Chocolate Challenge Check-in, week 1
I've just completed my first week with a dark chocolate protein shake breakfast, replacing my former non-chocolate protein shake. I've also eaten 2 little squares of dark chocolate a day, one around 3:00 pm and the other after dinner. It's too early to be sure if this will be a long-term sustainable strategy, but the first week's results are encouraging. I'm down two pounds and my pants are a little roomier. It could be solely because of my increased attention to diet in general - sort of a placebo effect. Still, it's nice to see movement in the right direction.
The other encouraging indicator is my energy level. With the exception of last Tuesday (following a Monday dinner that included a couple of slices of bread), I've been feeling really amazing. This is notable because I generally just feel pretty good. It was almost like a light switch being thrown. Again, I can't be completely certain it's the chocolate, but that's the main thing I'm doing differently.
Given these early successes, the research will continue!
Healthy Choco-PB Dip
I created this single-serving dessert which is totally guilt-free. It combines healthy dark chocolate with powdered peanut butter, inspired by my friend Robin's "dip strawberries in dark chocolate" idea and my friend Lisa's recent enthusiasm for powdered peanut butter, which has only 22 calories per tablespoon and 85% less fat than regular peanut butter. This choco-PB dipping sauce has only 55 calories, plus the caloric value of the fruit you are dipping into it. Nice.
1 6-gram square of dark chocolate (I used a Xocai Power Square)
1 teaspoon of powdered peanut butter (I used Just Great Stuff Organic)
1 1/2 teaspoons hot water
Put the chocolate in a microwave safe dish and heat it until soft but not hot. Boil some water for tea. (You'll want a hot drink to go with dessert, right?) Add the peanut butter powder to the chocolate and pour the hot water over the top of both. Stir until combined. It will be the consistency of brownie batter (less water for thicker, more water for thinner.) Dip your cut up fruit chunks -- banana, apples, pineapple, berries -- in the choco-PB sauce and eat up! Lick the dish when you think no one is looking. Show restraint and don't go make a second one. Console yourself with the knowledge that you will be able to do this again tomorrow.
Gluten-free at Raw Can Roll in Wayne, PA
The Gluten-free in Delaware County group had an intimate but fun gluten-free meetup at Raw Can Roll Cafe in Wayne. I was a little worried that it would be too earthy crunchy (if there is such a thing), but I was not at all disappointed. The service was wonderful, the selection was vast, and the price was reasonable. It's not a very big place, and there was a steady stream of diners coming in to get lunch, smoothies and food for take out.
The restaurant is almost completely gluten-free. I got the taco salad with delicious faux meat made from an original nut-centric concoction and a nice creamy avocado dressing on the side. It was big enough for me to take half of it home for dinner. We also got to sample the hummus, guacamole, faux chicken salad, and their homemade corn and red pepper chips, crispy onion flatbread and crackers. It was all great. This place is ideal for a gluten-free vegetarian. The staff was very accommodating with regard to additional dietary restrictions as well.
I didn't see anything on the menu that cost more than $10. The smoothies and desserts were in the $5-$8 range. It felt like a great value. I would go there again in an instant. I just wish I lived closer.
Since my big weight loss 3+ years ago, I've gained back 15 pounds from my target weight of 125. It's winter. It's cold out. I'm not running as often. I've been following the same eating plan for the last year. I need a change. As Matt Cutt says, if you want something badly enough, you can do anything for 30 days. If you are a regular here, you know I've written about this before.
One of my new year's resolutions was to replace some of the coffee I drink with green tea. I've kept up with this, and have been drinking anywhere from 1-3 cups a day, some regular, some decaf. Green tea is better for you -- lots of antioxidents, weight loss support and loads of good stuff to support overall optimal heath (more about that here.) I have to admit that I don't actually like it. I mean, it's okay, but I never actually say "Ahhhh, green tea," like I do with coffee.
Not long after I started my tea resolution, I met up with a friend who began eating dark chocolate years ago for the same reasons I started drinking green tea. If you know me, you know I haven't eaten chocolate since the "Heaven From MANNA" truffle incident of 1994, when I came to believe that I do not have an effective chocolate off-switch. But my interest was piqued. After a bit of research, it looks like my issue may have been with the fat and sugar of the chocolate I was eating, and not the cacao itself, which is loaded with antioxidents and other healthy stuff. I want to try something different, so I'm going to try dark chocolate for 30-days. I'll keep a log and I'll keep you apprised. If I find myself sliding off the edge in the presence of the chocolate, I will definitely pull the plug.
Today I started with a dark chocolate protein shake. I'll have a 30-calorie square in the afternoon to keep me away from the salted mixed nuts that I gravitate towards at work. I'll replace my after dinner raisin graze with a square of dark chocolate. I took "before" pictures and measurements (not sure I want to share that yet, but I will when my "after" pictures and measurements demonstrate my amazing transformation.) I'll let you know how it goes.
The Schnauzer Days of Winter
Now is when winter gets hard. The decorations are down and it will be a solid couple of months of weather (in the mid-Atlantic area, anyway) that is mostly too cold and too wet to want to get outside much, peppered with enough warmish days to tease us into thinking that maybe spring will come early. I've put together some ideas and tips for lifting your spirits and making the most of the weeks and months ahead. Maybe you've got some to add?
1. Celebrate not having to mow the lawn. Okay, certainly lawn-mowing is a first-world issue. And I have to admit that I actually enjoy getting out our electric mower (small combustion engines and I don't see eye-to-eye) and taking care of the yard in the late spring and early summer. But by July-August, this is NOT a job I particularly look forward to. So, today I will celebrate the fact that the lawn will stay its short, brown self for quite awhile yet. [This is merely an illustration of looking for the gift of winter, btw.]
2. Plan and live a perfect (winter) day. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness and numerous other books, did research and discovered that the act of planning a completely enjoyable day and then doing it had a long-term effect on a person's happiness level. Just doing the exercise of planning was an eye-opener for me. What would I do with a whole day? I actually got one this past week -- a day on the nearby Poconos ski slopes with my kids. Very fun! But a perfect day doesn't have to be an expensive outing. I can plan a couple with some variations -- good weather or bad, with the family or solo, active or more low-key -- and keep them in mind for a weekend day when I'm not sure what to do with myself and the winter blues are setting in. Maybe each family member or person in your circle can plan a day and you can support each other in making it happen.
3. Help someone else. By either doing a formal. organized volunteer thing or doing something informally, the act of helping others helps us too. My boys shoveled the snow from the neighbor's sidewalk unbidden recently. We've packed food at SHARE (an emergency food distributor and food buying club) and the boys both got to learn how to operate a hand jack and move big pallets of onions, apples, and other vegetables and fruits around the cavernous warehouse. An essential component to happiness is finding a greater meaning outside ourselves. For winter, it's helpful if that contribution to something bigger is not esoteric, but concrete and direct. Also, let me put a plug in for volunteering at the unusual times. Places like SHARE need help year-round, not just at the holidays or Martin Luther King Day. And the experience at the non-popular times will likely mean you get to connect better with the organization or people you are helping.
4. Get and give plenty of hugs and connect with your pets. Both of these activities have been shown to improve mental health. I torture my boys with what I call the 7-second hug. They act like they hate it, but they don't really, My family growing up never hugged, and even when I wanted to when I was older, it would have just been too weird to start. So, I hug my partner and my kids regularly. I know it makes me feel better and science indicates it makes them feel better too. And I think it's the same mechanism that helps us feel better when we play with and cuddle with our pets. I expect they don't particularly like the dreary weather either and they are counting on us to take care of them both physically and emotionally.
5. Watch your favorite old movie or TV show. Sitting in front of a screen for hours generally doesn't increase our happiness level, but I think reliving an old favorite guilt-free is a pleasure to experience once in awhile. (Let me know if you want to borrow any Xena DVDs).
6. Take a class. Another key component to a happy life is engagement -- the experience of becoming so absorbed in something that you don't notice the time passing. While you can do this on your own, I think the structure of a class setting keeps you moving forward when the winter blahs try to suck you into immobility. Maybe a gluten-free cooking class? Maybe a craft? Maybe American History from Reconstruction on? [Just checking to see if you are reading, Jenn!]
7. Get moving. Exercise helps. The only workout you regret is the one you don't do.
8. Do a cleanse. I don't mean a lemon juice-maple syrup-cayenne pepper thing. Not healthy! If you have been thinking about such a thing, check out the PEERtrainer 14-day fresh Start Cleanse. No starvation. Real food. It'll change your outlook and you'll feel totally virtuous.
9. Plan your Next Big Thing. Take some time to dream. Is it your next vacation? A career move? A plan to work on that book you've been thinking about? Take some time during the dark days to imagine what the brighter times will look like. If you need to, find a friend or coach to help you think it through and to create an accountability strategy.
10. Take more baths. Buy yourself flowers. Light some candles. Read a low-brow novel. Do all four. If you are like me, you don't take much time to treat yourself to these little things. It can be really hard -- work, family, Life all seem to come first. It really is okay to carve out a little bit of time for yourself.
Let me know how you fight the winter blues! I'm always looking for new ideas.
Peanut Butter Banana Oat Squares
I was in the mood for something sweet but healthy. I had some bananas reaching their golden years. I was still in my pajamas and wanted to make whatever it would be from ingredients on hand. And I thought I'd go for a vegan option. Voila! Peanut Butter Banana Oat Bars!
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 cup gluten-free oats (the kind that take 10-20 minutes to cook. I use Trader Joe's Rolled Oats)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
4 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the water and the flaxseed in a small dish and let sit for a few minutes (If you don't want to do vegan, beat an egg instead.) Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir until well mixed. Line a 6"x9" baking pan (or some other pan that's on the small size - 8"X8" would probably work) with parchment paper (we've become big fans of the parchment paper lately -- no stick, less oil) or lightly grease the pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour the oat mixture into the pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, untill lightly brown on the edges. Lift the food out of the pan by its parchment paper and let it cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars and enjoy!
Makes 12 squares.
Alterations that might be fun:
Substitue in a different kind of nut or seed butter, or use chunky peanut butter, or add ground nuts
Add in a half a cup of chocolate, butterscotch or vanilla chips. Not as healthy, but really tasty, I bet!