How To Eat More Vegetables

I know the title of this post seems a bit silly, but it’s not, and I’m going to tell you why.

Humans descended from hunter-gatherers. This means that “eating whatever’s available” is literally encoded in our DNA. That is how humans feed themselves – they eat what they find in their environment, or what is placed in front of them, or whatever seems easiest to acquire. That’s a survival strategy when food is scarce and every calorie requires effort to achieve. It’s not so helpful when food is plentiful and food that is actively bad for humans is easier to get than healthy food.

So if you know you need to eat more veggies, but it’s not something that’s already present in your environment, you might very well wonder…how do I do that? I absolutely sympathize with that – I personally need to eat more veggies than most people both to maintain my weight loss, and because I need the roughage for certain, um, digestive tract reasons. So every day, I need to figure out how to get veggies into my diet, and I have a couple of fallback plans to make it easier.

First things first: Shopping

You can’t eat what you don’t have, obviously. So you need to make sure that veggies are on your grocery list every time you go to the grocery store. Or have them delivered, whatever. But not just any veggies. I will illustrate with an anecdote.

When I first started maintaining my 200 pound loss, I dutifully went to the grocery store and bought 2 heads of broccoli every time, because I needed to have lots of veggies in my diet. Unfortunately, I don’t actually like broccoli enough to eat it twice a week every week for the rest of my life. So several of those heads of broccoli got ignored, and a few of them got eaten grudgingly, which felt like my new maintenance lifestyle was a punishment. That’s counterproductive.

You need to figure out what veggies you like to eat, and you need to figure out the fastest, most convenient way to prepare them, because that’s what you’ll be doing most often. Unless you’re a gourmet cook, which several of my friends are. The rest of us just want to be able to make something quickly and get on with our day.

Figure out what veggies you like, then put them on your grocery list and buy them, so you always have them on hand.

Preparing on Their Own

Over the years I’ve figured out that I like shishito peppers roasted for about 12 minutes in the oven with some cooking spray and salt. I like quick salads I can make in 5 minutes or less. I like microwaving a spaghetti squash for about 9 minutes then pouring tomato-based spaghetti sauce over it. I like baking Yukon Gold potatoes several at a time then having them in the fridge all week to grab and re-heat in the microwave in 90 seconds (Yes! Potatoes are a vegetable, just use with caution). I like roasting a head of cauliflower in the oven for 14 minutes with some cooking spray and seasonings – actually this roasting method works with most types of veggies!

Those are the kinds of veggies I buy every time I go to the grocery store. Things I know I can make in minutes.

I have a stand-by, too. If nothing else sounds good, we’re having salad with dinner. And making a salad is a super-quick proposition, which is why it’s a stand by. Here’s how I make my ration of roughage most nights, and you’ll note this requires absolutely no washing or chopping:

-Throw some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard powder in a large bowl and whisk it together with a fork. (My presonal recipe also calls for soy sauce and a forkful of garlic from a jar of pre-crushed garlic).

-Throw in the greens, which are already washed, chopped, and ready to go. My local store carries these Organic Girl greens and they are perfect for this use – enough greens for 2 or 3 servings of salad.

-Throw in a handful of little tomatoes, no chopping needed.

-Toss on a handful of shredded carrots. No shredding required.

-If I’m feeling it, shake on a little crumbled feta cheese.

-Optional, go hog-wild and slice an avocado in half and cube half of it onto the salad, put the other half in a ziploc for tomorrow night’s salad.

Mix it all together with tongs and be sure to distribute the dressing all around and you have salad. It takes so very little time to make, this is what I eat most nights to be sure I’ve gotten veggies in for the day.

Bulking Up Existing Recipes

Another way to eat more veggies is to add them to your main meal or entree in an existing recipe. If you’re having pasta, it’s super easy to chop up some extra veggies and add them to your sauce, or go primavera and just have a bunch of veggies roasted in oil on top of your spaghetti. Adjust your proportions so you’re actually eating more veggies than pasta and that’s a very healthy and filling meal!

If you’re making soup (either from scratch or a can) adding extra veggies is a great idea. Veggie soup can also be tasty on it’s own with the right spicing, and if you take your immersion blender and smooth it out you’ll be surprised by how tasty and luxurious that can be.

Any kind of casserole, pasta dish, or soup, in my opinion, can be bulked up (as well as reducing the caloric density) by adding vegetables.

Finding New Recipes

Consider making a veggie-based main. I’ve invested in a couple of vegetarian cookbooks, not because I’m vegetarian, but because I need to eat a lot of veggies, and they have great ideas for entrees based on veggies. In fact, I’m happy to forego meat at any meal when I find a tasty veg-based recipe. One of my favorites is stuffed eggplants, which I never would have thought of on my own – I found it in a book on vegetarian dishes of the world. There’s lots of them out there and they have new, interesting recipes you might not have considered before.

In Restaurants

Most restaurants will allow you to substitute some sort of cooked veggies for the starch that normally comes with your meal – mashed potatoes, fries, rice, whatever it is, you can probably get veggies instead. Do that. (Be careful of restaurant salads though – they often come covered in nuts, cheese, croutons, and dried fruits, and may total out calorically higher than things like hamburgers or tacos if you’re not careful!)

Check out vegetarian entree options, too. Often times these can be deep fried or otherwise bathed in cheese, oil, or cream, and might be something you should avoid, but sometimes you find something surprising and delightful. I’ve gotten beautiful towers of perfectly roasted veggies with surprising sauces just by perusing the vegetarian options first.

So those are the ways I can think of to eat more veggies. How do you get more veggies into your diet? Tell me in the comments!

Limiting Damage from Dysfunctional Coping Mechanisms

If you’re like me you might have been indulging in some dysfunctional coping mechanisms that last few weeks. You know what I’m talking about, right? Eating, drinking, impulse buying, avoiding exercise…

Well, those are mine. The bad news is that with the holidays fully upon us the emotional situations that bring on the need to cope are likely to only intensify. Your family is not going to stop arguing about the current US political situation just because it’s December and the Christmas spirit should dominate. They’re going to get worse, and we’re going to want to hide in a cave, eat chocolate candy, and buy sparkly things on Amazon while sipping a fruity cocktail and blasting the new Metallica album in our earbuds.

Or maybe that’s just me.

This post isn’t about changing all that and causing you to suddenly switch to a perfect food and exercise program this week. It’s about limiting the damage, because sometimes that’s the best we can do. So I’m only going to talk about limiting the damage, focusing on the dysfunctional coping mechanisms I myself am familiar with (for example, if smoking is your problem I have no idea how that feels so I wouldn’t even try to offer any suggestions but check out WebMD, maybe something they have is useful).

Eating Too Much

Yep, big one. Mine and everyone else’s. Eating releases dopamine. In short – eating comforts mammals. Evolutionarily, that’s an advantage. Real-world modern today, not so much. My best advice is to swap out the less-supportive foods you might want to binge on, with something that will do less damage. Remember, this article is just about limiting the damage. So, if your go-to is chips, switch to popcorn. Try some Skinny Pop, it’s tasty and only about 40 calories per cup. You can eat a LOT of it without causing too much damage. Or make some popcorn at home, light on the butter and salt.

If sweet is your thing, go to your grocery store and grab a bag or two of grapes, green or red or black, doesn’t matter. Wash those up and eat the whole bag if you want. Same thing with baby carrots. We can all admit that we’re not eating for the gourmet experience right now, we’re shoveling food in because it feels good, so look for foods you can eat in bulk with good texture: Broccoli spears, carrots, grapes, berries, slice up some apples. Honestly, if you just need to be putting something in your mouth, you can eat all the fruits and veggies you want without causing too much damage.

And dump some of the junk. If it’s not around you can’t use it/eat it.

Drinking Too Much

First of all, I’m not going to tell you to stop drinking. I’m not your mom, and this ain’t AA. If drinking a bit too much is what you need to do to get by for a while, let’s just limit the damage and sort out the rest later.

Light beer. Ugh, I know, it’s not as awesome as Guinness or local craft brews. But let’s be honest, are you really drinking for the nuanced flavor profile and deep complexity, or are you drinking because things look shitty and you need a little fuzziness around the edges to cope? If you’re drinking to cope, make it something less damaging. If beer is your thing, pick up some light beer, just to get through for a while.

Wine. It’s gonna be a better option than sugary cocktails, hands down. Dryer varieties have fewer calories, so skip the dessert wines (again, we’re not drinking for the flavor, let’s all admit it).

On the Rocks. Get right down to business. A shot of vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila, or whatever your spirit may be, is going to have about 65 calories per serving (shot). If taking the edge off is what’s important, have a straight up shot or two and call it good.

Mixers. Stick to low-cal mixers like diet soda or diet tonic, light cranberry juice, light juices in general (they exist, you just have to know to look for them), lemon or lime juice, or club soda.

Dilute. I’ve been adding water to my wine to reduce the caloric load and also slow myself down. It’s perfectly legitimate to dilute your drink with sparkling water or club soda. It’s also helped me avoid several headaches.

Water round. Drink non-alcoholic beverages every other time. Get yourself some flavored sparkling waters so you can feel fancy while you’re doing it. This will also help you to avoid hangovers so that you can continue to be a productive member of what’s left of society.

Shopping/Impulse Buying

I’ve been buying too much stuff – it’s so easy when you can stay home in your sweats and bring the world to your doorstep. Again – I’m suggesting ways to limit the damage.

Coupons. Check out Honey, a browser extension that scours the internet, then automatically applies the best coupon code at checkout wherever you are shopping. It’s not going to stop you from shopping, but it will apply discounts to limit the damage to your bank account.

Try Pinterest. The thing about Pinterest is that you can curate your own little world of things you like without actually purchasing them. You still have them, there, in your virtual world, if you want to look at them. I’m not sure how useful this would be, but it’s worth a shot.

Return policies. Most companies allow you to return stuff once you’ve received it. If you find yourself drowning in things you’ve bought recently and maybe shouldn’t have, it’s not too late once you’ve received it, although you may take a hit on the postage.

Donate. You can set the amount (make it something you can afford), and you still get the high of shopping for something and purchasing it.

Delay. I’ve got tons of shopping carts floating out there on the internet with things I put in and then waited a day to see if I really wanted them. I like putting stuff in online shopping carts. It feels like buying! It’s fun! Look at all this pretty stuff! And then I wait a day to see if I really, really want the thing more than I want money. Usually not.

Not Exercising

It’s weird that not exercising is a coping mechanism, but it can feel really pointless to expend the energy to improve our bodies when it seems like everything is going to hell in a handbasket. And of course, that’s when it will often do the most good. I personally have been having trouble mustering the energy to do the kinds of workouts I know I should be doing right now – HIIT, strength training, metabolic conditioning. Those are hard workouts that seem like so much effort.  So what I’ve been doing is pulling up my favorite trainer’s YouTube channel and just browsing until something that seems doable comes up. Right now punching things seems good, so I’ve been doing kickboxing workouts almost exclusively the last week. Punching feels good right now, especially when I envision certain faces in front of my fist. Cathartic.

Maybe what you need right now is some yoga, to center yourself and focus on breathing for a bit.

Maybe what you need is to go for a walk and get some sunshine. Maybe you don’t have any equipment but moving your body sounds like a good idea. Maybe burning really hard is how you need to clear your head.

And hey – feel free to zombie-walk your way through a workout. Nothing says you can’t just do the parts you like. Nothing says you have to be enthusiastic. Sometimes I start a video thinking, “Eh, I’m not feeling it, but I’ll humor her and if it gets too much I’ll just half-ass it.” And I do. But sometimes I start to enjoy the feeling of moving and I build some enthusiasm as I go.

In Conclusion…

You don’t have to start a diet and exercise program right now, dear lord no you don’t! But you can limit the damage of some of the dysfunctional coping mechanisms you may be indulging in, until you’re ready to take more drastic measures. So here I am, in the same boat, doing my best to limit the damage along with you. I don’t think anything here is rocket science, I think that sometimes it helps to have a list of things presented, though, so you can pick one or two to focus on. Feel free to just pick one or two. It’s enough.

Also, a Facebook break does wonders for the mind. Give it some thought. A day or a few days can really help with the sense of helplessness and catastrophe some of us are feeling.

That Inking Feeling, Part 2: Completed

MariaSince I’m posting again (I guess?), I went back to review my last few posts and realized I left you all hanging. I never posted a pic of the thigh piece I was getting this summer/fall. I mentioned it in my post about my difficult relationship with my thighs, and how much the ink helped me to mend that, in early August, but now that it’s done I thought I’d share the final product.

I do still intend to get the other one done, but I haven’t thought of a compelling idea, theme, or image yet. Having art that I love there helps a lot to counteract some of my negative feelings toward a part of my body that feels like it’s always been at war with me.

Anyway, her name is Maria.

Aging Skin Does Weird Stuff

I feel like I start every other post with, “Gosh it’s been a long time since my last post.” Sorry, I’ve been battling mental rebellions over this whole “needing to be vigilant every day” thing that my life is.

Since my last post I’ve done the thing I said I was doing – eating sensibly, not starving myself, exercising for about an hour 5-6 days a week, not getting on the scale. But then a couple of weeks ago something happened that really rattled me. I noticed a new angry red stretch mark on my belly just above my belt lipectomy scar. Then a few days after that I noticed a bunch more on my abdomen above and to the left of my belly button (I have some old white ones there already from when I was ~400 pounds). Then a couple of days ago I noticed some on the other side that mirrored those ones above my belly button.

I freaked out. I worried that my negligence of the scale meant that my weight had somehow ballooned up without me realizing it into previously unknown highs, so high I was getting new stretch marks. That didn’t even make any sense! I’ve been 400 pounds in my life, when I had the belt lipectomy they didn’t take any skin in a vertical direction, only horizontal, so there should be plenty of space there. I couldn’t have gained THAT much! I’m certainly not getting any taller!

I told my husband about the situation, and he said, quietly and meekly (because he knows what a minefield this topic can be for everyone), “You look the same to me, I don’t think you’ve gained a bunch of weight, sweetie.” And then he said even more quietly, “Maybe all those twisting, stretching core workouts you do are causing them, maybe you need more room for all of the badass ab moves you are doing?”

There was nothing for it but to get on the scale this morning. I braced myself for the worst, but I did not find that the worst had happened. I weigh exactly what I always do when I am not starving myself or otherwise trying to lose weight to attain the mystical goal weight in my brain. I weigh the normal, maintenance, enjoying-my-life-while-still-being-careful weight I always revert to between diet programs. The weight I should probably just get used to and accept. That weight.

So what the hell, body?

The only thing I can guess is it’s a combination of what my brilliant husband said, and my aging skin. It’s been drier than usual lately, noticeably so. And I do really work my core with my workouts – many of them incorporate Pilates and yoga moves that twist, stretch, and otherwise pull at my midsection. That’s the best I can guess. Pass the cocoa butter, please?

Summer Maintaining Update

I’ve been maintaining since early July, that was when I stopped going to HMR Phase 2 classes (I’d bought a series of 12 for a skills tune-up), and things are going really well. I’ve gone back to my old system where I don’t weigh myself every day because it messes with my head, and instead I focus on doing the things I know I need to do, which are:

Feelin' fly on Saturday night!

Feelin’ fly on Saturday night!

  • Exercise for about an hour, 5-6 days a week.
  • Eat in a maintenance mode pattern every day/as much as humanly possible.
  • Allow occasional indulgences and enjoy them.

So far it’s working very well. Bullet point 2 above is really the key – I eat a very predictable pattern of foods which is easy for me to fall back upon just about every day. If I indulge myself some evening at a party or restaurant, I’m back on track the next morning because I have an easy, repeatable pattern for food that is simpler to follow than not.

I know that I’m maintaining because my measurements haven’t changed, and my clothes still fit the same. I went out for a friend’s birthday dinner Saturday night and felt pretty damned good about myself and my body for a few hours, then realized that those moments are becoming more of the norm than the exception. If what I’m doing is causing me to finally find some body love and quiet the berating voices in my head, I call that success.

I’ve spent the summer in an unsettled state regarding my job, but clarity is coming soon and I should have that settled within the next few days. That will be a relief and potentially a whole new set of challenges and pressure in my life. But in a good way.

That Inking Feeling

I’m getting a new tattoo. On my left thigh. It’s going to cover pretty much the whole front and side of that thigh. Last week I had my first session under the needle, in which the outline was completed. My next session is coming up soon, and there’ll probably be another session after that to get the whole thing finished with color and shading. I’m pretty excited about the new art, the piece makes me happy.

I thought really long about whether I was willing to post this publicly, because obviously body image issues can be difficult, and provoke strong reactions. But I stumbled onto something very powerful for me in my journey to body acceptance recently, and completely unintentionally. And I know I’m not the only person working on weight management who also struggles with body image and acceptance.

Today I want to talk about my thighs. I hate them. I’ve hated them my whole life.

It wasn’t, originally, an aesthetic thing. When I was a child, we were taken to church every Sunday. I had to wear a dress, of course, and my thighs rubbed together and chafed the whole time and I always ended up with a painful rash. Until a little later when I was maybe 9 or 10, and my mother gave me nylons to wear under my dress to be proper. This was even worse. The nylons weren’t big enough, but I squeezed into them anyway (I did a lot of trying to make things work when I was a child). When you squeeze into nylons (or pantyhose, as we called them then) that don’t fit you what happens is that the thin little threads that make up the fabric stretch apart and your fat oozes out into the tiny stretched-apart squares. And then that already-stressed and stretched skin rubs against each other and creates a massive, painful rash of epic proportions. So much hurt. So much trauma. I hated my thighs for being wrong. Because obviously if they were right this wouldn’t happen, nobody else had trouble wearing the correct items of clothing to be at a church.

I think that in this blog we’ve already touched on how unpleasant it was to grow up fat in the 80s. The fattest, biggest part of me has always been my thighs. My thighs have been why most pants don’t fit me. My mother would make me clothes when I was a small child, and I would get in trouble if they didn’t fit, and often they didn’t fit. I remember one jumpsuit in particular that she made, pulled up hard into my crotch because it didn’t fit, but I had to wear it anyway, because she had made it. Complaining about it not fitting or hurting was ungrateful. Clothes shopping was a similar fraught nightmare. I could be wrong in so many ways, usually because of how fat and hard to fit I was. My thighs were a visible, constant reminder of my wrong, hated body, the traitors that made so much of everything I tried not fit. I used to pray at night to Jesus to make me normal sized, I cried, entreating this beneficent, mysterious, omniscient presence that I learned about on Sundays to stop tormenting me and just let me be a normal sized person.

In high school I auditioned for and won the position of Drum Major of my high school marching band for my junior and senior years. At the end of my sophomore year my drum major uniform was ordered and received. I tried it on in a private changing area at the Band Room and found that while the jacket fit fine, the thighs were way too tight, they had betrayed me again, and would never fit into the uniform pants. I was so deeply embarrassed and ashamed that my fatness was a problem again, that I said nothing and told the uniform coordinator (one of the parents) that it was fine, then went home for the summer determined to lose some weight so it would be fine. Sadly, I had no idea how to do that whatsoever, other than to worry anxiously about it all summer and berate myself every time I ate. When autumn rolled around you’ll be astounded to know that the uniform still did not fit me. My mother took this opportunity to deliver a lecture dripping with disappointment, derision, and shame for my actions and my fat, disgusting body. Then she went to a uniform shop or tailor or something and had a pair of pants made for me that looked close enough to the uniform pants that I could wear them, and nobody was the wiser except me and her. She saved my bacon that time, but I despised the entire process and the whole episode overshadowed the summer and autumn of 1990 with anxiety, self-derision, and shame. For my stupid, ugly thighs in particular, and my stupid, fat body in general.

Transitioning into adulthood, my thighs have mostly just been a hassle. They rub together and chafe whenever left without some intervening material to smooth the way. Okay, there was a two week period in 2005 when they didn’t, when I was at my absolute lowest weight, and I could wear a dress or skirt without shorts underneath, but that didn’t last long as that was a flatly impossible weight for me to maintain long-term. Any time I wear a skirt or dress, I need to take action to prevent chafing. Originally it was bike shorts or similar, these days there are great products out there like slipshorts or anti-chafe gel. Also, as a grown-ass woman I can buy nylons or tights that fit and don’t hurt me now. But it’s a hassle, especially if it’s a super hot day, to wear another layer. But not wearing it isn’t an option. Hanging out in a swim-suit outside of water is a no-go, I’ll throw shorts on the minute I get out, not because of how they look but because of the irritating chafing and discomfort of my thighs rubbing together.

And, well, when I used to care about such things, they’re ugly. My thighs are wrinkly due to excess skin, plus I’ve always had cellulite (even at the youngest age I can remember), and they’ve always been big and chunky. I even had some of the skin removed after weight loss, so I have a scar seam up the inside of each thigh and one along the inner crease on each side, where they took a triangle of flesh out and stitched me back together. Age has been a balm to me regarding their appearance, but hasn’t done much for the hassle factor. Still, the cellulite is a constant – I used to (and still occasionally do) envy women with legs not sagging with wrinkly, wobbly, unwanted flesh.

Yes, they’re ugly, but I don’t feel the same way about my arms, and they also have excess skin, and they also have cellulite and are wrinkly and wobbly with it. They don’t bother me at all, because they haven’t been a giant, painful, traitorous hassle my whole life.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’ve never loved my thighs, I’ve never even liked them. At most I’ve come to a sullen detente with them over the years. My husband, for some reason, loves them, and tells me so often. Often when he’s driving, he’ll place his hand on my left thigh and say, “I love your legs!” This is a weird feeling for me, and I’ve tried to ask him to stop saying it, not because I want to patrol his feelings, but because having my stupid, ugly, difficult thighs pointed out to me regularly is uncomfortable. I’ve tried to demonstrate for him how it makes me feel with an analogy. I say, “When you say that you’re pointing out something I don’t like and don’t have any control over, it’s akin to me patting you on the head and saying, ‘I love your bald spot!’ every day. I can’t imagine that would do anything to make you dislike it any less. In fact, you might prefer if I would just not talk about it every day, right?” But alas, this hasn’t worked.

I mention all of this to say that last week brought something I had no idea was even possible. After I got home from my first tattoo session I took the bandaging off of the new tattoo outline and checked it out. I love it. I love the theme, I love the execution. It was an idea I’m very proud of. I brought a bunch of reference images to Stevie, my kickass tattoo artist, and she drew up a custom piece based on our conversation about what I liked about each image. But here’s what stopped me in my tracks. After my shower, after that first session, when she laid down the outline on my skin in black ink, while I was waiting for the tat to air dry, I passed by a mirror and caught a glimpse and my only thought, on seeing my hated, my utterly despised, thigh in the mirror, was, “That’s badass.”

And then out loud I said, “I have to get the other one done too.”

Meds and Weight: Update

Last time I posted I was just starting out trying a new migraine preventative regimen, and my weight had climbed a bit. Well, good news is that it leveled out after about 3-4 pounds. And, weirdly, became extremely stable at that point. Normally I’m used to a 4-5 pound swing range, but since I started this new drug it’s been 1-2 pounds at the most. So that is great news!

It’s still too early to say, however, on whether the drug is working or not. What I can say is that the first week I was taking it, I had the normal amount of migraines. Since then, however…well, today is day 8 without a full-blown migraine. Eight days. More than a week. This is very promising! Especially since my weekend included several things that can usually be counted on to produce one, such as air travel and disruption to my eating schedule.

Of course I probably jinxed the whole thing just now by saying anything… I’m not going to declare it a success until I’ve been on it at least a month, maybe three, but right now I’m hopeful. *fingers crossed*