Piece of the Puzzle

I sort of miss the days when I didn’t give much thought to what I was eating. There’s something to be said about grabbing whatever suits your current mood and never having to be concerned about having too little or too much. I’ve always envied people who don’t have to be constantly preoccupied with food and can simply enjoy it for what it is. Some only eat when they’re truly hungry, and some have natural signals to let them know when to stop eating without issue, but I’ve never had either of those basic abilities. I don’t ever recall feeling satisfied unless I’d finished off my plate, or worse, until there was nothing left in the package or box, and I honestly think it’s more about being OCD over completing an act as opposed to actually wanting to eat.

Think of working on a jigsaw puzzle. What do you do when you’ve assembled all but one piece? Do you absent-mindedly set that piece aside for later, or are you anxious to place it so the puzzle will finally be complete? How about when you reach the last chapter of an exciting book? Do you forget about it just because it’s time for bed or do you take an extra few minutes to finish it off? I’ve always had that anxiety of wanting something done and over with, of wanting things to be complete, and being such an all-or-nothing person has often left me feeling out of control over whatever I may have in front of me. I’ve spent the past few years reminding myself that it’s ok to not eat every bite just because it’s there, as eating everything that’s in front of me simply isn’t the same as finishing a puzzle or reading the very last chapter of a book. And I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how full I may be, whether it’s a cheeseburger or a salad it still feels wrong to not finish something off. Something I’ve had to do is make sure I have more salads than cheeseburgers to choose from! It hasn’t been easy to feel satisfied with different foods in general, but it’s the only way I’ve avoided unknowingly eating over 3000 calories at once.

I try to maintain this new awareness by tracking everything I eat. I use a weekly planner for a food/ fitness journal as a new way to satisfy my OCD over completing acts; instead of eating everything on my plate or mindlessly finishing off a package of cookies, I complete my daily and weekly entries, shifting my focus to accomplishing healthier habits that I can be proud of rather than anxiously eating through crap that won’t even be remembered the next day. I’m utterly amazed at how well shifting my focus has worked for me; keeping the food/ fitness journal has apparently been the piece of the puzzle that I’d needed all of these years. I can’t simply drop my issues, so I feel rather lucky that I’ve finally managed to figure out how to rework them to my advantage.

I still envy those that don’t have to be so preoccupied with food, health, and dieting in order to be at a normal weight, but perhaps it’s better to be proud that I’ve worked so hard and have accomplished so much. With proper planning and setting the right priorities, I’ve learned that I can do so much more than I ever realized to be possible. And while I used to feel completely scared and overwhelmed at the idea of raising a baby, with this new mindset I have every confidence that I can handle the challenges energy to be a good, active, responsible parent. It’s interesting how working on one little aspect of my daily routine has positively affected other areas of my life. I guess it’s just another piece of the puzzle.

Posted in Ramblings

Vegetarian Burritos

burritosDon’t let the mention of “vegetarian” scare you off! Even though the chorizo I like to use is made with soy instead of meat, I’ve had friends say they can’t tell the difference. I love these even though I’m not a vegetarian, plus they are so simple to make. Oh, and of course you can substitute either pork of beef chorizo instead if you must have your meat fix. You’ll need:

  • 1 Package of Soy Chorizo (or the regular meat kind, if you prefer)
  • 1 Can of Beans (I prefer black beans but pinto will work as well)
  • 1/2 Cup of Shredded Cheese
  • 10 Tortillas

Continue reading »

Posted in Recipes

Sugar Junkie

We learned all about the four basic food groups in grade school, and by the time the early 90’s rolled around we were updated with the more sophisticated food pyramid. Thus I somehow grew up believing good old-fashioned white bread was good for you, and that it was apparently the healthiest part of a peanut butter jelly sandwich. This was also during the low-fat craze, and by the time I was old enough to feel ashamed of my weight I was given the impression that anything labeled fat free might as well be considered health food. Well, how could it not, given that fat-free Oreos never taste as good as their original, full-fat counterparts?  One of my home economics teachers informed us that we should never eat nuts or avocados because they were high in fat, and that any salad dressings we consumed should be fat-free.

I always loved sugar; it makes everything taste better and is only 16 calories a teaspoon, so thank goodness it made the fat-free list! I don’t really recall anyone telling me of any potential health issues it can cause, just that it wasn’t especially good for you. I do remember my mom refusing to buy sugar cereal because of it, although I always suspected it was more of an issue with saving money on generic corn flakes. It wasn’t a big deal to me though, given that it was easy enough to pour plenty of sugar on the cereal itself before adding the milk. We also weren’t allowed much soda but often had Kool-Aid and Country Time Lemonade mix floating around. We also had plenty of instant tea, which I tasted great if you added enough sugar to watch it settle in the bottom of the glass. Glazed donuts were often part of our weekend breakfasts, and ice cream after dinner was a favorite dessert. Oh, and the best part of having birthday cake was the frosting. Heck, if I could have gotten away with it I would have just peeled off the frosting to eat, discarded the cake, and asked for more.

Perhaps this all sounds really gross, but I guess it’s all in what you get used to. Fruit, on the other hand, yuck! I struggled to eat oranges, apples, kiwi, grapefruit, and even the sweetest of strawberries since most of it tasted as sour as lemons to me. I could at least handle bananas and grapes, but they were definitely not a favorite of mine. To make most fruit actually tolerable I’d have to pour, you guessed it, sugar on the top. What I didn’t realize was that I’d gotten so used to added sugar that I’d pretty lost the taste for anything that had its own natural sweetness.

I also didn’t realize how often sugar can turn up in savory foods. Interestingly enough, my mom liked to tell the story of how she once accidentally added too much salt to the pot of macaroni and cheese, and in her attempt to save it, added some sugar in hopes of balancing it out. Not knowing what had happened, my dad asked why it tasted so much better than usual! From then on she always added a spoonful of sugar to the cheese sauce.

I had no idea how much added sugar there already is in most processed foods, and I wish I had known far sooner exactly how it can affect the body. I went through years of making my blood sugar spike and crash over what I was eating and drinking, not realizing it was an endless cycle that drained my energy, ruined my mood, and made me all the more hungry. I also didn’t realize the excess of simple carbohydrates in general, like in the white bread, had not only triggered much of my weight gain, but had contributed to my development of diabetes.  As I got older I worked several jobs that allowed all the free soda I could drink, and more freedom with my money meant I could splurge on whatever I was craving. My first attempts to lose weight was to cut out fat, which is what I was always told growing up. I’d wonder why I was starving when the staples of my diet included rice cakes, plain pasta, and dry toast. Once I finally learned that perhaps simple carbs were my issue, I learned to make new choices that helped me feel more satiated.

My various attempts to break away from sugar have been extremely difficult. I go through massive cravings and headaches, and as my husband can attest to, become extremely irritable. But the longer I stayed away from it, the easier it would get. My hunger and cravings soon got under control thanks to my blood sugar finally stabilizing. I sometimes use artificially-sweetened products as a crutch, but that’s another entry for another day. I read labels on everything, but mostly stick with buying whole foods and prepping many of my meals in advance. I’ve also learned what’s best for me to order in my favorite restaurants. And I actually love fruit now! While it does indeed contain sugar, it’s naturally-occurring so it’s balanced out from the included fiber for steadier digestion.

In addition to avoiding added sugar, I do my very best these days to balance out the rest of my diet by eating plenty of fruit and veggies, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and a fair amount of healthy fats. Fortunately, fat is not the horribly evil substance that my old teacher and many others had made it out to be. I eat nuts and avocados in moderation, choose salad dressings with healthy fats like olive oil, but avoid the industrial-produced trans fats found in many processed foods.

I’ve lost a lot of weight, I feel a lot better, and I believe I freed myself from an actual addiction to sugar by avoiding most simple carbs. I still occasionally miss getting that sugar rush, but it’s nothing compared to the abilities I’ve since gained. And no more rushes mean no more crashes! That in and of itself is worth a lot to me.

Posted in Ramblings

Fruit and Yogurt Parfait

parfaitThese are very simple to make and fun to eat.

You’ll need:

  • Your favorite yogurt (I use plain, non-fat Greek yogurt and add my own sweetener)
  • Your favorite frozen fruit
  • Granola
  • A fancy glass to make it in (well ok, it doesn’t have to be fancy)

Continue reading »

Posted in Recipes

A Family History

I swear I was born thirsty. Even as a little kid I was always dying for a drink, and it was a running gag among my friends and family that I was always looking for a bathroom. Those seemingly amusing issues only got worse as I got older. I do remember feeling extremely exhausted as a teenager, always looking for a place to sit down and being called lazy when I couldn’t keep up. I bruised easily, sometimes my hands would fall asleep for no reason, and cuts took forever to heal. Oh, and I was always starving! It felt like my body couldn’t get enough food, even when I was full. And over time, it all seemed like it was just a normal part of life that I needed to accept. I’m not even sure I noticed that the symptoms grew worse over time, and whenever I’d complain about any problem I was experiencing it was quickly dismissed on the fact that I was 100 pounds overweight.

My mom was the one diagnosed with type 2 diabetes back when I was still in high school. Neither of us knew much about the disease, aside from realizing how scary it sounded and that it likely meant she’d have to be on some tasteless diet for the rest of her life. Her doctor gave her a book full of information and recipes, although I’m not sure how much we actually learned from it. She was also given a glucose meter to test her blood at home, and a prescription of Glucophage to help keep things in check. Life went on. I don’t remember anyone’s diet changing much, but given that she was also diagnosed with cancer, I think the whole diabetes thing took the back seat for all of us. At some point she started wearing socks constantly, complaining that her feet were cold. And before we knew it, she ended up in the hospital to get a toe amputated. She was lucky it wasn’t worse.

One of the scariest moments for all of us was the morning she’d seemingly fallen asleep in her favorite recliner. We realized with horror that her eyes were glazed over and she wasn’t responding. Dad stayed with her as I ran to the kitchen phone to dial 911. An ambulance arrived and we all met up at the ER. She became somewhat coherent while there, but spoke gibberish and was unable to recognize any of us. We eventually found out she’d taken her medication even though she hadn’t eaten or even tested her blood that morning, and she had slipped into a coma from extremely low glucose. Never had we felt so scared and helpless over her diagnosis. Her speech began to return to normal the next day, and I recall the sense of relief I felt when, in typical mom fashion, she got after me for not wearing a coat when I arrived at the hospital to visit her. She thankfully returned home a few days later in good spirits and was a little more cautious about when she took her medicine.

We lost her to cancer less than a year later, which pretty much tore our world apart, and the diabetes became a sort of forgotten memory until my dad was diagnosed. I knew a little more about nutrition by then in my vague attempts to lose weight, but I was still in denial over my own symptoms and health issues. As I got older and more sickly, I no longer had health insurance and was typically far too broke to even think about going to the doctor. When things got really bad I started to suffer from bladder infections and outright incontinence. I knew I needed medical attention at that point, but when you’re struggling to make ends meet and can barely make rent? You find yourself putting off common sense decisions and hoping for the best.

Eventually losing my dad to cancer and facing a lot of personal problems made my weight skyrocket even further, and I was completely miserable in my skin. One day I woke up and realized that I’d never even have hopes of feeling better unless I did something about it. I decided to start by completely overhauling my diet. Less refined sugar, lots veggies and fruits, more lean proteins and less fatty ones. As I gained confidence, I also pushed myself to be more active. It was especially slow and difficult at first, but I was determined to get better and make progress. By the time I finally got under some health insurance and had to take that dreaded blood sugar test, I was expecting a lecture and possibly a prescription for insulin, but my number was surprisingly normal. What a relief! Maybe I never had diabetes after all? But last summer I had to have retinal photographs taken, and my eye doctor very smugly told me he had some important news. After asking me to guess what general health problems I might be experiencing, he informed me that I was a full-blown diabetic. I countered that with telling him my blood sugar had been testing normal, and I don’t think he believed me at first. He protested with the fact that I had well over a decade’s worth of diabetic damage to my eyes, and I think it was then that I realized all of those symptoms I had tried to block out were actually gone. I was no longer dying of thirst or constantly on the lookout for the bathroom, my sores and cuts didn’t last for eons, and I was no longer constantly drop-dead exhausted, in fact I was feeling surprisingly good! And while it became apparent that I was unknowingly a type 2 case for a good decade, I suspect that I’d suffered from it for far longer, most likely since I was still just a kid. And amazingly enough I managed to reverse it entirely through my healthier habits.

Regardless of how well I’ve been doing recently, both my personal and family history with the disease put me at a higher risk for gestational diabetes with my pregnancy. It doesn’t exactly help that haven’t reached a healthy weight yet either so I voiced my concerns early on with my OB-GYN. She tested me in the first trimester and once again in the third trimester, and my numbers were thankfully within the normal range. This just shows how it’s not just about losing weight and looking better, it’s about feeling better and even preventing what can amount to be major health issues. I’m so thankful I spent all this time working on healthy habits, especially now that I’m pregnant. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished so far: losing 150 pounds, reversing diabetes, becoming more active that I ever imagined, and embracing a whole new positive attitude. It seems crazy how I have far more energy being 7 months pregnant than I ever did as a teenager!

Posted in Ramblings