Thursday, March 27, 2014

Use Coupons for Grocery Items!

A few weeks ago I discovered a show called "Extreme Couponing". Have you seen it? These families of 5-10 people have high grocery bills, but they use BOGO free sales, manufacture's coupons, and store sales to get like $600 worth of groceries for like $7.20. It's extreme!

I decided to at least try to do BOGO free at Walmart. Every week I go though the junk mail ads. that come from the local grocery stores. Most of the time Walmart has the cheapest prices, so I don't bother to "price match" from local grocery stores, but I WILL bring in the BOGO free ads! This week I spent $180 for groceries that will last me 9 days (kind of a lot for my usual…but we had done just "bare necessities" grocery trips the past two trips, so I had to get things like buttons and thread, etc. that I normally get once in a blue moon.) I have created an Excel sheet that lists, in columns, the coupons/ BOGO free deals that I have on hand. I'll make my menu for the week/ two weeks, then look through my Excel sheet and see if there are coupons I can use. I then kind of adjust my menu accordingly. There were several BOGO free ads. I used this week! Here's are all the items I got for free this shopping trip, simply by taking 20 minutes to go through the junk mail ads. and clip them out.

canned tomatoes $1.65
jarred spaghetti sauce $3.69
salad dressing $3.69 + had a $0.50 manufacture's coupon
kielbasa sausage $4.39
bagels $4.49
20 oz box of cereal $4.79
Frito's chips $3.49
shredded cheese $3.99
medium sized tortillas $2.79
syrup $3.89
shampoo $3.00 off manufacture's coupon
Total value of free food goods: $40.36

So yeah, I basically got $40 worth of food for free, simply by trying something new!

Three challenges:
1) It will take you a good 30-45 minutes to get through the checkout lane at Walmart…and you have to watch everything the cashier rings up so you know that you're actually getting the deal.

2) If you live in a small apartment (like I do) storage of unopened/ extras of food items is an issue. I hate to have a full fridge where you have to take everything off the shelves just to reach the pickles that you put way in the back like 6 days ago. I also hate to have things fall out of the cabinets at me (who doesn't?) Sooo…you have to get a little creative with your food storage. If at all possible, consolidate bags/bottles/containers of thing same thing. If you really do not have room in your pantry (we don't even have a pantry…just a few cabinets in the kitchen) then you can always use some mixing bowls/ baskets you have lying around the house, stick them on top of the fridge, and use that as extra storage. It looks a little messy, but it still will be organized. For example, I have a bag of potatoes in one bowl, fruit in another, our breads/bagels/tortillas in another basket, and some onions in a mixing bowl. No one ever seems to mind that there are random, easy to reach foods on top of my fridge, and I certainly don't mind. It frees up my counters, and cabinets. I use my cabinets to store my extras that I get on these BOGO free deals.

3) If you are a family of 2, and don't have 12 ravishing kids, you have to eat the food before it goes bad. With things like bread, that can be a little more of a challenge. (Bread and tortillas freeze really well, in a pinch, FYI!) The way to avoid having food spoil is to I plan your meals around the items you know you will get for free. For example, we're having spaghetti 3 times in two weeks, because I got 2 jars of spaghetti sauce, and 2 sausages using my BOGO deals this week. Additionally, I'm making homemade frozen beef, bean, and cheese burritos. I got 2 packs of tortillas (10 count each), and knew they probably wouldn't stay fresh for the 3 weeks it would take us to eat them. So, I bought a bag of pinto beans, cooked them in the crockpot all day, and then assembled the burritos. So much cheaper and healthier than the frozen kinds you buy at the gas station! If you are eating and using the items you got for free, then you don't have to store them for very long! I've found that it's actually cheaper if you repeat 1-2 meals a week, and then also have some for lunch leftovers too.

Hope this post inspires you to use some coupons and/or BOGO free deals on your groceries! The trick is to make your menu and shopping list before looking through your coupons, otherwise you will be tempted to get something just because it's on sale, or BOGO free, when you never were thinking of buying it in the first place. Happy couponing! :)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Let's Talk Food

So I promised an update on my diet…Short and sweet, I've lost a grand total of 3 lbs. in 7.5 weeks. Really not what I was hoping for! I was hoping to have actually lost another 4 lbs. at this time in the game, but it just didn't happen that way. I'm going to keep at it! I leave for California in a few days, and I had a specific weight in mind (7 lbs. less than my starting weight), and it's obvious I'm not going to lose 3 or 4 lbs. within these next couple of days. But! That's okay! I'm going to keep going!

In other news, some people have been asking for food menus. I tried to sketch out what I ate for breakfast one week during my "build a better breakfast" challenge. Here is a more in-depth meal plan! I also included prices, because I think that is a very realistic thing to consider when making a meal plan.

Since I've been married (exactly 6 months now, thank you very much), I've changed around our meal plans, how often I go to the grocery store, and we've even moved twice (yes…I know…) so I've had to deal with three different kitchens. After spending twice our budgeted allowance on food in the month of October, I knew I needed to look for some cheaper meals! I revisited my meal plans that I've kept over the past 20 months or so that I've been living on my own and cooking for myself (and I was in grad school…aka no money…). I wanted to see how I lived so cheaply just even 8 or 10 months ago. I found a trend that turned out to be really helpful! The trend is this: plan 4 dinners for 7 days worth of dinners. Meaning, if you plan to eat at home 7 nights a week, plan only 4 different dinners and eat leftovers the rest of the nights. I tried that these past two weeks and have been able to keep our budget under control! (For the two of us we budget $500 a month on food + $50 for going out to eat…it may seem like a lot, and it is, but that's why I've been playing around with out meal plans so much!)

Another trend that kept reappearing in my previous meal plans was only having two shopping days a month. I normally did a big shopping trip, and then a "refresher" trip for things like fresh veggies and milk and things that wouldn't keep a month…eww… I tried that again for the month of February. For my first trip of the month I planned to spent $170-190. I actually spent $159, but had $10 worth of coupons (my first time EVER using coupons at a grocery store…woah…) so ended up paying $149 for my first trip that was supposed to supply two weeks of food. Later in the month I wanted to spend $50 for a refresher trip that would last another week, however for the fourth week of the month I was going to be out of town, and wanted to make meals ahead for my poor husband who will be here alone, so that shopping trip turned out to be $113. For the whole month I was able to get enough food in two trips, and spent $262. That practically cut our grocery budget in half from what it has been in previous months!

A few more tricks that helped me save money:

  • plan 4 dinners for 7 nights worth of meals at home, and eat leftovers 
  • "Lunch" meals don't need to be sandwiches, and "dinner" meals don't always need to be hot meals. Mix and match. Eat some of the leftovers from dinner for lunch. 
  • Replace one "meal" a week with a salad. This past week we subbed a lunch of sandwiches for a homemade Italian salad. It was very tasty, and used veggie ingredients we already had on hand. The one down side? We ate at noon and I was hungry at 4pm. I don't normally snack, and didn't that day either, but we did eat dinner at 5pm! 
  • Instead of processed foods like chips, pretzels, or any other type of snack-y foods you would normally throw in your lunch box, replace it with a side salad. I like salads (my husband loves them!), but I have to change it up. Most of the time my salads consist of lettuce, lettuce mix (baby spinach, arugula, swiss chard, etc.), cucumbers, carrots, sometimes tomatoes if I've splurged (…during the winter…), and dressing. I will occasionally change it up like with the Italian salad, or we had a "luau" salad last week with Asian dressing, pineapple chunks, oranges, almonds, raisins, lettuce, cucumbers, and feta cheese on top. Really good! Eating a side salad at lunch (and for some dinners) really helped us cut back our food bill this month! 
  • Use your freezer! Ours is always 1/2 to 3/4 full, and it's because we freeze some of our leftovers. No one likes eating the same casserole five times in eight days, so freeze some for later. Eat it twice one week, once the next week, skip a week or two, and eat it twice on weeks 4 or 5 or 6. It actually works really well. 
I want to show you what I spent my grocery money on these past three weeks, and provide you with a few simple meal combinations. I didn't post any recipes because, let's be honest, Pinterest and Google are alive and well! These meals are great, and you can probably find a recipe for "crockpot chili" just about anywhere. It's more of an idea for you to see how I spent my money, and what I spent it on, and how I arranged it into some good meals!

Week 1: Total spent= $149
·      egg casserole + chocolate muffin
·      choc raspberry smoothie + chocolate muffin
·      choc raspberry smoothie+ chocolate muffin
·      oatmeal + pre-made green smoothie juice
·      oatmeal
·      egg burrito+ pre-made green smoothie juice

·      leftover chicken salad wrap in lettuce leaf + leftover homemade Mexican chicken soup
·      leftover fried rice + top ramen
·      PB&J sandwiches
·      leftover tuna casserole + side salad
·      roast beef sandwiches + coleslaw
·      tuna pita sandwiches + coleslaw
·      (moving day) burgers? pizza?

·      leftover Mediterranean veggie stew (recipe on Pinterest []) over egg noodles w/ Italian sausages
·      tuna, egg noodle, and pea casserole (many recipes available on Pinterest)
·      crockpot chili, white rice, Fritos + toppings
·      leftover chili
·      OUT TO EAT The Cheesecake Factory (Valentine’s Day)
·      leftover tuna, egg noodle, and pea casserole
·      chicken parmesan over spaghetti (Cooking Light recipe, available online)

·      2 brownies (served at Bible study)
·      6 homemade M&M Valentine’s Day cookies
·      1 (giant) slice of cheesecake (from Valentine’s Day date) eaten over three sittings

·      water
·      milk (skim)
·      almond milk (for oatmeal/ cereal)
·      Crystal Light iced tea (unsweetened)
·      coffee  
·      (tea available, as always, but I didn't drink any this week since I had a lot of tea last week during my 7 day coffee fast. I drank coffee four times this week…not too bad.)
·      1.5 liter Bolthouse Farms pre-made green smoothie

Week 2: Refresher grocery week…total spent=$113
·      string cheese + grapefruit + raspberry smoothie
·      ½ bagel + oatmeal cookie + V8 Fusion juice
·      PB&J sandwich + V8 Fusion juice
·      cereal w/ almond milk + V8 Fusion juice
·      cereal w/ almond milk + mango + coffee
·      blueberry Greek yogurt + ½ turkey sandwich on croissant (leftover from Jason’s Deli)
·      strawberry oatmeal smoothie + V8 Fusion juice + coffee

·      OUT TO EAT Jason’s Deli—salad bar + turkey sandwich on croissant (saved for breakfast one day)
·      frozen leftover chili + rice
·      OUT TO EAT—work meeting…catered sandwiches
·      OUT TO EAT—work meeting…chicken and rice and salad
·      Italian salad (tomatoes, lunch meat, Swiss cheese, pepperchinis, black olives, lettuce mix, Italian dressing, etc.)
·      lettuce wraps w/ deli chicken and Swiss cheese slices
·      homemade sweet potato chips in mustard + ham pita sandwich

·      leftover chicken parmesan with spaghetti and eggplant (Cooking Light recipe; available online)
·      crockpot beef stroganoff (lots of recipes on Pinterest)  w/ egg noodles + canned peas
·      chicken and sausage gumbo (lots of recipes on Pinterest) w/ wild rice
·      leftover stroganoff + side salad
·      leftover gumbo w/ wild rice
·      OUT TO EAT—work meeting…
·      stir fry using frozen veggie mix + rice noodles + chicken beasts

·      graham crackers with peanut butter and Nutella
·      fondue (x3) (strawberries, marshmallows, graham crackers, cuties oranges, bananas, etc.)
·      oatmeal cookies for Aaron’s ski trip
·      chocolate chip cookies for Aaron’s ski trip

·      water
·      milk (skim)
·      almond milk (for oatmeal/ cereal)
·      Crystal Light iced tea (unsweetened)
·      coffee 
·      (tea available)
·      1.5 liter V8 Fusion Acai and Blueberry juice drink

I want you to know that the $262 also bought enough food for the following dinners that I plan on making and freezing for my husband while I am away. I will be visiting my parents, so I won't need to spend very much money on food while I am away. February was a good month for us, as far as staying way under budget for our food allowance! 

Dinners to freeze: 
  • beef enchiladas + chips and salsa + black beans 
  • leftover chicken parmesan with spaghetti noodles 
  • leftover gumbo with wild rice 
  • lentil soup with beef and red pepper (made in crockpot) 
  • OUT TO EAT with coupons that come in the mail
  • breakfast for dinner (eggs, bacon, waffles) 
  • stir fry with frozen veggies + rice 
  • beef enchiladas + chips and salsa + black beans 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Update on my 10 lbs in 12 Weeks Diet

You may or may not know that I've challenged myself to lose 10 lbs in 12 weeks. I'm in the middle of week 6, and so far I've lost (and kept off) 3 lbs. I had lost a little more, but yo-yo'ed back up. After 5, almost 6 weeks, losing 3 lbs is pretty discouraging. However, I have a goal, and I'm going to keep going! I want to work towards it!

My sister is getting married in June, and while I've already ordered my bridesmaids' dress, I still need to get it altered. I think I will wait until closer to the wedding to actually get it altered because I'm hopeful to lose this last bit of weight. If I can be 10 lbs lighter at her wedding than I was at mine in August, I will be very happy :)

A few things I've accomplished in these past 5.5 weeks:

1.  Mentally, I've taken it easier on myself.
2. I've really thought about why I want to lose the weight. Ten pounds is ten pounds, so will it really make that much of a difference? I feel like I've been watching my weight and constantly trying to lose weight since I made up my mind to do so, 4.5 years ago. My senior year of high school I did Weight Watchers for about 6 months, and lost (and kept off) 12 lbs. It was slow going, but it actually was a radical transformation for my eating habits, whether or not the scale reflected it. My freshman year of college I went to a Christian university that had excellent cafeteria food! I might have gained and lost a few pounds there and there, but for the most part was able to keep off the 12 lbs I lost the year before. My sophomore year of college I moved back home and went to community college. My mom is an excellent cook, but she is also on the quest to lose 10 lbs (always has been…probably always will be). My sisters wanted to get fitter, and I was in the culture of being healthy. I ran my first 5k race that year, plus signed up for a semester-long exercise class that totaled 3 hours a week spent in the gym. I probably lost another 5 lbs (total weight loss of 17 lbs). My junior year of college I moved to TN, had a fresh start, and ate in a cafeteria that served mostly Southern food. I had never had Southern food before, and really didn't like it. I also knew it probably wasn't very good for me (…burgers! mac and cheese! collard greens cooked with bacon!). I did love their homemade soups, and fresh salad/ sandwich bar! I decided to find people who lived healthy lifestyles and go eat lunch and dinner with them in the cafeteria. My junior year I dropped a good 20 lbs. My senior year of college I lost 10 more. The summer between my senior year and my master's year I dropped another 5-8 lbs. Once I got to my master's year (started 1.5 years ago) I've pretty much stayed the same.

While I am INCREDIBLY proud and happy that I've been able to lose 50 lbs and keep off 44 lbs of it, I want to reach my last tiny bit of weight loss!

Right before my wedding I was able to keep a stable weight (almost exactly to the pound) for about 3 months. Like two weeks before my wedding my weight went up a tiny bit, but everything as ok. Once the wedding was over, the honeymoon began, and I gained a little bit more weight on just a 5 day honeymoon! I decided I was taking steps backwards, and all I wanted to do was more forwards. Do you ever get sick of feeling so full after you eat a meal? Yeah, me too. Once we returned from they honeymoon I decided to try to zap these last 10-15 lbs. We returned from the honeymoon in September, and I took the month to just settle in and decide how to run a new household. In October and November I decided to dig up my old Weight Watchers resources and do WW full fledge for about 7 weeks. That was tough. I lost 6 lbs. Then Thanksgiving and Christmas came, and we moved (again), and by the end of December I had gained back those 6 lbs. So! At the start of January I vowed to do a 10 lbs in 12 week challenge. I'm almost halfway done, and have made very little progress on the scale, but I feel like I have made some mental progress, and some lifestyle changes.

The first week of January I decided we were eating too much processed foods. Basically anything that came in a crinkly bag, cardboard box, or package had to go. My husband really likes those snacks (especially chips and candy bars…) so I let him eat it up :)

Weekly result? Lost 1 lb.

Week two's challenge was to do 20 minutes of intentional exercise at least 3 times a week. Additionally I was only going to have one dessert a week (extremely, extremely hard!), and tried to cut back on carbs by way of eliminating the chips/crackers/snack-y food.

Weekly result? Lost 1.4 lb.

 Week three's challenge was to add more dairy into my diet. I figured if I was going to cut carbs and sugars I needed to add something else into my diet. It was actually pretty successful. My senior and master's years of college I ate Greek yogurt 4-5 times a week; I love those individually fruit flavored ones! I had stopped buying them because I felt they were a little expensive, and a little bit of a treat: I could find cheaper foods to eat for breakfast that didn't cost me a dollar a pop. However, with week three's challenge of add more dairy I decided to go back to my routine of getting a few yogurts a week. My husband doesn't like the Greek yogurts, but he does love regular, strawberry banana yogurts. We also drank milk at lunch or dinner at least twice during this week. Again, as a money saver I had stopped drinking milk at meal times, and mostly used milk for cooking/baking. We've continued to drink more milk and eat yogurts and string cheese more regularly.

Result? Lost 1.4 lb.

Week four's challenge was to "build a better breakfast". As a housewife who does not have any other job I was sleeping in until 10am nearly everyday. When you don't have much to do, and live in a new city, it's hard to get up at the crack of dawn to sit in the house and do…well…not much of anything. At the start of week three I decided to adjust my sleep schedule a little bit better. We got a new mattress around Christmas time and ever since then I've been sleeping like a rock! Love that thing. So, I decided to get up earlier, which meant I needed to eat breakfast. Before week four I would normally get up at 10, eat something at 10:30, and then eat lunch with my husband when he came home for a quick break at 11:30 or sometimes 12:30. My breakfast habits were pretty bad…and I used to be so good about what I ate, when I ate, and how much I ate for breakfast. I did really well with week three's challenge; by far the easiest of the three weeks so far. For breakfast I had 3 smoothies, 2 days of scrambled eggs, 1 day of cereal (granola), and 1 day of a homemade cranberry scone. It got miserably cold during week four, so my enthusiasm to exercise was nil. I'm not sure I got any exercise this week, but that's alright. 

Weekly result? Gained 1.6 lbs. 

For week five I wanted to "leave one bite" of food on my plate at every meal. I did a terrible job, and probably only remembered at 4 meals…and all but one time it was my husband's prompting, and not my own remembering. However, by the time I got to week 5 I was eating a substantial amount of vegetables, not so many sugars, not so many carbs, and absolutely no snack-y foods. In order to compensate for my sweets craving I did drink a lot more coffee than normal (more on that later). During week 5 I watched two documentaries on food: one was called "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" and I can't remember the name of the other documentary, but it was pretty similar to FSAND. These documentaries helped me see that I really needed to continue my quest to eat more vegetables! More "good for you" foods ("super foods", as the food market is now calling them). Thankfully over the course of these past couple years I have done a really good job of eating healthfully. I cook/prepare every meal we eat. Yes, it's a lot of work. No, I don't love doing it every single day, but I do really enjoy it most days. I think it's extremely important to fuel yourself with good foods! 

Weekly result? Gained .6 lbs

Week six's challenge was the same as week five's: "leave one bite". I did such a poor job of doing it during week four that I decided I needed to still work on it in week five. I had a couple of other challenges for myself as well: 1) eat a Mediterranean based diet (seeing that they include lots of veggies, healthy oils, and it's pretty cheap too) 2) get back to working out for 20 minutes at least 3x a week 3) no coffee for the whole week (7 day fast). I'm rounding out week six as I type, and I've really enjoyed some of the Mediterranean recipes I've tried, only done one intentional exercise session (for 45 minutes…), and I haven't had any coffee at all. My mom sent me a box of See's candies chocolate truffles so I'm failing miserably at the "one dessert/ sweet a week" challenge, but it's almost Valentine's Day, it was a gift, and hey, you've got to enjoy the little things in life every once in a while! 

As for leaving one bite, I've been able to do it everyday at breakfast (except for today because I woke up late and didn't eat breakfast…), however at every single lunch (including today) I've forgotten, and I've probably remembered at 2/4 dinners so far. It is SO challenging! The point of this challenge is twofold: 1) use self-control 2) be more aware during mealtimes. We'll see how I round out the week for this particular challenge. 

Weekly result? TBD

As you can see, I've learned a lot by doing this food challenge for myself. I've enjoyed "being on a diet" that doesn't include counting calories, writing down every single thing you ate and counting points, or other methods. I like living healthfully. I like challenging myself to live a better life. I like being me :)

More updates on Weeks 7-12 will be appearing periodically on the blog, so stay tuned.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Secrets to Adulthood

I'm reading "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin right now, and am about half way through. At the beginning of the book she has Twelve Commandments and Secrets of Adulthood. I don't know if I will venture as far as to write up twelve commandments for myself as I would rather stick to the 10 Commandments in the Bible, but I thought about secrets of adulthood that I've learned in my 24.5 years of life. I remember once for a creative writing class having to write "10 Things I Learned From____" (I chose my mother…I might have to dig that up…)

Anyways, here are a few tidbits of wisdom I've gleaned from living in CA, TN, AL (and 5 weeks of living in GA):
*Note, these are not ranked in any particular order.

1.  If you know you will be out and about for a while, bring an apple with you from home before leaving the house. It will keep you from being tempted, when hungry, to run to Starbucks and get coffee AND a sweet that will likely push you over your daily calorie allowance and daily budget at the same time.

2. Always go to the bathroom before you leave. One time I was about to leave my internship and head to my weekly chiropractic appointment on a very rare, snowy day (in TN). I had to use the restroom, but decided to wait until I got to my chiropractor's office because I like the smell of the hand soap in his bathroom. By the time I drove the 5 minutes it took to reach his office, it had really started snowing, and sticking! I reached his office and found it locked. I checked my cell phone, and sure enough, had a voicemail from his office saying he was closing up for the day because of the snow. So, I still needed to use the restroom, but thought I would just wait until I got home (a 30 minute drive) to use my own bathroom instead of pulling over at a gas station. People don't know how to drive in snow in The South. You would have thought it was snowmageddon! It took me over 2 hours to get home because of all the snow-induced traffic. By the time I arrived, my worried roommate tried to hug me, but I just pushed her off and made a bee-line for the bathroom. Lesson learned: use the restroom before you leave.

3. Check your email account at least one a day. These days the "I didn't check my email so your message sat there for three days before I even saw it" excuse (…whether it is an excuse or is reality) is just unacceptable. If you have secondary email accounts, check them at least every 7-10 days. You never know when someone from your past may have shot you a fairly important message, and your old email account is the only way they have to contact you. Bonus: if you check your email daily you will most likely avoid the dreaded inbox pile up.

4. I agree with Gretchen Rubin: always bring a sweater. My mom instilled this in me at a very young age as she was always freezing (…in San Diego the AC is on year round in most restaurants/ stores). She thought we, her daughters, would be freezing and then she would have to give up her sweater that she sensibly thought to bring along to one of her poor, freezing children. If you are one of those "always warm" people, God bless you; I'm jealous.

5. Write thank you notes for all gifts you receive. If you are one of those people who "don't know what to say besides 'thank you'" look in an etiquette book--seriously. I'm always a little surprised when I give someone a present and they don't write a thank you note in return. Don't send a "thank you email" or write them a message on Facebook--just, send a card the old fashion way.

6. When in doubt, write it down, store it away for three days, and then come back to it and see if you still want to send it. I once remember my rhetoric professor saying that anything that went on the internet was "instantly achievable and instantly changeable" meaning that as soon as your post something on Facebook, someone could read it, copy and paste it, and therefore it is instantly archived. It is also instantly changeable in that you can normally go back and edit anything you've previously posted online. I've learned the hard way--even if you are ranting and just letting off steam, word will probably get back to someone and then you will be embarrassed. I've learned that if I write it down, store it in my desk drawer, and come back to it after three days and still want to post it online, then it's probably pretty important. Most times I look at what I've written and think "Phew! Glad I had enough sense to put that aside and not post it on the internet."

7. Learn the art of persuasion. My father is in the real estate business, and he's also an entrepreneur. We used to play this game with a deck of cards called "Salesmen". I'm not sure where he learned it along the way, but the whole point of the game was to practice persuading others. A good salesman can think on his feet, and can twist a person's words to get them to buy whatever it is he is selling. Now, mind you, I'm not saying "con everyone you can." I'm saying learn the art of persuasion. There may come a time and place when your idea really is the best one out there, but you can't get anyone to accept it. In those instances, you will be glad you know how to do a little persuading.

8. If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. It's just really good advice.

9. If you ever find yourself in a position to be invited over to dinner at your boss's house (or your husband's boss's house), come prepared with some possible conversation starters. My great aunt always used to read 2-3 pages of the newspaper before leaving for a dinner party. That way, if there was a lull in the conversation, she could very easily bring up something she read about in the newspaper. It seems a little corny, but what's worse than those terribly awkward seven-seconds of silence? Not much, in my opinion. Warning: steer clear of overly-political or religious subjects. Graphic retellings of murders or rapes that you read about in the headline are also not welcome conversations among a crowd of polite company.

10. When someone else talks, try to really listen to what they are saying, especially if it someone whom you are meeting for the first time. There's nothing worse (except for those terribly awkward seven-seconds of silence at a dinner party) than seeing someone whom you've met a few days/weeks earlier and then having nothing to talk to them about because you can't remember their name, or what it was they said they did for a living.

So there is just a short list of ten of my "secrets to adulthood". As you can tell, most of them have to do with social situations. I am a very social creature, and was brought up in a very social, very polite society. I believe good manners will get you very far in life, but I believe that being a good conversationalist will get your even farther.

What are some of your secrets to adulthood?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Journey to Weight Loss

My Journey to Weight Loss

So over the past 5 calendar years (throughout 6 different school “years”) I’ve lost 46 pounds! It certainly is something to celebrate. My family members (some of whom I see only once or twice a year) have told me “You look great, Kate!” and “Wow, here comes Skinny!”, which I have loved. They have offered a lot of support and have given me tips, recipes, websites, and articles that promote healthy living and weight loss. Once I hit the 40 pound mark, a lot of people started asking me “How’ve you done it?” Here’s my story:
            It really started back 5th grade. I remember going to the doctor and getting on the scale and seeing the numbers flash “120”. I knew I was overweight, but I didn’t know I weighed that much. I don’t think my doctor or my mom made a big deal about it, but I remember crying about it coming home from the doctor’s office. I felt stuck; like I was an overweight person and others around me weren’t; the me vs. them mentality.
Throughout my years I remember my mom saying “Not so many noodles!” because that was my serious downfall. My mom was always on the quest to loose that extra 10 pounds; she never needed to, but she always was insistent that she was going to “be good this week” and stick to a strict diet. I think it was her way of encouraging me and trying to model healthy living. My mom was the one who encouraged me to join Weight Watchers. It was near the end of my 5th grade school year and we were planning to move from San Diego to Seattle for 7 weeks for my dad’s business. We continued doing Weight Watchers and went to meetings in Seattle too. I’m pretty sure I was “starving” everyday that summer and feasted on the “0 point” WW vegetable soup until it came out my ears. I did loose 8-10 pounds while we were away. That was the first time I ever tried to loose weight. My mom had tried to get me on several different diets such as the “Sugar Buster’s diet” and this awful 4 day cabbage soup diet (I didn’t eat cooked cabbage again until college) but I never thought they would work, nor never thought they would do me any good.
Once we returned to San Diego we discontinued going to the WW meetings, but we had a great jump start on how to eat well. I remember feeling educated about food and was excited to have knowledge about calories and fats and healthy choices at my fingertips. Middle school dawned and I was 5’8” and probably 150 in seventh grade—head and shoulders above everyone else at my church’s youth group (I was homeschooled so the youth group was my only real dosage of “tweenage culture” at the time). There was one woman who interned for the junior high department, named Dominique (Dom) who was probably 5’10” or 5’11”. She was beautiful and I always tried to get a seat next to her at church. At my church we stood up for the music in the service, and then sat for the remaining time. When we stood for music kids would always look at me because I was so tall. My two best friends (who still are my BFFs) were both petite—one was half Mexican and one was a blend of European ancestry (I’m still not sure why she didn’t get the 6-feet-tall-classic-Dutch-women syndrome...) Needless to say, I was always more than happy to sit next to Dom because she was so tall and I was so tall and we could both stand and sing and be tall together.
I soon realized that being tall and being overweight were kind of a nice combination. Many people assumed I was “athletic”. After a few months in junior high of constantly getting asked “Do you play basketball?” (to which I would always reply “No, do you play miniature golf? You’re miniature sized, so I thought you might”) I told my mom I wanted to play basketball. See, my mom was raised in a family who loved The Arts, not sports. Her love for The Arts has thankfully been passed down to me, however, I do like (not love) sports, especially basketball! Once I found out there was a sport that praised tall people, I was all over that! In seventh and eight grades I joined homeschool basketball teams (yes they exist...and yes they suck and we always lost...but that’s beside the point!). When I decided to go to a Christian school for high school (something I’d wanted since sixth grade) I immediately began looking for schools that had girls basketball programs. I found a wonderful school with the most beautiful campus imaginable and actually was able to go there. Enter center stage: Linfield Christian School.
I had to have an interview and pass several entrance exams to get into Linfield (I had to retake the basic math test twice, and never did pass it, but they were so impressed with my English Language Arts skills that they let me accepted me into the school anyways, thank goodness). During the interview I remember telling the principal that I wanted to go to Linfield because I wanted to play basketball. The interview finished and by the time we arrived back at home the girls basketball coach had called and left a message on our home phone (pre-cell phone days, kids). He asked if I wanted to come to Linfield the next day and start playing “summer ball”. This was before I was even accepted into the school, and I thought it might be a good way for me to get my foot in the door if they could see my amazing athleticism (obvious sarcasm here). The next day I showed up for basketball practice with my new gym bag (read: duffle suitcase that my mom and I picked out at Walmart right before practice that we thought looked like a gym bag). When I walked in the gym, everyone looked at me and kind of held their breath for a minute. I was nearly 5’11” at this time, and probably 165 pounds and 14 years old. I picked up the nickname “The Jolly Green Giant” shortly thereafter from my basketball pals, as well as “Zookie Monster”. I was big. And everyone liked that I was big. I distinctly remember Coach Liveasay telling my mom that first day “She’s got great potential if she’s not even a freshman now! We’ll keep her!” As much as I would like to say that I went on to win scholarships and awards for high school basketball, I really never became that good. I wasn’t in shape, was still overweight, and didn’t have much motivation to be anything other than one of “The Bigs” as my 10th grade coach called me (she was a 6’2” former-college volleyball player, so I relished in the fact that I got the same nickname she had while playing ball).
Throughout my years of high school I played basketball nearly year round. I played summer ball, would do the preseason workouts, launch into the season for several months, and then joined a YMCA league during the spring until summer ball started back up again. You would think I would be slamming layups left and right with how much I practiced, but I averaged my two points a game and was alright with that. I wanted to be good, but I didn’t want to loose the weight. I wasn’t ready at that point in time to do whatever necessary to shed the pounds. No thanks to some of my thin teammates poor eating choices, we would go out to eat after the games and I consumed extra calories from what I had “burned off” for the 10 minutes or so during the game that I actually played.
By the time I got my drivers license in October of 2007 I was still nearly 5’11” but weighed 190 pounds. I was pretty unhappy with my weight, but like I said, wasn’t ready to change it. In 2007 my school changed policies and we were required to wear school uniforms. One year later by the time I started my senior year I had gained so much weight that I barely fit into my pants and skirts from just one year before. I was very unhappy and ready for a change. I knew what to do. I knew how to eat and what to eat and I knew that I wasn’t doing it. When the scale tipped over 200 pounds at the doctor’s office, I nearly panicked. I decided to join Weight Watchers again, this time incredibly motivated to loose a lot of weight and to really slim down for 18th birthday, my high school graduation, and most of all, some new clothes for my graduation extravaganza overseas to Europe with two great friends.
 I joined WW March of 2008 with a start weight of 208 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been, and stuck with it for two months (until the end of the school year). I lost 12 pounds in those two months and was very, very happy to know that I was the only person who could change me. I was extremely motivated to keep going on my weight loss journey. Unfortunately school finished for the year, I graduated, and the WW I went to was now a 45 minute drive out of my way. I quit going to the meetings, but my mom and I kept going with the food journals. I would help her construct grocery lists and would ask her for certain WW meals. She bought a WW cookbook and used their website to help plan our family meals. The biggest thing that I did to change my diet during that time was “no more seconds”; my mom and I refused to serve second helpings for dinner.
Scene change: Freshman year of college, California Baptist University. I was extremely lucky to go to CBU for my freshman year of college. Not only did I develop so much emotionally and spiritually, but I also learned about myself and who I was and how I ticked. I worked through several months of therapy and counseling and came out with a better grip on life. I knew in order to continue to like myself even more I still needed to shed some weight. Thankfully, my freshman roommate, Alanna, liked to workout and was an encouraging “workout buddy”. I began to search for other workout buddies and found four girls who wanted to shape up for summer. We made it our goal to run all the way around the city block that our campus sat on. I know that myself and one other girl, Anna, reached this goal before the end of the school year. I knew what exercise was from my basketball days, and I knew from WW that I needed to get moving and eat less in order to shed some weight.
I didn’t actually loose any weight my freshman year of college, but I did keep off those 12 pounds I had lost while doing WW. What’s better, I had gained the opportunity to observe the eating habits of “skinny people” and “overweight people” (which is how everyone was categorized in my mind for years and years and years). I started to recognize patterns that all skinny people chose: take the stairs and not the elevator to the second or third floor of the building, don’t obsess about getting a parking space as close to the front of the store as possible so you don’t have to walk farther, eat salads on a regular basis, don’t skip breakfast, schedule time in your day for your food, treat “gym time” as “me time” and not as “exercise/ torture time”, and so on. I started to pick up on these habits and tried them out for myself. See, my mindset about healthy living started to change. In my WW program I saw women who were not pretty to me, they were extremely overweight, so unhappy with themselves, and had really poor health. I did not want to be one of those people. I wanted to change the way I viewed myself. I wanted to grow old and still feel sexy about myself, not be dependent on a cane because at age 45 or 50 or 60 I could barely support my own body weight.  So, little by little my mindset changed during my freshman year of college. I didn’t actually loose any weight, but I lost my apathetic spirit and gained some responsibility for taking care of myself.
Scene change: Sophomore year of college, Palomar Community College. For a mired of academic reasons, after my freshman year I transferred to Palomar College and went back to living at my parents house. During that time I joined an awesome college group at my church (yes, with the same people who were so short in junior high, and had now finally grown... a little...). I started to look around at my friends and realized that I was still overweight. I decided I wanted to aggressively loose weight. I signed up for a self-paced fitness class at my college where all you had to do to receive credit was go to the school’s fitness center 3 hours a week. I really liked going to the gym, mostly because they had a great music line-up that had all the radio-edited versions of songs that get your heart going. Also, many of my friends from my college group at church went to Palomar and would workout at the gym. Exercise became a social activity for me to catch up with friends in between busy college classes. My sister asked me and my mom and our other sister to run a Halloween 5k; I said yes. I worked out in the mornings at the gym and went from being able to run for 10 minutes (the length of time it took to get around the CBU city block) to running for 18 minutes. I ran and walked my first 5k in October 2009 in about 38 minutes. I was so proud! During that school year, the pounds slowly but surely began to drop. I probably lost 10 pounds that school year (for a total weight loss of 22 pounds). I was so excited and so encouraged to know that I could take responsibility for becoming a “skinny person”, something I thought completely unobtainable for me. If I would have known how simple it was to actually eat less and therefore loose weight, I would have done it years earlier. However, I wasn’t ready. I had to come to that point in my life where I wanted weight loss more than I wanted nearly everything. I feel like my goal of “loosing weight” shaped much of my sophomore year.
Unfortunately, at the end of that school year I woke up one day (the week before final exams, actually) with horrible, horrible back pain like I had never experienced before. I normally had a rough time with my periods and would get really excruciating back cramps, but I knew that this time it was something different. For months and months I was in pain. I didn’t go to the doctor because we didn’t have good medical insurance, and I had no idea how grave the situation was. Eventually, about 4 months later, my pain subsided. My time in California had also subsided as I moved to Tennessee for the remainder of my college career.
Scene change: junior year of college, Knoxville, TN. Good Ole Rocky Top is where I transferred to next. I was thrilled by the fact that I was starting with a blank slate; I didn’t know a soul in Knoxville when I first moved there, seriously—no one. I also knew nothing about the culture, including the food. For you Californians who may think that TN is in the South, but not the Deep South, you’re right. However, they might as well be in terms of their food. I had never tasted Southern food and for all I knew it consisted of all the foods I grew up with, plus fried chicken and something called “Memphis BBQ” (but I didn’t know what that was at the time).
For my junior and senior years of college I lived on campus and ate in the cafeteria. Some of you might be thinking “Ut-oh! She ate a lot of fried foods and gained back her weight!” Well, no that’s not what happened. I didn’t like Southern food when I first moved to TN. My dislike of it (and my longings for all foods Mexican, Thai, Ethiopian, or any other ethnicity you’ll find in Southern California) helped push me towards some creative food options. There was a great salad bar, with homemade soups, available at every lunch and dinner. Because there really wasn’t anything I wanted to eat besides the soups and salads, I stuck with them. When there were things I wanted to eat, they were pretty good, but not good enough to tempt me to have seconds. The weight came tumbling off and I lost another 18 pounds my junior year. I knew I was going to be working at an outdoors horse camp that following summer and I wanted to have as little baggage on me to schlep around those steep mountain hills. I also wanted to be noticed by the boys, which did eventually happen mid- junior year. I also knew that the lighter I became the less issues I would have with my back (or so my theory went).
Senior year started without much fanfare, other than the fact that my back pain had returned a little bit over the summer. By Valentines Day, I had an episode that nearly crippled me for three days. I couldn’t stand up straight. I couldn’t sleep. My heart rate was way up for those three days. My roommate told me I needed to go to the doctor because her mom had a slipped disc and experienced many of the same symptoms and pains I was having. I went (once again) expecting the student health center to send me home with some more physical therapy exercises and say “We don’t know what’s wrong so we can’t do anything for you”. However, this time was different. I got sent to the sports medicine doctor who took one look at me and said “You have a herniated disc!” She was right. We took some x-rays and she started me on an aggressive medical treatment. By the time summer came I was looking at surgery that would have cost nearly $5,000 out of pocket. After taking an MRI we found out that I had not one herniated disc, but two! The doctor said she could not believe that I had lived with such bad pain for almost two years at that point in time from when my first disc herniated back during my sophomore year.
June came, a few weeks before my surgery date, and I felt so much better. I cancelled my surgery and decided to tough it out. Two days after my scheduled surgery date, I heard on the radio that there was an outbreak in Nashville, TN (three hours away from where I was to have my surgery done). This outbreak was deadly and killed 12 people for the very surgery I was supposed to have done two days before! God’s hand of protection was all over that situation, as who knows whether or not I would have gotten one of the lethal dosages of steroids in my surgery. I never had the surgery, and continued to heal, or so I thought. In November of 2012, one day while in the middle of student-teaching for my master’s degree internship I felt what I thought to be another disc herniate. I immediately rushed back to my sports medicine doctor and begged me to give me “that big steroid shot” she had given me in February that nearly instantly took away the pain. She did, and thus began the medical treatments once more.
One day, I had a Groupon send to my email inbox one day for chiropractic care. I didn’t know how much snapping my spin into place would help with my discs being herniated, but I thought it was worth a try. I will tell you now that that chiropractic care changed my life. Without going too much in-depth, the chiropractor confirmed the gravity of my situation and told me that I have a condition that may cause other discs to herniate. I cannot run or do a lot of strenuous exercising anymore and I have to ice my back everyday, and stretch everyday as well. I have to be really careful with my back and neck.
So, how does a dysfunctional back tie into weight loss? Well, I have learned many lessons from having to nurse my back. One of them is that you have to stand up for yourself and say “I’m sorry, but I cannot sit on the floor” or “I can’t drive with you to Florida for the weekend without stopping every 2 hours to stretch.” It has caused me to be assertive. With my weight loss, I have had to be assertive with myself and with others. I’ve had to change my mentality of things that I can and cannot do. For example, with weight loss, I tell myself that I cannot eat out more than three times a week. Being a college student, where any food that is cheap and easy to come by is as good as good, that posed a very difficult task. However, I’ve learned to be assertive and tell people that as much as I’d like to go out with them, I’ll take a raincheck if I’ve already been out three times.
All this to say: if you are going to try to loose weight, you need to first be sure that you want to take care of yourself. It is going to require a change of mind. It is going to require a change of perspective. It is going to require a change of the way you think and feel about food.
This summer I got married, and before, during, and after the wedding I gained about 10 pounds. I was not okay with that, so decided to take action and put myself on Weight Watchers again. I’m not actually paying for the WW program, but since I’ve done it before and know the gist of the program I found enough materials online to help me be successful. It’s taken a long time to get used to. It takes a lot of self-control. I’m in the middle of my sixth week on WW now and I’ve lost 1.6 pounds. The first three weeks I actually gained weight! I don't know how that’s possible, but I’ve lost what I gained, plus am 1.6 lbs lighter than my start weight. I hope I am on my way to more and more losing!
I will be posting health tips, recipes, and various things I’ve found to be successful over the next few months. Good luck on your weight loss adventure!