Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Broccoli and Quinoa Casserole

Here's the recipe for the Broccoli and Quinoa casserole that I made during week 3 (Original recipe is here).

This is the photo from the site where I found the recipe

You will need:
One 10 oz can condensed Cream of Broccoli soup (or mushroom), low-sodium if you prefer
1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise (original called for 1 full cup. WOW.) 
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/4 cups reduced fat shredded cheese (cheddar, colby-jack, etc)
1/2 teaspoon Splenda/sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups cooked broccoli 
1 1/2 cups  COOKED quinoa (see note)
Feshly grated Parmesan cheese

To cook quinoa:

3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

-Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve until water runs clear.  In a small saucepan combine the quinoa, water, and salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for 18-20 minutes, or until fluffy and the white ring/tail is visible.  Fluff with a fork.

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a shallow (8×8 in or 5-6 cups) casserole dish – or individual ramekins – with vegetable cooking spray.
-In a large bowl combine the soup, mayonnaise, milk, shredded cheese, Splenda, pepper, and nutmeg until well mixed. Stir in the quinoa and broccoli.
-Spoon mixture into prepared casserole.  Sprinkle on a couple tablespoons of Parmesan and bake for 35-40 minutes (20-25 minutes for ramekins) or until bubbly on the edges and golden.

Makes 8 generous 1/2-cup servings.  Per Serving (estimate): Calories 199,  Protein 10 g; Fat 9 g; NET Carbs 14 g; Fiber 2 g; Sugar 1 g; Sodium 297 mg

This is a photo of my casserole...doesn't look quite as pretty, but it tastes delicious!

Weekly Tip: Buy New Gear!

Buying new workout gear can have an immediate and significant impact on your desire to stay fit since you get excited to try it out!  Obviously we're not all rolling in dough and can't afford to be constantly buying new stuff just because our motivation has dwindled a little, but every once in a while spending a little money on things that will encourage you to continue can be very helpful.  My recent purchases include:

New workout capris!  (You can find really inexpensive ones at Target)

New Swimsuit and Goggles! I blend right in with the water ;)

A Heart Rate Monitor, the Polar FT4F (yes, I burned 643 calories in an hour! I AM SUPERWOMAN!)

A Crock Pot!
 All my new swag has encouraged me to keep going.  In my opinion, you can never have too much workout gear, especially since it takes away the excuse of "I can't go workout, all my workout clothes are in the laundry."  The swimsuit was actually a necessity, I can't exactly glide through the pool when I'm worried about my bikini falling off.  The Heart Rate Monitor is one of my favorite purchases because now I'll be able to track my heart rate to make sure I'm in the right zone for burning fat and have a more precise idea of how many calories I burn during all my different activities.  Last but not least, my new Crock Pot will motivate me to learn how to cook even more delicious, healthy meals.  Hopefully my next purchase will be a new pair of sneakers!

What are some things you've bought recently  or want to buy soon to contribute to your health and fitness goals?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Week 3 Update

Week 3 was a complete success!  I really tried to be SUPER EXTRA good last week, and in the end it definitely paid off.  I met my workout goals, tried a new class, cooked something new, and saw results.  Here's what you missed:

Physical Activity:
-2/16/13: ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes
-2/18/13: ran on the treadmill for 25 minutes, then used the elliptical for 20 minutes
-2/19/13: took the BODYATTACK class
-2/21/13: swam laps freestyle for 30 minutes, 700 meters total

When I run on the treadmill, I actually do a combination of walking and running, since I'm just starting out and I want to ease into it, but it is mostly running.  Typically I'll warm up by walking for 1 song on my iPod, and then I'll run for 3 or 4 songs in a row, and then walk for a song, and then run again etc.  This week I realized one day that I had run for a mile straight without stopping, and it was such an accomplishment!  As I continue I'd like to start focusing on running longer distances at a time.  

I can also tell that I'm improving with swimming and this was only my third time going.  I swam 100 meters more than I normally do in the same amount of time.  I don't get tired as easily, and I can swim faster.  Hooray for progress!  I also took my own advice and tried a new class, les mills BODYATTACK.  Such an intense workout, and I can't wait to go back for more this week.  I have a feeling that class was a big reason why I saw such great results last week.

My dad was in town visiting last weekend so I ate out a lot, but I practiced a lot of self control, which was definitely not easy!  One night we went to a seafood buffet...aka temptation central.  I tried a little bit of everything, and let myself eat some of the not-so-healthy items; I just made sure to not overeat and when I was full, I stopped.  I even let myself get dessert!  Saturday we went to brunch and instead of ordering my usual favorite, Eggs Benedict, I opted for a Mediterranean Omelette with spinach, tomatoes, and feta cheese.  The dish came with hashbrowns that I only picked at.  These are the kinds of changes I'm trying to make that I can be happy with.  I still eat things I like, I just don't overdo it.

One of my initial goals for this challenge was to start learning how to cook things myself, and I'd like to try to learn how to cook 1 new thing each week.  I need to learn how to make things for myself instead of relying so much on prepared foods, and I've been finding a lot of yummy, healthy recipes online that I'd like to try out.  Week 3's recipe was a really simple but delicious dish:
Broccoli and Quinoa Casserole!
Quinoa is something I had been wanting to learn how to cook, since it's a grain but it's also a complete protein and so good for you.  It's an excellent substitute for rice or pasta!  This recipe was so easy, which I need because I have practically zero experience in the kitchen.  I found this on Pinterest, but the original recipe can be found here.  I was able to eat the casserole all throughout the week and didn't have to feel bad about it!  More cooking adventures to come, but now on to the moment of truth...

Even though I tried to be really good all week, I was really nervous that I might not have lost any weight during week 3.  I wasn't really noticing any physical changes, so I was more than pleasantly surprised to get on the scale Saturday and see that I lost...


That's right, I lost 3 pounds in 1 week!  I was ecstatic.  I have now lost a total of 6 pounds in 3 weeks and I have 12 weeks left to lose the remaining 9 pounds.  I know that the more weight you lose, the harder it becomes, so I remind myself that while this progress is fantastic, I may plateau at some point and have weeks where I don't lose anything, so I'm trying not to get ahead of myself.  All in all, I'm really happy with how week 3 went and I'm reassured that I'm taking the right steps towards a healthier me. 

Any tips or questions you'd like to share with me are greatly appreciated, especially delicious, easy, healthy recipes that I can try!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Workout Song of the Week: Young the Giant

Alternative rock can be a great motivator fitness-wise under the right circumstances.  The perfect example of this is my latest workout song of the week: Young the Giant "My Body"

This song is great for getting motivated because in addition to its steady, building beat, the very lyrics of the song embody what a lot of us need during our workout, that push to continue. "My body tells me no, but I won't quit, 'cause I want more..."  The chorus alone is enough to give you that extra push you need!  It's a great song to have blasting when you're trying to run off your stress on the treadmill or do that extra set of pushups.  In doing a little research (and by research, I mean Wikipedia) it turns out the song actually came about due to the band letting out their frustrations during a particularly challenging time.  That message definitely translated through and made this song a great motivational jam to turn on when you're ready to really work!

Sidenote: It doesn't hurt that this song was used in one of the very first episodes of the show "Teen Wolf" on MTV (Don't judge me!), so every time I hear it I can't help but picture a super hot, buff lacrosse player/werewolf working out and getting fit, which is great motivation!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Weekly Tip: Change it up!

It's really easy to get stuck in a routine when it comes to working out.  We tend to stick with the same activities over and over once we find something that works.  The problem with that is that your body can adjust to anything, and after a while the same routine becomes less effective unless you keep turning up the intensity.  I recognize that problem in myself a lot, I pick a machine at the gym and use it over and over, etc, which is why my latest tip is to TRY SOMETHING NEW!

Whether it be a class at the gym, a new cardio machine, or some new strength training exercises, you should always be switching things up.  If you usually run indoors, try running outside once a week.  If you typically stick with the treadmill, try using a bike or the elliptical.  Not only does this keep your body on its toes, but it also keeps things interesting for you, which can prevent you from getting bored and giving up.  To give you an example, last night I tried a  fitness class called BODYATTACK for the first time at my gym.  It's part of the Les Mills program and it's described on their website as a "sports-inspired cardio workout for building strength and stamina. This high-energy interval training class combines athletic aerobic movements with strength and stabilization exercises."  Let me just say that this was one of the most intense workouts I've had in a long time.  The instructor informed me that people typically burn anywhere from 500-700 calories per class (it's an hour long).  My body sure is sore today, but it was totally worth it.  I'll definitely be taking the class again as a way to switch things up throughout the week.

What kinds of activities have you been wanting to try but haven't yet?  Whatever it is, go out there and do it!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Week 2 Update

Well, week 2 went very well and I'm happy to say that I have not lost my motivation yet!  I managed to exercise 4 times throughout the week and despite a few challenges I faced in regard to food, I still made some good progress.  Here's the recap:

Physical Activity:
-2/9/13: ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes
-2/11/13: ran on the treadmill for 25 minutes
-2/12/13: swam laps freestyle for 30 minutes, 600 meters total
-2/14/13: used the elliptical at the gym for 30 minutes, then walked at an incline of 12.0 and a speed of 3.0mph on the treadmill for 10 minutes

I haven't taken any of the classes that I want to try at the gym yet, but this was only the second week.  I varied my exercise from week 1 by adding a new machine to my regimen.  The elliptical is a nice change up from the treadmill since it's easier on your joints, and that uphill climb at the end that day really worked my thighs and glutes!  I also had to squeeze in a super quick workout on Monday since I had a date to get to, hence the 25 minutes, but more on that below...

Last week held its fair share of food challenges that most people trying to eat healthy will eventually face: I ate out a few times, had a date, and had other people cooking for me.  First things first though, I allowed myself to have a cheat day.  I think it's really important for people who are trying to lose weight to have a cheat meal or a cheat day once in a while, as long as you can do so without completely falling off the wagon.  For me, a cheat day doesn't mean that I eat all kinds of unhealthy foods that would totally negate any healthy choices I made earlier in the week.  To me it means not tracking every single thing I ate that day, and eating things I enjoy without worrying about calorie counts etc, while still keeping in the back of my mind that I am ultimately working towards a goal.

Last week I also dealt with eating out on a first date, thankfully not on Valentine's Day!  How does one go about making healthy choices at a restaurant while at the same time not coming off as a total health nut?  I think I found the answer: go out for tapas!  My date and I ended up at a Spanish tapas restaurant here in DC, which was perfect since we ordered just a few small plates to snack on and we were able to have a variety of dishes.  We each picked one or two things to try, which meant I was able to choose one of the healthier dishes on the menu without ordering, say, a salad (not that there's anything wrong with salad!).  If you can, squeezing in a workout on the same day as a date can really help you feel better about going out for dinner or drinks (or both!).  It increases the amount of calories you can have that day, but working out in general also makes you feel good, so it can help alleviate any stress you might be feeling about going on a first date and help you make a good impression! 

In addition I ate homemade pizzas last week prepared by my friends.  Granted, the pizzas were relatively healthy since they were mostly topped with veggies.  Homemade pizza might not be quite as greasy or fatty as ordering a pizza, but it is still pizza, so I tried to limit myself to 2 slices and be especially health-conscious with the rest of my choices that day.  In my opinion, it all comes down to moderation.  I do believe that you can eat pizza, just not the entire thing.  You can have a few drinks when you're out with friends, just make sure to keep an eye on how many you're having.  Completely cutting out things you love from your diet just isn't realistic because it's not maintainable.  Eventually, you're going to want to eat a cookie, and you should be able to, as long as you don't eat the whole package.

My goal to start learning how to cook for myself is coming along nicely.  I really don't know how to cook, so I know I need to take this process very slowly and just learn one thing at a time, so last week I decided on chicken, sweet potato, and brussels sprouts.   I had never made brussels sprouts before, but my roommate cooks them a lot and I really do like them, so that was high up on my list of things to learn, and it was actually pretty easy!  I did them on the stove with a little olive oil and voila!  I just need to cook them longer next time since they were a little on the crunchy side.  I must confess, I bought the chicken already marinated and pre-packaged, but I did have to put it in the oven so I think that still half counts as cooking.  I give you:

roasted garlic and white wine chicken, sweet potato, and sauteed brussels sprouts!

This was such a healthy and tasty dinner.  I'm a big sweet potato fan, and they're a great starch to eat instead of having rice or pasta.  

I was really excited by my initial 2 pound loss after week 1, and I was even more excited to see that the progress continued for week 2.  I lost...

1 POUND!!!

I have now lost a total of 3 pounds out of 15 with 13 weeks left to go in my challenge.  I'm so happy to see my efforts really paying off and while 3 pounds isn't quite enough to start seeing changes physically, I can definitely say that I feel better in general and can tell that the changes I'm making are good ones.

On to week 3, featuring more forays into cooking and hopefully attempting a new class at the gym!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Workout Song of the Week: Jason Derulo

Great music is so key to staying pumped up during a cardio workout, especially running on the treadmill.  It gives me the extra energy I need to keep going.  That's why it's so important to pick the right jams for your ultimate workout playlist.  Each week I'll be highlighting my "workout song of the week" to give you guys suggestions for songs that keep you pumped up and ready to work!

This week's favorite is: Jason Derulo "Breathing"


I love listening to really upbeat tunes that make me want to dance, that way even when I'm tired I still find the energy to continue.  This song is great because it keeps a steady club beat the entire time, but the energy really picks up for the chorus, so that's a great time to speed up or kick up the intensity of your workout.  The tribal vocals in the background add a unique sound that you don't get with a lot of other club music.

I know not everyone likes to listen to music when they workout, but personally I need music to keep me motivated, and songs like this really help.  What do you guys think?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Weekly Tip: The Workout Buddy

A great way to make sure you keep up your exercise regimen is to have a workout buddy!  If you're the type of person who will give yourself excuses to skip the gym, a workout buddy can really help you stick to your plans.  That way, if you try to miss a workout, not only would you be letting yourself down, but you'd be letting your partner down as well, so it helps to keep you accountable.  Your buddy should be someone who encourages you to do your best, but not someone you feel like you're competing with.  They're also the one who drags you out of your house to exercise when all you want to do is sit at home watching TV.  The two of you can keep each other motivated, push each other when you think you've hit your limit, and help each other discover new activities.  I know who my workout buddy is, who's yours?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Week 1 Update

Happy Monday Everyone!

Week 1 is officially over and I have to say I think it went pretty well.  First things first, step 1 is complete:
my brand new Gold's Gym keytag!
 I finally joined the gym, so now I can workout whenever I want.  They have a lot of classes that I'd like to start trying out and lots of cardio equipment for me to use to whip my body into shape!

I did 3 workouts during week 1; here's a recap of my activity:
-2/2/13: ran on the treadmill at the gym for 45 minutes
-2/5/13: swam laps freestyle for 30 minutes, did a total of 600 meters!
-2/7/13: ran on the treadmill at the gym for 30 minutes

*A note on swimming: WOW is it hard!!!  When my friend suggested we go I was thinking "yea, swimming, sure, I love the beach!"  Needless to say I was in for a big surprise when we went to swim laps.  The workout was really tough, but it felt great!  I definitely want to incorporate swimming into my workouts at least once a week, if not more.

Making myself workout during the first week was actually the easy part.  I know that I need a lot of cardio to make progress with weight loss and the excitement of the first week motivated me to get moving.  I also had some workout buddies to help encourage me to get active.  The hard part actually had more to do with food.  I have a huge problem with controlling my portion sizes, and I know there are a lot of other people out there who have the same issue.  I think in general people tend to eat more than they really need to because our idea of portion sizes are totally out of whack.  It doesn't help that I was raised under the 'you can't leave the dinner table until your plate is clean' system, so I've been programmed my whole life to eat everything that's on my plate, even if it's too much.  This week I tried to start re-training my body to be satisfied after a smaller portion, and not just when all the food is gone.  One of the tricks I used to start doing that is splitting every meal I eat in half.  Then I save the other half for a few hours later, turning one huge meal into 2 small ones.  Typically you're supposed to eat 4-5 smaller meals per day anyway, so this trick also helps me spread out my meals better.

An excellent resource that I've been using is the MyPlate food log.  Once you register on the site you input all your information pertaining to your weight loss goal, and it will tell you how many calories you should consume each day to achieve that goal.  Throughout the day you enter in your food and it tells you all the nutritional information, including calorie count, etc, so that you know when you've hit your limit for that day.  This system is beneficial to me for many reasons, but mainly it keeps me honest about what/how much I'm eating.  The only downfall is that when you eat out or eat things other people have cooked, it's hard to know all the nutritional information, so usually I just guesstimate.

So now here's the moment I know a lot of you have been waiting for....the numbers!  I was very nervous for my first weigh-in.  15 weeks is a long time and I think it would be hard to stay motivated to continue if I didn't see a difference in the beginning.  I also recognize that weight can fluctuate a lot, especially when you're trying to lose it, so there will be weeks when I lose weight and other weeks when I don't, but that's okay.  That being said, this week my weight loss results were, drumroll please....


I've lost 2 out of my 15 pound goal and I'm very pleased with that progress, I'm hoping to keep up the momentum as the weeks continue. 

I know some of you out there are trying to follow along with me throughout this challenge, and many of you have set fitness goals for yourselves.  I want to hear from you!  How are you doing with your own personal challenges?  What parts of your plan have been especially challenging?  

Stay tuned this week for tips and tricks, and my workout song of the week!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Motivation: a driving force that compels or reinforces an action toward a desired goal. What's yours?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Let the Challenge Begin!

Yup, here it is:  Another blog by a mid-20's, small town to big city transplant writing about her life.  Sorry if you're sick of these, but haters gonna hate, right?  This blog is mainly for tracking my weight loss journey, but I may also be writing about other topics eventually, as this blog could evolve into something much more over the next 15 weeks.  I'd like this to be a place for me to share my story but also for other people to see that we all face a lot of the same challenges.

So here we go!  My weight loss goal: lose 15 pounds in 15 weeks.  This idea originated from the fact that my friends and I will all be celebrating Memorial Day on a beach somewhere this year and I'd like to accomplish my goal by then, which is exactly 15 weeks from now.  Wish me luck!  I'll fill my readers (if I have any) in on my progress with weekly updates by posting how many pounds I lose each week (assuming I lose pounds, which is the ultimate goal...).  My week actually started last Saturday (2/2/13) when I went to the gym for the first time in months and weighed myself, so my weeks will run Saturday-Saturday and then on Sunday or Monday I'll post the progress.  Each week I'll also try to highlight a specific area that I focused on and how it worked, i.e. number of workouts, portion control, calorie-tracking etc.  At the end of the 15 weeks, there may even be before-and-after photographic evidence of my progress (maybe!  I'm not promising anything!), so stay tuned!

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way doing this because I hate my body and I'm a miserable cow who cries into her Ben & Jerry's every night on the couch.  For anyone who has doubts about my confidence levels, see here.  I'm doing this because I stepped on the scale last Saturday and I cringed.  I recognize that my weight has gotten out of hand for someone my height (I'm barely 5'4") and it's just plain unhealthy.  My BMI is officially at 28, which means technically I'm overweight.  While I realize that BMI alone is not the best indicator of physical fitness, I know that I want to take action now in order to prevent my situation from getting worse.

I won't be using any official diets or crazy cleanses during this journey, just trying to do things the old fashioned way: eat less, move more.  I'm going to try to be realistic about my goals and know that I have limits, and that I can't go from couch potato to skinny spinner overnight.

Here are my basic guidelines (these may change through the course of my journey):
-Perform physical activity of at least 30 mins 3-5 times per week.
-Track my food intake to become more aware of what/how much I'm eating.
-Drink less alcohol (anyone who knows me understands this may be the biggest challenge).
-Rely less on prepared foods, which are typically really high in sodium, and try to make meals myself more often.

I can already foresee many of the of the struggles I will face over the coming weeks, but I believe that it's time for me to get my health in check, and knowing that there are people out there keeping track of me will serve as even more motivation to get results.  Also, all feedback is welcome, so feel free to leave suggestions or tips that you've tried or heard about, or just leave me some friendly encouragement!

Now, step 1: join the gym.  No more excuses about money or time, just do it.  I plan on tackling that before this week is over.  Here goes...