Reboot.

Dear friends,

beets

My “gut reboot” is complete and, as promised, I’m here to tell you about it.

(Because what’s the point of self-improvement if there’s no one to tell, right?)

When my friend Patti told me about the plan (and the book), I was skeptical. A 21-day cleanse sounded about as much fun as a 21-day root canal. Perhaps she caught me at a weak moment. I had just fallen off the treadmill a day earlier. (This was a literal treadmill accident, not a fall “off the wagon” so to speak.)  I was feeling particularly old and vulnerable. And bad.

The thing about feeling bad is — like the frog in the proverbial pot of hot water — you don’t know how bad you feel until you don’t feel bad anymore. Headaches, sleepiness, lethargy, persistent GI distress . . . I chalked it all up to age and stress.

I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal. Until it wasn’t.

I started to feel better by day 3 of the cleanse. By day 10, I was really grooving. Now I’m all but a few days away from a month and I have no intention of stopping.

I’ve only had one headache the whole time. I’ve had ZERO stomach/GI issues. My energy is improving daily. Mr. Mom said my skin looks clearer, younger. (I’ll take it!) My “brain fog” has finally cleared. With the exception of two late nights worrying about my kids’ trouble du jour, my sleep has been uninterrupted and restful. My running and weight training are improving. (In fairness, fitness breeds fitness so I’m not trying to suggest eating better has made me fitter; but I’m certain feeling better and having more energy has improved my exercise.) I’ve lost 10 pounds. All in all, it’s been a 21-day boon.

If there’s a downside, it’s that eating is no longer easy. It takes planning and preparation to eat healthy. You guys know I’m a pretty decent cook and baker and I’m having to learn new ways and new ingredients. I’m in unfamiliar territory but gaining my footing daily.

My transition to a plant-based diet has been a slow evolution since I officially became a vegetarian a year ago. Still, forgoing meat is relatively easy, especially if — like me — you rely on packaged and convenience foods. The beauty of this cleanse is that it helped me break my reliance on convenience foods. First, I came to realize that “cheese tots” or “chips and dip” really aren’t a lunch option I should consider a viable option as a vegetarian. Second, it broke me of my reliance on cheese and crackers or PBJs as totally acceptable dinners (or breakfasts, or snacks). Third, it helped me understand that life goes on (and goes on well) without refined carbs and dairy.

I am reluctant to call myself a vegan now, though I’m still not eating dairy. The premise of “Clean Gut” is that you eat a very restricted diet for 21 days (no dairy, no gluten, no caffeine, no alcohol, with other restrictions on many fruits and starchy foods like potatoes, rice and corn). At the end of the cleanse, you reintroduce common “trigger” foods and test your reaction. I have successfully reintroduced gluten, but I’m only eating limited amounts of oatmeal and whole grain bread. I may try whole grain pasta later but, so far, I haven’t missed pasta one bit. I reintroduced potatoes last night (with a vegan mashed potatoes recipe I found online) and found that even the cleaned up version sat really heavy on my stomach. While I experienced no major GI distress as a result, I realized I no longer enjoy eating foods that prompt an “ugh” after dinner. I still need to “reintroduce and test” dairy and corn, but I’m in no hurry. I feel so good I’m staying the course.

Speaking of ugh, the best habit this cleanse helped me form is to quit eating when I’m 80% full. I have to admit, when I first read this advice in the book, the concept was lost in translation. I’m a clean-your-plate girl. Always have been. I know what full feels like but I have no idea what 8/10ths full means. Almost full? Not quite full? Still hungry? Hungry I know!

Despite being fuzzy on the concept, I gave it my best. For someone as lost as me, someone who knows what the hour after the Thanksgiving meal or Pizza Night feels like but has no idea what it means to stop eating before you are satiated, the best I can describe it is this: Stop when you still want more. Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

This advice is not just about stopping. Although that’s hard enough to do. It’s also about how much to put on your plate to begin with. Recalibrating what constitutes a meal. As a young girl, a meal meant two helpings of everything. As an adult, it has meant excessively large portions (and still sometimes helping myself to seconds).

If you’ve ever done any reading on this topic, you likely already know it takes your brain 20 minutes to catch up with your stomach. Meaning — if you eat until your stomach feels full, 20 minutes later you will feel over-full. Over-full became my full. Which is why “less than full” has been so perplexing to me.

But I’m learning. And in the mean time, I’m having fun exploring new websites and cookbooks and recipes. I’ve had a couple of fantastic vegan successes (like the lasagna I featured here) and I’ve had at least one spectacular fail (a vegan “meatloaf” we shall never speak of again). Kudos to my boys for taking it all in stride.

With gratitude {for the chance, daily, to remake my life in healthier, happier terms},

Joan, who purchased the poster pictured above because it reminded her of Mr. Mom — who’s been an exceptionally good sport about eating more vegetables for the last year — and because he really does make her heart flutter

PS: I invite you to check out the websites of the books pictured below to learn more about a plant-based diet

books

Click here for Clean Gut

Click here for the Kind Diet

Click here for Oh She Glows

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My Sunday soup ritual.

Dear friends,

photo[1]

I’ve gotten into a routine lately where I make a big pot of vegetable soup on Sundays. I had fallen into a bad habit of eating lunch out (which is both expensive and fattening), so about a month ago, I pulled out my favorite soup recipe from blogger Phoo-D and solved my problem.

Every week, I make my soup a little differently depending on what’s in my fridge. This week I had a beautiful red pepper, some broccoli that needed to be used, three not-quite-limp carrots, and a purple onion. I normally use celery but I was all out. I always have canned corn and green beans in my pantry, so I typically throw those in. Occasionally, I’ll use cabbage or potatoes, but this week I used a can of navy beans. (I was out of black beans, which is another favorite.) Sometimes I add a handful of barley, but this week I threw in some wild rice. My favorite is when I’ve got a couple of over-ripe tomatoes and/or zucchini setting around but, alas, I had none of those this week.

In addition to the soup, I always cook a whole grain — typically brown rice, but last week I made whole-wheat couscous. Then for the next five days, I pack a lunch that consists of 1/2 cup of grains topped with two cups of vegetable soup. It averages about 275 calories and is chock full of healthy nutrients and fiber. Best of all, it’s very filling and keeps me going without a thought of snacking until dinnertime.

In addition to varying the vegetables each week, I also vary the spices. I have a simple Italian version (fresh rosemary because I have a huge bush right outside my door, plus dried marjoram, oregano, parsley, basil, and occasionally some herbs de Provence). I have a Mexican version (cumin, chili powder, and cayenne). And I have an Indian version (turmeric and garam masala). While Phoo-D’s recipe doesn’t call for it, I usually also add about a half-cup of whatever wine I have on hand, as well as a cube or two of bouillon.

I find that when I eat my standard breakfast (a hard-boiled egg and piece of fruit) along with this lunch and a reasonable dinner, I feel so much better. I’m prone to heartburn and bloating if I eat too much dairy and processed wheat, so limiting those items to dinner (and then only in modest portions) helps me feel so much better and manage my weight.

By the way, if you’re at all tempted to skip the apple cider vinegar in this recipe, don’t. Because the recipe relies on water instead of broth and uses very little oil, the vinegar gives this soup a depth of flavor that it needs. Of course, I just mentioned that I often throw in a bouillon cube or two, but it doesn’t really need it. I do it because I find that if the soup has a hint of beef or chicken flavor, my kids are more likely to eat it.

This recipe makes a hearty amount of soup — enough for everyone in my family to eat it for lunch on Sunday and then for me to pack lunches with it all week. And it keeps well in the refrigerator for a full seven days. I’ve even frozen this soup after a week when I had leftovers I couldn’t bear to throw out.

Bon apetit!

With gratitude {for lunch alternatives that make life a little healthier and a lot more flavorful, as well as a mother-in-law who recently gave me a 7-quart cast iron Dutch Oven — perfect for big batches of Sunday soup — after hearing me lament the constraints of my 4-quart pot, which she also purchased},

Joan, who wishes to send love and hugs to her friend Phoo-D on the birth of her second daughter, Sarah Jane

Heartbreak in the grocery aisle.

Dear friends,

I think it’s obvious that food has been on my mind lately. A lot.

Clearly, food being on my mind is what led to the cleanse. And now that I’m a full five weeks into the cleanse, food is on my mind for a different set of reasons. Some of the conclusions I’ve drawn are what I expected; others have surprised me. I thought I would share these thoughts with you — and the easiest way to do so is with a list. Er, two lists actually.

What I miss:

  1. Cheese: Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese! I miss cheese so much I can’t describe the feeling. I knew I would, and I was right. And the craving for cheese and the enjoyment of cheese hasn’t diminished one bite. Er, bit. I haven’t cut cheese out entirely, but I estimate I’m eating about 20% of the volume of cheese I used to eat. I no longer eat cheese every day. And a typical serving is now 1 oz. In case I haven’t said it, I love cheese. I miss cheese. Cheese broke my heart. And is there anything more tragic than heartbreak in the grocery aisle?
  2. Wine: I haven’t given up wine entirely, but I’ve really limited my intake. As much as I enjoy it, I remind myself it’s liquid (empty) calories. And it’s hard to drink wine without craving cheese. They’re the devil’s duo in my life.
  3. Crunchy, packaged snack foods: Cheetos, Doritos, Pita Chips, Pretzels, Fritos, Triscuits, Pork Rinds, Saltines . . . you name it, if it crunches and comes in a package, I miss it. I crave it. Whereas I have managed to moderate my cheese intake, I can’t be trusted around the salty, crunchy stuff. I don’t go near it. Can’t. I know you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy comfort and it comes in a Pringles can.

What I don’t miss:

  1. Butter: I can’t believe I’m saying this. I love butter, always have. But giving it up has been one of the easiest transitions to healthier eating I’ve ever made. Haven’t missed it for a single second.
  2. Sugar and sweets: Just like butter. I simply don’t need sugar and never find myself craving it. Once you give it up, you realize how naturally sweet many vegetables and legumes are. Or, maybe I was born with a cheese tooth instead of a sweet tooth. Whatever it is, I’m doing fine without sugar. I miss baking. Actually, I miss baking a lot. But sugar? Not at all.
  3. Salad dressings: There are so many hidden calories and weird ingredients in most commercial salad dressings. I gave it up immediately in favor of a teaspoon each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Now, I don’t even need the oil. A sprinkle of vinegar allows the texture and flavor of salad greens to really shine and it’s amazing how much flavor exists in a salad if it’s not drowning in dressing. I’ll never go back.
  4. White rice and bread and pasta: This one really surprised me. I thought I would die without bread. And pasta. Guess what . . . I’m doing just fine. In five weeks, I’ve eaten one slice of bread and two small servings of pasta. And there have been no nervous breakdowns. Who knew?
  5. Huge portions of meat: I like to call myself a “flexitarian” because although I enjoy meat, I’ve never been a devoted carnivore. Four ounces a day has been easy breezy. And surprisingly, on the two occasions I’ve exceeded my daily limit, my gut has made sure I realized the error of my ways. Earlier this week I ate lunch at a nice cafe, where pan fried chicken livers were the daily special. In spite of the fact I knew they’d be breaded in white flour, I ordered them. And I really enjoyed every single bite. But you know what? Two ounces were all I needed to feel entirely satisfied.
  6. Huge portions of anything: I’ve been weighing all my food at home even though I’ve gotten really good at judging by eye. I’m truly surprised how satisfied I can be with four ounces of just about everything.
  7. 13 pounds: I can’t believe I’ve lost 13 pounds in five weeks. I’m astounded. And now I realize how much crap I was eating and what it does to my body.

I’m wondering if you find it interesting that there’s only three things I miss and seven things I don’t miss. I never made it past Algebra II, but I think the math is working in my favor on this one. Although, have I mentioned I miss cheese?

I’m also not missing a rigid adherence to arbitrary rules. I told you I’ve always had trouble with moderation. So I’m trying to do better about not sweating the small stuff. Last night, Mr. Mom and I went out for dinner at a very nice restaurant. I had salmon and risotto. The risotto was loaded with cheese and butter, but instead of fastidiously avoiding it, I ate a few bites. It was pretty good, I have to say. And since the salmon filet was huge — probably a good eight ounces — Mr. Mom got a second entrée with half of my salmon and most of my risotto. He thoroughly enjoyed it (in addition to his Italian sampler). By the way, I took two bites of his stuffed veal Florentine. It was oh-my-god good and I didn’t feel guilty for one second. That’s real progress, folks.

Today’s big meal is also about progress. I’m just betting you I can be happy with one small piece of fried chicken and no cake. Not that long ago, I wouldn’t have cooked such a meal in the midst of a cleanse mindset. Feast or famine, you know. But I enjoy cooking so very much (and my family enjoys my cooking so very much) that it seemed ridiculous not to do something we all love. And like I said, boiling brown rice and making vegetable soup just isn’t all that interesting.

So today I shall cook. And I shall eat. With joy and without guilt.

With gratitude {for moderation, blessed moderation},

Joan, who wants to make certain you know she misses cheese and always will

Spring break and a fresh start.

Dear friends,

I’m blessed to have a multitude of friends — some lifelong ones back home, some new ones who I’m enjoying getting to know here, and some virtual ones I’ve met through blogging and who, despite their geographic distance, feel like “real” friends to me.

I introduced you to Annie in this post. She’s the talented cook, writer and photographer behind the blog Phoo-D. I’ve been following her for as long as I’ve been blogging and I always enjoy checking in on what’s new in her world.

And I learned yesterday, there’s a lot new in her world.  Click here to read about her amazing journey and transformation.

I found her post so inspiring, I’m off to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for her Kitchen Sink Soup. I haven’t been following my own advice for healthy living for a while now, running less and less, and eating more and more packaged and snack foods. It’s spring break in our world and I’m fortunate to have next week off. (It’s my last spring break, sniff sniff, while both my children live with me.) So with both the inspiration and the time to get myself back on track, I’m off to stock up on healthy and fresh foods.

With gratitude {for good friends, good food, and a glorious week of vacation ahead of me},

Joan, who’ll be eating her Kitchen Sink Soup in front of Netflix this afternoon in a last-ditch attempt to catch up on Mad Men before the Season Five premiere airs tonight