I know I forgot to update after my last entry, but I will say that I have been on track with my health and weight loss goals since then, which, for me, is saying a whole heck of a lot.

The elliptical every day for at least 25-40 minutes, walking the dog for at least 30 minutes, and more all-around activity has been keeping me from my usual summer sloth-fest. I even started lifting weights and doing crunches– weird!

I’ve been feeling pretty good about it, too. Usually, hate sets in around the second day, but I’ve been going strong for almost a week! This is pretty big news for a gym-hater like myself. It helps that the gym is free in my apartment complex, is air conditioned (a relief in this 95+ degree heat), and I haven’t run across any creepy or obnoxious gym folk as of yet. All positive!

Now, it’s about watching what I eat. I don’t have a good history of abstaining or moderating my food, so I started using the MyFitnessPal app to help me understand what I’m putting in my body. I tried this months ago, with little success, as I just became obsessed with my eating and if I went over on calories, I just basically said “Screw this!” and ate…and ate…and ate. Then I felt bad about it. The big thing was I wasn’t keyed in on exercising and being healthy overall.

What changed? Well, I went athletic shoe shopping with my mom, which, of course, turned into clothes shopping as well. Awesome, right? Not so awesome when I realized that the only clothes I felt comfortable in were the spandex blend exercise clothes. Every pair of cute jeans I tried on did not fit. Dresses didn’t fit. Some shirts didn’t even fit! I was in tears in the fitting room, realizing that I had officially gone from larger-ish to what the clothing industry considers “plus size.” Not okay.

Hey, I know the clothes-sizing industry isn’t fair and/or realistic, but to be fair, I have gained about 30 pounds since my wedding three years ago. Between an increase in life and job stresses, new medications, and unhealthy habits, my body has gone from comfortable to not.

Many of you who have known me a long time might be thinking a variety of things about this. Yes, for years I was pretty skinny without having to do a lot to be that way, but I also had some major size distortion when it came to clothing, which I blame on being tall and growing up in the 90’s, when it was fashionable to be “baggy” (what were we thinking?!). Basically, I realized about five years ago after a shopping trip that I was buying clothing two to four sizes too big. Crazy, but true!

When I started gaining weight and actually became those sizes, I felt pretty comfortable. After all, I wore those sizes for years, unknowingly! The sizes have been creeping up and up for a while now, and when my bra size went up a whole cup size, it was pretty cool. But then stuff started not fitting right, and my clothes started becoming uncomfortable to wear. I would see things I liked on the rack, but wouldn’t be able to wear them. However, the clothes trying-on incident from last week was the last straw.

Also, I have a pretty big family history of obesity and heart disease. With my heart problems, I became scared to exercise, but now I realize more than ever that I’m not getting any younger, or healthier, sitting on my butt and pretending nothing is different. Life changes are in order. And I am tired of feeling bad about myself and my health.

So, in a roundabout way, this brings me to the tasty summer treat I was craving earlier. Since I’ve been doing well with my exercise and diet goals, it has almost become a contest for me, like a game. When I started craving sweetness, I tried to think of a relatively healthy way to both beat the heat and stay within my goals. Hence, Organic Strawberries with Melted Chocolate!

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Alas, not the best picture, but super tasty and easy! One pound of fresh strawberries is 145 calories. I used semisweet chocolate chips from Costco (Kirkland brand), which is 70 calories per 30 pieces of chocolate. What that equals is deliciousness at under 300 calories, depending how many strawberries and/or chocolate you want to eat. Me, I ate the whole pound and about a serving and a half of the chocolate! Perfect!

Ingredients:

1 lb fresh, organic strawberries, hulled and quartered
Semisweet (at least 50% cacao) chocolate chips, 30 to 60 pieces

Wash, hull, and quarter the strawberries. Place chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in increments of 15-20 seconds, stop, and stir, until chips are melted. Dip strawberries into melted chocolate and enjoy! If you aren’t worried about calories, top with some whipped cream!