A Year In Review

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I can’t recall making an official New Year’s Resolution before 2015.  Sure, I’ve set goals before.  I just wasn’t the person that made the cliche’ resolution on January 1 of each year.  This past year, I needed to.  I wasn’t healthy and I needed to do something about it.

While this post may strike a chord with a number of potential audiences, my primary target is people out there that are like I was over the last several years.  I was unhealthy.  My lifestyle included working long hours, being sedentary if not stationary, and eating way too much of the wrong food.  That translated to being overweight, suffering from various lifestyle choice consequences such as GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, allergies to everything under the sun (cat, dog, grass, trees, pollen, mold, high taxes, hammer toe…), an assortment of other inflammation-related and unpredictable digestive issues, trips to visit doctors for several of these issues, going on a variety of medicines and treatments to address symptoms, and even a couple trips to the ER when I felt particularly bad.  In addition to all the acute health issues, there are many other life areas that were affected by my unhealthy lifestyle.  I didn’t have the energy or capability to do many of the activities I desired.

On one particular night in 2014, I had enough.  I was not going to spend the rest of my life living like this.  So I made a decision to change.

This wasn’t the first time I had endeavored to be more healthy.  In a previous attempt, I had very good success. I changed my food lifestyle, lost around 75 to 80 pounds, and dramatically increased my activity levels.  I had experienced living the way I wanted to.  I was involved in Krav Maga, Mauy Thai, Jui Jitsu, CrossFit, Olympic Lifting, and I even ran an adventure race (Warrior Dash).  I was close to achieving my goal when I hurt my back.  I went from doing all the things I wanted to to barely being able to lift a broom handle and struggling to do anything that involved my back…which was everything.  I stuck with the doctor recommended recovery routine for 6 or 7 months.  Then, when nothing improved, I let it get the better of me for most of 2013 and 2014.  I completely dropped out of all the activity and my food choices also turned to crap.  I ballooned up to over 300 pounds.

There is a degree of embarrassment admitting how much stuff was off track.  I am telling everyone reading this that my choices led to my unhealthy life.  It’s even worse because I knew how to be healthy.  Yet I repeatedly made the choice not to be.  That’s hard to admit.  But, no one was more disappointed in me than me.  If I can handle admitting it to myself, I can handle admitting it to you.  I saw myself as fat and unhealthy.  I became paranoid/sensitive to others’ view of my life.  I did silly things like ‘eating healthy in public’ (if I ate at all) while hiding all the evidence of poor food habits.  I made sure not to leave traces of my unhealthy life in plain view.  If people didn’t see the evidence they might conclude I had a medical issue that I couldn’t control.  As if that would somehow make me happier, or more able to deal with carrying around an extra person, or the eventual medical issues I was sure to face.

Inspirational Moment

So here’s the thing…if you know you are unhealthy…I mean really know that your current unhealthy lifestyle is something you’ve chosen…

STOP.  YOU CAN CHANGE.

Ignore the voices of doubt in your head.  Ignore the voice that says you deserve a treat after a hard day.  Doubt your doubts with as much virulence as your doubt your ability to achieve.  Forget about what anyone else may or may not be thinking.  You will be so much happier for it.  Choosing to be healthy is the easiest hard choice you will ever make.

“It is not hard.  Don’t you dare tell us this is hard.  Quitting heroin is hard.  Beating cancer is hard.  Drinking your coffee black. Is.  Not. Hard.”  – Dalllas and Melissa Hartwig, The Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom.

Food is about Fatness.  Exercise is about Fitness.

I was brought up somewhat old school.  “Getting healthy” was about hitting the pavement and doing work.  Time to do some math.  A 30-something year old male, 300 lbs, around 5’10”, running for 30 minutes at 10 mph (this is a 6-minute mile pace…in other words, really really fast) will burn around 1200 calories.  The average meal I was consuming at McDonald’s and similar fast food joints was more than 1300 calories.  ONE MEAL.  I was eating 3-4 times daily.  My daily calorie intake was probably something like 4500-6000 calories if not more.  There is no amount of “activity” that would allow me to exercise my way out of those choices.  And let’s be honest, I couldn’t run 10 mph for 30 minutes when I was 300+ pounds.  I’m not sure I’ll ever run 30 minutes at 10 mph.  This was a mathematical equation for disaster.  I knew I needed to find a better answer.  It had to start with food.

In fact, that’s the name of the book I found when I started researching for a new lifestyle: It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig.  In preparation for my 2015 goal, I read this book and applied most of the advice.  The essential gist of their approach is that inflammation is responsible for most if not all of the health issues we face, a large portion of our immune system is in our digestive tract, our food choices make or break the immune system’s ability to function, and if we make bad choices, we end up in a state of constant inflammation.  The road back to health starts with food.  They encourage a 30-day period of clean eating (essentially lean protein sources and veggies/fruits) to reset the immune system and get it back to optimal function.  Then, you can re-introduce certain foods in a controlled setting to better understand your body’s response to those foods.

The key things I ignored were as follows:

  • Don’t use a scale during your 30 days
  • after 30 days, re-introduce prohibited foods

While I understand and generally agreed with Dallas and Melissa’s advice with the scale, I was over 300 lbs.  Weight loss was a key performance indicator for me.  At the same time, I knew as I neared my goal, weight alone would not be a reliable indicator of health.  This is the key point the Hartwig’s are trying to make.   On the re-introduction of inflammatory foods,  I didn’t see the point to adding something back into my diet that was a known negative factor.  So, I, for the most part, left them out throughout 2015.  99% of my food choices were clean choices.

I now had my food plan philosophy in place.  No matter what circumstance, I had to stick to approved foods.   I started the process of pulling together recipes and equipment.  Those first couple months featured a rotation of recipes.  Each time I went shopping, I tried adding a new recipe to the menu.  Slowly but surely, I expanded my menu until I had a pretty decent variety of healthy foods.  I also had to deal with “travel food”.  My job required frequent trips to all parts of the US.  I wasn’t going to let travel derail my plan.  I found some good travel foods I could pack in my carry-on that would help me get through the airports and hotel.

How did I do?

My goal was to weigh less than 200 lbs by January 1, 2016.  I started off the year at 305 lbs on January 1, 2015.  On December 21, 2015, I weighed in at 198.8 lbs!!!

I lost 106.2 lbs and weigh less than 200 lbs for the first time in probably 10 years.

What about exercise?  

To this point, I’ve mentioned exercise only in passing.  It wasn’t a key to my weight loss.  I was all-in on the food side of things.  In fact, I didn’t introduce a change in my activity routine until late March.  By this time, I had already lost over 35 pounds and people had started to notice the change!  I proved to myself and anyone else that cared to listen that food is about fatness.

I did want to be more fit as well.  While I didn’t have specific goals tied to fitness for 2015, I new that increasing my activity levels would only contribute positively to my health.  I started out slow.  Walking.  Then short jogs.  Then very light weight lifting.  I slowly increased the intensity and duration of my exercising.   To date, I’ve run, cycled, and hiked over 50o miles during 2015.  My mile run-time is under 8 minutes and i’m running 3-5 at a 9 minute pace.  I worked up to cycling 25 miles at at time (but, to be honest, that’s more  a limitation of my posterior padding than anything else).  I’m lifting weights closer to where I was before I hurt my back though I’m not yet doing CrossFit, Krav, or Olympic lifting.  All in all, I’m seeing really significant progress all over the place.

What’s the secret?

If I had to point to one thing as the secret to my 2015 success…i’d say it was the re-prioritization of my life.  I put my health at the top of the list over EVERYTHING ELSE.  I knew I was no good to myself, family, friends, or employer if I continued down an unhealthy path.  My health had to come first.  Making it top priority allowed me to leave work when I needed to in order to make it to the grocery store or get a workout in.  Making it top priority allowed me to spend the money needed to stick to all aspects of the plan (I subscribed to the pay now or pay later food plan).  Making it top priority allowed me to say no to foods in circumstances I would have otherwise used to stuff my face.  Making it a priority forced me to choose home-cooked meals 95% of the time or more.  Making it a priority even allowed me to embrace washing the dishes!  ūüôā

Stats Stats Stats

2015-12-25 15_32_40-Microsoft Excel - W_tracker.xlsx

I work in a data-centric industry.  So naturally when tracking things for my personal goal, I kept track off a lot of different stats to help me measure progress.  It was very motivating to see each milestone come and go.  The above chart is my weight over time among several other items.  The vertical lines track my various road trips and workouts.  The other trend lines are goals and projections.  As you can see, my weight went up and down, sometimes dramatically.  Looking at gross gains and losses, I actually put on 114.2 lbs and lost 220.4 lbs throughout 2015 to net the 106 pound loss.  These numbers completely amazed me.  The capacity for the human body to process/use energy is astounding.  I tracked how much was lost through each tertile, quartile, and decile.  I tracked how much I lost on each day of the week.  Again, surprises greeted me.  I lost almost 50% of my total weight on Fridays (20.86%)  and Saturdays (28.01%)*.  Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays were about even at 12-14% of total weight lost.  Monday on the other hand…I actually gained weight (-2.31%)….further proof that  Mondays suck :-).

*my non-scientific correlation is that I was resting more on Friday’s and Saturdays than any other day of the week

Clothing

One aspect of this adventure I hadn’t considered is how my closet would be affected.  After the first 90 days, none of my clothing fit.  I could make t-shirts and such work.  But dress clothes, jeans, and other items were obviously large and ill-fitting.  The problem only got better.  I started buying transitional outfits and donating a small fortune’s worth of ‘fat’ clothes to charity.  I did keep one pair of jeans; a size 48″ waist that fit snugly on January 1, 2015.  The picture below is the best before/after illustration I can muster for you from this experience as I didn’t do the typical photo-journal.

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Conclusion

I’m not done.  Yes, I hit my goal for 2015 and I couldn’t be happier with myself for sticking with it.  But, I’m not done.  2016 is another chance to achieve even more.  I still have some weight to lose…maybe 10 or 20 pounds.  This time around, it can’t be only about weight.  I’m nearing my ideal body weight so I need to pay attention to things like body composition.  I expect I’ll also have at least one fitness related goal: run a half marathon, get back in to Krav or CrossFit, run another adventure race or something.  I don’t know yet…but i’m having a lot of fun thinking about it.

106.2 pounds.  That’s just a good start.

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Speed Tacos

Sometimes you want…no…you need a hot, fast, and most importantly, a healthy meal. ¬†But, you have zero healthy leftovers to reheat. ¬†What do you do???

Enter the Speed Tacos!  These babies can be prepared in 15 minutes or less.  No pre-prep.  No staging.  This is 15 minutes (or less) from scratch!  And, everyone needs a simple taco seasoning recipe in their culinary repertoire.

IngredientsIMG_2890

  • 1 lb ground beef or ground chicken
  • Taco Seasoning
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 2 teaspoons cumin
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
    • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
    • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Leafy greens (romaine, spinach, iceberg, etc)
  • Tomatoes (diced)
  • Onions (diced)
  • mini sweet peppers (diced)
  • Salsa (I like Frog Ranch Hot Salsa)
  • Avocados (sliced/diced)
  • Paleo Wraps

Directions 

Brown the ground beef or cook the ground chicken in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Both meats are ready when no pink/red color is remaining.  Add the chili powder, cumin, sea salt, black pepper, oregano, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and 1-2 tablespoons of water to the skillet.  Stir until the meat and the spices are combined.  This process usually takes 6-7 minutes total.

Serving

In each Paleo Wrap, add 1-3 spoonfuls of the taco meat and some leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, mini sweet peppers, salsa, and avocados. ¬†You can get creative with the combination of peppers, onions, salsa, and leafy greens, and other ‘toppers’. ¬†Serrano peppers, jalapeno peppers, Anaheim peppers, sweet cherry peppers, bell peppers, and onions of all varieties are great toppings for these tacos. ¬†Switching up the variety of toppers can really alter the taste so it’s a great way to keep this dish from getting tired. ¬†You can also easily turn this into a salad. ¬†Just use a bed of leafy greens and leave the Paleo Wraps out. ¬†Add a Paleo/Whole30 approved dressing like one from Tessamae’s selections in place of or in addition to the salsa.

Serve and enjoy!

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Paleo Bacon Ranch Burger Salad

This is another inspired recipe originally from Paleo Leap; Chicken Caesar Burgers.  I liked this recipe a lot and probably make it a couple times a month.  The presentation is the biggest part I sought to improve.  Rather than a knife/fork type sandwich, I serve this dish like a salad.

IngredientsIMG_2234

  • 1 lb ground beef or bison or chicken or turkey or lamb
  • 1/2 lb sugar free bacon
  • 2 tablespoons white onion, diced or minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut aminos
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • leafy greens (romaine, spinach, etc)*
  • 1-2 tomatoes, diced
  • red onion, thinly sliced
  • Paleo Ranch dressing**

* I will typically use 1-2 heads of romaine and 5-6 ounces of baby spinach to serve four patties

** To save prep time, you can substitute¬†Tessamae’s dressings like Zesty or Southwestern Ranch.

Directions

Begin frying up the sugar free bacon.  As the bacon cooks, prepare the Paleo Ranch dressing using Paleo Grubs recipe and place in the refrigerator when done.  The bacon can be set aside when done.

Then, prepare the white onion, capers, and garlic and mix in a large mixing bowl with the coconut aminos, sea salt, black pepper, and whichever ground meat you’ve selected. ¬†Once fully combined, form four equally sized patties from the mixture. ¬†Pro tip, get your hands nice and wet before you try to form the patties. ¬†The moisture will help prevent the mixture from sticking to you.

You can grill, bake, or pan sear the patties.  If you pan sear, use a base of 1-2 tablespoons of cooking fat like ghee or coconut oil.  For baking, line your cookware with some cooking fat or non-stick spray for easy flipping.

In all cases, make sure you confirm the proper internal temperature with a meat thermometer.  Beef and lamb is 160 degrees.  Turkey and chicken is 165 degrees.  Bison is 140 degrees.

Pan searing will take roughly 10-15 minutes on medium high heat.

Grilling will be roughly 10-15 minutes. ¬†For bison, allow the burgers to “rest” for 5 minutes after coming off the grill before serving.

Baking will take about 20-30 minutes at 375 for bison and chicken, 400 for turkey, and 350 for lamb and beef.  I use a Pyrex or ceramic style casserole dish and recommend flipping the patties at the 15 minute mark (10 for beef) and check the internal temp of the largest/thickest patty during that flip.  At 20 minutes, check internal temps again and bake in 5 minute increments until the correct internal temp is reached.

Serving

While the meat is cooking, prepare the salad base of leafy greens, red onion, and tomatoes (feel free to add other salad toppings like cucumbers, carrots, etc).  I am generous with the leafy greens in particular.  Crumble 1-3 pieces of bacon onto each salad.  When the meat is ready, slice each patty into 5 or 6 strips and place on top of your salad base.  Drizzle a spoonful or two of the Paleo Ranch dressing over the salad and serve!

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Paleo Southwest Chicken Bacon Ranch Wraps

This recipe is inspired by¬†the Paleo Chicken Salad Wraps by Bravo for Paleo. ¬†I’m not a huge fan of lemon flavored dishes but this recipe was good in spite of that. ¬†I decided to try a few different¬†modifications to see if I could make this good recipe even better. ¬†The ‘Southwest’ version came out particularly well and is now one of the¬†favorite items in my food prep rotation. ¬†This is a great dish for a few reasons: 1) it is really easy and relatively fast to make 2) it is delicious both hot and cold which makes it ideal to make ahead of time and then use for quick lunches 3) it is really easy to modify to add variety and 4) it has bacon in it!!!!

image1 (1)Ingredients

  • 2 lbs cooked chicken breast or ground chicken (I use ground chicken as it speeds up prep time and it is a little easier to portion)*
  • 1 lb sugar free bacon**
  • 1/4-1/3 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/4-1/3 cup spiral cut or diced cucumber
  • 1/4-1/3 cup diced red onion
  • 1 cup Paleo Mayo (I use the mayo recipe from the Paleo Chicken Salad Wraps¬†that inspired this recipe)
  • 3 tablespoons of Tessamae’s Southwest Ranch dressing***
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning (I use Emeril’s¬†recipe)
  • Paleo Wraps
  • Leafy greens (romaine, spinach, etc)
  • Diced or Sliced Tomatoes

* turkey (ground or breast) can also be substituted

** optional

*** this recipe can be easily modified by using any of Tessamae’s dressings¬†to generate “Zesty Chicken Bacon Ranch Wraps” or “Buffalo Chicken Bacon Ranch Wraps”, etc; if you try the Buffalo version, drizzle a half-spoonful of home made Paleo ranch dressing¬†on to each¬†wrap for a little something extra

Directions

Make the Paleo Mayo according to the recipe in the original Paleo Chicken Salad Wraps¬†first. ¬†If you don’t have a food processor, invest the $50 or so to get one as it will make preparing recipes like dressings and mayo much easier. ¬†Note, I use twice the amount of mayo the original recipe calls for as I add extra veggies and bacon. ¬†This helps the ingredients combine. ¬†You can experiment with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of mayo at your discretion.

Once the mayo is ready,  you can start frying up the bacon while also prepping some of the other ingredients.  I like the bacon slightly to moderately crispy for this recipe.  It adds a great texture and some excellent bacon flavor to accent the taste.  While the bacon is cooking, cut up your celery, cucumber, red onion, and add them to a large mixing bowl with the mayo, Southwest Dressing, pink salt, pepper, Creole seasoning and whisk everything together.  Cut up or crumble the bacon and add it to the mixture when ready.

Finally, cook the ground chicken on stove top in a large skillet over medium high heat until thoroughly cooked through.  You will need to constantly monitor (flip/stir) the chicken as it cooks to avoid overcooking.  It will change to a psuedo-white color and will separate/crumble as it reaches readiness.  You should not see any pink/red color.  If you do, keep cooking.

Add the chicken to the mixing bowl and thoroughly combine until the chicken is coated with the other ingredients.

Serving

Add some leafy greens and tomatoes to a Paleo Wrap with 2-4 spoonfuls of the chicken-bacon mixture.  Roll, eat, and enjoy!

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