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Posts Tagged ‘diet’

I tried on a new bikini last night and didn’t hate myself.

For the record, today is January 20, meaning I tried on a bikini in the dead of winter and didn’t hate myself. That’s next-level crazy.

pants

Clearly not a bikini shot, but I’m loving my strong legs these days. Also my lion’s head garbage can.

 

By no means was there an Instagram faux-perfect body staring back at me. First of all, I’m paler than any swimsuit model would dare to be. Six-pack abs still elude me, mostly because I’m not giving up ALL of the good things in life, like the occasional glass of wine and chocolate croissant. The thighs could be spindlier, but they just don’t seem to want to (even when I was seriously tracking meals and workouts and weight and body fat percentage, they didn’t want to be tiny).

What I saw in the mirror was … OK. My abs are in good shape (I have a little oblique action going on). I’m loving my arms and shoulders — although my lifting game is not impressive weight-wise, my tiny muscles are a joy.

Finally, my legs are STRONG. They have a few muscle cuts. They can climb and lift, which in the end is more important than being skinny.

At 43 years old, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, and I feel fabulous.

Over the past few years, I started rethinking my nutrition and fitness goals. I stopped having a “goal weight” (I have no idea what I weigh right now, but my clothes fit the same week after week, so SCORE). I began to pursue weightlifting not as a weight-loss activity, but as a bone-building, let-see-what-these-muscles-can-do activity. I’m not lifting super heavy – my condo gym is small and frequently not populated with spotters, so I have to lift only what I can safely carry (a good travel rule for suitcases, too).

The husband helped me make a standing desk for work – it’s hard to get sleepy after lunch if you’re on your feet.

The biggest changes I’ve made have involved food. I cook. A LOT. We eat more whole foods than processed foods. Note I didn’t say NO processed foods – we still eat meatballs from the Trader Joe’s freezer. I still make a weekly trip to Moe’s Southwest Grill with the office crew (Moe’s Monday waits for no one). We eat the occasional frozen chicken burrito at home (a Trader Joe’s original, yet again).

But for breakfast? Oatmeal. Not instant. Sometimes steel-cut. Topped with cinnamon, walnuts and raisins.

Lunch? Leftover quinoa. Always a salad (sometimes only a salad) with good greens, grape tomatoes, feta and sometimes banana peppers. I like the Caesar dressing from Trader Joe’s, but after reading  about “natural flavors” in The Dorito Effect, I’m considering just topping my greens with a little vinegar.

Dinner? I have a great recipe for chicken tacos from The Complete Cooking For Two Cookbook by my favorite cookbook authors at America’s Test Kitchen. Also included in that book is a stuffed manicotti recipe – that one is a two-day affair, since it’s easier to make the sauce one day and complete the dish the second day.

We eat a lot (A LOT) of cheese and salad. I make a mean meatloaf. The aforementioned meatballs come into play at least once a week with my homemade marinara sauce – sometimes with stuffed ravioli (yo, Trader Joe’s again), sometimes on a bun from Publix for sandwiches (although I’m notorious for leaving at least half of the bun on my plate – simple carbs aren’t taboo, but they aren’t a requirement, either).

I drink a lot of water. And a bit of coffee. The occasional glass or three of wine.

Perfect dietary guidelines? No. Better than some, worse than others, but it’s working for me. My meal-planning is a combination of deciding what I would really enjoy and what’s good for my body. Not good as in, oh, this will keep/make me skinny, but good as in, oh, this will help with today’s deadlifts, or help me stay upright and focused while I finish making this presentation.

Good as in, I tried on a new bikini last night and didn’t hate myself.

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It’s been about two months since I pretty much gave up artificial sweeteners. I say “pretty much” because I’ll sometimes find a packet hiding behind another pantry inhabitant, and I promised to quit after all of the packets are gone. These packets are, obviously, not gone.

Do I miss my little yellow packets? A little. They gave me free license to make coffee, tea and oatmeal obscenely sweet, without caloric consequence.

I’m glad I tapered off instead of going cold turkey. By the time I really cut myself off, I was accustomed to oatmeal flavored only with cinnamon, walnuts and raisins and cups of coffee and tea sweetened with only a teaspoon or so of sugar.

I haven’t gained any weight from using sugar instead of sweetener. I figure as long as I don’t try to make foods taste as sweet as artificial sweeteners do, I’m good in the calorie department. I can afford the 15 to 30 calories that real sugar adds to a cup of coffee or tea, especially considering I’ve cut back on coffee and tea consumption in general.

An unexpected side effect: My usual cravings for holiday sweets are non-existent. Of course, this may have more to do with the fact that I’m too busy to even THINK about making cookies, much less figuring out how to make eggnog that doesn’t suck.

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I’ve finally become familiar with the terms thinspo and fitspo.

Short for thinspiration and fitspiration, both describe inspirational images of — let’s face it — women who are skinnier than most of us. Thinspo images are sometimes associated with eating disorders (you inspire yourself to get thin by looking at them and feeling ashamed of your own body). Fitspo is supposedly thinspo’s safer, healthier cousin; these women aren’t bone-thin, after all, they’re muscular and fit. I mean, come on. They’re wearing GYM CLOTHES.

Thanks to Pinterest, thinspo and fitspo images have flooded the Internet over the past few months.

Haven’t seen any? I don’t know how that’s possible, but I’ll wait here while you check out thinspo and fitspo on Pinterest.

Many of the women in these photographs present us with new variety of unobtainable physical ideals; they’re underwear models topped with a thin veneer of musculature, with nary a hint of cellulite. Sometimes they simply appear to be skinny ladies standing around in their underwear, without even a pretense of any association with fitness.

One pin features a topless woman, photographed from the back, lounging on a bed with her jeans halfway down her backside. Exercise is, apparently, exhausting.

I’m torn. I like images of strong women because I WANT women to be strong. But I also fear that these images may trigger shame and self-hatred in women who don’t live up to these physical ideals (in other words, most of us).

Several bloggers, including Helena Handbasket (whose post alerted me to this controversy) and Virginia Sole-Smith have expressed similar reservations about fitspo. On The Great Exercise Experiment, Charlotte Hilton Andersen says fitspo may simply be “thinspo in a sports bra.

To obtain the musculature of many of the women in these photographs, you’d have to follow a very strict diet and work out A LOT. I don’t mean five times a week instead of four, I mean every day, possibly for several hours. (I used to know a woman who looked like a fitness model, and she exercised three hours a day and would never go out for dinner or drinks because she didn’t dare deviate from her special diet. BO-RING.)

Admission time: Fitspo images make me feel bad about my abs — I wish that they were rock-hard and better defined. My abs are NOT a trouble spot for me, so you can just imagine what such imagery makes me think about my thighs, which feature — gasp — cellulite. Cellulite that didn’t even go away when I went through a dangerously skinny post-tonsillectomy phase in college. (I got down to a size 4, which today would probably be a size 0. You can, indeed, be too thin. Maybe not too rich, though.)

That said, my legs are AWESOME. Running combined with a healthy regime of squats and other muscle work has left them strong and capable. They’ve just got a little bit of padding up top.

This is the kind of attitude that I worry slips away when we see fitspo images. We can’t be content with “look at the awesome things my body can do” when the mantra “it’s not good enough if I don’t look like that” is running through our heads.

In the introduction to Eating Our Hearts Out, a collection of women’s personal accounts of their relationship to food, Lesléa Newman writes, “Our culture makes it nearly impossible for us as women to have a healthy, easy relationship with food. On one hand, we are supposed to be the nurturers of the world, perfecting recipes to delight our families, and, on the other hand, we are supposed to deprive ourselves of these delicious meals in order to look the way our society deems it best for us to look, which can be summed up in one four-letter word: thin.”

I argue that we also have an uneasy relationship with fitness. For many, the simple act of challenging the body is not enough; exercise without dramatic transformation toward perfection — thinness — is simply pointless. This all-or-nothing attitude has to be the root cause of the many January fitness programs that are abandoned by March.

It’s exhausting, really, this constant obsession with food and calories and carbs and measurements and weight. Honestly, what more could women accomplish if we weren’t so completely preoccupied with the scale and the tape measure?

If fitspo inspires you, pin away. Just make sure it’s inspiring you to make yourself stronger and healthier, and not prompting feelings of self-loathing.

In “A Weight that Women Carry,” an essay in Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul, Sallie Tisdale writes, “In trying always to lose weight, we’ve lost hope of simply being seen for ourselves.”

Similarly, in mirroring ourselves against the perfection found in fitspo images, we risk being unable to simply love ourselves and acknowledge the positive things about our wonderfully imperfect bodies.

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How weird to be in the middle of a food trend and not realize it.

I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of processed food in my family’s diet for the past few years. I was unemployed for a few months when we first moved to Huntsville, so I started cooking a lot to try to save money and fill time. And not Hamburger Helper-type cooking, either. I’m talking from-scratch cooking, as in grate your own cheese (melts so much better than pre-shredded) and making your own meatloaf spice mixture (because have you READ the ingredients on those little flavoring packets?). The salad spinner became a permanent resident in the fridge, always filled with fresh (and local, when available) greens.

We didn’t give up EVERY processed food, mind you. There may or may not be a multipack of frozen pizzas from Costco in my freezer right now. The peanut butter that the husband eats every day is incredibly hydrogenated (I’d go bankrupt trying to feed him the real stuff). I don’t make my own mayonnaise, although I should make my own salad dressing.

So I’m not claiming that we’re dietary saints. But we’ve both maintained our weight for the past five years despite some substantial lapses in workouts, and we’ve put a significant dent in the number of colds and other odd viruses that haunt so many households. Coincidence? Maybe, but I’ll take it.

We find ourselves in the middle of the Real Food Movement. Come on in. It’s delicious.

I rescued a copy of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite from my mom’s Goodwill box a few months ago and just got around to reading it. Author David A. Kessler explores, among other things, how utterly processed the average American diet is. The food industry exists to sell us cheaply manufactured goods that make us want to eat more, no matter how much sugar, fat and salt it takes to get us hooked.

I spotted a title at Barnes & Noble this weekend that actually distracted me from the Harry Potter table: Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food: Kick Your Fake Food Habit, Kickstart Your Weight Loss. Author Christine Avanti explores factory food addiction and how her move to fresh, real foods helped her lose weight and, more importantly, maintain her weight. I didn’t pick up the book because, I told myself, I’m not trying to lose weight OR fill up my bookshelves right now, but I’m very curious to read Avanti’s findings.

The thing about (who knew?) being part of the Real Food Movement for the past couple of years? I can now often taste the difference between processed foods and real foods. For example, I can taste the excessive sugar in jars of spaghetti sauce — there’s only one variety I can really stand to eat now, and the husband’s not fond of it. The flavor of salt in canned soup is getting overwhelming — heck, I can taste salt in one variety of CHEESE now, prompting me to replace it with another.

So, as anticlimactic as it may be, my New Year’s Resolution is to keep following the Real Food path. I’ll also be changing up my exercise routine (more on that later), but mostly I’ll continue figuring out how to feed the husband and myself quality, delicious foods and get further away from the “better living through chemistry” theme that has overtaken our food industry for the past few decades.

To that end, I’m afraid the pantry is about to lose two longstanding residents. You’ve been handy, jarred spaghetti sauce and canned soup, but I can taste your additives, and I can make you better without them.

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Yesterday, I discovered that I can no longer safely wear my wedding rings. Four weeks of stress has led to weight loss, and my fingers are too skinny. I haven’t seen this weight since I had a tonsillectomy at age 20.

Lucky me, I guess, except I hate shopping for clothes and don’t want to get these rings resized.

It’s not that much weight, mind you. Just enough that pants fall a little farther than they should on my hips and the rings slip right off my finger. Not that they’ve ever wanted to stay on my finger. I’m forever finding myself in the car, halfway to a destination, with the realization that the rings are back at home in the knife drawer. My ring finger, apparently, longs to be free of the bonds of matrimony, even if my heart does not.

Now that I’ve gotten used to tiny portions, my body doesn’t want much more. Add to that the fact that I work at home by myself and consider eating more of a social activity than a physical necessity, and you’ll see that I have my work cut out for me.

The journey back to ring-wearing starts today: I’m having lunch with a friend. Tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll work on getting my pants off the ground.

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I had a Dr Pepper last week, probably the first in three or four years.

It was overwhelmingly delicious. I paid more attention to my soda than I did my meal; every sip was a burst of out-of-this-world flavor.

You’re shrugging. Nothing special about Dr Pepper, right? Just another soda.

The thing is that it WASN’T just another soda.

I gave up soda as an everyday beverage about five years ago.  I might order one when we eat out, but overall I average about two sodas a month.

Which brings me back to the Dr Pepper. It was delectable simply because it was rare.

The whole episode made me wonder: How many foods do we consume every day that should be rarities? How much better would some things taste if we weren’t eating them day in, day out?

How much healthier would we be?

If a little delayed gratification makes tasty things even tastier, isn’t the initial denial worth it?

I’ll let you know next year, when I have another Dr Pepper.

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Ever manage to inadvertently start following a healthy eating pattern?

This weekend, I realized that I’ve established two useful food guidelines over the past few years: I don’t eat in the car, and I don’t eat in front of the TV.

Both situations came about entirely by accident.

I purchased a car with a manual transmission six years ago, meaning that the “extra” hand required to eat while driving is only accessible when cruising speed has been reached on the interstate. City driving does not free up this hand. As a bonus, the car’s tiny cupholders are a marvel of engineering; the two up front are too small for anything but a 12-ounce soda can, and the larger one between the buckets seats requires the flexibility of a Cirque performer to reach.

The living room embargo is a bit more complicated. As we watched the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina approach our home in Mobile in 2005, we grabbed our table from the dining room and flipped it onto the bed in hopes of keeping it dry. We ended up with only the back third of the house flooded, but the teardown, rewiring, rebuilding, re-everything meant that the table was taken apart and stored in the bedroom closet for the better part of two years.

What I discovered during this time was that no matter your intentions, eating dinner in the living room off of the coffee table pretty much ensures that you WILL turn the TV on. It’s just what happens. And once the TV is on, conversation is off.

The first thing I set up upon arrival in Huntsville, therefore, was the table. There have been no dinners in front of Smallville, no breakfasts in front of The Soup. Just talking, newspaper-reading, and, occasionally, a subtle Pandora soundtrack.

Not eating dinner in the living room leads to not eating much of anything in the living room except for the rare bowl of movie popcorn. Nobody heads to the kitchen and grabs a bag of chips to mindlessly munch on; nobody sits down with a sleeve of cookies to polish off.

Focused eating is more likely to be healthy eating, and dining without distraction makes for much better family time. And you don’t have to buy a manual transmission or wait for a flood: Declare the driver’s seat off limits for noshing, and insist that nothing crosses the dining room border but popcorn. In both cases, your seat cushions and your waistline will thank you.

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