Thursday, April 29, 2010

Setting a Goal for Portion Control

My life has been such a blur of activity that I didn’t even get around to posting last week. How did the time get away from me? Anyway, a lot has been happening with me on the Vtrim program, so let me fill you in.

A week ago, I finished my third week of calorie reduction and had already lost 6.6 pounds – yeah! That’s more than 2 pounds a week! The week’s lesson was on goal setting – figuring out what small steps you need to take to get where you want to go. One of my goals, foodie that I am, has been to try at least one new recipe a week. That way I get to add some new foods to my healthy repertoire and get to play in the kitchen – one of my favorite things to do!

Even though I have a gazillion cookbooks, I still love to try new ones. That could get to be an expensive habit if I didn’t have a great library here in my hometown. It’s a well-kept secret that most public libraries have a huge collection of great cookbooks that you can check out and try without spending any money. Ours has so many great ones that I have to limit how many I bring home each trip!

My find of the week was The Eating Well Diabetes Cookbook. While I don’t have diabetes, the recipes are just delicious healthy recipes so I decided to try one out. After checking to see what ingredients I had on hand, I opted for Lemony Sugar Snap and Chicken Stir-Fry. It was fabulous! I’ll give you the recipe at the end of this entry so you can try it too.

Over this past week, the Vtrim lesson was on portion control – learning how much a real serving is so you can eyeball how much food you are really eating and not underestimate calories. Because I have a tendency to overeat particular kinds of foods, I decided to do an experiment and see if I could eat and drink some of the things I really love in moderation by using the guidelines of portion control. And you know what? It worked!

I was able to measure out the ingredients for my special margaritas, put one in the freezer for later, and then drink one (yes, just one!) while sitting out on the deck in the sunshine. The same strategy worked with the strawberry ice cream that was still in the back of the freezer from before I began the Vtrim program. I measured out a ½ cup and then added a ½ cup of my favorite frozen yogurt to the bowl. YUM! In both instances, I got to enjoy something I really like while still staying within my calorie goal for the day.

One of the reasons this idea of portion control is so key for me is that I tend to think of food in all or nothing terms – I can’t have any or I can have as much as I want. Needless to say, that mentality has not served me well and has contributed not only to my weight gain, but also to my inability to stay with any kind of diet. I just don’t do well with deprivation, but unlimited indulgence hasn’t worked either.

So the idea that I can lose weight while enjoying any kind of food and drink as long as I use portion control is revolutionary for me. It’s true that there are limits, but when I don’t feel deprived, staying within those limits seems completely doable. In fact, during this week where I had strawberry ice cream AND margaritas (I drank the other one a couple of nights later), I lost 3.2 more pounds, bringing the grand total up to 9.8 pounds in four weeks!

All I can say is these Vtrim folks are onto something good. I am enjoying my food, eating what I like, and not feeling hungry – all while losing weight. What more could I ask for in a weight-loss program?

So, are you ready for a healthy, yummy recipe? Try out this Lemony Sugar Snap and Chicken Stir-Fry from The Eating Well Diabetes Cookbook. It’s simple and very tasty!

Lemony Sugar Snap and Chicken Stir-Fry

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed of fat
¼ teaspoon of salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
12 ounces sugar snap peas or snow peas (4 cups), trimmed of stem ends and strings
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Cut chicken into 1-by-2-inch strips; season with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow pan and dredge chicken strips in it, shaking off excess. Discard remaining flour.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add peas and stir-fry until bright green, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan and heat on medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chicken and cook, stirring, until lightly browned and opaque in the center, 4-5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the peas.

Add broth and garlic to the pan; cook until reduced to 1 cup, 6-8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and return the chicken and the peas to the pan. Cook until heated through. Add parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 hearty servings; 263 calories, 6 grams fat, 31 grams protein.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Healthy Tex-Mex

One of the things I miss most about living in Texas is the great Mexican food. Considering I practically cut my teeth on tortillas, I don’t suppose my love of Tex-Mex should be too surprising. It is by far my favorite food in the whole world. I would eat it every day if I could - especially enchiladas. All that cheesy, gooey goodness… YUM!

Anyway, after I moved from Texas to New England, I went through withdrawal. Ever hopeful, I kept trying out Mexican restaurants up here that my friends swore were great, only to be disappointed time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, Vermont has many lovely things, but good Mexican food is not one of them. So every time I went to visit my parents in Houston, I would get them to take me straight from the airport to the Mexican Restaurant so I could get my “Mexican Fix.” And then I would, of course, proceed to eat as much Mexican food as I could during my stay.

I have finally come to accept (grudgingly) that I will probably never get good Mexican food here in Vermont, at least not at a restaurant. And in all honesty, that's probably not a bad thing considering that many Tex-Mex dishes are full of fat and calories. So what’s a homesick Texan who wants to eat healthy to do? Why, make her own Tex-Mex food, of course!

A number of years ago, I saw this recipe for Black Bean Enchilada Casserole in Cooking Light Magazine and tried it out. While it’s not quite the same as authentic Tex-Mex enchiladas, it satisfies that craving without sending me over the top with fat and calories. I have made a few changes to the recipe over the years, so feel free to make your own changes and adaptations. The only rule is to enjoy!

Black Bean Enchilada Casserole (adapted from Cooking Light Magazine)

½ cup (2 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded 50% reduced fat cheddar cheese (Cabot 50% is great)
1 cup cooked rice (I use brown for extra nutrients and fiber)
1 cup light sour cream
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped – OR – 1 chopped canned chipotle*
1 (19 ounce) can red or green enchilada sauce (I use Old El Paso)
Cooking spray
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix shredded cheeses together. Combine ½ cup cheese, rice, and next 7 ingredients (rice through jalapeño) in a large bowl. Spread ¼ cup of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Heat remaining enchilada sauce in a skillet until warm and then remove from heat. Dip 6 tortillas in sauce, coating on both sides, and arrange tortillas, overlapping, over sauce in baking dish. Top with half of the bean mixture and spread evenly over tortillas. Dip remaining tortillas in sauce and overlap in dish on top of bean mixture. Top with remainder of bean mixture, remaining enchilada sauce, and ½ cup cheese. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until bubbly. Cut in squares and serve.

6 servings. Per serving: 338 calories, 10.5 grams fat.

*Chipotles come canned in adobo sauce (a smoky tomato based sauce). They freeze well, so when you have opened the can and taken what you need, chop the remainder and freeze in a small container. The next time you need chipotles, just thaw slightly in the microwave and scoop some out!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Feast or Famine?

OK, this was kind of a tough week. Not in terms of my eating or even the exercise that I added in (programmed exercise begins in Week 3 of Vtrim), but in terms of my thinking. Yep, you heard me right. It was my thoughts that gave me trouble this week. Even though I stayed with my eating plan, exercised more than the requisite amount, and successfully navigated the potentially dangerous waters of dining out TWICE, I still had to deal with those pesky old thought patterns that plague even the best of us.

It all started when I seemed to be gaining back some weight after last week’s amazing four pound weight loss. I had been following the Vtrim program diligently – recording all my food and staying within my allotted calories. In fact, I had even begun to add in regular exercise, so I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

As far as I could tell, I was doing everything right, but the number on the scale was still moving in the wrong direction. ACK! I started to panic. Fear kicked in and the voice of the Drill Sergeant (my internal critic) started bellowing, “This is not going to work. You can’t eat like a normal person and lose weight. You’ve got to deprive yourself if you want to see the pounds come off.”

WHOA! Where did THAT come from? Did I just hear myself say that losing weight = depriving myself? So that’s what was going on! All my years of dieting had taught me to associate weight loss with deprivation and quick results. Now that the scale wasn’t giving me immediate gratification, I had fallen back into my old belief patterns.

Deep down, I was having trouble believing that I could eat like a normal person and still lose weight. And yet, eating like a normal person is the heart of the Vtrim program. It’s not about quick results derived from deprivation, but creating a new relationship with food that can last a lifetime.

I have to confess that believing I can lose weight while eating well is still a new concept for me. When I’m not seeing those external results on the scale, it’s easy to let fear sabotage my efforts by convincing me that I need to do something drastic if I want to succeed. But the truth is that changing deeply engrained patterns takes time. And I have years of feast or famine, either/or thinking in this brain of mine.

So while I’m giving myself time to adjust to this alternate way of thinking, I’ve come up with a new strategy. I’ve decided to lighten up. Instead of letting the daily numbers on the scale determine my sense of success, I’m focusing on the big picture – eating what’s good for me, getting regular exercise, and staying within my allotted calorie allowance. If I can keep my attention there – on the new behaviors that can change my life – I’m pretty confident that the scale will take care of itself.

Friday, April 9, 2010

One Step at a Time

One of the things I love about Vtrim is that they help you to incorporate lifestyle changes slowly so that you get a chance to live into them. That is SO important for me. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, during the first week on Vtrim you don’t make any changes in your diet or lifestyle at all. Instead, you focus on gaining an awareness of what, when, where, and how you eat by tracking everything you put into you mouth.

At first, I thought this chronicling of bad habits was a waste of time and wanted to get to the “real” part of the program – changing my life. But it didn’t take long for me to see the wisdom of this approach. Beth, my Vtrim facilitator, explained that if I didn’t understand what I was usually consuming in the way of calories (not to mention where those calories came from) that it would be hard for me to make changes that would last.

The goal was to be a nonjudgmental observer, a detective of sorts, so that I could learn my weaknesses and uncover my blindspots. And you know what? It really worked. I was astounded at how many calories I was actually taking in. There were other patterns I noticed as well – eating large amounts late at night, not eating at the table, gorging on ice cream (a food I seem to have little control around), and not eating enough protein. Although these things were initially really hard for me to look at, I found that if I removed the judgment and negative self-talk, they were simply information, data, that I could use any way I chose.

All that new information helped tremendously when I began the 2nd week of the Vtrim program – reducing calories AND tracking my food intake. As my last blog indicated, I had a great week and lost four pounds while eating great food. Not a bad start, right?

Now I am starting Week 3 of Vtrim – beginning to incorporate regular exercise into my weight loss program. Once again, the idea is to make gradual changes, to get used to scheduling some focused exercise into each day by starting with small, manageable goals like walking 10-15 minutes a day. That works great for me because when I try to take on more than I can handle early on, I get discouraged and tend to give up. But hey, walking 10-15 minutes a day is something I can do. More importantly, it’s something I can do over and over again which is, after all, the goal.

So, I’m pulling on my walking shoes and heading out for a walk. I’m starting with 15 minutes a day, but before you know it, I’ll be logging 20 miles a week. You know what they say – a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Lookout world, here I come!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Delicious Week

Today marks the end of my first week of calorie reduction on the Vtrim program and it has been an awesome first week. I lost 4 – YES, FOUR – pounds! And I ate great stuff all week. Since I am such a foodie, it’s important to me to eat real food, good food, and not sacrifice taste simply to lose weight. I know that I would never be willing to stick with something that asked me to give up the joys of eating so there’s no point going on a diet that would deny me those pleasures. No, for me it’s about figuring out how to eat delicious food AND lose weight. And I’m here to tell you that it can be done.

One of the things I am learning is to adapt recipes to reduce calories while still maintaining flavor. For instance, this week I realized that I can sauté my favorite fresh asparagus (‘tis the season!) with a couple of cloves of garlic in 2 teaspoons of olive oil instead of the usual 2 tablespoons without sacrificing taste. Who knew?

I also found a recipe for Chicken with Green Olives and Prunes (one of my favorite dishes) in The Eating Well Diet (a collaborative effort between Vtrim and Eating Well Magazine) which has almost half the calories of my usual recipe and is still delicious! Of course, being me, I had to make some additions, but they were not high calorie additions (garlic and lemon peel) and they added even more flavor to a great dish. I hope you enjoy my adaptation. I’m expecting rave reviews!

Chicken with Green Olives and Prunes (adapted from The Eating Well Diet)

1 ¼ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup chopped, pitted green olives (I like Picholine)
¼ cup chopped pitted prunes (dried plums)
4 strips of lemon zest (2 x ½ inch)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Pat chicken dry with a paper towel. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Do not crowd the chicken or it will not brown properly. Remove chicken from pan. Add the minced garlic to the skillet and stir for one minute until fragrant. Return chicken to pan and add broth and vinegar; stir while bringing to a simmer. Add olives, prunes, lemon zest, and pepper; reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until the chicken is tender and no longer pink in the center, 12-15 minutes. Transfer chicken to plates, spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

Makes 4 servings
Per serving: approximately 224 calories; 8 g fat; 29 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hungry for a Change

OK, so it’s been a LONG time since my last entry. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that life intervened and delayed my plans for this blog. But today marks a significant turning point in my relationship with food so I decided that this was as good a time as any to dive back into the fray.

Today I begin the Vtrim program that I spoke about in my last entry. Vtrim is a 24 week weight-loss program run by the nutrition department at the University of Vermont. It is a behavioral approach which combines journaling (writing down EVERTHING you eat as well as all your exercise), weekly lessons, and the support of a trained facilitator and other group members.

In all honesty, I actually started the program a week ago, but today marks my first day of calorie reduction. During the first week of the program, you don’t make any changes to your eating but you do still track everything you put in your mouth. The goal is to make you aware of the habits and choices that got you where you are. Wow – has that been a wake-up call! It’s one thing to track your eating and calorie intake when you are making good choices, but having to do it when you are eating junk, not to mention, way too much junk, is a powerful, and sometimes painful, lesson in awareness. Who knew that an average cupcake has around 450 calories? OUCH!

So stay tuned for this new chapter in my food journey. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get some great new recipes out of it. Time to get cooking!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Anyone else making resolutions for the New Year? One of mine is to take better care of my body. For me, that means really focusing on my eating patterns and making sure to get regular exercise. I know, I know, everyone says that at New Year’s, right? I certainly have said it more times than I care to remember. Sometimes I’ve kept my resolutions, but most times I haven’t.

So what’s the difference between resolutions we can keep and those we end up ditching a few weeks (or even days) after the New Year begins? Best I can tell, it boils down to 3 things – 1) having well-thought out, reasonable goals; 2) being ready to make changes and; 3) commitment to sticking with it when that first blush of excitement has faded.

Here’s how I’m hoping to address those things:

Since I have a significant amount of weight to lose, I know I will need the structure of a program to support me. After looking at lots of different options, I’ve decided to sign up for the University of Vermont’s 6 month Online Weight Loss Program. This plan focuses on healthy eating, writing down everything you eat, and getting regular exercise. It’s not a quick weight-loss program, but it has had a lot of success helping people make healthy lifestyle changes they can keep over time. Plus, the weekly lessons, trained nutritionist/facilitator, and group of classmates will all serve as the added support I need to keep me going.

I’ve also made a schedule for going to the gym. I don’t know about your work schedule, but my teaching schedule is different every day, so it helps me to plan out exactly when I will go to the gym AND to plan more trips than I have actually committed to make each week. That allows me some flexibility for life intervening and also pre-empts the drill sergeant in my head that likes to scream at me when I don’t follow all the “rules” I have set for myself. You know that voice I’m talking about, don’t you?

That brings me to another key element of keeping resolutions that I forgot to mention – having compassion with ourselves. So many great goals have been tossed by the wayside over a few setbacks. But just ask anyone who has ever reached an important long-term goal and they will tell you that they had LOTS of setbacks. Remember, it’s not whether you fall down, it’s whether you get back up that will make the difference. Like my Zen teacher says, “7 times down, 8 times up.”

For me, being ready to make a change is almost half the battle. For whatever reason, I can’t just seem to start work towards a new goal without thinking it through, deciding that I really want to do it, and making a plan for when I will start. Maybe it’s just the control freak in me, but I seem to need time to process internally what this change will mean for me and get myself psychologically ready to take the plunge.

If being ready to change is half the battle, then the other half is sticking with my commitment. One thing I have learned about myself is that I can do almost anything for a short period of time. I just suck it up and gut it out. When it gets tough is when I am doing something for the long haul. That’s much harder for me. Part of the reason it’s harder is that I often try to do too much too soon or to do it all perfectly. I want to make an “A” in whatever I am doing (you know, be perfect at life in general) and I can function under that pressure only so long before I rebel and want out. Sometimes the only solution when I get like that is to take myself aside and say lovingly, but firmly, “Lighten up!” Another thing that helps is asking for support. There’s nothing better than having someone who believes in you give you a pep talk. You know, remind you of all that stuff you know, but have just forgotten? Everyone needs a cheerleader like that on their team.

So, those are my resolutions. They’re big, I know, but I’m trying to break them into bite-size pieces (so to speak) and stay focused on what I need to do one day at a time. Hope you’ll join me for the ride!