How to set (realistic) food resolutions for 2017

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Last year, I wrote a piece for Brit+Co on easy-to-make food resolutions. As I look back at 2016 and the personal happiness it brought me and look ahead at some of my big goals for 2017, I am also remembering some of the ways I improved my health and eating habits this past year.

One of the simplest ways was becoming semi-vegetarian thanks to my boyfriend.  The other ways were following some of the food resolutions that I set forth. But here’s the trick: They weren’t about losing weight. My food resolutions were about other goals that filled me and fulfilled me in a much healthier way. (And I actually lost weight anyway.)

Last year I made the commitment to embrace eating healthy fats, to sneak in more veggies and fruits, to not be afraid to cook new foods, to get better at planning my meals, to start my mornings without sugar and to make food more fun, period.

Here’s how I did:

1. Embrace Eating Healthy Fats: When I embraced eating mostly vegetarian, I also started  to have more olive oil, avocado and (occasionally) salmon. This was surprisingly easy!

2. Sneak in More Veggies (+ Fruits): Of course, it was easy to sneak in more fruits and veggies once I started really focusing on the whole vegetarian thing too. I started also freezing fruit that started to go bad (we’re all guilty of letting things stay in the fridge a bit too long, aren’t we?), then adding it to smoothies later on.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Cook New Food: I’ve started to take on new challenges with my cooking. Primarily, I started to occasionally use Blue Apron or Hello Fresh to introduce me to new foods and cooking methods. I also started using my slow cooker a whole lot more, and that is continuing to introduce me to new flavors every week.

4. Get Better at Planning Your Meals: Well, as I mentioned above, using the slow cooker has been WONDERFUL for my cooking. Not only is it easy but it’s also allowing me to prep lunch ahead of time. I now spend most of my Sunday cooking ahead for the week, and kinda loving it honestly.

5. Start Your Mornings Without Sugar: With the exception of still having a little bit of sugar in my morning cup of Earl Grey, I have done pretty well on this resolution too. I’ve had no cereal, I’ve had no honey in my yogurt and I’ve mostly stayed away from pancakes and the subsequent syrup that comes with them. Of course, brunch on the weekends is another story…

6. Make Food More Fun, Period: I’m still struggling with this one sometimes to be honest, but I’ve found that adding spices to my meals has dramatically helped with this. I definitely still have some room to grow here, in particular with experimenting a bit more, but I’m in a pretty good place anyway.

The thing about these food resolutions is that they weren’t really resolutions at all. Instead, they were goals and ideas on how to eat healthier and make my meals better. They allowed me to grow in my eating habits and to do better for my body.

I would say that these “resolutions” were SO successful that these days I am feeling great. As a bonus, going mostly vegetarian (as in, I have meat or fish maybe 2-3 times a week max) has also stabilized my weight. These resolutions were so easy to follow, in fact, that I’m easily keeping up with them this year too. And why? Because they were realistic… AND they were kind of fun, really.

So what’s better than an easy-to-follow plan to eat healthier? Nothing, I think.

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How to make a Cuban Meaty Potato Stuffing [RECIPE]

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It’s just a few days before Thanksgiving! WOO HOO!

Although Halloween is actually my favorite holiday and Christmas is a close second, there is something truly special about Thanksgiving for me. You see, my family has a really fun and sweet tradition where our meal always consists of a hodge-podge of American, Russian and Cuban recipes. It’s always a mix and it’s always a good time.

This year I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute one of my family’s recipes with one of my FAVORITE food sites, The Kitchn. They did a very special package of immigrants sharing their stories through Thanksgiving stuffing… and of course I had to contribute.

Check out my recipe and story: Cuban Meaty Potato Stuffing on The Kitchn today. And don’t forget to read all Four Stories of the New World, Told in Stuffing too!

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(Image by Diana Yen/The Kitchn)

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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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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