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So Is It Organic Or Not? And Does It Really Matter?

Is it really organic?

How can you tell if it’s organic?

What is organic, anyway?usda-guts-organic-standards

The word organic doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it did back in the 1970’s when my aunt started organic gardening in her backyard. She had a small garden, so using manure and compost to fertilize, constantly aerating the soil and hand-picking insects from the plants instead of using pesticides, was time consuming but manageable.

Imagine trying to do that on a large scale farm.

Organic refers, not to the quality of food produced, it refers to how it is produced. Organic fruits and vegetables are supposed to be grown in clean, uncontaminated soil using only clean, organic fertilizers (non-chemical) and without the use of any pesticides. They also cannot be treated with preservatives. Organic animal products can’t be raised using medications, antibiotics or growth hormones. Also, organic foods cannot be genetically modified (GM or GMO). Producing foods organically is also considered much better for the environment.

Sounds pretty healthy, doesn’t it?

The way the use of the word organic is used and regulated, leaves most of us confused and often misled.

The USDA uses four different categories in organic food labeling: 100% Organic; 95% Organic- labeled Certified Organic; 70-95% Organic– labeled, Made With Organic Ingredients; and 70% Organic– labeled, Contains Organic Ingredients. You should be suspicious of any products labeled or displayed in stores with any form of the word organic, that is not accompanied by the USDA seal.

We have to ask ourselves, if it’s not 100% organic, is it still worth the increased cost?

Common sense tells us that foods without pesticides; and animal products that were produced without antibiotics and hormones should be healthier for us, right?

Unfortunately, studies show that pesticide residue, though lower in organic products, still exist in them, To date, there is no proof that any of the pesticide residue found in organic or conventionally farmed foods affect our health. There is also no proof that antibiotics used on animal products interfere with the affects of human antibiotic effectiveness.

It is important to know that there are no claims by the USDA, or any evidence that supports the existence of any increased nutritional value or quality in organic foods. All studies indicate that they are comparatively the same.

I’m frustrated to know that there have been very few attempts to even study and compare the health of people eating only organic foods versus conventionally grown foods. The data just doesn’t exist.

It’s also important to note that people frequently become confused by the terms: organic, fresh, natural, sustainable and locally grown. Each word or phrase can mean a totally differently thing. Though the use of any of these descriptions are intended to suggest a healthier and more nutritious  product– that proof doesn’t exist.

So is it worth it?

All currently available research shows no measurable health benefits to consuming organic foods over conventionally grown foods. So is it really worth paying the average additional 40% to 120% increase in cost?

Without clear data supporting it, it really just becomes a personal preference. Many people can’t afford to spend the extra money on a chance that organic is better for you.

Some people claim that organic foods taste better than conventionally grown foods. Yet in my own personal research, I have not found any noticeable differences.

Organic produce isn’t always ‘as pretty‘ as conventionally grown produce and may contain natural imperfections that end up equaling waste. This might also be a deciding factor in the value, particularly when purchasing produce by the pound as opposed to individual item-pricing.

One last thing to consider is that organic foods are not supposed to be treated with any preservatives, leading them to spoil much quicker. This can be problematic for individuals that find it difficult to make frequent trips to the market.

Whether you  decide to buy organic or not, Americans as a whole, do not eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Whichever you buy, the Mayo Clinic website highly recommends washing all produce thoroughly because all of it can contain dirt and bacteria, not to mention possible contamination from handling, no matter how it was produced.

The decision is yours.

A Healthy Lifestyle: What You Eat Is Probably Killing You

Bye-tombstoneThe food you eat on a daily basis is probably killing you. I’m not saying this simply for shock value, I’m saying it because it’s true. You may fool yourself into thinking you’re eating healthy because you only eat organic, are vegetarian, follow a low fat or high protein diet but the bottom line is… our food supply holds many dangers we need to know about.

I hope you’ll read this before you rush to judgement and click away to another page. I’m not a doctor or a scientist– I’m just a consumer that has the same struggles and concerns regarding health and living a good long life, just like you. What I hope to do in writing this, is to encourage you to look beyond the commonly accepted perceptions regarding the food you eat (and other products you are exposed to) and to stay healthy.

The three most important things I have to say are:

1) Educate yourself;

2) Don’t trust the packaging; and

3) Listen to your body.

 

It’s really that simple.

Educate Yourself

Last month another of those infamous reports came out damning high protein consumption and equating it to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. (Seriously? Is that really a logical comparison?) A few days ago another report came out saying salt wasn’t as bad for you as previously stated.

So who can you trust? I think most people realize that the results of many of the studies released to the public are funded by companies that stand to gain financially if the results are in their favor. Universities and medical institutions are funded, at least in part, by corporations. So my advice is: Don’t just accept a single report you hear in the news– Do your own research!

Do you know what GMO stands for? You should. (I‘ll be discussing that in the near future.)

Hot Dogs cause Cancer. At least, that’s what we’ve been told. Have you stopped eating them? Do you know what it is about them that was supposedly linked to Cancer? Are you putting you and your family at risk eating them? Do the research.

Don’t Trust the Packaging

Do you pay more for poultry and eggs that are free range? Are you aware that ‘free range‘ is not a term that is closely or specifically regulated? Have you purchased eggs because the package has a picture of a happy chicken in a field running free on the carton? Misleading packaging is not a crime.

I’ll repeat this: Misleading packaging is not a crime.

The way I understand it, it is perfectly legal for companies to use misleading pictures or words like some uses of words like: organic, all-natural, fresh, etc. — In their company name, brand and description because there is no law against it. It only becomes a crime when it can be proved in court that it was misleading and caused documented damages. (Example– all spring water doesn’t come from springs and all cows don’t happily munch on grass under apple trees.) There are regulations regarding the use of certain wording in a product name, or list of ingredients— and this can indicate whether the product is certified, which is where it can really get confusing and misleading.

So are you over-paying for the organic celery over the plain celery,  or purchasing the low-salt or low-fat products because you think it’s healthier for you? Read the label. (I’ll go into more detail about organic foods in my next post.) You could be wasting your money. You should know and need to know that anytime manufacturers takes something out of a product— they have to put something else in just to make it taste good. What they put in– could be worse for you than what they’ve removed!

Listen to your body

Are you gaining weight? Are you dieting but can’t lose weight? Do you frequently feel sick after you eat? Do you take medications to allow you to eat certain foods? Are you always tired or always hungry?

Listen to your body.

It isn’t just about over consumption or specific food allergies. There could be a variety of factors that could be affecting you physically or mentally, based on: what you eat, the amount, or combination of foods you eat… and how your body reacts.

Listen to your body.

I love chocolate. Too much of it makes me sick, as does too many chocolate-covered strawberries or too much chocolate & peanut butter. It doesn’t mean I’m allergic to it— but too much causes a negative chemical reaction in my body so I have to know when enough is enough.

We are all different. As a result, foods are going to affect us all differently, as well. Sure, there are known factors that can affect most of us– but there are also different reactions for different people. This is why I believe the food pyramid and popular diets aren’t helpful to all people. You can use them as a guide but you have to modify any healthy eating regiment based on what your body is telling you.

It’s Up To You

Obviously, we have to eat to survive. I’m only trying to encourage you to make educated decisions when you purchase your foods and not rely on the marketing or trust that every food sold is good for you. Food is a business. Businesses have to make money. Sometimes, the bottom line outweighs the nutritional value of the foods that are sold. You have to make a conscience effort to not be fooled.

 

(In the near future I’ll be writing posts about organic foods, GMO, chemicals in processed foods, contamination of our food supply and more nutritional concerns that affect us all. Feel free to comment or contact me if their is a topic you’d like me to explore.)

My Five-Layer Zebra Cake Recipe

My FIve-Layer Zebra Cake garnished with dark, white and milk chocolate chips.

My FIve-Layer Zebra Cake garnished with dark, white and milk chocolate chips.

I am, by no means, a professional baker but I do like to cook and experiment with recipes whenever I get a chance. I made two Red Velvet cakes last week so for my birthday I thought I’d try something different.

If you’re looking for a ‘healthy‘ cake recipe– this is NOT the one. Even though we live a primarily, low carb lifestyle, we do allow cheating around holidays and special occasions. This cake is NOT sugar-free, fat-free, gluten free or low carb. This is a fully-leaded, rich, moist, dense cake loaded with flavor and about a million calories.
  • There are five alternating layers of chocolate and white cake, sandwiched between alternating layers of chocolate and buttercream frosting.
  • I found the original buttercream recipe too small.  So in addition to the changes I made, I doubled the ingredients to allow for generous layers of buttercream and a little extra if you decide you might want to decorate with it. (maybe swirl it in with the chocolate.
  • This cake only takes three hours from start to finish, including cooling and frosting time. The finished product is a tall cake, comprised of five full-sized layers.
White Cake Ingredients
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder or (one Starbuck Via packet)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee or (1 cup boiling water)
 Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 stick), softened
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 5-8 tablespoons heavy whipping cream  (you can substitute half-and-half or milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder or (1/2 Starbuck Via packet)

Decorations/Garnish

  • 1/4 cup each of dark, white and milk chocolate chips (add more or less as desired)
White Cake Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans coated well with shortening (or butter) and flour them,  removing all excess flour. (Do not coat with nonstick baking spray.)
  2. Cream together the butter and shortening with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Slowly add sugar about a cup at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each cup before adding the next. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well before adding another.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add it to the butter and shortening, alternating with the buttermilk, until completely combined Next, add the vanilla extract and mix the batter on high until combined. Scrape the bowl as you go, making sure everything is mixed well.
  4. Batter will be extremely thick (stiff). Evenly distribute cake batter between the three cake pans and place pans into oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Remove from the oven and let cool briefly in cake pans, then cool completely on a baking rack.
Chocolate Cake Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by greasing and flouring. Do not coat with nonstick baking spray.
  2. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl for mixing. Mix well to combine. (I could not find espresso powder but found a Starbucks Via packet worked perfectly in its place.)
  3. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix well until well combined. On low speed, carefully add the hot coffee to the batter. Mix on high speed briefly to make the batter fluffy.
  4. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until a toothpick  inserted in the center comes out dry.
  5. Remove and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a bakers rack.

 Buttercream Frosting Instructions

  1. Place softened butter into the bowl and using a mixer, cream the butter until it is smooth and fluffy.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar, small amounts at a time and periodically mix on high to keep it light.
  3. Add vanilla and salt and mix well.
  4. Add heavy whipping cream  until the frosting is smooth, fluffy and workable. If you like firm frosting, add more confectioner’s sugar. Just remember if it is too firm it will be more difficult to apply to the cake. For a soft cream frosting, add more heavy whipping cream.

 Chocolate Frosting Instructions

  1. Pour cocoa in a large bowl for mixing.
  2. Cream together butter and cocoa powder until blended. Scrape well throughout the process as the cocoa will tend to stick to the bowl.
  3. Alternate adding sugar and heavy whipping cream to the cocoa mixture in small amounts. Periodically, turn mixer on high speed briefly to keep frosting light. Repeat until all the sugar and cream have been blended.
  4. Last, add the vanilla extract and espresso powder and mix well.
  5. If frosting seems too dry, add more heavy whipping cream, a little at a time until it reaches a smooth consistency. If it appears too moist, add more confectioner’s sugar, a little at a time until it’s smooth and creamy.

Assembling the Cake

  1. Place the first layer of white cake on you cake platter and then frost the top with a generous amount of buttercream frosting.
  2. The second layer should be chocolate, topping with chocolate frosting.
  3. Continue alternating white- chocolate- white with a layer of frosting between each until all five layers are assembled.
  4. Frost the entire cake with the remaining chocolate frosting and you can blend in the remaining buttercream, or use it for more precise decorating.
  5. Use the chocolate chips for decoration by sprinkling them on top of the finished cake and carefully pressing them individually into the sides of the cake as desired.

Now cut yourself a big hunk of cake and enjoy!

IMG_5493

IMG_5490

I hope you enjoy this tasty treat! You can also make just the chocolate cake or the white cake with your choice of frosting.

  • The coffee and espresso powder are barely noticeable and add a richness, not really a coffee flavor to the chocolate cake and frosting.

I promise the next recipe I share will be especially for those health-conscious people out there looking for delicious alternatives to mundane cooking. I’d love to hear to comments!

One Year Healthier

70 pounds lighter than one year ago.

70 pounds lighter than one year ago.

It’s been a year since I completely changed my diet. I’m 70 pounds lighter and I’m happy to report that I’ve been able to stick to it and it’s now just a way of life. I visited the doctor this week and received a clean bill of health. All my numbers checked out… so for those of you who buy the false claims that a low carb, high protein diet is unhealthy — think again.

Suit pants I wore to a wedding last year.

Suit pants I wore to a wedding last year.

Now that I have more free time, I’m back to working out and hope to at least tone up, if not build a little muscle mass. I still have some sagging skin from the weight loss and hope working out will help eliminate that too. I’m cautiously optimistic as I know I can’t completely fight the aging process.

I can’t even begin to describe how much better I feel– and even more important, how much better I feel about myself. I accomplished an important goal and feel good about my ability to stick with it.

I introduced a few more carbs in to my diet without any weight change but I’m still avoiding any regular consumption of bread and potatoes.

I don’t deprive myself of anything, just really careful to limited my intake or large amounts of carbs. It’s all about moderation. A binge is even okay as long as it doesn’t lead to daily abuse of the rules.

A few months ago I got a Fitbit One, a little monitoring device that can measure your steps, stairs, calories and sleep pattern. I absolutely love it! Even though I’m not measuring my calorie consumption, it does help monitoring my calorie expenditure combined with my daily activity (steps) and stairs climbed. You can sync it with the phone app or your computer to monitor your progress and it’s all stored online for free.

In the suit a year ago before changing my diet.

In the suit a year ago before changing my diet.

One huge difference I’ve noticed is that since losing my job (and the stress), my sleep pattern has greatly improved. My boss had made things so miserable for me, I was waking up an average of 11 times a night! That has dropped down now to 3 times a night. A huge improvement! Just goes to show you how stress can have a negative impact on your health.

I feel good now and have so much more energy than I did before. I sleep less, waking up naturally without that groggy morning feeling I used to get. All in all, it has been one of the best decisions in my life.

I still get so many people asking me how I lost the weight and if it was hard. It really wasn’t… and it’s not that hard to maintain either. You just have to make the commitment… to yourself and to your health. Excuses will never equal results.

Anyone… and I mean ANYONE can do it!

Caught with my pants down. 70 pounds lighter. I lost ten inches off my waistline!

Caught with my pants down. 70 pounds lighter. I lost ten inches off my waistline!

Happy and healthy!

Happy and healthy!

My 2012 Weight Loss Challenge: The Unveiling

IMG_0674I’ve been anxiously waiting and counting down the days until I could write this blog post. Believe me, when I say that I was surprised  with my progress and final results. Even two months ago I couldn’t have predicted the final outcome. The most important thing I’ve been reminded of — We can all do pretty much anything we want, if we truly have the determination and desire to see it through. We tend to forget that. At least I know I do. I want to share with you what I did, how I did it and hope that maybe it will help just one person to find their own strength to challenge themselves. Whether it be achieving a weight loss goal or healthy living, pursuing a change in career or living situation or even starting or finishing a project you’ve put off for too long– you CAN do it.

Before After Blog

The Beginning. I would have to estimate my weight back in March 2012, when the first photograph was taken, at somewhere around 255 pounds. I was at my heaviest point ever and even XXL clothing was somewhat tight. I was starting to feel embarrassed by my size but I didn’t let that stop me from eating. It wasn’t so much the quantity of what I ate as it was the quality of foods. I lived primarily on fast food. I usually only had one meal a day during the week, and if I did eat anything else, it was always something like chips or ice cream. That one meal a day was always a high calorie, high carb binge-fest of fast food.  It got to the point I couldn’t do anything without it affecting my breathing, I’d get severe acid reflux, and I was tired all the time. Sure, I thought about losing the weight but I had no motivation to change my eating habits. It’s so easy to find excuses and place blame. The fact was I was just too lazy.

Between March and May, Michael and I started talking about losing weight and even started to cook more. We lost a few pounds but without a complete, radical change in our diets we weren’t going to see the results we needed to see. It wasn’t until we started planning my 50th birthday trip that we got serious about eating right. We decided to primarily follow the rules of the Adkins diet because it had worked well for us in the past. (We just didn’t continue to eat healthy after it.) Every diet isn’t right for every person and every person’s results may vary but the low carb diet definitely works for achieving significant weight loss and then can be easily adapted for long term, healthy eating.

IMG_0615FACT #1 It’s not always how much you eat but the combination of what you eat.

FACT #2 The Food Pyramid is wrong.

I put these two together because they are interrelated. Your body processes different foods, well, differently. When you eat foods requiring different processes, it confuses your systems and ultimately stores much of your food as fat. Your body processes proteins and fats in one way and sugars and starches in another.

FACT #3 Large quantities of Milk, Bread (Grains) and Potatoes are not good for you.

Have you ever heard the saying, Cows milk is for baby cows, not people? Most of our bodies don’t process it well. It’s no wonder so any people are lactose intolerant. Bread and potatoes contain large amounts of sugar and components that the body turns into sugar; and then the body stores it as fat.

These are staples in fast foods. When you go to a restaurant, the first thing they bring you is bread and one of your side dishes is almost always potatoes (or rice). They are cheap to serve, filling, and your bodies loves to turn them into fat. I love french fries. I haven’t had any for six months now. Honestly, I can’t say that I haven’t really missed or craved them like I thought I would. I also love bread. Sandwiches, burgers, and particularly, yeast rolls are my downfall. I love them– but my waistline does not. One slice of bread or half of a burger bun has more carbs than your daily allowance when you start a low carb diet. (It’s no wonder so many children are obese when sandwiches and burgers are a regular part of their eating habits.)

FACT #4 Dieting and Alcohol Don’t Mix.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known that talk about how they can’t lose weight and go out and drink on the weekends. Alcoholic drinks contain loads of sugar and the alcohol breaks down in to sugar that turns to fat. If you’re serious about weight loss — stop drinking. I’m not much of a drinker, so this was easy for me.

IMG_0603The Progress. In the initial few weeks of our diet, Michael and I didn’t weigh ourselves and we were very strict in limiting our carbs. We primarily stuck to proteins and fats (meats and cheese), having very few vegetables and taking vitamin supplements. We drank lots of water and cut back on caffeine. I wasn’t willing to give up coffee altogether if I didn’t have to– and soon found, for me, caffeine wasn’t having much affect on my weight loss progress.

After about a month, I started weighing myself daily. This can be tricky when you are trying to measure your progress. I found my weight can easily vary around five pounds depending on the time of day and the amount of fluids I’ve been drinking.  The best practice is to weigh yourself at the same time of day to accurately measure your progress.

We also started eating salads with nearly every meal, or the salads were the meal. You can make salads interesting by adding lots of low carb veggies such as celery, cucumbers, broccoli, mushrooms and green onions and of course all the meat and cheese you want. We only used small quantities of tomatoes and carrots for flavor because they are higher in sugar than other vegetables. Broccoli slaw is also a nice crunchy addition. Most ranch dressings are only 2 to 3 carbs per serving but you have to read the labels. Italian and vinaigrette dressings are not as good for you as you might think. Many have large amounts of sugar. I can’t tell you how much I love salads now and I never thought I’d say that.

One of our other favorite meal solutions was soup… Don’t even think about soup from a can, they really aren’t good for you. Once or twice a week we made a huge batch of our own using a prepackaged beef stock (which is often salty and can be watered down), meats such as sausage, beef and chicken, and vegetables such as celery, green beans and mushrooms. The best thing is to add fresh chopped green onions and shredded cheese when you’re ready to eat it.

IMG_0643Exercise. I didn’t start working out until three months in to our program. Obviously, an important part of good health is exercise and physical activity. I started out going 3 to 5 times a week but my workouts only averaged 45 minutes to an hour on a regular basis. My goal was to get the exercise and begin to tone and build my flexibility, not build bulk. Especially when losing a large amount of weight in a relatively short period of time, toning your body is crucial. Excess fat stretches your skin so as you lose, you want to help firm up that body.

I’ve only been going to the gym about once or twice a week for the past month with my schedule but I’ve been getting my exercise through my daily routine at home and work.

FACT #5 You aren’t going to achieve your desired results through exercise alone.

I’ve watched friends become obsessed with the gym but do nothing about altering their diets. Though this may work for some people, it doesn’t for most of us. You need a good combination of healthy eating and exercise to see your desired results.

FACT #6 It’s okay to cheat.

Cheating is okay. Sometimes you find yourself with a craving or in a situation where you can’t stick to a strict diet. Just remember that cheating may set back your progress– but if it keeps you from giving up in the long run, it’s a good thing. I can actually name all the times I’ve cheated in the past six months. I had one piece of cake, pizza twice, a small helping of scalloped potatoes and two yeast rolls. (Spread out, of course, not all at once.)

The saving grace for my sweet tooth has been the Adkins Bars. They are available at most grocery stores and I’ve gotten the best prices at Target and Walmart. They have been my morning and afternoon meal replacements and my snacks. I average two to three of them a day. They are really delicious and the perfect solution to sugar cravings. You can’t really substitute other diet or energy bars. Most are extremely high in sugar and carbs.

IMG_0510FACT #7 Attitude and Determination are EVERYTHING!

I can’t stress enough how important it is that you are really ready and committed before you start any weight loss plan. If you go in to it halfheartedly, you’re going to fail. You can’t let yourself be discouraged during those periods when the results seem to be stagnate either. Stay committed. Stick to the course and you’ll see the results.

One of the reasons this diet has worked so well for me is that though I do have to watch what foods I eat, I don’t have to count calories, points or measure food portions. I’m not disciplined enough to track those things necessary to achieve results on those other diet plans. I can honestly say I have never been hungry or felt like I was depriving myself (or starving) on this diet. It’s overall, been a relatively easy path.

I feel better. I look better. I have more energy. What more can I ask for? I’m reminded everyday how much better I feel and how much easier it is to do simple tasks. I’m much more productive and I feel alive again!

LOVE YOURSELF! You’re worth it!

One more thing– Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. Yes, the drive thru or a sit down restaurant is easier. Once you get into the swing of preparing your meals at home (if you don’t normally), it just becomes part of your daily routine. The thought of it is more harsh than the actual cooking can be.

Final Results. Here are the final statistics from my six-month weight loss journey, on my road to better health:

My Weight Loss Update: 12/23/12:

IMG_0633Started: End of June 2012

Goal Date: December 25, 2012

Goal Weight: 185 lbs.

Starting Weight: 245 lbs.

Starting Waistline: 38″-40″

Starting Shirt Size: XXL

Current (Final) Weight: 178lbs.

Current Waistline: 30″

Current Shirt Size: MED.

Total Weight Lost: 67 lbs.

MeRow Blog

Pizza Cheat Day

If you told me I had to pick only one thing to eat the rest of my life it would be pizza hands down. Thin, double crust, stuffed, New York or Chicago style, even frozen— it doesn’t matter, pizza is my favorite food. I can’t resist a hot steaming slice, dripping with melted cheese and loaded with spicy goodness. Well, at least until now.

Since Michael and I began our journey towards healthier living four months ago, we haven’t had pizza– not that pizza is bad for you– but it carries a lot of the carbs we are trying to avoid in our current stage of eating reform. This is where Cheat Day comes in. Cheat Day is something we invented when we were on a strict diet several years ago as a way of rewarding our progress and in an attempt to not get too bored with the dietary regime. It’s not a pig out day where it’s okay to eat everything in sight. It’s just an opportunity to eat something that doesn’t fit with the current plan.. a cheat. Of course, I realize now this is how I should always eat, making rich foods and desserts a luxury, not a staple.

Last May I bought a Groupon certificate for a local pizza joint, didn’t use it right away, started the low carb diet and found we were faced with the coupon expiration. So Michael suggested a cheat day (our first since June). I was working Monday night and when I got off, I drove across town in the pouring rain to pick up our order on the way home.

I’d been looking forward to this all day. I mean, it’s PIZZA! Mention it and my ears perk up like a dog hearing the words special treat.

So I called to place the order from my car, figuring it should be ready by the time I got there… and when I mentioned Groupon, like a sign from God (“Thou shalt NOT consume carbs in the form of pizza.“) — the drama started.

The restaurant wasn’t going to accept the Groupon.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Apparently, Groupon routinely oversells, extends contracts and generally fails to completely inform its clients about the details of the services they provide. Anyway, in this case, the restaurant was under new management and I was told they would give me the same deal but I would have to pay for it and get a refund for the certificate from Groupon. This should have been a red flag… skip the cheat day and move on. But, since we’d already made this our plan for dinner, I agreed and placed the order.

I picked it up, they were very nice and apologetic and drove home. When I got there, Michael was just finishing blowing leaves– yes, in the dark and in the rain– and we were both starving. My mouth was watering from the aroma alone.

To make a long story even longer… I mean, short… the pizza was good. We filled up quickly, actually left a few slices… and then the pain set in. Going from less than 20 carbs a day to at least quadruple that amount in one sitting is not a great idea. I went to bed feeling bloated and sluggish regretting our decision.

I tossed and turned for a few hours and finally gave up on sleep. I got up, cleaned the kitchen, had an extremely engaging political discussion with a former student on Facebook and headed to the gym to work off my cheat meal.

Was it a good idea? In theory, yes; reality, no. I think next time I’ll go for a delicious, loaded salad. Perhaps my new favorite food.

 
My Weight Loss Update: 10/24/12:

Started: End of June

Goal Date: Mid-December

Starting Weight: 245 lbs.

Goal Weight: 185 lbs.  (which I haven’t been since my 20′s)

Current Weight (after 10 weeks): 197 lbs.

Total Weight Loss So Far: 48lbs.

Weight Left To Lose: 17 lbs.

 

Coupons: Savings or Time Waster?

Do you use coupons? Are you obsessed with it? Do you avoid coupons because they are more of a nuisance or are you embarrassed to use them?

If any of you have seen TLC’s Extreme Couponing, you’ve seen people buy hundreds of dollars in merchandise for pennies on the dollar. I’ve heard for years of people doing this but seeing it in action makes me crazy. First, the people literally spend hundreds of hours collecting and sorting coupons and then they have whole rooms dedicated to storing their treasures. Most all the stories I’ve seen, feature people that have stores that double the coupon value, enabling them to get items for free or close to it. I have yet to find any local stores that do this, making these kinds of savings in my neck of the woods, nearly impossible.

Does anyone really need 500 tubes of toothpaste or 700 rolls of paper towels? The people on the show call it stocking up but I call it hoarding. In their defense, many of the extreme couponers keep only what they need and donate much of what they buy to local food pantries, which I think is an excellent idea. My question is: Why can’t I find these bargains?

I actually helped a friend move a few years ago and they had tubs and bins of deodorant, soap, razors, etc. that were purchased with coupons. Most of those items have a long shelf life– but they also had an overstock of perishable items that had expired. I, of course, gave them a hard time about it and we had a good laugh over it– but seriously– when is a bargain really a bargain?

I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like to save money. The trick with coupons is knowing if you are really saving money. Coupons are a marketing gimmick. Manufacturers use coupons to entice you to either try a new product or switch brands. The questions you need to ask yourself are: 1) Do I need, or would I purchase this anyway? and 2) Is this brand a better value than my regular or store brand? Consumer confidence plays a big role in purchasing but many people don’t have the luxury of buying certain name brands. The bottom line is that people make purchases that they feel comfortable with.  Another importance part of perception is quality vs. quantity. Are you really getting the same value?

Where Do You Shop?

There are many options out there when it comes to grocery shopping– and again, a lot of the choice has to do with people’s comfort and perception. Local chains, discount markets, buyers’ clubs and specialty markets all have their pros and cons. Most will accept manufacturer’s coupons and some will take coupons from other stores. You have to know the individual store’s policies ahead of time. I’m finding I can’t just go to one store anymore for a number of reasons. First, I might not like the quality of all their selections or they may not carry particular brands. Second, I’m trying to increase my fresh and healthy eating and the most convenient local grocery chain has serious issues with the freshness of their meat and produce. I can’t shop once for the week there because the fresh products will spoil. In fact, I won’t buy fresh meat unless I’m going to use it that day because too many times the meat has turned by the next day.

Another thing to consider is value. Buyers’ clubs are not always the cheapest. I think that is a misconception I’ve run in to on multiple occasions. You can save substantially buying some items in bulk but not others. Chances are individual items are the same price or slightly more expensive at buyers’ clubs than other stores because they believe you’ll pay the higher cost because of the convenience and savings on your overall bill.

My Coupon Experiment

So for the past six months I’ve been trying to be conscious of shopping sales, couponing and finding the best values. The best way to save is often by combining the store sales with the coupon discounts. Many times I’ll find a comparable product that is a better value than the sale, the coupon or both combined. The biggest mistake is to go and buy a product just because you have a coupon for it. Another thing I’ve found is that many items with coupons are not on sale the week the coupon comes out but might be on sale the following week. Most manufacturer coupons have an extended expiration date. So if an item isn’t on sale, you may want to save the coupon to use at a later date with the chance that it might go on sale, saving you more money.

I get most of my coupons online. There are various sites that offer weekly coupons from various manufacturers that you can print yourself. There are also a number of coupon groups on Facebook that will alert you to special saving opportunities. You can get coupons from manufacturers’ websites as well — but be aware that the price you pay is more advertising email in your inbox.

When I shop, I do try to shop the sales and stock up on non-perishable items to get me through to the next sale. Soup, for instance, is often on sale for $1 a can, so why would I pay $2.69 for it when it’s not on sale? This also goes for drinks. There is a lot of competition for water, ice tea, juices, coffee and sodas. They aren’t always on sale but when they are– I stock up on them because I know I’ll drink them. I also know soda will always be on sale around holidays, so that’s a great time to stock up.

I had several coupons for sunblock and suntan lotions and thought I’d check out the prices for my upcoming cruise in December. I was lucky to find one product ( a small tube) on clearance– regularly $9.99, clearance was $2.19 plus I had a $1 coupon saving me nearly 90%! I found another coupon for the same product but when I went back to the store it was back to regular price so I didn’t buy it. These are the kind of deals that you want to watch out for.

Last week, I bought 10 packages of shredded cheese, good until the end of the year, that was on clearance. (We are on a low carb diet so we eat a lot of cheese.) It so happened that the manufacturer was also running a deal that gave you a coupon for a future shopping trip. In this case, buy 10 items and save $10 on your next trip. So the cheese was marked clearance at $1.49 (reg. $2.79), I spent $14.90 and got a coupon for $10. Ten 8oz. packages of cheese for $4.90. That was a great deal.

I went shopping today with my fist full of manufacturers’ coupons, my $10 off coupon from last week, a $3 off store coupon and watched out for the sale items. I only used a fraction of the coupons I took with me but saved 47% on my entire purchase. $19.05 was from manufacturer’s coupons. Not bad for an amateur.

Remember a bargain is only a bargain if it’s something you can really use.

You Are What You Eat – Body & Mind – Part Two: Mind

It’s pretty easy to understand the relationship between food and our bodies but what about how we are feeding our minds?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we become who we are, how we live and how we think. There’s been many studies on how the stimulus young children receive establishes who they are.  Though I think this is really interesting, I think overall it’s a little shortsighted. We frequently hear, you can’t change someone or people don’t change… but I don’t believe that to be entirely true. People can change but only if they really want to… or are forced to change.

First, I want to talk about the mind food we don’t ask for… the stimulus we receive from others and from our environment.

I think we can all agree that how we behave is closely related to how we think. Take education for instance. Because we think differently, we also learn differently. Most schools are not equipped to accommodate different learning styles. They have one set way of teaching and you either learn it (temporary memorization, in most cases) or you don’t. This has a direct relationship with our behavior. Some students seem to absorb information easily and others require hours and hours of studying. The third group are those that don’t even seem to try. This third group is made up of students that either don’t want to learn or more likely, are unable to learn in the style they are being taught and just give up. I can’t even being to tell you how many students I’ve met that have brilliant minds but are labeled ADHD or special needs because they can’t be forced into the strict mold our education system requires of them. Their brains just work differently.

Words, actions and events have a huge affect on us. Our interactions with others, intentional or not, mold who we are, or at least how we behave throughout our lifetime. I wrote a little about this in a past blog post. Negative input tends to cause stress, a lack of self confidence or self worth or even cause people to shut down. Harsh words from a teacher… the boss who tells you, you can’t do anything right… the experience of a tragic event… all are stimuli that can have a profound impact on us. Unfortunately, we can’t control these types of experiences from affecting our brains and they can have life changing results.

What about what we choose to put in our minds? We are able to make choices of what we do, who our friends are and what we read or watch for the most part. We can also choose to experience positive activities that will have a major effect on us. Our attitudes are shaped by what our mind consume. This, in turn, can change us.

I believe our spirituality is the essence of who we are. It is our inner path. Our spirituality is the most important part of our character. Religious beliefs can be an important part of our spirituality but it should not be misconstrued as the only part of it. Many people wear their religion on their sleeve like a badge, yet when it comes to who they really are, it may not be quite as visible. Our histories can cause us to put up walls blocking the world from seeing our true selves. When I hear someone referred to as an old soul, I think of someone that has moved beyond those barricades and is unafraid of revealing their inner self. It’s a gift to be able to live without fear and to look beyond the facade of others and see the true person that might be hidden behind layers of hurt, anger and betrayal.

Feeding the Mind

We are surrounded daily by negative mind food. Especially in this political year, the news is bursting with negativity. It’s important to at least balance the negative content we absorb with positive thoughts and behavior. We can’t find positive solutions when we focus on the negative. Unfortunately, our society loves to complain about all the problems that surround us but seldom take action to find solutions. If we’d focus on the solutions, we might actually be able to make some progress.

I see too often that people say they don’t like negative people, and then they surround themselves with them. Some people like to wallow in negativity. It feels good to vent frustrations but we all have to be willing to take the next step towards resolving our issues.

Our survival relies heavily on the strength of our body, mind and spirit. We tend to overlook the latter and that have serious implications on our overall health. Focusing on diet and exercise is only the beginning. We also have to feed and exercise our minds. Having a victim mindset is unhealthy. We must strive daily to look for the good and conquer our problems. With a positive outlook– reconnecting with our spirituality– we can overcome any obstacles and live healthy, meaningful lives.

You Are What You Eat – Body & Mind – Part One: Body

Fat, fat, FAT! How do we get there? Poor eating choices and overeating, of course. Fast food is so much easier than cooking– and if you are going to eat fast food, who wants to order a salad? If you go to a restaurant, they often start you out with bread or rolls and the sides that come with your entree aren’t always what’s best for you.

When we’re under a lot of stress, we tend to justify lots of comfort food. Nearly every diet out there tells you over consumption of bread and potatoes is just plain bad for you. Add to that, a sugar addiction, if you have one, and we’re on our way to an early grave. Most comfort foods and eating ourselves into oblivion, are just another nail in the coffin. What kind of comfort does that give us?

Michael and I started dieting… wait, make that we completely overhauled our eating habits, a little over two months ago.  We had just finished booking our travel for my 5oth birthday celebration in December: Five days in New York, leading to a seven day cruise to the Bahamas. (We want to be thin, right?) When we started, we had six months to drop the weight we wanted to lose (now three months left) if we wanted to feel more comfortable sunning by the pool.

Obviously that’s not the only reason. Realizing, as we get older, that we really need to focus more on our health, it was time for a change. We both had entered the textbook classification of obesity and were putting ourselves at a higher risk for a heart attack and diabetes, among other things. It had to stop.

We started following the original Adkin’s diet with minimal carbs (which we did successfully about six or seven years ago) and have altered it from there. Back then, we both easily dropped 30 or 40 pounds but then started eating haphazardly again and gained back the weight over the course of about two years. Next, we followed the Gillian McKeith plan (minimal fat), again dropped the weight and kept it off for a couple years. I think I was down to 191, at my lowest weight, two summers ago.

It’s always easy to blame something rather than take responsibility for our decisions. I blamed the endless hours I spent at my computer working on my degree, combined with my unconventional work schedule, for the reasons I ate the way I did, leading to my weight gain. I couldn’t be bothered with shopping for food, cooking it and cleaning up the kitchen afterwards. I was living on primarily pizza, burgers and yes, ice cream… not that any of those are really bad for you… but not every day and not in the quantities I was consuming them.

Neither of the diets I mentioned rely on small food portions, although smaller portions are recommended. They rely on science. The combination of fat and carbs has a huge affect on our weight and overall health. Our bodies process foods differently. Carbs aren’t processed the same way as fats. Filling our bodies with both confuses our digestive systems and asks it to to perform multiple processes at once. This contributes to the body converting foods and storing fat– and in some cases, eliminating the good nutritional elements we consume.

I think we also have to look at weight and health as two different concerns. We’ve all seen people that appear to be in perfect healthy. Thin, toned, perhaps muscular– but are they healthy? How many ‘perfect people’ have you heard of, suddenly having a heart attack? They are thin, so they appear to eat right, exercise daily– and yet their bodies fail them. Bad cholesterol, high cholesterol are often the culprits. People that seem to us to be able to eat anything they want– really can’t. Simply eating in moderation isn’t the answer. You have to pay attention to the nutritional value of the foods as well.

One of the downfalls of many diets is that there is always someone there to tell you it’s not healthy for one reason or another. Low carb diets are blamed for flooding the body with cholesterol– but it’s good cholesterol. Other diets that rely strictly on portion control are hard for people to stick with because they always feel they are hungry. It’s hard to stick with a diet when your body is always craving food.

Probably the biggest contributing factor to unhealthy eating is convenience. Are boxed or pre-prepared meals good for you? Look at the nutritional content. While you’re doing so, make sure to check out all the chemicals that are added to preserve it.

Are you one of the people that buy in to the whole Low-Fat marketing? You might not know it but most low fat foods that are sold are higher in calories and loaded with sugar. (Yes, even milk!) The fat content is reduced but sugar is often added for flavor. What does your body do with sugar? It turns it to fat.

Change takes time. Cooking again has been a big adjustment for me but it really doesn’t take that much time. What is time when we’re talking about our health, right? Once I’ve lost the weight I want to lose, my ultimate goal is to change my eating habits to eating primarily fresh foods– lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and cut back severely on meats, starches and grains.

I don’t want to slight exercise. I’ve started going back to the gym but at this point, my workouts have been minimal. I’m slowly increasing the time, frequency and intensity. Exercise is an important element many of us are missing from our lives. It doesn’t have to consume us. Walking alone has great health benefits.

Avoid the triggers that cause you to fail.

I’ve found that my weight loss journey isn’t always about pounds. I’ve gone two weeks without losing anything but noticed the weight shifting during that period. I’ve reached plateaus and just had to work through them. Your body needs time to adjust. It’s important to ask yourself, “How do I look?” and more importantly, “How do I feel?”

You have to be committed to any lifestyle change or it’s just not going to work. I set a goal and a time frame I intend to stick with. If I don’t lose all the weight I want, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed or give me a good reason to give up. Instead of looking at the negatives, I look at the positives and try different ways to better my chances of reaching my goals.

So what are my results so far? Here’s my goal and progress so far:

Started: End of June

Goal Date: Mid-December

Starting Weight: 245

Goal Weight: 185  (which I haven’t been since my 20’s)

Current Weight (after 10 weeks): 210

Total Weight Loss So Far: 35

Weight Left To Lose: 25

I’m on my way.

Wishing you all a healthier life!