New Year, New You…Just Not Quite Yet

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I think I’d be remiss if I let one year end and a new one begin without any reflection, application of learning, and goals for personal improvement. Even so, I’m not one for resolutions per se. If you want to change something, commit to changing it. Don’t wait for a new year and don’t resolve to do it…actually do it, whatever it is.

Anyone attuned to social media sees the commercial promise of improvement. And it’s easy to feel, at the beginning of a new year, that anything is possible. It’s important to start each new year optimistic and hopeful and committed. And if you “just” follow this or that “basic” program or approach, it’s easy, too. Right? Right? RIGHT?

I say this: wrong.

Not because I’m cynical or contrarian, but because I’m practical and realistic

The old saying goes “everything worth having is worth fighting for.” And remember, if it were easy, everyone would be thin and beautiful and wealthy and happy. Right? Right? RIGHT?

I say this: wrong.

Not because I’m cynical or contrarian, but because I’m practical and realistic.

Change is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to. But change is not impossible, and you can set yourself up for success by designing an approach and a program that works for you, supporting and leveraging your unique strengths to help you achieve your goals.

There’s definitely some pressure that comes with the perceived clean slate of the new year, but the fact of the matter is that the slate isn’t any more or less clean that it is any other day of the year. We’ll never be without our baggage our hopes our excuses and our dreams, often all rolled into a single moment.

So anyway, as I was saying, I’d be remiss if I let an old year start and a new one begin without any reflection…and this year for me the dominant observation and lesson learned was that I have very little choice in what happens to be, I have a lot of choice in how much it weighs. So as I plan my life strategies moving forward—a constant, iterative, ongoing process, not just a perfunctory start-of-year exercise—my thoughts are dominated by this sense of choice. In what I do, how I act, how I react, what I say, what I neglect, how I treat people, how I a manage my finances…and as I think about this, I am immediately overwhelmed by the number of things over which I do have influence. It’s easy to throw your hands up and say “why me?” and then absolve yourself of any responsibility because you didn’t choose to be in whatever situation. That’s a big cop out, and those are the moments when, if you take ownership and accountability, you can start making the change you want and need to make in order to drive happiness and improve your sense of self and your quality of life.

So I say this…take in as much as you can of these self-help articles and guides for change and mantras and whatever…let the goals and ideas and approaches roll around in the back of your mind while you think about what you want, why you want it, and what makes sense for you in terms of an approach to attain it. Synthesize the two, challenge yourself, make a plan…don’t pressure yourself with time (you don’t need to start now) or results (Rome really wasn’t built in a day), but start doing something different…one small thing, as you start to plan…and keep making small and gradual changes and then positive momentum will drive positive momentum…and instead of feeling overwhelmed with a sense of “I can’t”, you’ll feel empowered by a sense of “I can.”

This post was in part driven by a graphic I saw on Facebook, promoting 31 days of habits. I read the proposed behaviors and found myself a bit daunted by these suggestions, and felt like I have so far to go it’s not even worth trying. And then I thought about choice and that it’s always worth trying, especially if you’re open to success coming in the form of “failure” that manifests as valuable lessons learned.

You can see for yourself!

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Here’s the choice for me: walk away from new, good habits because I know I can’t achieve the specific suggested behaviors or make an achievable-ish plan that will challenge me and lead me to self-improvement and increased happiness regardless of the outcome?

I’m choosing the latter, and if you are serious about wanting to change, you’ve already made your choice and this is a no-brainer!

Here’s one way you could approach it:

Make a list of things you want to do, broken down into small, manageable chunks.

Your list will be unique to you, of course, but this might serve as a guideline or a jumping-off point. I’ll go through each of the above suggested habits and “translate” some of the ones that I could be daunting into behaviors that are a little more realistic/aligned with lifestyle and goals…and remember, one a week for 31 weeks would be more than adequate!!! Plus, they say it takes 21 days to make a habit so once you get one down, then add in another…don’t take on too much at once so you abandon ship…drive change at a pace that it’s sustainable enough to become habitual. Be realistic!

1) Drink your water => For one week, drink your water and keep track of how much you drink. Also, substitute one “bad” drink a day with two 8 ounce glasses of water.

2) Exercise for 30 minutes => Exercise for 30 minutes 2x/week, then 3x, increasing the time as the weeks go.

9) Add a few planks to your routine => Try a plank at a set time every day for 5, 10 or however many seconds you can hold it, increasing the time as you go.

26) Eat breakfast you made at home => Eat breakfast, period.

You get the idea. Build a plan that works for you!

Maybe you have these two goals, exercising more and eating healthier. So try this:

Exercise more => Run or walk 3x/week with one core strength session

Eat healthier => Try one new healthy recipe a week

The key is to be flexible while being committed, and to get started. So go. Now. Do it!

You’ll be happier, I promise!

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Lentil Love. (You Heard Me.)

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So you know I try to eat mindfully, primarily plant based. And lately that has involved lentils. They are delicious, healthy, filling, and versatile. And, I learned today, a solid stand in for the meat in meatloaf.

One lentilloaf in and I’m a convert.

This is what we had tonight for dinner and it was amazing.

http://www.onceuponacuttingboard.com/2014/05/buffalo-lentil-loaf.html

We used the Hot Wing Time buffalo sauce and it was nice and spicy. The BBQ-Buffalo glaze was substantial, and a great taste combination. The puréed lentils give a consistency similar to ground beef. I already can’t wait for my meatloaf sandwich for lunch tomorrow, but first I do want to enjoy this Patriots game that I’m watching. (Go Pats!)

The other lentil recipe that will be regularly appearing in our Winter dinner rotation is this one:

http://ohsheglows.com/2013/01/18/maple-baked-lentils-with-sweet-potato-healthy-comfort-food/

I love sweet potatoes. I wanted to experiment with lentils. And this recipe intrigued me, because it seemed to be a kind of funky combination of ingredients. And it is a funky combo for sure, but it’s a winning combination that works. The recipe suggests serving it with bread or salad, and I am all about the bread, because the dish is like a really hearty stew. And, when I want lentils and greens, this is my go-to:

http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/barley-lentil-salad

Love a lentil today. Try something new. Experiment. Take a baby step outside of your comfort zone. Just go. Start. Be accountable to you. Have fun. But go. Come on!

PPB: Primarily Plant-Based

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Vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan, freegan, whole foods, plant-based, gluten-free, no sugar, organic, low-carb, Paleo…seriously, what am I supposed to eat? Not even a diet of water and supplements is safe!

I’m landing squarely in the “mindful eating” camp, the place where informed decision making and good choices reign supreme. It’s no different than life, for crying out loud. Educate yourself. Make smart choices. Be forgiving of yourself. But push and challenge yourself too.

I love meat. Nothing like a good steak. And I pride myself on my ability to really get my money’s worth out of an already-cheap rotisserie chicken from BJ’s. But at the same time I’m aware of the drawbacks of eating too much meat. Too much anything. Of simply eating too much. I come at this now from a point of exercising a bit less (ugh!) and weighing a bit more (double ugh!) (and weighing more but still in my acceptable range) and as I type I realize that I am always going to have to be vigilant and attuned to what I am doing…even if it’s understanding and accepting some not-so-good choices.

Finding new recipes and feeling like I’m getting the right nourishment and all that is a great challenge. It’s fun trying new things. I’m making my own nut milks and nut butters. I’ve given my new Veggetti a good workout. And I’ve also adapted some of my long-time favorite recipes to be meat-free.

Here’s a favorite, and instructions are how I did it yesterday (it varies):

Vegetarian Quinoa Chili
Serves 8

Heat a small layer of water in the bottom of a saucepan and add diced onion (1, sweet), peppers (2, one red and one orange), and jalapeños (2, unseeded, but I like hot stuff) and start sautéing it. Add chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and some hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot).

Meanwhile, cook 1 cup of dry quinoa according to package directions. When it is done, add it to the veggies, and add another dose of spice (chili powder, cumin, etc.). Give it a stir and let it sauté for a bit. Then add two cans of rinsed and drained black beans (for me it was Goya low sodium), two 14 oz-ish cans of diced tomatoes, two 32 oz cans of kitchen-ready to orators, a helping of the spices, and let it simmer for a while. Until it’s hot and you can’t wait any longer! I serve mine with Trader Joe’s FF sour cream and some shredded Mexican cheese blend.

Yum. And super-healthy. Per MyFitnessPal? 392 calories, assuming the pot makes 8 servings. Enjoy!l

Remember, you are the only one lucky enough to be you, so don’t squander that opportunity. Go. Start. Now. Do. Be. Just go.

You Say Va-Jetty, I Say Va-Getty (Oh, And I Ran My Fourth Half-Marathon)

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Here’s how it happens: I get intrigued by something then it builds and builds and builds, influenced by what I see and hear and read and feel, until I get so consumed, so obsessed, I can’t not make a move.

It happened to me on Monday in a Bed, Bath, & Beyond…the 20% off your entire purchase burning a hole in my pocket…I had to do it…it was time…I had to have…the…

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I combined a few different recipes with a bit of improv to make a Pad Thai-ish kind of thing. I think I ate about three pounds of squash. It was amazingly delicious. A bit of work to get all the squash converted to oodles of zoodles (zucchini noodles) and ssoodles (summer squash noodles), but time-work, not effort-work. The resultant big bowl of VOODLES was worth it!

I spiralized all my squash (a mix of zuke and summer), tried unsuccessfully to spiralize a carrot (shredded it with a peeler instead), and sliced three peppers (one each, red, yellow, and orange).

Then I mixed the sauce. That was 4T of The Heat is On spicy peanut butter. 2T of soy sauce. 2T of rice vinegar. 3T of fresh lime juice. Some cayenne pepper. Some chopped ginger and garlic. About 2t each of toasted sesame and coconut oils. I softened that all up in microwave so I could combine it. Tossed it on the veggies and let them sit. After a while I added them to my wok with a thin layer of hot water on the bottom. I started sautéing. I was worried about it not being saucy enough so I sprinkled a bit more soy sauce, rice vinegar, and lime juice on top. And some Sriracha for good measure. I started to worry that I was going overboard and got really worried at how much liquid there was and how thin it was…a sprinkle of corn starch later, it thickened up just enough, and in the end was perfect. I tossed in some sesame seeds and topped it with chopped cashews. I can’t wait to eat the —oodles cold for lunch today.

(UPDATE: I ate the leftovers cold for lunch. Straight-up awesome. I’m not even sure I knew that I wasn’t eating “real” noodles!)

Money well spent. $14.99 less 20%, worth it for the one dinner alone!

Who cares how you pronounce it?

Also, on Sunday, I ran my fourth half-marathon, finishing in 2:02. Not my fastest, not my slowest. If I can do that, you can do anything. So go. Start. Now. Push yourself. Challenge yourself. Be accountable to yourself. Forgive yourself. But get going. Only you can be the best you, so don’t waste that opportunity!

Two Great Tastes…

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…just like Reese’s peanut butter cups, part of learning how to cook and eat differently comes with pairing the unexpected…but with experience you get to know what sounds and “feels” right, and you can stretch yourself a little…both in the kitchen and out.

My sister called my attention to this recipe, and when I made it for the first time, I could not get over how amazing it was. Around the same time, my mom tipped me off to this one, and it was also delicious (coincidentally also from Martha Stewart).

This morning I was really hungry…I was craving the avocado toast, but I had a tomato from the garden, and I worried the avocado toast wild leave me hungry. So I decided to chance it and marry the two recipes. I made the avocado toast, then layered on some tomato slices, then topped with a fried egg, over easy.

Heaven. Delicious. Great flavors that went together, filled me up, made use of one of my last tomatoes of the season, and made me glad that I went “off recipe.”

Yeah, it was just a silly meal, just for me…but it was also a reminder to try stuff, to surprise yourself, and to enjoy it.

Take chances. Small ones. Big ones. Low risk. High risk. Just try. Start. Go. Now.

Dispatch From The Prairie: Almond Milk

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So I’ve been busy lately, dealing with some pretty heavy personal stuff, but in parallel I have been working really hard to keep focused and positive, head up, eyes on the horizon…but not overlooking the beauty in front of of me.

When I do things at home, mostly related to what I’m cooking or eating, things that to me feel like going old school, I refer to those things as like being on the prairie. The latest occurrence of that found me in the kitchen, squeezing a nut bag (heh heh), making my own almond milk.

There is no shortage of diet “propaganda,” and I’ve started to half joke about the fact that if you want to be safe about what you ingest, you should go on a water diet.

All joking aside, there’s been some negative publicity around certain emulsifiers in almond milk…and I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of making my own. So I recently went for it. And I haven’t turned back. Homemade almond milk is easy and delicious. I control the crap that goes into my body. If the biggest downside is needing to shake it, I can handle that.

I soak about a cup of almonds overnight. Then I blend them with 1.5 cups of water to make a thick-ish paste. I then add another 2.5 cups of water, about 40g of maple syrup, and a tsp of vanilla, and blend that until it’s got a good froth on top. I strain it through a nut bag, bottle and cap it, chill it, and then I am good to go. It’s great in coffee and even better in cereal.

Nothing to be afraid of. No fancy blender. It goes back to what I’ve said all along. Just do something. Try. If it doesn’t work out, who cares? Every step gets you closer to your goal.

And if you’re cutting back on meat, I can’t recommend lentils enough. Who knew? Try this. You won’t regret it. I was intrigued by the combination of ingredients, and I went for it. No looking back.

It’s how I live, and that includes how I eat. Just do something. Go!

Psst…Pass It On…

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As you try to find your stride with making the changes you want to make, I hope you find yourself exploring and trying things and learning about yourself in new ways.

I’m continuing to explore diet and recipes and all that good stuff. There is no shortage of recipes available on the interwebs, so I’ll make a point to keep passing along gems that I find, like this one.

These were absolutely delicious. I can see myself eating one before a morning run, or as more of a dessert, say, with mini chocolate chips added.

Five minutes is all it takes, 10 tops…though waiting for them to harden before cutting feels like an eternity.

Enjoy!