2012 in Review: Food, Glorious Food (and Drink)

Pizza with fresh basil and black olives, with a strawberry and baby spinach salad.

Pizza with fresh basil and black olives, with a strawberry and baby spinach salad.

In my continuing series on things I did right this year, I’d like to focus on one of my favorite things: eating. I started 2012 with a week-long vegan challenge, which ended with my decision to go vegetarian again after a several year hiatus. Since then, I’ve really embraced the meat-free life. There’s such a variety of meat-free dishes from cultures all around the world, and if you’re really stuck on eating animals, the wide availability of meat substitutes can help you make the transition. My decision to go vegetarian was primarily influenced by my compassion for animals and ethical concerns, but the health benefits are also clear. I’ve lost just over 50 pounds since last Christmas, and I still get enough calories and nutrients to fuel me through 20+ mile weeks of running.

If weight loss is a goal for you in 2013, here are some tips I’d share from my experience:

  1. Give up meat, at least part of the time. If you’re not ready to make the vegetarian commitment, consider becoming a weekday vegetarian or giving up meat a few days at a time. Meat certainly can have a place in a healthy diet, but especially in the U.S. our portion sizes are out-of-control and concerns about the environment in which meat is produced cannot be ignored. If you’re concerned about a lack of variety in meat-free diets, check out my posts on vegetarian living.
  2. Cook more. This can go hand-in-hand with number one. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and was never one to eat at restaurants every day, but becoming vegetarian really forced me to become engaged in meal planning to ensure variety, proper nutrition, and because the menus at some of my favorite restaurants just didn’t have many options. By cooking at home you can prepare foods with better portion sizes, less salt/fat/preservatives, and you can also share the joy of cooking with family and friends. Cooking to me means love, and it also is a creative outlet. I look forward to every trip to the grocery store these days because of the possibility of finding something new. Some of my favorite sources of meal ideas this year have been Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, The Pampered Chef’s The Vegetarian Table cookbook, Giada de Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian, and of course a variety of Internet sites. The more you cook, the more you’ll find that you also learn tricks to improve every recipe and make it your own.
  3. photo-16Drink less. Giving up booze was harder for me than giving up meat, but ultimately it came down to the same issue: compassion. I gave up meat because of my compassion for animals; I gave up alcohol because of my compassion for myself. Given my struggles with depression and emotional health, I finally had to acknowledge this year that I just drink too much and it makes me too emotionally volatile. Even if you consider yourself an average drinker, consider the double-whammy that alcohol does on you: Every drink is extra calories you take in, and it also slows your metabolism over time so that your other calories burn more slowly. While I haven’t been perfect on this by a long shot, I’m proud to say that I’ve only drank once in the past six months. I know there are people in my life who would never believe that I could do that, but I truly believe that anyone who has the right knowledge, a good reason, and a dedicated will can also kick the habit. If you need some baby steps, I recommend toasting 2013 with sparkling cider or grape juice. The variety pictured here is an affordable $2.99 at Trader Joe’s. A ginger ale or soda from the bar is also indistinguishable from the real thing if you’re worried about looking cool in front of your friends.
  4. Don’t skip dessert. In case I sound like some sort of foodie saint, I’m not. I may have given up alcohol and meat, but I’m a total junkie for pastries and cheese, and you can pry my Starbucks from my cold, dead hands. It’s just a matter of moderation. Make what you eat so you understand portions and calorie counts. Read every label. Share treats with friends. Exercise. If you have to, download a smartphone app (I enjoy the Livestrong calorie tracker, which has an extensive food database and syncs your mobile data with your online profile) or keep a food journal to ensure balance. As Buddha would say, the Middle Way is best. Total deprivation, just like total indulgence, is a path to failure.

I hope these tips will help some folks looking for success in 2013. In the days to come, I’ll also talk about exercise and particularly running, which has been a major part of my life this year. In the meantime, stay warm out there and enjoy some food porn–courtesy of my holiday baking frenzy.

Brown sugar cookies with white chocolate chips and almonds.

Brown sugar cookies with white chocolate chips and almonds.

Chocolate Chip Muffins, recipe from Food.com

Chocolate Chip Muffins, recipe from Food.com

photo-17

Last known photo of my Cocoa Brownies (recipe by Alton Brown) before they were scarfed up by me and my two friends. Lousy photo, delicious food.

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Gloomy Sunday

I knew today was going to be a lousy day when I started off with a lousy run. Well, actually it started a few hours before that when I was awakened around 3AM by the sirens and shouting of police breaking up a neighborhood Halloween party. I got up a few hours later to run on too little sleep, too little food, too little motivation, and some knee pain left over from last week. Unsurprisingly, I struggled and cut things short just shy of 6 miles, much less than I was hoping to run today.

Though I tried not to be too hard on myself after the poor showing this morning, I failed at that too. Nothing with me is ever as simple as, “I had a bad run, I’ll do better next time.” A day like today reminds me of how out of shape I used to be. It makes me feel like a pudgy girl again. It reminds me of when my fiance, who broke up with me almost exactly six years ago now, told me I’d put on too much weight and how I was unattractive and lazy. It reminds me of how much heavier I was when I was drinking, and how the last guy who broke my heart told me he didn’t want to deal with me because I drank too much and had too many “issues.” Maybe it doesn’t make sense that I lump these things together, but if you’ve been depressed or know someone with depression, I think you’ll understand what I mean. It’s hard to forget those words. Even if you believe they aren’t true or if you’ve moved past that point in your life, the messages never go away. In your worst moments you let them attack you over and over. What is said can never be unsaid. And even a bad run creates the opening for those voices to remind me how worthless and damaged I am, and the extent to which I have failed to create the life that I wanted.

Today I meditated on the disordered thinking. I tried to practice forgiveness for myself and compassion to others, even to the guys who have hurt me and left these messages that haunt me. I cooked myself a good meal. I managed to get just a little work done. I gave some old clothes to charity. I’m not going to say I turned things around, but I survived that one little moment where I wondered if life is worth living. I had a bad run. And now I move on.

Disappointment

Here’s a list of things I’m disappointed about, in no particular order:

  • I’m disappointed that I can’t seem to extend my long run beyond 5 miles since my injury in February. I’m faster than I used to be, but I hate that I’m still sore in my hamstrings and having IT band soreness after every run.
  • I’m disappointed that my weight loss has leveled off.
  • I’m disappointed that TPTB in my department at Mediocre State University choose to chastise me and make me feel bad about not reaching goals they haven’t given me the means to accomplish.
  • I’m disappointed that I’m not over the last guy I dated. That I still let him get inside my head and that I can’t get excited about any of the new guys I’ve met.
  • I’m disappointed that another birthday is approaching, bringing with it another visit home to see friends with new marriages, new babies… and I feel like my life in the last 12 months has gone exactly nowhere.

*Sadness*

The Weight-ing Game

10K Medal

This will soon be mine.

Well, today was my last day of running before my 10K this weekend. I meant to run 3 miles Thursday, but I was so busted up and sore from Wednesday night’s Krav Maga session that I pushed it to today. I still felt slow and sore, but hopefully I’ll be back on track by Sunday for the Lost Dutchman 10K.

I didn’t really want to make this a running post, though. I wanted to talk about food and weight. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lost about 15 lbs. in the past two months–something I credit to a mostly meat-free diet, no drinking alcohol, and lots of running and exercise. This is a big achievement for me, but if I’ve lost this much weight and I’m somewhat pleased with how I look (and the fact that I’m writing this while wearing jeans that haven’t fit me in at least two years), why am I becoming so fixated on losing more? My weight stayed exactly the same for a little over a week, and it enraged me. I’m annoyed that I still have a gut, I’m counting calories, I keep telling myself that maybe when I lose five or ten more pounds I’ll reward myself with X, Y, or Z, and I probably felt crappy on my run this morning because I skipped working out yesterday and then didn’t allow myself to eat enough as a consequence.

It’s ironic that in a society where over a third of us are obese, the pressure to be thin remains intense. As a single woman in my 30s, I definitely get it. I’ve had the same brains and personality my whole life; that doesn’t determine the level of attention I get from men. When I was 140-150 lbs. (at 5’7″), I got dates. When I was 188, not so much. Of the three guys in my life who I’ve dated long-term, two of them criticized my weight at some point in the relationship… and I dated those guys when I was at least a size smaller than I am now. I hate to be telling myself that the reason I’m single is because I’m a bit heavy, and I know intuitively it isn’t true, but once someone puts that thought in your head it sure stays with you.

Men are only part of the problem, though. Arizona is also a tough place to be a larger girl. I say large-r because I’m wearing a size 8/10 now, and I’m still bigger than a lot of the women I encounter on a daily basis. I can’t tell what’s in the water here, but there’s an epidemic of 20-something girls who are under 5’5″ and about a size zero. This is especially true on the college campus I work on, and being exposed to that every day is feeding my complex. I don’t want to be an average-sized, 30-something woman. I want a do-over of the years of my 20s that I wasted on a bad relationship, an unsatisfying job, and a place I hated living in. I can’t change the past, so I’m trying to change my appearance. There it is: A noble goal, but for all the wrong reasons.

I’m so glad this weekend is going to be a race weekend. I need to get out of town, and I consider a 6.2 mile race to be a license to forget about my body snarking and eat a big bowl of pasta, for goodness sake.