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.

Hunger Is Real

A friend posted this article on Facebook today from the New York Times:

Diet Advice That Ignores Hunger

I have several thoughts on this, I found it to be interesting reading. My first thought is that this trend of articles complaining about how unrealistic it is to lose weight and keep it off obviously consider me and people like me to be freakish outliers. That’s an interesting feeling. I’m here, I’m real, and I’m doing what they say is impossible. So.

My second thought is that it’s all well and good for him to talk about how hard it is and what a strong force hunger plays (this part is absolutely true – you can’t discount hunger as a motivating factor for humans!). But what he fails to do is consider options for handling it. There ARE options for dealing with hunger while still maintaining a healthy weight. I’m living proof. One of those strategies is to focus on eating foods with Low Caloric Density – foods that provide low calories per bite. Here’s my article on that from a couple years back.

I agree with the article’s main premise – hunger is a biological phenomenon that is absolutely an issue in weight control. Health care professionals would do well to consider offering their patients strategies to handle it instead of ignoring hunger as a factor altogether. However there are strategies to handle it. It can be done. I’m living proof.


Get Baked! or – Reducing the Damage of Baked Goods

I’ve been pretty clear here that counting calories is how I manage my weight. I understand that many, many people have success with low-carb, paleo, and other non-counting methods. There are lots of blogs for those interests. This blog is about managing a large weight loss long-term and how I do it. So I’m not going to talk about things I don’t know and practice. I also know that many people are gluten free, or avoid flour, rice, potatoes, etc. I don’t. I also am aware that many people believe that artificial sweeteners are evil. I’ve weighed the evidence for and against them, and determined that obesity is a far greater immediate risk to my health than any of the potential nebulous risks of the various artificial sweeteners.

I put this caveat here because I want to get those out of the way before I talk about ways to make foods you may love a little easier on your waistline. Because eating fruits, veggies, and lean proteins is awesome, but sometimes at the end of the day you want a little treat, and dammit, you should be able to have one. When I’m craving something sweet, and it’s in the caloric budget for the day, I make the following substitutions:

  • 1 to 1 replacement of oil with apple sauce. This is great for baked goods. If you’re making something like waffles that requires up to a cup of vegetable oil, you can substitute applesauce and completely ameliorate the caloric hit you would have otherwise taken if you used oil.
  • 2 Egg whites for 1 whole egg. Yes, yes, egg yolks are full of excellent nutrients. But…also a lot of calories (about 70-90). Whereas egg whites are a huge hit of protein with virtually no calories (about 11). You can substitute 2 egg whites for a single egg in a recipe. Frequently if I am making a 3-egg omelette I’ll do one whole egg and 4 egg whites, dropping the calories by a third, but not missing out on those nutrients in the yolk.
  • Splenda for sugar. For baking or for coffee, I’d rather use the no-cal option. Splenda bakes just fine.

I use these techniques for all sorts of baked goods. You can see how a recipe that uses all of these things (cookies, maybe? or a cake) would have the caloric hit drastically reduced if you used all three options. True, you’re probably not going to win the county fair with these baked goods, but if you are simply looking for a little treat for yourself without breaking the bank, these are techniques that are worth a try.

A Weekend of Food Challenges

I had a really fun weekend full of non-stop eating opportunities! Friday night my husband and I went to the restaurant of a friend of ours, who is an amazing charcutier. That means there weren’t a lot of veggie options, and honestly that’s not her forte anyway, so I went for it and ordered the lamb shanks, and also split a charcuterie plate with my husband. I ate about a quarter of the lamb dish and had the rest boxed up.

My stomach has shrunk over the last 6 months as I’ve been losing weight, and I’m going to protect that as long as I can. When I eat now I focus on being mindful about how much food I eat, and how full I’m getting. I aim to stop eating when I’m satisfied, not full. I don’t need to be completely full to feel satisfied, particularly if I’m eating high-density foods like lamb or sausage, so I have been having a lot of restaurant meals boxed up lately. I don’t know if my stomach has physically shrunk, or if my sense of portion sizes has just adjusted down, or what is exactly going on, but I know that I am able to be happy eating smaller portions than ever before in my life, and I’m doing what I can to keep that going as long as I can!

Saturday we had TWO parties to attend (after a morning run), starting with a birthday celebration at a seafood restaurant. I have a default when I’m at a seafood restaurant. Yes, going with a baked, poached, or broiled fillet of fish will work fine, particularly if I can replace whatever starch usually comes with it with extra steamed veggies, but that’s not my default order at a fancy fish place. I almost always order cioppino. It’s a very tasty, low-calorie option!bluedress

After the birthday party we headed to a house party, where staying on target was relatively easy, for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t drinking at all because I’ve recently had a spate of migraines and cutting out alcohol reduces the obvious triggers and 2) the party was laid out on two floors, and the food was only on the second floor – it was really easy to avoid the snack table. Perfect! Here’s a pic of the outfit I whipped up by putting together a dress I love love love but often feels too short for my comfort (hence it doesn’t get worn often enough), paired with my $7 thrift shop jeans.

Sunday was yet another birthday party. And it was a food-focused one – my friend Andrew makes an amazing spread of Russian food when he throws a party, and Sunday was no different. I was very careful about my choices, but was able to easily limit my calories by sticking to vegetarian Borscht, grilled marinated mushrooms (I ate a LOT of mushrooms!), and marinated cucumbers. And I split a small piece of birthday cake with my husband, because I’m not a total killjoy!

Overall I’m very pleased with my successful navigation of the weekend food challenges!

It’s not a resolution, it’s a coincidence

I recommitted to my diet and exercise program recently. On December 30th, actually. It was part of my realization that something was extremely not right in my world. I stepped on the scale and the number read 208.5. This is the highest number I have seen on my scale since I started maintaining my loss. Essentially, this number jolted me into the realization that I was no longer maintaining.

My normal range I like to maintain is 195-205. Obviously I’m happier when I’m on the lower end of the range. When I’m on the higher end of the scale I start to practice more heavily some of my weight management behaviors (journaling/tracking, more exercise, environmental control, etc). But this time, over several months of a defeatist “screw it!” mentality, I’d gotten to that number through sheer neglect. I hadn’t been weighing myself regularly ( all). I’d regularly eaten whatever looked good without any thought to my higher goals of weight maintenance. Exercise was slipshod – any excuse for skipping it would work.

This is completely out of character for me, and as I mentioned in my last post, I did eventually figure out why, but that didn’t erase the damage done. That left me with one option –  rededicate myself to my diet and exercise program. Right at the beginning of the New Year. I know – how cliche!

Normally I eschew New Years Resolutions because they have such a legendary reputation for failure. But, what was I going to do – NOT do what needed to be done just because of a personal aversion to New Years resolutions and a coincidence of the calendar? Now is the time I need to be doing this, regardless of any feelings I may have about the resolution tradition. I can choose not to call it a resolution, though. Or a diet.

So for the last three weeks I’ve been rededicated to my program. It’s not any particular program, it’s MY program which I’ve put together based on 10 years now of maintaining my weight loss. It looks like this:

1. Every day I carry a little book around in my purse and record every thing I eat along with approximate calories for each, as well as any calories burned through exercise.

2. I try to exercise hard at least 4 days out of the week, and lightly (a walk) the other days, and aim for 3000 calories burned through exercise total for the week. (It’s a goal, I don’t always hit it but getting close is good)

3. I eat almost exclusively whole foods – fruits, vegetables, meats, etc which would be recognized as food by my ancestors. Because of this inclination I eat very little pasta, bread, sugar, desserts, cake, ice cream, etc. Not because I’m doing paleo or gluten free or any other current popular program, but because to get the most nutritional value out of the calories I’m consuming there’s no room for those things in my diet.

Here’s how this has been breaking down for me. A typical work day in my journal:

  • hot cereal: 250
  • berries: 50
  • portion-controlled lunch entree (Amy’s Light and Lean are my current favorites): 250
  • grapes: 75
  • banana: 150
  • pear: 75
  • coffee with splenda: 0
  • steak: 400
  • lots of cauliflower: 100
  • Total:1350
  • Exercise: HIIT for 25 minutes then strength training for 30 minutes. I approximate 400 calories burned.
  • Net: 950

On lighter exercise days, obviously, my net will be higher. On days when I run my net is lower as I burn more running than doing HIIT and strength training. I’ve been averaging a net of around 950 calories/day per week. I get this number by adding up my daily calorie totals for the week, then I add up the exercise calories burned for the week and subtract those, and divide the result by 7. It’s not necessary but I enjoy the process.

I’m down 7.5 pounds in the first two weeks. I expect things to level out fairly soon though because if there’s one thing my numbers have shown me over the last few years it’s that I seem to have a hard limit to how much I can lose anymore. I started out wanting to get back into my normal range, and I already am. Regardless of whether I continue to lose or not, I appreciate the mental calm that comes with knowing I’m following my program and not straying.

Three Days In

Today is day three of my new “Stop Acting Like Treats Are Part of My Daily Diet” program and so far it’s working out pretty well.

It’s amazing how insidious the little treats were, they managed to creep in, little bites throughout the day – a small snack in the morning between breakfast and lunch, one in the afternoon (but it’s just a latte – I’m drinking it! Oh, and some popcorn – popcorn’s like nothing, right?), and a little something sweet after dinner, hardly anything really…

They really add up. Even if they don’t seem like much of anything individually, by the end of the day I was consuming almost 1/3 more than I should have been for the whole day!

And it’s not like I have to completely eliminate eating at those times, I just need to replace the junk things I was eating with supportive foods like fruits or veggies. Easy enough, and half the time when I contemplate the available options I find I’m not actually really and truly hungry – I just wanted a treat. Hmm. NO!