Friday, May 4, 2012

Allow Me to Bragg About It

I had a great opening line for this post but now I can't remember. Ah, aging. Ain't it great? One day you're fun, and young, and free and the next you've gained 50lbs of baby weight and insert-other-reasons-here. Then, instead of drinking the night away with all your carefree friends, you're stuck at home writing a blog about it. As with anyone, the past few years have been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. I wound up with back problems that took about three years to figure out. During that time, I was scared to move for fear of re-injuring myself, at least that is what the doctors had me believe. This past December I got the news I wanted, needed, to hear.

As most curvy girls can relate, this isn't my first attempt to lose weight. Countless Weight Watchers sessions, reading up on trendy diets, fasting, raw diet, 3-day diet, yoga, you name it, has led to temporary results. So what makes this time different? It is about pain management. The more weight I lose and the stronger my abs/core get, the better off my back will be. As I sit here, I am in some pain as the Naproxin sets in. My goal is to stop taking pain pills and never have surgery. Besides, I'm back to a weight I'm comfortable in and look good.

Last week, I reached my second goal on this journey. My initial goal was 10lbs and that came off pretty fast in about a month. Now I'm at 20lbs lost which took about another two months. Of course, this is a journey, and I'm about half way to my pie-in-the-sky goal. You know, the goal you dream about but never think could be a reality. But after the past few months, I have started to allow myself to do a tiny, microscopic dance of joy at the thought that it could happen. Wouldn't it be great to be at my comfortable weight again, I thought back in January when I started going to the gym. Well, here I am and I'm going for more!

So how is it that I lost 20lbs since January? I read everything and stopped listening to everyone! I found my motivation after the doctor's visit and didn't look back. I must emphasize that I would not have been able to do this without the drive. It took YEARS for me to get my brain to click and put my wish into motion. The head game is the first obstacle and it's tough! The next step was to take the best ideas from everything I've ever heard/read/learned/done and do my own thing.

Since people have started to notice my weight loss and are asking what I've done, I realized that the answer is more involved than just saying Weight Watchers, Atkins, or 3-day diet. So, I decided to write about it. I'm not trying to brag about it. In fact, I've been sitting on this post for over a week, wondering if I have the courage to put myself out there like this. I realize that I'm not alone in this struggle and that I have had a breakthrough—a life-changing, life-affirming breakthrough. Take from this what you like and leave the rest. Do YOUR thing (not mine necessarily).

I started off by assessing my food intake and deciding what was going in and particularly, what wasn't. I decided that dairy made me feel awful and carbs were too addicting so I cut them out. This may or may not work for everyone but it did for me and I feel good. Next I decided that I like lightly steamed veggies and I also liked salads . . .  my salads, . . . the way I make them. So I went to Trader Joe's and found pre-packaged, chopped veggies that were easy to use in stir frys and salads. I decided that on weekends, I could still enjoy my breakfasts that I make despite my ban on dairy. I was going to have my eggs and eat them too. And yes, this includes the whole wheat tortilla. I also decided that I would stop eating "diet" food. No more Lean Cusines, no more splenda, no more food with more than 5 ingredients I can't pronounce. I cut out the processed food and decided to eat whole food. Apples, oranges, almonds, chicken on the bone (anything but the pink slime), corn on the cob, edamame, 75% cacao chocolate, etc. I also cut out Diet Coke which was already on my list many years ago but I had to reaffirm it because Diet Coke is so addicting. I may still enjoy it but will not buy the 2 liters or have it in the house. If I want soda I grab Hansen's made from sugar cane or Jarritos with that awesome Mexican sugar. I'm just not having soda every day. One can once a week, maybe.

So here is the breakdown with the various components to my new eating habit.The thing to note is that these are not rules. They are guidelines I keep in mind. If I stray once in a while and have a couple of those delicious Kings Hawaiian fluffy breads from heaven, no biggie!

Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar. So good for you!
First things first, hydrate! Yes, I know, water is soooo boring! Ugh!! Don't go out and buy that Crystal Light powder crap. I have to credit KPFK's The Aware Show for having Patricia Bragg on a couple of years ago (This is what I'm really bragging about). I was driving around when I heard this wonderful, energetic, full-of-life woman preach on about the wonders of a healthy living. Having a bad short-term memory I strained my brain to remember BRAGG DOT COM with two G's! There I was introduced to the wonders of apple cider vinegar. I placed an order for a great package of vinegar, salad dressing, spices and books. I mix the apple cider vinegar with honey and distilled water. Mix it up to taste in a large water bottle and place in fridge. Drink it morning, noon, and night, and take it to the gym. It tastes great and gives you a natural boost of energy. I used to drink Monster energy drink always wondering what that nuclear-green Chernobyl drink contained but not anymore! I'm having some apple cider drink now. Even better, you can buy it already in a bottle at your local Sprout's. I'll be talking about Bragg throughout this post so remember the name and visit the website!

Another great way to stay hydrated is to drink tea. Hot or cold, noon or night, tea in any variety is good for you. Just avoid the sugar. You can do without it (including the aspartame).

Let's get physical! So 80s at the gym.
Secondly, figure out what physical activity you can squeeze into your day. You've heard about walking to your co-worker's cubicle instead of emailing them, taking the stairs on the way UP, parking at the end of the parking lot, and other mundane, boring things you'd rather NOT do. So think about what you LIKE to do, and not just ONE thing but MANY things. Luckily for me, I actually do enjoy going to the gym so that wasn't too hard of a choice. I can go for a long time on the treadmill and that is where I started. First 30 minutes are cardio, then I hit the muscle machines rotating arms, legs, back, and other muscles that were interesting to discover. Read all the machines and know what they're supposed to work and how to properly do the motions. Start easy with 10lbs and 5 reps then move on. No one is watching or counting so do what you want to do. After a few visits, I worked up the courage to try the elliptical. I still had bad flashbacks of trying it in the past and dying after 5 minutes so I was very hesitant. I went for 10 minutes and it wasn't so bad. Now I can do 30 minutes before I get bored and need to move on but I'm not huffing and puffing at the 15 minute mark anymore. Little by little, you'll make progress. Don't get overwhelmed. Just do what you WANT (remove the pressure and let down of not accomplishing what you SHOULD).

Hiking in Griffith Park
I also tried hiking. Since I have my kid, and babysitters get expensive, I took her along. I didn't sweat as much but she sure did and we were moving for 30 minutes to an hour. It's better than sitting on the couch all day. Plus, you're out in nature. We need to be out there, clear our heads, and connect to mother earth now and then. On my lunch break, I cross the street from the museum and walk around the zoo (when I wear comfy shoes). The LA Zoo is uphill so you do get a good work out and no sweating unless the sun is beaming. You can stop and check out the animals or sit at a bench. You don't have to power through it. The point is to get your body moving, get some sun and fresh air. Another favorite of my daughter's is the beach. Walking on that sand is a workout! Lugging blankets, toys, towels and snacks? Just consider it weight training! Even if you just lay out or walk along the shore, you're out and moving. My daughter gets a great workout running from the waves. We also walk the grounds of the Huntington. It's so relaxing and beautiful. LACMA also has an extensive campus. Take your walking shoes and become inspired by art while you move. And if you're stuck at home, on the couch, watching TV, grab your weights and do some curls during commercials. There's also a handy app called Easy Abs by Lolo. It's a 5- or 8-minute ab workout. This way, you're not faced with making time to exercise, you're incorporating it into YOUR lifestyle and likes.

Best dressing ever
This HAS to be toughest part of losing weight, food! We love it, we crave it, we think about it all the time! One place to start is by snacking on fruit. I find cold fruit to taste the best. Cold, crisp, sliced apples and pears are easy to munch on and so refreshing. I save bananas for breakfast. Just grab and go. No cooking needed. My next step was discovering the great variety to be had in salads. Yes, salads are soooo boring. But not if you find out what tastes good in them. I buy the American salad mix at Trader Joe's (pick whatever appeals to you) because it's good and cheap. I go down the aisle and grab up their chopped cabbage, coleslaw mix of carrots and green strings (just realized I don't know what veggie it is), chopped mushrooms, and whatever else is in season. The wonders of this Trader Joe's aisle is that everything is prepackaged and chopped up, ready to go. I grab handfuls from each bag and toss into a large bowl. I'll add anything from apple slices, walnuts, sunflower seeds, to chicken, tabouli, calamata olives, crumbled up cheese, but the piece de resistance is the Bragg Ginger and Sesame dressing. It's so good that even my daughter started eating lettuce because of it. "I just want to drink the whole bottle!" she says. It costs a little more than your average salad dressing but it is worth every penny! Besides, I'm saving quite a bit on groceries after cutting down on the junk. Best of all, you can get it at Ralph's and Sprouts. I asked the Trader Joe's guy why they didn't carry it. He said to suggest it on their website. Will do!

Other salad toppings I enjoy include red beans, garbanzos, and I often top them off with avocado slices. Another salad option is a scoop of tuna salad on top of a chunky tomato salsa and mixed greens. Top the tuna with some Tabasco or Tapatio hot sauce and yum! On a side note, I also buy a tub of chopped salsa that I add to almost everything. It's a great way to add more veggies to omelets, chicken, quesadillas, etc.

For dinner, I might make a stir fry with chicken or shrimp using veggies such as carrots, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and the coleslaw mix. First, I fry up chopped onions, minced garlic and carrots in extra virgin olive oil. Then I add the brussell sprouts and any other veggie that take longer to cook. Last is the cabbage. The key to making a good stir fry is the spices and sauces. I use rice vinegar and oyster sauce. Once I pour the steamy mix onto my plate, I squeeze a line of Sriracha on the side of the plate for dipping. Delicious!

What I avoid: dairy, processed foods, greasy meats, and carbs. I may have some of each now and then but removing dairy from my diet has helped a lot. I didn't think it would but I can feel the difference. Dairy always made me sluggish and bloated. Not so much anymore. I also decided not to eat processed food including all that diet fare. First of all, it taste terrible. Secondly, it tastes terrible! Who knows what chemicals and unnatural ingredients are in there. I avoid aspartame. Instead I opt for full fat butter, fizzy regular Jarritos (I can't believe they came out with a diet version. Just wrong!), and the turbinado cane sugar for my coffee. Soda is hard to give up but I will have some once in a blue moon. Again, I'm not restricting myself at all. If I want it, I have it. At the same time, I think, do I want to eat/drink this, or do I want smaller hips? Once you start to see your body change, that answer comes easy.

I'm not a big follower of supplements but if you have your daily vitamins, do your thing. One thing I do recommend is buying a big can of psyllium husk. It's a ground up seed that you can add to almost anything you're eating. It doesn't taste like anything and is a great way to get fiber in your diet. Just don't add it to cereal. There you can taste the crunch. Not so good. I add it to my daughter's home-made smoothies and quesadillas and she doesn't notice it one bit.

Ah, the weekend. A time to relax and enjoy the good things in life. Well, my ideal weekend involves my delicous omelets. Yes, I am avoiding dairy but I can't let go of this! I make all kids of omelets topped with anything from nopalitos (cactus), soyrizo, migas (fried tortilla chips--not store bought), to bell peppers, red/orange peppers, chunky salsa, avocado, sriracha, you name it. Add a side of pinto beans, a whole wheat tortilla and some good coffee and I'm set.

Extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocado. I basically fry everything in EVOO to my heart's content. I know the Greeks were on to something so I'll do my thing until the research catches up. In fact, I did read somewhere that EVOO does not make you fat or clog your arteries. Plus, it's more expensive than regular frying oils that you don't go too crazy with it either. I also like to eat almonds. Whole Foods in Pasadena (which I hardly get around to) had these amazing roasted almonds coated in either Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar or their Liquid Aminos, can't recall. Either way, I was in heaven! They were so delicious. I have to go back for more.

My favorite treat is chocolate. I have become a chocolate snob opting for dark chocolate containing 75-85% cacao. My favorite is the one with sea salt. I eat at will. For my daughter, I make smoothies. I buy the frozen fruit bags, mainly strawberries, pour 2 cups of them in the blender, add about 1 cup of non-fat vanilla yogurt, 1/2 cup of fat free milk, a few teaspoons of turbinado sugar, a tablespoon of psyllium husk and blend. I serve her one glass and put the rest in the freezer for a cool after-school treat. My kid loves it!

As my favorite Weight Watchers leader, Rosa in Burbank, would say "Strive for 5! Strive for 5!" Don't worry about the big picture. Strive for your first 5lbs then strive for another 5. Small steady steps will get you to your goal. Don't get defeated. Find your motivation and your inspiration. The rest will follow.

So there you have it. I hope I didn't miss anything and if I did, fire away! Ask me anything.


  1. Fabulous instructions on being healthy !!!! Love it

  2. Thank you Melimel! I'm glad you love it!

  3. Julia Bensfield LuceMay 29, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    This is so terrific - reading it has motivated me to get back on the healthy train! I love to make Lydia-style smoothies, too. I use almond milk instead of regular milk (adds great flavor and consistency, and no hormones), and toss in a big handful of raw spinach or kale. The fruit flavor completely dominates the greens, so you have no idea it's even in there. A great way to get even more nutrients packed in. I've also started slow-roasting tomatoes. I'll buy about 10 tomatoes from the farmers market (if they look good), cut off the stem, chop them in half, put them in a bowl with a little olive oil/salt/pepper/corriander, then lay them cut-end up on a baking sheet. I bake them for about 4-6 hours at 200 degrees. They are delicious and make for awesome snacks and salad-toppers (the flavor is completely transformed after that much time in the oven). I'd love to hear more tips on the blog :)

  4. Julia, thanks for the tip on raw spinach and kale. I'll have to try it! I started adding almond milk to my coffee now and then and it's pretty good. I should just grab a box next time I'm at Trader Joe's. I thought your 4-6 hr tomatoes was a typo. I may try that too but I have no patience. Great contributions! Thanks again!!

  5. Thanks for sharing this. It's refreshing to hear an honest perspective of what works and what doesn't work in the real world. I am also really impressed with your knowledge in food and your range with trying all kinds of healthy alternatives. It's also kinda nice to see that you still eat what you want to eat. This is coming from a gal who resides in Mantecaville. ;)

  6. Laura, thanks for your kind words! Believe it or not, there's a town in California called Manteca. My mom picked cotton there in the 70s. Now that was probably a good workout to offset the manteca. lol

  7. I believe that avoiding highly processed foods may be the first step to lose weight. They could taste very good, but refined foods possess very little nutritional value, making you try to eat more simply to have enough strength to get throughout the day. If you're constantly taking in these foods, changing to cereals and other complex carbohydrates will help you to have more electricity while consuming less. Thanks alot : ) for your blog post.

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