Josh’s Story: A Perfect Storm

I sat for a long time thinking of a good title. A title that would pop, lead you in, prepare you for a story that just may change your life. This is Josh’s story. It’s a story of his life: the struggles and triumphs that make him who he is. He quotes it best “Your past does not define you, it prepares you”. This is his victory over poor health and raw realizations throughout his weight loss journey. Josh has been a dear friend of mine for almost 30 years…seriously we’re getting old! I asked him to write his story because I think it will make an impact on you, my readers. Little did we know it may have made an impact on him as well…


The Beginning

Fat, plump, stout, overweight, chubby, heavyset, husky. To some, these words are just simple adjectives. To others, including me, these words are hurtful and demeaning. Looking back now, while all of those words may have been an accurate description of who I was on the outside, it was far from who I was on the inside.

I think it all began as a child when I was first introduced to “husky” jeans. It’s the earliest memory I have of being, uh, husky. I mean, can there be anything, at that age, more demeaning than having to wear special jeans? Jeans that were designed for kids who are overweight or, worse yet, the more innocent sounding, “big-boned.” Like anyone with some sort of dysfunction, being overweight meant needing special accommodations. Take, for example, the need for a seat belt extender on an airplane or the embarrassing big-and-tall section at department stores. Or, in my opinion, even worse than special accommodations is the humiliation of getting picked last for sports, being stared at, realizing you don’t fit in the rollercoaster seat and so many other hurtful realities associated with being overweight. All realities of my life growing up fat. Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling

For me, being overweight was a lifestyle. As I grew older, it became who I was. I had convinced myself that I would be fat my entire life. That I would always need some sort of special treatment to get by. And, truth be told, hearing or reading the word fat strikes as many emotional chords today as it did each and every time I heard it growing up. I even convinced myself that I was “functionally” fat. Which, to me, meant that I was still able to participate in sports just like skinny people did so I didn’t have to worry about my weight. Looking back, I was doing just that, participating, not competing. It was the “forever fat” mindset that allowed my weight to balloon to 315lbs. And 315 is when I stopped weighing myself! The scale became a horrifying experience. One that could easily be avoided. My BMI was nearly 40. I was pre-diabetic, at risk for a stroke, and had high cholesterol. I was 33 years old and, at that rate, seeing 50 years of age was tough to imagine. I mean, let’s face reality, how many morbidly obese senior citizens do you know? It just wasn’t going to happen. I feared the worst. I feared death.

Through grade school and college I was constantly reminded of how overweight I really had become. And while there were hurtful comments directed at me those comments weren’t the most troubling reminders. No, the most troubling reminders were embarrassing moments when everyone is watching. All fat people experience these moments. For most, and many a times for me, these moments brought on utter humiliation which resulted in binge eating to fight the depression. Allow me to share with you two such moments in my life. The first moment happened very early on in grade school. It’s a moment that every fat kid has nightmares about and happens in the last place a fat kid wants to be – gym class. What could be worse than gym class? You’re asked to do physical things you can’t do. You’re asked to change in front of other classmates. It’s just an all around bad situation. But the moments from gym class that I recall quite vividly are the times we all circled around the dreaded rope and were asked to climb it. How the hell was a fat kid supposed to climb a rope? Of course, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t climb the rope. I couldn’t climb the rope in front of the entire class. The fat kid was unable to climb the rope.

The second moment in my life came when I was a bit older. It’s another one of those times that every fat person dreads – not being able to fit into a seat. See, up to this point, I didn’t really have those problems. Ya know, fitting in a chair, getting into a car, or getting out of bed. But, my life of obesity changed when, after standing in line for hours, I was unable to get the lap bar on the rollercoaster to lock into place and was forced to take the walk of shame while everyone watched. What an utterly embarrassing situation.

The reality of my situation was harsh. Frankly, although I had convinced myself that I was “functionally fat,” I was nothing more than a fat person with fat person problems. I couldn’t fit into seats. I had a hard time getting out of bed, tieing my shoes, using the steps. And, doing anything related to exercise was nearly impossible. Push-ups, situps, pull-ups, climbing a rope, you name it, I wasn’t able to do it. These harsh realities became my realities and I struggled to see a way out.

The Magic Pill

Some reading this story may be thinking I was just plain lazy. That’s not entirely false. I mean, I was lazy. I spent a great deal of time figuring out how to do things with the least amount of energy possible. I approached many daily tasks that way. It was this inherent laziness that kept me on the search for the “magic pill.” Yes, the magic pill. The easy way out. The Holy Grail of weight loss. If you’ve ever seen a commercial marketing a weight loss program, supplement or surgery you know what I’m talking about. It’s the solution to the “fat” problem that requires the least amount of effort, or at least that’s how it’s marketed. Take a pill and the fat will melt away. Eat these perfectly packaged meals and watch the number on the scale drop. Use this machine for only 15 minutes a day and you’ll have rock hard abs by summer.

I fell into the magic pill trap quite a long time ago. The search for the perfect fad diet or supplement became almost like a job for me. I can still remember the first supplement – HydroxyCut. At the time, HydroxyCut was being sold with ephedra. The HydroxyCut commercials were very convincing. The before and after photos were jaw dropping. The marketing tugged on all of my heart strings. It wasn’t long after seeing those commercials that I was convinced I had found what I was looking for. The solution to my obesity problem! But, by day 2, I was jittery, my heart rate was high, I had a debilitating headache and was nauseous. Those were just the physical effects. The effects internally of long-term use were made public in 2004 following the banning of the substance by the FDA. Fortunately, for me, I stopped using the product after day 2. For the next five years, even after my horrible experience with HydroxyCut, I purchased a variety of other supplements designed to aid in weight loss. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of these; raspberry ketones, green coffee bean extract, green tea extract, and the list goes on. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the numerous colon cleansing products, meal replacements and the infamous juice fasting routines. I spent the better part of ten years looking for the magic pill. It was the last one I purchased that was the most extreme, the most damaging. I bought into the idea of placing 10 HCG drops into water and drinking it three times a day. That was the easy part. The hard part, you ask? The hard part was limiting yourself to 500 calories a day for eight weeks! I did it. As a matter of fact, I did it for 12 weeks. I lost nearly 40 pounds. Success! No, not success. Let’s face it, anyone can lose weight if you eat a mere 500 calories a day. The weight loss, however, took a backseat to the fatigue and loss of muscle I suffered. I wasted thousands of dollars and thousands of hours looking for a magic pill. And, looking back now, why did I think searching for the magic pill would be easier, or cheaper, than just exercising?

Believe me when I say this, there isn’t a magic pill. It doesn’t exist, in any form.

The Turning Point

The HCG took a huge toll on my body. My muscles had deteriorated and my energy levels were low. I lost 40lbs the wrong way. However, It was losing those 40 pounds that motivated me to join a gym and pursue a personal trainer. I wanted to learn how to train the right way. Through this new found motivation, I trained three times a week and even set a goal to compete in the upcoming Tough Mudder. But, while I always set goals, they didn’t really mean much to me. They didn’t mean much because I rarely put in enough effort to achieve those goals. Which meant constant failure. This time, however, failure wasn’t an option. Failure this time meant letting others down, not just myself. See, I had shared with most of my family and friends that I was signed up for the Tough Mudder. That I was training for it. I guess it was that new system of accountability that helped me push through. In August of 2013, I competed in the Tough Mudder. It was physically the hardest thing I had ever done. But, completing it gave me hope that I was capable of living a healthy lifestyle.

The Transformation

For years following the Tough Mudder, I let an unhealthy diet creep back into my life. And while I maintained my gym membership, attendance was infrequent and, at times, nonexistent. What’s the old adage? Old habits, die hard! Yeah, that’s it. While old habits came back, so did my weight. By December of 2015, I had gotten used to seeing 290lbs on the scale. I was once again grappling with high blood pressure, being pre-diabetic and having borderline high cholesterol.
When I agreed to write this story I never imagined how difficult it would be. After all, it’s my life and I was present for each moment. Well, so I thought. As it turns out, there were many memories that had completely escaped me until now. I really had to face my demons when I began to unravel the reasons why I gained weight after competing in the Tough Mudder. Sure, I was consuming a lot of unhealthy food. My wife and I would eat out frequently. Order in frequently. Pizza, wings, pasta, bread – you name it, we ate it. She ate in normal-sized portions and I ate in whatever sized portion I wanted to. And, while that kind of diet is what primarily is to blame for my weight gain, it’s what I ate when my wife wasn’t around that I’m the most ashamed of. I spent many a days driving through McDonald’s alone. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, there were many times I wouldn’t even tell my wife that I ate McDonald’s. Now, you might ask, what’s the big deal with that? The big deal is that my addiction to food had gotten so bad that I was eating a McDonald’s combo meal shortly before eating dinner with my wife. It’s a sad, depressing place to be in.

The years following the Tough Mudder were a rollercoaster of emotions. I was on and off “diet” plans. These were mostly food plans designed to make sure you were eating properly. And, while I may have been eating what was suggested, it wasn’t the only thing I was eating. I combined my yo-yo dieting with infrequent trips to the gym. After all, the gym really was the last thing I could hold on to. I wasn’t far from giving up on it too, honestly. However, one morning, while attempting to keep myself motivated at the gym, I decided to try something new – boxing. By the time I stopped, I noticed I had been punching the bag for more than 20 minutes. I was drenched in sweat and out of breath. It was the hardest I had worked in years. I was unable to figure out where the motivation had come from. But, each time that I returned to the gym, I would put on the gloves and punch the bag. I looked forward to it. And, while I was enjoying punching the bag, I can tell you I really had no idea what I was doing. It was definitely out of my comfort zone. If you’ve never punched a bag before, you should know that it attracts a lot of attention. I had finally found something I enjoyed doing but was horrified at the thought of others watching me.
I don’t really know what it was about the boxing that gave me such a rush. Maybe it was that it was the first time that I felt like I was sticking up for myself. That I was learning to defend myself. That rush is what kept me doing it time after time after time. I had come to enjoy boxing so much that instead of just simply punching the bag, I wanted to learn how to do it the right way. I sought out a personal trainer whose expertise was not only in boxing but also in training the entire body to become a fat burning, muscle building machine. Suddenly, losing weight, eating right, and exercising became fun. Weight was falling off and muscle was piling on. I was more motivated than ever before. All of the pieces of the puzzle were starting to fit. I had experienced each piece before but not all at once. This time was different.

Time was flying by and I had reached a number on the scale that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I was 215lbs and I was down to 22% body fat. I was in the best shape of my life. Before I even had a moment to stop and think about it, I had been at it for almost a year. I had learned more about dieting and exercising in that year than I had in the first 33 years of my life. Allow me to share with you what I believe were the reasons I was so successful this time around, in no particular order:

  1. Food should be used as a fuel source, not as something we run to when we are depressed.
  2. What I ate became more important than how much I ate. When you focus on a proper breakdown of macronutrients and use food for energy your workouts and daily life, the amount of food becomes irrelevant. Why? Because it is nearly impossible to get all of the proper nutrients that you need AND eat all of the bad foods that got us in trouble in the first place.
  3. It is absolutely impossible to out-exercise diet. My advice to you is this. You could put in hours upon hours at the gym each week but if you gorge on pizza, hamburgers and hot wings you’ll never get ahead. Never!
  4. A system of accountability comprised of those close to you is critical at a time like this. Let’s face it. You are trying to transform the way you look, feel, eat and exercise. You can’t do it alone. You need people to compliment on your improved appearance. You need them to understand you when you order a salad at dinner, or say no when asked if you want to go out for drinks. You want them to understand how important exercise has become to your daily routine and that sometimes it’s more important to be healthy than it is to be seen at a bar.
  5. Weight loss is far from linear. There will be many times throughout this journey that you will step on the scale and you’ll be disappointed that you didn’t lose weight. Ask yourself these questions when that happens. Did I give it my all during my workouts? Did I properly fuel my body without exceptions? If your answer is yes to both of these questions, don’t worry, the scale will go down. If you wavered at all thinking about your diet and exercise, fix it, and get back on track.
  6. Saying no to our favorite foods is really hard. When I first started my journey it was very hard to give up on my favorite foods. I had a strong relationship with food that spanned decades and those habits would be hard to break. Why work hard at losing weight and then sabotage your progress with bad choices? My advice? Make saying no a challenge. You are already challenging yourself to exercise more and workout harder, so why not challenge yourself to say no. Make it a game. Compete with yourself and others. Each time you see someone else go for that third slice of pizza, ask yourself if that’s who you are. Define yourself differently and watch how easy saying no becomes.
  7. A magic pill for weight loss doesn’t exist. Pills, powders, drops and cleanses aren’t magic pills. You can’t take these things and watch the fat melt away. The only solution to losing weight is proper diet and exercise. Stop looking for the easy way out! You are wasting time and money.
  8. Working out with intensity is supposed to be uncomfortable. Especially, if it’s not something your body is used to doing. Most of my life, I was either sedentary or had worked out with little result. It came as no surprise to me that the more uncomfortable the workout the better the results. Pretty soon, being uncomfortable subsided and I realized that I was redefining who I was and what I was capable of.

While it may seem to some that I started boxing and all of the sudden I lost weight and became healthy, that isn’t the case at all. What happened was a perfect storm. I had found the right trainer who was willing to take my failures and successes personal. My training was a combination of resistance, cardio and functional training. This mixture avoided the monotony I was used to when training alone. Having a trainer who was just as invested as I was meant knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to quit, like I had so many times before. I had reached all new limits of mind and body. I was lifting heavy weight. I was running. I was splitting time between the gym and the trainer. Once I realized that my body was capable and my mind was willing, good diet and productive workouts became who I was. I had a thirst for more. I wanted to be better than the last time I worked out. I wanted to be stronger than the last time I lifted weights. It was this burning desire that kept me motivated and coming back for more.

Writing this story has truly been a blessing to me. It has given me time to reflect not only on the last few years but on my entire life. Being healthy isn’t easy. I truly believe that each person has to have a defining moment that snaps them back into reality. That moment that helps you to realize three things: 1. You are truly killing yourself slowly with your unhealthy lifestyle, 2. That a combination of diet and exercise is the only proven method to regaining control of your life, and 3. That if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do things you’ve never done. For some, these realities come too late or not at all. I sincerely hope that my story motivates you to realize that your time is now. That it is time for you to take back control of your life. That it is time to redefine who you are!

Your Past Does Not Define You, It Prepares You!

If you would like to contact Josh, please leave a comment below.

Week 6: Weight Management For Life

I wish I could say that there was a quick and easy way to lose weight and keep it off for life. I wish I could say there is a magic pill/shake/video/program/diet plan/words of wisdom to make you lose weight or keep it off. I would be a liar if I didn’t tell you that it takes hard work. The weight didn’t come on overnight (although sometimes it feels that way) so it’s not going to go away overnight. It takes making smart food and drink choices every day. It takes being active and moving your body. It takes valuing yourself more than you do.

I’m paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 but it goes something like this: Don’t forget that your body is the place where the Holy Spirit lives. It’s not your body. You’re loaning it from God while you’re here on this earth. You have been bought with a great price…Jesus’ death and resurection…treat your body as if you are glorifying God, not punishing yourself.

It’s up to you. The reason you want/need to lose weight is what is important to you. Your goal is not to lose weight. Weight loss is a means to the goal, a stepping stone. Figure out what you want and go for it. Life is so precious and so sweet. Treat it as such. You are worth it.

We didn’t discuss some of these things but I think these may help. I’m being brutally honest but it’s coming from a place of love, not judgement.

  1. The amount of sugar in drinks is ridiculous…soda, tea, coffee with flavored creamer, energy drinks, juice like drinks, juice, etc.
  2. You don’t need dessert, or appetizers, or slushies, or chocolate, or candy, or whatever your “thing” is…you don’t need it
  3. You’re not a picky eater, you’re just not giving vegetables (or other foods) a chance
  4. Don’t let yourself get too hungry, hunger is a healthy feeling but don’t let it go too long
  5. One meal a day isn’t gonna cut it…at all
  6. Crash dieting is ridiculous…stop hurting your body
  7. You don’t need shakes…seriously save your money and buy real food
  8. You don’t need diet pills…your liver hates them
  9. Diet plans DON’T WORK…put the money that you’d spend on a diet plan into seeing a dietitian (and please for heavens sake do not say “dietitians are too expensive”…you’d spend hundreds of dollars on diet plans or shakes but not to see the experts? Think about it)
  10. Remember: Mindset > What You Eat > Exercise…all the time, every day, no question

You can do this. You can make better food choices. You can move your body more. You can.

Week 6 Tips: Keep it off for life…from some people who have (or well on their way)

I asked a few friends of mine, who are successfully on the journey to weight management for life, to give a list of tips that are helping them on their path:

  • There isn’t a magic pill so you can stop waisting your money
  • Find physical activity that you love to do
  • Surround yourself with supportive people
  • Be aware of your food and portion sizes
  • Don’t deprive yourself of food you enjoy…learn moderation
  • Take advice from the experts (dietitians)
  • Set small, attainable, short term goals to get to your big picture goal
  • It’s not a diet but a choice to change your view of food and how you eat
  • Plan ahead…meal plan, carry snacks, avoid grocery shopping on an empty stomach
  • Weight loss isn’t linear and sometimes there will be ups and downs but the key is to look at the big picture and to see a trend downwards
  • Diet is more important than exercise…you can’t out exercise poor diet choices
  • Saying “no” hard is difficult but sometimes necessary
  • Think of food as fuel for your body, it’s not a friend and it’s not the cure for a bad day
  • Balancing your diet is going to make you feel more satisfied

A special “thank you” to Kelly, Rich, Lisa, and Josh for these tips. You are helping in more ways than you can imagine!

A Few Dietitian Tips:

  1. Slow and steady weight loss is the best. 1-2 pounds per week is fat. Anything more than that is muscle and/or water weight.
  2. Dietitians are the experts in food and nutrition. Advice from other people (even doctors…sorry doc friends but I know most of you are with me on this) may be nice but check with a dietitian especially if it sounds too good to be true.
  3. Diet plans don’t work, if they did dietitians wouldn’t have jobs and people wouldn’t be diet-plan hopping.
  4. You eat more than you think. People don’t gain weight from eating within your calorie limit. I promise. Take a honest look at your diet, food journal in an app that adds it up for you, beverages count too.
  5. Overweight (per the BMI scale) does not necessarily mean unhealthy. I know MANY “overweight” individuals who eat very well, are active, in shape, and have healthy body fat percentages (that’s the key), and healthy waist to hip ratio (also key). Weight doesn’t always equal health. Get your body fat percentage and/or waist to hip ratio checked if you’re curious.

Week 6 Meal Plan

Surprise! There’s actually no “real” meal plan per say  here. You know the drill, you know the deal. I want you to create your own! Sit down with a pen/paper or your computer and come up with your own meal plan for the week (or for next week).

Here are some things to keep in mind:

BREAKFAST:

  • Are you in a hurry or can you take your time?
    • In a hurry:
      • Grab and go things like string cheese and whole grains crackers, apple and string cheese, Kind bar, nuts and dried fruit
    • Take your time:
      • Breakfasts that take more time and can be enjoyed at a slower pace like oatmeal with nuts/fruit, eggs and whole grain toast
  • You always want these to be included:
    • Protein: cheese, peanut butter, nuts, cottage cheese, eggs, hard boiled eggs
    • Carbohydrate with fiber: fruit, whole grain bread, oatmeal, whole grain crackers

LUNCH:

  • Are you in a hurry or can you take your time?
    • In a hurry:
      • Pack a lunch that you can eat in your car, in a meeting, or eat without having to heat up: sandwich, salad, tuna salad/crackers/veggies
    • Take your time:
      • If you have more time to spare think of leftovers or soup
  • You always want these to be included in a balanced lunch:
    • Protein: chicken, fish, turkey, peanut butter, beans, cheese, eggs
    • Carbohydrate with fiber: whole grain bread, brown rice, corn, peas, beans, whole grain crackers, fruit
    • Non-starchy vegetable: lettuce, carrot sticks, celery, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower

DINNER:

  • Are you in a hurry or can you take your time?
    • In a hurry: there’s no shame in eating a sandwich or something quick for dinner!
    • Take your time: if you have more time to make a meal and sit down to eat it that is perfect!
  • You always want these to be included in your dinner:
    • Protein: chicken, fish, turkey, pork chop/loin, lean beef, beans, tofu, eggs
    • Carbohydrate with fiber: quinoa, brown rice, potato, sweet potato, corn, beans, peas
    • Non-starchy vegetable: salad, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower

SNACKS:

  • Should give your body nourishment, not just “fill you up”
  • Think whole foods instead of highly processed foods
  • Think lunch box instead of vending machine
  • Nuts, fruit, veggies, hummus, yogurt, cottage cheese

You CAN do this. You CAN and you WILL and you are ABLE.

Week 5 Meal Plan: Eating Out Less

This meal plan features all meals and snacks eaten (or made) from home. Try it one week and see how it goes! If you’re a person who eats out often, try to eat out 1-2 times less per week.

Personally I like eating out but we need to remember to do it less frequently.

For this weeks meal plan I tried to make sure it was easy, didn’t need any special recipes, and was quick along with healthy.

 BreakfastSnackLunchSnackDinnerSnack
SundayKind bar and bananaGreek yogurtTurkey sandwich on whole grain with carrot sticksString cheeseCrock pot pork chops, baked potato and steamed broccoliGrapefruit
MondayGreek yogurt with whole grain cerealAlmondsTurkey sandwich on whole grain with carrotsBananaTurkey tacos (with whole grain tortillas and veggies)Apple
TuesdayOatmeal with walnuts and fruitAppleSalad with leftover pork on top and whole grain crackersString cheeseGrilled chicken, brown rice, and green beansGreek yogurt
WednesdayKind bar and bananaGreek yogurtWhole grain crackers with tuna salad and carrot sticksRaisinsLEFTOVERSPopcorn
ThursdayGreek yogurt with whole grain cerealAlmondsSalad with tuna and whole grain crackersApplePork BBQ (pork loin with your favorite BBQ sauce) served on whole grain roll and vinaigrette coleslawGrapefruit
FridayOatmeal with walnuts and fruitGreek yogurtLeftover pork BBQRaisinsMYO Pizza night (instead of getting pizza out)Popcorn
SaturdayEggs, whole grain toast, and fruitAlmondsPBJ with carrot sticksAppleWhole grain pasta, your favorite pasta sauce, and a salad (instead of going out for Italian)Greek yogurt

Enjoy!

Week 5 Challenge: Eat at Home

I love eating out. As a mom, I appreciate when a meal is prepared, delivered, and cleaned up for me…all I have to do is make a decision on where I want to go and what I want to eat. I like two types of restaurants…the old trusted places that serve my favorites and the new age modern farm to table type restaurants. I like different, ordering things I’ve never tried before, or what the wait staff thinks is awesome (they usually are pretty good judges). But eating out can get you in trouble with your weight management goals.

A lot of calories are hidden in the large dishes restaurants prepare. If you don’t remember anything else from this post remember that fat, sugar, and salt adds a lot of flavor so restaurants put a lot in their food. Why is that important? Making a similar dish at home can cut calories, fat, sugar, and salt, and quite possibly portion sizes, obviously helping with your weight management goals.

What does this mean? It means eating more homemade meals. It means cooking at home and preparing meals. For some of you this is scary. You’re busy, you have a full time job, you are a mom, father, you’re single and it’s hard to cook for one, you have a hectic schedule…I know, I get it. Not so long ago I was a wife, mom, and worked full time at a job I absolutely adored. Now I’m a full time stay at home wife/mom to an amazing husband and 3 beautiful children. Life is busy…and I have no doubt life will continue to be busy…for many years.

Even though life can be hectic I get so much joy out of making a delicious and healthy meal for my family. Since we have 3 little ones we don’t eat out much. We do get take out every week as a treat (mom doesn’t cook on Friday) but we save a lot of money and calories by eating homemade the other days.

Healthy cooking doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or time consuming. Cooking well does take some meal planning, grocery shopping, recipes (or ideas), and some kitchen equipment but it’s not as hard as you think!

So what are the real benefits of eating homemade food rather than eating out all the time?

  1. Saves you money. Sure the health benefits are there but if we are talking real life, it’s so much cheaper to make your own food than going out to eat.
  2. Less fat. Restaurants add butter, margarine, trans-fats, saturated fat, fat fat fat. Fat adds flavor…a lot of delicious flavor. At home you should definitely add fat to your food but use oils like canola, olive, grape seed, etc.
  3. Less salt. We eat too much salt. A lot of salt. Restaurants add salt because it tastes good. Even in while cooking pasta restaurants salt their water heavily.
  4. Less calories. From large portions to more fat and more sugar, eating out can pack on the calories! Cooking at home you can control the calories by cooking well and watching your portion sizes.
  5. It’s a good way to bring families together. From meal planning, to grocery shopping, and finally meal preparation cooking at home can include every member of the family. Kids can be an important part of eating well and kids tend to eat healthier if they are involved in meal preparation. Check out Eat Together PA for great tips!

Think about how much you eat out. Keep in mind breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that you buy “out”. You don’t have to totally cut it out just cut back. Make it a goal this week to eat in (or pack from home) more than you eat out.

Week 5 Tips: Healthy Cooking

I thoroughly enjoy cooking. From looking for a recipe or making one up, to the grocery shopping, to the prep work, and then serving it the whole process is like my therapy. Eating well and living well starts in the kitchen. Here are my tips for cooking healthier at home.

  1. Saute in oil instead of butter. Look, don’t get me wrong butter tastes great but it’s also loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. Oils like canola, olive, and one of my personal favorites grape seed are low in saturated fat and have no cholesterol. Fun fact: teaspoon for teaspoon oil and butter have the same calories and fat grams.
  2. Use tons of veggies. Just when you think you can’t add any more, try it 😉 But seriously half of your meal should be veggies so go for it! Instead of loading them up with butter, flavor instead with veggie/chicken broth, onions/garlic, lemon/limes, herbs, spices, hot sauce, and my personal favorite vinegar/vinaigrettes.
  3. Lean on whole grains instead of prepackaged processed grains. Sure Hamburger Helper is quick and easy but it’s also loaded with salt, fat, has no fiber, and little nutrition. To ease into the whole grain world you can definitely try the boxed grains with added flavor. They are higher in sodium than just plain grains but it’s a great start. Ideas include whole wheat pasta, barley, quinoa, farro, brown rice, black, rice, and wild rice.
  4. Choose lean meats. Beef, pork, and lamb are considered red meat. Loin (sirloin, pork loin), lean ground beef, pork chops, eye of round, top and bottom round roast are the leanest. Chicken and turkey breast (white meat) is leaner than the dark meat. Dark meat is leaner than red meat. Although salmon is considered an oily fish and is higher in fat, the fat is WONDERFUL for your health. White fish like haddock and cod are super lean.
  5. Don’t be afraid to play with flavor! Adding herbs and spices to your cooking makes the flavor of your dishes pop without adding too much salt. Admittedly I use some salt in my cooking but not a lot because of herbs and spices. I obviously have my favorites but will branch out depending on the type of food and recipe. Experiment with them and don’t be afraid of flavor!
  6. Gather kitchen equipment. Truth be told I don’t have many expensive items in my kitchen. I like to cook but I’m also pretty simple and use my favorites. These are the cooking tools I use every week: some pots and pans (I prefer stainless steel but you don’t need a huge set, just the necessities), sharp knives (I’m very picky about my knives and I don’t buy sets I just buy the ones I need), cutting boards (wood), silicon lid (to steam veggies in glass), slow cooker (I have a programmable one which helps people who work longer hours), pressure cooker (nothing fancy just works well).
  7. Keep the necessities. Herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, garlic, onions, frozen veggies (and fruits), grains, and beans can be on hand because they stay for a long time and you can use them in healthy cooking every week.

Eating out isn’t terrible. I actually think it is good to go out and try new things but make sure you’re eating in more often than out. Cooking healthy doesn’t mean you’ll be eating “cardboard” or spending a ton of money. I’ll be doing later blogs on saving money while eating well so stay tuned. Cooking well can be delicious, quick, and fun. Experiment. Being a good cook doesn’t happen over night. Ask any chef 🙂 Work at it, eat out less, and I assure you this will help with your long term goals.

Week 4 Plant Based Meal Plan

Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zones. If you’re the meat and potato kind of person I want to challenge you to try some of these recipes. Check out the *. You can find them in the recipe section or linked below.

 BreakfastSnackLunchSnackDinnerSnack
SundayVeggie omelet with mushrooms, onion, tomato, spinach, and peppers - served with whole grain breadOrangeMYO burrito bowl (black beans, brown rice, and corn - no meat)AlmondsMinestrone soup* Greek yogurt
MondayOvernight oats*Apple and cheeseEgg salad sandwich on whole grain bread with red and green pepper stripsGrapefruitVegetarian lasagna*Veggies with Greek yogurt dip
TuesdayFruit and Greek yogurt parfait with granolaOrangeLeftover lasagnaHummus and veggiesVeggie burgers on whole grainGrapefruit
WednesdayKind bar and bananaGreek yogurtHummus with whole grain crackers and veggiesString cheeseLEFTOVER NIGHTPopcorn
ThursdayOvernight oatsApple with cheeseEgg salad on whole grain bread with veggiesAlmonds and cranberriesTofu stir fry (extra firm tofu, stir fry veggies in your favorite Asian inspired sauce [watch sodium & sugar])Veggies with Greek yogurt dip
FridayKind bar and bananaOrangeGrilled chicken on salad with black beansPopcornMYO pizza nightPopcorn
SaturdayVeggie omelet with cubed sweet potatoesAppleOUT TO LUNCHAlmondsLeftover soups with 1/2 sandwichGrapefruit

Minestrone Soup

Overnight Oats

Lasagna

 

Week 4 Tips: Getting in more plants

25 ways to get more plants in your diet

  1. Fruit in oatmeal
  2. Fruit on top of whole grain cereal
  3. Fruit as a side for any breakfast
  4. Nuts or nut butters on fruit
  5. Nut butter on whole grain bread
  6. Veggies for breakfast: like in an omelet
  7. Fruit for snacks
  8. Veggies for snacks
  9. Nuts for snacks
  10. Salad for lunch
  11. Beans in a salad
  12. Fruit in a salad
  13. Fruit as a side at lunch
  14. Nuts in a salad
  15. Fruit in yogurt
  16. Fruit dipped in yogurt
  17. Veggies dipped in plain yogurt (Greek yogurt ranch dip)
  18. Raisins, nuts, and dry whole grain cereal trail mix
  19. Steamed veggies with dinner
  20. Fresh veggies with dinner
  21. Grilled fruit
  22. Whole grains with dinner
  23. Popcorn for a snack
  24. Tofu instead of meat for dinner
  25. Salsa and whole grain tortilla chips for a snack

What are some ways you eat plants every day?

Week 4 Challenge: Eat more plants

Eating more plants really isn’t about going vegetarian or vegan. Eating more plants is about much more than weight management too. Sure, non-starchy veggies are super low in calories and fruits, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), grains, and nuts have so much fiber to keep you full they all help with weight management but it doesn’t stop there.

Here’s what research tells us about eating more plants:

  1. Reduce your risk of heart disease
  2. Reduce your risk of ALL TYPES of cancer
  3. Reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  4. Reduce your cholesterol
  5. Reduce your blood pressure
  6. Reduce your weight
  7. Reduce your blood sugars
  8. Improve your gut bacteria
  9. Help you to move your bowels

For the record, I’m talking about whole plant foods not processed plant-like substances.

Here’s a list of plant based foods that you could start incorporating into your diet:

  • Fruits
    • Fresh: go seasonal – right now that would be your tropical fruits: oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, clementines, mandarins, pineapple, mango, papaya, bananas
    • Frozen: shoot for ones without added sugar – these are great for smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt parfaits
    • Dried: raisins are the best because they do not have any added sugars; cranberries do have added sugar (you wouldn’t eat them otherwise); watch out for the word “chips” which could mean they are deep fried
    • Canned: unsweetened applesauce and other canned fruits in light syrup (which means they are canned in the fruit juice without added sugar) are a good source of vitamins but not a lot of fiber. The words “no sugar added” usually means there is artificial sweeteners used.
  • Non-starchy vegetables
    • Fresh: go seasonal – right now where I’m at, this is tough because the only thing “in season” is what was harvested in the late fall and can stay fresh in a cool dry place. Other times during the year go for whats growing in your garden or at the local farmers market.
    • Frozen: this is best in the winter as these veggies were picked in season and then frozen keeping their nutrients in tact! Plus they tend to be less expensive in the winter than fresh.
    • Canned: although these have less fiber than fresh or frozen they are a less expensive alternative and still provides your body with nutrients. Get the ones without the added salt and season yourself.
  • Starchy vegetables
    • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, parsnips, pumpkin, and winter squashes are all considered starchy. These guys make a great source of carbohydrates for energy and are SO full of nutrients!
  • Beans
    • Black, pinto, lima, soy (edamame), kidney, cannellini, etc. These gems are packed with protein, fiber, and tons of nutrients! I love black beans on my salad for some carbohydrates (energy) too.
  • Peas
    • Snow peas, green peas, black eyed peas, chick peas (garbanzo beans – they are actually peas not beans). Similarly to beans, peas are packed with protein, fiber, and nutrients!
  • Lentils
    • The forgotten legume, lentils are easy to cook, go well in almost any soup, stew, or salad and pack a protein, fiber, nutrient punch to any dish they are in!
  • Nuts
    • In order of awesomeness: walnuts, pecans, the rest. All nuts are great but walnuts and pecans have more omega-3 fatty acids (the ones that are really good for your heart). I like to mix them up so that I can gain the benefits of as many as possible. I’m the one who buys the mixed nuts container at the grocery store.
  • Seeds
    • We tend to think of seeds as sunflower and pumpkin but there’s a whole array of seeds that are super beneficial as well. Chia, flax, hemp, and sesame seeds are great additions to your diet. All but the sesame seeds need refrigerated. FLAX SEEDS MUST BE GROUND IN ORDER TO GET THE BENEFIT. I add chia and flax to oatmeal and smoothies almost daily. Chia can be put into tea and drank as well.
  • Whole grains
    • Whole grains aren’t “bad for you”. Ugh when I hear that I want to cry tears of grains. Wheat isn’t bad for you either unless you have Celiac disease. Now that we have that out of the way whole grains are a wonderful addition to get in daily. Bleached, no fiber, processed grains are less than nutritionally dense but that doesn’t mean they are “bad” (again changing mindsets about food). Just don’t eat them often. I’m really talking about the true WHOLE grain.
    • My top 10 favorite whole grains to use/cook with are: oats, barley, wheat berries, brown rice, farro, quinoa, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, black rice, and corn. If there are some in this list that are unfamiliar to you, check out your local grocery store to see if you can find them and give them a try! Keep checking the blog for more recipes that I’ll be featuring wheat berries, farro, and black rice. Curious about quinoa? Check out this recipe.

Plants are awesome. Plants are an important part of a healthy diet. Plants are a critical piece to the weight management journey. Eat more plants!