Progress vs. Perfection

For whatever reason, it feels weird to admit that it’s taken me most of my life to-date to truly cultivate a sense of self love. It’s simply not something that comes natural to me. As the youngest of four children, who took a very unorthodox — for my family, anyway — path to success, I have a lot of chatter in my head, and it’s mostly criticism.

But then I discovered fitness.

I’ve never – read: NEVER EVER – enjoyed any element of exercise. As kids, we were never pushed to play sports; my parents focused on academic excellence. Until the pounds poured on.

I saw fitness as the enemy; exercise, in my eyes, was something only the naturally thin could endure without collapsing in misery.

And then I met Frank Duffy. And through Frank Duffy, I met my friends in fitness. And through that crew, affectionately dubbed my “gym baes” — judge me, I dare you, I’ve discovered a sense of self.

Coaching, which for me is now long distance, has truly changed my life. I’ve met friends who are invested in similar, highly personal health and wellness goals and strength has truly bonded us. We are grounded in our goals, and go above and beyond to support one another. The community aspect has been a critical component of my success; other gym-goers are not your competition. They should be your motivation.

I’m at a point now where I care about myself in a way that goes beyond a number on a scale or dress size. I care about my wellbeing and having a clear mind, much of which has been achieved through regular exercise and a balanced diet.

I see each workout as an opportunity to be a little better — in form, weight lifted, number of reps, etc. — and each meal as a challenge to be more creative with nutritious ingredients.

I’ve found comfort in community and accountability, and have found direction and purpose in owning each meal and workout. I’m not focused on perfection, but on regular progress.

Call me a convert, but I’m now a Franky Duffy Fitness devotee, and have found a form of exercise that enables me to feel stronger, better and happier each and every day.

 

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White Coats

My family is dominated by doctors. My brother, sister-in-law (and her sisters, parents, and most of her brothers-in-law), great uncle, etc. — they’re all doctors. Add a pharmacist father into the mix and a brother-in-law and best friend who are PAs, and you have a recipe for hypochondria and then some.

As a kid growing up in Michigan, I associated my pediatrician with an annual check-up and some vaccinations. No stress, no real fears; probably also worth noting that I grew up pre-Google and as such, pre-WebMD.

By my late teens and borderline adulthood, I developed what can only be described as “white coat” syndrome. I still remember being 17 years old and having a very real panic attack in the pediatrician’s waiting room among happy-go-lucky toddlers and other super young patients who would qualify for a post-exam lollipop.

A switch most certainly flipped, and so, too, did a phobia of all-things remotely medical. On one end of the spectrum, I was terrified of going to the doctor. On the other end, I was hyper-aware of aches, pains, scrapes and spots; my mind would race for hours until I could research my way to a potential diagnosis.

I had a crummy-ish experience with a city doctor a few years prior which really put me off female doctors — with the exception of my lovely sister-in-law — followed by a stint in the NYU emergency room after a bout of bronchitis that went rogue. Coupled together, these experiences only added to my fears.

It wasn’t until I was 25 that I decided to confront my fear head-on. I was dating my now-husband, who recommended his internist at a local practice in Astoria. Despite the less-than-stellar city physician experience, I had a weird elitist reservation about seeing an MD outside of Manhattan, but I trusted my new love, and so I gave his doctor a try.

I had a moment — it doesn’t quite qualify as an epiphany — where I started thinking, knowledge is power and modern medicine is pretty — excuse the soft expletive — effing amazing.

Adam’s internist changed my entire perspective on preventive health. A family friend once told me that part of being an adult, especially in a new city, is having an established medical history where you live. While I’m holding out on finding a dentist in New York (Bruce Duchan, DDS is the best dentist and I refuse to search elsewhere until he retires), I’m finally at a point where I have local doctors that I respect, and honestly enjoy seeing. I’m not absolved of my anxiety — not even close — but I’m proud of breaking down the barriers that would have had me avoiding an office visit, even if just to calm my nerves. I’ve come to a point where I’ve reasoned with the fact that it’s not them, it’s me and a fear that I’ve manifested.

My parents constantly remind me of my shitty set of genetics, and with my dad’s health issues that range from diabetes and a past heart attack to Parkinson’s, owning my health at a young age was the responsible – and only – option in sustaining my status as a mature adult.

I feel stronger than ever thanks to my trainer/coach, and more in control than ever knowing that I’m on a path of continued health for a long, happy life.

Spinach Smash a la Sandy

I started feeling real impacts from the storm around 7 pm — lights flickering, doors shaking from the wind. Lights still flicker, but at this point, I do have power and am actively online. Around 8, I decided I was hungry and that it was safe enough to cook. I made a delicious dish from my poorly chosen provisions — mostly perishables because I’m a damn fool! — and have named it Spinach Smash a la Sandy.

Simple, quick, and hearty — all you need is 2 cups of fresh spinach (baby spinach will do, but I used regular), 3 baby Yukon potatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, 1 teaspoon smart balance, and a pinch of sea salt.

Start by boiling the potatoes for about 20 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork or knife. While the potatoes are boiling, slice the cherry tomatoes in thirds, peel and mince the garlic. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, and spinach. Once potatoes are ready, add them directly to the vegetable mixture. Add Smart Balance. Use a smasher or a big fork and start mashing this mixture until the ingredients combine, the spinach wilts, and the Smart Balance melts.

Finally, finish with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Voila. Delicious, not so unhealthy, and hearty enough to help you through the storm.

Beans on Toast 2.0

Broad beans, shelled and steamed

Image via Wikipedia

I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to cut carbs out of my diet, mostly because my typical breakfast tends to revolve around a not-so American classic: beans on toast. Don’t judge me just yet. I’ve never gone so basic as to have the basic British variety: baked beans over toast. No, no. I’m a bit more wholesome, and opt for variations of the lentil or chickpea over something like a rustic whole wheat bread, or pumpernickel. Better yet? Olive bread.

Here are 4 variations on beans over toast that may spark your tastebuds:

1. Beluga lentils, baby spinach, goat cheese, and roasted garlic over pumpernickel – I love pumpernickel-flavored products. A good pumpernickel bread can be quite versatile, and is a staple in one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches. Roast three cloves of garlic in the oven (25-30 minutes at 400 degrees). Slice one wide piece of pumpernickel bread and toast for 30 seconds to one minute. Pull garlic out of the oven. Smash garlic and combine with goat cheese to make a spread. Spread the garlic/goat cheese mixture on your toasted slice of pumpernickel. Top with fresh, washed baby spinach and cooked beluga lentils. Wholesome, vegetarian, hearty.

2. Chickpeas over toasted pita – Sounds simple because it is. If you have a toaster oven and a stove top, you’re set. In a pan over medium heat (spray with cooking spray or use one teaspoon extra virgin olive oil), add 1/2 cup chickpeas (canned chickpeas are OK, so long as you rinse them well. I tend to buy organic or low-sodium), and cook until brown, but not crisp. Add paprika, za’atar, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Toast a Mediterranean pita in the toaster oven until golden.  Mash the chickpeas and spices into a lumpy mixture, and spread over toasted pita.

3. Smashed peas and fava beans with fresh mozzarella Here is a great recipe from The Cilantropist. For a fun variation, try using edamame instead.

4. Crostini Fava Beans Creme Fraiche This is a gourmet take on beans and toast, as it uses mushroom oil and creme fraiche, but it all pays off. Thanks to Local Lemons for the great recipe!

Phat

For those who see me in-person on a regular basis, it should come as no surprise that I’ve shrunk a bit. Well, thirty-four pounds to be exact.

And in my eyes, it’s still only the beginning.

Not part of some get-thin-quick scheme, or some corny – far too high in carbs – New Year’s Resolution; my decision to lose weight was mine, and mine alone.

I come from a family that is obsessed with its weight. I’ve had relatives on both ends of the spectrum – too skinny and too plump.

I knew, then, when I decided to sign up for Weight Watchers in July, that my decision would draw some familial attention.

For the most part, I tend not to care what people think of me. In my family, though, they make it known.

First, there was my Great Uncle. He has a reputation for jousting people about their weight, despite his own struggles to maintain his own. Following his prodding was my paternal grandmother. Obsessed with aesthetics, she began equating weight to beauty. Leave it to a member of the Kirsch clan to make someone feel ugly. Lastly, a cousin of mine, who I admire more than I can explain through written words, made a comment about how I present myself. She tiptoed around what had become “the weight issue,” and I caught on quickly.

I started to care. People noticed something that it seemed I had ignored.

The first steps were the hardest. The decision to rejoin the gym and Weight Watchers were stepping stones in what continues to be a long, but successful journey.

The next in those first steps involved filtering out the noise.

Dieting, as a concept, annoys me just as much as the word “fat” when applied as an insult and not an element of daily nutrition. I had become so sick of hearing people, close friends included, pick apart passersby, people whom they had never met, based on appearance and most often on weight.

I once heard the phrase, “Guilt is fattening,” and it has since become one of my favorite ways to let insiders in on my lifestyle change.

I’m holding myself accountable – all bites count – but I’m in no way “dieting.”

Nothing is off limits, but everything requires planning. And, it would seem that in my family of prodders and change-inducers, this is something that they do not understand. I still hear mumblings of, “Well, you can’t have that.” Or, “Is there something you can have on this menu.” And, while I’m tempted to call them daft, I smile, nod, and move on with my order or nibble, knowing that this is my journey, not theirs.

So please, spare me your information on the glycemic index, or your rules about not eating after 6 p.m.

I have it under control.

I didn’t think anything could be as hard as committing to making a change. But there was just one more thing I had not planned for – the fact that not everyone would be so thrilled with my weight loss.

So, I say this to anyone thinking about making a lifestyle change, do it for you, and do it wholeheartedly. If you hold back, even a little bit, it won’t last. Do what you can to eliminate the outside noise, the naysayers, anything that is adverse to motivation. Surround yourself with positivity, and make health the most important.

I continue my weight loss, with no set goal or expectation in mind. I’ve made great strides, and hope only to continue on that path for life. My cheekbones are far too high for emaciated to be a good look on me, and my hips would jut out in low-riding jeans.

I just want to be comfortable being me.

Office Cooking Part II: Using What You Have to Measure Portions

In an effort to save money and lose weight (again – shameless moment: have lost 26 pounds and counting!), I’ve been bringing ingredients to the office so that I can assemble healthy lunches and snacks that satisfy my cravings throughout the day.

Because I bring my food to the office as ingredients and not already assembled, I tend to keep some measuring tools handy so that portion control is in-check, but for those of you who don’t have an extra set of measuring cups/spoons, here are some great resources that show you how to practice portion control on the go (in order of my favorites):

Image Courtesy of NourishMoveThrive.ca

Image Courtesy of DietSystems.info

Image Courtesy of PhotoCalorie.com

Food in the Workplace

If you read my blog, or know me at all, you know that I am passionate about food — ordering, cooking, eating, feeding, serving. That said, I’m also interested in nutrition and healthfully coexisting with food and my eating habits.

In the past two months, I’ve lost 17.8 pounds, and one of the big changes I’ve made, especially in following a plan, is that I’ve started holding myself more accountable for the food I eat during work hours. In the past, my breakfasts and dinners were fairly healthy and homemade, but I’d use work as an excuse to order out all too often, and snack in a less sensible way.

Working in a fast-paced environment is no excuse to not eat wholesome, healthy meals. As someone who works in digital publicity, fast and easy are essential, but that doesn’t instantly qualify fast food (something that I’ve never found appealing or appetizing) or takeout junk. I’ve made a habit of bringing ingredients that I can leave in my work refrigerator and prepare in our kitchen at ease.

While I wish we had a proper kitchen at the office, we have a toaster oven — a personal favorite — and a microwave. I fell in love with the toaster oven when I first moved to Astoria. Clean, easy, and compact. What’s not to love? Real Housewife of New York City, Sonja Morgan, would agree. At the office, my go-to lunch is to toast whole wheat tortilla for a few minutes, spread on some non-fat Greek yogurt, add some fresh vegetables (I tend to stop by the local grocery store and peruse their salad bar for tomatoes, peppers, and chickpeas), and sprinkle on a little feta. Full of protein and fiber, low in fat and calories. I season these tostada-style lunches with garlic powder and black pepper, as I keep a fresh pepper grinder in my office (as well as a sea salt grinder, za’atar, and garlic powder).

Yesterday’s lunch, featured above, is a whole wheat tortilla (toasted), guacamole (spread on tortilla), salsa (spread on tortilla), topped with red and yellow pepper, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, tofu, and a little sprinkle (about a tablespoon) of reduced fat feta cheese.

Beyond lunches, I often find that stocking healthy snacks that tide me over longer are the key to me avoiding the unnecessary vending machine. I keep my office stocked with 100 calorie packs of raw almonds, and often bring in fruit, fruit leather (a sweet treat after lunch), as well as flavored Greek yogurt. For a fun twist on autumn-themed foods, consider flavoring non-fat Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons of pumpkin puree, a sweetener of your choice, cinnamon, and a dash of pumpkin pie spice. #yumalert