2016 was an exceptionally happy year for me (and I’m not afraid to admit it)

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We’ve all been saying it all damn year, haven’t we? 2016 IS THE WORST.

I know that I’ve definitely been guilty of this sentiment, and it wasn’t really just because of the election (although that contributed to my year-end complaints). But in the past few days, I realized just how much we’ve all been doing it lately…

Look, I get it. This year has kicked us all (figuratively) in the balls. Between the celebs that died throughout the year and especially around Christmas/Hanukkah, it’s been tough. The election was, well, pretty awful for those of us who care about other people and maintaining our rights. And that’s not even to mention Aleppo and Brexit and… ugh, I can’t go on. This year has been the WORST, right?

Or has it?

The truth is that 2016 is not killing people, but people die because of complicated things like a history of drug and alcohol abuse. That’s not the only reason why so many of our fave celebs passed away this year, but that’s certainly a theory that makes sense too.

Then there’s just the general thinking that… Hey, if we call 2016 the worst, then what about all of the bad years that came before it or the bad years that are still to come? (Ya know, with President Trump actually possibly accomplishing some of the vile things he said he planned to do during his campaign.)

Here’s an idea: Let’s all stop calling 2016 “the worst” ASAP.

The truth is that a lot of bad things happened this year. I’m not going to deny that. But a lot of bad things happen every year. When we put all of our blame on a year for doing bad things to us, then we’re taking away our choice – our choice to do something about it, our choice to see the positives, our choice to move on with something more than just feelings of anger.

So I’m done. I know it’s the last day of the year, but I am not going to look back at this year and talk about how it was “the worst” because, especially for me personally, it simply wasn’t.

In a nutshell, two major things happened to me this year that have actually made 2016 my happiest year yet:

1. After 12 years, I moved out of New York City and started a full-time freelance writing career that’s actually been going really well.

2. I met Adam, who turned out to not only be the most generous and loving person I’ve ever met but also an incredibly supportive life partner.

In fact, the first decision actually led to the second. I had been dealing with some recovery issues in NYC and simply no longer felt all that happy there. Plus I was turning 30 and needed to do something different in my life. By circumstance (not all under my control), the best thing for me was to move back home to Florida for a while.

I decided that I would do this for six months to a year, and that this would be my time to figure out what my next steps were and what I wanted to do for my career. It turned out that going all-in on my freelance writing was the right move, and I love where that part of my life is now.

Of course, when I moved to FL, I didn’t think that my personal life would go anywhere. I had been single for many, many years… And although I was sick of that life, I also thought: Who the F am I gonna meet down here?

Well, you know what they say: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. In comes Adam…

Here’s the story that I tell friends when they ask how we met:

I moved out of NYC after 12 years on a Friday and, needing to find something to do and feeling like I was ready to “get back out there” after a 5-month dating break, turned my favorite dating apps back on the following Tuesday (meaning OKCupid, Tinder and Bumble).

Meanwhile, Adam had finally signed up for online dating after an even longer break when his last relationship ended… And so there we were, both finally “ready” for something real. We started talking on Bumble that Wednesday morning. By the next Saturday (exactly a week and a day after I moved to Florida), we had our first date. It lasted four hours, and only ended because I had a family obligation.

The next week, I cancelled another date in order to have a second date with Adam… and the rest is history. I never went on a date with anybody else. Neither did he. And we moved in a month and a half later.

Not only has my career and my new relationship made me really happy this year, but I learned a lot about myself throughout 2016 too. I’ve also met some great new people (mainly, my boyfriend’s family, and also many other writers who I now call friends) and I learned how to accept love.

Before this year, I never truly knew how to be kind to myself (my NYC therapist’s parting words to me). I still have trouble with that, to be honest. But Adam reminds me every day that I am worthy of love.

Although I’ve had a few relationships, even a two-year one where my ex lived with me, I never truly knew that I was worthy of love. In fact, I had never heard anyone say the words “I love you” to me. Sure, I mean, family and friends… but never anyone who truly loved me in every way that a person deserves to be loved. Until Adam.

He taught me how to accept love and that I deserve it. He continues to teach me that every day and, the more I am with him, the more that I realize that he is truly the love of my life.

I know how cliche that sounds. I know that it’s a funny and kind of ridiculous statement to be saying at 30 years of age. And yet… I’ve had boyfriends and I’ve had countless dates in the past 14 years of my life. But I’ve never had love. And now I do.

So when I look back at 2016, I can still recognize all of the bad things that happened this year. This year, though, is about more than that. This is the year that I fell in love for the first real time of my life. This is the year that I truly found what I want to do with the rest of my life. And this is the year that I learned what it takes to be my best self (even if I’m not totally there yet).

To be honest, I don’t know what 2017 will bring. But I have plans! Plans for my career and plans with my love. If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that a year isn’t to blame for bad things and it’s not really to blame for the good things either.

My year was great because I made it great. Because I learned what I wanted and went after it and accepted the things that came to me unexpectedly too. 2017 will hopefully be more of the same.

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Here is the full story of my 100+ pound weight loss (plus some resources)

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promI was always a chubby kid. I remember wearing shorts in 5th grade and hating the way my thighs looked. I lost 20 pounds in the beginning of high school by experimenting with diet pills, not eating breakfast and only having a 20 ounce bottle of Wild Cherry Pepsi for lunch (yes, really!). But I was never happy with myself. At 5’2″ and 150lbs, I was still not within my normal BMI weight range. It wasn’t long until I started to regain the weight and was a bit over 200lbs by senior year. In February, my parents paid me to quit my sedentary after-school job and go to the gym instead. I got down to 190lbs by graduation.

beforeWW

But a summer traveling through Europe and then sitting at home with nothing to do soon got my weight back up. And first semester of college didn’t help any. The “Freshman 15”? It was the “Freshman 30” for me. When I joined Weight Watchers in January 2005, I was at 231.6lbs and officially at my highest weight ever. It took me two and a half years but I lost 90lbs with their program. I was down to 140lbs by the time I graduated school a year early. But going out after turning 21 and starting a full time job that summer took its toll on me. I slowly started to regain the weight and was 175lbs by the end of the year.

postWW

That New Year’s, I met somebody who loved my body for everything I didn’t. I had never had anyone appreciate me that much and it wasn’t long before I stopped paying attention to myself. I refused to cancel my Weight Watchers membership even though I never went to meetings anymore and had pretty much given up. A year later, I had regained 80 of the 90 pounds that I had spent two and a half years losing in college.

I realized for the first time that not only was I clinically obese, but I was exactly .5 points away from being classified as “morbidly obese.” I was terrified. But no matter how much I tried to lose the weight (and trust me, I did anything I could think of), it wasn’t working for me anymore. I tried diet pills again, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, exercising more and eating less, but my weight simply wouldn’t budge. My lifelong issues with emotional and compulsive eating had completely taken over my life.

Colombia

And so, in January 2009, I made the scariest and best decision I could make for myself at the time: I elected to have weight loss surgery. Per my parent’s suggestion, I traveled with my mom to see a family doctor in Barranquilla, Colombia, and had a gastric bypass.

I read a ton of books about the pro and cons of WLS and ultimately decided that it was the right choice for me. It’s not that I wanted an easy way to lose weight, it’s that I wanted a lifelong tool to help me lose and keep the weight off. Nothing else was working for me anymore, and I couldn’t stand the thought of it getting worse and my health deteriorating further.

postsurgery

A year later, I reached 120 pounds in weight (my very lowest!) though I quickly found that this number wasn’t ultimately healthy or sustainable for me. Despite losing the weight again fairly quickly, one thing I took away from this experience is that weight loss surgery, like Weight Watchers, is just a tool to help you. In the past, I learned the hard way that the most difficult part of it all isn’t losing the excess weight but maintaining your weight loss over time.

It’s now been almost eight years since I first got my surgery and, to be honest, it can still be a daily struggle. But by cooking and eating healthier, along with regularly going to the gym (something I’m still working on), I am keeping the weight off. Currently, I am happily settled around 140 pounds. It’s a number that has proven sustainable and, although it took a while for me to accept, I’m now (mostly) happy with my body.

I hope that by sharing my weight loss story, healthy eating adventures and everything else in between — mainly on this blog, in the articles below and in an upcoming book — I will continue to keep the weight off as well as inspire others on their own weight loss journey.

Resources & Articles I’ve Written

Disclaimer: I am not medically capable of giving anyone advice about their own weight loss journey. If you are interested in hearing more about my own personal experience or have questions about what a gastric bypass is like and how it’s affected my life, please feel free to e-mail me here. But do not take anything I say as the word of a medical professional. Please consult with your doctor about any serious thoughts you have about weight loss surgery.

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The one thing people forget to tell you when you grow out your hair

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Confession: I’ve been trying to grow out my hair for almost as long as I have been an adult.

It’s been a long journey, mostly marred by me also having a fondness for changing my hair color constantly. In college, I went from short and red to chocolate brown and back to red and got a perm and chopped it off and grew out my natural hair color.

Then I dyed it blonde, then back to red and brown and cut it again. Every time I would try to grow out my natural hair color, I would get to a point that I got bored and wanted to dye it again. Then sometimes I dyed it red, and wanted to go back to brown. And yet other times I would plead with myself to just CALM DOWN and keep growing it out.

In just the past five years, I’ve had super short and very blonde hair, shoulder length red hair, medium almost black hair and everything in between. I had bangs and pink peekaboo streaks and even did the Brazilian keratin treatment. Changing my hair became a Christmas tradition, and it was rare for me to keep the same hairstyle for more than a few months at a time.

But two Christmases ago, I decided to stop playing around and FINALLY grow my hair beyond the longish medium that I seemed to always stop at. It has been my dream for more years than I can count to have waist-length hair. But every single time I tried to grow it out, my hair would grow out to just a couple inches below my shoulder and… I would get bored yet again.

I’d cut it or dye it or, let’s face it, both. And then I would be pretty happy with my new shorter hair, and go back to dyeing it over and over again. It would be another couple of years, and then I would be back to square one and wanting some long hair again… So what now?

I decided to *finally* grow out my hair and not stop until it gets to the point that I have always wanted it. The last time I had truly long hair was as a freshman in high school, and that is many more years ago than I’d care to count. Okay, like exactly 15 years ago…

These days it seems to be going well.

The big change in my plan came when, the Christmas after I started to grow out my natural color, I decided to get ombre hair. But it was cute and I loved it. Then last summer, exactly a year ago and eight months after my ombre hair, I went back to red hair.

Somehow, and I do not know how, I found a boxed hair dye that was a really gorgeous and natural-looking hair color. I’ve done a lot of different hair colors over the years, in many different shades of brown and even more shades of red, but this was by FAR my favorite.

So here I am, growing out my hair, and I can honestly say that it’s officially reached my bikini line – and officially the longest it’s been in 15 years. WOO HOO!

But there’s one very major thing that I seem to have forgotten in all of my crazy adventures of cutting and dyeing and cutting some more… Long hair is a PAIN.

The one thing that nobody has mentioned to me ever since I got it into my head to grow my hair long is that it can be really annoying to have.

Since I’m currently living in Florida, and it’s the middle of August, the long hair sometimes adds to my daily stress. It makes the back of my neck sweaty and it frizzes like crazy at the sign of rain. Which, if you’ve ever been to Florida in the summer, is basically every day.

But much worse than that is sleep.

The long hair, while it looks cute and all, is an absolute NIGHTMARE when I try to go to sleep. It gets tangled on my boyfriend’s arm as we try to cuddle, it sticks to the back of my neck, and if I try to shift – forget it!

Falling asleep with long hair is basically the worst hair issue I’ve experienced ever since I became Crazy Hair Change Lady.

I’ve been priding myself for many years because I am brave when it comes to changing up my hair, but it seems that the biggest change – and the one I’ve been really wanting – is going to be tougher than I imagined.

So what’s my solution?

A couple nights ago, I decided to start sleeping with my hair in a braid. I don’t know how this solution came to my head but, well, I just knew I needed to do SOMETHING before I went all crazy and chopped it all off again.

I’ve been there and done that for the last decade and a half, and it was time to write a different kind of hair story.

Now, just before getting to bed, and just before I remove my contacts for the night, I grab my hair tie and put my hair in a braid. It looks kind of funny, and I honestly feel kind of silly, but it’s also been working.

When I turn over in bed, no longer is my hair getting snagged under my arm or getting in Adam’s face or, UGH, sticking into my mouth. The night braid has been working really well, even if I look weird at the end of the day.

But then I wake up, feeling rested and pretty good. My neck isn’t itchy, my head doesn’t hurt because I pulled out a few pieces of hair in the middle of the night, plus I can just take it all out and start the day new again.

I never imagined that growing out my hair would actually be this much of a pain, but I’m excited to find at least one solution to one long hair problem.

I know that this isn’t going to be the only problem I face, but for now I’m excited to keep going. For the past year, I’ve had hair that’s a shade of red that I’m absolutely in love with and hair that’s past my shoulders. So far, even when I’ve had the desire to cut it again, I’ve been able to hold off.

Let’s hope I can make the same claim this time next year.

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How my boyfriend got me to eat healthy again (and visa versa)

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Sometimes it takes falling in love to remind you of some of the things that are important to you. For me, that something was healthy eating.

I have quite a complicated relationship with food. After a lifetime of being overweight, losing 90 pounds with Weight Watchers in college, regaining most of it shortly after and finally getting a gastric bypass in 2009, I’m finally settled at a weight that I am happy and comfortable in.

Unlike many people who have had weight loss surgery, I’ve been able to maintain (most of) my 100 pound weight loss. I did it largely thanks to embracing healthy eating and starting to exercise (kinda, sorta, sometimes, maybe… okay, I’m still working on this!). Mostly, I went back to the kitchen and taught myself how to cook healthier meals.

For a while, I was what I called a “flexitarian” – a part-time vegetarian while I focused primarily on trying to actually find vegetables that I enjoyed eating. It took many years but I’m now happy to report that I eat a varied diet full of leafy greens, healthy fats, whole grains and plenty more things that are typically found on the Good For You list.

But what also happened over the many years since I initially lost weight and forced myself to eat better is that I went from an 80/20 approach to healthy eating to… well, a lot less than that.

You see, as I gained more and more experience as a food writer and editor, my culinary tastes became fancier and a helluva lot more complicated. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy kale and quinoa anymore, but that now there was just SO MUCH variety and so many new dishes to explore that I kept on exploring – even if that dish wasn’t what anyone would call “healthy.”

I was mostly happy with my diet, but at the same time I also knew that it wasn’t my ideal. My weight is about 15 pounds higher than my Goal Weight (ugh) and I noticed that I was eating a lot of meat and animal products and, often, eating a LOT more of them than veggies.

That’s where my life was in April of this year: I had a vague goal to lose a little weight and to go back to focusing on eating much healthier, but I didn’t really have a huge push to do so.

Until I met Adam the vegetarian.

He told me about his food preference early on. In fact, we talked about food for at least half of our four hour first date, and I liked it that way. I discovered that he had become vegetarian just over a year ago, and that he was what I would call a “transitional vegetarian” (also: lazy vegetarian) who still largely depended on meat substitutes and tons of cheese pizza.

Not that there’s anything wrong with pizza, mind you, but part of my journey into the food world meant that I fell in love with clean eating – meaning I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. Faux chicken and bacon is just NOT the way to go, in my opinion.

I know that many people who go vegetarian or vegan tend to depend on these meat substitutes for the majority of their protein needs, especially early on, but I immediately wanted to get Adam away from that mindset. Or at least steer him toward some other options as well.

And so it began!

Slowly but surely, exploring healthier eating with him made me go back to my healthier eating habits too.

I would estimate that, by the time we met, I almost never had an entirely vegetarian or vegan meal (unlike when I was eating at least one of those a day, about six years ago). These days, things are MUCH different.

As we got closer, fell in love (pause for “awwwwwww”) and moved in together shortly after, I realized that keeping my meat-heavy diet just wasn’t an option. The only solution? Going semi-vegetarian again.

After Adam chose to go pescatarian with me during our Whole30 experiment, our house became pretty much veggie-only. It never made much sense to me to cook one meal for him and another for me, so I don’t.

Instead, he’s remained pescatarian-ish (with a LOT less fish than during Whole30) and I’ve remained flexitarian-ish.

When we go out to dinner, I let myself off the hook and order chicken or steak or pork if that’s what I really want. But more often than not, especially in the last month, I find myself still sticking to our pescatarian way of life.

Just as we share our healthy meals at home, I’ve found pleasure in sharing our meals at restaurants too. If he orders the Thai tofu with broccoli dish, I might order the spicy scallops with brown rice. When he goes for the Buffalo shrimp appetizer, I opt for the mussels and French fries. We ask for a side Caesar salad to share, and dinner is set.

Now that he’s accidentally pushed me back into the healthier eating habits, I’ve been feeling much better. During Whole30 and before, I couldn’t resist a good chicken quesadilla or scrumptious carnitas tacos. These days, while I still sometimes indulge in those things, I don’t find myself going for meaty dishes quite as often.

And for Adam? Well, there’s no more “fake” chicken strips as a go-to lunch in his freezer. Instead, I make us a brown rice and lentil dish or veggie frittata. 

While I can’t exactly speak for someone else (even my life partner), I’m pretty happy with the way we have inspired each other to eat better. Sure, we still indulge in pizza once a week. And yes, brunch almost always consists of an ooey gooey French toast. But more often than not, our meals are on the healthy side. They include real ingredients, plenty of vegetables and definitely *lots* of love.

It still surprises me that falling in love is what reminded me how important it is to eat (mostly) healthy. But boy, am I glad it did! After all, I’d like to stick around for a LONG time to enjoy my life with him. And if that means a lot more veggies and a lot less meat, I’m cool with it.

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The 5 snacks I absolutely LOVED during Whole30

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When I set about doing Whole30 last month, I knew one very real thing: I was going to need to snack, snack and snack some more!

I know that the original program actually doesn’t really encourage snacking. Technically, you should be eating good enough portions that have plenty of calories and good fat. All of that food should be completely satisfying to the average person doing Whole30 – but I’m a bit of a unique case.

You see, I had a gastric bypass back in 2009 which allowed me to lose 100 pounds. It’s great, but one major thing that this surgery has done is that my stomach is much smaller than most people. A LOT smaller!

Couple that with the fact that me and Adam were also planning to do a pescatarian Whole30 (since, you know, the boyfriend was a vegetarian up until that point and had just barely talked himself into eating fish again), I knew that snacking was going to be monumental.

First of all, we needed the added calories. Me because I wouldn’t be able to eat decently sized portions and him because he would need to compensate for not having as much protein to support his continuing muscle growth. Fortunately (or unfortunately?), he’s one of those people with high metabolism who was pretty skinny his whole life. He’s currently finally at a weight he’s happier with and continuing to exercise. But that all requires LOTS of protein, and he couldn’t really have any protein shakes during Whole30.

Secondly, we both would also need more healthy fats. Since I wouldn’t be getting most of my animal fat from meat, pork and poultry (just fish!), I needed to step up on compensating for that. I know that, when I tried Whole30 in the past, eating good fats was really important to keep me full and satiated. Again: why snacking would was SO important!

Even though it’s not actually encouraged during Whole30, making sure I always had good and healthy snacks around is a must-do in my life. Plus, getting into the habit of these kind of snacks helped to set me on the path for continuing healthy snacks after we were done with Whole30.

So what did we indulge in? Here’s the list!

1. Baby Carrots & Guacamole Cups: This is one that I actually discovered through my career as a food writer, and it’s something that has served me QUITE well. It’s a snack that I had back when I first tried Whole30 in January 2015, and the boyfriend absolutely LOVED this one. Basically, it’s about a cup of baby carrots wth a Wholly Guacamole mini. It’s a really easy snack that we have continued since then. And it’s DELISH! The best is that the guacamole is pre-made but totally Whole30-friendly. I actually bought big packs of this guac, too, for topping meals occasionally. It was definitely a win-win type of situation.

2. White Grapes and LOTS of Berries: One of our other strategies for snacking, while not necessarily filling us up with calories or healthy fats, was always having fruit around. This was an especially good snack around the mid-afternoon slump. Sure, some people may yell at me for having sugar, but the little pick-me-up with fiber was exactly what I needed around that time of day. Personally, white grapes were my favorites for this and they were a particularly easy snack because it’s hard to eat an entire bag of them. This strategy also served us well when an after-dinner snack was needed too.

3. Granny Smith Apple with Cashew Butter: This one was a PARTICULAR favorite of Adam’s. He was pretty used to having peanut butter as a snack or as an additive to his post-workout smoothie, but peanuts are legumes and therefore not allowed on Whole30. Bringing in some more nutrients, though, is almond butter – but an even taster alternative (in my humble opinion) is cashew butter. Personally, I love cashews more than almonds, so cashew butter was a pretty easy change for me. While Adam indulged in this snack almost daily, I left mine for the weekends. SO good!

4. Bananas, Bananas, and MORE Bananas: This one needs very little explanation, and it’s actually one that my friend Chris turned me onto when we attempted Whole30 last time. He found that a banana as a mid-morning snack often did wonders to lift his mood, and I agree. I’ve always loved bananas, in fact, and they have continued to be a staple in our house and in our fruit basket.

5. Bags of Almonds & Walnuts: When I found the 100 calorie bags of almonds and walnuts, I almost JUMPED for joy. I must have bought at least 5 or 6 of these boxes during Whole30. We snacked on these all throughout our time on Whole30, and they were absolutely great. They were necessary to bring to the movies, to keep in my purse when a random hunger bout struck and we’re nowhere near the house… and just about any other time too. We still have some of these around, and I’m really thankful for the healthy snack that I can keep in my bag for whenever.

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