I've been contemplating publishing this post for the past six months. Why have I hesitated? Because this is my food blog, not weight loss blog. I think reading about calories, fat grams, and weigh-ins is so freaking BORING. I prefer to talk about food, wine, music, fashion, the fun things I do with my friends, and the awesome ways I enjoy the outdoors in beautiful Minnesota. That shit is INTERESTING.
Well then, why did I change my mind? Because first, I lost my digital camera. So the nice pictures of the yummy wild rice soup I made last weekend are missing. Also, my readership has grown (over 1,200 unique visitors have given me over 5,600 page views since April, 2010) so many of you may not know me personally, other than what I eat (although you could argue that's pretty personal!). I decided it was time for me to open up a little bit more on here so you can understand where I'm coming from. Finally, I wanted to write this post for ME, because this is MY food blog, and I wanted to have this story recorded somewhere for my memory, which slips more and more each day.
In the past few years, I've completely transformed how I eat and live and it has resulted in a physical change as well. This photo is from when I think I was at my heaviest - my 10 year high school reunion in July, 2007.
Three years later, I'm playing with my nephew on his 3rd birthday in September, 2010 (only head to toe shot I can find):
I have been approached with increasingly frequent questions from co-workers, friends, and even neighbors about the change. Their questions stump me and I never seem to have a good answer ready. So this is my attempt to answer these questions for myself and I guess you can read about it too if you want to. If you come here just for recipes, ignore this post and I won't care. I promise this is the only time I'll blog about this subject and I'll be back to food as soon as possible.
"What's Your Secret?"
This is by far the most common question I am asked. Everyone wants to hear a magic answer and I hate the look of disappointment on their faces when I tell them the truth: eat real food and be active. If you do it consistently for a long period of time, you will become healthier (that may mean losing, maintaining, or gaining weight - depending on where you started).
"What Motivated You to Get Healthier?"
So many things!!
- Cooking - I got interested in cooking when I discovered the Food Network in 2001. I had quit eating red meat when I was 18 but never emphasized veggies in my diet until I learned how to cook. By 2008, I was experimenting with more and more vegetable-based recipes and cooking with real, whole foods.
- Blogging - Because I was cooking so many good meals, I was trying to write them down so I could document the recipes to make again later. It started out as a basic food journal/cookbook but evolved into this blog.
- My friend Cassandra - Cass has truly taught me how to enjoy food. First, she taught me about vegetarianism, as she was the first real one I'd ever met (back when we were 18-yr old punks and I was just beginning my own meatless adventures). I also remember Cass making a huge batch of cream cheese spread with a mountain of fresh herbs - I'd sadly never used fresh herbs before - and I was totally blown away by the simplicity and flavor. Finally, I'll never forget her saying she had given up processed foods. People, this was the late 90's. This chick has always been so far ahead of the trends. She still teaches me about enjoying food and wine, and she's a constant inspiration and catalyst for creating healthy meals. Good food is NOT about low fat/low calories, but about QUALITY and Cass has taught me this.
- My friend Marney - Marney has taught me about living an active life, which does NOT mean going to the gym and sweating your butt off for 30 minutes each day (that's a chore and unsustainable for me). Active living is incorporating activity and nature into your everyday life. It's going for a walk to socialize with your friend. It's riding your bike to the grocery store or library instead of driving. It's family outings hiking and picnicking. It's weekends spent in the backyard, not on the couch. It's a lifestyle where activity IS your down time, and if you do it right - it's both relaxing and energizing. I'm lucky enough to get to go for awesome walks with Marney many times each week - it's our social time, workout, and stress reliever all in one.
- My friends Colin and Johanna (Marney's husband and sister) - Both are or were very successful athletes. Colin was an Ironman Triathlete and avid biker, and Johanna an elite marathon runner who has qualified for the Olympic Trials. Both have serious health conditions through no fault of their own that limits their ability to be physically active. Here I was, able-bodied and pissing it away on beer and bar food and packing on the pounds. It seems insulting to Colin and Johanna to waste the good health I was lucky enough to have been blessed with.
- Myself - My friend Jacque (who has gone through her own transformation) said it best - everyone who is overweight has some emotional or mental issue that is behind it. Figure out what that is and you remove the barriers to a healthier and happier life. I sought counseling and began understanding myself better. Once I was on the right track mentally, it was actually very easy to stay on the right track physically.
"What Changes Did You Make?"
Nothing extreme, all minor things!
- I drink a big glass of water first thing every morning before I have coffee or any food. Then I drink as much water as I can throughout the day. Water with lunch, water with snacks. Water at night. Lots of water.
- I eat breakfast every day. Usually (homemade plain, full fat) yogurt with fruit and homemade granola. But I also like eggs occasionally or toast with peanut butter and fruit on the weekends.
- I weigh myself regularly. Not to stress out over the number, but to spot patterns and see how I'm doing.
- I record what I eat. It's on an Excel spreadsheet. I'm not super strict about it, but it helps me realize when I'm not getting enough healthy vegetables or if I'm eating out too often. When I started I was precise (2 pieces whole wheat bread, 2 Tbps peanut butter, etc). Now I just write: pb sandwich, apple, wine. It's too much work to do anything more and I'm not doing it to count calories, just remember what I eat.
- I eliminated packaged/processed/artificial foods from my diet as much as possible. I think this is the most effective change I've made. No more Doritos, processed cheese, canned soup, or breakfast cereal. I try to make as many things from scratch as I can. If you read my blog, you pretty much know what I eat. You also know I haven't deprived myself at all! In fact, I've eaten better, more delicious, and satisfying foods now than I ever have in my life.
- I make a point to be active almost every day. The activity can be a walk, yardwork, cooking (yeah, it counts!), cleaning, riding bike, etc. I typically don't like gyms or organized classes but I have taken some Community Ed Pilates classes and recently found a yoga studio I like.
"Has Your Life Completely Changed?"
Of course not. I'm still the same person and don't feel any different, other than I can shop for smaller sizes (and I didn't magically start loving shopping either - still hate it).
However, I have gained some nice perks from my healthy lifestyle, other than weight loss. My hair curls better. My nails grow longer, stronger, and don't peel as much. My teeth are healthier. My skin is clearer. I haven't had a bad cold or other major illness in over 2 years (and I used to get horrible colds twice per year!).
"How Much Weight Have You Lost?"
I find this question to be totally rude and intrusive. People I don't even know very well have asked me this. I usually answer, "I don't really know because I never weighed myself at the beginning." What I really want to say is, "It's none of your damn business!"
"Do You Have Any Advice for Others?"
I'm no doctor. What worked for me may not work for you. But if I had to give advice, these are my favorite tips:
Don't buy or eat anything labeled "low fat" "low calorie" "low carb" or "fat free." That's code for fake, or engineered food. Foods labeled this way are usually not satisfying or filling and you'll probably end up eating more. Real food has fat and calories and is good for you!
Don't count calories or fat grams. I'm sure my fat consumption is off the charts with as many nuts, oils, and avocados I eat. Yet I'm able to maintain because I eat real foods and don't worry about counting or stressing out over weight watchers points.
Don't focus on the scale. Your weight should fluctuate, it's normal. Like age, it's a number that doesn't define you as a person. There's nothing less productive than worrying about a number on a scale. Plus, it makes you boring to hang out with. Focus on your overall health instead and you'll be better off!
Do eat good real food, occasional good real desserts, and drink good wine, preferably with good friends. It will make everything else in your life seem so much better, I promise!