Monday, January 28, 2013

Baby Steps

I have a friend. Well, I have more than "A" friend, but this story is about one in particular. We had a talk last night that got me to thinking. I have some very good luck: great insurance and unique opportunities to address medical conditions holistically. But, what do you do if that isn't your lot? What if your family isn't quite on board with dietary changes, or your insurance says a big fat NO to the treatment you're so desperately looking for?
Baby steps. Take a breath, take a step back, roll up your sleeves, and do what you can for yourself-by yourself. It may not be easy, but I believe in you and I think you can make it happen.
Baby step #1- Dairy Detox
Pour out the cow milk, toss out the cow cheese (even more rapidly toss out the plastic cheese known as Velveeta, because admit it- that stuff is just gross.) Get your kids some goat milk, take a tour of Whole Foods and learn about the other types of cheese they sell- that is, of course, if your family can't live without cheese or milk. My kids can't. They both love yogurt, one can't be separated from milk, and the other has to have goat cheese in her lunch a couple of times a week. Me? I could do without it. But just in case I ever have the urge, the ONLY options in the house are options I can believe in.
Oh, and find ways around ordering pizza for a few months. The addicting (and I truly mean addicting) combination of mozzarella and sauce on a flakey crust- that smell will mess with you when you're trying to detox from killer cow dairy. Trust me, that was the hardest thing. I sometimes felt like one of Pavlov's dogs in those first couple of months off cow dairy. Every time a Papa John's commercial came on (you read that right- Papa John's), all I could think about was pizza. It's been two+ years since I had a slice of pizza, the commercials stopped triggering a salivary response long ago, and the smell of pizza now leaves me slightly grossed out. Step one complete.
Baby step #2- Rage Against the Grains
The Doc told me no gluten, which is found in a handful of grains. As I mentioned somewhere else in the archives, it messes with my thyroid. One other very good reason to rage against the grains? Wheat, rice, rye- they're calorie hogs. The way I see it is this: I have two choices- eat meals packed full of nutrient rich fruit and veggies (leaving room for several snacks in the day) or have a giant piece of bread (nearly void of natural nutrients), be hungry an hour later, and go back for more of the same nutritiously vacant food as a snack.
For many people, the idea of removing most grains from the diet leaves them wondering what else there is to eat. The fear seems to be rampant hunger- if bread, breakfast cereal, or a giant bowl of noodles aren't part of a daily diet, they think there is nothing left so starvation MUST be imminent. Wrong.
But what is there, really, besides bread and pasta? So much. How about some lightly steamed veggies, just steamed enough to make them brightly colored and super crunchy? What's that you say...your kids hate steamed veggies and your husband will only eat broccoli? They're  carb-a-holics? Easy fix, make a sauce from scratch that secretly has sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash blended in- tucked far from their field of view. Let them have their pasta if they must. On your plate? More of those steamed veggies, a small piece of fish, and a drizzle of that sauce you just fooled them with. Maybe the family will take in a little rice now and then? Great! Make it brown and make less than usual. Why less? For me, rice is a weakness. If I make a smaller amount, I feel bad taking too much because there might not be enough for the kids. Its my own little trick to keep from over indulging and over serving myself. Another option: become new best friends with quinoa. It's an easy substitute for rice. I even told the kids it was a special kind of rice and they bought it. It too can be pretty high in calories, but it's low on the glycemic index, high in protein and packed with amino acids. It works well in stir fries, fried 'rices', served on a bed of cooked greens with a piece of chicken or fish. Step two, manageable.
Baby Step #3- Go Green...and Red, and Pink, and Orange, and Blue
Fruits. Vegetables. Eat them. Every day, every night, and for snack time in between. After dinner, I prepare my breakfast and lunch for the next day. While lunch is usually a small portion of leftovers, breakfast is always fruit. I fill a glass bowl with about 2 cups of fruit and seal it up for the next day. In the summer it was mango and grapes. Now it's grapes, strawberries, and blueberries. And what about dinner? As I near my target weight I have fewer calories to consume every day, so I find myself leaning towards home prepared soups. I can control how many vegetables are in the recipe, I can assure there is no gluten, and I can be certain no dairy touches the pot. Thanks to those factors, I can also control the calorie content. Last night's thick tomato soup totaled 52 calories per cup and contained tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips to name a few items.
For the family? Anyone who wanted soup got a cup and I made sure there were other options for everyone that were my version of healthy. There were several varieties of fruit, goat yogurt for the kids, and broiled fish for everyone (besides myself). It was a small amount of additional work to cut the fruit and broil the fish, but not much. I didn't feel like I was making multiple meals, if I stopped with the meal I planned on eating there wouldn't be enough calorie content for the husband and not enough variety for the kids. I think the problem we face when modifying our own diets is not making several meals, but being creative about what we're actually putting on the table. Step three, always in process.
Baby Step #4- Calorie Track
Why? Because by the time you get to step 4, you've probably started to see a difference in your body. It's hard to imagine NO change, after radically changing your diet. If nothing other than noticing a difference in how you feel, something is changing. In my own story, calorie tracking was step 1. I tracked my daily intake for a while before I took out dairy and stopped eating gluten. On the one hand, tracking my calories from the start was very rewarding. I began to see a change in weight pretty quickly. On the other hand, it was just one more thing to try and keep up with when I was already changing so much. I've been tracking what I eat, every day, since July 2011, and I've seen a loss of 42 pounds. It seems strange to some, me pulling out my phone before every meal. I found it very enlightening in the beginning and now, as I near the end of my weight loss journey, I see it as daily motivation. The enlightening part is this: I never thought I ate much in volume. Sure, I had the special occasion meals where I did eat too much and knew it, but most meals were average sized and I didn't gorge all day. What I didn't realize was how many calories even the healthy snacks brought with them. The calorie content in an avocado or a banana is shocking. They're both great snacks, but the calories quickly add up when you are trying to save 500 calories a day, the calorie deficit needed per day in order to lose one pound per week.
If you have a smart phone, there are all sorts of apps meant to track your calorie intake on a daily basis. Some are free and are very good. If you don't have a smart phone, but you do have a computer, there are free calorie tracking websites. The husband says calorie tracking is too much work. He's right, it takes dedication, a lot of dedication. That's one more reason to start tracking calories after you've become comfortable with the major changes listed above. Step four, doable if you want it bad enough.
Baby Step #5- Pre-made = Pre-packaged Problems
This is it, the last step. Well, the last step to getting started anyway. I'm saying to make it the last step, even though it might seem like the most obvious. There's a reason for that. When you start trying to do the other things: remove dairy, minimize grains (especially gluten filled grains), and consume more fruits and veggies, you start doing this step almost naturally. Take a look at the side of a box of anything. Wheat of some form, dairy in some fashion, and the only form of fruit is usually a fruit juice concentrate and even that is toward the bottom of the list (meaning it's in there, but just barely.) So, if you're being careful to follow the other steps, you've automatically cut most boxed goods already and this isn't even really a step, it's more of a companion to the others.
Onward We Go
There it is 3 must do steps, plus 2 steps to really get you going. I say do them one at a time. Little by little, and bit by bit, you'll get there. It won't happen quickly and it won't be easy. But you have at least one friend to cheer you on...Me. I believe in you, you CAN do it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Weekday Vegan

Way back over the summer, a friend recommended I watch a documentary called "Forks Over Knives". I had no idea what he was talking about, and had no access to the film, so I started to do a little web surfing. I came to learn the documentary is all about the research done by a few doctors; research that claims a plant based lifestyle (aka- vegan and for sure NO DAIRY) can reduce the likelihood, reverse, and/or completely eliminate a myriad of diseases that are currently running rampant in the good old U.S. of A. Diabetes? Reverse it. Heart disease? Obliterate it. Obesity? Say hello to your skinny jeans. I had to know more. I mean really, they had me at "no dairy."

I got my hands on the film and watched it with the hubs. At the time, I remember thinking how I could cut out most animal product, but wasn't sure I wanted or needed to cut out ALL animal protein. I'd already limited my animal protein to goat cheese, chicken stock, and fish of various types. I still don't know if I want to be full on vegan. What I do know and can say with all certainty: the stretches of time when I eat vegan, when I include absolutely NO animal protein in my diet, those are the days I feel the best. Digestion is crazy awesome, my inflammation is non-existent, I feel clean. That sounds like such a strange thing to say- "I feel clean," but it's true. I feel like I've taken a shower and been scrubbed down from the inside- out.

After Thanksgiving, which was completely cow dairy and gluten free, I made a deal with myself. Even though the meal was entirely safe, as far as my doctor's restrictions were concerned, I still felt a little...gross. I felt plump even though I lost weight (and really, who can say they lost weight over Thanksgiving). I felt slow, even though I was rested. I felt all around not as great as I had the week before. Enter my deal with myself. During the week, I would cook and eat a vegan diet. All I had to do was drop the goat cheese and chicken stock in recipes. Most weeks since, I've been very good. Of course there was Christmas Eve and a pot of Beef Burgundy...and there was Christmas Day and the plate of Prime Rib. It wasn't like I could stomp my feet and force a gluten free, a dairy free, AND an all animal protein free diet on the rest of the family. The gluten and dairy run them crazy enough without adding veganism to my list of dietary dilemmas.

So, every other weekday surrounding the holidays, I was great. I stuck to my plan and veggified as much as I could. Like I said, I'm not sure I need or want to be totally vegan. Sunday morning breakfasts out with the family are fantastic and who wants, or can eat, a bowl of oatmeal made with milk? Not this girl. So, eggs and bacon it is on those special days out. The rest of the time? I'm a veggie girl.

*As a special note, there are a few websites I've combed through in recent months. I've found some fantastic soups and main dishes at each of these sites. I often have to modify, as vegan doesn't mean gluten free. But, with a great base, the modifications are easy. I hope you enjoy them as well. Happy veggification to you!

The Gluten Free Goddess

Forks Over Knives

The Plant Powered Kitchen