I made it! One year is in the books here at Epic Organic. While it has been quiet on the blog front to round out 2010, I actually snuck a few last minute kitchen hoorahs into the year. I’ll write them up one of these days, I swear! Let’s see how I did, shall we?
I started this blog on January 10, 2010, about a month after I’d decided to “go organic.” (You can read the inaugural post or about me and my journey for more on that). My primary motivations were to share what I was learning about food and cooking, and to document one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2010 – to try 10 new foods. (For the record, I counted 43 new foods that I tried in 2010, as well as I can remember).
While this blog isn’t about weight loss, losing weight and improving my fitness level are part of the equation for me. I’m happy to report that after a year of mostly “clean” eating and regular exercise, I lost 80 pounds in 2010. I plan to lose 20 more in 2011, for a goal of -100#. [Update: April 1, 2011 – I’ve lost 100#, and that’s no April Fool!]
I get asked a lot, “How’d you do it?” or, “What’s your secret?” or, “What plan are you on?” Well, I don’t really have any secret tricks, and I made up my own plan. For me, the way I eat isn’t a “diet plan.” It isn’t going to change when I’m “done” or after I hit my weight goal. I plan to eat this way for the rest of my life. The only difference will be that I can eat a few more calories every now and then once I hit “maintenance mode” – once I no longer need to create a weekly calorie deficit to lose weight.
Since I enjoyed the “pay it forward” theme of the most recent Biggest Loser season, my “pay it forward” for 2010 is to share with you the answer to question #1 – this is How I Do It. Note, of course, that I’m not a doctor or a medical professional of any kind, so take the following as a chronicle of my own experiences with eating and weight loss. Check with your doctor regarding your own specific needs.
Starting out, I spent a couple months pretty strictly measuring food, counting calories, and documenting what I ate every day. (I’ve used 2 tools over the years, and both have stood the test of time for me – the DietPower software application, and the FitDay.com web site). It may seem tedious to count and record everything, but there are some important lessons to learn from the task.
- Portion control. I used to pour myself a bowl of cereal and then jot down the 190 calories from the nutrition label into my log. That’s a good start – except that if you get out a food scale and actually measure how much cereal there is in what’s called “1 serving” on the label, you’ll find that you’re probably eating 2-3 servings in that one bowl of cereal. That’s several hundred extra calories! You have to learn what serving sizes are in order to accurately gauge your calorie intake.
- Eating/snacking patterns. By logging meals, you can more easily find patterns. Do you tend to be starving by 3pm every day? Do you skimp on calories all day then gorge yourself at dinner? Do certain events in life or work trigger snack attacks? There are all sorts of patterns you can glean from your logs, and armed with that knowledge, you can make adjustments to set yourself up for success.
- Calories in versus calories out. With an accurate count of how many calories you eat each day or week, you can then calculate how many calories you need to burn through additional exercise in order to lose the amount of weight you want to lose each week. (If you’ve noticed, on the Biggest Loser, they reach their phenomenal weekly weight loss numbers not by starvation, but by extra exercise).
Get yourself a cheap food scale (I got mine for $15 at Walmart) and a notebook (or a calorie tracking app or web site for your mobile phone or computer). Start watching portions and logging what you eat each day, as well as any notes you think might help you find your own personal eating patterns and preferences.
Once I got the hang of food portions, I transitioned out of recording everything. I do keep a calorie tally in my head every day, but it’s approximate. Some people log faithfully every day. Do whatever works for you.
The most important component of my success in transforming to a healthier lifestyle is in my conversion to “clean” eating. There are several different levels at which you can adopt a “clean eating” approach, all of which are good. It really just depends on your personal preferences and how accessible clean food is to you. I’m lucky to have grocers like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market nearby, but you don’t have to shop anyplace specific to eat clean.
If you google around for “clean eating,” you’ll find a variety of definitions. Here’s the gist of what it means to me:
- Eat whole foods. This means, eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible – fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains* (such as oats, whole wheat, barley, and quinoa).
- * The “whole grains” bit can be tricky. Just because a product says it is made from whole grains doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Check the nutrition label and ingredients – a whole grain needs to in the first few ingredients, and if you see the words bleached, enriched, cracked, refined, or milled – put it back on the shelf. It’s junk food. Another tip – real whole grain products tend to be higher in fiber. So grab two items and compare the fiber content. If the “made with whole grains” item has the same amount of fiber as a product not making that claim, it’s probably junk food.
- Whole foods aren’t necessarily organic, and organic foods aren’t necessarily whole foods. Personally, I choose organic whole foods whenever possible (mostly in the form of organic fresh fruits and vegetables), but you don’t have to “go organic” in order to glean the benefits of a whole foods based diet. There are other benefits to choosing organic over conventional items (such as, the avoidance of pesticides and added hormones in foods, and environmental benefits), but whether you take the additional step and choose organic whole foods is a tangential decision.
- Whole foods don’t have to be raw. There is an entire raw food movement out there, but I am not well versed in the specifics. (Here’s WebMD’s take on the raw food diet). I have a handful of raw food recipes in my arsenal, and eat lots of raw fruits and greens every day, but I am not a raw foodist. I cook a lot of my food, most often in the form of roasting and stir frying.
- Read the ingredient lists on food labels. My rule of thumb: if the ingredient list has an item on it that you don’t stock in your pantry, it’s junk food. Don’t eat it. Now, eating out or at gatherings, you won’t have such access to food labels, but at home, I just say no to the chemicals. If I can’t pronounce an ingredient, it doesn’t come into my house. And if I see the phrase “high fructose corn syrup,” I drop it like it’s hot. The whole HFCS debate is too big to cover here, but my personal aversion to it is that nearly all of the high fructose corn syrup used in most food products today in the US is made from genetically modified corn. Since eliminating genetically modified food ingredients (GMO’s) from my diet, I’ve experienced a complete reversal of the hayfever and nasal allergy symptoms that plagued me for the past 17 years. That’s enough reason for me to avoid HFCS. Your mileage may vary, but my experience is not unique.
- Eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, with the emphasis on veggies. My typical day includes 2-3 servings of fruit with breakfast, 2-3 veggies with lunch, and 2-3 veggies with dinner.
- When constructing a meal plate for lunch or dinner, I fill up half of the plate with veggies, 1/4 of the plate with a whole grain (like brown rice or quinoa), and 1/4 of the plate with a protein (for the meat eaters out there, a lean meat like chicken, or for the vegetarians, something like tofu or tempeh or beans).
- Eat a giant bowl of greens every day – and iceberg lettuce does not count! There are huge vitamins in greens! I’m a simple girl when it comes to my salads, so I take my giant salad bowl and fill it half way with a spring green mix or mixed greens with baby spinach, or just baby spinach. Then I add a “something” – a handful of sundried tomatoes, or some dried cranberries or nuts, or some roasted red peppers – then top off the bowl with more greens, drop in some grated carrots and cucumber slices, maybe some broccoli or cauliflower (depending how frisky I’m feeling), and add dressing. Yes, dressing is my one downfall – I love my dressings. Be careful – dressings tend to have a TON of calories, so be conservative and try to select low calorie, natural dressings. I’ve just started experimenting with making my own dressings – that will be one of my ongoing projects in 2011!
You don’t have to do a lot of cooking to pull off clean eating, but you do have to cook a little bit. I had zero cooking skills at this time last year, so it can be done! Most weeks, I cook once per week, and make 4 servings or so of whatever it is. I put 2 in the fridge and 2 in the freezer. After a few weeks, you’ll have a variety of stuff you can pop into the oven or microwave to reheat and eat. And when you have the time, you can make meals. (I don’t have a lot of time!) For the most part, though, the days of throwing pre-made commercial TV dinners from the freezer to the microwave are over. I keep a couple natural frozen meals on hand for emergencies, but they don’t even taste good anymore now that I’ve grown accustomed to eating real food. (My favorites, though, are Kashi and Amy’s brand).
If you like to follow recipes, check out the Clean Food cookbook by Terry Walters. It has been invaluable to me as I’ve learned how to prepare and combine whole foods into delicious meals.
A Typical Day
A typical day for me looks like this:
Breakfast is one of three things:
- Organic cereal (I like Kashi) with vanilla soy or almond milk, 1 banana, and a handful of raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries. Sometimes I’ll add a soy yogurt if it’s going to be a while before lunch.
- Oatmeal – not the instant junk. Old fashioned rolled oats, with whipped banana, cinnamon, a teaspoon of brown sugar or agave, and a couple tablespoons of ground flax seeds. Topped with a few sliced strawberries and a blob of nut butter (I love Justin’s nut butters – chocolate almond butter and maple almond butter are my faves). It only takes 10 minutes to make oatmeal from scratch, and you can whip up a double or triple or quadruple batch to last you through the week. Here’s the video that taught me how to make oatmeal: Kath’s Classic Oatmeal
- If I’m totally strapped for time, breakfast is a smoothie. 1 scoop protein powder (I’m currently hooked on Vega’s Whole Food Health Optimizer), 8 oz vanilla soy or almond milk, a handful of baby spinach, and some fruit – usually 2 of these fruits: a handful of strawberries, a handful of blueberries, or half a banana. Frozen fruits work best here, so I always have a stash of organic frozen fruit in the fridge. And if your fresh bananas are going bad before you can finish them, peel them and freeze in ziplock bags to throw into smoothies!
Lunch: Let’s assume it’s a work day, so I bring my lunch with me. My lunchbox typically contains a “meal,” a veggie, and a snack.
- The meal – it’s a container of whatever I cooked up that week: quinoa stir fry, veggie lasagna, chili, pizza, spaghetti, whatever (made from whole-food ingredients wherever possible, of course!). There’s always at least 1 serving of veggies within whatever it is – preferably 2 or more. In emergencies, this will be a Kashi or Amy’s frozen meal instead. If I won’t have access to a microwave, it’ll be a veggie sandwich or wrap, or occasionally a PB&J (hey, I’m human. We all have our vices).
- The veggie – most of the time, this is a big bowl of green salad (as described earlier). Sometimes, it’s carrots and hummus or something of that nature.
- The snack – usually an apple or a pear or a cutie, but if I know it’ll be a long time before dinner, I’ll throw in a snack bar like a Larabar or a homemade snack bar (Brendan Brazier’s book, Thrive, has some awesome whole-food snack bar recipes).
Dinner: This is where I usually pull out my 1/2 veggies, 1/4 whole grain, 1/4 protein plate trick. If I didn’t have a bowl of greens (aka: salad) for lunch, I’ll have it with dinner. And some whole grains are high in protein, too (I’m looking at you, quinoa!). So when I have quinoa, I’ll usually just have my quinoa dish and a roasted or steamed veggie. Dinner is where my cooking comes in. The meals I cook are usually dinners.
You’ll find a lot of advice out there saying you should eat X number of times per day, or don’t eat after X time at night, yada yada yada. I don’t have any hard and fast rules in this regard. I practice what is called “intuitive eating.” I eat when I am hungry. I stop when I am satisfied (notice, I didn’t say “full” – that bit about it taking 15 minutes for your brain to find out that you’re full is actually true! Stop before you feel “full” and 15 minutes later, you’ll be full!) Generally, I eat 3 times per day and sometimes 1 snack between lunch and dinner. If my stomach is growling an hour before bed, I don’t suffer. I have some peanut butter on toast, or a handful of nuts. I don’t starve, ever.
That’s a big change from how I did things in the past. I used to go to bed hungry, thinking that if I ate, I’d gain weight, because food is evil. No. Food is fuel, and if your stomach is growling, your body needs more fuel. If you know you’re going to bed in an hour, don’t fuel up for a marathon! Fuel up for an hour Just do not, in any circumstances, starve yourself. It’s terribly easy to kick in the starvation mechanism in our bodies, and while it’s one of those antiquated systems that in our fortunate circumstances we really don’t need anymore, it’s there. Don’t mess with it. It wreaks havoc on weight loss.
My daily calories are typically front-loaded – meaning, my highest calorie meal is breakfast. Ideally, the second highest calorie meal is lunch and the lowest calorie meal is dinner. This works best for me, but it’s not a strict rule. It’s just one of those patterns I noticed when I logged my calories and meals every day.
The other thing you’ll see a lot is a recommendation of how much water to drink. If you eat your fruits and veggies daily, you’re getting a good bit of water right there. My strategy is to keep a bottle of water with me at all times, and drink when I’m thirsty. I average about 60 oz. of water a day (3-4 bottles – I use a reusable water bottle that I refill, either from my Pur water faucet filter at home or from the water fountains at work). Some days more, some days less. I drink when I feel like drinking, and that’s all there is to it.
Eating for Weight Loss
If part of your goal in eating clean is to lose weight, there are a few more techniques you can employ as a means to that end.
- Think: nutrient density. This concept has really made the difference for me when it comes to deciding what to eat. While I of course have occasional treats (any family members that have seen me eating on holidays must think, “My god – how does this girl lose weight? She’s eating everything in sight!”), my everyday food decisions are based on nutrient density. How many vitamins are in that [food I’m about to eat]? The more vitamins per bite, the more I want to eat it. I look at the bowl of ice cream. Not a whole lot of nutrients there – but a bowl of fruit? Bring it on! Same sweet tooth fix, much better nutrition. I look at foods with very few nutrition perks, and I just don’t want to eat them. They’re wasted calories. I want to make my calories count. I want the calories I eat to nourish and fuel my body.
- Food is not the enemy. It can be hard to get over the sense that eating is bad when you’re trying to lose weight. We need to eat! Eating is necessary! Food is good! It’s what you eat that makes the difference. Highly processed foods have been stripped of most of their nutritional value. They’re full of calories that don’t nourish your body. Your body then demands that you eat more, but if you keep feeding it nutritionally devoid foods, it will keep demanding more! It’s a vicious cycle. The good news is, when you’re looking at whole foods, they tend to be lower in calories than processed foods. So, you can eat a lot more for fewer calories! And, they nourish your body with the vitamins and healthy stuff that it needs. I’m telling you – I eat like a king these days. I eat lots and lots of food! Deprivation is unheard of. (Real) Food is fuel! Your body needs high-quality fuel in order to run efficiently. Whole, nutrient-dense foods make the best fuels.
- Don’t drink your calories. This will be a personal decision for most people, and there’s no right or wrong approach here. For me, I love food so much that I’d rather sacrifice caloric beverages to reach my daily calorie deficit than give up eating a single bite of food. You have to expend more calories than you consume to lose weight. I’d rather get my calories from food! So I avoid drinking beverages with calories. I drink mostly water, but I love water. If you’re not a water person, seek out natural calorie-free beverages. I try to avoid chemicals if at all possible.
- To that end, I generally avoid diet sodas. When I realized they’re basically just chemical water, I felt no incentive to drink them. If I add up all of the diet sodas I drank in 2010, the total came to 8 or so all year. I don’t want the chemical sweeteners in my body, and anything naturally sweetened typically has calories. I’m in a weight loss phase, so I’m trying not to drink my calories – therefore, no soda for me. Honestly, I don’t miss it, and when I do, I have one. It’s a treat, not a staple. I also avoid caffeine as a rule of thumb, so for me, there’s not much incentive aside from the bubbles to drink sodas. That said, if Diet Coke is what gets you through the day, by all means – have at it! The real root of this rule, for me, is not to drink my calories.
Move Your Body
This is the part where most people groan. Listen – if you know me at all, you know that exercise was just about my most hated activity on the planet. My trademark phrase used to be, “Running is a means of escape!” (and that’s all!) I didn’t like getting sweaty. But when I really looked at why I didn’t like exercising, it was because I didn’t like huffing and puffing. I didn’t like feeling clumsy and out of shape. Exercise made me feel like crap. It made me sore. It made my lungs hurt. Blech.
Well, I hate to say it, but the only way out is through. You have to build your body up to a level of fitness where your lungs and circulatory system are functioning efficiently enough that you no longer huff and puff, and you no longer hurt every time you work out. That’s the amazing part, though – our bodies are such unbelievably adaptable machines. It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t take much. Start small. Set a goal to work out 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week for 3 weeks. I bet by the time you reach that 3 weeks, you’ll be feeling much better about your workouts.
I started last winter with a workout DVD – Bob Harper’s Weight Loss Yoga. I did it 3 times per week. You’re supposed to do each level for 2 weeks, but I was very weak and out of shape when I started, so I did each level for 3 weeks. After 9 weeks, I had made it through all 3 levels and was working out for 60 minutes each time. The strength I gained was absolutely phenomenal. The changes in my body were so profound that I was motivated to keep going. That DVD changed my life.
Then, I decided to re-try the Couch to 5K running program. I have no idea why – I had tried it a few years ago and couldn’t get past week 1. And I’ve always hated running – even in high school, when I was fairly fit. The thing is, I enjoyed walking as exercise, and some natural urge inside me always wants to run. Maybe it’s a throwback to being 5 years old and just running for no reason. Whatever the reason, I did it – and finished the program 9 weeks later.
Today, I’m a runner. I run 3 or more miles, 3 times per week (averaging 10-12 miles per week). I’m no ultra-marathoner, but I’m a runner! John “The Penguin” Bingham has been a huge inspiration to me. He’s all about running for mortals – how regular people can enjoy running for fun and fitness.
It takes some attention to your body and running technique and equipment to avoid injury, especially when you’re an overweight runner (like I still technically am!). (Namely: you need good running shoes – properly fitted, and with the right amounts of stability and motion control for your foot and body type. Go get yourself fitted at a running shoe store if you plan to run. Just do it. Consider the $100 shoes an investment in yourself). I weighed over 240 pounds when I started running. I was at 219 when I ran my first 5K. Knock on wood – I have yet to encounter any injuries. Read up on common runner’s injuries and how to avoid them, and be conscious of what your body is telling you. This definitely is NOT the place for, “no pain, no gain.” No pain means, you’re doing it right!
Why I Run
This isn’t to say you have to become a runner to get fit. Walking has been proven to share the same health benefits. It just takes longer! If I had to give you one sentence explaining why I choose to run over all of the other activities I could be doing, I’d say it’s because it burns the most calories per minute. I don’t have a heck of a lot of spare time, and it’s relatively easy for me to fit running into my weekly schedule. At my weight, I burn 128 calories walking for 30 minutes at 2.8mph. I burn 323 calories running at 5mph for that same 30 minutes. Hmm. 323 calories, or 128? I’ll take the 323, thanks!
And there’s no big cash investment required to run – no equipment, really. You do need a good pair of running shoes, as I mentioned, but that’s about it. Step out the front door and go! Run around the block, run down the street and back, whatever! Running around my neighborhood is a great option when I’m short on time because there’s no before/after prep or travel required. Put shoes on, run, take shoes off. Done.
Running also gets me out into nature, and I love running on the various trails through local nature preserves. Nature, to me, is the best distraction. It’s very mind-clearing for me to get out there and watch the birds and bees (and the flowers and the trees). Check out TrailLink.com to find walking/running/biking trails near you.
Running, for me, is also a great solitary sport. To be fair, I haven’t given group running a try, but I really enjoy the fact that running is something I do alone. It’s therapeutic. It plays well into my competitive nature, because I can always compete against myself. This first year has been a lot of fun because I’ve broken my own records, over and over again, as I’ve gotten more fit.
But that’s just me. The point is, move your body. Find something you love, and do it regularly. Walk, run, bike, swim, spin, take aerobics or martial arts classes, do workout DVD’s, do Wii Fit, whatever. Just move your body!
Finally, relax. I’ve found that yoga is a wonderful way to relax. I use yoga several different ways. I’ve got workout DVD’s that incorporate yoga poses into calorie-burning workouts (specifically, Bob Harper’s Weight Loss Yoga and Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown). I thoroughly enjoy these for strength and flexibility training, and the perk is that you learn some yoga poses while you’re at it – making “regular” yoga easier to get the hang of. Then, I’ve got some more traditional yoga DVD’s, with morning and evening workout options that either invigorate or relax the body. I use them all at different times.
Get some sleep. Quality of sleep is huge in maintaining good health – really! Several studies even link sleep to weight loss. So, get some sleep! If I had to pick one thing that is my secret weapon in all of this, it’s that I almost always get my 8 hours of sleep per night, and rarely less than 7.
Love Your Body
You had to know there was something cheese-ball coming at some point. Love your body, today and every day. Maybe you don’t love the state that it’s in right now, but you’ve got to love that your heart keeps on beating and your bones keep on holding you up and your muscles keep on working. Love your body and treat it well. It will adapt and improve and get stronger as you give it those opportunities!
I literally thank my body for holding up so well over the years that I abused it by eating terribly and not exercising. I appreciate its adaptability and its ability to survive in grave conditions. When I think of how starved I was for nutrition and sleep, it’s a miracle this thing even functioned! But it did, and I am so grateful. Thank you, body! I’m sorry I was so mean to you for so long and I promise to treat you well for the rest of your days!
What’s Next in 2011
So, that’s what I did in 2010 to get to where I am today. That’s pretty much what I will continue to do in 2011. My resolutions include:
- To continue the whole-foods organic lifestyle. (I also transitioned to being a vegetarian in 2010, though I don’t consider that to be related to my weight loss. It was for other reasons, and I don’t feel that eating meat or not really affects the end result, as long as you’re eating clean).
- To run a 10K this spring, and maybe… maybe… train for a half marathon by the end of the year.
- To get my running pace down to around 10:00/mile by the end of the year. (I’m currently around 12:00/mile).
- To lose the last 20 pounds to my goal of -100#.
So, 2011 looks like more of the same! Keep eating clean, keep running, and keep smiling
Here’s to a happy and healthy new year to you and yours!