Are your excuses bigger than your goals and desires?

Are your excuses bigger than your goals and desires?
Today is special day for me – May 17th is my native country’s (Norway) National Constitution day.  Historically, we were always ruled by another nation or in a union with another country (Denmark or Sweden) so we are naturally very proud and grateful for our independence.  As with any major holiday, this day is centered around food… (unfortunately not many plant based ones), and all you can see anywhere you go is a sea of red, white and blue, the colors of the Norwegian flag. So naturally I had to place a picture of it here where you can see parts of my home town on the west coast of Norway, Sykkylven.
norskflagg
When I first went vegan, I was scared and worried how I was going to be able to continue eating the foods I love, the foods I had grown up with since childhood. When looking at the Norwegian diet, I would say about 90% of our diet consists of either meat, fish or dairy products in some shape or form. Uh oh!
I had a catering company known for serving animal based dishes, a husband who works as a professional chef and a big meat eater, and a Norwegian food blog with a big following where I wrote about all the traditional foods, and yes – they all were based on animals. Would I lose my audience now?
When it came to family, I thought to myself “how on earth will I go home and visit my mom now, how will my being there change? My mom centers her world around food, and it’s not fruits and vegetables, but cookies, cream based cakes, meatballs, salmon, eggs and herring.
What’s my point here? I had so many reasons to say “screw it, this is too hard”, “I don’t have time or the energy to figure all of this out” or tell myself nothing is going to change by just little old me going vegan.  But I knew my gut was telling me these were all excuses I was telling myself to make myself feel better.   And guess what, the reactions and responses from people weren’t half as drastic as I had made it up in my mind to be.  In fact, I was embraced by most of my community, who showed me incredible support. Our story is always more dramatic than reality 🙂
If you really are feeling drawn to this lifestyle, if you know deep down that this is the right way to eat to improve your health, the environment and help reduce suffering of other living beings , then I invite you to find the courage to go with your heart. Yes, there might be some ‘obstacles’ in the way, such as how will I get my children on board with this lifestyle, and how will I ever eat out at my favorite restaurant again – but let’s face it, these are minor issues and is your fear speaking to you, not your true self. And no greatness was achieved by giving into fear.
It’s funny to me how we think about life and situations sometimes. Just because we’ve done something or eaten a particular dish all our life, doesn’t mean there is something equally good or even better out there for us. Being open minded, curious and willing to explore other options, whether it be traveling, meeting new people or trying new dishes, is what being vegan is all about. It expands your mind, improves your quality of life and helps you get closer to your true self.  I know you have a deep desire to stretch yourself in all these areas of life too, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this email.
stone
Case in point, today’s recipe! I was so happy to come across a vegan version of “pho” – a Vietnamese, aromatic and flavorful noodle soup that is traditionally based on beef broth and also contains fish sauce.  The vegan version does not lack for flavor AT ALL, in fact I would say it can most definitely stand up to the original recipe, and no animals were harmed in the making of this soup!
I realized this weekend that my mission will be going forward to veganize all the classic dishes we know and love from our childhood, family recipes and memories we treasure so much. I want to show you that it is not just possible, but PREFERABLE to eliminate animals from these foods, and embrace a more loving, compassionate and considerate attitude about life going forward.  I promise you your taste buds won’t be disappointed, rather they’ll be elated!!
A book that has inspired my mission is Robin Robertson’s “Vegan Without Borders”, showing us that we can easily convert authentic dishes from around the world, satisfying our culinary palates and wanderlust. I am sharing her recipe for “Pho Chay” today – a popular street food in Vietnam that is traditionally eaten for breakfast in the southern part of the country, but also enjoyed other times of the day in the north.  I used soba noodles (100% buckwheat) but my husband commented wisely that the soup could probably have used some sturdier noodles such as ramen noodles, or other flat rice noodles.  This is gluten free if you use tamari or coconut aminos and you can also easily eliminate the miso paste.
I made my own vegetable broth from some wild garlic that popped up in my backyard the other day, and it was delicious! But you can use water or regular vegetable broth with great results too.
Here’s my wild garlic ready to go in the oven with some shallots and fresh thyme:
garlicbroth
The broth simmering with some red pepper flakes added, yummm:
garlicbroth1
I hope you will try this out, and agree that no flavor need be lost anywhere if we eat vegan!
Happy cooking and I would love to hear from you if you are interested in following me on my mission to veganize YOUR favorite dish!!
PHO CHAY
8 oz soba (buckwheat) noodles (or rice noodles/noodles of your choice)
6 cups water or vegetable broth
3 shallos or 1 small onion chopped
1 small red bell pepper, sliced thin
2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
3 tbsp tamari or soy sauce (coconut aminos work too)
1 tbsp grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
8 oz seitan or tofu, drained and cut into strips or cubed
2 tbsp dark miso paste
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp sriracha sauce
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, blanched
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges, for serving
Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot. Add in the shallots/onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, ginger, hoisin sauce and soy sauce. Decrease heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the seitan or tofu and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Stir the lime juice into the broth. Remove 1/2cup of the hot liquid to a small bowl. Add the miso paste to the liquid in the bowl and stir to blend well. Transfer the blended miso paste into the soup along with the sriracha. Do not boil. Stir in the reserved seitan or tofu and noodles.
Divide the soup among individual bowls. Top with the bean sprouts, scallions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and additional sriracha at the table.
Serves 4.
pho
To receive more recipes like this on a weekly basis and to download a free recipe book that will give you a kickstart of healthy, flavorful and nutrition plant based recipes that will cover you for breakfast, lunch and dinner for an entire week, join the party here: http://sunnygandara.leadpages.co/7-day-kick-start-recipes/
Your body, mind and soul will thank you!!
Advertisements

Eat To Live: Check-in after Week 1

Eat To Live: Check-in after Week 1

Hello beautiful people! I hope you all had a nice weekend! I’m now headed into week 2 of the Eat To Live program by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. I am surprised at how excited I am about this journey and how great I feel; I realize I desperately needed a “boost” in my own self-care and this was just what I needed.  Eating mostly raw has given me a vibrant look and feel only whole foods can provide.  Results: I am down 5 lbs, although I suspect most of it is water weight (and honestly it’s weird getting on the scale after a year of not going on it once), but I feel less bloated, more energetic and my skin is glowing. So much so, I’ve gotten quite a few compliments from customers at work from people who don’t even know what I’m doing, thinking I’m just drinking a lot of water, which is true too 🙂

As many of you know, the most difficult part of this for me, is not being able to enjoy wine. As a wine buyer and being surrounded by hundreds of wines every day, it takes a little extra effort to work on my mindset and just focus on WHY I’m doing this.  The first true test was Memorial Day weekend this past weekend, a vacation associated with BBQ, beers, margaritas, sangria and excess in general.  I am happy to report I managed to think the “nothing tastes as good as healthy feels” mantra successfully all weekend, and in the end, didn’t even miss it. Today, I woke up clear-headed and positive – well worth it, as always, in the end.  Instead of sitting around doing nothing drinking, we took long walks down by the river and discovered a new trail (the Hudson Valley in New York is SO beautiful this time of year) and worked in the garden and got our tomato plants in the ground:

tomatoplants2015

I also made some very tasty dishes, including these mashed black beans with avocado:

mashedblackbeans

Then I added some veggies, spices and herbs and the mix went into these beautiful lettuce leaves, from lettuce heads I picked up at my local farmer market on Sunday morning:

blackbeanburritos

Here is the recipe for these beauties:

BLACK BEAN LETTUCE BUNDLES

adapted from Dr. Joel Fuhrmans “Eat To Live” book

Serves 4

2 cups cooked black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 large, ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and mashed

1/2 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped

4 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup mild or medium salsa

juice from 1-2 fresh limes (to taste, I like a lot!)

2 tsp ground cumin

8 large romaine lettuce leaves

In a bowl, mash the beans and avocado together with a fork until well blended and only slightly chunky. (I season my mix with salt and pepper, although Dr. Fuhrman says no  salt… sorry but I like my food well seasoned and that’s probably never going to change). Add all the remaining ingredients except the lettuce and mix.

Place approximately 1/4 cup of the mixture in the center of each lettuce leaf and roll up like a burrito.

While I am not a big believer of “detoxes” and cleanses, I believe that eating a raw vegan diet for a few weeks to clean up your system is highly beneficial. As you can see, eating like this is very easy and inviting; recipes are not complicated, eat only unprocessed foods that grow in the ground or on trees, drink lots of water, and move a little bit every day to honor your body.  To me, eating a beautiful, colorful salad like this one I had for lunch yesterday, is so much more inviting than having a grey or brown looking slab of meat dripping with saturated fat on a grill:

mixedgreensalad

I play around with different oil-free dressings to make my salads exciting to eat every day, and I take my time eating now, I don’t just shove it down because “I have to eat a meal”.  Feels invigorating!

So what did I do to celebrate my weight loss and successful first week? The old me would probably celebrate with a cheat meal or a glass of wine, but I am careful rewarding myself with food, as I don’t find that gives me much (except for 2 minutes of bliss) anymore. Instead, I took my babies (my gorgeous boxers, Thor and Dallas) on a long, peaceful walk this morning while most people were asleep and took in these beautiful sights:

trailpic

 

river

Each morning I write down at least 20 things I’m grateful for, and I meditate on them during my walk. This keeps me going, and reminds me of my “WHY”.  My why is not just about fitting into my old jeans from last year, but it’s about being kind to my body, respecting it and thanking it for working so hard to keep me healthy and alive. What is your why?

 

“Fit” vs “Healthy”

When I started this blog, I’ll admit my main focus was on looking good on the exterior. I had recently fallen back in love with working out after a period of slacking, eating too many fatty foods and drinking too much alcohol (hence a 30 lb weight gain).  My personality took it a bit further and I developed a big interest in lifting weights, which in turn, led me to enter amateur bodybuilding competitions and in between running half marathons.   This is a blog I have wanted to begin for weeks now, as a result of reading friends and acquaintances FB posts and blogs who are just starting out, or who have been in it for a while but who seem to just blindly follow someone who has either experienced some success or who claim to be a “fitness coach”.

As a newbie in the fitness world, I wanted to do everything that the “pros” did – work out like a fiend, eat from tupper ware (which I still do, but never cold food and not that god awful tilapia and overcooked asparagus), “ban” foods and avoid social gatherings so I could get up at the crack of dawn and start the crazy process all over again.  I convinced myself that this was a lifestyle I could live with, as long as I was happy with my reflection in the mirror.  Never mind that my diet was monotonous, at one point I ate the same meal four or five times a day, something that upon looking back, is quite incredible, being that I am a trained chef, and married to one and my life has always in one way or another has been about enjoying food, creating new recipes and being adventurous in my eating.

Since turning vegan, my focus has turned to eating for health all around; not just for an impressive exterior but also for a healthy interior.   It has really been a spiritual experience!  Now I feel so much freer, no foods are off limits except meat, fish, egg and dairy and that is for both ethical  and health reasons so it’s not hard to give them up.  I used to have a big sweet tooth when I was on a diet, and my weakness were gummy worms, milk chocolate and any other processed candy… now I simply have no desire to eat them because I know they are made from nasty fish bones or milk from tortured cows.  Gone are the days when I thought animal protein was the only good source of protein and that fruit was bad, or any whole foods, for that matter was allowed to be labeled as “bad”.   You see, all these health freaks talk about eating what’s good for you, meanwhile they down energy drinks and other supplements that has God knows what kind of deadly ingredients just because it’s calorie or sugar free, consume artificial sweeteners by the mouthful on a regular basis and brag about being able to eat processed junk food on their “cheat day” and still lose weight. Really??  What is the end goal here? End up looking emaciated on show day just so you can win some plastic medal at a local show nobody has heard of and that the ones who have,  will forget the next day??  Develop health problems in the name of “outer beauty”?  Because let’s face it – I’ve been there, and it’s SUPER important to you while you are prepping: oh my God, that vein is popping, my butt looks tighter, my lats are wider and my abs are insane!!   I am on top of the world, I can do ANYTHING!! I am living the dream!! This is the most important thing in the world to everyone, right? Wrong.  I am all for improving the physique, challenging yourself at the gym, incorporating daily exercise for better health and working out to feel good overall.    But when this takes over your life and you think you can keep a stage physique year round… well, that’s where you are in for a big let down.  Life is not about being anal about meeting your macros day in and day out while ignoring other important factors around you, such as having fun in the sun, being with friends and family, work, travel, enjoying simple things in life like having a home made breakfast,  and even just hanging out watching a movie without counting the minutes until your next meal.  I guess what I’m missing in most bodybuilder’s lifestyle is diversity, spontaneity and just a simple ability to ENJOY life and whatever that brings.  A narrow minded view of what life is is no way to live. If I have to skip the gym one day because I have to take care of something, my world is not ruined. I just pick up where I left the next day, my physique or muscles will not vanish in a day, or a week for that matter. It’s all about PERSPECTIVE.   This is what the vegan lifestyle has given me.

I don’t mean to bash anybody in their midst of prepping for a show by posting this.  I too, thought for a while I had to do cardio on an empty stomach to lose fat and eat my boring ass meal every 2-3 hours to “keep my metabolism going” and avoid carbs after lunch. The truth is, my metabolism suffered after a hard core keto-diet I was put on after my last show,  I noticed lack of energy, my body not recovering as well as it has before, and many other signs that I found worrying.  I lost interest in food (which is amazing considering my background I mentioned earlier as a chef and food enthusiast),  and  while I thought I ate so much (most of the foods were vegetables and low in calories so the “amount” seem larger than real life) I was still feeling I missed out on some things.  When the euphoric feeling of stepping on stage and placing well dissipated, I was still left with me, and wanting more out of life than just obsessing about my next work out.

So… enter my vegan lifestyle in October of 2013, and I found a wonderful new way of living! Imagine, I am lean still – and have tons of energy – and I get to eat a ton of fruit, nuts, dried fruits, maple syrup, beans, rice, potatoes, vegetables in all shapes and forms.. and you guessed it: lots of protein!!!

There is a spiritual awakening involved also with eating plant based… while before, I used to scoff at vegans thinking they all ate “rabbit food” and all drank wheat grass juice every two hours, I am amazed that I now feel my food choices have EXPANDED, not being limited, and I look forward to, and at the same time am overwhelmed, each week when I go shopping, as everything I make as my weekly meals are not only healthy, wholesome and good for me, but low in fat, high in nutrients and most importantly: extremely delicious!!  I feel lighter and happier, because I highly believe that if I consume a living being’s body that was tortured and killed, their energy transfers into my body. I can honestly say that I am smiling both on the inside and outside now, knowing that I don’t have to put myself through nightmarish routines just because I want to look good in a two-piece. Now I eat what I want and look how I want while smiling all the way!!  I win – and so can you! 🙂

I have a mission this year, and that is to show you all, in pictures and in words, that it is possible to be healthy looking, MUSCULAR and fit and fabulous, eating plant based foods only, steering away from the “bro-science” of the traditional bodybuilding diets (which are SO bad for you, both metabolically and spiritually – who the hell wants to eat boiled chicken and broccoli- unseasoned- for the rest of their life- just to look “shredded”??) and to include every food in the universe that is wholesome and organic, natural and flavorful… one meal at a time.

To all of you who still think you need to follow  the recipe of  a super low calorie, monotonous and boring diet followed by 1-2 hours of cardio a day after your regular weight training, I’ve got news for you: You don’t!!   Progress pictures to follow in the spring and summer along with more news, info and motivation!

Moving to a Plant Based Diet

This year sure has been full of changes for me. First, I started a new job as a wine buyer for a large retail store. Going back to having to be at a place 8 hours a day 5 days a week has taken adjustment, since I’ve worked for myself pretty much for close to a decade now and had freedom to fit in gym, friends and social activities whenever I wanted. Not so much anymore. Secondly, my husband and I moved to a new town.  That change I absolutely love, we have a big backyard now that is fenced in for our children (two boxers) to roam around in and I am now only an 8 minute drive from the gym – no excuses!!

Lastly, the biggest change in my life has been that I’ve decided to finally go meat and dairy free. I have been pondering this decision for months, if not years. My love for animals and passion for animal rights is the only thing that gets me really riled up, and when I see clips of the absolute horrific practices of the meat and dairy industry, I am depressed for days and can’t get the images out of my head.  I also am the mother of two boxer puppies who I love above everything- so why do I then go and eat a pig, a cow or a chicken who has the same feelings and emotions and the right to a quality life as my dogs? I could no longer live with myself or watch myself in the mirror in the morning, and finally decided it was time.  I can’t explain what a relief it is, and how light and free I feel.   I am no longer contributing to another living being’s pain and suffering.

I was never a big meat eater to begin with (I ate mostly chicken if anything) and have always loved vegetables and had limited my intake of dairy anyway since I was prepping for shows the past three years. Today there are so many wonderful alternatives to meat, cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese and butter that I honestly could see no valid reason for continuing to support the macabre actions of people who think the only purpose of animals is to feed them and serve them somehow.

The first question I think every person who is not eating animal products get is “How do you get your protein?”  Protein can be found in many sources, such as nuts and nut butters, legumes, non dairy milk,  quinoa, tofu, even vegetables. I recently switched to a pea and bamboo shoot protein powder that provides just the same macro nutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fat as my old whey protein.  I also make sure to supplement with BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids) before/during/after my workouts as well as a multi vitamin twice daily. Often, people exaggerate their intake of protein – we don’t really need to be overloading on it, in fact when I was eating chicken and eggs I only had about 4 oz or so of chicken and 3 egg whites at a time (and I’m tall/a big girl).  I fill up on vegetables which are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and.. yes, some protein too!  By balancing my macro nutrients I am consuming exactly the same amount of calories as I was before.  I already feel so much lighter knowing I’m not stuffing my body with meat and dairy that has been poisoned with hormones and antibiotics and.. let’s face it, fear, torture and death.

It took a while before it dawned on me why it would be useless to give up meat if I didn’t simultaneously give up dairy. The dairy industry, is in fact – even worse than the meat industry in how they pain and torture the cows. A cow has to remain pregnant and give birth her whole life in order to produce the milk that we humans OH SO DESPERATELY NEED (not), and so she is repeatedly inseminated with semen (i.e. raped) and her off springs are ripped away from her right away, causing her immense grief for days.  Male calves are deemed useless, and kept in cages where they are not allowed to move so the meat gets “tender”, and given minimal food to cause that anemic look to the skin that people love to see when ordering veal in restaurants.  The female calves suffer the same fate as their mothers.   The apparatus that gets suctioned on to their (abnormally LARGE) uterus cause infections (the cows scream in pain when the machines are placed on them) and puss enters into the milk and guess what … YOU.  And the cycle continues.  Want milk still?

There are plenty of muscular, healthy vegan body builders out there… To continue eating meat and dairy just because we are afraid we are going to lose our muscles is just sheer, utter BS, to put it mildly.   A question I have gotten in just the past couple of weeks since I announced my new lifestyle is “You don’t eat meat or dairy? What’s left?” thinking that the vegan diet is limited and boring. Nothing could be further from the truth! While I am not 100% vegan yet as I am transitioning slowly (I still eat some select seafood),  I have no problem finding a great variety of foods that will satisfy me and give me nutrients. Imagine all the legumes out there; black beans, chickpeas, lentils, lima beans, red beans, white beans, pinto, etc.  Then there is quinoa, all kinds of rice, and.. .my secret weapon: Fresh herbs and a huge variety of spices! I have gotten better at using exotic spices to brighten up my food and bring it to life. Today I made a bean soup stuffed with different vegetables, and I added fresh rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and oregano, as well as a Persian Spice Mix I got at my local spice shop as well as toasted cumin, coriander and fennel seeds.  I also toasted in some garlic and sauteed onion, added vegetable broth and… magic was born!

I will be blogging more about my experience switching over to plant based foods and dealing with people’s reactions… they have not to date been very positive, as most people just can’t seem to understand, basically because they don’t have the information or believe in “bro-science” if you will.  People also don’t want to feel uncomfortable with their own choices (i.e. of eating meat) so they feel they have to defend themselves, which I understand to a degree – I did it myself most of my life.  Regardless, I am the happiest I’ve ever been, because I am no longer turning a blind eye to the injustice that goes on to defenseless, loving animals around the globe. I want to make a difference, just like I want to make a difference in my own life of building a strong and healthy body. I hope you will join me !!

govegan

Don’t put limits on your imagination!

I watched my favorite sermon on TV this morning, and was struck by this simple message.  Sure, we hear it all the time in many inspirational posts seen on FB, Twitter and elsewhere, but seldom do we give it much thought.  Sometimes it may even come off as irritating, annoyingly positive; fit people who just stepped off the treadmill and the endorphins received may feel like all their problems are gone and they can take on the world.  Well, isn’t that exactly the purpose of working out and being fit?

nolimits

What does the above statement really mean? Putting limits on your imagination will only limit what you are able to achieve in life.  Many times, what you can imagine is much smaller than what you are actually capable of! The problem? We don’t dare to dream and imagine big things for ourselves!

What is the difference between successful people and people who don’t reach their goals?  We all put in work and try to do our best in life.  But the people who succeed have that one additional advantage: they believe in themselves.  They dare to dream large. They don’t doubt for a second that they can achieve whatever they put their mind to and more, despite many disadvantages they may have.  “If he / she can do it, so can I”,  is so true, but instead of only imagining doing the same as your next door neighbor, dare to think you can do even better. Push yourself, stop making excuses and stop trying to find all the (bogus)  reasons as to why you are not able to.  Instead of using energy to come up with all the things that you don’t have, all the situations that are difficult in your life – focus on all the elements that are in place that you do have, think of everything you have been blessed with and go from there.

positivethoughts

If you start a sentence with “I can’t imagine having that body”, “I can’t imagine spending that much time in the gym” or “I can’t even begin to imagine having that much money”, your statement will come true.  Because you have already given up by uttering those words and what you think will become reality.  That lady next to you in the weight room with the banging body, doesn’t have more hours in the day than you. She was also rewarded 24 hours, but she may choose to use them differently than you, and  she may utilize the other 23 hours in her day in other ways than you. Instead of reaching for that bag of potato chips and sitting down by the TV at night after a long day, she goes for a walk or chooses to clean the house or select to eat a cup of yogurt because that will feed her muscles and help her reach her goal.  She may not have the perfect “genetics” either (an excuse you hear a lot of from unfit people looking for reasons as to why they “can’t” or are not working towards their dream physique). Her torso may be too long/ too short, she may have trouble with holding too much weight in her lower body as well, but that doesn’t stop her.  She knows she will get there one day, as long as she puts her work in, day in and day out.

dontstop

I certainly didn’t think I was going to be standing on a stage in a bikini and high heels in front of a large crowd at nearly 40 years of age.  But I had a vision, and I kept working towards it.  The result? A body better than what I had in my 20s, and a six pack I didn’t even think I could achieve a decade ago, but all of a sudden when I started on my fitness journey and decided I was going to go all out, I changed my mind to “I can’t” to “I can”.   My situation wasn’t different than any others, I had just changed my thinking, switched the “possibility” button to on instead of off.  Despite many people’s initial skeptic reactions and negative comments, I finally realized that I was worth it, that I was just as good as anybody around me and deserved to do this for me.

sunnyshow2011

This translated not only into my fitness life, but into my career and personal life as well.  I saw changes in how I handled my personal relationships, I became more secure in who I was as a person (fitness changes you not only on the outside but on the inside as well!) and consequently I achieved more peace in my life.  At work, I went for opportunities I previously had not dared go for, because I had convinced myself that everybody else was more qualified or talented than I was.  This trait I have to admit, is more of a female than a male trait. I read somewhere that when women apply for a job, they feel they must meet 100% of the requirements in the job ad in order to go for it, while men don’t hesitate to send in their resume even if they only meet 50%. Something to think about.  Dare to believe you are more than qualified.

IMAGINE where you are headed – place a picture of yourself of when you felt like you were healthier or of how you want to be, on the fridge .  Keep a pair of jeans the size you want to be in the closet so you can look at it every day.  Believe that you will get there one day… and you will not only be there, you will go further than you had ever imagined!

Don’t ever think a dream is too big – you were put on this earth to do great things, and to surpass what you thought was possible. Convince yourself that you are more than capable of achieving your big dreams, and when you reach your goal,  set higher ones the next time. You will be AMAZED at yourself, believe me! Keep the faith and keep working hard – fight to be fit in all areas of your life!

Creating food with maximum flavor

If there is anything I can offer to the fitness world it is my relentless quest for flavor in food and a desire to make food more appealing to people who are trying to get fit.  I use the international kitchen for inspiration, meaning I combine spices, herbs, ingredients and recipes from all over the world and tweak them to fit my dietary needs so I can have my tummy and soul satisfied.   Having traveled to and lived in multiple countries, I’ve adapted many culinary tricks I’ve learned along the way and put my own spin on it. I am not a fan of jumping on the latest bandwagon of the latest and the greatest- for the longest time I resisted using any kale, quinoa or gluten free recipes, because I got bored of seeing everyone thinking this was the solution to all their health problems, and mostly I want the food to be organic (meaning natural- from nature!) and also  important;  serve a PURPOSE – for my goals. Some parts of the year I will be in contest prep meaning most of the stuff I post on my Facebook page I will not eat (sad but true) – but most of the time I am all about using fresh, seasonal ingredients combined with wholesome ingredients that transport me to a certain place.

Food for me is fun, food is emotion, good times and pleasant experiences – even as a fitness competitor I refuse to let those pleasures escape me.  Your diet does not have to be torture – quite the opposite, it can be delicious satisfying and rewarding while low in fat and high in nutrients.

Today I decided to make a pot of chicken to last me for a couple of days – because I am in a period where I am tiring of cooking.

BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS IN TOMATOES

2 lbs of chicken thighs

salt, taco seasoning and dried oregano seasoning to season chicken thighs

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

2 tsp red chili flakes (or to taste – less if you don’t like very spicy)

5-6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 knob garlic (2 inches)- peeled and grated

1 whole red pepper, thinly sliced

1 Vidalia onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

6-7 large button mushrooms

1 can (28 oz) whole plum tomatoes

2 cinnamon sticks

4 bay leaves

Season the chicken thighs with salt, taco seasoning and oregano. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-high heat – place the chicken thighs in the pot (be careful not to overcrowd the pan – they need to be in a single layer, otherwise they will steam), sauteing the chicken thighs about 3 -4 minutes on each side until golden brown.  Remove chicken thighs onto a plate and set aside.

chickendish

Add onion, paprika and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and saute until translucent/soft, about 10 minutes.

chickendish1

Add the garlic, ginger, cumin seeds and chili flakes and saute for a couple of minutes.

chickendishspices

Add in the tomatoes, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and simmer for about 5 minutes until flavors blend. Add in the chicken thighs, reduce heat to low, place a lid on the pot and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

chickendishpot

Serve with white rice or as is. Delicious!

chickendishfinished

Diet and food temptations – the mental game

I always find that my clients, friends and people I talk to in general find dieting a much tougher challenge than the actual working out part. Why is that? Probably because training  typically only takes about an hour max (unless you are one of those airheads who do cardio three hours a day, lol) whereas you are left the other 23 hours facing the fridge, the cafeteria, the restaurant, bar, deli on the corner, vending machine at work, etc….. temptations everywhere around you.

caketemptations

We are taught that food is “fun”, food is “social” and it’s something to do when we get together  in groups, whether it’s meeting friends for a glass of wine, or  going to holiday parties, birthday celebrations, weddings… food is everywhere! And the food is never carrots and celery sticks with low fat dips, grilled  fish or chicken (with no  oil)  and salad, but more often fried foods, cakes, desserts,  alcohol… well, you get my drift.  It’s hard to stand up against peer pressure and not  resort  to what everyone else is doing. My favorite is “Oh, come on-have a piece of cake, you deserve it!” (what exactly does that mean?) or “you are so fit – one piece won’t hurt!” No, I’m sure one piece won’t hurt, but what if I have to go to another gathering the next night, and then the next night, that won’t be just “one piece”, and why is everyone so preoccupied with what I’m eating? Why can’t get  togethers be about having great conversations and doing a fun (non food related) activity?

boardgames

Of course I’m playing devil’s advocate here. As most of you know, I’m a professional chef and a wine educator, so I live  off of people’s desire to eat and drink, in fact I encourage  it.  And I participate in  these events regularly.  Where would I be without parties filled with food and wine?  I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t have  a piece of cake at your daughter’s birthday party, or go out to a lavish dinner with your husband or boy friend for your anniversary or have a bottle of wine to celebrate a promotion,   enjoy with your Saturday evening meal or even just if you feel like it… Life is more than just a treadmill, some weights and looking good in a two piece. Life has to be enjoyed too. But.. there is also finding that balance, that  dreaded, cliche like “B” word…

Balance

In my mind, there is nothing admirable in a person who obsesses about her/his workout and diet and isolates him/herself from the rest of the world to avoid temptations  in the real world, just to keep that top  notch figure. Are you really living the life you want? Miserable, constantly thinking about food and being irritable because you can’t have what you really want?  I doubt it.   What  I find is a successful person, is someone who knows how to balance the two – eating healthy 90% of the  time, but will not  freak out at the  sight  of a bowl of ice cream or a slice of pizza and think “thunder thighs!!” but just accept that the choice you make there and then, is quite ok. If you decide to eat it, it’s because it can be a ‘cheat meal’, or a meal you want at that time (sometimes it’s better to have ONE piece of what you crave instead of eating around it – you’ll end up eating more calories in “healthy” food and fool yourself you made the better choice).  If you decide not to, it’s because you want to keep your diet in check and you are on a health kick.   In the end, you may feel better with that choice.  Both options are good, if they make YOU feel good. Don’t feel guilt, shame, regret or anxiousness over food. This is when a problem can occur. Food should be nourishment to your body, yes- but in my opinion, it should also be enjoyable.  Food is amazing, it’s part of our culture and it CAN be a positive addition to your life, not just something you have to deal with.

Assorted healthy food.

Once you practice trying to have a more relaxed relationship to food, your weight will drop. You will no longer have insane cravings, because as we know – cravings are mental, never physical hunger- and you will start wanting real food to feed your body, to feed your muscles.   Cravings are made-up  ‘realities’  of what you THINK you want – but when you let go and tell yourself “hey, I can have it if I want to”, it’s  amazing how quickly you will turn it down because you’ll find you no longer want it 🙂

Today all I wanted was a grilled piece of chicken with some fresh vegetables, that is when I knew I was HUNGRY, not obsessing about some piece of chocolate or loaf of bread.  My body is craving healthy, nourishing foods that contain protein, carbs and fat these days, this is when I feel best;  full of energy, light and fit.  Try to mentally picture yourself how you’ll feel after you eat a big chocolate or a bowl of ice cream.   Will that make you feel better afterwards? Will it help you reach your goal? If the answer is no, turn it down most of the time.   Treats  like these are called treats for a reason- they are not an every day indulgence,  but a  piece of food reserved for a special occasion. Treat it as such, and you will appreciate it even more- and your body will be happy too!

icecream

 

Photo Source: itv.com