Update on The Joy of Less

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Fasting May Not Be Best for Women

If you are a woman, and have tried fasting as a way to lose weight, have you had success?

I thought, initially, that intermittent fasting could be the secret to easy weight loss. I wrote a series of blogs about the awesomeness of fasting: how easy it is and how many wonderful benefits you will most certainly accrue.

The real draw was the idea that I could eat ANYTHING I wanted during the feeding window. Anything! I didn't have to count calories or carbs or meals or snacks. I could snarf down chips and cookies and chocolate bars. I didn't need to worry about wine. As long as I stopped feeding my face by 8pm, I was golden.

Well, just like every other idea that sounds too good to be true, this one is, too.

While I can't speak for anyone else out there, my husband has had a similar experience with intermittent fasting. Basically, he hasn't lost any weight in the past 2 months. (He is much more consistent about measuring his weight than I am, so he knows for sure!)

The theory with intermittent fasting is that you can lose weight (and studies bear this out) by reducing the window during which you consume calories, even if you eat the same number of calories. My hubby and I were both eating from 12noon to 8pm daily. Basically, this meant no breakfast for me, only coffee. I wasn't having too much trouble with the plan, except for the fact that I wasn't losing weight.

Then I began to reduce my calorie intake, on top of the fasting. And my body responded by not sleeping. My calorie intake went down to 1500 per day, and my carbs dipped below 100 grams. I was losing weight, finally, but at the cost of getting a good night sleep. Even with melatonin (a natural sleep aid) and magnesium (another natural sleep aid) I was still lying awake for too many hours. And this is the kind of trade-off I am not willing to make. Sleep is just too important.

The answer? I am easing back on the fasting. Although I will try not to eat after 8pm, I'm going to relax about my morning meals and eat when I feel hungry. Since carbs seem to be important to getting a good night's rest, I am upping my carbs to at least 100 grams per day.

Although fasting might still work for many people, it may not be right for everyone. Women seem to be much more sensitive to even minor decreases in calories and carbs. We need to assess all aspects of our health in order to make good decisions about when, what, and how much to eat.

If you've been experimenting with fasting, I'd love to hear your story.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fix Your Sleep First

When I got my CPR certification, I learned an important rule: breathing trumps bleeding. If someone stops breathing, they don't have more than a few short minutes to live before brain damage then death ensues. So, breathing comes first. Get them breathing before trying to stop the bleeding. In this case, priorities could mean the difference between life and death.

And when it comes to your health, sleep needs to take priority over many other concerns.

Are you struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep? If you are getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, there is a good chance you are sleep-deprived. We humans need anywhere from 7-10 hours per night. Young people who are still growing, pregnant and lactating women, serious athletes, and many other groups tend to need more. Sleep is essential to our mental and physical health. It affects every system in our bodies. Did you know you can literally die from lack of sleep?

Lately, I've been experiencing some sleep disturbances. This is not typical, so I've begun to examine possible reasons for lying awake at night. And there is no lack of possibilities! Are these things an issue for you as well?

1) Caffeine. I am a HUGE coffee lover. Normally I drink a cup in the morning and another cup around 2-3pm. In order to assist my sleep efforts, I am switching to tea in the afternoon. If you are having trouble with getting to sleep, caffeine could be the reason. Check your consumption of coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and energy drinks.

2) Alcohol. Although alcohol is usually classified as a depressant, and can make you feel sleepy at first, as the alcohol wears off, it often awakens people in the middle of the night. If you drink on a regular basis, yet still have trouble sleeping through the night, you might want to decrease your alcohol consumption and see if that helps.

3) Dieting. Cutting back on calories, specifically carbohydrates, can result in insomnia. Unfortunately, if you go too far in this direction, your diet plan could directly result in an inability to sleep, and thus an inability to lose weight. Basically, this is like shooting yourself in the foot to fix an ingrown toenail. Or something like that. Try tracking your carbs over the course of a week. If you're below 100 grams on a daily basis, you might want to up this and see how your body reacts. Low carb diets can also cause you to excrete water, meaning you could be up all night using the bathroom. (Believe me, I know!) Try drinking the bulk of your water earlier in the day.

4) Exercise. One of the symptoms of over-training is insomnia. If you are exercising hard, constantly sore, tired all the time, craving sugar, constantly sick, and unable to sleep, you could be exercising too frequently or too intensely, without giving your body adequate recovery time. This is another example of shooting yourself in the foot. Exercising late at night can also stimulate adrenaline and keep you awake. You might need to switch up your routine.

5) Stress. There are many types of stress and many different stresses that we are all experiencing every single day. While it is impossible to live on this planet with zero stress, there are steps you can take if you feel stress may be interfering with your sleep. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, deep breathing, and even counting sheep can all help relax the body and mind. Take a few minutes each day to develop a specific practice that helps you relax.

6) Screens. We are all addicted to our screens these days. How many hours per day do you spend looking at some sort of screen? Your computer, cellphone, television, I-pad, etc. all count as screen time. This artificial light stimulates our brains and can keep us awake at night. Experts recommend reducing overall screen time, especially during the last couple of hours before going to bed. If you must look at screens at night, try using special glasses designed to filter out the blue light. This might help.

Whatever the cause of insomnia, it is vital that we take steps to remedy the situation. Sleep is not optional; it is mandatory for our continued existence! Get your Zzzzs!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Frozen French Fry Soup

Okay, this sounds strange. I realize that. But our freezer is stuffed to the gills with venison from the two hunters who make use of our land during deer season. I'm not complaining! Loads of free, local, grass-fed meat is nothing to sneer at. But those old French fries had to go.

Before I embarked on my soup experiment, I did a quick google search to check out potential recipes. Of course I found a few. (Think up the weirdest sounding recipe you can imagine and then google it. You'll discover someone has already posted it, along with photographs. True story.) I felt confident I could make a quick, easy, and delicious soup.

To make a long story short, this is exactly what I did!


2-3 TB grass fed butter or tallow (beef fat)
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
32 ounces frozen french fried potatoes
6-8 Kosher dill pickle spears (I used homemade, but store-bought will suffice)
4 cups beef bone broth (homemade is best, but use what you have)
1-2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 TB Worchestershire sauce
3 TB ketchup
1 large bunch of power greens or baby spinach (optional)

In a deep sauce pan or pressure cooker, melt butter or fat. Stir in onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and fries. Cook for a minute then add remaining ingredients except for greens. Cover pot and bring to boil. Turn down heat and simmer about 20 minutes or until fries are soft. Use a handheld blender to process soup until smooth. Toss in the power greens immediately before serving. Stir until the greens wilt. Makes at least 4 large, hearty servings.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

Yes, you read that title right. I'm posting yet another recipe for cheesecake. Why? Because I couldn't sleep last night.

Insomnia is another one of those lovely peri-menopausal symptoms. And when I say "lovely," what I really mean is INFURIATING. If you have ever tossed and turned, fluffed your pillow, kicked your covers around, stomped into the bathroom, stomped back to bed, glared at the clock, sighed, and flipped your pillow over once more, you know what I'm talking about.

Last night, during an episode similar to the description above, I began to fantasize about cheesecake. In my mind, I opened up the fridge and cupboards, scouring the kitchen for possible ingredients and combinations. I love to experiment with different flavors. (Use the search feature on the sidebar of this blog to search all the various types of cheesecakes I have already shared!) I came to the conclusion, without even leaving my bed, that we had everything in the house for me to make an awesome, delicious, yet healthy cheesecake today.

 If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you may have wondered about my obsession with cheesecake. (I have even had one of my cheesecake recipes published! You can find it in The Zumba Lovers Cookbook.) Well, cheesecake can actually be a very nutritious dessert or snack. As long as you don't have an allergy to dairy, of course, and you keep the sugar low. Cottage cheese is high in protein and low in fat and carbs, so this creates the basis for all my cheesecake recipes. I use twice as much cottage cheese as cream cheese. This ratio makes for a creamy treat that is also high in protein. By adding 4 eggs, I once again up the protein. For today's recipe, I added zero sugar to the batter, just using vanilla as a flavoring agent. The chocolate chips add the only refined sugar in this cake.

The crust is made from the above coconut macaroons I found at Costco, combined with a small amount of oats and brazil nuts. You could use any type of nut that you prefer, or eliminate the nuts completely. The coconut macaroons provide some sweetness and are sticky enough to form a crust without any added fat.


32 small coconut macaroons (I recommend Coco-Roons!)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 whole brazil nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt

16 ounces cottage cheese (low fat is fine but avoid non-fat)
8 ounces cream cheese (low fat is fine but NOT non-fat!)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Place the crust ingredients (at top of list) into food processor bowl and pulse until everything is finely ground and sticky. Dump crumbs into deep-dish Pyrex pie pan and press with fingers to form crust on bottom and sides of pan. (Save any excess crumbs and use to sprinkle on top of cheesecake before baking.) Bake crust (unfilled) for 10 minutes and then remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 325F.

To make batter: place eggs and cottage cheese in bowl. Blend with handheld blender. (Alternatively, you can blend in regular blender or food processor.) Add vanilla, salt, and cream cheese. Blend again until batter is completely smooth. Add chocolate chips and stir with spatula. Pour batter into prepared crust. Try to spread the chocolate chips evenly throughout the cake. Bake in center of oven at 325F for about one hour. Check after 45-50 minutes. Cake is done when golden on top and no longer jiggly in the center. Let cool on counter, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Make 8 servings.

Friday, January 27, 2017

From the Diary of a Weight Loss Professional

If you are a middle-aged woman, chances are you have quite a bit of experience with weight loss. You might not be a "professional," but I would bet you know a lot about losing weight. I'm not trying to be sexist here; lots of men also have weight loss experience, but most women begin dieting before they reach their teens. In my case, I was a teenager when I became obsessed with achieving the perfect body at any cost.

Now, after almost 40 years of practice, you'd think I'd have this weight loss thing down. But the only thing that seems to get easier is putting on the pounds. Not really a big surprise, as weight gain is extremely common in middle age.

Last week, I got on the scale for the first time in years. As I mentioned, the numbers were not a cause for celebration. My husband likes to try and convince me that these numbers are only information. You ladies know the truth: the scale can make or break your mood for the day. Maybe the week. This is why I used to avoid the dreaded weigh-in.

However, I am taking a new tack this year.

This past week, I reinstalled My Fitness Pal on my phone. (If you have never used a calorie-counting app, this one is free and highly recommended.) Tracking your calories can be an eye-opening experience. It doesn't matter if you follow Atkins or Whole 30 or Weight Watchers or South Beach, whatever plan you're on, you can track calories, protein, fat, carbs, sugar, and/or other vital nutrients with this app. This is a great way to see where you fall down--on nutrients, or excess sugar, or just consuming too much.

Studies show that simply by tracking food consumption, subjects automatically begin to lose weight. Maybe something subconscious changes when we watch our intake more carefully? Who knows, but it works. And it's as easy as starting a food journal in an old notebook. Or using your phone to snap photos of your meals and snacks. Or loading one of the many free apps onto your phone or I-pad. If you are only ready to take one tiny step toward losing weight, this is an easy one to take.

I continue to fast in the mornings, keeping my same feeding window from 12noon-8pm. Although I have strayed from this pattern on occasion, most days I am able to stick with it. However, this alone has not been enough to help me lose the excess poundage I've been carrying. (Fasting, however, is great for your overall health in many other ways and well worth practicing.)

My latest tactics include cutting back on wine, sugary treats, and bread. I'm allowing myself one glass of red wine on the nights when I don't have to teach the next day. All the sugary treats have been removed from our home. (Thanks to my daughter who looked like the Grinch returning to college with overflowing bags of everything, down to our last can of Who-Hash! It really helps to have absolutely NOTHING in the house made with sugar!) And instead of a sandwich for lunch every day, I've switched over to a salad. Back when I was looking super-cut, I never ate any bread at all... (Sad face.)

I'm also trying to keep in mind that any type of extreme dieting cannot possibly last. If I make my diet excessively stringent, I will end up miserable enough to chew off my own foot. Maybe with a cup of white sugar sprinkled over it. And peri-menopause can be stressful enough, without the loss of bodyparts.

Now for the good news: in the last 7 days, I've lost 1.5 pounds, .5% bodyfat, and .5 inches off my waist. This may not sound like a newspaper-headline-worthy announcement, but it is progress. Things are going in the right direction. And when it comes to weight loss, slow and steady wins the race. Weight loss of more than a couple of pounds per week will not be fat but water weight or even muscle. Better to lose slowly and make sure the loss comes out of your fat stores.

If you are searching for weight loss support, I am here for you. I'm happy to work with you one-on-one over the phone, through email, or face to face. Leave me a comment below. Losing weight is possible!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Are You a Stress Magnet?

My husband likes to quote the Stoic philosophers to me. One of his favorite quotes is: "When you go to the public baths, you have to expect some splashing." I'm not sure how close this is to the original, but you get the idea: whenever you are out in public, you are going to encounter other people who may or may not wear too much perfume, talk too loudly on their cellphones, sit in the seat you wanted, step on your toes in dance class, or find other ways to annoy you.

Yesterday, I taught a class called Yoga for a Stressful World. And during that single hour, I encountered more stress than I normally do in a day. A week. Possibly an entire year.

First, it was a gray and rainy day. Not just dismal, but rain and wind combined. Our morning walk with the dogs consisted of ducking and tucking our chins into our chests to avoid the rain whipping across our faces. So less than half of my students showed up for class. Not a disaster, but not awesome.

Then the metal roof above our studio began to vibrate. This was not a subtle sound. No, it was more like a machine gun or a jackhammer. I wondered how securely the roof was bolted to the building, as there was nothing above our heads but those thin metal sheets! I had to simply stop speaking every time a gust shook the roof as my words were drowned out by the staccato hammering.

During a lull in the roof racket, as we eased our bodies down to the floor for our final relaxation, two women entered through a door I had closed, wheeled a stroller into the corner of the classroom, and continued a conversation loud enough for everyone in class to hear. I sat up, surprised, and said, "We're having a yoga class in here!" As if this fact were not obvious to anyone who cared to see.

I am not lying when I tell you that one of the women looked at me as if annoyed and said, "So?"

Now when the Stoics were considering their trips to the public baths, were they thinking other bathers might throw water directly into their faces? On purpose?

This is when I started to feel like a stress magnet.

Here I am, leading a class which is supposed to RELIEVE the stresses of the world, and instead, the stresses of the world are literally invading the studio and poking their sharp claws into my tender belly.

Later, when I whined to my husband about my stressful encounter, he reminded me that my life isn't really so tough. Sometimes, in the heat of the stressful moment, it can be difficult to remember how good you've got it. I mean, that lady was rude to me!!! I'm sure my adrenaline shot through the metal roof in that moment! But looking back on it, she is probably way more stressed out that I am. More stressed out than I will ever be. And my life is amazingly good. So good, in fact, I rarely encounter nasty splashers at the public baths. (And when I do, I am terribly shocked and traumatized.)

If you are reading this blog right now, and feeling stressed out, remember that you also have it pretty good. You have a roof over your head, and it is not vibrating like a AK-47. You have a computer of some sort or maybe an I-pad or a smartphone. Maybe all three! You have a fridge full of food and money in your bank account. You might even have a yoga teacher who tries her best to reduce your stress levels. Or a husband who brings you back to reality. When you feel like a stress magnet, keep all of this in mind.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Cleopatra: Queen of Denial

I stole my title from an old episode of Rosanne. And I'm guessing that denial is as old as Cleopatra, possibly even older. Is it one of your favorite tactics? I'm afraid it is one of mine. But I'm trying to give myself some tough love instead.

Yesterday I got on the scale. Ouch.

I can't remember the last time I stepped on our home scale. The reason I've avoided it is because it is unforgiving. And accurate. Way too accurate. It gives not just weight in pounds but also percentage of bodyfat. Yup. Ouch.

I'd really like to pretend that I'm in awesome shape. I mean, I can see by looking in the mirror that things have not improved in the past few years. But I keep telling myself that it's not that bad. Everyone puts on a few pounds during menopause. Right? I can still fit into all the same clothing, so how terrible could it be?

Well, much of my clothing is stretchy, so I don't think it is the best judge of my shape. Unfortunately, that mean old scale is the better judge. That and the tape measure which I also employed. Ouch.

In response to this smack in the face, I've decided I need to do more than just intermittent fasting. I've been chowing down on some serious carbs during my feeding window, and it is obvious that my choices have done nothing to promote a smaller waistline. Although I believe fasting is a healthy choice, whether or not it promotes weight loss, my goal is to look as fabulous as I did in my mid-forties. Is this unreachable for a woman tiptoeing into her mid-fifties?

I reinstalled My Fitness Pal on my phone. I entered my (very accurate) weight and goal weight. I have been given 1200 calories per day. My goal is to reduce the number of empty calories I consume at the end of the day. I usually eat about 500 calories at lunch and again at dinner, so I must limit the couch snacking session. This is when the sugar creeps in.

As we all know, sugar is the devil. And we all crave it, unless we have battled this addiction and won. I find the only way to completely rid yourself of sugar cravings is to cleanse your diet of all refined sugars and carbs. Is this challenging? Oh yes! Is this possible? Very.

I'll keep you updated on my progress as I attempt to stay real, to fight off my Cleopatra tendencies,
to banish the sugar that has crept back into my diet, and to replace it with healthy, whole foods. Wish me luck!!!