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Exploring the Fox River Trail
Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, and whether you know it or not; there are some amazing walking and biking trails near you. I found sights, sounds and smells that can dazzle to extremes, just a short distance from my home. I can experience the city, farm and fields, beautiful river and forest views; all in a relatively short distance. The sounds of traffic, babbling brooks, chirping birds… even silence. Stale city smells, pungent livestock, fresh forest air… are all there waiting for you to explore.
Last week, I took my longest ride so far, traveling south from Elgin down to the heart of St. Charles. There and back, my ride clocked in at just over 22 miles, round trip. To date, I’ve covered about 16 miles of the Fox River Trail (FRT) between St. Charles and East Dundee.
In total, the trail is approximately 43 miles long from Montgomery to the south, to Algonquin on the north end. The trail links in multiple locations with other Illinois trails branching out in other directions.
Here are some highlights, as well as some tips to help you avoid getting lost and to work around some trail closures. I’m sharing some photos I’ve taken along the path over the past few weeks.
Detours. I was naive enough to believe once you were on the trail, you’d stay on a clearly marked trail. It’s not the case. There are some closures and detours you’ll want to be aware of along the trail.
Traveling north from Elgin on the Fox River Trail. There are really only two minor considerations you’ll want to know about traveling north of downtown Elgin. The first, is a pretty simple jog that takes you a few blocks east of the river, around the Gail Borden Library, to allow you to cross near the Kimball street bridge. There are green bike signs that help get you across this busy street. You then have the option of taking the sidewalk around either side of the library until it reconnects with the trail. This is a permanent part of the path. I should note that once you cross Kimball, you should take the side walk south of the library back down to the river or you’ll miss a beautifully maintained section and the Veteran’s Memorial. Otherwise, you just continue straight ahead, passed the library and a large (currently) vacant piece of land, back to the actual trail going north.
The second spot is at I-90 about a quarter mile passed Trout Park. The path is not closed there. I saw one post online stating it was closed. You are crossing through a construction zone– and there are signs requesting you walk your bike through the short stretch, although most cyclists I’ve encountered, ignore the signs. The bridge that crosses the river at I-90 (taking you off trail) is closed and under construction.
Traveling south from Elgin on the Fox River Trail. A couple miles south of Elgin the FRT is closed. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll suddenly find yourself traveling along the Illinois Prairie path, and not know how you got there, or how to get back on the FRT. Forking off to the west is a closed path that appears to dead end at a train trestle. There is actually supposed to be a bridge
going under the trestle that connects the trail. This spot tripped me up my first ride. It is not marked as part of the FRT and there are no signs anywhere that instruct how you can detour back to the trail.
The best work-around I found, is to take the Illinois Prairie Path to Middle Street and go west, into South Elgin, go north one block on South Gilbert Street to State Street and then taking the State Street Bridge west, putting you are back on the trail again.
On my return trip, I did investigate the ‘skipped’ portion of the FRT and it is walkable but not easy to ride– up to where the bridge is out. That portion of the path is in extreme disrepair, lots of steep and bumpy, twisting spots that need to be redeveloped– if and when the bridge is replaced.
Seba Park on the west side of the Fox River is currently under construction but you can follow the path through, staying on the trail. From there, the trail is quite beautiful and unobstructed. Following the shoreline of the Fox River, along side a railroad track for some distance, is a nice peaceful ride.
There is one long, fairly steep incline that I find too difficult to ride and walked it instead, when heading south. It’s fun riding north though— but you need to use your breaks.
As you get close to St. Charles, there are a few spots where you have to ride main roads and residential streets between gaps in actual dedicated paths— so you’ll need to use extreme caution if walking or cycling. Some spots aren’t marked, you just continue straight ahead and the trail will become clear when it picks up again. I used the TrailLink app and GPS just to be sure.
I stopped when I reached downtown St. Charles because I was confused where to go. The map shows the trail forking and following both sides of the river through downtown. You cannot ride your bike on the sidewalks in downtown St. Charles though. The narrow roads and traffic congestion make riding in the streets a little daunting as well. Signs are posted requiring cyclists to walk bikes on sidewalks. Since I was out for a ride, not a walk; I decided to turn back towards Elgin at this point. I found out later, there is an actual riding path on the west side of the Fox River, which after some distance, must cross back over the river to the east side, before heading south towards Aurora.
On my way back, a work crew on the path forced me on a bit of a detour through a small portion of Tekakwitha Woods. I was rewarded with a stunning bridge view I would have otherwise missed.
I’m looking forward to more exploring this summer. My next goal is to ride from Elgin to the northern trailhead in Algonquin. A friend of mine just told me yesterday that north of East Dundee, is a beautiful scenic ride.
There are thousands of miles of trails across the United States and some are bound to be near you. Some you never knew existed. Get out there and explore!
- Trail Link- Fox River Trail
- Kane County Forest Preserve- Fox River Trail
- Fox River Bike Trail
- City of Elgin- Biking & Walking
On the Road Again: Back On A Bike
I was almost at my six-mile mark, having just crossed a newly constructed, planked bridge– and there was the sign that greeted me: BIKE PATH CLOSED UNTIL SEPTEMBER 2015. Not what I expected to see when I reached IL-Route 25 and Stearns Rd. a week ago. It was my first ride south on the Fox River Trail from Elgin, Illinois. This was an exploratory test run.
I’d ridden north on the trail a few times, going as far as East Dundee. This was my first venture south on the trail. I’d set a goal to ride all the way to the south end of the trail by the end of the summer. Now with the trail closure, it looks like I might have to come up with a new challenge.
As a kid growing up in Florida, I rode my bike a lot. We lived in a new, sparsely populated subdivision with plenty of safe road to ride. We also made our own trails, even though it was pretty difficult to ride in the Florida sand and clay. On a rare occasion, I’d leave the subdivision and ride up the main road to the convenience store. Usually, picking up pop bottles along the way to redeem the deposit for penny candy.
Yes, I’m that old.
We lived in three different places when I was in my teens; all within four to five miles of the schools I attended. I didn’t ride my bike to class on a regular basis but sometimes I would ride there after hours or on weekends.
I also really loved to ride my bike after a good rain. I’d ride through puddles with the water and sand splashing; spinning off the tires and spokes– coating my calves and ankles.
That was so many years ago.
I’d only been on a bike a few times since then.
So what’s the sudden interest now?
Exercise. Exploring. A Challenge. Entertainment. Pick one.
Elgin, Illinois is a fairly, bike-friendly city. Downtown there are some bike lanes, many of which, strangely, don’t connect from block to block. The streets aren’t terribly congested most of the time, making them fairly safe and easy to ride. The bonus is that home is only about a half-mile from the Fox River Trail.
I’d seriously thought about getting a bike a number of times in the past few years. I was always afraid I’d end up not riding it enough to be worth the investment. Then last November, we were at a charity event, anchored by a huge silent auction. One of the auction items was a bike, we bid— and the rest is history. I’m now the proud owner of a 2014 Raleigh Talus 3.0 Mountain Bike.
I was only able to go for a couple very short rides (last fall) before the weather got too cold and icy. My first real ride wasn’t until March— still cold— snow on the ground— at least the roads and sidewalks were clear. Maybe not so ironically, it was also rainy. We’d had a couple of warmer days, so I hadn’t really considered the weather when I went for the early morning ride. Besides the rain, the temperature was hovering around freezing and I hadn’t thought to wear gloves. After a couple miles, frozen fingers and wet with rain, I cut my ride short. Not to mention the burn in my legs from unused muscles I forgot I even had.
So far, I’ve only ridden about sixty miles total. I found a great fitness app, Runtastic, that uses GPS tracking to record and map my rides. In addition to mapping and distance, it also records elevation changes, calories burned, time and a lot of other information.
Biking is great exercise and a perfect way to clear your head. It’s also wonderful way to see the city and nearby trails. Riding on two wheels, you see things in a completely different light.
It’s never too late to reignite a passion for an old hobby or activity. It just takes the motivation to get out and do it.
In my next post I’ll share some photographs from my rides, so far; exploring the Fox River Trail.
The GMO Skinny: What You Need to Know about GMO: Genetically Modified Foods
You’re already eating them and most people don’t know it. Some of the food on your table has been altered to produce toxins— toxins that are entering your body. It’s not on the label and it may not be safe.
GM or GMO foods (Genetically Modified Organisms) are now making their way to grocery shelves, in restaurants and into your home. The biggest concern for consumers should be the results of studies showing the adverse affects of GM foods on the digestive system, liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs of the animals tested. They have also been linked to premature aging. The studies show the consumption of certain GM foods have caused allergic reactions to other normally non-allergenic foods that didn’t previously exist.
What are GMOs?
To put it in the simplest terms, GMOs are plants and animals that are genetically altered by inserting or splicing the genes of different species with the goal of a specific result. For example, combining the genes of a fish and a potato. Scientists are crossing species barriers set up by nature. They are creating hybrids that would be impossible to occur naturally. It’s also known as Genetic Engineering.
The official reasoning behind genetic modification is to produce crops that offer improved yields, enhanced nutritional value, tastes better, have a longer shelf life, and are resistance to drought, frost, or insect pests.
Unfortunately, to date, there is no proof of any increases in the quality of GM foods either in yields, taste or nutritional values over Non-GMO foods. Modified GMO crops that have increased primary pest tolerance, start to be attack more readily by secondary pests, requiring further engineering and genetic modification. Herbicide tolerance in GMOs, allows and encourages the higher usage of chemical herbicides on food crops to kill weeds, increasing their overall toxicity. The most common used herbicide is Monsanto’s Round Up.
The genetic engineering of plants often requires the alteration of more than one single trait, when that trait fails to completely fulfill its intended purpose or when multiple results are desired. Stacked traits in one particular GM corn hybrid has eight GM traits to alter insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.
GMOs are rapidly changing the natural balance of our ecosystem, causing a chain-reaction effect that cannot be reversed. The environmental effects of these changes may not be felt immediately but will take years to accurately measure and understand. Geneti modification cannot be undone. To better understand this, look at the serious long term affects the Japanese Beetle and West Nile virus are creating after being artificially introduced into other parts of the world other than their origin. They affect all elements of the environment (i.e. plants, animals, humans) directly, as well as the effects caused by the use of new chemicals introduced into the ecosystem in an attempt to combat them.
The genetic engineering of plants often requires the alteration of more than one single trait, if that trait fails to completely fulfill its intended purpose or when multiple results are desired. Stacked traits in one particular GM corn hybrid has eight GM traits to alter insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.
“Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter haematological [blood], biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies.” – Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–1751
– Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–1751 – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/3-health-hazards-of-gm-foods/3-1-myth-gm-foods-are-safe-to-eat#sthash.Du1Kv9fg.dpuf
“Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter haematological [blood], biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies.”
– Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–1751 – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/3-health-hazards-of-gm-foods/3-1-myth-gm-foods-are-safe-to-eat#sthash.Du1Kv9fg.dpuf“Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter haematological [blood], biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies.”
– Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–1751 – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/3-health-hazards-of-gm-foods/3-1-myth-gm-foods-are-safe-to-eat#sthash.Du1Kv9fg.dpuf
GMO labeling is not regulated or required in the United States. Legislation to require labeling is being fought by the major corporations that use GM ingredients in their products. Currently, 60 countries around the world, including the European Union, have very strict laws regarding GMOs, if not completely banned altogether. You can see a list of countries and what is banned: here.
The genetic modification of animals foods is best explained by the wide usage of antibiotics, growth hormones and outright genetic engineering; in addition to GMO feed used in animal production.
Currently, the largest commercialized GM crops in the U.S. include: soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), and corn (88%). This has resulted in GM ingredients invading 80% of our prepared foods.
The production and human consumption of GM foods is still in its infancy. Very few studies have been done to even begin measuring the effects it has on people and the environment. The limited studies performed on animals show potentially dangerous and life-threatening consequences.
For More Information:
I highly recommend you download the full GMO Myths and Truths PDF file and read it carefully.
Here’s a detailed list of GMO Health Risks.
Here’s another link: Former Pro-GMO Scientist Speaks Out On The Real Dangers of Genetically Engineered Food.
You can find and download a list of vertified Non GMO Product here.
So Is It Organic Or Not? And Does It Really Matter?
Is it really organic?
How can you tell if it’s organic?
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
The 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.
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.)
How Do You Measure… A Day in New York?
How do you measure a day in New York? Sixteen Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixteen (16,816) steps according to my fitness tracker. I’m not sure how accurate it is but I’ve been wearing it for about three months now and that’s my one-day record. I got the tracker to help measure my weight loss and work outs. Even if it’s not completely accurate, it has definitely been a motivating factor in my daily activities, measuring my work out progress, calories burned and daily steps taken.
Yesterday morning was our time to explore New York, this trip. Every trip to the city, we try to explore some place we haven’t been before. Having friends here gives us a chance to get a New Yorker’s view of the city and things to see and do. Yesterday we explored Harlem’s 125th Street and then worked our way down past Columbia University.
Harlem isn’t the supposed frightening place it was years ago. In fact, it looks pretty much like many other parts of New York and even Chicago. Of course no other city has the legendary Apollo Theater or the Cotton Club. We got to see both of them on our rather frigid walk.
We stopped at the end of 125th where it meets the Hudson River, at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and met friends there for lunch. We shared smokey wings, pulled pork and brisket… all were absolutely delicious! (I know it may seem like I’m starting an obsession but I had to post a picture of the unique men’s room.)
After lunch, we walked down through Columbia University and past The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. I played there (with the youth orchestra I mentioned in the previous blog) when I was in high school. Then we jumped on the subway to head to our matinee performance.
Chicago, the Musical. I got a special deal on tickets so we had great house seats to the show. In all the years it’s been running, Michael and I had never seen Chicago on Broadway. I have to say I prefer the movie to this long-running revival production. Still, it’s a solid production, strong performances and the choreography is still executed with tight precision– something that could easily be missing from a show that’s been running for so long. (I’ll be seeing it again in January when I come to New York with a group of students from school.)
Chaplin the Musical. What a surprise treat! The reviews of Chaplin weren’t good and partially as a result, it is closing next week. Michael and I both found it to be our favorite show this trip, so far. Everything about the production is good. The staging, choreography, sets, costumes and performances are all top-notch. Rob McClure as Chaplin is a whirlwind of talent and fully embodies the character. Definitely a Tony contender. Even though Michael and I both agreed Billy Porter (Kinky Boots) will probably give him a run for his money in a very tight Tony race, McClure deserves the prize.
Chaplin’s story can be considered part tragedy but was skillfully told in a way that didn’t become too dark and focused much of the show on the good that existed in Chaplin’s tumultuous life. It has a great score with a number of songs, sure to become standards in the musical theatre repertoire.
After the show, we headed over to John’s Pizza on 44th street for a quick bite before midnight. Delicious as always, John’s is one of the top rated pizza restaurants in New York.
My friend Amee met us in Times Square for my birthday countdown and then Michael headed back to the room, while Amee and I went to the Cranberry Deli next to our hotel for a red velvet cupcake. Even though I was pretty wiped out, I still stayed up until almost 3 AM, responding to early morning birthday wishes on Facebook, Twitter and email. It was a pretty terrific day.
My 2012 Weight Loss Challenge: The Unveiling
I’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.
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.
FACT #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.
The 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.
Exercise. 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.
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:
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.
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.