Excuses, Excuses

Everybody’s got them.

I’ve been making a lot of excuses lately. Mostly for me being lazy, not going running or working out. I keep telling myself I will when the weather gets better, but last weekend it was 68 and sunny and I did nothing. Well, I did celebrate Texas Independence Day with some good beer and chili. Yum.

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I have not been running in a few weeks, and with the beginning of Lent, I’m going to at least try and dedicate myself to keeping up with what I’ve started. Running, working out and eating healthy. No excuses.

What excuses have been holding you back?

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Cheating is Good for You

So I have some good news for you today. It turns out, when it comes to healthy eating, cheating is good for you.

Wow, y’all. I can feel your skeptical looks from here.

Do I still have your attention?

Okay. First of all, the entire premise of this argument is that the cheat day is good for you as long as you don’t abuse it. This means cheating by ways of a cheeseburger and fries, not an entire pizza, breadsticks and a case of beer (guilty).cheat day!

A cheat day or meal is a planned splurge, a reward even. But the important part is that you do plan it. Don’t slip up and say to yourself, oh well, I guess that was my cheat meal because then you do not get the full benefit of it. If you slip up, recognize that and move on.

There a couple areas of healthy eating that the cheat day targets, and as long as you are eating clean through the week, having a cheat day or meal once in seven days will not derail you. I’ve been eating clean since April, doing one cheat meal a week, and it hasn’t stopped me. If anything, it’s helped me keep going.

Disclaimer: I do not pretend to be a dietitian or expert on nutrition. These are just my thoughts and what I have found to be true for me. I have, however, had my good friend (and former college roommate) Liz Kowalsky, who is a dietitian, read over this blog post and make sure that my logic is sound.

The way I see it, cheat meals serve one goal, but accomplish this goal in two different ways. The goal is simple: to indulge. Give yourself a break. Relieve some stress. Let loose. Have fun. These things are important.

  1. First, let’s talk about the physical benefits. Studies have shown that temporarily upping your calorie intake can increase your leptin production, boosting your metabolism for a short period of time. Leptin is the hormone responsible for maintaining energy levels, controlling hunger and may contribute to increased levels of dopamine production as well, which we all know puts us in a good mood. It also helps prevent stagnation. It’s the same reason you don’t do the exact same workout every time you go to the gym. By switching things up, you throw your body for a loop, thus making it work harder to do the same job it was doing before.
  2. There are also obvious psychological benefits. Getting one meal a week to indulge allows you to satisfy any cravings you may be having, as well as helping you develop a healthy relationship with food. Instead of assigning food into categories (as we are all so used to doing) like “good” and “bad”, it helps you relearn food’s role in your life. Instead of not allowing yourself to have a certain food because it’s “bad” for you, you can reassign it as a treat, or a once in a while food. Over time, this will help you keep those little slip-ups (we all have them) into a major derailing.

The purpose of cheating is not to have a free for all with your food. That’s not healthy. The idea is to treat yourself for your hard work all week. By satisfying a craving, indulging and not over-doing it, you can actually maintain a diet plan for a longer period of time if you schedule these cheat meals.

The important thing to remember is this: when I say that cheat meals work for me and might work for you, that is not me saying that they definitely will. Everyone is different, and having a cheat meal once a week might not work for you. If not, that’s fine. If it does work, that’s fine too.

What do you think? Do you use a cheat meal? Does it work?

Recipe: Spicy Edamame

I’m a very strange bird. I don’t know if y’all have realized that. If not, it was bound to happen soon.

But here’s the thing: I will walk past the dessert buffet every day in favor of salty and savory snackage. I prefer appetizers to desserts when eating out and I cannot count the number of times I have thrown my weight loss train off course because when I crave snacks, I crave salt, and I do not care how terrible it is for me.

Enter edamame. And my relief that I can now have my salt and eat it too.

Edamame, for the uninitiated (as I was no more than six months ago) are essentially immature soybeans. Kept in the pod, they are very popular in Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian cuisine. Usually as an appetizer.

I can eat them all day long. Especially when boiled and tossed with this spice blend.

seasoned edamame pods

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 pound edamame pods, fresh or frozen. Note: this recipe is written for frozen pods, which can usually be found in the freezer case of the natural foods section of your grocery store of choice. If not, check out Sprouts or Whole Foods
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon onion salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • cracked black pepper, to taste.

This is ridiculously easy, I promise.

  1. Fill a medium pasta pot with 6 cups of water and a couple pinches of salt. Put on the stove on medium-high heat, to get it to a steady boil.
  2. Pour in your frozen edamame and bring it back to a boil. Note: If you are using fresh edamame, please pay attention, these pods will cook very quickly and after they boil, will probably be about 30-40 seconds away from being done
  3. Boil for 2-3 minutes, or until cooked about 90% of the way through.
  4. Pro-tip: pour the water and edamame into a colander in the sink and run cold water over it. This will stop the cooking process and greatly reduce your chances of over cooking them.
  5. Strain the edamame, getting the majority of the water off of them.
  6. Pour said beans into a medium bowl, and while they are cooled, but still damp, season with the red pepper, onion and garlic salt, salt and pepper to your tastes.
  7. Toss edamame in your seasoning mixture, lightly coating all the pods.

I went ahead and (before I could eat them all in one sitting) put them in plastic bags because these make most excellent office snacks. Much better than Doritos.

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Now store them in the fridge and bask in the glory of knowing that you can satisfy your salt cravings without derailing your new healthy lifestyle.

Taking My Own Advice

So it figures that, not three days after my rant on healthy food as fuel goes up on this very blog, I break my own rules.

Hey now, I’m only human.

I took Friday off to rest my ankle, because I was feeling some pinching and tightness near an old injury, and I didn’t want to push it. I’m going to test my shoes this week and make sure I don’t need a new pair yet.

Saturday we went to Austin for a family picnic and I took the opportunity to have lunch with my girls. I allowed myself an indulgence of a delicious burger and fries with a beer (No Label Brewing’s Pale Horse, if you were curious) and figured I would be find for my run the next day as long as I behaved at the party we were going to.20131109_142146

Well it turns out my stomach has shrunk quite a bit, because when we got to the party I was so full I couldn’t eat a bite. I did however partake in a few beers (it was  a party after all) and though I tried to drink a lot of water, It was harder than I thought it would be without my trusty 20 ounce water bottle.

Moral of the story: I got back home for my run on Sunday and even though I had dedicatedly drank at least 40 ounces of water that morning, the first couple miles of my run were tough. It could have been a lot of things, including the dehydration, or the fact that I was running on an empty stomach. Oops. Lesson learned.

That being said. I did make my 4 miles, even though the first couple miles were tough. I’m still trying to focus on controlling my speed, and even though I felt like I did terrible during this run, I was able to maintain a slower, but more consistent pace through the run, which I am happy with.Screenshot_2013-11-10-17-10-29

So all in all, I like to think I succeeded in turning a bad situation around, learning from the mistakes that got me there, and swearing off alcohol and burgers on the day before a long run.

Considering how much my family (and I) enjoy eating, training during this holiday season might be harder that I originally planned.

Running Song of the Week (RSOTW?)

If you know me at all, you know that I love everything ever written by Panic! At The Disco. This song has been playing on my work playlists for a while, and they even performed it when I saw them in concert back in October, but it didn’t strike me as a running song until it came on my Songza station while I was out this week. It’s called Ready to Go [Get Me Out of My Mind] and it is a great representation of how I feel in my training right now. I hope you enjoy it, and it inspires you to get out and start pounding pavement!

Favorite Lyrics: 

All of them. Really.

Food is Fuel

During college, I would get really frustrated with my fitness routine, because I never saw any results from those hours I spent at the campus rec center. I know now why I never saw any results. I was your typical college student, surviving off of Kraft Macaroni n Cheese, Cousin Vinny’s pepperoni pizza, massive amounts of coffee and probably equally massive amounts of beer. (#sorrynotsorry)

My favorite breakfast: non-fat greek yogurt with whole grain granola and honey

My favorite breakfast: non-fat greek yogurt with whole grain granola and honey

This frustration continued immediately after college, after I moved home to my mother’s amazing cooking skills. I still worked out almost every day, but again, with no results, only stagnation.

At the time I figured it was because that’s how the world works, and I would probably never see myself lose weight.

I now know why. I was fueling my body with – let’s call it what it was – crap. Delicious, wonderful crap, but still crap.

It wasn’t until I joined Texas Fit Chicks last spring that I realized the importance of what I put in my body. Sure, WeightWatchers taught me the importance of vegetables and portion sizes, but TFC is where I learned the hard way that what I eat will directly impact the way my body performs.

As part of joining TFC I was put on a high protein, high fiber, low sugar, low sodium diet, and only then is when I started seeing a change in my body. Suddenly I was not only getting smaller, but I was getting stronger, faster and better at my workouts.

Nice story, Julia. But what’s your point?

My point is that the food you eat is fuel. I allow myself one cheat day a week, usually Saturday or Sunday, to eat the foods I really want to eat. Other than that, I am pumping my body full of good things like yogurt, spinach, eggs, chicken, lots of veggies, peppers, carrots and all other kinds of real food – fuel – that I need. And I can feel the difference.

Home-made chicken tortilla soup. With home made tortilla chips because sodium is bad.

Home-made chicken tortilla soup. With home made tortilla chips because sodium is bad.

Very little of what I eat now comes out of a box. I cook at home a lot more, I read labels on everything I eat and I rarely eat out at restaurants. We’re talking once every two weeks, maybe. I monitor what I eat and how it effects my body very closely. If I don’t like how I feel after I eat something, I throw it out. I don’t need anything in my diet that makes me feel any less than amazing. I don’t keep crap food in my pantry any more. If it’s not there, I won’t eat it.

My body takes a lot. I work out 6 days a week and even one off day of eating will impact how I perform when it counts. This is why my meal prep time on Sundays is so important to me. It is during that time on Sundays when I lock myself in my kitchen and make not only Sunday night dinner, but usually 2 other full dinners for the freezer to ensure my success during the week.

If by chance I do end up going to boot camp or out for a run after eating like crap for a day, I can tell. It’s not only that I simply don’t have as much energy as I’m used to, but I can feel it in every part of me. My muscles refuse to loosen up, and when they do, they tire much more easily. I get winded quickly, and it takes longer to catch my breath and control my heart rate. In some cases I will feel nauseated and light-headed. This is why I know the importance of food. Because I have experienced what it feels like to try and push yourself when your body is running on pizza and cokes or Chinese food and decadent desserts.

A fresh take on chicken salad: chicken, tomatoes, parsley, artichoke hearts dressed with white wine vinegar and olive oil.

A fresh take on chicken salad: chicken, tomatoes, parsley, artichoke hearts dressed with white wine vinegar and olive oil.

Now I’m not saying don’t eat the foods you love. But be more aware of how these foods effect your body. Eat the crap out of spinach and tomatoes, eggs with low fat feta and green peppers, whole wheat pasta and veggie sauce. Fuel your body with real food, and you’ll feel the difference I’m talking about. Trust me on this one.

I really am not trying to sound superior or anything. Just trying to show you how switching my mindset from food being an indulgence to food being fuel has changed everything.

Today’s Personal Victory

I know I’ve been quiet lately, but I just wanted to share a personal victory I had today.

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I was seriously craving Chipotle for lunch but instead had this delicious greek salad that I brought from home.

Trying to be healthy is hard and it’s certainly a large and daunting task. Focus on the little victories during your journey and hopefully the process won’t seem so unattainable.

Recipe Spotlight: Marinated Shrimp

This is a really easy weeknight meal that tastes delicious. Seriously, it took me less than an hour from the moment I took the shrimp out of the freezer to the moment I put it on the plate.

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You’ll need:

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder (you could also substitute this with 1/2 tablespoon of regular chili powder if you can’t find ancho, but you should be able to find it in the spice aisle at Kroger.)
  • Brown Rice (optional)
  • Jerk BBQ Sauce (optional)

Okay. So here we go.

  1. To thaw the shrimp, put the amount you want in a Ziploc bag and place in a sink of lukewarm water.
  2. Mix together the olive oil, pressed garlic, ancho chili powder and onion powder in a large bowl.
  3. Peel the thawed shrimp and put them in the bowl with the marinade. Incorporate the shrimp thoroughly with the marinade, and let sit for 10-20 minutes.
  4. (At this point, I threw a bag of partly cooked brown rice in the microwave in a casserole dish of water).
  5. Once the shrimp is fully marinated, take a little of the oil from the marinade and throw it in a medium skillet. Put the head on medium high.
  6. Once the oil is bubbling slightly, place the shrimp in it. (I drained off the excess oil and marinade, but you can definitely use it to make a yummy sauce for when you are done).
  7. Cook the shrimp thoroughly, mixing with a wooden spoon constantly.
  8. Serve over the brown rice, or with veggies or even a salad. I topped it with a spicy and sweet jerk bbq sauce I found at my local farmer’s market a few months ago.

Enjoy!

Recipe Spotlight: Jalapeno Lime & Cilantro Shrimp

One of the great side effects of me eating a lot healthier and focusing on what is in my food is that I’m cooking at home a lot more. Which means I am trying new recipes and experimenting with new ways of cooking my favorite ingredients.

The bad news is that sometimes I serve my recipe tester slightly under cooked rice. Sorry, Adam!

I found this recipe on a website called Alaska from Scratch, which features a lot of really great recipes using fresh ingredients. We had it for a midweek dinner this week and I really enjoyed it. It was filling, but didn’t leave you feeling greasy or bloated.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes – optional, I didn’t have any on hand, so I just left them out.
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced – Pro tip: The more membrane you leave behind, the spicier your jalapeño will be! Also, don’t touch your face after seeding it. Trust me on this one.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped – I used roma tomatoes because I like the flavor better.
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled (I removed the tails, but that is up to your preference)
  • 1 lime, zested
  • juice of half the lime
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • lime wedges, for serving

This recipe is pretty simple, despite the number of ingredients involved. It’s worth it I promise!

To a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and butter. Stir in the red chile flakes.

Saute the onions and jalapeño until tender, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, but not browned, about 1 minute.

Toss in the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down and release their juices, another 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

Then, add the shrimp to the skillet and season with salt, cooking and tossing until shrimp just turn pink and are cooked through but still tender, being careful not to overcook.

Add the lime zest, lime juice, and cilantro. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as needed. Serve promptly.

I served this over brown rice, but it would be delicious with almost anything, and even on its own! I really think this would be wonderful inside corn tortillas.

I couldn’t help but thinking while I was cooking that this would have been delicious with an ice-cold Tecate.

Recipe Spotlight: Turkey & Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

This was the result of two things: my desire to learn how to incorporate quinoa into my recipe book, and an equally strong desire to use up leftovers in my fridge. Sorry I’m not sorry.

Again, if you are a Weight Watchers member, you can find the recipe and point break down here. One pepper is 7 Points Plus, but to be honest, the quinoa is so hearty I only ate half of one.

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Here’s what you’ll need: (feel free to adapt to fit whatever you have in your fridge.

  • 4 large sweet red pepper(s)
  • 1 cup(s) uncooked carrot(s), chopped
  • 1/2 large uncooked, onion(s), chopped
  • 3/4 item(s) canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 1/2 pound(s) uncooked 99% fat-free ground turkey breast
  • 1 clove(s) (medium) garlic clove(s), chopped
  • 1/2 cup Ancient Harvest Quinoa, Inca Red, pre-rinsed, cooked according to the instructions on the box.

So here’s what you do:
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  1. Cook the quinoa according to package instructions. (Mine said to boil 1 cup uncooked quinoa in 2 cups water or chicken broth, but follow the directions on the box)
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Cut the tops off of 3 of the peppers, and hollow them out. Set aside.
  4. Chop the final pepper, along with the garlic, chipotles, onion and carrots.
  5. Cook the turkey in a large skillet, then added the chopped veggies. Let simmer, then add 3 generous spoon fulls of cooked quinoa. Mix well.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the hollowed out peppers, and roast the peppers in the oven for 10 minutes.
  7. The fully cooked quinoa will look like this.

    The fully cooked quinoa will look like this.

    Enjoy!