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I’ve been rolling this around in my head the past couple days. It started out as a body-based reflection. When I see an outfit in a store, our put my clothes together for the day, I see in my head how I think I will look in it. I’m then slightly surprised–rarely for the better–when I see a picture of myself in that same outfit. That’s not how I thought I looked!

So I’ve been composing this blog post about how part of why I’m doing all this is so that the me I see in my head, and the me I see in pictures, are at least in theory close to being the same person. Then I got to thinking about how it’s really about so much more than that.

Confession time: when I was at Swift Base Camp with the Venture Crew this summer, one of the opportunities they had was to go rappelling. I thought it sounded really cool.  We took the hike to the base point, and as they took out the materials to make the harnesses, “I thought, oh no. I’ll never get that around me.” When they went climbing, I thought, “Yeah, right, like I could pull myself up the side of a cliff.”

But the person inside me was screaming, “Hell yeah! Let’s go!”

I’ve come to realize that yes, I want to be able to take pictures and then look at them and say, “Wow, that looks better than I thought!” But I also want to be able to rappel and climb and play lasertag and participate in rec night and not fidget and fuss with my clothes to make sure they’re sitting right and etc. The me inside me is ready to try damn near anything and is comfortable in her own skin. I can’t wait to let her out.

Speaking of pictures, tomorrow is the 1-month mark for the primal thing, so I’ll have a progress report ready to go. Unless I eat an entire turtle cheesecake tonight and sabotage the results, I’m pretty happy about the whole thing. See you tomorrow!

Heavy Things, Lifted

When you Lift Heavy Things, (LHT) you do two sets of seven exercises (if you count planks, right side planks, and left side planks and separate exercises; if you don’t, you do two sets of five exercises). You do one complete set as a circuit, then do a second set, and then if you’re me, you go home. We have been walking up to the elementary school near our home to LHT because there’s good bars up there to use as pull-up bars, and also because it adds an element of moving slowly, frequently, to the endeavor.

I recorded my results for the first time on August 8. Here they are (numbers are first set, second set):

Pushups, Level 2: 17   20
Pullups, Level 1: 20  9
Squats, Level 2: 40  50
Shoulder Press, Level 1: 25  20
Plank, Level 2: 49 31 seconds
Plank, Right, Level 2: 30 27
Plank, Left, Level 2: 48 48

Here are my numbers for tonight, August 26:

Pushups, Level 2: 30 30 (almost time to move up to level 3–I’m at my “level up” number but want to pull them off a couple times)
Pullups, Level 1: 15 10 (still my weakest spot, I think it’s not helped by the fact that I do my pushups immediately before. But I WILL do a pullup!)
Squats, Level 4: 30 50 (I felt a little twinge in my knee in the first set, so I stopped, but then came back strong in set 2)
Plank, Level 2: 95 47 seconds
Plank, Right, Level 2: 40 40
Plank, Left, Level 2: 35, 75 (again, the first one felt a little hinky, but came back strong)

For those of you scoring at home, this means I did 60 pushups tonight! And I think that’s worth yelling about a little bit!

On Tuesday I had a busy evening. Three students and a quick trip down to Affton and back. I wound up in a Starbucks for my last appointment, looked the temptation that is Mocha Coconut Frappucino (quite possibly my favorite beverage not named Mr. Pibb or Coca-cola) in the eye, and fell at its feet.

62 grams of sugar later (62 grams! Seriously! In a Grande!) I found myself…strangely NOT guilty. No berating. No crushing internal dialogue along the lines of, “Maybe you’re just not meant to be attractive, fat girl.” I got up, waved the nearly empty cup at BK, who was tutoring across the store, and cheerfully said, “I’m probably going pay for this later this week…but I’m pretty sure it was worth it.”

I went home, told Tim, “We need to go for a walk,” and off we went, for about a half-hour, to regulate my Insulin Response (I think that’s what it’s called–when you move after you eat simple carbs to encourage your body to burn them rather than convert and store them)

Now from a “sugar is not good for you” standpoint, it was clearly not a good move. But from a “Someday, I’d like to not be a fat girl” standpoint, it was a little bit of a victory. Today I got up and had a good breakfast (pastured eggs and spinach), good lunch (BreadCo French Onion Soup, minus the croutons), and good dinner (a little tilapia, a little chicken breast, and more spinach, I was too lazy to steam a veggie), went and played in the pool for an hour and a half, and took a walk during Katy’s volleyball practice. I’m still on the road to skinny. 🙂

This weekend, Katy and I are going to Neighborhood Camporee for Girl Scouts. We’ll be having lunch, dinner, and breakfast at camp. I am thinking of packing a cooler with extra veggies, some chicken breast, and maybe a little HFCS-free jerky to supplement what they serve at camp…do you think that’s okay etiquette, and if so, any other suggestions for what I should bring, based on what you’ve read so far? Any help would be appreciated!

Movement: A Primal Primer

A few years ago, Reader Alli and I were both members of the YMCA and made a Gym Pact. We were going to meet at the Y at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m., do a half-hour on the elliptical, treadmill, or exercise bike, and get our workouts out of the way early. We both had weight to lose, and we were paying the Y a lot of money each month, and we were just going to be tough and do it.

This lasted approximately three weeks.

The truth was, neither one of us enjoyed going out in the dark, cold morning (because of course this was a New Year’s Resolution). We weren’t going to bed earlier to compensate for the fact that we were getting up at 5:10 to get to the Y. All right, fine, I was getting up at 5:25 to get there at 5:35, but this post isn’t about that. We were combining exercise with restricting calories, and we quickly got sick, tired, and grumpy about the whole thing. In fact, our husbands might say that we never recovered from the grumpy part.

Did we lose weight? A little. Were we happy people? See above.

If you are one of those people who likes going to the gym, that’s awesome. I admit, I’m a little envious of your cute workout clothes and your iPod arm thingies that show off your slender arms. If you, like Tim, enjoy running long distances, more power to you. I am neither of those people.

The primal philosophy of moving is complex. Paleo and primal eating tends to attract people from a wide cross-section of the fitness world. Some of them are people who can tear off a CrossFit workout and make it look easy. Some of us are people who consider it somewhat humorous to even include us on this mythical fitness world. And there are plenty of people in between.

If you’re just getting started, The Primal Blueprint encourages you to consider what early humans had to do to survive: they had to be able to wander (or move slowly, frequently), either to forage for food or shelter, or to spread out a bit; they had to be able to have functional strength, or Lift Heavy Things, for when they encountered obstacles or hit the jackpot and killed a tasty animal; and they had to be able to sprint as if their life depended on it…because it often did.

(Recommended reading: The Primal Blueprint Fitness eBook, available for free here.)

Over the last month or so, I’ve found myself moving a lot more. Tim and I often take a walk after dinner, and a lot of times the kids come with us. Sometimes we leave them at home–a veritable free date! We’re not setting any land speed records, but that’s okay. We’re moving muscles that I tend to pull when I work out hard. My heart rate is elevated, and my body is getting stronger at its own pace. I’ve also mowed the lawn, worked out in the yard, and walked Katy to and from school most days. These are all moving slowly, frequently.

I’ve also become a big fan of Lifting Heavy Things. I used to warily approach the machines at the gym, or try to do Jillian Michaels DVDs and feel like an idiot in my own living room. Primal movement calls for you to have functional strength (as in, it doesn’t just look good, it can actually accomplish something) in the following areas: push-ups, pull-ups, squats, overhead presses, and planks. No machines. No Jillian looking amazing and somehow making me feel bad while she’s encouraging me. There’s a lot of latitude in how you do what you do, but for now I am following the exercises outlined in the ebook. There’s 9 levels of each exercise, and level 4 is considered functional strength. I’ll record my progress in another post–my posts are always long!

I will admit, I haven’t felt up to sprinting yet. Too much of me to move that quickly for now. Tim, Paul, and Katy have done sprint workouts, and Claire regularly does them as part of Cross Country. I’m hoping to join the sprinting crew by September 1.

Even if you think the way I’m eating is nuts, and there are a lot of people (Claire) who do, you’re welcome to join me in the fitness plan. It’s doable, progressive, and effective. I’m getting arm muscles! And Reader Alli reports that my butt looks flatter. All of this is good because I’m scheduled to go to Philmont Scout Ranch next summer and a) I’d like to get on the trail and b) I’m going to need to be able to move slowly, frequently, and to lift heavy things…but hopefully the sprinting for my life won’t come into play.

…Uh oh. I’m afraid this is going to call for before and after pictures. Luckily I have some taken right before I started this. I’ll try to snap some at the end of the month so we can track monthly progress. If that won’t keep a girl honest, I don’t know what will!

Hooray for a cooking post with pictures!

A few years ago, Tim and I went to Chicago with Tim’s brother Tom and Tom’s wife Kelly. While we were there, we ate at Buca di Beppo, which was pretty yummy! Tim had something called Pork Rustica which was a pork dish with a blueberry stopping that I’ve played around with trying to recreate but have never actually done. However, the kiddos aren’t fans of blueberries, so I knew I needed something else too, and I wanted to make something Claire would like, so I decided to make an apple topping too. You certainly don’t have to make both toppings, or you could make both and combine them!

Here are the ingredients:

Pork chops

Blueberry topping

Apple topping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cored the apples and pitted the dates, then chopped both and set them aside. I used Gala but you could use any fairly sweet apple, or maybe a sweet-spicy such as Fuji. After two apples, I said, I think that’s enough, so there’s only two apples in the recipe even though there’s four in the picture. I still used two dates though.

I started with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in my 12-inch cast iron skillet. Heat it up and then nestle some pork chops in there. I also put a little bit of granulated garlic and pepper on them. Coconut oil likes to be busy doing something, so I fill up the pan as much as possible:

I turned the heat up fairly high (“7” on my kinda crappy electric stove) and seared the pork chops for 3 minutes on each side before going into a 13 x 9 baking dish.

While the pork chops were cooking, I put the chopped apples and dates in my 8-inch cast iron pan with 2 tablespoons of butter, and sprinkled some ground cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg on top. I turned the heat to medium low (“3” on the stove) and let it cook for a bit, stirring it to make sure the apples were evenly coated with butter and spices:

These apples now look like potatoes, but they are apples, I promise. In the background is the chicken stock that Tim made.After the apples had cooked for a bit, I called Claire in. She took a sniff and said, “It smells like Christmas!”

I cooked a total of 8 pork chops, so it took three batches in the pan. After the second batch it looked like the pan needed some more oil, so I put another teaspoon of coconut oil in there. When they were done, they looked like this:

Pork Chops: We're tired! We need to finish cooking and then rest!

They went into the oven at 325 to finish up cooking while I made the blueberry sauce.

I turned down the heat on the larger pan and used about a third of a cup of red wine to deglaze it, then added 2 cups of blueberries and a tablespoon of lemon juice. I gave the berries a quick stir and then let them sit until they started to swell and split. Then I mashed about half of the berries with a fork to make it a little saucier and mixed it again. I turned down the heat to let the sauce cool and thicken a bit:

Mash half the blueberries (top) and then stir (bottom)

At this point, I had to go to the Cor Jesu fall sports rules meeting, so I turned the camera over to Tim. I had 2 potatoes (for the kids) and a sweet potato (primal approved, for Tim and me) baking in the oven, and Tim steamed some broccoli to go with it:

He also made a greens plate with lettuce, baby spinach, and celery, but I’m not including a picture of that.

A couple of notes: the pork is from Sam’s, nothing fancy. You can use whatever kind of coconut oil you want, but it should be good at medium and high temperatures. The dates are optional, I thought they’d add some moisture, but I couldn’t really tell they were there. The apples were kind of thick, but if you want the apple topping to be more of a sauce, you could mix in a little bit of cream, water, or even chicken stock.

Tim and I both thought it was good, and the kids liked theirs too. Success!

So, how quickly can you put this together? I took my time, and took pictures and such. But I’m thinking you could do it in about 45 minutes, depending on how you cook the potatoes. I like to start mine in the microwave and finish them in the oven. The potatoes are optional as well, you could skip them and do a salad instead.

Tomorrow I’m going to start a recipes page with no pictures, so take a look over there if you want the recipes.
Bon appetit!

After church, we took the kiddos to Tony’s Donuts to pick out two donuts each. (I actually walked out of Tony’s Donuts with no donuts for myself.) When we got home, the kids scarfed their pastries and I started work on my first creation of the day: Chocolate Raspberry Smoothies. I didn’t take pictures, but here is the recipe:

1 scoop of Whole Foods 100% Whey Protein Powder (Vanilla flavored)
1/2 can of coconut milk (6.75 ounces)
2 tsp. cocoa
1 Tbsp. almond butter
1 cup raspberries
8-10 ice cubes

Directions: Mix all ingredients except ice in the blender. Add the ice cubes to your desired consistency.

Notes:

  • I like Whole Foods 365 Coconut Milk the best. It tastes good and it’s not as expensive as some of the others. Also, if you buy 24 cans (about a month’s supply for our family, you get 10% off.
  • The cocoa is more or less to taste.
  • The almond butter thickens it a little and gives it a creamy yummy taste, but you probably could do without it.
  • I would say this makes 2 servings. We all had a little to try it.

Nutrition (per serving):

  • 310 calories
  • 11.9 grams of protein
  • 13.7 grams of carbohydrates
  • 24 grams of fat

Primal Nutella!

Nutella is one of my very favorite things in the whole world. I first had some when working at a little French cafe in Occoquan, VA (RIP Cafe Rochambeau), where they served Nutella and jelly to kids instead of peanut butter and jelly. It was love at first sight:

*choir of angels singing*

So I was thrilled when I found this recipe and even more thrilled when it turned out to be good. Thank you and God bless you, Gillian Fritzsche.

This is delicious with fruit and whipped cream, and really decadent spread on a coconut pancake instead of maple syrup.

Without further ado:

Primal Nutella

Ingredients:

8 oz. hazelnuts, roasted and shelled

3 T. cocoa

1 T. stevia extract

Coconut oil

Directions:

Spread the hazelnuts evenly in a shallow pan. Roast for 10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. Let cool for at least one hour, preferably four to eight hours. Shell the hazelnuts and add to food processor bowl. Process on high for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture resembles cookie dough. Add the stevia and cocoa and process until blended. Add the coconut oil gradually, 1 teaspoon or tablespoon at a time, until it is the consistency of a spread. Store refrigerated.

Comments:

The first time I made this I had not yet tried cooking with stevia, and it was kind of bitter plain, so I went non-primal and added 1/4 cup of powdered sugar to it. If you are looking for a more natural nutella recipe, this is also a good option.

Here is a video of Gillian herself making this recipe: Gillian’s Nutella Video

Enjoy!

Reader Theresa (so cool!) writes:

Ok. Amie. Got a question for you that perhaps you could answer on your blog. What is primal eating? How has it changed you? Why did you decide to go with primal as opposed to low-fat stuff? How does this affect the way you cook at home and how has your family reacted to the changes? Looking forward to reading more of your blog.

Did you see the part where she said she was looking forward to reading more of my blog? But back to the matter at hand…

Primal eating embraces the idea that we should like our ancestors (our way, way back ancestors) did. Their diet was primarily made up of whatever they could, well, hunt and gather, including game, fruits, veggies, and the like.

It also highlights the love-hate relationship we have with gluten. As in, we love gluten, but it kinda hates us. It’s hard for our bodies to process, and can cause chronic inflammation in those who are gluten-sensitive or -intolerant. And foods that have a high gluten content tend to have a high carb count. Carbs raise our blood sugar levels, make our livers work harder, and can lead to insulin resistance when over-consumed, which Americans tend to do in a big way. And insulin resistance is bad, bad news. (Recommended reading: Good Calories, Bad Calories, if you’re interested in a whole lot of science, or Why We Get Fat, which is a more accessible version of the first and frankly the one I preferred reading, both by Gary Taubes)

So, primal eating calls for lots of whole, unprocessed, foods, the cleanest you can afford. A good amount of protein, low carbs, and enough fat to round out your daily caloric needs. Pasta is out, gluten is out, bread is out (although concessions can be made for sourdough, because it’s fermented and more easily digested), sugar is out, all kinds of meat are in (beef, pork, chicken, and game meat–the cleaner the better), veggies and fruit are in, dairy is in but limited, and some oils are in, but not necessarily the ones you’d expect: at the top of the list are coconut oil, and purely rendered lard, although butter is also good. Dark chocolate? In, the darker the better, as a treat. Red wine? In, in moderation.

Primal eating is one component of primal living, and I think that’s what appeals to me the most about this way of doing things, the whole body approach. Primal living says you need to eat well; you need to move your body, build your strength, and play; you need to get sufficient rest; and you need to avoid stress and doing stupid things. The other thing I like about it is that the approach is that 100% primal eating is fantastic, but 80% primal is better than 0%. Something that is heavily emphasized in The Primal Blueprint is, “don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.” (More recommended reading: The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson.)

Why did I choose this over low-fat eating? Probably for a couple of reasons: 1) I’ve tried low-fat eating before, and I always sucked at it. I suspect now that it’s because things that are low-fat tend to have more sugar in them to make them taste better, but I’m not 100% sure. 2) I thought about making my cakes, how I always wanted to find the right ingredients. Whole milk is better than 1%. Unbleached cake flour is better than enriched, bleached flour. Butter trumps margarine. Quality dark chocolate and 40% heavy cream make an amazing ganache. My homemade fondant was better than the stuff I ordered online. It felt like going with food I recognized, the less processed the better, made a huge difference in the quality of my cakes. Cake is still bad for you, no matter how good your ingredients, but I thought the theory might transfer over.

So what does that mean in my daily life? Well, today I had a Canadian bacon and egg scramble for breakfast with a couple of cups of spinach on the side. Then I went to a Girl Scout leaders’ lunch at Pastries of Denmark, where I had the chicken/bacon/swiss sandwich with no bread, served on lettuce, hold the tomato and red onion because I don’t like them, hold the vinaigrette because it probably has sugar in it, but then they gave it to me anyway. And a cup of the Garden Vegetable soup. Then, because I’m not superwoman, I had 1/2 glass of Coke. Tonight’s dinner was supposed to be chicken breast, broccoli, and salad, but I wasn’t hungry and it wound up being a small snack of an organic apple, a few slices of Volpi sopressata salami (which I found in the fancy deli part of Sam’s Club) and a few slices of Kerrygold aged cheddar cheese (it’s grass-fed, but I also found it at Sam’s) and for dessert I had a square of Ghiradelli 72% dark chocolate. I think I did okay 🙂

The “bottom line” is more-or-less the same as it used to be. My meat is running more expensive as I try to explore my grass-fed or pastured options, but I’m still getting a lot of my produce at Sam’s. Occasional moments of weakness aside, I’m not spending $.72 per day on my soda habit (plus M&Ms, or maybe a Reese’s Big Cup, or…) at Circle K or Quik Trip. Eating out doesn’t happen very often either, which can also support my forays into Whole Foods for coconut milk and hazelnuts for Homemade Primal Nutella (which is amazing, I’ll post the recipe next).

I’ve blathered on for quite a bit here, so I’ll sign off and address the kids in a future post. To preview: I’ve got one on board, one sort of on board, and one that’s more off-board (?) than on.

I hope that helped answer your questions. Let me know if what I said generated any more, and I’ll try to answer those too! 🙂

As part of our protein-heavy breakfasts, we eat a lot of eggs. For over six months now, we have been going through a combination of eggs and Egg Beaters at a fairly alarming rate. As we’ve done our research, we decided that switching to organic, pastured eggs was one of the first big (read: more expensive) changes we wanted to make. We checked out the Farmers’ Markets, Whole Foods, Dierbergs, etc., before finally pulling the trigger on a place we found on localharvest.org:  Cackle Farms.

I called and talked to the owner and she could not have been nicer. She explained to me how her chickens live, how she collects her eggs, etc. I ordered two dozen for a trial, and she told me I could pick them up the next day and pay on the honor system because her family would be at church.

Tim and I ventured up there on Sunday after we had been to Mass ourselves and discovered everything just as she said. We brought home our eggs and cooked up a dozen with some sausage. They were delicious. Paul used some this morning when he got up before everyone and made pancakes (non-primal, but the kids sure liked them) and eggs for the family, and they were really good, even reheated. Tim says he likes them because they don’t have that “crappy egg taste” that he had always associated with eggs. I liked the variances in size and color, I like washing them off before I use them, and I like the darker yellow yolk and yummy taste, not to mention the boost is Omega-3 fatty acids!

Did I mention they are only $3.00 a dozen?

You can find Cackle Farms on localharvest.org, and if you do, please leave some for me. Thanks.

It’s a classic story: Girl loves food. Girl gets food. Girl gets chunky. Girl tries goofy diet after goofy diet. Girl loses weight. Girl gets weight back.

Last year, I did Weight Watchers, and lost about 15 pounds. Then I regained it over the holidays. Then, inspired by my friend BK (no, not Burger King…although he has inspired me before too), Tim and I read and tried the Slow Carb Diet as described by Tim Farriss in The 4-Hour Body. BK has had tremendous success with it, and it worked for awhile for Tim and me, but I was gaining everything back on my Cheat Day (and by Cheat Day, I mean Festival of Gluttony) and then having a hard time settling back into the week. Plus, the kids were not having any of it. I knew I needed something that was practical for my family, and sustainable over time.

Three things happened more or less simultaneously that led us here. 1) Tim discovered the work of Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat, and Good Calories, Bad Calories; 2) I found Sarah Fragoso’s great book, Everyday Paleo; and 3) Tim and I discovered separately and briefly discussed Mark Sisson’s marksdailyapple.com. But I didn’t actually change anything.

Until one day when, with all of this swirling around in my head, I skipped a high-protein breakfast that Tim had fixed, drank 32 ounces of Coke, had a huge Mexican business lunch with BK including more soda, and realized that I felt like garbage. I was tired and bloated, my weight was back at its highest point, I had had to try on three shirts that day to find one that was at all flattering, and I knew from my research that my liver and pancreas had to be trying to organize the rest of my organs into collectively bargaining for better working conditions.

I texted Tim, who was leaning toward a more primal/paleo approach, and said, I’m in. Let’s do this.

Since then, I’ve been voraciously reading anything I can get my hands on about the paleo/primal lifestyle. I’ve shopped at Trader Joes and (gasp) Whole Foods. I’ve tried cooking all sorts of new things. I’ve moved slowly, and lifted heavy things.

And I feel great.

So, here I am. I’m still learning about how to eat to fuel my body, and there are days when I feel like Mr. Pibb is calling my name and the people at Circle K are probably forming a search party for me, but I’m having more good days than bad and I want to share them with you. Partially for accountability, partially in celebration, and partially to tell anyone who is feeling like I did: there has got to be a better way. I think I’ve found it and I’m excited to share the journey with you.