A Return, and a New Normal

I haven’t written regularly in a great, long while. During this time, I’ve been trying to recover from a self-imposed stressful period by enjoying family and personal time more, giving myself permission to live life, and by delving a little deeper into why I got in that stressful spot in the first place. And, of course, I’ve been monitoring myself on how everything related back to food.

What I found was a lot of fear, a lot of desire to please others, and generally too many people to try to please at that point. I knew change was needed, and tough decisions needed to be made, but I wasn’t willing to do it.

I saw that food was offering a good hiding place from the perfect storm I was waiting to hit me with a deluge of misfortune. Food was a psychic umbrella for me, if you will. In other words, it tried to resume the old place that it had in my life. Or, it’s probably more appropriate to say that I was emotionally vulnerable and let it take that place. I came to realize that, rather than trying to stop myself from emotional eating, it was more important to try to figure out why I was having the emotions. I have been untangling those issues and have been earnestly making a shift in how I perceive the world, and the amount of control I have in it, and it has felt good to know that I can live differently.

At the same time I was going through that stress, and for some time before that, I realized that I was becoming pretty accepting of how I looked. In my last entry, I talked about not knowing whether I wanted to lose a lot more weight or not. I have come to realize that I am pretty satisfied with where I am weight-wise. I’d like to get more toned and be lighter for preventative health reasons, but I don’t feel a desire to lose a substantial amount of weight just for the sake of losing weight. I’ll consider myself in a maintenance phase of continued healthy eating, with splurges factored in.

What does this mean for my blog? Not much. I will still be writing about healthy food options, weight loss and emotional eating. But I will be doing it from a place of someone who is a little more loving of herself, and a bit more clear on her goals.

One new thing that I’ve done with the blog, however, is to start a gallery of healthy food finds. These are interesting foods I’ve seen in my shopping travels. Visit that gallery here. And check my Twitter account (@dcangah) and Instagram account (dcangah) for pictures as I find them!

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Meet Your Eating Muscles

My son went to a football practice for the first time this week. We wanted to give him a chance to check out team sports and meet new children. He had a blast that night, running and crouching with a bunch of other kids.

But by the next morning, he shared that he didn’t want to go back, because he felt sore. (Did I mention this was an extra-lengthy session for some reason?) I tried to explain that he might feel sore because he was using muscles that he doesn’t normally use, that his body was “practicing” and getting used to moving in the ways he was moving at the practice. Even with this explanation, though, the end result is still no more football.

The experience of stepping out of one’s comfort zone for physical activity has a counterpart in what’s needed to change eating habits. You have to exercise your “eating muscles,” so to speak, by getting used to eating new foods and getting used to eating less food.

I often hear people complain about being hungry on diets, or not wanting to try to lose weight because they don’t think they can survive on less food. My arguments would be, one, that choosing the right healthy foods can be filling, and two, you’ll be surprised by how easily your mind and body adapt to eating less if you let them. It really is a matter of giving your body practice time with a new way of life.

And guess what? “Practice” means that sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you don’t. It means there’s ample opportunity to learn and change what doesn’t work. It means challenges aren’t failures, just part of the learning curve.

You haven’t stretched your healthy “eating muscles” before now. Be patient, be persistent, and reap the results.

Dance Like No One’s Exercising

The last frontier of health for me is exercise. I’ve surprised myself recently by enjoying soccer time with my husband, with us passing a ball back and forth, sprinting as needed for the wild kicks. My son has also continued to be a good exercise task master, with us playing in the park or on the video game activity mat. My task now is to get moving more consistently.

This leads me to putting together a music playlist for which resistance to dancing is futile. I sat down to put together such a playlist last year, but the project got moved to the back burner. But after having read about the playlist First Lady Michelle Obama shared with Women’s Health, and then contemplating the joys of disco (don’t laugh) following the recent sad passing of Donna Summer, I decided to resume my set list planning.

Here are 20 songs for starters, but I think I’ll come up with more, so I can have a shuffle play that keeps me guessing. I’ll be sure to play these in the kitchen, too, to get in a little more movement when possible! (Be forewarned, I’ll be skewing a little less than new with this list, because that’s how I roll.)

  1. Soul Makossa, Manu Dibango
  2. Don’t Stop the Music, Rihanna
  3. Apache, The Sugarhill Gang
  4. There She Goes, Babyface
  5. Let’s Start the Dance, Bohannon
  6. The Choice Is Yours, Black Sheep
  7. I Feel for You, Chaka Khan
  8. Crazy in Love, Beyonce
  9. Ghetto Story remix, Cham and Alicia Keys
  10. Tropical Soundclash, DJ Gregory
  11. Na Batida Do Agogo, Osunlade remix, Grupo Batuque
  12. Township Funk, DJ Mujava
  13. Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground), The Jacksons
  14. Superstar Pt. 0, K-Os
  15. You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), Sylvester
  16. Trouble No Trouble, Roni Size
  17. Galang, M.I.A.
  18. Lucky Star, Madonna
  19. American Boy, Estelle & Kanye West
  20. Last Dance, Donna Summer

Birthday Reflections on My Future Health

My birthday was yesterday. I never truly grew up, I guess, because my family and close friends will tell you that I get giddy with child-like excitement when my birthday rolls around. I’m now on the side of 30 that’s closer to 40, but birthdays are still a big deal to me. I shamelessly promote my birthday to any and everyone who will listen to me, and I appoint myself Queen for the Day. (Someone has to, right?)

I always reflect a lot on what transpired during the past year, and what I’d like to be doing in the year to come. This year, I’ve had a couple of interesting things to reflect on in this area.

First, I updated my driver’s license on Saturday–new photo and all. Normally this is a routine, every-four-years event, but this license photo is the first one I’ve taken that reflects the new, smaller me. My image on the license has been out of sync with the image of me, in the flesh, for a few years now. I’ve always wondered if anyone contemplated the differences, but no one who has checked my license during this time period has commented on it.

But it’s been in the back of my mind. In some way, this new license communicates another layer of permanence for this new identity for myself, one that I have been living fully in physical form, but not always mentally to the fullest extent. Seeing this new, official photo of myself, on top of inspecting my old size 20 jeans recently, have both inspired me to really carry myself as though I have changed and am not going back. If you have lost a considerable amount of weight and have noticed your mind lagging when it comes to acknowledging the change, I encourage you to embrace your weight loss mentally, and the space for freedom and reinvention that comes with it.

The other interesting thought I had this morning is that being closer to 40 than 30 means any bad habits I have could catch up with me if I don’t stop to take preventative, health-protecting steps now. My cholesterol has, thankfully, always been average, but I had been diagnosed with high blood pressure at one time and placed on medication. I was off the meds within a year, but with everyone else in my immediate family having high blood pressure, it’s definitely something that’s always on my mind. I will continue to try to go easy on sodium–using the low-sodium salt, and seeking out low-salt or no-salt-added items as much as possible.

On most days, I’m pretty successful about getting in fruit, vegetable and whole grain requirements, but I can absolutely do better at exercise and vitamins, however. My mom is inspiring me to step my game up in these areas.

My mom will be 80 in a few years, and I feel blessed for her and myself to say that she is still very active–walking regularly, helping out in church, and watching her grandson from time to time. Every day, she takes a combination of vitamins and antioxidants, and has been for as long as I can remember. She does take high blood pressure and cholesterol medication, but her situation is controlled, without complications.

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of vitamins, and in my mom’s case, it’s certainly possible that a combination of healthy habits has kept her pretty healthy, but I figure that it can’t hurt me to start taking vitamins regularly, as long as I stick to dosages that aren’t in toxic amounts. I have never been successful with getting a vitamin-taking routine down, but I think this is something I will push for now.

I’ve said before that weight loss doesn’t end with the loss of the weight. To be successful in the long term, a mental paradigm shift is absolutely necessary. Part of that’s about how someone regards food, and how someone copes with challenging emotions, but it’s also obviously about physical fitness, balanced nutrition intake, with or without supplements, and water consumption, among other factors. I don’t know the full story of my genes and the effects of my past lifestyle habits, but I can certainly control my habits moving forward, so I have the opportunity to wear my Queen for the Day crown as many times as possible.

My Son, My Trainer?

Could this wall-walking dynamo be the personal trainer I’ve been looking for?

A couple of weeks ago, my son told me that he wanted to play Simon Says. I got off the couch and joined him, awaiting his first command.

True story: It was “Simon says do push-ups!” I was a bit bewildered that it wasn’t something like “touch your nose,” but I dropped down to do some push-ups. (This *may* have involved a very flexible definition of what a push-up is, and I’m very thankful for that.)

Next on Simon’s to do list? Jumping jacks. Again, I was surprised, but I was intrigued to be getting in a bit of a workout at the same time. I asked my husband if he had anything to do with the nature of the requests, and he was innocent. My son had taken on an impromptu fitness trainer role all on his own.

That was as far as we got with the game, as my son lost interest, but we had fun and got in some physical activity at the same time. So I’m wondering if maybe he should be my full-time “trainer.”

I think this is sort of what one of my good friends had in mind when he encouraged me to up my playtime with my son. When I typically interact with my son, I, a poster child for couch potato-dom, usually do low-energy things, like conversations, cooking, watching TV, or putting together Legos. But as my son dearly enjoys physical activity, I think it’s a perfect match for both of us to interact and have fun.

I’ve written before about wanting to be a good food role model for my son; I should definitely strive to be a better physical activity role model. Though I think it’s more like he is my physical activity role model, and I have a lot to learn from him if I give him a chance.

He has done one of my workout videos with me before, and he has inspired my husband to log some time on our elliptical machine. (My son has actually been the most consistent user of the elliptical machine in our house.) And the three of us have taken turns at using the knockoff Wii fitness mat that we have. Family togetherness, and two generations learning the importance and pleasure of physical activity? To my son, I say “You’re hired!”

How I Fight Hunger Every Day

Congratulations to you if you are starting a weight loss program for the new year, resuming one from last year, or continuing to soldier on with an ongoing program! Losing weight is challenging, but planning ahead makes it much smoother going.

One thing that I hear people complain about (and a thing that was hard for me when I started on Weight Watchers more than three years ago) was dealing with hunger. When you start to lose weight, you’ll be eating less than you’ve been used to. But there are different things you can do to successfully fight hunger. Here are things that I do every day:

Don’t skip breakfast. Medical professionals tell you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, because it helps to spread your calories out in a more balanced manner throughout the day, it is kinder to your body after having not eaten overnight, and because it can help to boost your metabolism. I eat breakfast, and I make sure that it’s well balanced. (Examples: 2 eggs “fried” in cooking spray on a light hamburger bun, turkey deli meat on a toasted slice of whole wheat bread spread with reduced fat cream cheese, a fat-free tortilla spread with 1/2 cup of fat-free refried beans and 1 oz. of reduced-fat cheddar cheese. I typically eat these things with a piece of fruit and coffee.)

Eat a snack or two (with protein). I know some people swear by eating five or six small meals during the day, but I typically eat three meals and a snack or two, depending on how hungry I am (or how light my meals are). I’d eat one snack before lunch, and another before dinner. I generally eat a protein with a fruit or serving of vegetables. (For example, a piece of reduced-fat string cheese with an apple, a serving of turkey pepperoni with carrots, a half cup of fat-free plain Greek yogurt with fruit, or a Kashi granola bar, with or without a piece of fruit.)

Eat a small dessert. Not only does eating something extra contribute to fullness, but it helps me to not feel deprived during the day and week. I typically eat something sweet after lunch and maybe after dinner, too. I’ve gone into more detail and given light dessert recommendations here.

Choose carbs wisely. Rather than white potatoes, rice and pasta being a staple in my diet, I eat starch vegetables most days to keep myself full and maximize nutrients. Here is a list of different options. If I eat a salad, however, I might be more likely to eat a refined carb (like a serving of mini pretzels or baked chips or tortillas), because I can load up on vegetables instead to add the filling component to the meal.

Eat something when you’re hungry. This sounds obvious, but how many times have you tried to ignore the rumbling in your stomach when it came an hour or so before mealtime? As you’re getting a routine down, it’s better to eat something when you’re hungry (really physically hungry, as opposed to wanting to eat for emotional reasons) than to let your stomach suffer in silence. Have a snack with protein if you haven’t already, or a handful of raw veggies (or a piece of fruit) with some tea if you have. You can always refine your eating patterns later, but don’t leave your body in the lurch in the now.

These strategies have served me well over the past several years, and I know I’ll be leaning on them heavily as I incorporate more salads into my meal plans this month. I also hope to start exercising regularly, and that also will require that I use strategies to keep hunger at bay to their fullest. These are my suggestions, but definitely experiment to see what works for you! And please let me know if you have other ideas that have served you well.

Look Back… And Celebrate!

Today will be my last post of the year. I can’t help but think back over the course of 2011, as I’m sure you’ve done once or twice lately.

It was an up-and-down year for the world at large, with weather catastrophes like those In Japan, New Zealand and the United States. There were highs, like the Arab Spring uprisings and the death of Osama bin Laden, and then there was a disruption of the status quo, with the Occupy protests and the NBA lockout.

In my life, I started out the year in the upper 180s, made it to 177, and currently find myself at 183 lbs. I made a goal and met it. I started eating frozen fruit for dessert. I explored a love of dancing.  I boldly wore a red dress to work, rather than wait for a night out. I reached out to friends and family a bit more, and I laughed a lot. There were a lot of rough patches during the year, but I learned important lessons about myself, my eating habits, and my resilience.

I will take these memories into the New Year with me. What would I say are the three biggest lessons I learned from these high points?

Goals are not so bad after all. Having a mini goal in mind helped me to stick to the plan, so I will definitely do it again.

It’s better to do nice things for myself on a regular basis than to wait for a particular reason–even when I’m trying to lose weight. I’m not saying this like I have trouble doing nice things for myself; it’s just that sometimes when you’re on a weight loss journey, it feels like you should deny or deprive yourself to get ahead. But it’s better to not hold back, but indulge in simple, appropriate ways instead. That can be something as small as eating a sensible dessert for lunch and/or dinner, or finding ways to ditch a drive for perfection and enjoy life more. When I seek out more happiness in simple ways, I am less likely to seek food for that kind of comfort.

I am more resilient than I give myself credit for. When my weight goes up, I know how to bring it back down. When I have bad moments, I have a support system to lean on; I don’t have to suffer in silence, like I’ve done in the past. These and other high points have let me know that I can get myself back on track after an emotional setback, and I can get myself back on track physically after a weight gain.

It is for these reasons, and many others, that I will celebrate this New Year’s Eve. I am happy to say that I learned valuable lessons, even when things didn’t go the way I’d hoped.

I hope that you, too, will find many reasons to look back and celebrate!