Confessions of a Life-long Emotional Eater

Back in September 2015 when E.J. and I started to change our eating habits, we did a lot of soul searching.  What makes us eat what we eat?  What do we crave and why? Can we really change, or are we just wired to do what we do?

Though E.J. and I were both very overweight, we took very different paths to get there.  E.J. had grown up thin and healthy – an avid bike rider and swimmer, and eventually a super-fit Marine.  His weight gain started once the kids were born, and I honestly think the sleep deprivation, the stress of his difficult marriage (pre-Sherry), the financial burdens of a young family, and the sudden switch from an active Military life to a Corporate desk job were the biggest contributers to his weight gain.  When you have a family, your personal needs often take a back seat to everything else, and it’s so much easier to solve hunger with McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts than it is to plan and cook regular meals.  E.J. had great health for so long previously that the weight gain was fairly gradual, and didn’t honestly impact him that much… as his doctor’s said, he bought himself credit with all of the good fitness which had finally caught up with him years later.

I, on the other hand, have always been overweight (well, as far back as I can remember anyway.  My mom says I wore slim pants when I was a toddler).  Both of my parents are overweight, though neither of them appear to have been so before I was born… (Noticing a pattern here?)  And according to my mother, while she tried to get me to eat healthy home cooked meals, I was extremely picky and refused to eat anything that I didn’t like, even to the point of vomiting it up at the table if I were forced to try.  I’m personally appalled by that now, of course, but truth be told, it’s somewhat consistent with the way I’ve approached food as long as I can remember.  I’m simply not going to eat what I don’t want to eat, and I no one can tell me otherwise.  It’s as much a control thing as a pleasure thing – there are a lot of things in my life that are out of my control, but food isn’t one of them.  And there’s the root of my problem.  Even when my parents tried to scold me, or punish me for not complying, I’d find ways to stash, sneak, or otherwise circumvent the issue.  Once I was old enough to drive and have my own money, a huge percentage of it was used to avoid eating school-made or home-made lunches and get food I really liked.  People could be mean to me, make fun of me, or otherwise cause me to have a bad day, but I could always drown my sorrows in a Wendy’s classic Frosty.  My only saving grace was my activity – I played all kinds of sports (gymnastics, diving, softball, volleyball, basketball, soccer, badminton, racquetball, cheer leading) and so I remained a “stocky” athlete who was never the fastest, but was strong and coordinated.

Once I hit College, the athletics dropped off, save for the intramural volleyball, badminton and racquetball that I enjoyed, and once I graduated, the exercise was gone.  I ballooned at that point, and drowned my stresses with work, loneliness, and trouble at home (my parents’ divorce and related family issues) with food.  When I met E.J. I was already pretty big, and we both got bigger those over the next 7 years, eating cheap, comfort foods that kept us moving in between full-time jobs, E.J.’s school, and the kids’ activities.  Any time I had a bad day, I would tell E.J. I needed “queso therapy” – my term inexpensive binge-eating on chips and melted cheese.

I tried several times over the years to break the habits – I can’t tell you how many short-lived calorie-counting exercises I went through.  I had some measure of success only twice before this one – one when I was in 8th grade and wanted to be a cheer leader (I lived on fat-free hot dogs and salads for half a year so I could fit in the uniform and still fit in it through the end of the season) and once in 2009 when I had a small health scare and I removed regular sodas and breakfast burritos from my diet and replaced lunch with a half a turkey sandwich from a convenient sandwich shop.  Both times, my stress levels were fairly low, I was in a good place in my life, and the weight came back when circumstances changed and stresses returned.

Then when we started the Whole 30 in September of 2015, while I was naturally skeptical of the whole Paleo concept, I was determined to help E.J. and maybe finally myself get rid of the life-threatening weight.  I learned to cook and bake all over again, made exercise a regular part of my life, taught myself how to say “no” to office cake and donuts, learned to drink unsweetened coffee and tea, and found stress relief in a walk outside, stretching, and mindful breathing.  Now here I am, 20 months into a journey where I’ve lost over 65 lbs, and I’m struggling with 5 of them which have returned and don’t appear to be interested in going away again.  I think E.J. will agree that the beauty of Paleo and why it works, is that you eat good foods that you enjoy, you can eat out occasionally and still lose weight, but that last 5-10 lbs is a b*$@#.  Worse yet, when I hurt my knee, I couldn’t run anymore.  I didn’t realize how much I relied on that regular exercise both for stress relief and calorie offset.  You see for me, the journey has been a lesson in control – learning how to control my emotions and cravings and not reaching out for a cookie or a bowl of queso to fix it for me.  That struggle for control hasn’t gone away and I don’t think it ever will.   For me, it will be a day-by-day commitment to myself to make better choices wherever possible, be willing to put in the effort to make those choices available as much as possible, and courageous enough to recognize and manage my stresses in healthier ways.

Don’t think for a second that once the weight comes off, the hard work is over.  If anything, it is just beginning.  But I will tell you this, though – it’s all worth it.  Every little good decision, every day.

Stepping Up My Game: Sous Vide

Happy Mothers Day, everyone!  Mr. Paleo Marine got IMG_2724[1]me a really awesome Mother’s Day gift this year – an Anova Precision Cooker for sous vide.  I’ve never tried sous vide cooking before, and honestly I’ve been a bit intimidated by it… anything with a fancy French name sounds complicated in my book.  Turns out, there was nothing to be afraid of – in fact, I’ll say that it rivals the Instant Pot in its simplicity, with the convenience of a slow cooker.

After spending some time reading up on sous vide in general and agonizing over what to try first, I decided to go big or go home, and break in the new toy with lamb chops.  I’m a big fan of lamb, but I am always afraid of preparing it myself for fear of drying out an ruining a fairly expensive chunk of meat.  But it was Mother’s Day and while I got to enjoy a very nice lunch out at a fancy restaurant for the occasion, I really wanted to try the Anova, so lamb for dinner!

I used a FoodSaver vacuum sealer to get the chops settled in with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and then attached the Anova to one of my deeper cooking pots.  I got everything arranged, used the app on my phone connected to bluetooth to run for lamb chops, and then forgot about it while I did the rest of my Sunday cooking for the week.  About 45 minutes before dinner time, I roasted some spaghetti squash and made a simple roasted tomato sauce on the cooktop.   Right before I plated everything, I heated up some butter in a large cast iron skillet, removed the chops from their packets, and seared them.

The result was heavenly… perfectly melt-in-your-mouth lamb with a fantastic flavor and texture that rivals some of the fanciest restaurants.  E.J. said we’ll be spoiled when it comes to restaurants now because we’ve figured out the secret to amazing meats.  Next up is a slab of pork belly and some flank steak.  I can’t wait to see how these turn out!

Pinterest FTW!

This past weekend I finally had a full Sunday to do my cooking thing, and it’s been quite a while, so I had lots of new things to try.  Recently we’ve had such lovely cool evenings that E.J. and I have been sitting out on the front porch with the Buddy monster and just relaxing – him with his pipe, and me with Pinterest.  Pinterest really is a fun way to collect ideas for Paleo recipes, because 1) there are lots of them already out there with wonderful mouth-watering photos and 2) because sometimes you find a mouth-watering photo for something that isn’t Paleo, but it wouldn’t be that hard to adjust.  Here are the Pinterest wins I had this week:

  • Paleo Chicken Pot Pie – This is apparently one of Brendon’s favorite foods, and I never really knew it.  I remember tolerating pot pieIMG_2714 as a kid – mostly we’d get the ready-made frozen ones and I’d carefully eat the chicken and the crust while leaving most of the carrots and peas behind.  So it wasn’t exactly something I went out of the way to learn how to cook, and frankly, Paleo pie crust is tough to pull off anyway.  Well, it’s looking more and more like Brendon will be heading back up to North Dakota to work again, so I wanted to at least try to make a Paleo pot pie for him before he left.  It wasn’t the prettiest set of pies I’ve ever made – I really struggled with the crust sticking to the parchment paper after I’d rolled it out, but where it lacked in beauty, it made up for in taste.  Brendon was over the moon for it, so I’ll call that a success!
  • Paleo Pizza Quiche – Ok, before you laugh at this one, hear me out.  First of all, pizza is heavily debated in the Paleo universe, and as a staple of the American diet, it’s one of the hardest cravings to crack.  I’ve tried lots of crusts from cauliflower to almond flour, to frozen – and while they’ve been OK, it’s just not the same.  The truth is that when you are trying to mimic the real thing, you’re just going to fall short every time.  Nothing is going to give you that satisfying crust and real cheese experience, so sometimes it’s better to go for something that’s close, but not trying to be the real thing.  One example is the lettuce wrapped lamb burger I often get at a restaurant for lunch near my office.  It’s not even trying to be a hamburger or cheeseburger, but it’s just close enough to satisfy the craving without being disappointingly short of the real thing.  That’s what I was going for with Pizza Quiche.  Something enjoyable and reminiscent but not an analogue.   I modified the recipe a little to use his favorite toppings: mushroom, Italian sausage, onion, and green pepper, and then added slivers from a batch of Paleo Pizza Cheese from Paleo Cupboard which melt over the top when the slices are warmed up.  E.J. said it was awesome.
  • Prosciutto Wrapped Cod – This is another quickIMG_2716 weeknight recipe that can be added to last week’s theme.  The prep is super easy, and the flavor of the prociutto fried around the cod in butter is out of this world.  Even mom liked it.  For fun, I made some paleo tortillas and a lemon cream sauce to drizzle over the fish and the spinach also that added to the fresh flavors.  I’ll definitely make this one again.

Quick Dinner Wins

This past weekend was again one of those where I had places to be on Sunday in addition to my regular meal prep duties.  Fortunately, we still had quite a few lunches in the fridge from last week, so a couple of slow cooker dishes filled the gap.  But one of the things I’ve learned in our Paleo journey is that there’s nothing more depressing than food boredom.  Since I hadn’t had time to really try any new and exciting dishes this week, I decided to see if I could pull off some quick weeknight meals and share them with those of you who struggle to dedicate 6-9 hours of your weekend to cooking.

Here are a couple of those wins:

  • Honey Glazed Salmon with Orange and Ginger from Laughing Spatula – let me just say “Wow”.  I had picked up some salmon this weekend when scoping out the seafood counter looking for lobster specials.  I really didn’t know what I was going to do with it at the time, and just picked up some asparagus to go with it, because there’s something about asparagus with seafood…   Anyway, I had made a special treat for E.J. and Brendon on sunday in the form of a Double Chocolate Orange Torte, and had another really good navel orange sitting on the counter that needed to be used.  On the way home on Monday I searched “Paleo Orange Salmon” and picked this one out of the long list of hits.  To make it a one-pan dinner, I trimmed the asparagus and just laid it on top of the sliced oranges around the salmon and let the lovely juices mingle.  Yum!  This is definitely a must-try, and was seriously a 30 minute meal with very easy cleanup (quite rare in the Paleo world)
  • Steak with Chimichurri Sauce from Paleo Hacks – I used flank steak instead of skirt steak, but this chimichurri turned out really well and made for a really quick weeknight meal.  Over the weekend, I cooked some beets in the slow cooker and had them available in the fridge already, so all there was left to do was caramelize some onions on the stovetop, have E.J. grill the steaks, and throw everything in the blender for the sauce.  Dinner was served in about 20 minutes.  Can’t ‘beet’ that! (I’m sorry, couldn’t resist)
  • Pork Loin with Blueberry Sauce from PaleoLeap – I’ve posted this one previously, but it’s another really good quick weeknight win.  I think you could even substitute cherries, blackberries, peaches, or any other pork-friendly fruit and end up with a lovely meal within 30-45 minutes.  If you’re looking for a way to amp-up a pork loin, this is it!

Et voila!

Diagnosis: Runner’s Knee

This morning I got the diagnosis from my MRI last week and the answer is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome or “Runner’s Knee”.  Honestly I had never really heard of Runner’s Knee previously, but now doing some reading on it, it makes total sense.  Pain going down stairs but not up?  Check.  Pain after stitting or standing for long periods? Check.  Pain around and/or behind the knee cap?  Check.

What apparently causes it is either poor running posture/habits (which I’m sure I’m guilty of since I never ran competitively and never had any training) or weak quadrcepts – also very likely because I haven’t been doing much in the way of strength training along with my running like EJ has.

Here’s the real kicker – it’s slow and painful to recover, to the tune of 4-6 weeks with anti-inflamatories and slow, but consitent physical therapy.  Sigh.  But at least now I know what I’m dealing with, know that it’s pretty common, and have a game plan for getting better.

If you’re having knee pain when you run, definitely check this out.  You may be able to save yourself a lot of agony…

https://runnersconnect.net/runners-knee-symptoms-causes-and-research-backed-treatment-solutions-for-patellofemoral-pain-syndrome/ 

Paleo Shepherd’s Pie

My favorite recipe for Shepherd’s Pie on FunctionalFoodie.com appears to have gone all 404 on me.  So while I don’t have the original printed, I know it was based on Gordon Ramsay’s recipe, so I reimagined it.   Here’s what I recovered from memory that worked this past week:

Paleo Shepherd's Pie

  • Servings: 8-12
  • Time: 45-60 mins
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

My re-creation of the amazing Paleo Shepherd's Pie recipe from FunctionalFoodie.com.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 lbs ground lamb (Ground beef substituted is ok, but lamb is best)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 large yellow onion
  • 2 large carrots
  • 4 tbsp Coconut aminos
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup red wine (optional)
  • 8 oz tomato paste
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary,  trimmed and finely chopped
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 3 pkgs frozen cauliflower (steamable bags)
  • 2 tbsp granulated garlic salt
  • 1 tbsp black pepper


Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. In a large skillet, warm olive oil and cook meat, crumbling with a spoon or spatula until no longer pink.  Drain grease and return to skillet
  3. Add grated onion and carrot in with meat.  Cook until vegetables are soft.
  4. Add coconut aminos, garlic and tomato paste.  Mix and cook for a few minutes until garlic is fragrant
  5. Add wine, stock, thyme and rosemary and simmer until liquid reduces.
  6. Pour meat mixture into a large baking dish
  7. Steam each of the 3 packages of cauliflower in the microwave according to directions
  8. Combine cauliflower, garlic salt and black pepper in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Add coconut or almond milk if needed to achieve smooth consistency
  9. Spoon Cauliflower mash over meat and spread until covered
  10. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cauliflower topping starts to brown


Happy Easter!

This past Sunday we entertained once again for the big Easter meal, and there was plenty of Paleo goodness to go around.  While the kitchen effort was doubled when combined with the week’s lunch & dinner meals, the result was a highly satisfying meal and a lot of great food to look forward to throughout the week.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • “Best of all worlds” Paleo Lasagna – Last week I made a double-recipe of the Bolognese sauce and had quite a bit leftover.  My options were to either freeze it and have it available for future weekends when I don’t have cook time, or use it in something else. I chose Option B and combined that sauce with the Grain Free tortilla recipe from Against All Grain as a noodle replacement, and the cashew cheese from my bookmarked Paleo Lasagna recipe on Paleo Newbie.    The reviews are in and apparently this is a huge win. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but so far I’m hearing it’s positively scrumptious
  • Creamed Spinach – if you are a fan of creamed spinach, this is your recipe.  It’s not runny or lumpy or flavorless like a lot of the paleo versions out there (I’ve tried quite a few of them and never been really happy with the result).   This one is creamy and thick and full of awesome.   As a bonus, because it’s not made with dairy, it actually reheats well, so you can make it ahead of your event and just warm it up when you need it (or reheat it for leftovers).  This is my new go-to for spinach.
  • Paleo Lemon Pound Cake – This one from Paleo Hacks really turned out nice.  It’s soft, dense, like a pound cake should be.  The fresh lemon flavors were a great compliment to the springtime meal
  • Carrot Cake Donuts – E.J. and I haven’t had donuts in a year and a half, so when I started looking for Easter-themed desserts, this one jumped out at me.  The flavor is outstanding and if you like carrot cake, these are a real treat.

I hope everyone had a great holiday.  I have actually been fighting with severe knee pain for the last several weeks and finally have an MRI scheduled for Friday.  Hopefully there’s nothing seriously wrong, and I’m just suffering from a sprain/hyperextension.  In the meantime it’s been really frustrating not being able to run or walk easily, so it was nice when the weather cooperated enough this weekend to get in the pool for the first time this season.  I was able to do some laps and at least get my heart rate up for a bit, and felt much better for it.  It’s been raining steadily since then, but I’m hoping it will clear up so I can get back in tomorrow.