An accidental before-and-after

11/23/2012 at 9:18 pm | Posted in weight loss | 7 Comments

I started downloading my eleventy billion Thanksgiving photos and came across this family shot that just makes me smile. It’s a rare thing for the four of us to end up together in the same frame, much less all smiling and with eyes open. And a guest appearance by Sophie’s belly button is just the icing on the cake.

So I dug up last year’s Thanksgiving family shot to see how much the girls had grown … and was startled by something entirely different.

Look at Marc and me. It’s like someone stuck a pin in us and deflated us a little bit.


One year ago yesterday:

Making this little discovery was humbling, you guys. And incredibly motivating.

Resources that helped me lose weight

09/05/2012 at 1:44 pm | Posted in weight loss | 4 Comments
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We’ve arrived at the final post of my little weight-loss series. The one where I list every single resource that helped me. Not those I tried and ditched. The ones that really (really) helped.

Here we go! >> I can’t say enough good stuff about MyFitness Pal. When I joined, it asked me how much I wanted to lose and how quickly. Then it set me up with a daily calorie goal. And boom. I logged my meals every single day from December to June, when I finally broke up with MFP after hitting my goal and wanting to venture out into the calorie-counting world on my own.

Little did I know I’d lose 10 more pounds. And it’s because of the mindset that resulted from using MFP every single day for seven straight months: consume fewer calories than you burn. Simple math, right?

Now I generally know the calorie range for every meal I eat, and I keep track without even really knowing I’m doing it. Yes, there were frustrating days when I just didn’t feel like deconstructing a turkey sandwich or a massive salad. But once you do it one time, it saves your entry for future reference. One word of warning: many of the meals in MFP are posted by fellow users, so the calorie counts can range pretty drastically. So I’d usually just try to log an average, if all else failed.

I love you, MFP! Always will. >> Another awesome app that really came in handy while eating out. You can look up pretty much any food brand, restaurant chain or type of food. CalorieKing and MyFitnessPal should date. They’re that good together.

BMI Calculator >> This really helped me understand a healthy weight range to aim for. There are a ton of calculators online. I just used this one because it always popped up first in a Google search.

The Mayo Clinic Diet >> My mom gave me this book at the beginning of my journey, and for that I will always be grateful. It was my bible. It starts with a realistic “get going” plan, and details everything from portion sizes to “good” fats. I actually read it cover to cover at night before bed (occasionally sniffing the pages because hello new textbook smell), then dog-eared the pages I’d need most. Highly, highly recommend.

Fix-It and Enjoy-It Healthy Cookbook >> So many good recipes! With calorie counts! Also? Spaghetti pie. Enough said.

Cooking Light magazine >> Easy, delicious recipes, gorgeous photos, and a realistic, healthy approach to some of my favorite “splurge” meals, like mac and cheese, hamburgers and pizza. I heart Cooking Light. >> Huge recipe database with a “light” version of pretty much any dish you can dream up.

YOU GUYS >> I’m serious. I could not have done this without you. My cheerleaders, advice-givers, foodies, humorists. All-around kick-ass readers. Thank you. A million times over.

How I burned off 40 pounds

09/04/2012 at 10:04 am | Posted in weight loss | 5 Comments
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{Squeezing Sophie after a workout. She doesn’t mind if mama stinks.}

Did you think I’d gone missing? Sorry about that. I lost my blogging mojo for a few days. And I also decided to interpret Labor Day weekend as “be lazy weekend.” I needed it. Hope you understand.

Sooooo … back to the weight loss series. Today’s topic? Exercise. Which used to be a four-letter word in my mind. But now I love it. Truly. If I’ve gone a few days without moving my body, I find myself itching to do something … walk, run, dance, anything.

I grew up playing team sports — swimming, basketball, water polo — and loved every minute of it. Those practices, matches and games hardly felt like exercise because they were so much fun. I formed lasting friendships, stayed in shape and got to travel. Most days, it didn’t feel like work. Except for those wind-sprint punishment basketball practices. Or swim-a-mile-before-water-polo-practice-even-begins. But even then, one of my teammates was sure to get us cracking up. Put a bunch of girls together and silliness just happens.

Once I graduated college and got out into the world, I lost the motivation to exercise. Jogging alone just wasn’t fun. Swimming laps was boring. And don’t even get me started on the gym. I am definitely not a gym rat.

So I gained weight and my body changed and then I had babies, and well, the rest is history.

It took a concerted effort for me to decide in the middle of this past winter to do something physical to get my body back. I started small. When Lily was in dance class on Saturday mornings, I’d bundle up and power-walk the hills around her studio. While the girls napped, I dusted off an old aerobic step and worked out in front of the TV. To mix it up, I would climb the stairs in our house while they slept. Up and down. Up and down. I know this sounds incredibly tedious, but as a mother, I’ve come to REALLY enjoy time alone. I don’t need the social motivation to exercise any more. Thirty minutes to myself, no matter what I’m doing, is divine.

So I walked. And then I signed up for the Cooper River Bridge Run. And that motivated me to try jogging. I ran until it hurt too much, then I walked some more. My favorite workout now is a walk/run. I pace myself with the songs on my iPhone. Walk two, run three. Or on other days, it can be walk four, run one.

I also focus on strength-training a couple of days a week, in the form of sit-ups, push-ups and some work with weights (to get rid of that under-arm waddle). I read somewhere that building your core is really what sustains your metabolism. Plus, I’ve also noticed that my back stopped hurting and I generally feel stronger. Perhaps I should add lifting a 25-pound baby to the list of core exercises? Hmmm.

The bottom line is I don’t set hard rules for myself. I make goals, but mostly, I just follow my body’s lead.

And it works.

I try to exercise three days a week, but lately with the heat of summer and lack of routine, I’m lucky to squeeze in two workouts. I can feel it, though. I need to get moving again. My body craves it.

I’m hoping to take better advantage of my lunch hour when the weather cools off. I work on a beautiful university campus with lots of great paths just begging to be walked. And once the DVR fills back up with fall shows, I’ll be better about naptime stepping (sans hot pink leotard and 80s aerobic video hair).

What are your favorite workouts? Have you tried any of those new-fangled workout DVDs (that frighten me)? Any tips on indoor naptime workouts?

What we eat to lose weight (and keep it off)

08/29/2012 at 2:38 pm | Posted in mangia!, weight loss | 6 Comments

Back in December when the nutritionist handed Marc an eating plan that allowed only 1200 calories a day, I thought I would never be able to do it. The truth? It sucked at first. Bad. I felt hungry a lot of the time, and I had to distract myself from thinking about food. The new portion sizes also took some getting used to.

But then, after a few weeks, it became easier. And after a few months, I can hardly remember how (or why) we ate differently.

For us, it’s all about modifications. Instead of frying fish and slathering it with tartar, we grill it with brown rice and veggies on the side. Rather than eat a whole plate of pasta (which in most cases equals 3 to 4 servings), it became a side dish. We added a bunch more fruits and vegetables to our diet and cut back on red meat. And we subbed in baked chips, Skinny Cow ice cream and Who Nu cookies for treats.

Also important? We didn’t deprive ourselves of the foods we love. Everything in moderation.

To give you an idea of our new diet, here’s how a typical week of eating shakes out …

This was probably the most eye-opening change for me. I used to pour a big bowl of cereal with skim milk and a tall glass of orange juice. Sounds healthy, right? It’s certainly not bad for you, but that meal also has a ton of calories and didn’t keep me full for very long. So I cut out the fruit juice and only occasionally eat cereal. I added lots of protein in the morning. And fruit. One of the things I love best about our diet is that I can eat as much fruit (and as many vegetables) as I want.

Typical breakfasts for me:

– Whole-grain English muffin with 2 TBS peanut butter and half a banana sliced on top, watermelon on the side.
– One egg and one egg white scrambled, with orange wedges on the side.
– Nonfat Greek yogurt topped with peaches, blueberries and a sprinkle of Honey Nut Cheerios or Kashi.
– On days I need to move fast, I’ll eat a bowl of Special K with blueberries and skim milk.
– I drink water in the mornings because I’ve never liked coffee.

Lunch didn’t change all that much. We’ve always eaten whole wheat breads, lean meats and raw veggies. We don’t eat regular chips any more, and we’ve cut back on the amount of cheese and mayo on our sandwiches. Small adjustments have big impact.

Here’s what I like to eat for lunch:

– Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with 1 oz cheddar, lettuce, tomato and dijon mustard. Pretzels, pickle and Diet Coke on the side.
– Morningstar Farms black bean burger (pictured above, although you can hardly see it under all the toppings) with salsa, lettuce, an ounce of shredded cheddar and about a tablespoon of reduced-fat sour cream. Carrot sticks, a few baked Cheetos (YUM) on the side.
– Egg scramble with one egg, one egg white, deli ham, green pepper, onion, tomato and a bit of cheddar cheese.
– At work, I’ll pop a Lean Cuisine in the microwave and eat it with pretzels or carrot sticks and a Diet Coke. Not the best lunch (those frozen meals are packed with sodium and carbs), but it gets me by on busy days.
– Pita bread stuffed with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrots, a slice of American cheese and reduced-fat Italian dressing.
– Green salad with grilled chicken, a bit of cheese, veggies and low-fat dressing.

This meal has changed the most. On our regular rotation used to be baked spaghetti, beef stir fry with noodles, fried fish and lots of processed rice and pasta side dishes. We still have taco night, but now with healthier toppings and plain brown rice (which, when mixed with salsa and corn, is just as good as any box mix).

Here are some of our favorite dinners:

– Chicken cooked in the skillet with a little olive oil (or a grocery store rotisserie chicken) and barbeque sauce, corn on the cob, steamed brown rice, tomato slices.
– Green salad with grilled chicken, boiled egg white, veggies, a bit of cheese, a serving of croutons, with low-fat dressing.
– Grilled fish with onions and green peppers, grilled summer vegetables, baked sweet potato fries.
– Taco night! Whole wheat tortilla stuffed with chicken, one serving of cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, corn, salsa and one serving of low-fat sour cream. Steamed brown rice on the side.
– Grilled pork tenderloin with roasted brussels sprouts, green salad and whole-wheat roll.
– Other favorites include spaghetti pie and chicken pesto pizza. We also steam a lot of green vegetables: broccoli, asparagus, green beans. I’ve been meaning to experiment with roasting these for some extra crisp and flavor.

– trail mix
– Skinny Cow dark chocolate dreamy clusters
– plain dark chocolate
– roasted almonds
– a cup of Greek yogurt
– fruit!
– carrot sticks with low-fat ranch dip
– Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches
– Who Nu and Snackwell’s cookies
– frozen yogurt
– banana “milkshake”: blend one chopped frozen banana with 1 TBS peanut butter and a splash of skim milk

Eating Out
Man, this is tough. My favorite restaurants are Mexican, Italian and Southern. So I eat enchiladas, pizza and chicken biscuits in moderation. At the beginning we didn’t eat out at all. Once the weight started coming off, we allowed ourselves the treat of eating out every now and then … and we made healthier choices.

One of our favorite things to do as a family is go out for pizza on Friday night. So the nutritionist advised us to load up on the salad bar (avoiding unhealthy toppings and dressings), and then eat only two slices of pizza. It worked! And if I eat a hamburger, I ask for green salad on the side instead of french fries.

But there are time when a girl just needs to eat what she wants. See: fried pickles and cupcakes. So on those (special) occasions, I just go easy on my other meals that day and try to squeeze in some extra exercise. No biggie.


I hope this gives you an idea of the types of foods you can eat to lose weight — or maintain a healthy one. If you have questions, please feel free to email me or leave a comment below. I’ll also keep adding healthy recipes to the mangia! category over there in the sidebar.

Up next in this week’s weight-loss series? Exercise. I actually like it now. Crazy, right?

Before and after and numbers, oh my

08/28/2012 at 9:57 am | Posted in weight loss | 33 Comments

I spent a good hour on the computer looking for the most dreadful shots of myself from the last year. I remember them well. The ones that made me cringe after I saw them up close, outside the tiny preview window on the back of my camera. Extra chins, muffin top, you name it.

But I couldn’t find them.

I had deleted all of them. Well, almost all of them. I kept a few in which I’d squatted strategically behind Lily. Or the ones where I held Sophie in my lap.

You see, I never mustered the courage to take a true “before” photo. The little yellow sticky note sat on my dresser for weeks, an annoying reminder that I had just started the weight loss journey of my life and I needed a picture to prove it. But I just couldn’t do it. I already felt bad enough about myself, and seeing my entire body through the lens of my camera likely would have sent me straight into a carton of Ben & Jerry’s.

But now I wish I had done it. So I could see exactly what it looks like to lose nearly 40 pounds. And so I could show you. Ah well.

These will have to do …

Here I am at the state fair last year, generally not feeling good about myself and hiding behind Lily:

I weighed 196 pounds in this photo. The exact same number on the scale at my 6-week postpartum check nearly five months prior. I had figured breastfeeding would help me shed the baby weight, but that doesn’t quite hold up when you’re stuffing your face with cookies and chicken biscuits.

By Christmas, I didn’t even feel like myself. I wondered who this woman was who couldn’t fit into her clothes, who felt sluggish and became winded after one flight of stairs. So when Marc met with a nutritionist for his own health issues and came home with an eating plan, I jumped on board.

I lost about a pound and a half a week, give or take, over a span of seven months. Today I weigh 158 pounds. I’ve weighed as little as 153, but that was during a very stressful time when I wasn’t eating much, and that’s no good. My goal is 155. But I’m happy to stay inside the 155-160 range. At 5′ 10″ tall, this is a good weight for me, at a healthy BMI.

I’m used to weighing about 180 pounds, so this business of weighing in the 150s is very new to me. I’m comfortable at this weight. I still enjoy food. I exercise more. But I don’t deprive myself. My body seems happy.

So … here goes … the “after” picture, nearly 40 pounds lighter:

The thought of this photo also scared the crap out of me for entirely different reasons than the “before” picture. What if I couldn’t tell a difference? What if I looked the same? We had been at the beach all week, and I was still hiding from the camera. So I grabbed Laura at the end of our vacation, on the last day I’d wear my swimsuit and she snapped off this quick shot. It took me a few days to look at it.

But I can see.

I am leaner. Healthier. But still curvy and big and strong (albeit with much smaller boobs, thanks universe). And, above all, happy.

Marc and I get asked all the time, “How’d you do it?” so I’m going to dedicate some space here on the blog for the next few days talking about our journey and all the tools we used to lose a combined 90 pounds. Food, exercise, books — the works.

Because there really is no easy solution. No miracle diet. This process took a lot of time and patience.

And coming out on the other side feels so incredibly amazing that I can barely describe it.

If this is what you want, YOU CAN DO IT.

I’m living proof.

Eating healthy: grilled trout ala Marc

07/19/2012 at 1:12 pm | Posted in mangia!, weight loss | 6 Comments
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So, fish isn’t one of my favorite foods. But I’ve learned to love it. Especially because it’s so healthy. And because my husband happens to be a fisherman and he’d eat it every day if he could.

We’re lucky to get to eat fresh fish right off the boat during the summer. But we also hit up the local fish market when our stash runs dry.

We used to fry and slather it with tartar sauce. Now we grill it with different combinations of herbs, veggies, olive oil, butter and lemon juice. A little secret: it actually tastes better this way! And your stomach will thank you.

For the dish pictured above Marc packed trout fillets (that he caught last week) in foil with onion, red pepper, 1 tsp butter and some Mrs. Dash seasoning. When you close up the pouches, be sure to tent them so there’s room for the steam to do its thing. Then grill (or throw in the oven) for about 15 minutes. We also grilled the veggies in foil packs, after tossing them with some reduced fat Italian dressing. And the tomatoes are from our little garden!

I always have a glass of cold white wine on fish night. Perfection.

It's not you. It's me.

06/28/2012 at 1:30 pm | Posted in me, weight loss | 13 Comments
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Dear MyFitnessPal,

I think it’s time we take a break. We’ve been hot and heavy for SEVEN STRAIGHT MONTHS, but I just can’t take any more logging. Deconstructing of meals. Trying to figure out fractions, ounces, grams.

It’s not you. It’s me.

I’ve lost more than 30 pounds. I’m healthy, happy and accustomed to a new lifestyle. I couldn’t have done it without you, of course. You kept me on my toes. Challenged me to log every single piece of food I’ve put in my mouth since December. Taught me everything I know about calories — how many I can eat without gaining weight, how many actually are in that restaurant salad I used to think was so healthy.

You encouraged me. Announced my victories. Made me so much more aware.

Like a little personal dietician tucked in my back pocket.

But it’s time for me to try this on my own.

I know I can do it. I went on vacation without you last week and managed to splurge without suffering for it. I ate fried shrimp, homemade pimento cheese and ice cream (not in one sitting!), but I knew to take it easy on other meals. And I exercised. It felt amazing to step on the scale a week later and discover that I hadn’t gained an ounce.

I’m ready to try this on my own.

But I know you’ll be there. Ready to welcome me back with open arms if I slip up. I might especially need you to be my date to the State Fair this fall. And I might booty call you as the holidays approach, because it’s difficult for me to avoid these or these.

Stay strong, MyFitnessPal. You won’t miss me for long. Millions of others are counting on you.


Eating healthy: chicken pesto pizza

06/14/2012 at 9:05 am | Posted in mangia!, weight loss | 2 Comments
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Remember when I went basil-bonkers at the farmers market?

We made a couple of chicken dishes with it and tossed it with tomatoes on the side a few times. But then it started to go bad because, really, how much basil can one person eat in a week? When it started to emanate from my pores, I had to take a break.

So I rescued the undamaged leaves and blended them into a pesto with a little olive oil, grated parmesan and walnuts (because the Food Lion doesn’t carry pine nuts). YUM.

One of our favorite ways to eat pesto is on pizza. I usually just throw on top whatever’s in the fridge. In this particular case, we had fresh part-skim mozzerella, tomatoes and leftover grilled chicken. On a whole-wheat thin crust slathered with pesto. Perfection. Other favorite toppings are roasted red peppers, gorgonzola crumbles and bacon. Or prosciutto, if you’re fancy.

I’m not sure of the calorie count, but if you’re going to splurge on pizza, this is a pretty healthy way to go. I ate two slices with fresh veggies and light ranch on the side.

The best part of this meal? Lily’s face when she walked into the kitchen and said, “What IS that smell?” She covered her nose through most of the meal. It seems pesto isn’t her thing.

Eating healthy: farmers market chicken skillet

06/06/2012 at 10:19 am | Posted in mangia!, weight loss | 1 Comment
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chicken skillet recipe

Guess who bought too much basil at the farmers market?

I swear, it was just one bunch. But man. I think it multiplies while we sleep at night.

I found this recipe in my latest Food & Family magazine and gave it a shot. I’m not going to re-type it here because I’m lazy. And because the link will take you to printer-friendly versions. And because I’m lazy.

But I will tell you about the modifications I made:

>> added extra basil, because, well, we can’t eat it fast enough
>> used about half the cheese the recipe called for, and it was plenty
>> sauteed the veggies longer and added some Mrs. Dash to the skillet for extra flavor
>> used more chicken and veggies than pasta (so my plate had about a quarter-cup of pasta underneath a mountain of veggies and chicken)

With some fresh insalata caprese (tomato, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, black pepper) on the side, this dinner was light and delicious. A perfect use for all that summer produce. And basil. Oh, the basil.

Eating healthy: simple grilled dinner

05/16/2012 at 11:33 am | Posted in mangia!, weight loss | 3 Comments
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grilled chicken dinner

This is my new favorite thing off the grill (right up there with those yummy 97% fat-free Hebrew’s National hot dogs, but that’s a post for another day).

Marc whipped up this amazing dijon-based marinade and let the chicken sit in it for hours. He can’t remember where he found the recipe, but this one comes close. It is so good you’ll want to soak you entire meal in it. Fact.

He grilled the summer squash and zucchini in foil pouches with some tomato, onion, Italian dressing and herbs. I’m not really a big fan of squash-y veggies, but they soaked up the other flavors so nicely and were seriously delicious. We finished the plates with a scoop of steamed brown rice and our favorite whole grain dinner rolls.

I’m so glad summer is almost here because that means more grilling. And more seasonal fruits and veggies. And most definitely more hot dogs (post coming soon).

What are your favorite grilled meals? I’m always on the hunt for new recipes!

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