The Low-Carb Craze

Wow, it has been quite a while since I wrote my last blog post! A lot has changed since then, including my eating habits. Everything was great for a while, but then I went through a period where my athletic performance was suffering. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t break PR’s or improve my muscle tone. The Type A personality in me did not appreciate this, so I controlled what I ate even more in hopes that with just a little more self control and a little less cake, things would go back to normal. They didn’t. Instead, my body suffered. I was exhausted all the time, experienced intense bouts of anger, had poor sleep quality, craved every sugar-laden pastry that crossed my path, lost muscle, experienced disturbing changes in my cycle, and had an uptick in my anxiety levels. What in the world was wrong with me??

I called a nutritionist, and what we found was that I was eating far too few carbs and essentially needed to eat a whole lot more of them. She gave me a customized nutrition plan to follow and told me to call her in two weeks. She told me I would eventually gain about 15 lbs, but it would be all muscle.

This plan is so vastly different from what I had been eating! I now eat protein every few hours, 1.5 to 2 servings of healthy starches at each meal (sweet potatoes, whole wheat bread, quinoa, barley, oats, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, etc.), as many veggies as I can manage, and a couple servings of fruit each day. This changed everything. I started lifting more weight, my bike rides got longer, my long distance swims got faster, and my runs became easier. I have energy to spare and no longer struggle with waking up at 5am for swim practice. I have gained 10 lbs so far, and from what I can tell, it is all muscle. I live in a different body than I did 2 months ago. My massage therapist even commented on my ever-evolving obliques. And I’m pretty proud of my little bicep bulge, too.

Long story short, I gave up trying to eat low-carb. There are some serious heath benefits in the short term, but long term, it is unsustainable and frankly even dangerous. Now, I’m not eating bagels and cookies each day; my carb choices are mostly healthy. But I am eating a lot of good carbs in order to give my body the fuel it needs to maintain my lifestyle.

I found an excellent article that outlines some of the drawbacks of this low-carb fad our culture is currently buying into. It even discusses some positives but also notes how difficult it is to maintain.

Just to give you an idea of what my food intake looks like now, I have outlined what I eat in a typical day below:

Post-workout: 1 protein shake

Breakfast: 2 whole wheat pancakes and an egg, coffee with milk

Snack: Apple with 1T natural nut butter

Lunch: 3.5 oz chicken, a large sweet potato, and 2 to 3 cups of veggies

Snack: protein shake

Snack: 2 cups raw veggies with 2T humus, 3/4 C plain low-fat Greek yogurt topped with 1C strawberries

Dinner: 1.5C whole wheat pasta topped with 1.5C turkey meat sauce and 3-4 or more cups of salad.

Snack (if needed): 2 cups popcorn OR hot chocolate with milk and stevia OR more veggies OR a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, etc.

The best part of this is that I am usually not hungry! It is a lot of food, but I need it for my workouts. On race days or 2-hour plus workout days, I need even more and essentially add a meal. Comment or shoot me a message if you have any questions. A week of workouts will be coming soon. Thanks for reading! Eat well, eat often, and enjoy every bite.

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What I Eat in a Week: Day 7

It’s the final day of my food blog! And I’ve got some yummy ones for you! I hope this particular post can show you just how easy it is to eat out, celebrate, and still make healthy food choices.

BREAKFAST

Over easy egg with avocado, cheddar cheese, salsa, and cilantro on toast with orange slices. The bread is from Aldi and is only 35 calories per slice! I LOVE getting eggs fresh from my parents’ house. They taste so much better than store-bought.

LUNCH

Today, I had the pleasure of eating out with an old friend of mine I haven’t seen in years! We ate at the Blue Duck BBQ Tavern in Peoria. I had two Asian brisket tacos with a side of vinegar slaw and a nitro milk stout. Soooo delicious! The tacos and side were a healthier option, but I was still able to indulge a little. Pardon the half-eaten taco; I started eating before remembering to take a picture! Picture is linked to the restaurant’s website.

DINNER

We celebrated my mom’s birthday today with a yummy shredded chicken dish my aunt made with a side of jasmine rice and fruit.

I made dessert, which was this Betty Crocker heart healthy coffee cake recipe. I made two versions. For one, I followed the recipe exactly (except I used real eggs instead of the egg product). For the other, I substituted all sugar for equal parts stevia. The picture is linked to the recipe.

SNACKS

Honestly, I munched on potato chips and nuts today. One of the great things about eating well and exercising regularly is having the ability to indulge occasionally with zero guilt.

I don’t view eating well as limiting myself. Instead, it is a way to fuel my body to perform at its greatest capacity. Thanks so much for reading! I’ve enjoyed sharing my food journey with you and look forward to posting my workouts in the near future as well.

What I Eat in a Week: Day 6

BREAKFAST

My chocolate chia seed pudding is still going strong! Today, I topped it with unsweetened coconut flakes, a banana, and whole grain granola.

LUNCH

Leftover grilled chicken with quinoa, beet, and kale salad in lettuce wraps.

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DINNER

Turkey chili! Jason’s dad came over for dinner tonight, and I had a very busy day. I had my long run for the week to demolish before coming home after work and jumping on the computer for my on-call shift (oh, social services), so I prepped this meal ahead of time. This is one of our absolute favorite chili recipes.

Changes I made include: A. using the crock pot, B. adding a diced sweet potato, C. adding a cup or so of low sodium chicken broth, and D. swapping the seasonings for 2 packets of Aldi’s low-sodium taco seasoning. I just browned the meat, cut up the veggies, and mixed all the ingredients in the crock pot the night before and put it in the fridge.

I came home on my lunch break and set the crock pot on low until dinner time. Served with orange slices and tortilla chips.

SNACKS

  • Apple with peanut butter
  • Mixed nuts
  • Veggies with yogurt dip

What I Eat in a Week: Day 5

Sorry this is a day late. I came home from work, went to spin class, and was drained! I decided sleep was more important that anything else, so here’s the food a day late. It’s literally all leftovers, which is the joy of cooking larger quantities of food.

BREAKFAST

Chia seed pudding with unsweetened coconut flakes and mixed berries. I made it an extra large serving!

LUNCH

Leftover grilled steak with roasted beets, carrots, and feta cheese.

DINNER

Leftover grilled chicken with quinoa, beets, and kale salad in lettuce wraps.

SNACKS

  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Pistachios
  • Veggies with hummus

What I Eat in a Week: Day 4

BREAKFAST

Meal prep is such a glorious thing. I love when I can wake up, grab something healthy out of the fridge, and go to work. Today, I had my chocolate chia seed pudding topped with some unsweetened coconut shavings (see post from Day 3 for the chia seed pudding recipe). I also had a handful of mixed nuts.

LUNCH

Leftover chicken and kale stir fry with peanut sauce from Day 2. Instead of a side of rice, I did lettuce wraps. Lettuce wraps can be used with almost anything, and it’s an easy way to get another serving of veggies.

DINNER

Grilled steak with carrots and beets. This is one of our favorite meals. Jason seasoned the steak, and I have no idea what he did, but it was delicious!

SNACKS

  • Nuts
  • Beef jerkey
  • Apple with peanut butter

I also had a post dinner beer. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout comes highly recommend!

Plain water today.

What I Eat in a Week: Day 3

BREAKFAST

A BIG workout calls for a BIG breakfast! I would usually split this meal between breakfast and a snack, but what can I say? Lifting makes me ravenous. The eggs were just 2 scrambled eggs with a little milk, salt, and pepper. Top with cheddar cheese and cilantro. Somehow, we have a ton of leftover cilantro from a meal last week, so I’m just putting it on everything, apparently.

This chia seed pudding is BOMB! I love this stuff, and chia seeds are packed with nutrients.

  • 2 1/2 C milk, any kind. I prefer unsweetened coconut milk.
  • 2 t vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1/4 C cocoa powder
  • 1/2 C chia seeds
  • 3 T stevia

Mix it all together in a jar and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Shake the jar every 5 minutes for the first 15 minutes so the chia seeds don’t settle. When you eat it, top it with anything you’d like. My favorites are bananas, mixed berries, or unsweetened coconut shavings.

Note: This makes a LOT, so half the recipe if you don’t want to be eating chia seed pudding for breakfast every day for a week.

I was so full after this meal that I didn’t even need a snack between breakfast and lunch! Also pictured: My favorite mug of all time that was gifted to me by my sweet friend, Genevieve. My friends know me so well! ❤

LUNCH

I worked late today, so I had time to make a tasty lunch. I call this “get creative with the stuff you have left over in the kitchen.” I grilled some chicken thighs, wings, and legs with a mango habanero seasoning mix and topped it with hot sauce.

The side is a quinoa salad with beets, kale, red onion, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste. It was delicious! And it would have been even better with some feta cheese.

DINNER

Leftovers! (Are you noticing a theme, here?) Grilled chicken, sugar snap peas, and sweet potato mash. See post from day 1 for my modifications.

SNACKS

  • Clementine
  • Carrots and celery with Greek yogurt dip
  • Nuts

My water was infused with lemon and lime slices.

I want to make a note about carbohydrates. I try to eat a diet relatively low in carbs, but when my workouts start to ramp up (tri season is almost here!), I need to eat more calories and more carbs to account for longer, more intense workouts. Carbs aren’t bad, if you do them right. While I do eat refined carbs occasionally (see white rice from yesterday) I do try to mostly stick with whole grains and complex carbs, such as the quinoa, kale, and sweet potatoes, which release energy more slowly and are full of vitamins and nutrients. Carbs are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet! So don’t be afraid of them.

What I Eat in a Week: Day 2

I really picked a terrible week to do this blog, haha. We had a busy weekend, and my prep game is not strong right now. But such is life. I was still able to make good food choices even though my fridge and pantry are sparse right now.

BREAKFAST

A whole grain granola bar, clementine, and string cheese. This one is pretty self explanatory.

LUNCH

Leftover asparagus salad again. And it was just as delicious as it was yesterday! I’ve linked the picture to the recipe again.

DINNER

Chicken, carrot, and kale stir fry with peanut sauce. I wasn’t my favorite recipe, but it still wasn’t bad. Changes I made included adding 3 cloves of garlic to the peanut sauce and topping it with cilantro. I also chopped up the chicken thighs and added it to the stir fry. It wasn’t nearly as filling as I anticipated, so I made a side of rice. White rice is just what we had available. Otherwise, I would have used quinoa or brown rice.

SNACKS

Soooo many snacks today! I was starving after my strength training session and wanted to eat everything I laid my eyes on. Thankfully, we just celebrated a fellow health nut’s birthday at the office, so I had plenty of healthy snacks to choose from:

  • Nuts
  • Beef jerkey
  • Apple chips
  • Kale chips
  • Pita chips with humus
  • Tortilla chips and salsa (GIVE ME ALLLL THE CHIPS!!… in moderation, of course)
  • Veggies (carrots, celery, green pepper, and zucchini) with Greek yogurt dill dip

My water was infused with lemon and frozen berries today.

I’ve prepped a yummy breakfast for tomorrow, so I promise I’ll have something more exciting to offer than a granola bar! Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave any questions in the comments below.

What I Eat in a Week: Day 1

After posting these pictures of the progress I’ve made over the past 2 1/2 years, I was asked by several people to blog about my eating habits and workout routine. So, I’m going to start by talking about all the things I eat in a week. And I LOVE food and cooking, so this one is really exciting!

Exercise is so important to me, but when I first started triathlon training, I neglected my diet. I’ve always eaten well for the most part, but there was still room for improvement. It was when I changed my eating habits that I was finally able to get down to my running weight and start to really build muscle. This also led to greater mental clarity, no need for my antidepressants in the winter, more energy, and better body image.

As a triathlete, it’s a bit difficult to figure out my ideal weight and BMI. I need a body that can tolerate all 3 sports. I need to have strong arms and back for swimming, strong legs for cycling and running, and a strong core for everything. I need to be light and lean for running but still have a slightly higher BMI for swimming. It’s a delicate balance, and how I fuel my body has helped me fine tune these areas.

And now for the main event: everything I ate today!

BREAKFAST

Over easy egg on a bed of sautéed kale with a fresh orange and black coffee.

Melt 1 T unrefined coconut oil in a pan. Add a couple handfuls of kale until tender and wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze fresh orange juice on top. Fry egg over easy.

LUNCH

Whenever I make meals, I make at least 4 servings. Lunch was leftovers from dinner a couple days ago. Click the picture for the recipe for this delicious asparagus salad! I added red peppers, cilantro, and green onion, too.

DINNER

Chicken with sweet potato mash and sugar snap peas. I made a lot of changes to this one. I find the chicken is a bit bland, so I marinated it in Aldi’s zesty Italian dressing for a day and then grilled it instead of pan frying it. For the sweet potato mash, I used 3 sweet potatoes, 2T butter, and milk to make it fluffy. Then I added some cinnamon and nutmeg. Yum!! Click picture for link to recipe.

SNACKS

I am currently going a month without sweets/added sugar. Otherwise, I would indulge in sweets every now and then. I also do not eat like this every day, but I do eat like this MOST days so I can occasionally indulge. I love my burgers, pizza, and sushi! I drink at least 64oz water every day. I jazz it up by adding fruit to my water. I try to eat at least 6x per day, usually more. This keeps me from getting too hungry and going for junk food. I also do not measure my food; I eat until I am satisfied. Meal prep is key!

There you have it. A day of delicious, wholesome meals! Enjoy.

The Thing With Feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
by: Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops- at all-

And the sweetest- in the Gale- is heard-
And sore must be the storm-
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm-

I’ve heard it in the chillest land-
And on the strangest Sea-
Yet- never- in Extremity
It asked a crumb- of me.

I re-visited this lovely poem a month or so ago, and it has been stirring up this feeling inside of me ever since. I read it much differently now than I did as a child. Perhaps because hope has a much deeper meaning these days.

For such a powerful word, “hope” is used so frivolously. “I hope the weather is nice tomorrow.” “I hope I get a bike for Christmas.” Interesting, considering the definition of hope from the dictionary:

To cherish a desire with anticipation: To want something to happen or be true.

To desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment.

To expect with confidence: TRUST

“Hope” is deeper than wanting something. There is also confident expectation, and I think that’s what makes hope such a powerful concept. It’s also what makes it so terrifying. For a long time, I never allowed myself to hope for much when it came to my abilities in light of my pain. It hurt too much to consider trying so hard, hoping so hard, and setting such lofty goals, only to be let down my something seemingly out of my control. I refused to allow myself the pleasure of dreaming big.

What I did hope for was that my pain would become manageable, and I think I’ve done my best at making the most of my low-pain days. I had to hope for this– to expect it– because the alternative– hopeLESSness– sucked all the meaning out of my life. I could not imagine living a life consumed by the physical pain I felt. But to me, a young woman with so much life left to live, hoping to only have “manageable pain” feels…

Pathetic.

Boring.

Tragic.

I do believe I can live a life that holds more promise than “manageable pain.” With a month and a half of minimal pain, I’ve found my big dreams have begun to spring forward without my permission. What would it feel like to complete an ironman? What do I need to bring with me to manage a 12 hour plane flight to Asia again to finally meet the little boy I sponsor? How much weight could I carry on a backpacking trip through Europe? Could I someday carry my own children in my body and not worry about what would happen when I bend over to pick them up once they live and breathe on their own? What would the adrenaline rush of a free-fall during skydiving feel like? Would I remember how to move my body and position my legs on a galloping horse? What would it be like to do these things I’ve been too scared to do for fear of immobilizing pain?

“Shhhhhh,” my mind says. “Let’s not let this thing with feathers get too big. You’ll only be let down.”

But what kind of life would that be? My heart tells me there is so much more. Hope was, and is, always there. Sometimes, it’s a quiet whisper, drown out by the loudness of this life. Other times, it’s a pounding in my head and a deep longing in my bones that I cannot ignore. So, I open myself up. I give myself permission to desire more, to expect more, to live more. After all, isn’t that what we all hope for?

Dismantle//Repair

In November, I ran a sub-25 minute 5k. I got first place in my age group for the third time, and it felt amazing. If you had told me 2 years ago that I would be saying this now, I would have laughed at you.

Yesterday was my first time running hard since this race. Like, really hard. I only did 4 miles, but I literally gave those 4 miles everything I had. Swimming will always be my number one, but I’ve also fallen in love with the way that running empties me. When I swim, I feel like I’ve gained something. I feel energized, motivated, positive, and fulfilled. I swim to feel good.

When I run my hardest, I’m usually trying to rid my body of something. Long, hard runs deplete me, and my body takes a toll. But in the process, I lose anxiety, fear of the future, regrets of past mistakes, a cluttered mind, self-loathing, and so much more. What I lose while running makes room for the good things.

I had a lot of negative energy to shed yesterday. I am grateful for almost a full month of minimal pain so that I can do the things I love and care for my body in the best way I know how. The pavement and the pool have become my sancuary, and I am quite okay with that. Yesterday, I cleaned house. Tomorrow, I get to dive into the pool and rebuild. Just as one of my favorite bands once wrote, “Things are gonna change now, for the better.” Cheers to repairing in 2018.