Better now.

Ok, last week’s post was definitely borne of sheer frustration, but like all things – patience pays dividends.  I stuck with the plan – Whole30-focused meals with an emphasis on portion size.  This seems to be the magic combination for me.  I’m down 7 of the 12 lbs I gained on the trip, so I just need to keep on keepin’ on.  For me, the quantity of food is every bit as much a challenge to my weight goals as the quality, and I know I’m doing it right when I’m starting to get hungry about an hour before each meal.  It’s not exactly the most pleasant hour, but I’ve borrowed one of E.J.’s tricks and have a cup of coffee or a glass of lemon water during those hours to calm the hunger pangs.

E.J. posted this morning on the variations on the Paleo diet that he’s experimented with.  What I discovered is that while Keto may work well for some folks, my body does not do well with cheese & other dairy products, even when lactose free.  I get really bad swelling, terribly painful constipation, and honestly I have a harder time eating proper portions because I really love the taste of cheese with meat.  Paleo/Whole30 focus on veggies and healthier root vegetables works better for my digestive system, and as long as I cut out the dairy, my rings and clothes fit so much better.  Fortunately E.J. and I are able to agree on a strategy, and so far it’s paying off for both of us.

Since I know many of you are following me for some new recipes, here is a new one I’ve stumbled into recently:

Easy Paleo Pecan Crusted Salmon – This one is super simple to put together and can easily be made into a one-pan dish by adding asparagus, broccoli, or another veggie to the pan, drizzled in oil and sprinkled with spices for a healthy roasted side.

Now that we’re back into the swing of things, I’m hoping to try a few more new recipes this week and I’ll be sure to share the ones that turn out well!

What if you can’t prep?

I’ve mentioned several times in the past that no matter how much you commit to a healthier lifestyle, there’s always going to be some weeks when meal prepping in advance isn’t going to happen.  While I will be the first one to tell you that that is generally a bad idea for E.J. and I (it’s like taking a test without studying), I will say that sometimes it’s just the way it is.  As much as it adds some additional stress and pressure to come up with healthy options during the week, I will say that I do appreciate the occasional break from my weekly kitchen marathon.  Next weekend, E.J. and I are going on vacation, and I don’t want to make a bunch of food that will end up sitting in the fridge while we’re gone, so, if you don’t cook your meals in advance, how do you stay on track?

Here are some of my strategies:

  • Raid the freezer – When I make batches of chili or butternut squash soup (some of E.J.s favorites, I often make double or triple batches and freeze some.  I also try to keep frozen shrimp, fish, and sausage, and steak which can also be thawed a day in advance and used during the week for quick dinners.
  • Catch of the Day – Some of the quickest and healthiest meals can be pulled together by simply picking up some fresh seafood on the way home, adding spices and baking or sauteeing into a delicious meal. Pick up some pre-prepped cauli-rice, salad, or spiralized veggies while you’re at it to pull together a balanced plate
  • Charcuterie – Growing up, E.J. and his family often packed picnic lunches that they enjoyed on weekend outings that consisted of bread with butter, salami or beef sticks, cheeses, peppers, radishes, fruit, nuts, and other small bites.  This is our plan for lunches this week, so I’m making 2 loaves of our new favorite “Paleo Keto Bread” and we’re each going to pack a selection of items to make into small sandwiches.
  • Eating Out (Worst Case) – While this used to be our go-to solution for not having food in the fridge, we now try hard not to eat out more than 2 or 3 meals in a given week.  It’s hard to practice portion control and avoid bread & chips, but best bets for us include Mexican, seafood, Mediterranean, and BBQ/steakhouses.

The Spice of Life…

I truly believe one of the secrets to healthier cooking is learning how to better use spices.  For many years, I was like many home cooks out there – I had my simple go-to recipes with salt and pepper, and the only time I really used the ones in my pantry was around the holidays.  Even then, spices were measured out perfectly according to my cherished recipes and that was the extent of it.

When E.J. and I started our journey to healthier eating, my first few attempts were awful.  They were horribly bland, and because our taste buds were still accustomed to the assault of sugar, I really had to wonder how anyone lived on this stuff.   At some point in those early days, I decided that I had to find a way to make these dishes taste better, so I started doubling the spices that were called for in many of the recipes (except salt… always add salt sparingly since it can easily be added on the plate to taste) or adding new ones.  The result was amazing.  All of a sudden the vegetables that we were struggling to choke down tasted great, and I could actually appreciate the way the flavors worked together.

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So what started out as a survival mechanism has now become a bit of an obsession.  It is honestly a bit rare for me to carefully measure out spices in recipes anymore.  One, it takes longer, and two it doesn’t really matter what the recipe says… I know what I like.  I LOVE garlic… honestly, if the recipe has garlic, then that just means I can dump as much as feels good into it, and I know it will be just that much better.  I also love rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, paprika and onion powder.  I have to be a little more conservative with the parsley, sage, dill, and cayenne…. I’ve overdone them and therefore know my limits.

IMG_3125I rarely keep an Italian spice blend in the kitchen anymore, because it’s an excuse to pull together my favorite spices and be creative.  Even better, every spring I plant a bunch of fresh herbs in planter boxes that E.J. built into the fence indentations in our back yard.  My garden always has basil, flat leaf parsley, rosemary (this one is tricky if you have a sprinkler system), sage, dill, thyme, oregano, and green onions.   This year I planted a few cherry tomato plants to go with it all and so far they’re doing well.   You haven’t had great Italian until you’ve had it with a sauce that started as vine ripe tomatoes and a whole bunch of fresh herbs.

But since most of my plants are annuals and only yield part of the year, I still rely on dried spices most of the time.  Going to a spice store (Like Penzeys) is like going to a candy store now for me.  I end up buying way more than I should, but I really appreciate the quality difference from the regular store brands, and their blends are great shortcuts for busy weeknights.  This week E.J. was in the mood for Chicken Vindaloo, and like many recipes, the spices are the most complicated part… but with Penzey’s “Vindaloo” spice blend, I just dumped half a jar into the Instant Pot along with the onions, salt, and tomatoes, submerged the chicken, and pressure cooked it to perfection.  The Penzeys Chili 9000 blend is also the secret to E.J’s favorite chili.  Their “Northwoods” seasoning is a favorite for sauteed or grilled veggies.   I still have to be careful to avoid the blends with sugar, but a quick ingredient check makes it easy to find the ones that are on the “ok” list.

What are your go-to spices or spice blends?

Splitting the Difference

Ok folks, I know I owe you a post showing you all of the wonderfully keto happy recipes I’ve been making the last few weeks, and while I’m happy to share my favorites (you can find them at the bottom of my Favorite Recipes page), the truth is that I’ve been struggling a bit lately – which many of you have read about if you also follow E.J.’s blog, and we’ve decided to move forward on a Keto/Paleo hybrid plan.

The truth is that I really missed cheese during the last several years, and while the Paleo mavens out there have come up with some really clever substitutes involving cashews, nutritional yeast, and other healthy alternatives, the truth is nothing compares to the real thing.  We’ve found that if we are careful with the dairy we buy, and stick to lactose-free options wherever possible, we actually don’t have the negative affects we’ve seen in the past.  The other cue we’re taking from keto is to reduce our carbs wherever possible.  I’ve found that I can’t stand most Stevia sweeteners, but can handle Swerve (erythritol) just fine, and if I can enjoy sweets without spiking my blood sugar, that’s got to be a good thing.  Beyond that, we’re going to allow ourselves some fruit occasionally and not limit our tomato, onions, and peppers as much (seriously, how to people cook long-term without those 3 veggies?)  And maybe still have a potato side once a week, but not as much as we were on full Paleo.

I still didn’t drop more than a pound or 2 during this last round of keto, but I’ve also had another major upheaval at work, and I know my portion sizes have been out of control.  So considering that I haven’t ballooned up in the last couple of weeks, I guess I’ll call it a win.

Overall, I can say that in general, Keto cooking is easier than Paleo, and appeals more to a palate that’s not used to “diet” food options.  My mom certainly prefers Keto dishes over Paleo, and I think if I refined some of my bread and cookie recipes, I could probably get her into ketosis without her even realizing it!

So at this point in our journey, I will say that I’m continuing to learn and experiment with flavorful foods and monitor my body’s reaction to what I’m eating.  It’s all about finding your balance, right?

Another Keto Detour

The first time I tried shifting from Paleo to Keto, I tried it while E.J. was deployed with the National Guard so I was on my own.  I struggled with energy levels and stomach aches, and it kind of fizzled out after about 2 weeks.  Though, in that 2 weeks, I did lose a couple of pounds.

This time, E.J. is driving the keto bus, and he’s done a lot more research on strategies and supplements to help make it work better. So, today is day 2, and I’m looking forward to enjoying some cheesy goodness, even if I can’t have my beloved honey and maple syrup sweetened treats…

Here are some of the recipes we’ve got on the menu this week:

Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole – E.J. had a craving for enchiladas verdes, one of his favorite mexican dishes, so I made this casserole which brings all of the flavors without the pain of tortilla making and rolling.

Low Carb Quiche Lorraine – this is a favorite from the last keto experiment.  It’s so good that my mom (who does not follow our diet) fell in love with it and asks me to make one for her every other week or so.  I use Jarlsberg Swiss cheese for this recipe and the flavor is outstanding.

Three Cheese and Broccoli Casserole – Mom tried this one last night also and gave it 2 thumbs up.  I added some chopped sausage to the dish to make it hearty enough to stand as an entree, but otherwise kept to the recipe.

E.J. also made a Hungarian stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut dish as well as smoked ribs to round out our weekly meals.

Yesterday for lunch we tried fat head dough for the first time as a pizza crust – and can you say Yum!?  We haven’t had pizza in forever, so E.J. was particularly excited about being able to have a slice now and then again.   This recipe from Ditch The Carbs is the one we used.

Happy Monday, Everyone!

With a Little Help From My Friends

We’re in the final stretch of our January Whole30, and all in all I think it’s been a success.  I didn’t quite hit the weight target I wanted, but my clothes all fit nicely again, and I certainly feel better.  Work stresses aside, this really was the easiest W30 yet, and one of the reasons why it was easier is because of the amazing support of friends and family.

When we started with Whole30 and Paleo 2 years ago, things were much different.  When I would turn down office treats, or carefully order food at restaurants with specific requests, or bring strange food to the office potlucks, I found myself explaining what I was doing and the reasons behind it over and over.  The reactions were all over the map: encouragement, admiration, skepticism, and pity – but fortunately I was never met with ugliness.  After a few months, when the weight started to drop, I had a lot more questions, and a lot more earnest interest.  Now 2 years later, 2 others in my department have dropped over 50 lbs, and another is just starting her journey.

When we have potlucks now, we are sensitive to all of the dietary requests – things are labelled gluten free, paleo, and vegetarian, and people are proud to share their favorite health-conscious foods with the team and enjoy how good they taste.  No one brings donuts or kolaches on Fridays anymore either.  We’ll share treats for birthdays and holidays, but otherwise, we now keep nuts, Lara bars and other healthier options lying around the department instead.   The funniest thing about it is I never mentioned anything about office foods.  I never preached or gave anyone any grief about wanting to bring something yummy to share with the team.  But over the course of 2 years by simply politely declining and choosing my own path, the entire team has chosen to follow it, and some of them have dramatically improved their own health in the process.

Even the waiters at our favorite restaurants are supportive.  At the places we visit most frequently, E.J. has talked to the waiters and shown them the pictures… they all know the story, and remember us when we come in, so we rarely have to give our special orders anymore – they know what we want and how we want it.  It’s just so much more comfortable.

It’s the same with our close personal friends.  E.J. and I have a number of couples we will hang out with and have adventures with on the weekends, and while they might not follow our diet as strictly, they are all sensitive to it and have recognized the benefits themselves.   I feel incredibly lucky to be blessed with friends who have not only accepted the changes E.J. and I made to our lives to improve our health, but have embraced them and actively help us find new recipes and  ways to continue to thrive with an active social life.  When we entertain friends, they know my menu will be mostly paleo unless there’s a special request, which I’m happy to accommodate.  And when we go to our friends’ house, they always let us know what foods are compliant and which ones aren’t so we can make conscious decisions about how to build our plates.

And then sometimes, like this last Friday, they just rock and make a new paleo recipe that I’ve never seen or tried and it is nothing short of amazing.  Our friends Kenny and Elaine made this Whole30 compliant InstantPot Crispy Mojo Pork with tostones and it was spectacular.  I’m totally adding this to the Favorite Recipes list.  My friend Anita has also been tagging amazing looking recipes on her Facebook so they pop up for me, and I can’t wait to try them.

So, while everyone’s journey must be a personal one, I can certainly say that our ability to sustain our new lifestyle would be a much more difficult without “A Little Help From My Friends”.

A Keto Detour

Ok, time to get real again.  The job stress is hitting a crescendo right now because of a major project that’s coming online at the end of next week.  On top of that, E.J’s been gone over a week and won’t be back until Friday, which is exactly when I will need to be focusing on work instead of him.

Avoiding the sugar dragon right now is not an option.

But I’m back to running 30 minutes 3 times a week, now that my knee is better, and I’m not willing to give into the extra lbs that keep trying to creep back on, just because I’m stressed.  So what’s a Paleo person supposed to do to keep things under control?

Have you heard of this Keto stuff?  E.J. suggested I look into it.

Keto is a cousin of the Paleo diet that’s more focused on weight loss than long term health, and basically while you give up carb-heavy veggies like sweet potatoes, beets, and butternut squash, you add back in small amounts of cheese and sugar substitutes like erythritol (Swerve).  Other than that, the diets are similar to a “Primal” Whole 30.  The point is to get your body into ketosis, where it starts burning fat instead of carbs for energy.  And based on everything I’ve read, it seemed like it would be worth a try.

So last week I pulled up one of those “Fat Bomb” recipes off of Pinterest, just to see if I could handle the sweetener.  My weakest part of the day is craving a sweet finish after dinner.  The first night I had one after dinner, I tried one along with some decaf coffee to see if it would satisfy.  My first impression was how “fake” and strange the sweetener tasted compared to the natural sugars I had been enjoying in maple syrup and honey.  After about half an hour, I also had some very unpleasant stomach aching and a lot of intestinal discomfort.  But slowly over the rest of the week, the intestinal issues subsided as my body adjusted and figured out how to digest it.

Would you believe that I dropped 3 lbs in 4 days?  I’m being careful to only use cheese sparingly for flavor, and still using coconut milk as a cream substitute, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.  Today, I made this Quiche Lorraine along with some Crock Pot southwest chicken for lunches, and it was awesome.  Mom and Brendon had some for lunch today, and both pronounced it a winner.

I actually feel like I have a formula now that will get me through the next couple of weeks and I won’t automatically be gaining 5 lbs.  In fact, if the last few days are any indication, I might be back to my lowest by my birthday at the end of the month.

Wouldn’t that be a nice present!!??

Iron Chef: Freezer Edition

With E.J. off at Annual Training for the next 2 weeks, I am taking the opportunity to inventory my freezer this week so that I can do a massive defrosting next weekend.  We actually have 2 freezers, and the large one in the laundry room is not the kind that is frostless, so about twice a year, you have to go old school and pull everything out to thaw out the massive ice buildup.

While the project is always a massive pain, it’s a good opportunity to go through everything and throw out things that are too freezer burned, or otherwise undesirable to make room for the good stuff.  In order to minimize the amount of ice and ice chest space I need, I’m trying to “Iron Chef” it this week with whatever I can find.

On Friday, I did a version of these Paleo Enchiladas using some frozen pulled pork for the meat and some Siete tortillas.  The sauce was actually delicious, and I would like to try this full recipe someday.   Then on Saturday, I did I wanted to use the last of the cherries I had in the fridge and some beef and pork , so I made this Meatballs with Cherry Sauce dish.  Mom and Brendon really liked that one.

Last night, I pulled out an old favorite to use up some frozen salmon.  This one is always a winner.   And tonight I used up a couple of lbs of shrimp by sauteing them with onions and bell peppers in a Jamaican jerk rub with butter.  It was a little spicier than I had intended, but otherwise really good.

I’m about to go diving back into the freezer to figure out what we’re going to have tomorrow night…. your guess is as good as mine!

First Run Since Injury

If you recall a previous post several months ago, I really messed up my right knee right after we got back from vacation in March.  It had already been bothering me a bit, and then after sitting on the porch one day with Buddy on my lap for an hour or so (putting pressure on my knee cap) I got up and had excruciating pain under my kneecap.

I thought at first that it would be temporary, but the pain was persistent and kept me walking with a limp, sometimes to the point where it would just give out while I was trying to walk or come down stairs.  Finally after an MRI, I was diagnosed with Runners’ Knee – a common, but nasty condition where the cartilage under the kneecap has worn down and the kneecap keeps moving out of the groove where it’s supposed to be.

The only remedy is time and therapy, strengthening the ligaments and muscles around the area and allowing the tissues to recover.  I was making great progress with it after a couple of months, and then one day twisted it just right and felt like I was back to square one.

The frustration at wanting to run and not being able to is excruciating and infuriating.  I have to admit to feeling a range of emotions because of it – depression, anger, and even resignation that I might as well give up the whole diet and exercise thing because if I can’t exercise, the diet has to be really strict for me to maintain my lower weight.  It’s really hard to watch the scale creep up when you know how to make it go back down, but can’t physically do it.  Fortunately, E.J. and I counsel each other regularly on this journey, so when I hit this roadblock, he hit the Internet, looking for ways to help me “adapt and overcome”.

First, he bought me a good exercise bike.  Fortunately the bike allowed me to get my heart rate up, and strengthen the muscles around the knee without the damaging impact.  I’ve been doing 30 minutes on the bike 3 times a week for the last couple of months to ensure I still get some cardio exercise, but I just don’t get the sense of satisfaction that I get from running.  First, it’s hard to stay in the same place going nowhere for 30 minutes, and 2nd, it just doesn’t get my whole body moving like running does.

Then most recently, he bought me a new knee brace.  I’ve actually tried at least 3 different ones since the initial injury, trying to find one that was flexible enough to move in, stayed in place, supported the kneecap, and breathable enough to wear all day.  He found a bunch of people on Reddit who had my same injury who recommended a specific brace and patella strap set that’s only $8 that they swear by.  Well, after wearing the brace comfortably for about 2 weeks, I can now officially say it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Not only did the pain go away when I walk, I can wear heeled shoes again all day at work, go down stairs without wincing, and this morning, for the first time since March, I went out and did running and power walking intervals for 20 minutes… and I’m walking without pain afterward.  I’m so excited to feel like I’m finally getting back to where I want to be physically.  Obviously, I need to baby it for the next few days so I don’t overdo it too quickly, but I’m looking forward to trying a few more intervals over the next few weeks on my way back to a 5k.

Moral of the story:  Don’t let injury, vacation splurges, or anything else get in the way of your long term goals.  Accept your situation, whatever it is, and keep trying to find a strategy that works for your specific circumstance… and when it changes, be flexible enough to “adapt and overcome”!

Happy Half-Century to PaleoMarine!

Today is Mr. PaleoMarine’s (my husband E.J.’s) 50th birthday.  I feel incredibly lucky to be married to this guy, not just because he’s my best friend and my favorite person in the whole world, but because it’s been so inspiring to watch him take stock of his life over the last several years and fix the things about himself he felt were broken.

With the pace that the world moves around us, it’s easy to say that we’ll be better tomorrow, or to give excuses why circumstances or luck keep us from being the best version of ourselves that we can be – but it takes a lot of courage (and maybe a little healthy fear) to take an honest look in the mirror and summon the determination to change the things we don’t like.  Those of you who have been following our journey here or on his blog at PaleoMarine.com no doubt have been impressed at his weight loss (over 150 lbs to date), but the actually that’s only one small part of his transformation.  In addition to getting his weight under control, he has also been working out to improve his fitness, adjusted his sleep habits to ensure he’s getting enough rest, made a conscious effort to look at the world in a more positive light, improved his money management and personal savings, and makes a conscious daily effort to be the best husband, father, and friend he can be.

The result has been awe inspiring, not just for me, but for many of the people that he talks to about his journey over the last couple of years.  We personally know more than 20 individuals and couples who have made similar improvements in their lives as a direct result of E.J.’s story.  Yes, it requires effort for both of us in equal measure to keep a good thing going, but it is so worth it.  It’s amazing how one positive change affects the next and the next, and how you can look back after a while and wonder how and why you didn’t make the changes sooner.

I challenge everyone, regardless of age or situation, to find the courage to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What is one thing about yourself that you really want to change?”, and then form a plan to change it.  Know that it may take years to make it completely, but every journey begins with a single step and a determination to reach the destination.  Try to take someone with you if you can – the support of a friend or spouse definitely makes the journey easier, but if you have to go alone, be sure to keep a journal and or find an online community with similar goals to help support you in the moments when you want to give up.  And when you fail (and you will), remember to love yourself enough to get back up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

Happy 50th Birthday, E.J.!  I’m so incredibly proud of you, and like a fine wine, you’re definitely getting better with age!!