Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Biggest Loser blog

I'm not a huge fan of most reality tv, but I do love me some Biggest Loser. I know that the methods utilized by the show are not practical in real life. (Seriously, who wants to exercise for 8 hours a day? Major ugh.) Also they eat a very low calorie diet, and this combined with such an intense exercise regime would probably not be possible without the team of medical personnel that help oversee the show.

All that aside, the show is damn inspirational.

I get totally hooked by each person's story. I empathize with their struggle with weight gain, loss, and regain. I get sucked into their personal dramas, cry over their tragedies, and celebrate their successes. I literally applauded when Antoine and Alexandra got engaged during the finale a few seasons ago, which was kind of embarrassing considering I was at the gym at the time... All tangents aside, my point is that this show inspires millions, myself included.

Over several seasons of watching, I've noticed a thing or two. First off, there seem to be common themes of emotional eating brought on by tragedy, family histories of obesity and obesity-related health issues, and some cataclysmic life event that finally brought upon the need for change. Several contestants have mentioned that they need the Biggest Loser because they can't or won't be able to do it on their own. They need the help/time/focus to get their life and their weight back on track.

As inspirational as the Biggest Loser is to watch, I don't think these kind of results are attainable in real life. I've never met anyone who loses over ten pounds a week several weeks in a row, or who drops 100 pounds in 2 months. It seems this kind of reality tv doesn't depict reality. While it will most likely take those of us not on the show quite a bit longer to lose our weight, I do think we can learn from the show, and apply some of the concepts to our own weight loss journeys.

Here are some tips I've learned:

1) Plan ahead: as with the no starch diet, it is helpful to do a bit of planning when you are trying to lose weight. One example that worked for me was setting an established gym time that I thought of as an appointment, which made me less likely to miss it. Also, I have a few "go to recipes" for quick meals that are healthy, such as a smoothie for breakfast, salad with veggies and protein for lunch, and some lean meat and veggie stir fry for dinner. If you're a busy person, it might help to make some things in bulk and freeze them, or to find ways to get creative with healthy leftovers. It also helps to bring some healthy snacks along such as nuts or fruit leather, because I know I will get hungry between meals. I find the fewer things I leave up to chance, the more successful I am both on the diet and with my weight loss.

2) Make your health a priority: so often on the Biggest Loser I hear people saying they spend all of their time worrying about others and as a result end up overweight. This seems to be especially true of women. I think as women we let our care taking tendencies trump our own needs all too often. If you are serious about your health journey, you have to start putting yourself first. This can mean ensuring you have healthful foods to eat, carving out some "me time" to get in a workout, and finding healthy ways to de-stress that don't involve ice cream. One thing that has helped for me is working out first thing in the morning. I have to go to bed a little earlier and get up a bit earlier, but at least I know that regardless of what comes up throughout the day, I already exercised. Any exercise that happens during the day or after work is just a bonus.

3) Small changes count: when we think of the Biggest Loser, what most likely comes to mind is crazy hard workouts and screaming trainers. However, in the first few episodes they do start smaller and and work their way up. The trainers also encourage those who don't make it onto the show to find small things to do to get started. As a dietitian, many of use this same philosophy with clients and patients. It's helpful to find a few things you want to work on first and go from there, because radically changing everything about your life at once can seem crazy overwhelming. For me, I started with giving up diet soda and drinking more water. Then I made sure I worked out 5 days a week. Then I started working on my diet by eating more fruits and veggies and less junk food and dessert. After that, I bumped up my exercise to 7 days a week. As each new thing turned more into a habit, I was able to add more healthful practices into my daily routine without feeling crazy or like it was too much work to manage.

4) Do it for you: a lot of the contestants on the show talk about their children, spouses, and families, and how they need to lose weight for these people. I think that is a noble idea, but the contestants soon realize that ultimately it is up to them to do the work to lose the weight. I struggled with this as well, wanting to lose weight to make my parents more happy or proud of me, or to make boys I was dating find me more attractive. I found though that this would sometimes make me resentful and bitter towards these people, and sometimes I would deliberately overeat to spite them. Not healthy. I had to get to a place where I became my own catalyst. I had to be the one who drove myself to the gym, ensured I worked out, and felt good and proud of myself without looking to others for affirmation. I had to force myself to eat better and make healthy changes because it was better for me. This has been a lot of work, but it has been quite empowering.

5) Don't make excuses: we all have reasons that we struggle with weight. Maybe we are big boned, our family is all overweight, or there was a personal tragedy which led to us overeating. Maybe we are busy people on the go, running families or managing companies, and we are too busy to take care of ourselves. Maybe our metabolisms are painfully sluggish. Maybe it all just seems to hard. If we want to, we could make excuses for ourselves to be fat until we are blue in the face. Here's the truth about excuses: they get you nowhere. Maybe they make you feel a little better or justified temporarily, but they don't actually change anything about your situation. At some point, I just needed to put on my big girl panties and deal with it. I got to a point where I refused to let excuse after excuse hold me back. I'm better than these excuses. If other people can push through their own situations, so can I.

6) Start today: has anyone else noticed how many contestants have some huge life tragedy that has brought them to the conclusion that now is the time to start losing weight? Especially this season, it seemed that so many people had lost someone they love because of weight-related issues. I don't know about you, but I don't want to wait for tragedy to hit before I start making changes to improve my life. This concept is very similar to the idea of not making excuses, because we can always think of a better reason to start making changes tomorrow. Don't fall into this trap. Even during the rough patches where I "fall off the wagon" I try to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back on the horse the same day. Even a half day of being mindful and loving my body is better than a whole day of gluttony, excuse, and self loathing. You never know what tomorrow may bring. Do it now.

7) Calories in vs. calories out: losing weight is a lot like math. Your body at rest burns a certain amount of calories just keeping you alive. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you burn more than you eat, you lose weight. For me, this has meant that in order to lose weight I need to both eat healthy and exercise. I've found that just eating better but not exercising or exercising but not eating as well has made me either gain weight or stay the same. Once I consistently did both together, the weight started coming off.

8) Exercise is cumulative: this is an idea that isn't touched on quite as much during the show, but is true nonetheless. So many of us are crazy busy these days, and the idea of spending an hour or two at the gym can seem pretty impossible. The great thing about exercise being cumulative is that you can space out your workouts throughout the day if needed and still reap the benefits. If you can't do an hour all at once, do two 30 minute workouts or three 20 minute ones. If your goal is 30 minutes a day you can even break these into three 10 minute chunks. Breaking it up can make it seem more manageable.

9) Try something new: a great way to stay motivated on your weight loss journey is to find a new activity to try out. If you have a gym membership chances are you can try out a few of their classes and see what you like. I've found I really like the Zumba, spinning, and kick boxing classes offered at my gym, and they are a fun way to break up my routine. I also really like hot yoga but it's a little pricey so sometimes I'll try out the new student special somewhere a hit up a few classes a week using their intro rate. Mixing it up like this also helps your body from plateauing because you are challenging new muscle groups and not getting stuck in a rut. Plus finding something that feels more like fun than exercise means you'll probably be more likely to do it.

10) Slow and steady wins the race: ok so this idea might seem a little contrary to the Biggest Loser concept. For me, though, it's become my mantra. Weight loss has to be a marathon, not a sprint. Because I want these changes to take hold and I don't want to backslide, I am thinking of this process as making lifestyle changes and developing new habits. It's not just a last ditch effort to drop a few pounds before ______ (insert event here: wedding, class reunion, hot date, etc). While having things like weddings and reunions can serve as powerful motivating factors, I need to stay focused on the fact that I need to continue on this journey even without any big vacation or bridesmaid dress looming in the future. Someday I will reach my goal, and then I will need to rely on the changes I've made to help sustain the weight loss. This will be work for the rest of my life. The knowledge that I'm going to have to work at weight management the rest of my life used to really piss me off, because it seemed so unfair. I've gotten to a place now where I've accepted it and I figure the sooner all of this becomes second nature, the better off I'll be. Also, one of my R.D. friends pointed out that sometimes being in a plateau state is still worth celebrating, because I'm not regaining the weight. Another friend brought up this point: "time will pass. At the end of the year, you can be skinnier, you can be fatter, or you can stay the same." I'm going to work to be skinnier, and once I get there I'll work to stay the same.

Me in pants that I bought in December:

Best of luck on your journey.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

when in doubt, throw it out

I love roller coasters. I love the feeling of my stomach taking a gigantic lurch as I plummet downwards, jerking from side to side, and flipping upside down. This surprises me a bit, since I am typically not someone who likes to feel out of control. It's one of the reasons why I'm typically a two drink wonder when I go out with friends (well, that and I get tipsy pretty easily).

Despite my preference for feeling in control I still enjoyed sugar, and sugar used to make me feel really out of control. In high school my friend Laura's mom would make the best chocolate chip cookies whenever I came over. She knew how much I loved them, and while we were hanging out she would bring us a plate full of cookies fresh out of the oven. Laura and her sisters would each eat a cookie or two, and I'd eat three or four. Sometimes when I spent the night I would even creep into the kitchen before bed and eat a few more cookies. I couldn't help it - I wanted more.

I would also experience what I liked to refer to as "dessert amnesia", where I'd eat lunch, then have a treat afterwards. Then around 2pm I'd start wanting a treat and think to myself "have I had dessert today? I don't think I have." So then I'd eat another treat. I'd crave dessert again around 4pm, and again after dinner. Each time I would forget that I'd already eaten dessert. The cravings would keep on coming, despite the fact that I would satiate them most of the time. 

I've heard that eating sugar activates the same area of the brain that is effected by heroin, and it elicits a similar response. This could explain why even though I tried to just eat one cookie or one piece of chocolate, I would keep coming back for more. Just like a heroin addict I would need more and more of my drug of choice to keep me satisfied.

Once I started the no starch diet I started to feel more in control. As my readers might have noticed, I do have a sweet tooth so I have several recipes where I've tried to create something like a dessert without using sugar. When I eat these treats I don't feel like I need to keep eating whatever I've made until it's gone. I enjoy some, and then come back to it later. It's a totally new concept for me.

All of this hard work went awry when I discovered sugar free chocolate. I can't remember when exactly I decided to first try sugar free candy. I quickly discovered that there are all sorts of varieties, and they all taste delicious. Each package of sugar free candy contained about 12-16 bite sized individually wrapped treats. Unfortunately, each time I bought a package I would eat one piece, then another and another, until the entire package was gone in one sitting. They tasted so good that I couldn't seem to stop.

I kept buying more of the candy. I tried sugar free Dove chocolates, York mints, and Reese's peanut butter cups. I tried Werther's, red vines, and caramels. I even tried sugar free chocolate covered peanuts and almonds. And here's the gross part: each time I ate these products I would experience gastrointestinal discomfort shortly afterwards. (And by gastrointestinal discomfort I mean gas, bloating, and even diarrhea. No good.) That's because all of these products contained maltitol, a sugar alcohol.

Consuming sugar alcohols in excess can often have a laxative effect on the digestive system. And because sugar alcohols such as maltitol are not as sweet as sugar, candy makers need to use more of the maltitol to get the same sweetness they would have gotten from sugar. That makes it pretty easy to consume an excess amount. I researched maltitol and apparently not only is it the worst sugar alcohol in terms of experiencing adverse GI effects, it also still contains carbs! So not only was I putting my body through GI hell, I was still ingesting carbs and feeding the persistent yeast in my gut. Oh crap.

This also might be why I regained a pound a half of the weight I have lost so far during the challenge. I realized I'm not going to kill off the yeast, heal my gut, and win 400 bucks by continuing to eat maltitol laced sugar free candy. That's when I reached this conclusion: when in doubt, throw it out. Even though eating the sugar free candy made me feel disgusting, I kept buying the stuff. Today, I threw it all away. In my house I currently had sugar free ice cream, sugar free Dove chocolates, and sugar free chocolate from Trader Joe's. It all went into the trash.

Tomorrow, I'm turning over a new leaf. This journey I'm on is about wellness, and about being the best version of myself that I can. It's about doing the most loving things for myself, and about supporting healthy behaviors. It's also a learning experience. We are all flawed human beings, and sometimes we make mistakes. The important thing is to realize our errors and do what it takes to get back on the right track.

In the past, I would make excuses for myself. "I deserve a treat, because I've had a hard day." "A few bites of this won't hurt me." "My family is overweight, so it's only expected that I'll struggle with weight gain too." Now I'm sick of making excuses. I'm sick of accepting a mediocre version of myself. I want to be great.

To quote my Lululemon water bottle "Successful people replace the words 'wish' 'should' and 'try' with 'I will'." Therefore, I've decided that I will kick the sugar habit. I will give up sugar free chocolate and maltitol. I will live a more healthful, better life. I will lose again the weight I regained, and keep losing weight until I hit my goal. I will do loving things for my body. I will love all of me, not just the good parts. I will do everything in my power to fight this disease. I will fight, and I will win. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

blueberry coconut loaf

This past weekend I went to the San Juan Islands. The San Juans are a small island chain in northwestern Washington. Several of the islands are accessible by ferry, the largest of which is San Juan Island. The ferry docks in Friday Harbor, which is a tourist's paradise of souvenir stores, restaurants claiming to serve the world's best chowder, homemade ice cream shops, cafes and espresso bars, bookstores featuring local authors, wine tastings, and tons of assorted boutiques.

Being a bit of a foodie, I have a tendency to wander into random food shops wherever I go. Lately when I go exploring I have been on a quest for new starch free things. In Friday Harbor I found a cute little specialty food store called The Gourmet's Galley

(I love how island boutiques have kitschy boat themed names). At The Gourmet's Galley I found some large flaked unsweetened coconut by Bob's Red Mill,
Hungarian paprika, coffee extract, some unsweetened cocoa powder by Dagoba, and apple cider syrup courtesy of Lopez Island Farm. I'm thinking of using the apple cider syrup on pork loin, yum!

For the large flaked coconut, I knew I wanted to bake something, but I wasn't entirely sure what. Then I flipped over the package and spotted a recipe for blueberry coconut muffins. I tweaked the recipe a bit and made a blueberry coconut loaf.

1/2 stick melted butter
1/4 cup stevia in the raw
8 packets Truvia
1 egg
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground sea salt
3/4 cup nut flour (I used peanut flour)
3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
3/4 cup large flaked unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350. Coat a small loaf pan with butter or pan spray, and set aside.

Combine melted butter, stevia and Truvia. Beat on high for one minute.

Add egg and beat on high for 30 seconds.

Add in heavy cream and vanilla until combined.

Beat in baking soda, cream of tartar, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, and nut flour.

Fold in blueberries and coconut. Pour into loaf pan.

Bake 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

I ate it warm, fresh out of the oven with some butter on top. It reminded me of the blueberry coffee cake my great-grandma used to make. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

AS support groups and Peanut Flour Pancakes!

As I've been on this AS journey of learning about and coping with a crazy sounding disease, I've tried to find ways to connect with other AS sufferers. I found a support group website called, which seems to be the #1 support group for those who have AS (over 7,000 members!). It's an international website with tons of discussion forums and good information which was helpful for me when I was first diagnosed. I joined up but was still looking for more ways to connect, so I researched AS on facebook, figuring there was bound to be some sort of something on there. (I mean, isn't that kind of what facebook's all about?) That's how I found the Ankylosing Spondylitis - Find a Cure! page.

Since part of the purpose of writing this blog is to reach others who also have this disease, I've been posting a few links to my blog on there. Through posting these links I've gotten great questions and ideas for new recipes. One person asked about starch free flour, because they love pancakes. I had kind of gotten used to a pancake-free existence, but then I thought, why not?

I had recently found some peanut flour at my local Trader Joe's ($3.99 for one pound) and decided to get cooking. I adapted the following recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook's buttermilk pancake recipe. I was going to use buttermilk but realized mine was expired, so I just used 1%. They turned out delicious!

Peanut Flour Pancakes and maple syrup:
1/2 cup peanut flour
1 TB stevia in the raw + 2 Truvia packets
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
1 TB melted butter
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine peanut flour, stevia in the raw, Truvia, and baking powder. Set aside.

Combine egg, milk, and butter. Stir in xathan gum and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture. (It will look quite a bit like peanut butter.)

Heat your skillet on medium, add a drizzle of canola oil or a pat of butter, and cook. Cook pancakes until sides begin to firm and small bubbles start to form. Flip.

Whisk 1 c stevia in the raw into 1/2 cup boiling water until melted. Bubbles will form and then stevia will dissolve. Add 1/4 tsp maple extract. Serve warm.

Surprisingly, the pancakes didn't taste overwhelmingly like peanuts. Also, the syrup will be much more watery than regular syrup and slightly more bitter. I put peanut butter on top of my pancakes to cut the bitterness and enhance the peanut flavor and it tasted great. I'm sure this recipe would work equally well with any nut flour.


Monday, September 6, 2010

have your cake and eat it too

The other day my friend Kristi and I went for a jog around Greenlake. Kristi and I have both struggled with losing weight and keeping it off, which is why she is part of the group of women doing the weight loss challenge with me (total weight lost so far: 5 pounds, which means I'm 11 pounds away from my goal weight). One of the awesome things about this challenge has been the opportunity for us to share our struggles and triumphs with one another. Kristi shared her story with me, and I was telling her about how I'm trying to love my body more every day. I told her about my friend Kelsey's theory that in order to expect good things from your body, you should feed it with loving thoughts (see my blog about this idea for my info: Therefore, I've been trying to spend less time picking myself apart and more time appreciating my body as a whole, especially as I can feel it getting stronger and more fit.

Kristi brought an interesting twist to this idea. She said that lately she has also been working on loving herself, and has been using the idea of doing loving things for her body as a filter to help her stay on track. For example, when she has had a hard day and wants to go eat a piece of cheesecake, she will ask herself "is this the most loving thing I can do for my body right now?" She has also been trying to reinforce her positive behaviors in this way. She tells herself that getting enough sleep is a way to love herself. When she exercises every day she tells herself that she is doing a loving thing for her body. Also drinking enough water, finding ways to manage stress, and eating fresh fruits and veggies are all acts of self love. In Kristi's words, "sometimes you want to tell yourself that eating a giant piece of chocolate cake is loving yourself. And sometimes it is. But usually, it's not."

Kristi's theory has been helpful for me too. As a kid I wasn't a huge fan of exercise, since it didn't seem fun. To me, exercise was something I had to do to avoid being fat. As an adult I always wanted someone to work out with; I didn't like to do it by myself. I liked playing soccer and doing kickboxing, but I loathed going for runs and doing weight training. Basically, I shied away from anything that felt too much like exercise, because exercise felt like a punishment. Lately however, I've come to enjoy working out. I've realized how much better I feel when I am consistent with my exercise. My AS symptoms bother me less, I have more energy, and my spine feels stronger when I get some form of exercise every day. This daily exercise has also allowed me to build the strength required to push my body in new ways. Also, I've used my daily exercise time as a time of self reflection, and I've come to really enjoy having this "me" time.

Another area I've struggled with is dessert. I've always had a sweet tooth, and even on this restrictive diet I have a tendency to overindulge when I find or create something that tastes like a treat. If I want to continue to progress towards my goal I need to remember that loving yourself is even bigger than not hating yourself. What I mean is, while I have gotten much better at squelching the negative self talk and being proud of myself when I do things like complete a triathlon, I haven't come as far as Kristi in being able to continuously choose courses of actions that are loving to my body.

A recent thing I have been struggling with is sugar free products, especially candy. Actually, especially chocolate. They make sugar free Reese's peanut butter cups, sugar free York peppermint patties, even sugar free Hershey's chocolate filled with caramel. I couldn't remember the last time I ate caramel. Sigh.

Sugar free candy uses sugar alcohols instead of sugar, and I am not supposed to eat them. However, they taste like real candy and are readily available in the gift shop at my work, so lately I have been frequently succumbing to temptation. If you flip over the package of sugar free candy and read the fine print, it actually says "may cause laxative effects in individuals sensitive to sugar alcohols." Talk about yuck. After eating the first package of the sugar free chocolate I was instantly gassy and bloated, but they tasted so darn good that I bought another package the next day. Definitely not a very loving thing to do to my body.

With all of that in mind, some days are chocolate cake days. I decided it's more loving to myself to figure out how to make a dessert I can eat that won't make me feel disgusting. Also, I've noticed that I tend to eat less of the treat that I've made than I do of the sugar free candy. The trick for me will be to eat mindfully and really savor any treats I make. Hence, after two days in the kitchen and two trips to the grocery store, my recipe for no starch chocolate cake with raspberry sauce was born.

No Starch Flourless Chocolate Cake

Preheat oven to 350
Butter a loaf pan, and set aside

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
5 TB melted butter
12 TB unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks, beaten
11 packets Truvia
1 tsp xanthan gum
3 egg whites

Combine applesauce, melted butter, cocoa powder, and milk. Batter will be lumpy. Set aside.

In a small dish, combine coconut extract, vanilla extract, Truvia, and beaten egg yolk. Add xanthan gum. Add this egg mixture into the cocoa mixture.

In a different small dish, whip 3 egg whites until stiff peaks form. The eggs should about triple in volume. Fold the egg whites into the cocoa mixture, and stir just until there are no white streaks visible.

Bake for 30 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Raspberry Sauce:
Microwave 1/4 cup frozen raspberries for 1.5 minutes. Add 3 packets Truvia and microwave for 30 seconds. Serve immediately.