Friday, September 28, 2012

So embarrassing!

With what I am gong to admit, it is obvious that I have absolutely no shame. But I found a great way to add 500 steps to my walking total, and when your goal is 10,000 steps a day, every extra one helps.

I've made brushing my teeth each morning fun.

To the tune of the Happy Birthday song I sing (while brushing my teeth):

Happy Monday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.) to me
Happy Monday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.) to me
Happy Monday dear Valerie
Make Monday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.) the best it can be.

I march in place when I silently sing this ditty. And I sing it 12 times, six times while brushing my top teeth; six times while brushing my bottom. (I also use an electric toothbrush, so I don't have to remember to move the toothbrush up and down.)

Here's how I get the 12 songs in:
Top left side of my teeth: Once while brushing the front, once while brushing the back.
Top front teeth: Once while brushing the front, once while brushing the back.
Top right side of my teeth: Once while brushing the front, once while brushing the back.

That makes six. Repeat on the bottom.

As I get better at this, my steps increased. When I started I was completing about 350 steps. Now, 500. Soon, who knows? All I know is that by the time I hit the gym every morning, I've already got a leg up on my steps.

Plus, the affirmation of making each day great helps my mood. I call it my tooth mantra. Now I'm even laughing at myself.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


                                  YUM! Shrimp, avocados, mango and couscous.

I used to avoid avocados like the plague because of the fat content. But the more I read about this fruit, the more I understand that it should become part of my diet. Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium, vitamin E, fiber, folate, and vitamin B6 -- all important components of a healthy diet.

So eat avocados I do. Added to my salad, they impart a creaminess impossible to find in any other food. Actually, it is kind of decadent.

I prefer Haas avocados, the ones with the pebbly green skin that turns almost black as it ripens. For me, they have more flavor than the green, smooth-skinned Fuerte. In my market, avocados have become so popular, there is a section reserved for those that are ripe and ready to eat. If not ripe, bring it home to ripen for a few days at room temperature. Unripe avocados lack flavor -- plus they are hard. You really want to eat them ripe.

Ripe avocados will yield a little to pressure. If they form a dent when gently squeezed, it has past its prime and is best left at the store.

Once ripe, they will keep a few days in the fridge.

To pit, slice lengthwise and twist it gently to seperate the two halves. I learned the next step from my California cousins, who have avocado trees growing the their backyards: Pierce the pit with the tip of a sharp knife and it will pop right out. If you are not using the whole avocado, squeeze lemon over the exposed flesh, wrap with plastic, and store in the refrigerator.

And now for an amazing recipe, which stars one of my favorite foods, shrimp. It's from the California Advocao Commission.

  • 24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 Tbsp. seafood grill seasoning
  • Olive oil, optional
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 (10-oz.) box plain couscous
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes, see Note
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced on diagonal
  • 1 cup cooked edamame (shelled soybeans)
Mango-Lime Dressing
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2  cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground white pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp. snipped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. snipped fresh cilantro leaves
  1. Toss shrimp with seasoning. Barbecue or sauté in olive oil for about 3 minutes, turning over once. Remove to plate; set aside.
  2. In a 2-quart pan, bring water to a boil. Stir in couscous, oil and salt. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. In a bowl, combine avocado and lemon juice; set aside.
  4. Remove lid from pan and fluff couscous; cool. Pour couscous into a large mixing bowl. Add avocado, mango, onions and edamame.
  5. Pour dressing over salad, as needed. Toss to coat.
  6. Serve onto plates and top with cooked shrimp.
  1. In a food processor, add mango, juice, oil, garlic, mustard, salt, pepper and cumin. Purée, using the pulse button; set aside.
  2. Mix mint and cilantro into dressing immediately before using.
Note: Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces. If using smaller or larger size avocados adjust the quantity accordingly.

Makes 8 servings, per serving: calories 270; total fat 16g (sat 2g,  trans 0g, poly 2g, Mono 1 g); cholesterol 30mg; sodium 560mg; total carbohydrates 25g; dietary Ffber 5g; protein 9g

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mindless no more

                                      I love this take on the government's
                                      Healthy Eating Plate, which shows you
                                      how to truly eat mindfully. It's from

Last October I spent a week at the yoga retreat, Kripalu, immersing myself in a mindful eating course. It was life changing at the time, but soon I was back to my old habits. Once again I failed.

Eating mindfully is all about paying attention to the food you are about to eat, before it passes your lips, smelling and enjoying its shape and texture. Next, you savor every bite, chewing each morsel for a long time, and listening to your body tell you when it is no longer hungry. A meal has to take at least 20 minutes, because that's how long it takes for your tummy to signal your brain that you have had enough food.

I learned the best way to accomplish this is to eat at a table, but trying to get Jack there each night for dinner is a losing battle: We have eaten in front of the TV for too many years. But I was using that as an excuse not to practice my mindful eating.

Two weeks ago, in the middle of a TV dinner, I started to pay attention to my food, so much so that I got up from the couch and got out a pair of chopsticks, the one utensil that really slows my eating down. It took me 30 minutes to eat this meal, and when I was finished, I was sated and content.

A few nights ago I put the chopsticks away, because I now trust myself to eat slowly. I like it better. I am a terrific cook, so why shouldn't a savor each bite, and stretch the food experience out a little longer?

The result: After every dinner now I am not thinking about food. No urges for a second helping. No cravings for dessert. Progress.

As I make every little change, I am hoping that they become permanent and last more than a few months. I know this is not easy, since I can -- and have -- reverted to bad habits in the past.

But so far, drinking more water and eating slower is beginning to pay off. Let's see where else this journey of self discovery will lead me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bottoms up!

I always thought I was terrific, drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day and never complaining. Not anymore.

I have now read enough info to backup the fact that 64 ounces of water is fine for someone who weighs 128 pounds. Uh, that's probably how much my legs weigh. In fact, many nutritionists now advise you drink half your weight in water daily, and add an extra 8-ounce glass for every cup of coffee or soda you drink.

If I admitted how much water I now drink each day I would be admitting my weight, since I only drink a cup of coffee and no soda. Suffice it to say, it's a lot.

But now, instead of guzzling my water, I am sipping it through a straw throughout the day. Little sips that keep me well hydrated through all my activities, including exercise. And I have discovered four things:

1. I can keep exercising longer.
2. I have more energy throughout the day.
3. I am never hungry.
4. My skin is more supple, and some of my dry spots are becoming more moist.

I used to guzzle my water in large increments, only to be rushing to the bathroom about 20 minutes after I finished drinking that glass. My little sips have stopped that, and I can't help but think they are doing my body more good than the gulps. The water is staying inside me for a longer period of time. Instead of rushing to the bathroom, I make a few trips throughout the day, not immediately peeing it out before the water can grab internal toxins to come along for the journey.

I'll drink to this!

Monday, September 24, 2012

True meaning of binging

                                             Dr. Oz talks to two binge eaters.

Last Wednesday's Dr. Oz show was all about binge eating. I have said in the past that I am a binge eater, and then I saw the show. Binge eaters are people who cannot control their eating, every day, 365 days a year.

I am not in the category. I can go weeks eating a healthy diet, and then every now and then I start obsessing about food, go to the market, and usually come  home with one of two things: a pint of ice cream and cookies or a large package of Twizzlers. I open my binge du jour, and without thinking, sit on the couch and eat until the last morsel is gone. For me, that's a binge.

These women spoke of eating marathons, usually lasting at least four hours, in which they could consume whole pizzas, packages of chips and cookies, large containers of ice cream, corn dogs ... the list of foods go on and on.

So now I know my binges are  not really binges, but just breaks in good eating habits. If I had no weight to lose, I could maintain my weight with a few of these binges every now. Except....

Dr. Oz showed an X-ray of what happens to a person's stomach after any binge. That means me. It takes over the space in which the intestines usually reside, compressing them down. The pancreas gets displaced, as do other organs. That was the warm-up.

He then showed a picture of a normal-weight person who binged for quite a few hours, and by the time he arrived at the ER, he was dead. His stomach in the picture was blue, which means it died, which caused all of his other organs to die. The picture of that open blue belly is forever imprinted in my mind.

Dr. Oz closed his show with some sage advice, which I have written out and placed on my desk: "What will life be like to feel my feelings instead of eating them."

When I can answer that question, I know I will no longer have any weight issues.

Friday, September 21, 2012

My new BFF

I have tried just about every diet known to man, but the one thing I never did was see a nutritionist.

My doctor thought it might be wise to do, so I now visit Courtney Sansonetti every two weeks. I erroneously thought she would be giving me a diet to follow, but Courtney is all about balance -- both in the way you live your life and the foods you eat to fuel your body.

Our first session was a get-to-know each other. We talked about food. I told her the foods I ate, but of course I was telling her about my "good" days, when I only ate nutritious, healthy foods, totally avoiding sugar and junk food, because honestly, that is how I usually eat.

But then there are my binge days, which I totally forgot to mention. At our second session I confessed about my binging because for this to work, I need to be honest. Courtney has many clients who binge, and although she knows it happens, has a hard time understanding how food can have such power. She is one of the svelte lucky ones in this country without any food or body issues.

So now, instead of writing down the foods I eat she wants me to journal my feelings about food, my emotions, and if I binge comes on, try to analyze why. In fact, she is hoping I have at least one binge within the next two weeks; she thinks it could help me uncover the reason why I binge.

I am praying I don't. I hate binging. It makes me feel out of control and the next day I spend mentally beating myself up. What Courtney is asking me to do is listen to the voice within that makes me want to eat foods I know I shouldn't. I know that if I don't listen to that voice and fight back, I will never win this battle.

My goal: To eat like a thin person, listening to my body cues, and when my body tells me I am sated, to stop eating. I want to be able to eat a cookie, have a dish of ice cream or a slice of cheesecake every now and then, and not make that cookie the reason to start eating everything in sight. I am so tired of telling myself I will wake up the next day and drink only three whey shakes the whole day to make up for my discretion the night before. (By the way, that NEVER happens.)

I'm praying my new journal will get me thinking about things I have been suppressing for years. Talk about scary! But I'm ready. Bring it on...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An exercise in understanding

                                     My daily home away from home: LA Fitness in Trumbull.

I discovered yoga two years ago and it honestly changed my life. Made me calmer, clearer in my thoughts, and gave me the strength to leave my job and go out on my own.

And although I practice yoga daily, if I went on a bike ride or power walk, I knew my stamina was nil. In May, I decided to do something about that, and began going to the gym -- a membership I always had but rarely use. I also convinced my friend, Ann, who I walked with four mornings each week, to join. Some mornings it's hard to get up, but I know Ann will be there and I better make the effort. Our motto: Friends don't let friends stop exercising.

Now I'm a gym rat. I'm there daily, for at least an hour, doing aerobic exercise and strength training.

But that's not the lesson here. When my blood pressure spiked, I was told to stop exercising until they could determine what was wrong with me. I HATED THAT. I MISSED THE GYM.

And as soon as I got the all clear, I returned to the gym, more determined than ever to fix my weight and high blood pressure. Here's the key: If I hadn't been going to the gym prior to my health scare, I wouldn't have known where to start. I know myself well enough to understand that I never would have started exercising. I would have been frozen into inaction.

This journey I am now on is introspective, making me think about my actions -- or inaction -- and understanding what really makes me tick. And for the first time ever, I am beginning to like myself. Progress.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wake-up call

                                    Three of the reasons I have to stay healthy:
                                    Sammy, Kiley and Bailey, the sweetest
                                    granddaughters in the whole world.
                                    Here they are in the villa we rented in Tuscany.
I've been so healthy all my life, even though I spent a great part of it eating too much of all the wrong things.
My luck changed this summer.

On a two-week vacation to Italy, 12 of those days found me with swollen ankles. I came up with all sorts of excuses for the swelling: the water in Italy is loaded with sodium, the heat, and what I was eating. Within two days of getting home my ankles started returning to normal, so it had to be the water.
Except that just about the time my ankles went back to normal I became short of breath. Not constantly, but enough to get my attention. After a month of denial, I visited my doctor's office and discovered my blood pressure was 190/110. After weeks of medical-testing hell, I just found out all is well, except I am on medication. My BP meds are how I start each day. But this is a good thing.
Every time I open that bottle, it reinforces three things:
1. That I have a chronic medical issue.
2. That I will try everything in my power to lose weight.
3. That I have to hit the gym.
Today, when I was meeting with my new BFF, my nutritionist, I also resolved to start writing my blog again.
I'm back, more determined than ever to lose weight, but this time, unlike other weight-loss adventures, I have a really good reason to shed pounds. It's called life. I plan to be around for many years to come. But even more important, I want my quality of life to be excellent. Change is the only way to accomplish this.