Alternatives to Soda, and a Healthy Treat

As the weather gets warmer, I often find myself wanting to enjoy a bottle of Diet Coke.  Or, worse yet, feed my addiction to sugar-free energy drinks.  I have tried, numerous times, to move away from artificial sweeteners, but I always find myself coming back to them.  I have tried iced tea (which I still do love, on occasion, especially chamomile and jasmine), seltzer (which I also still enjoy), and water (which I can not drink!).  As the temperatures have been hitting the 80’s and 90’s this month, I have discovered two beverages that may actually do the trick for me.

The first summer treat I would like to introduce to you, is fruit water.  This was inspired by our stay at Embassy Suites, on our way home from Michigan, over Christmas.  At the hotel, they had a water cooler, filled with water and fruit (and one day, they have cucumbers in the water!).  The fruit added such a delicious, subtle flavor to the water, that I couldn’t stop drinking it.  I now keep a pitcher of fruit water in the fridge.  Any fruit will work, but I really like water infused with citrus.  I use orange, tangerine, and lemon slices.  When I go to the gym, I fill my water bottle with fruit slices as well.  Simply refreshing!

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Another alternative to soda–and to cocktails–is an herbal-tea creation that I have discovered.  This yet-to-be-named mocktail requires a few steps to make, but it is infinitely worth it:

Bethany’s No-Name Mocktail

1.  Brew a pot of herbal/fruit tea.  I use 4 tea bags of rooibos, 2 tea bags of raspberry fruit tea, and 1 tea bag of chamomile.  Let it brew until it is very strong, about 30 minutes.

2.  Add just enough honey to sweeten, then chill.  The tea will become sweeter after chilling.

3.  Serve in wine glasses, one part chilled tea and one part coconut seltzer.  (If you can’t find coconut seltzer, any flavor will work.  But it is heavenly with the coconut!).

4.  Garnish with orange, lemon, and tangerine slices.

It looks elegant, and tastes like a summer evening.  If any of you make this, and can think of a clever name for it, please share in the comments!

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And, finally, I wanted to share a recipe for a treat that I make Beanie, for her lunches.  My little pal loves granola bars, but I have a very hard time finding bars that are made without refined sugar, or worse yet, high fructose corn syrup.  We discovered Larabars, which are date-sweetened, but not the easiest thing on the budget.  So I’ve modified granola bar recipes that I have found online, and created this:

Versatile Honey Granola Bars

2 1/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup peanut butter (or almond butter, or chopped nuts)

1/2 cup honey (or 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup maple syrup)

1/4 cup butter, chopped into pieces

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup apricot preserves (or other fruit preserves, or raisins, or dried fruit)

 

1.  On a slightly greased pan (or cast iron skillet), toast oats (and chopped nuts, if using) at 350 degrees, for 3-5 minutes.  Stir, then roast an additional 3-5 minutes.

2.  Remove oats, and place in square-shaped container.

3.  Over medium, cook butter, honey, peanut butter (is using), vanilla extract, salt, and fruit preserves (if using), until mixed and melted.  Pour into container with oats.

4.  Stir mixture together.  Stir in any remaining ingredients.  Press down into container.  Chill, until bars stick together.

Notice Rob peeking over the snack bar...He insisted on photo bombing!

Notice Rob peeking over the snack bar…He insisted on photo bombing!

 

What are some of your favorite summer treats?

 

My Week in Food

Well, folks, I have finished the first week of my diet, which is kind of a low glycemic/Perfect Health Diet/Nourishing Traditions hybrid.  I did well, and enjoyed a burrito from Chipotle for my once-a-week cheat day.

What surprised me is that I haven’t felt hungry at all.  In fact, I’ve slightly reduced the portions from what the Perfect Health Diet requires.  I had to eat 4 fist-sized servings of allowed starches, and in the end, I ate 2-3 a day.  Actually eating carbs did a lot for keeping me full, and for my energy level.

The next requirement for the Perfect Health Diet (I am adding one requirement per week) is to eat “up to 3 servings” of sugary vegetables (carrots and beets) and fruit.  Since I’m not feeling hungry, and I want to keep the sugar level low, I am having one serving of either a sugary vegetable or fruit per day.  I am also adding the requirement of eating seaweed. I eat nori quite often, but I will begin eating it everyday.

What has made the diet fun, is the large variety of vegetables available in Houston.  I have made it my rule to buy any vegetable that I see at the store, that I haven’t eaten before.

Here are some new foods I’ve experienced this week:

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I’ve already told you about the cactus leaves that I found at Kroger.  To eat them, you scrub the spines off, then slice them into sticks.  You can fry or boil them.  I fried them up in coconut oil, with some onions, and they were quite good.  I think I will make cactus casserole (like green bean casserole, only with cactus leaves) for Christmas!

jicama

This is a jicama root.  They are a lot like potatoes.  I diced them, and threw them in the pressure cooker with a chicken.  The leftovers went very well in a chicken soup!

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These are daikon radishes.  They are huge, and look like elephants’ tusks.  They are traditionally used as garnishes in Asian food, but I’ve found that they also work well as potatoes.  Their texture is stringy, so they don’t mash well, though.

Close up view of the cassava root isolated on a white background. Stock Photo - 9942765

This is a yucca root.  They must be cooked, as they are toxic if eaten raw.  I thought this was quite delicious steamed in the pressure cooker–don’t forget to peel the bark off, after it’s cooked!

In addition to these great veggies, I have had the opportunity to try a number of varieties of sushi, which of course is my favorite food on the planet!  (And it is allowed on my diet).

So, after all this healthy eating, what’s the bottom line?  There are now 10 pounds less of me, and I am a quarter of the way to my goal!

The New Life – New Diet Challenge

I am once again speaking to you as an expert in failing at losing weight.  I’ve dieted frequently, often with limited success.

However, I do have to say that my most recent failure was probably inevitable.  With my brain bathed in cortisol for so long, and with us being in survival mode during the two months we were packing, and then with all the family visits that involved GREAT, sinfully sugary food, I don’t think there could have been any outcome other than me gaining a significant amount of weight. 

So, now that we’re settled in and no longer under such a tremendous amount of stress, I thought it would be a great time to focus on eating healthier.  There are plenty of nutritional theories out there, so no two people are going to agree on what “eating healthier” is.  I have spent a lot of time reading, and trying to find the one perfect way to eat.  Of course, involving the word “perfect” invokes perfectionism, so I would immediately give up, if I slipped up and deviated from my “perfect” eating. 

But maybe, no two people’s bodies are exactly alike.  And maybe we would be better off viewing nutrition in the same way we view philosophy and spirituality–that there are multiple roads to good health.  So I am going to pick and choose, from the knowledge I have and from my own experiences, and find the road that works for me.  I will share my ideas and experiences with you each week, but do keep in mind that your road might be slightly different.

So, here is what I am doing:

1.  My blood sugar tends to run high, so I usually feel very good eating a low-carb diet.  I will use my usual low-carb diet as a base, then gradually add to it, to increase nutrition.

2.  Fats affect my mood, in a huge way.  I am avoiding trans fats, as they cause me to have depression symptoms (they are also just horribly unhealthy), and I am choosing oils that are not high in omega-6’s, since those are far too prevalent in the Western diet.  I’ll fry in butter and coconut oil (omelets made in coconut oil are delectible!), use olive oil for salad dressing, and eat lots of nuts and avocados.  Fatty meat is fine too.

3.  We’re going organic as much as possible.  We are fortunate that organic produce and meat is readily available and inexpensive in Houston.  If that is not the case where you live, I would recommend going organic with the “dirty dozen” vegetables and fruit, and not worrying about the rest.  Actually, back in Michigan, lettuce was the only vegetable that I obsessed over getting organically.  I had read about Monsanto’s genetically modified “Round-Up Ready Lettuce,” and that grossed me out enough to only buy organic leaves.  My biggest priority, however, is meat and eggs.  Not only is organic healthier, but animals in factory farms are treated so cruelly. 

4.  I friend of mine recommended the Perfect Health Diet, and I would like to incorporate more of that into my diet.  It is more sustainable than a low-carb diet, since it includes the nutrients that are missing, when carbs are reduced significantly.  I plan on introducing one “rule” from the Perfect Health Diet, each week.  I will deviate from it only in my number of servings (since I would be forcing myself to eat more than what is comfortable, if I followed it to the letter) and my handling of grains (PHD bans all cereal grains, beans, and brown rice, but soaking or fermenting them eliminates the toxins that are the reason for their banishment.  We will avoid gluten though, when we get to that “rule”).  For more information on soaking and fermenting, I would recommend the book Nourishing Traditions.

5.  I will not adhere strictly to the “rules.”  One “cheating” meal will be allowed, per week. 

So how are we beginning?  The first rule for the Perfect Health Diet is to eat four fist-sized servings of “safe starches” (ie root vegetables, rice, and squash).  When I tried to eat four servings, I found that all I had room to eat were starches.  So I’ve reduced it to 2-3 servings.  For the higher glycemic veggies, such as potatoes, the book recommends boiling them with vinegar.  I have found that this does get rid of that “sugary” feeling after eating them.

So far, I have been eating this way for three days.  I am feeling more energetic, and my mood has been improving.  Add to it the fact that I have lost two pounds already, and I would say things are going well!

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Awesome Meals!

re-posted from April, 2011.

What could be better than a Happy Meal? Well, an awesome meal, of course! We wanted something fun to use while we’re on the road, that would be fun and different for the Bean to eat. And, of course, something that would include a toy to keep her busy.

So, we bought a couple plastic pencil boxes. You could use a larger box for an older kid. We got some small boxes and, for the time being, some Ziploc bags (which can be reused, and later replaced with sandwich wraps). We chose a theme, which this time is farm animals. I bought some farm animal stickers and decorated everything with them. And I included a small farm animal toy.

Tomorrow, the Bean will eat her first Awesome Meal, during her lunch break between therapy sessions.

What’s on the menu? Grapes, raisins, sunflower seeds, bran crackers, and a Fruitabu. Veggie wraps, cheese, lunch meat (if you have a cooler), carrot sticks, and ants on a log are other good ideas. A milk box doesn’t fit in her lunch, so she’ll carry it separate or use a sippy cup.

With a little creativity, you can make meal times a lot of fun!

Sunday Supper: Dinner Bread

I’ve told you about the virtues of my pressure cooker, so I thought it was past time that I shared a recipe with you! This bread is a meal in itself. It’s simple, and great to make in a small space.

You need a pressure cooker, with a pan inside. I have also made it on a trivet, but sometimes the dough gets a little soggy when I do that.

1. Mix 2 cups whole grain flour with 1 tbsp yeast, a dash of salt, and 2 tbsp sugar or honey. Add 1/2 cup fat (butter, bacon fat, oil). Add enough water to make a sticky dough. Knead in more flour, until the consistency is right.

2. Mix in some protein, sauce, and veggies. Clean out your fridge! I’ll add beans, salad dressing, spinach, cheese, eggs–anything!

3. Shape into a small loaf. Place in the pressure cooker. Cook on high pressure for 25 minutes, then release, using the quick release method. Check for doneness. Cook longer, as necessary.

Sometimes we spread our bread with mayo, for a special treat. Enjoy!

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March’s Project: Fix the Food Budget

I have a confession to make. Two confessions, actually.

First, I haven’t been doing so great with eating well and losing weight. Second, I’ve been doing even worse with money.

I’ve realized that these two things are somewhat related. By far, the biggest drain on my finances is the food budget. There are a number of reasons, that I’m overeating AND overspending on food:

1. Stress eating. Things have been hectic over here, and I already knew that I’m the queen of stress eating. After a rough day, I go out and buy comfort food.

2. Sloppiness. This comes back to stress as well. When things are crazy, I don’t make it out for my weekly shopping trip. We have grocery stores in our town, but they tend to be much more expensive, because our town in a resort area. I don’t want to buy a week’s worth of groceries in our town, so I just grab what I need for each night. And impulse buy some snacks. Everyday.

3. Quick fixes. When things are hectic and I don’t plan ahead, and I don’t feel like spending time cooking something.  So, when I do my daily run to the over-priced grocery store, I tend to buy prepared or processed foods. 

So, what can we do about this?  I think it all comes back to planning.  Planning ahead takes some time, but, ultimately it will cut down on stress.  At this point in our lives, we need to prioritize saving money, over nearly everything else.   So here are my goals, for fixing our food budget:

1.  Shop once, every other week.  The less I’m in the store, the less I will spend.

2.  Keep meals simple.  Single-dish meals, without processed carbs and sugar, with one source of meat per week (for example, I’ll buy a pack of chicken legs, and that will be our only meat for the two weeks), will save us time and money, and be healthy.

3.  Saving money (temporarily) comes first.  I love buying organic food–it’s better for the environment, it’s healthier, it’s more ethical.  But, right now, we need to focus on fixing the budget.  The time will come, when we go back to eating organic. 

4.  Focus on other means of stress relief.  This is a tricky one, because eating works so well!  But, I’m focusing on making time for writing and exercising, continuing to declutter and simplify, and taking an omega-3 supplement (omega 3’s lower production of cortisol, the main stress hormone).

I had my first shopping trip on this plan, over the weekend.  So far, so good!  For two weeks, I spent $91.  My goal, is to stay under $75 a week, and so far we’re making it. 

groceries

Getting Rid of Some “Body Clutter”–Who’s In?

Note: “Body Clutter” is a term coined by the Fly Lady.

Every year, around this time in the winter, thoughts of weight loss fill my head. I’ve counted calories, done low glycemic, low carb, eaten whole foods, tried to just eat until I was full, etc. etc. And I often can lose, a bit. But it inevitably comes back, with friends.

I am definitely not a nutritionist. I’m not a doctor, or any sort of expert on weight loss. I’m not an exercise guru or even enthusiast. In fact, I’m not even an average person who has had success in this area.

So why am I giving you advice on this? Because I’ve had a lot of experience failing at it.

And with each failure, I’ve learned something.

So, let me show you what I’ve learned so far:

1. Examine the “why.”
Ask yourself, why do I want to lose weight? If you want to look good in the summer, that’s great. If you want to be more agile, feel younger, that’s great as well. If you want to be healthier and happier, that’s even better. But if what you’re seeking is approval from others, even your significant other, forget it. Seeking approval is a worthless pursuit, and you’re not going to succeed if that is all you are after.

2. Examine the other “why,” and deal with it.
Now you have to ask, why am I overweight? Maybe you recently had a kid, have just been making poor food choices, or have not been active. But, most likely, you’re using food as an emotional crutch. Do you gnaw for stress relief? Use comfort food to reward yourself? Are you using the comfort of food to cope? Emotional eating is pretty common, I think, because we’re so disconnected. Connect with others, in ways beyond Facebook, and you will find ways of coping that don’t involve food. This is an area that has been a challenge for me, definitely.

3. Choose a good food plan.
What is going to work for you? It doesn’t matter what you choose, so long as it is something you can stick with. I tried counting calories many times, but found it to be too much work and too uncomfortable. Low-glycemic seems to be what works for me, because it keeps me full, helps my blood sugar, and is something I can keep as a lifestyle.

4. Get moving.
Yeah, you can lose weight without exercise, but I’ve found that a good workout program is so empowering. I’ve enjoyed running, strength training, and right now, yoga. The trick is to be patient with yourself–I look at monthly progress, when it comes to exercise. Otherwise, I’ll burn out.

5. Get support.
Old-school Weight Watchers was onto something with this. A little encouragement and accountability can go a long way. The important thing is that everyone helps each other. There can be a leader who directs the discussion, but nobody lectures or acts superior to everyone else. It’s not a matter of seeking the other person’s (people’s) approval, it’s about support. I had a lot of success when a group of us from Michigan Natural Parenting e-mailed each other everyday. Some people (including me) listed everything they had eaten, and their exercise, for the day, everyday. Other people just checked in and said how they were doing, good or bad.

Which brings me to this invitation. I’ve had people approach me about accountability, and I would also like some accountability partners. If you’re interested in losing weight, for good this time, just like I’m trying to do, then I would like to put together an accountability group. Please let me know in the comments (you will need to include your e-mail–just put it in your signature, if you want to avoid the whole registration thing), if you are interested in joining in. Or you can send me an e-mail: brosselit at gmail dot com. What I am trying to establish is a non-judgmental group, supporting each other, that checks in once a day.

Also, if you’ve had success losing weight, and keeping it off, please share your story in the comments. Positive stories are always good motivation!