Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thank you!

I want to dedicate a post to showing appreciation for all of the love and support I got from my friends and family throughout my weight loss journey.  I'm a very lucky girl to have so many caring, supportive people in my life and I need to give you guys a shout out!

Challenging yourself mentally the way you do when you try to change your body eventually all comes down to you and what decisions you make.  That said, having the people in your life support you unconditionally throughout the process can make things a whole lot easier.  It was also great to hear so many people giving me suggestions and swapping ideas with me.  I learned a lot about good food choices and great workout ideas from other people. 

To my friends, thank you for putting up with me this whole time and not giving up on me!  I know I was cranky sometimes, and sometimes I skipped the bar in favor of getting a good night's sleep and going to the gym early the next morning.  Sorry for missing out on 15 weeks worth of Friday nights out with you for the sake of my 15 Saturday morning weigh-ins.  Thank you for loving me anyway and understanding that I was doing what I needed to do to better myself and having the patience to wait for fun Julia to re-emerge at the end of the tunnel!

One person in particular stands out among the rest as being there for me every step of the way, from going for Sunday afternoon runs with me when all he wanted to do was lay on the couch watching Bravo, to coming up with family dinner ideas that were healthy enough for me to eat, too.  To my BFF Ken, I love you so much and I appreciate all the help you've given me over the last 3 months, and even before.  You're such a positive, motivating influence in my life and I don't think I could have reached my goal without your constant encouragement and enthusiasm!

To the rest of you - everyone who "liked" my posts on Facebook, everyone who left encouraging comments, everyone who complimented me on my progress when they saw me - THANK YOU!!!  Knowing that there were people out there who actually cared about me succeeding and wanted me to achieve my goal helped me stay focused right up until the very end.  Hearing that you noticed a difference in my body reinforced the fact that my plan was working.  Just knowing that somebody out there was actually reading this blog and keeping up with my progress forced me to be accountable for everything I did or didn't do. Even on the days when all I wanted to do was give up, when I was tempted to skip the gym after work or when I was craving cheeseburgers and fries, you are who I thought about.  I didn't want to let you down, so I continued.

Basically, this challenge would have been a hell of a lot harder without all of you encouraging me and rooting for me along the way.  So thank you, from the depths of my now-16-pounds-lighter soul, for all your positivity and love!!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Week 15/Final Update!

Well, well, well.  Here I am at the end of my weight loss challenge and I can't believe it's finally over!  For the past 15 weeks I have been working my butt off (literally) to try to lose 15 pounds.  It all began with a giant wake-up call in the form of me stepping on the scale one day and deciding that enough was enough.  Things were getting out of hand, and my health and happiness were on the line.  It was that moment that made me decide to get myself in gear and make some serious changes, and that's exactly what I did.  I set a realistic, yet challenging goal for myself: lose 15 pounds in 15 weeks.  With Memorial Day weekend beach plans with my friends looming in the distance, 15 weeks was exactly how long I had to get myself ready for bikini season.  My plan was simple - move more, eat less.  I tracked my food intake, counted calories, and worked out regularly.  In the end, I was more than successful at achieving my goal, and now I'd like to share my final results with all of you!

I didn't post my weight on this blog when I kicked off the challenge, mostly because I was so embarassed.  Now that it's over, I'd like to give everyone the full scope of how much my body has changed over the last 15 weeks:

Starting weight: 163 lbs
Ending weight: 147 lbs
Total weight loss: 16 lbs - that's 10% of my body weight!!!

Starting BMI: 28 (overweight - 30 or higher is obese)
Ending BMI: 25.2 (Still technically overweight, but just over the line from being "normal" [18.5-24.9])
Total BMI lowered by 2.8

Starting body fat %: 28
Ending body fat %: 23 
Total body fat loss: 5%
(Average body fat percentage for women is 25% - 31%, "Fitness" level is 21% - 24%)

To put this all in perspective for anyone out there reading this who doesn't know me, I'm a 25-year old female and I'm 5'4".  Also, because I know that this is what a lot of people were hoping for, I decided to swallow my embarassment and give you some before and after photos as evidence of these changes!

"Before" photos taken: 2/2/13
"After" photos taken: 5/19/13

The bottoms I'm wearing are part of a bikini that I was really hoping I would fit back into in time for my beach getaway this coming weekend, and thanks to my efforts I'll actually be able to!

So there you have it - I wanted to lose 15 pounds in 15 weeks, and in the end I managed to lose 16!  I also drastically reduced my body fat percentage and lowered my BMI.  Now I'm right over the line from having a "normal" BMI, and I reduced my body fat by FIVE PERCENT!

I'm also very proud of the fact that I did this completely on my own.  By that I mean that I didn't have a personal trainer, nutritionist, or chef, I didn't do any cleanses or fad diets, and I didn't take any supplements or mystery pills; all I did was get a gym membership.  Pure diet and exercise is what it really comes down to when you're trying to lose weight. 

All in all, I just feel so much better after having finished my own personal weight loss challenge.  This was really about so much more than just a number on a scale, even if that's what my impetus was for getting things started.  I've made so many positive changes in terms of my diet and exercise habits, and I hope to keep those healthy new habits and use them to maintain my body the way it is now.  Maybe in the future I will challenge myself once again and try to make more changes in my body, but for now I'm so perfectly happy with all that I have achieved over the last few months and I fully intend to enjoy my renewed sense of happiness and well-being throughout the summer!  Cheers!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Weekly Tip: For the Snackers

You know who you are.  You're the one who strays to the kitchen cabinet when you're bored, looking for something to munch on.  You're the one who can't sit through a movie without something sweet to nibble on.  You're the one who will keep eating even after you're full as long as there's still food in front of you... You're a snacker.  Don't worry, no judgment here - I'm a snacker too, and today I'd like to give you some helpful tips to curb your snack-stealing ways.
  • Chew gum - If you're anything like me, you just need to have something to chew on.  Many times I find that I'm halfway through eating something and I realize that I don't even want it anymore, I'm just eating it to have something to munch on.  If that's the case, always having gum nearby can give you something to chew on without giving you extra calories.
  • Stay busy - A lot times I find I'm snacking out of boredom, which means I just need to find something else to occupy myself with until I stop thinking about using food as a means to pass time.  If this means going out for a stroll or finally getting some cleaning done, even better!
  • Track it - It's very easy to trick yourself into thinking that if you only eat a tiny bit of something then it doesn't count.  Well let me tell you, it does.  If you start tracking everything you eat, even the tiniest little spoonful of something, you'll see that it all definitely adds up in the end, which could stop you from reaching into the pantry for "just a little taste" of something.
  • Surround yourself with healthy snacks - If you don't have junk food nearby, you're a lot less likely to eat it.  If you must keep a supply of snacks around at all times, make sure they're healthy ones.  I'm a big fan of trail mix, but those 100-calorie snack packs also work (if you can stick to just one), or fresh veggies and hummus.  If your healthy food is as easily accessible as some of the other less-healthy options, you're more likely to make smarter choices.
Hopefully these little tips will help you as much as they've helped me!  I know I love to always have a little something around to munch on, and that was one of the hardest challenges to conquer throughout my weight loss process.  Implement these tricks and you may find your weight loss goals are more attainable too!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuna Macaroni Salad

One of the recipes I made this week was this healthy take on Tuna Macaroni Salad that uses greek yogurt as a subtitute for all the mayo you'd usually use.  It tasted great and I'm happy I found a healthy version of one of my favorite summer foods!

You will need:
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
2 cans of chunk light tuna packed in water, drained
3 cups cooked whole grain pasta (I accidentally made 4 cups so it came a little more dry than it probably should, but still tasty!)
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
2 tbs light mayo
1/2 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt
1 tbs red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

-Mix everything together

Literally, that's it!  I'm a huge fan of mac salad with tuna and peas in it, so when I came across this recipe I was pretty pumped.  The greek yogurt really saves you a lot of the fat and makes you feel a lot less guilty about eating this!  I also used whole wheat pasta to make it even better.

Estimated nutrition info from Yields 6 servings, serving size: 1 cup.  Calories 244; Total Fat 2.5g; Saturated Fat 0.2g; Cholesterol 13.3mg; Sodium 261.8mg; Carbs 43.7g; Dietary Fiber 4.8g; Sugars 5.4g; Protein 17.7g.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Week 14 Update

Well, folks, here we are: it's almost over, only one week left in my challenge!  Since losing the 15 pounds, I have tried to stick with my plan and see if I can lose any more weight, but I have to admit I've been particularly lax, especially last weekend.  I had friends in town visiting, went to a beerfest, and it was cinco de mayo.  I may have partied a little too hard because of those things, but really I only have myself to blame for my week 14 results.

Physical Fitness:
-5/4/13: ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes
-5/6/13: went on the elliptical for 30 minutes and then ran 1 mile on the treadmill
-5/8/13: BODYSTEP
-5/9/13: ran outside for 35 minutes, went 3.2 miles
-5/10/13: ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes

I tried to work out extra hard to make up for my weekend fun.  I've been doing a lot of running and it's grown to be much more bearable than it was in the beginning.  I used to hate running, now it's something I tolerate.  After all, it's one of the best forms of straight up cardio you can do.  So far the spring weather has been perfect for running outside, but I'm concerned that once the DC summer weather really kicks in it'll be too hot and I'll be relegated to the treadmill.  Or maybe I'll try to force myself to get up earlier more often to fit in morning runs before work, and before the temperature rises too much for the day.

I did a good job with food during the week and ate pretty much all the normal things.  The problem during week 14 came from my weekend partying.  In particular, on cinco de mayo my friends and I all went to a beerfest and despite my best intentions, I let the alcohol influence my food choices and I wasn't strict enough about it.  The beerfest was followed by a cinco de mayo dinner, complete with margaritas.  I know I've talked about this before, but alcohol really is just completely terrible for you if you're trying to lose weight.  Not only is it empty calories with little to no nutritional value, but alcohol itself slows down the fat burning process, and influences you to make poor decisions food-wise.  That's why as of the seis de mayo, I decided that I wouldn't drink any more alcohol until my challenge is over and I'm at the beach with my friends.  The Outer Banks trip that I'm taking over Memorial Day weekend was what inspired me to start losing weight in the first place and marks the end of my weight loss journey, so what better place to celebrate my success and end my detox than a sunny beach vacation surrounded by my friends?  God, I can't wait to have a gin and tonic...

Once again I didn't use my time efficiently enough to schedule in a night to cook something new.  I am making up for it by making 2 new recipes during Week 15, though!  One of them was a healthy tuna macaroni salad that I made last night - recipe to follow.

Thanks to my partying ways last weekend and depite my attempts to make up for it with 6 workouts throughout the week, last week I lost...


That's right, once again I have stayed the exact same.  It would have been nice to lose another pound, but I'm still very pleased with making my 15 pound goal so it's good to know that I didn't derail all that progress by gaining weight back last week.  I also think at this point my body has completely gotten used to my new lifestyle in terms of diet and exercise so I'm hitting that plateau I've been dreading.  I'll try and push through that to see if I can lose any more weight in the last week of my journey.  I'm motivated and ready to move forward through the 15th and FINAL week of this challenge!!!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Workout Song of the Week: Conor Maynard

This week I'm feeling the pop tunes more than the angry rock ones, so I'd like to share this little gem with you that I found a while back thanks to iTunes: Conor Maynard "Animal"

This song gets me pumped up for workouts for so many different reasons.  It's got a great bouncing beat and you know by now that I'm a huge fan of anything synth-heavy.  There's also something so motivating about a guy singing about a woman who keeps messing with his mind!  A pop song to the core, this jam gets me up and running every time.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Weekly Tip: Translating Restaurant Menus

It's going to happen to you at some point in your weight loss journey, it's inevitable: you're going to eat out at a restaurant.  Situations like going out to eat make it difficult for people to make good food choices because there's so much temptation, but there are ways to interpret the menu and figure out which dishes you should opt for.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

-Good: grilled, broiled, roasted, baked, steamed, steamed, blackened or poached

-Bad: pan-fried, sautéed, battered, breaded, au gratin, cheesy, creamy, buttered, deep-fried, béarnaise, or crispy

-Go for veggies!  You don't necessarily have to order a salad, but when looking over the menu try to pick out the items that include lots of veggies.  Opt for sides like steamed vegetables instead of french fries.

-Keep it simple! Aim for the simpler sounding dishes.  The more complicated a dish sounds, the more ingredients it has in it, which means the more calories it probably has.

-Sammies: order sandwiches with whole wheat, pita, or multi-grain bread. 

-Get saucy! Watch out for cream or cheese sauces, try to choose lighter sauces and clear broths instead.

Of course there are other great tips for eating healthy when eating out as well:

-Look up the menu online before hand and have an idea of which things you can eat before you go.  Try to make a plan and stick with it.
-Ask for a half portion, or ask the server to box up half your entree before serving it to you.
-If you know you're going out to eat for dinner, try to eat lighter or get a good work out in earlier in the day.  Don't skip meals, however, since then you'll show up to the restaurant starving and probably make poor choices.
-Remember: you're the guest at the restaurant, which means they'll give you what you want.  Don't be afraid to customize a dish or ask for substitutions.

Happy dining!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Portobella Mushroom Pizza

I took a turn cooking family dinner for my friends last Sunday and decided to try out this recipe for Portobella Mushroom Pizza.  It's such a fun and healthy twist on normal pizza; you cut out the starch by using mushroom caps instead of dough!  It's also perfect because each mushroom cap is the perfect portion for 1 person.

You will need:
4 large portobella mushrooms (I used 6 since I was cooking for more people, so in that case you can also use a little more tomato and onion etc to make more of the sauce)
4 tomatoes, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 onion, chopped
5 leaves fresh basil, chopped
parmigiano reggiano cheese
fresh parsley
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs olive oil

the sauce simmering away

empty mushroom caps just waiting to be filled!

"pizzas" ready for baking
-Preheat the oven to 400F.
-Heat up the olive oil in a pan.
-Add the onion and stir until it’s slightly brown.
-Add the tomatoes, garlic, leek, and a pinch of salt to the onions. Saute the ingredients until the tomatoes are soft.
-Squeeze about 1 table spoon of fresh lemon juice over the ingredients.
-Add about 5 leaves of chopped, fresh basil.
-Spray olive oil on a baking sheet and place the mushrooms on the sheet with the bottom side up.
-Add the mixed ingredients from the sauce pan into each mushroom and top with grated parmegiano cheese.
-Bake for 12 minutes.
-Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley. Ready to serve!

Just out of the oven

close up

so much cheesy, saucy goodness!
This was such an easy and creative recipe.  You could also play around with the toppings a bit and put on whatever you want.  It's full of veggies, super tasty, and each mushroom cap is only 200 calories!  If you're looking for a healthier twist on plain old pizza, you should definitely try this.

Estimated nutrition info from per 1 mushroom cap: Calories 209; Total Fat 12.6g; Saturated Fat 4g; Cholesterol 15mg; Sodium 187.8mg; Carbs 12.9g; Dietary Fiber 3.3g; Sugars 2.9g; Protein 8.9g.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Week 13 Update

Well, apparently I've hit my plateau.  I knew it would happen eventually, and at least it happened after I already lost my goal of 15 pounds!  I was pretty good during Week 13 and worked out 6 times, but it seems my body has finally hit a wall.  Here's the recap:

Physical Activity:
-4/27/13: ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes
-4/28/13: ran outside for 45 minutes, went 4 miles!
-4/29/13: ran on the treadmill for 30 minutes
-4/30/13: BODYATTACK
-5/1/13: BODYSTEP
-5/2/13: ran outside for 40 minutes, went 3.2 miles

My office did a 5k walk/run to raise money for Boston last week, and I decided to run it to get my workout in for that day.  I got off to a slow start because I was walking with my coworkers for about the first half mile but then I took off and did the rest of the route running.  I'm happy with the knowledge that I can actually run a 5k the whole way without stopping, so I decided to sign up for a 5k race that my friends are doing in June.  That's another one of my challenge goals to check off the list!

Food and drink could probably have been better during Week 13, but it also could have been worse.  I drank more than I normally do last weekend, and I also had friends visiting this past weekend so that combined with the cinco de mayo beerfest that I went to yesterday means I didn't start Week 14 off in the best way that I could have either.  Because of that, I decided that from now until I leave for my Outer Banks trip, which is about 2 1/2 weeks away, I'm not going to drink any alcohol.  I don't think I drink too much or anything, but I definitely think alcohol impacts the choices I make in regard to food, and alcohol inhibits the fat-burning process, in addition to it's other reasons for being something you should avoid when trying to lose weight.  I really want to focus on getting the most out of the last 2 weeks of my challenge, so it's time to detox!

I made 2 recipes during Week 13 to make up for the fact that I didn't have time to cook anything the week previous.  One of the dishes I prepared was this Three Bean Salad recipe that I got from my mom, and the other was a recipe for Portobella Mushroom Pizzas!  Those came out great, they were essentially mushroom caps stuffed with sauce and cheese and then baked.  They were deee-licious and I'll be posting the recipe later this week.

As far as my weight loss results for week 13, I lost...


I think I was probably so happy that I had already lost my 15 pounds that I was more lax during the week and therefore didn't continue to lose weight.  Also, I think at this point my body has adjusted to my new levels of fitness and it will be even more difficult to continue to lose weight.  The number on the scale stayed the same, but that's okay with me.  I'm happy as long as I'm not gaining back the weight I worked to hard to lose! 

There was another important milestone I reached last week that meant more to me than losing an extra pound would have.  You see, there's this pair of jeans I own.  I bought them sometime in late 2011/early 2012, and if I'm being honest, they were probably too tight for me even when I bought them.  I still wore them, but by fall of 2012 they were ridiculously tight on me to the point that I could barely get them closed.  I stopped wearing those jeans for a long time because I just plain couldn't.  Those jeans have been in the back of my mind ever since I started my weight loss challenge.  I refused to try them on throughout the last 13 weeks because I wanted to use them as a benchmark for my progress at the end of the road.  Well, since I lost the 15 pounds, last week I decided to put the jeans back on.  I almost cried when I realized that not only can I get the jeans on again, they fit PERFECTLY, even better than when I first purchased them.  Seeing real, tangible change like that means just as much to me as seeing the numbers on the scale decrease every week, so even if I don't lose any more than the 15 pounds I was initially aiming for, I'm satisfied with knowing that I have clearly changed my body.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Weekly Tip: The Support System

Much like my advice to find a workout buddy, this week's tip also involves the people around you: the people who encourage you to keep going, the people you can lean on when you're struggling with your progress, the people who keep telling you how great you look and what a good job you're doing even when you don't see it yourself.  These people are your support system, and it's important that everyone trying to lose weight or achieve fitness goals has that in their lives.

Throughout my challenge I've been amazed at the continuous support and encouragement I've received from the people around me.  People have constantly been telling me what a great job I'm doing and how I've inspired them to start working on their own goals.  Comments like that mean the world to me and make me that much more motivated to keep going because I feel like I'm setting a good example.  It also feels good to know that the people around you are paying attention to what you're doing and truly want to see you succeed.  I will be eternally grateful for the people who have been supporting me for the past few months of this challenge, but that's a post for another day...

I also have a piece of advice for those people who make up the support system of somebody who's working on their health and fitness goals:

1) Try not to comment on what they eat.  Obviously someone who's trying to lose weight understands that they need to adjust their diet as part of their plan, so most likely they've already thought about what they're putting in their mouth.  If they decide to have a cheat meal or they know they've worked out enough that day to earn that extra beer, that's up to them.  There's nothing worse when you're trying to lose weight than feeling like the people around you are judging what you eat.  The only exception to this rule is if that person cooks you something.  Then you are definitely allowed to comment, and hopefully sing their praises.

2) You can never compliment them enough!  People who are working hard at achieving their weight loss goals want to feel like other people notice a difference.  You can never tell them too many times how great they look or what a good job they're doing it.  Praise them, and praise them often!  Who knows, your comment might be just the thing they needed to motivate them into the gym the next morning when they were considering skipping out.

3) Don't give them excuses to slack off.  Leave the decision of when/where/how much to work out and what/when/how much to eat up to the person responsible: the person trying to lose the weight.  Telling someone that they can have the loaded nachos at dinner instead of the Greek salad because "you've been working so hard, you've earned it, you have to give yourself a break sometimes" only encourages that person to slip up.  Obviously at the end of the day, someone who's trying to lose weight is in charge of what they eat and how much they exercise, but when you tell that person that it's okay for them to cheat on a day when maybe they weren't planning on cheating, it only makes it harder for them to hang on to their self-control and make good choices.  Be encouraging, but don't give them any excuses.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mom's Three Bean Salad

This past Sunday afternoon as I was standing in my kitchen singing along to Enya, mixing up this three bean salad that my mom always makes and wearing a dress that my mom also owns, it suddenly dawned on me: I have officially turned into my mother!  The whole scene was literally a flashback to any number of such afternoons in my childhood, but instead of my mother dancing around the kitchen with me watching, this time it was me!  This is not at all a bad thing; those of you who are fortunate enough to know my mom already know what an amazing woman she is, and for those of you who don't know her, you can take my word for it.  I'm happy to be a living replica of such a wonderful woman.  So in honor of my mom, and the fact that Mother's Day is right around the corner, I'd like to share one of her recipes with you: her Three Bean Salad.

You will need:
2/3 cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cans each, drained: green beans, yellow wax beans, kidney beans (use the low sodium kind!)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery

Mix everything together in a bowl.  Literally, that's it!

Since I didn't make anything during Week 12, I made 2 recipes on Sunday to make up for it and this was one of them.  This salad is really light and refreshing, with a touch of sweetness from the sugar.  It's the perfect side dish for a cookout or a picnic. The beans are full of protein and the celery adds a nice crunch.

Estimated nutrition info from Yeilds 8 servings, serving size: 1 cup.  Calories 240; Total Fat 9.5g; Saturated Fat 1.4g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 87.6mg; Carbs 35.9g; Dietary Fiber 7.6g; Sugars 19.2g; Protein 6.4g.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Week 12 Update

Well folks, I DID IT!  I FREAKING DID IT!!!  I'm not even going to make you wait until the end of this post to find out because I'm just so happy that I did it!!! I lost 15 pounds, and it only took me 12 weeks instead of 15!  By far the best weigh-in of this whole challenge was this past Saturday morning when I stepped on the scale and saw that I shed that 1 last pound to get me to my goal.  I can't even describe how amazing it feels to know that I actually did it, I achieved this goal that I had set for myself, and ahead of schedule to boot!  I still have 3 weeks remaining in my challenge, so I'm going to keep working hard to see if I can lose more weight, but it's nice to know that anything I lose now will just be an added bonus!  

Here's the recap of this magical week:

Physical Activity:
4/20/13: ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes
4/21/13: ran outside for an hour (went about 4.5 miles total, ran for about 2.75 miles of that)
4/22/13: ran outside for 35 minutes (went 3.5 miles)
4/25/13: ran outside for 35 minutes (went 3.5 miles)

Since I can now run 3 miles without stopping, I started paying more attention to time this week.  Every time I ran I did it in slightly less time, and that's the sort of improvement that's nice to see once you've tackled a goal.  My friends and I are going to sign up for a 5k and I'm really excited for that!

I have to admit I was not exactly on my game during week 12 when it came to food and drink.  I over-indulged quite a bit, and ended up turning a cheat day into a cheat weekend, which is a really bad habit that I'm still trying to break.  I also went out with some coworkers during the week for drinks to celebrate Administrative Professionals Day, and that was the first time I drank during the week since I started this challenge.  I was happy to see that I still reached my goal, but it was a little too close for comfort for me this week.

This is going to sound like an excuse, but I was literally out every single night during week 12 and just didn't have time to cook anything of significance.  However, I'm doing 2 recipes this week to make up for it! 

Well, as you already know I lost...

1 POUND!!!

When I started this challenge I didn't actually know if I'd be able to stick it out and lose the weight.  Seeing that number on the scale Saturday morning was proof that when you set your mind to something, you can make it happen, you just have to work for it.  The past 12 weeks have not been easy and the last 3 to come will be just as difficult, if not more so, but I'm secure in the fact that I started all of this with one main goal in mind: to improve my health and fitness, and I succeeded.  Now let's see how much more weight I can lose before this 15 weeks is up!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Workout Song of the Week: Ellie Goulding

For anyone who didn't get clued in, apparently Ellie Goulding is performing a super secret benefit show here in DC at the 9:30 club tomorrow evening and you could only get tickets if you were on a super special list!  Unfortunately, I did not find out about this before it was too late and all the tickets were gone, but because I still love Ellie like no other and her jams have gotten me through many a workout over the past 11 weeks, she'll be my workout song of this week! I give you Ellie Goulding "Anything Could Happen"

This is Miss Goulding's most recent single off her album "Halcyon" and it freaking rocks.  Pretty much all of her music rocks, but this song is especially great for working out because of it's steady beat and booming bass synth.  The choppy piano just adds to the overall marching-type sound.  By the time she starts soaring into the chorus you'll already be well on your way to out-performing yourself in the gym. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Weekly Tip: Get Out

Spring has officially sprung, at least here in DC, which makes the possibilities for exercise infinitely greater!  My advice to you all this week: get outside!!! You don't need to go to the gym to get a good workout in, there are plenty of activities you can do outdoors now that the weather is getting nicer. 

Running, for starters, is a pretty obvious way to take advantage of the higher temperatures and get some great cardio.  For people who aren't particular fans of running, you can still get your heart rate up outdoors with a brisk walk or bike ride.  For strength training, you can do so many of the basics right in your own backyard, i.e. pushups, situps, planks, squats etc.  If you want to branch out more, try looking up outdoor fitness classes in your area.  Lots of major cities offer all kinds of great classes that you can enjoy in the fresh air instead of a stuffy old gym.

So get out there and move!  After all, what could be better than getting fit AND getting tan at the same time?!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Quinoa Vegetable Salad with Lemon-Basil Dressing

In keeping with my warm weather recipes, I made this Quinoa Vegetable Salad last week and was so glad I did!  It was packed with yummy vegetables, filling quinoa, and the lemon-basil dressing was a nice, light touch.

You will need:
1 cup uncooked quinoa
15 oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
3 roma tomatoes
1 orange bell pepper
1 1/2 cups corn

4 green onions

For the dressing:
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp basil (or fresh if you have it)

veggie prep!
-Rinse quinoa, and cook according to package directions.
-In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, and basil. Set aside.
-Slice green onions, dice roma tomatoes and bell pepper.
-When quinoa is done cooking, let cool. Then place all salad ingredients in a large bowl.
-Pour dressing over top and mix well to combine.
-Can eat immediately or chill before serving.

Everything in one bowl, just the way I like it!
pretty :)
If you're looking for a light but filling summer side dish, look no further.  This quinoa salad is something I will definitely be making all summer long to take to cookouts and picnics.  You could also throw in other veggies as substitutes for anything you don't like, but I think it's perfect the way it is!

Estimated nutrition info from Yields 6 servings, serving size: 1 cup.  Calories 269; Total Fat 8.1g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 288.3mg; Carbs 40.8g; Dietary Fiber 9.5g; Sugars 1.3g; Protein 9.6g.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Week 11 Update

Week 11 seemed like just another week to me in terms of my eating habits and my physical activity.  I didn't do anything too crazy or different, but still achieved amazing results, which is totally fine with me!  Nothing too special to note so this post will be a little shorter than usual...

Physical Activity:
-4/13/13: ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes
-4/14/13: ran outside for 35 minutes (went 3.5 miles)
-4/16/13: BODYATTACK
-4/17/13: BODYSTEP
-4/18/13: swam laps freestyle for 20 minutes, 650 meters total

I can finally run 3 miles without stopping!!!  Never in my life did I think I'd be able to do that.  It just goes to show you that practice makes perfect and if you keep at it you really can make progress.  I found that when I run outside I can typically go faster than I do on the treadmill, so I was pretty impressed with myself for that too.

Nothing too special happened during week 11 in terms of food challenges.  I ate well consistently throughout the week and still went out and had fun with my friends.  I'm only human, and there have definitely been weeks during this process when I splurged a little too much or binged on the weekends and then had to make up for it throughout the week.  Week 11, luckily, was not that kind of week.  It was smooth sailing over the weekend and during the week.

I tried out a new quinoa recipe last week, but this time it was quinoa with lots of yummy veggies mixed in and a lemon-basil dressing.  It was a great summer salad that was filling and delicious, and I was able to eat the leftovers all week long.  Recipe coming soon.

Let's just get to the good part already!  For the first time I actually wasn't too nervous about my weigh-in.  I was confident in the fact that I had done well all week long and pretty much expected to make my 1 pound goal with ease.  It was nice to not be freaking out before getting on the scale for once!  Little did I know that I actually over-achieved last week, because in the end I lost...


That's right, 2 pounds last week, which brings my total weight loss in 11 weeks to 14 pounds!!!  I still have 4 weeks to go in my challenge and I'm only 1 pound away from my goal weight!  It's such an amazing feeling to know that I'm almost there.  I'm going to carry out my plan through the full 15 weeks to see if I can lose more weight than I initially hoped and work on my other goals as well.  Here's to hoping the last month of this challenge goes smoothly!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Workout Song of the Week: Jimmy Eat World

Taking it back to the early 2000's again with this week's workout song: Jimmy Eat World "Sweetness"

I've been listening to Jimmy Eat World since I was a preteen, and even now I still love to go back and jam out to the songs that perfectly capture that age for me.  "Sweetness" is a great workout song for all the normal reasons - it's catchy, upbeat, and high-energy - but it's also great for so much more than that!  It takes me right back to high school, back to when I thought I was a badass, and back to all the raw emotions I was feeling at that age.  It might not be this song specifically for you, but to adding a nostalgic throwback tune to your workout playlist can really energize you and also refresh your music rotation.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Weekly Tip: No Excuses

If anything should be your mantra throughout your weight loss process, it's this: no excuses allowed.  The moment you start making excuses for yourself is the moment your progress stops.

It's really easy to do when you think about it.  "I don't have time" and "I'm exhausted" are among the biggest offenders.  We get so caught up in our day-to-day lives that we don't make time to focus on our health and fitness, but if you want to see results and make real changes, it's time to re-evaluate.  Stop coming up with all the reasons why you can't put in the work and start committing to your goals.

At the end of the day, if you're not seeing the results you want, you have nobody to blame but yourself.  Take a closer look at what you're doing and focus on ways you can improve.  It's important to know your limits and be realistic about what you can do, but unless you start challenging yourself, you're not going to see any real results.  6 months down the road you're going to look and feel exactly the same way as you do right now.  How long is your lunch break at work? It probably doesn't take you a full hour to eat a meal, so when you're finished eating, go take a walk around the block.  Your friend invited you out to dinner after work but you haven't been to the gym yet this week, so SAY NO.  You're so tired after work you can barely move, so go to bed early (and I mean actually go to bed, not go home and watch tv or look at facebook until 2AM) and get up in time to fit a workout in the next morning.

I work from 8am - 6pm, Monday - Friday, and I have about a half hour commute each way.  I have 2 side jobs, I'm on a kickball team, and I volunteer for my neighborhood newspaper.  I have a very active social life, and yet on top of all that I still manage to work out at least 5 times every week, prepare most of my meals myself, and get 8 hours of sleep at night.  Do you want to know how I manage to do all of that?  It's because I'm serious about my goals.

No excuses.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Skinny Raspberry Lemonade Cupcakes

These cupcakes are such a perfect summer dessert that won't hurt your diet plans.  The original recipe is here.  The day that I made them we were having Chicken Tinga for dinner, a Mexican dish that a friend of ours made for us.  The cupcakes were perfectly refreshing after the somewhat spicy meal and they weren't too heavy to eat on a warm spring day.

You will need:
1 box white cake mix
3 tsp Raspberry Lemonade flavored Crystal Light Drink Mix
1 6 oz. container Yoplait Light Raspberry Lemonade flavored yogurt (my grocery store didn't have this flavor so I just used Light Raspberry)
2 egg whites
1/2 cup water
1 8 oz. container Cool Whip Lite

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-In a medium size bowl or stand up mixer, mix cake mix, egg whites, Crystal Light mix, yogurt, and water until well mixed and lump free.
-Pour mixture into a 9x13 inch pan or two 8 inch round pans (or a cupcake tin like I did!  I made 20 cupcakes but you could make bigger ones and do about 16).
-Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until cake has cooked through. Let cake cool and top cake with Cool Whip Free topping. For optional toppings, use fresh raspberries or lemon slices. 

adorable pink cupcakes before being frosted...

...and after!

Initially I was nervous that a "skinny" cupcake recipe wouldn't come out quite right, but these cupcakes were the perfect texture and consistency, and the flavor was great!  The bite of the lemonade flavor was balanced out perfectly by the sweetness of the cool whip frosting.  Even the cool whip was a great touch instead of real frosting because it wasn't too heavy or too sweet.  This is a great summer dessert recipe that you don't have to feel bad about!

Estimated nutrition info from for 20 cupcakes (serving size: 1 cupcake): Calories 32; Fat 0.9g; Saturated Fat 0.8g; Cholesterol 0.3mg; Sodium 26.8mg; Carbs 4.4g; Dietary Fiber 0g; Sugars 2.5g; Protein 0.7g.  I got this recipe from the same place as the Skinny Chicken Florentine I made in week 9, and once again our nutrition info differed a lot, so I just went with what gave me since that's the site I always use.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Week 10 Update

Slow and steady wins the race, right?  That's exactly how I feel about my progress over the last few weeks.  I'm not seeing the big numbers I was posting towards the beginning of this challenge, but I am still consistently getting results and I'm doing it in the healthiest way I know how.  Read on to find out how week 10 of my challenge went!

Physical Activity:
-4/6/13: ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes
-4/7/13: ran outside for 30 minutes (total distance was about 2.7 miles)
-4/10/13: BODYSTEP
-4/12/13: ran outside for 28 minutes (did the same 2.7 mile loop - I got faster!)

The weather is finally turning spring-like in DC, which means I've been able to start running outside more instead of always heading to the gym for the treadmill.  Even though running outside presents challenges in terms of keeping pace etc, it's also much more enjoyable thanks to the changing scenery.  Living someplace like DC really helps because most of the time I go run around the national mall, which means I'm looking at the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building, as well as beautiful museums along the way.  

I also tried another new class this week, and I think I might be hooked!  BODYSTEP is another Les Mills class that they offer at the Gold's Gym I go to.  I've always been nervous about taking step classes because I'm not the most coordinated person and I'm always afraid that I'll trip over the step.  This week I decided to get over that and I ended up really enjoying the class.  The instructor was the same woman who teaches the BODYATTACK class on Tuesday and she is really great.  She's very positive and motivating throughout the whole class and she never makes you feel like you're not doing something right, she just encourages everyone to do what they can and to keep moving.  All in all, BODYSTEP was a great workout and I'd like to keep taking the class to switch up my workouts throughout the week.

The biggest proof that my drive to stay on track with this challenge continues is that I actually woke up extra early on Friday morning to get a run in before going to work.  I had only fit in 4 workouts last week and I knew my schedule wouldn't allow me to exercise Friday evening after work, so I did what I had to do and forced myself out of bed bright and early.  For anyone who doesn't know me, I am not a morning person, so the fact that I woke up even earlier than I normally do on a work day in order to EXERCISE is really saying something.  It all comes down to the fact that I just really don't want to fail in this challenge.  I want to make sure I accomplish this goal I set for myself, so I'm willing to do whatever I have to do to make it happen.

I have to honest and admit that I did not make the best choices in terms of food and drink at the beginning of week 10.  Last weekend was filled with a lot of food-centric activities, and when that happens it's hard for me to be as vigilant about calories etc.  I can at least say that I was very aware of all the choices I made in regards to food and alcohol, and even when I didn't make the best decisions, I still tracked everything that I consumed, and that's really important.  It would be very easy to just leave things out when I'm tracking my food intake, but that wouldn't be honest and I need to see all those things written down in order to stay conscious and responsible for what I eat and to make sure I balance things out during the rest of the week. 

For example, my friends and I always do family dinner together on Sunday evenings.  It's a wonderful tradition we started to give ourselves one more thing to look forward to every weekend and it's a great way to bring all our friends together to catch up and regroup.  Last weekend we had a guest join us for Sunday dinner and she cooked the most amazing Mexican food for us, she made a dish called Chicken Tinga.  The food was phenomenal, but the problem was I had already treated myself earlier that day at a brunch picnic that some friends and I had attended, and I also ended up consuming more alcohol that day than I originally intended, merely because of the fact that I took on a careless attitude that day.  I definitely enjoyed myself a lot at both activities and I worked hard during the rest of the week to make up for the binging I had done over the weekend, but I still wish that I had made better choices and been a little more selective with my choices on Sunday.  I didn't need to have a bloody mary AND a mimosa at brunch, and I didn't need to have a glass of wine AND a beer at dinner.  I think this is very common for people who are trying to lose weight and are watching their diet.  You want to eat and drink the things you normally would when you're out and about with your friends, but it's important to maintain the balance between enjoying yourself in the moment and putting in effort towards achieving your long term goals.  That's something that I'm definitely still working on!

I decided to tackle something new last week and opted to make dessert!  I had yet to attempt a dessert recipe throughout this challenge and there was a skinny raspberry lemonade cupcake recipe that I had been wanting to try.  It was a gorgeous day when I made them so the raspberry lemonade flavor worked perfectly.  The cupcakes turned out to be a really nice treat and didn't endanger my diet plan at all!  Everybody enjoyed them and I didn't have to feel guilty about eating one, so that's a win-win!  I'll post the recipe later this week.

Like I said before, I was really concerned last week because of the decisions I made during the weekend.  I did work very hard and was very disciplined during the week in terms of food in order to compensate, but I was even more nervous than usual before my weigh-in.  Maybe I need to start thinking about those nerves when I'm making decisions about what to eat!  With that said, this week I lost...

1 POUND!!!

I was so relieved to see that I still managed to lose another pound this past week, despite the fact that I was very worried I wouldn't.  I'm happy that I'm still progressing, but I need to use Week 10 as a lesson that cheating too much or binging on the weekend and then trying to work double time during the week to make up for it is not the best strategy.  Moving forward into the last 5 weeks of my challenge I want to keep that in mind at all times.  I'm 12 pounds down and 2/3 of the way through my challenge and the end is in sight, but there's still plenty more work to do!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Workout Song of the Week: Paramore

The sudden turn to summer-like weather here in DC has inspired me to choose a more uplifting song as the workout song this week.  Thanks to Paramore releasing their new album this week, I actually have the perfect song: "Still Into You"

Anger can be a great motivator for a good workout, but happiness can too!  This song deals with joy of knowing that even after being with someone for a long time, you can still get butterflies around them and have fun with them.  Love doesn't have to get stale!  Thinking about that can really cheer you up, and sometimes a positive, uplifting message can be just what you need to have a great workout.  This song is particularly upbeat and makes you want to dance your happiness into the world, or least that's what it does to me.  I hope you all enjoy it!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Weekly Tip: Have Fun!

In honor of my Spring kickball league starting tonight, this week's tip is simply to HAVE FUN with whatever physical activity you decide to do.  The concept behind this is very simple: the more you enjoy doing something, the more likely you are to keep doing it.  When it comes to starting an exercise plan, you have to choose activities that you know you enjoy so that you don't burn out early and completely give up.  If you hate running and you think that overnight you're going to start running 5 miles 5 days a week, you're sorely mistaken.  Choosing something more enjoyable, like a brisk walk or bike ride, will make your exercise plan more realistic and your goals more attainable.

For example, in the beginning of this challenge I discovered swimming for exercise.  Swimming has always been something I enjoyed, so turning that fun activity into quality exercise time means I'm more excited about sticking with it.  I also have my kickball team, and while it doesn't always give me the best workout, it's a way to get outside and be somewhat active with my friends, which is why I keep coming back to it.  If you like dance, try signing up for some classes at a dance studio.  If you enjoy team sports, consider joining a baseball league, etc.

Getting in shape and exercising more does not mean you have to make yourself miserable 7 days a week.  You just have to figure out what you like and then try to do those activities more often.  My plan so far throughout this challenge has been to stay realistic about my goals, and I know that workouts that feel like torture will not hold my interest for very long, no matter how effective they might be.

So get out there and start having fun with your workouts!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Skinny Chicken Florentine

I made this recipe for Skinny Chicken Florentine last Friday night and it was a big hit.  My only complaint was that the recipe says it makes 6  1 1/2 cup servings, but we only got 3 out of it, so you'd have to double everything if you want to feed more people.  Also the nutrition information provided on that site and the nutrition information that generated for me were different, so I just stuck with the info that I had gotten.

You will need:
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 box (approx. 5oz.) frozen spinach, thawed & squeezed to remove as much liquid as possible

1 cup low fat cottage cheese
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 large garlic cloves, minced (or 1 tsp. from my jar-o-garlic)
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs flour
1 tbs lemon juice
1 can no-salt low fat added chicken broth
pinch nutmeg
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
8oz. whole grain pasta

cooking the chicken
ooey-gooey yumminess
-Cube 'n cook chicken
-Cook pasta according to package directions
-Mix cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, and spinach together until smooth 
-In a large pot, heat olive oil
-Add flour and whisk for 30 seconds
-Add chicken broth and stir until thickened (about 3 minutes)
-Add lemon juice, garlic, nutmeg, oregano & pepper
-Bring to simmer
-Remove from heat and add blended cottage cheese, spinach, chicken, Parmesan cheese & pasta. Stir to combine
-Place in lightly sprayed casserole dish
-Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes

ready for the oven...

final product on my plate!
This is a great cold weather recipe that will satisfy your cheese and carb cravings without ruining your diet.  It tasted great, was easy to make, and isn't that bad for you - what's not to like about that?  

Estimated nutrition info from  Yields: ~5 cups, serving size: 1 cup.  Calories 432; Fat 16.9g; Saturated Fat 6g; Cholesterol 56mg; Sodium 889.6mg; Carbs 38.4g; Dietary Fiber 5.4g; Sugars 3.8g; Protein 31.5g.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Week 9 Update

As the weeks continue to fly by during this challenge, I keep trying to challenge myself and make sure that I get the results I want.  Week 9 was another week of dedication and commitment, and I was able to benefit from that in terms of my weight loss.  Here's the recap!

Physical Activity:
-3/30/13: ran on the treadmill for 30 minutes, then did 30 Day Shred level 3
-4/1/13: 30 Day Shred level 3
-4/3/13: ran on the treadmill for 30 minutes, then did 30 Day Shred level 3
-4/4/13: swam laps freestyle for 30 minutes, 900 meters total

I'm finally done with the 30 Day Shred DVD goal that I set for myself, which was to do each level 6 times, or 3x per week.  Now I can focus on getting more cardio in, but I still may pop the DVD in every once in a while to mix things up.  Overall I can say that DVD definitely kicked my butt, but in a good way.  Jillian Michaels is so motivating, so I might try one of her other DVDs at some point.  Also, I'm up to running 2.5 miles at a time on the treadmill, which I'm super proud of!  It's so helpful to see tangible progress throughout this challenge to keep myself motivated to continue.  I'd like to get the point where I can run at least 3 miles without stopping and then sign up for a 5K!

Last weekend my mom was in town visiting, and it was Easter.  My mom and I went out to eat Saturday night at Fogo de Chao, which is a Brazilian steak house.  For anyone who doesn't know, that means the servers come around to your table with skewers of different kinds and cuts of meat and slice off whatever you request onto your plate.  Basically it's meat overload, and there's also a pretty extensive salad bar for non-meat lovers.  I did try to stick with the fresh veggies on the salad bar, which were delicious, but I couldn't resist trying the many varieties of meats the restaurant had the offer.  The saving grace was that all the meat seemed to be just drenched in salt, which meant I didn't end up eating a whole lot of it.  On Sunday we went to my cousin's house for Easter dinner, which was wonderful.  I love spending time with my extended family since I don't get to see them very often.  Dinner was wonderful and I made sure to keep my portion sizes in check, and was still able to enjoy a glass of wine or two!  When weekends like this arise where I know I won't have as much control over my food options, I make sure to at least try and stick to normal portions and I definitely make sure to get plenty of exercise in so that I don't end up feeling guilty.  I also kept my calorie counts in check for the rest of the week to make up for any splurging I had done.  

My cooking experiments continued in week 9, and I tried out a skinny recipe for Chicken Florentine.  It was a delicious casserole with chicken, spinach, and pasta.  Two of the most voracious eaters in my friend group helped taste test this for me, and one of them wanted seconds, which I know is a good sign!  I think I'm becoming more comfortable in the kitchen, but I'm still a beginner, so I don't want to toot my own horn too much.  I'll post the recipe later this week, since this is one that everyone should try!

I'm happy to report that my weight loss continues, and this week I lost...

1 POUND!!!

I'm steadily working my way toward my goal, and I'm now down 11 pounds in 9 weeks.  Taking this challenge 1 pound at a time has made it so much easier, because my goal is reasonable and I've been able to see progress pretty steadily throughout the last 9 weeks.  I'm so close to the end I can taste it, but I know there's a lot more work to be done.  Here's to week 10 being just as much of a success!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Workout Song of the Week: M83

Who doesn't love a strong, steady, synth-filled song to push them towards a great workout?  I know I sure do!  That's why this week's song is: M83 "Midnight City"

Besides being a great song in general, this one is also good for your workout because the beat builds slowly and steadily, leading up to a powerhouse hook and exploding melody.  It's outer-spacey and full of creepy vocals, not to mention a killer saxophone solo.  This is not the song that's going to help you sprint through your last half-mile, instead it's the interlude that helps you fight off your mid-cardio lull when you're past your initial gung-ho start but not quite at that the-end-is-near rush.  Important to note: this song was also used in a Victoria's Secret commercial back in 2012, and there is nothing more motivating for a woman working out than models in sexy lingerie.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Weekly Tip: Food Snapshot

I've been getting a lot of questions from people about what I'm doing in terms of diet throughout my challenge.  People are asking me if I'm following a strict diet and what I eat, so I decided to give you a snapshot of what a typical day's worth of meals looks like for me.  I'm not actually following any specific diet plan, I just try to stick with lean proteins, veggies, and whole grains.  I also am trying to stay away from a lot of processed and pre-packaged foods and I started learning how to cook so that helps a lot.  To give everyone an idea of what I usually eat, here is my food snapshot from this past Tuesday:

7:00am - Breakfast: Oatmeal and a banana

280 calories
10:15am - Morning Snack: Vanilla greek yogurt with blueberries and granola

240 calories
1:30pm - Lunch: Turkey slices and a Laughing Cow cheese wedge on whole wheat bread with carrots

230 calories
4:30pm - Afternoon Snack: Granola bar
140 calories
7:00pm - Dinner: Chicken breast, sweet potato, and sweet peas
335 calories
9:00pm - Evening snack: Trail mix

160 calories
As you can see, I actually eat quite a bit, and I'm eating totally normal things!  My total calories for that day was about 1380.  Eating a bunch of smaller meals throughout the day means I don't get the urge to binge on something really unhealthy, and this way I never eat too much in one sitting.  This has been a really helpful way for me to watch my portions and also satisfy my snack cravings.  I have fallen in love with trail mix as a low calorie snack in the evenings that still gives me the sweet & salty combo that I love.  I also try to include fruit or veggies with almost every meal.  Chicken or fish are easy enough to make in the evenings for dinner in order to get lean protein.  In terms of drinks, I drink water all day long, so no added calories there!  Usually I have at least 8 glasses, sometimes more.  I also might have a cup of coffee or tea once in a while, which have almost zero calories.

Have you made any changes to your diet that have worked well or not so much?  Tell me about it!  As always, feel free to send any questions my way.  Happy eating!