Spring Madness 

Spring is here, and the days are getting warmer. So what does that mean here in SoCal? The community where I live has opened the pool. Unfortunately, the pool is solar heated, which means the water still isn’t warm enough. But it’s supposed to reach the high seventies later this week, so hopefully I’ll get brave enough to take the plunge.

I’m looking forward to going swimming and gaining back some more strength and mobility. And cross training is supposed to help with weight loss. At least I sure hope so. So besides going to the gym, I’ll work on my breast stroke. Freestyle and water aerobics will have to wait for many months until my shoulder is completely healed.

In case you’re wondering about the main photo up on top, I had found the original, free image of the swimmer and then had fun tweaking it in my latest app discovery, Painnt. I’ve been spending hours playing with various filters… I love photography and special photo effects. I’ll have to showcase some of my favorite photos in the coming weeks. Here are some of my favorites:

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Quinoa gone wild.

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Dockside garden.

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Happy puppy.

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Beautiful flowers.

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Secret garden.

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Flower garden.

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Tabbies at play.

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Jewels good enough to eat. These berries look like sparkling gems.

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Pelican spreading its wings on Huntington Beach pier.

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A black and white photo of the famous bandleader, John Philip Sousa (center), and his band gets loaded up with color. My great-great-grandmother’s brother, holding his clarinet, is seated next to Sousa on the left. Musical talent definitely runs on my dad’s side of the family—now we know why.

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Sunset photo turned into sunrise colors in Painnt. Newport Beach.

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Sea bird. Newport Beach.

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Boating. Newport Beach.

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The seal lifted his heavy head to stare at me as we passed by. Newport Beach.

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Reflections. Dana Point.

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The bridge to peace and quiet.

Rare rainy day in SoCal.

Pretty pitty goes for a car ride.

Sketch created in Painnt app.

Dried flowers.

The Cottage. San Juan Capistrano.

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Got the Midas Touch… at least where flowers are concerned.

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Cozy outdoor fireplace.

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Stairs leading to beautiful cove and solitude. Laguna Beach.

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Mission San Juan Capistrano.

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Meditation.

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Textures and shadows.

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Classic brown tabby morphs into a jewel-toned kitty.

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Elegant baby shower.

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The Eternal Flame. Photo of lit candle with a black background was transformed into a beautiful mosaic.

Can An App Really Help You Lose Weight?

My Fitness Pal is a free app that I utilize daily to record my food and exercise. Not only does it help tweak my diet, but I’ve found the daily articles and recipes to be extremely helpful too.

Today, for example, I read an article written by Kim Westerman titled, “Losing Weight When You Physically Can’t Exercise: Doreen’s Journey.” Doreen used My Fitness Pal to log her meals. I’ve also benefited from logging my food and exercise each day in my quest to reach my fitness goals.

I, too, have experienced issues with mobility over the last ten years because of injuries, arthritis, and a couple of surgeries. I also have an acquaintance who is in even worse shape than I am, so I hoped that the article would prove to be an interesting and motivating read. It was.

SO I’M OVERWEIGHT—WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

I think what many people don’t realize is that obesity is far more detrimental to one’s health than they might think. Everyone pretty much knows that obesity can cause heart attacks or clogged arteries. But the very fact that someone is obese may bring on nasty metabolic changes, which in turn can cause diabetes, chronic inflammation, and arthritis.

New research suggests that it’s not the stress on the joints that causes arthritis, it’s the metabolic changes caused by an over-abundance of body fat. That was definitely an eye-opener.

It took being diagnosed as pre-diabetic in May 2015 to get me started on the road to fitness. I knew my body could only handle minimal impact exercise, so I took up swimming and water aerobics to build up my strength and flexibility. I cut my sugar intake drastically, ate better, and lost a little weight. I began going to the gym. But as the months went by, I found my weight loss was unbelievably slow and frustrating.

In July 2015, a friend recommended My Fitness Pal to me. I downloaded the app on my mobile devices and have been using it ever since. I heartily recommend it. So far, I’ve lost 61 pounds. Yes, I still have more body fat to lose, but I now have normal glucose levels. And that’s a big win for me!

Most people go on a diet to look better. But I’ve discovered that it was more helpful to consider looking good as a happy byproduct of losing weight. The true motivation for me to lose body fat and to gain muscle was to regain mobility, avoid diabetes, and increase my longevity.

I’M THIN—WHY DO I NEED MFP?

But what if you don’t want to lose weight—should you still use the MFP app? The short answer is yes.

You may think you’re eating a healthy balance of macros and micros, but nine times out of ten, you’ll find there’s something in your diet that needs tweaking. Most people that log their food are amazed how much sugar, fat, sodium, and calories they actually consume. And are you getting enough iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C? Usually the answer is a resounding no.

You won’t know the answers to your questions until you log your food into an app such as My Fitness Pal.

MORE ABOUT MFP

MFP doesn’t differentiate between ADDED sugars and what is naturally found in food. Since food labels do not reflect that information yet, MFP can’t either. Unfortunately, it’s the same with B vitamins. I’m hoping that once labels are improved, MFP will incorporate that information into their food analysis.

It’s important to note that if you’re eating clean and sticking to fruits, vegetables, and dairy, there will be naturally occurring sugars in those foods. Those are not inherently bad sugars. (However, if you’re needing to manage blood glucose, there are extra steps you need to take to ensure there are no untoward spikes, such as sticking to low glycemic load foods.) I always eat protein with every meal or snack to help my body deal with naturally occurring and added sugars.

One of the real dangers to healthy eating is consuming processed foods that are almost always laden with added sugar and sodium, not to mention additives, preservatives, and food coloring.

But there’s another danger that is often overlooked by even those who consider themselves to be clean eaters: adding too much sugar or salt to what otherwise would have been a healthy meal.

For instance, when I began making my homemade vegetarian soups, I diligently logged all the ingredients. To my surprise, I discovered that I was using entirely too much salt. It sure didn’t taste too salty!

So I cut back drastically on the salt and threw in a lot more spices to give my soups more flavor. I also add one or two tablespoons of Bragg’s nutritional yeast to each bowl of soup for additional B vitamins and flavor. I’m not a fan of nutritional yeast’s taste except in my homemade soups—that’s where I think it adds greatly to my veggie soups’ savoriness.

A friend of mine has strict dietary requirements for his various ailments, and he’s always prided himself that he’s been eating clean for years. However, he was adding two tablespoons of maple syrup to his daily breakfast of oatmeal and berries. Maple syrup is sugar. Even though he was eating egg whites with his breakfast, he still was consuming a big load of simple carbs each morning. This practice was detrimental to his health goals.

I advised him to stick to steel cut oats, not rolled, to lay off the maple syrup entirely, and to add a tablespoon of chia seeds instead. The chia seeds provide antioxidants, as well as healthy fats which help slow absorption and keeps you feeling fuller longer. That’s what I do, and even though I consider myself to be a recovering sugar addict, I’ve found I don’t miss the sugar in my oatmeal at all.

BUT ISN’T IT A HASSLE?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to log my food and exercise. I had tried keeping a food diary on paper many years ago, and I had hated it. But by using the app, the experience has proven to be fairly hassle-free and far more rewarding than I had assumed. I’ve been logging my food for over 600 days now. I think I can safely say that it’s a good habit that I’ve acquired.

Try MFP for a month. It’s free. And what can you lose, except those bad habits that have prevented you from being the healthiest you’ve ever been?

Vegetarian vs. Eating Chicken for Weight Loss

img_9128A couple of things I want to discuss today has to do with chicken vs. vegetarian diets, weight loss, and a sale at Macy’s. Actually, there’s a tie-in. Really!

I’m excited because I just bought a new George Foreman grill online at Macy’s for $30. It’s large enough for me (4 servings) and has removable plates. I wanted red, but hey, for $30, I’ll be OK with white. Anyway, now I’ll be able to quickly grill chicken breasts for that added zap of protein. My favorite method is to sprinkle Cajun spices on a chicken breast and grill. It’s that simple.

The sale ends February 26. If you’ve been thinking about buying a GF grill, now’s your chance. The same grill costs about $60 at Kohl’s and $47 at KMart. So it’s a fantastic deal!

My next point has to do with a great article in My Fitness Pal, which gives some terrific information about eating healthy, satisfying foods. Be sure to check out the recipes, too. But boy, I’m telling ya, this next paragraph made so much sense to me:

“Lean proteins, like chicken, aid in satiety by affecting the hormones that control hunger and how quickly food empties from our stomachs,” says Keri Glassman, MS, RD. “Chicken also has the highest thermal effect of food, meaning it burns the most calories during digestion, versus carbs and fat.”

See? I KNEW I was losing weight faster when I was eating chicken as opposed to when I was sticking to a vegetarian diet! I’m making lovely, healthy vegetable and split peas or bean soups, but they’re carb-heavy. It would be more filling and would enable a more efficient weight loss to eat four ounces of grilled chicken, a cup of vegetable soup, and black forbidden rice (or brown jasmine rice), rather than a big bowl of soup and rice for dinner.

Plus, if I’m eating a chicken breast with the meal, I can halve the amount of split peas or beans in the soup and double up on the veggies. It would result in soups that have less carbs but are still healthy and delicious.

This subject has been a huge bone of contention between me and a vegan I know. I had told him that I seemed to have lost weight much faster when I had incorporated chicken into my diet. It was driving me nuts that my weight loss had slowed to a crawl.

In fact, my simple musings about this caused him to stop talking to me for two weeks. (He hates having his beliefs challenged.) This vegan was sure that his diet was healthier than mine, even though his diet is low on variety and he hasn’t gone to the doctor in over ten years. He has no idea what his blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, or CBC is.

He’s assuming he’s healthy, but since he’s 52 years old, the only way to know if his lifestyle is working well for him is to go to the doctor and get a physical. He has health insurance, but he refuses to go to the doctor for a checkup.

The guy is a vegan because he believes certain studies that I, frankly, discount as junk science. He believes eating vegan is healthier than being a vegetarian or omnivore. He also subscribes to the theory that people are not omnivorous, which is something I heartily discount.

I ate vegetarian for a year because I’m a huge animal lover and factory farming distresses me. I hate the thought of killing animals. I also can’t afford to eat chicken or salmon daily.

But I’m recovering from my second surgery in less than a year, plus I need to kickstart my weight loss program again. I got off track for the first time in over a year after this last surgery, so if I add chicken and salmon back to my diet for now, it will help kick my desire for sweets and butter.

I’d like to try this way of eating for awhile and compare it to my weight loss results just prior to surgery. Yes, there will be variables to take into consideration, but the fun of trying this experiment will have the added bonus of motivating me to lose weight. Oddly enough, I had felt like giving up the fight recently, but today, I’m finally feeling galvanized.

Being able to build muscle again is having a positive effect on my outlook, too. I went back to the gym a few days ago after my enforced, post-surgical six-week hiatus, and I’m in physical therapy for my shoulder. I’ll be feeling stronger soon—I can’t wait!

Another motivator that I plan to use is to set short-term goals. I use my Chūze Fitness app to set exercise goals for which I garner points. I’ve already earned a free month at the gym! My previous goal was to exercise three times/week, but now I’ll up it to five. And I’m setting my next weight loss goal to 30 lbs. But believe me, I’ll celebrate each ten lb. weight loss, perhaps with a new outfit. That will be fun!

But I digress—back to discussing the article.

Quinoa is on this list of foods that provide satiety, but I never felt satisfied after eating it. In fact, I usually feel hungrier. Strange, but for me, it’s true. Maybe I need to add other ingredients to it, like as pictured in the article. That dish looks yummy!

Greek yogurt and eggs: I absolutely eat them daily. Plain Greek yogurt is marvelous with fresh berries and cinnamon. If I want something to satisfy my sweet tooth and make me think I’m eating dessert, I’ll eat Triple Zero Greek yogurt (the black label). I particularly enjoy the coffee and salted caramel flavors.

Don’t buy cottage cheese if it has carrageenan added to it. Carrageenan is nasty and is believed to cause inflammation. If you find a small curd cottage cheese with NO carrageenan in it, please LMK. Frankly, I doubt there is such a product.

Steel cut oatmeal for breakfast? Absolutely! But I add no sugar or any sweetener at all. Who needs that extra jolt of carbs? Not me. I was pre-diabetic and so I worry about back sliding. For added flavor, I recommend sprinkling in ground cinnamon to the oatmeal while cooking. To keep you feeling fuller longer and to add healthy fats to your diet, mix in a tablespoon of chia seeds to your oatmeal when served.

I usually eat oatmeal with a hard boiled egg for extra protein and satiety. Tossing in some blackberries, strawberries and/or blueberries not only adds flavor and sweetness, but also provides powerful antioxidants and vitamin C.

It’s a fantastic breakfast. Not only is steel cut oatmeal with fresh berries and chia seeds fairly economical, it doesn’t spike my blood sugar. I’m benefiting in a myriad of other ways, too. I’m including whole grains in my diet, and lowering my blood pressure and cholesterol levels at the same time. Another huge plus is that this breakfast will help my skin to retain its suppleness and elasticity. Berries are loaded with vitamin C, which is necessary to produce collagen. This means I’m fighting the ravages of aging, all in one meal. Not bad, huh?

What tips do you have for weight loss and to stay motivated? I’d be very interested in reading your comments.