Saturday, September 20, 2014

No More Dara Torres

For the past four years or possibly even more, there has been a photograph of Dara Torres on my fridge. Dara Torres in a bikini. I believe the photo was taken during her last Olympic games, or possibly during her training which led up to those games. I know she was over forty and she was definitely fabulous. She was the epitome of everything I was striving for: strong, fit, gorgeous, talented, a winner.

But as menopause drew closer and closer, I felt my body careening off course. Instead of approaching the perfection of Dara, I was headed off into the ditch. I was gaining weight despite constant exercising. I was tired, bloated, and discouraged.

Starting in January of 2014, I made some changes.

I started off the year with a month of Whole 30. This dietary challenge forced me to confront my sugar addiction. The first time I tried to get off all sugars and all sweeteners, I couldn't last a full month. But this time was different. I was at least ten pounds overweight and extremely unhappy about it. I was very motivated. So I quit not only sugar, but alcohol, grains, legumes, additives, preservatives, all processed foods. And by the end of the 30 days, I had cured my addiction. I was no longer craving sweet treats at the end of each day.

And I'm happy to say, the cure stuck. Nine months later, I am still sugar-free. (With the exception of the occasional scoop of Four Bean Salad!) For the most part, I don't crave anything sweet, and when I do, I can just eat a small amount of fruit. I never bake treats, not even Paleo approved desserts. I know if I have that stuff around, I'll just scarf it up. Instead, I snack on pistachios, plantain chips, grapes or cherries, and the rare, tiny square of very dark chocolate. Although I might have an occasional glass of wine or a beer, my nightly beverage is a mug of decaf green tea.

I haven't stepped on the scale in months and I have no plan to. I have arrived at a place where I feel confident and happy in my body. I like the way I look now. I may not be perfect. I'm no Dara Torres. But I no longer strive to become something I'm not. I'm a little more curvy, not quite as cut, but this is me.

So I took Dara down. She no longer stares at me from my refrigerator door, mocking me with a bikini body I'll never achieve. Because I have something even better now. I have made peace with my own body. My real, flesh-and-bone body. (Maybe a bit more flesh than bone, but that's okay.) I wish the same for all of you.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stress-full or Stress-free?

I'm teaching a new class this fall called Yoga for a Stressful World. And as always, the universe provides exactly what we need at the exact time we need it. So in order to properly teach this class, I apparently needed to experience stress. And the universe provided.

I went from teaching 3 classes per week during the month of August to 8 classes per week, beginning last Monday. Now, if you can believe that anyone who has an 8-hour work week could possibly complain of stress, just keep reading. If you are already sickened by my obviously first-world problems, go ahead and change the channel. I'll wait here.

So, yeah. I had a stressful week. Stuff went wrong. In fact, some stuff went wrong on Monday, then more stuff bugged me on Tuesday. Then came Wednesday. This was my pinnacle of stress. I was bordering on apoplectic. By Wednesday afternoon, I was inviting my sweet and long-suffering husband out for half-price burgers and beers at Bistro Blanc. He instantly agreed to the plan. (While there, I sampled a brew by Baltimore's Duclaw Brewing Co. called Sweet Baby Jesus! No lie! It was a YUMMY milk chocolate and peanut butter flavored stout. Oh, yes. You must get you some.) And although the burgers and beer were delicious, they were not a cure.

I continued to whine and suffer through Thursday and Friday. I found plenty to complain about on our twice-daily walks with the dogs, as my poor, patient husband can attest. My list of perceived infractions and insults was long and egregious. I riled myself up repeatedly, had trouble sleeping at night, felt unable to meditate or calm down. It was an ugly cycle and I was wallowing in it.

Until I remembered the antidote for stress.


Have I mentioned this before? Because I have a sneaking suspicion you may have heard this word out of my mouth on other occasions.

Okay, breathing is important, too. Very important. Stopping, pausing, taking a deep breath is a great start. But then it is vital to remember all the MANY things we have to be thankful for.

Like a smack to the side of the head, I realized I was harping on a tiny handful of teensy little problems while SO many things had actually gone RIGHT during this "stressful" week. I was LUCKY to have 8 classes to teach! This meant enough people had registered for ALL the classes I had decided to offer. MANY people gave me big hugs because they were so happy to be back in class again. Although I was upset about what I perceived to be a few insults, many more people were extremely kind to me. It slowly dawned on me that I had been ignoring all the positive things that had happened during the week, while replaying each negative moment relentlessly. UGH!

But this is what we do.

Yet, every time I learn a lesson (DUH!) I think it should stick. I think I should be done, at least with learning THAT. But no. I am not done.

I have heard someone much wiser than me say life is a SPIRAL journey. We keep coming around again and again, hopefully with a little more understanding, a little more compassion, a bit more wisdom each time. I'm going to try to remember this.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Biggest Loser: Will You Watch?

As I have mentioned in the past, I have always been a fan of the Biggest Loser television show. I've watched almost every season, almost every episode. I've always been inspired by the transformations made by the contestants who lose up to, and sometimes even more than, half their body weight in fat. And they lose the weight through diet and exercise, without drugs or dangerous surgeries.

So why on earth would I ever consider NOT tuning in?

Well, if pressed, I would always have confessed that the show had its problems. And some of those were, and will continue to be, quite serious. I've listed a few:

1) No more Jillian. Jillian Michaels may not be perfect, but you must agree she is gorgeous and intelligent. She clearly cared deeply about her on-show clients, at times even breaking down in tears. She left the show, came back for the last season, but has now quit again. Yes, Bob is still there. And he is a very sweet piece of eye-candy himself.

2) Almost total focus on exercise and close to zero focus on diet and nutrition. If you have ever tried to lose weight by exercising while continuing to overeat and consume empty calories, then you will have learned that this is a path to failure. The clients who appear on the show make no secret of the fact that their diets and relationships to food are broken. That they are addicted to junk food. That they overeat to soothe emotional pain. Exercise is an awesome addition to fixing the diet, but it can never SUBSTITUTE for fixing the underlying problem.

3) Product placement. If you were an alien from another planet who beamed down to earth to analyze our weight loss programs, after watching the show you might conclude that your planet simply lacks enough Subway restaurants. As if this might be the answer to everyone's dietary issues!!! Just visit your local Subway several times a day, chew a few sticks of Extra gum, and enjoy a Jello-brand snack cup and BOOM! Instant weight loss. It is a sad shame that most of the show's food focus goes toward blatant advertising.

4) The ranch. Yes, without the ranch you wouldn't have the same show at all. But removing contestants from their homes and families, from their natural environments, makes weight loss much, much easier. The pantries at the ranch are not stocked with cases of soda, chips, cookies, and candy. There is nothing to do on the ranch besides work out. No job, no kids, no school, no responsibilities beyond the weight loss. Is it really a big surprise that many of these contestants regain some or all of the weight once they get back home?

5) The temptations. For people who are morbidly obese, who have let their addiction to food ruin their bodies, their health, and their lives, putting them in a room filled with junk food and then encouraging them to break their resolve and eat in order to win a prize is BEYOND CRUEL. This is sick torture. If it was heroin or alcohol, would we watch? Where do we draw the line?

6) Last but not least: the prize money. This is truly my biggest beef with the show. Over the summer, I've been watching Extreme Weight Loss Makeover with Chris Powell. I believe this show does many things better than Biggest Loser. And there is no cash prize at the end of the year-long journey because WEIGHT LOSS IS THE PRIZE! Transforming your body, your health, your relationship to food, and your entire life is the prize. And this prize is PRICELESS. Offering an enormous cash reward simply puts the focus where it does not belong and encourages contestants to lose an UNHEALTHY amount of weight, losing muscle as well as fat, and putting their health in jeopardy.

There. I think my rant is finished now.

To be perfectly honest, I'll probably watch the show despite what I consider to be serious problems. I'll watch because I admire the contestants who are willing to work hard and be vulnerable in order to make their transformations. I'll get excited for them and cheer them on. And I'll complain about everything the show does wrong. If you're not my husband, you won't have to put up with any more of that, though!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Saga of the Four Bean Salad

While strolling down the aisles of our local Costco, my eye was drawn, once again, to the jars of Four Bean Salad. Of course these jars were large. And it was impossible to purchase just one single jar. No, at Costco you almost always need to purchase two of anything. In order for me to taste this delectable side dish, I would have to make a significant commitment.

Therefore, I bi-passed the bean salad on numerous occasions. I gazed longingly, craving the combination of hearty legumes and piquant dressing, but believed the jarred salad not to be up to my stringent standards. You see, I try to eat only whole foods, unprocessed, containing no preservatives or additives.

And I avoid added sugar like crack cocaine. Here's an example:

"Would you care for a little crack cocaine in your coffee?"

Me: (Gasp.) Of course not!

Then, one fine day in June, I paused in front of the Four Bean Salad. I reached a tentative hand toward the shelf. And I lifted up the set of double jars. But I didn't have my glasses. And without my glasses, I am blinder than a blind cave fish.

"Darling," I passed the jars to my husband. "Can you tell me what's in this?"

He squinted at the label (he didn't have his glasses, either) and read the ingredients aloud. No sugar. No sugar? No sweetener of any kind? No, he assured me. None.

Well, those jars went straight into our cart. And as soon as we got home, the tasty treat went into my mouth. Delicious. Scrumptious. The best bean salad I've ever tasted. So flavorful. Just a tad bit spicy. Must have a bit of hot red pepper flake, I surmised.

Soon I was downing great heaping spoonfuls. Consuming cupfuls at a sitting. When I got to the bottom of the first jar, I chugged the leftover dressing. Heavenly. All the while, I was proclaiming to whoever happened to be near: "No sugar! Can you believe it?"

Well, I eventually picked up my glasses and confirmed my very worst secret fear. ACK! Not only was sugar listed on the label, but it was THE SECOND INGREDIENT! Each small, half-cup serving contained eleven grams of sugar. And I had not been limiting myself to half-cup servings of the stuff. Not by a long shot.

Although deeply disappointed, and highly suspicious of my husband, I had to admit I now had a serious problem. Addicted to Four Bean Salad, I headed straight back to Costco and purchased two more jars. No way would I quit. No cold turkey for me. Instead, I got my whole family hooked. I'm working on friends and neighbors now.

Care for a bite?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Potluck Picnic with Recipes

To end our summer season of bootcamp in the park, we always share a potluck picnic. And the dishes never disappoint! My bootcamp women are not just strong and fearless, they are also great cooks. (And great photographers! Thanks to Patti for the pictures!)

Throughout our final bootcamp class, I reminded participants that we had PIE to look forward to at the end of the workout. Homemade pie. Concord grape pie made from scratch with grapes from my backyard. Who made this beautiful pie? Patti offered the use of her kitchen, Michelle made the crust and decorated the top with her lovely latticework, and I harvested the grapes.
Here's how we made it:

Concord Grape Pie
2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 cup ice water

Place all ingredients except water into bowl of food processor and pulse until combined. Add ice water a little at a time until dough forms a ball. Remove dough and refrigerate, wrapped in plastic, for several hours or overnight. Divide dough in half and roll each half into a circle about 1/4 inch thick. Use one half for bottom crust and other half for top crust.

5 and 1/2 cups concord grape pulp and skins, with seeds removed
1/2 cup sugar (for a tart pie, not too sweet!)
3 TB instant tapioca
1-2 TB cold butter cut into small pieces

In order to remove the seeds, first each grape must be squeezed to separate the skin from the pulp. The pulp is then simmered for several minutes until soft. Press the pulp through a food mill to extract the seeds. Pulse the grape skins in a food processor about 8 times until roughly chopped. Mix the skins and seedless pulp together with tapioca. Let filling sit in fridge for 2 hours or longer. Add sugar and salt. Then pour filling into unbaked pie crust. Top with upper crust. Dot with butter pieces. (Lattice looks beautiful with this purple filling!) Bake pie at 400F for 20 minutes then reduce heat to 350F and bake another 30 minutes or more if needed. Let pie cool before serving. Filling may be runny when warm, but will set up when refrigerated.

There may be more recipes to come, if my bootcampers send me their delicious info to share with you. Here is a photo of our gorgeous spread:


Friday, September 5, 2014

Sweat and More Sweat

Today is going to be another sweaty one. I'm sweating already as I type these words. Our morning walk with the dogs was sweatier than usual. I think the temperature may hit 90F this afternoon. All summer long, we managed to avoid the 90's but now that it's September, summer heat has hit us!

Today is also the final day of bootcamp. I am both glad to switch to indoor classes for the fall, and sorry to see the summer sweat-sessions end. There is NOTHING like a bootcamp workout for whipping one into shape. When else am I going to sprint up hills or stairs? (I'll answer that question for you: NEVER!) Not to mention the pull-up's and push-up's, the one-legged squats, the box jumps and thrusters. I could go on and on. Bootcamp pushes me in a way that my other classes can't.

But change is good.

I have to keep reminding myself of this fact.

Change is good for everything. Good for the physical body. Good for the muscles and bones. The same workout day after day, week after week, can wreak havoc on the body. Professional athletes know this and usually have a season where they rest, heal, relax, gain weight, and prepare for the next bout of training. If you're not up for total relaxation, just changing your routine can offer a similar respite. If you run all the time, you might like to try a lower impact exercise to give your joints a break; swimming, biking, rollerblading, skiing, or skating are all excellent options.

Change is also good for your mind. Change can wake up your brain, offer new stimuli to your senses, and possibly help you feel younger, happier, more energetic. For my upcoming Fit Jam classes, I'm learning all new choreography to an hour's worth of new songs. Sure, it would be easier to just repeat the same songs I introduced during my summer session (those were also all new!) but I find that I'm more excited about teaching new material. And if I'm excited, hopefully this will spread to my students!

So I will sweat one more time out in the park this morning, running, jumping, pulling and pushing my body weight around. Then I'll enjoy our potluck picnic in the pavilion to celebrate the end of summer bootcamp. And after today, I'll be back in the studios at Gary Arthur Community Center in Glenwood, Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville, and Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City for my indoor classes (Fit Jam, Pilates Plus, and Yoga for a Stressful World) offered through Howard County Rec and Parks.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Glyndon Grill

For my hubby's birthday, I wanted to take him somewhere new and different. When I spotted a Groupon for the Glyndon Grill, I took a look at their menu online and decided it was right up our alley.

This new restaurant opened last October on Butler Road in Glyndon, Maryland, which is next to Reisterstown. It was a bit of a drive for us, maybe half an hour, but that only added to the adventure. The pouring rain was an element we could have done without, though.

Luckily the storm eased as we pulled into the parking lot. The restaurant is a store front in a small shopping center. But once you enter the space, you are transported by the stylish, contemporary feel. We were offered the choice of a high or low table. The high tables are up front, near the bar, while the traditional tables are in the back. Although we were fairly early for dinner, the place was already quite busy.

Our waiter was young, friendly, talkative and charming. We ordered appetizers and entrees at the same time, which might have been a mistake, as the two courses arrived almost simultaneously. However, we went with the flow and just ate everything as if it were one big meal! No problem!

I was a bit worried when I saw the size of my "appetizer" salad, as I knew they offered an entree size portion of the same house salad. But our waiter assured me that I had received the $6 size and not the $12. It was a generous serving of field greens with goat cheese and candied pecans. Very yummy!

I also ordered the lobster roll. ($19) All the sandwiches come with shoestring fries. The lobster was piled quite high on the toasted roll, and the fries were not overcooked. (One of my pet peeves!) I couldn't taste the herbs in the herb mayo on the lobster, but I still enjoyed the roll. Perhaps a heavier hand with the seasoning might have detracted from the flavor of the lobster meat.
Those chips behind my plate belong to my husband's appetizer: spinach artichoke dip with tortilla chips. The dip was very runny compared to my homemade version, and I didn't care for it, but my husband polished off the whole thing. He also ordered the Hickory Burger, ($12) with barbeque sauce and Canadian bacon on top. I didn't taste it, but he assured me it was delicious.

Overall, I was very pleased with our meal. I have to say, our friendly waiter put the experience over the top for me. He visited our table often and chatted about his mom and dad, his girlfriend, his college courses, and his career plans. Maybe because my kids are the same age, I found this delightful. 

I'd recommend the Glyndon Grill for couples or families looking for a casual but upscale place to dine. They have a full bar, including local beers, wine by the glass, and signature cocktails. Maybe the next time we dine there, I'll try some and report back to you.

On the drive home, the sun peeked out as it continued to rain. We spotted a beautiful rainbow against a dark sky. No pot of gold, but definitely a wonderful evening.