Choosing Wisely

So passes the first weekend since my bold declaration about getting back in the weight loss game. Well, kind of, since it’s sort of a long weekend and it’s sort of still going if you’re not working today… but I digress.

Sean and I spent a lot time with his family this weekend, since his brother is visiting. Sean spends A LOT of time with *my* family (we’re a needy bunch, what can I say?) so I’m more than happy to tip the scale just slightly back in his favor, haha. We’ve grabbed a few meals together and took a daytrip up to Baltimore to visit the Aquarium, and so it actually was a more active (and enriching) weekend than I’ve had in a while, haha!

In addition to that, Sean managed to surprise me for the second year in a row with tickets to see Ari Hest in concert. Our very first date consisted of dinner and surprise tickets to see Ari Hest (which I guess, technically, means this is the third year in a row that he’s pulled this off.) Of course, now the joke’s on him, since clearly I’m going to expect this to happen next year now. Which I’m pretty sure means he has to continue doing this every year for the rest of eternity.

Aaanyway, clearly between all the various things going on, it was a pretty boss weekend. But it also, by nature of what went on, included a fair amount of going out to eat. So this weekend was pretty much my first test in seeing how much self-control I could muster with regard to my rebooted healthy living philosophy.

As you may know if you’ve been following this blog from before, I’m pretty lax when it comes to eating out. I’ve never been a proponent of the idea that being on a diet means you have to prepare ALL your own meals, eat at home EVERY night, and reserve going out for TRULY special occasions — it’s just not realistic for some people, and, while I certainly do love to cook, it’s really not realistic for me either. I mean, aside from the fact that I work for Yelp.com and so it is literally my job to know what all the best, newest, and hottest restaurants are in town, when it comes down to it, I just really like going out to eat.

I like restaurants, I like trying new foods, new cuisines, new dishes, and I just generally like the whole restaurant experience. Whether it’s for date night, happy hour with coworkers, or just meeting up for a bite to eat with a pal, I just like eating out. And I managed to lose 60 pounds perfectly fine without sacrificing my enjoyment of restaurants the first time around, so I don’t see why I can’t maintain that this time around! After all, just like last time, it’s all about making the right choices when you’re staring down that menu — and I don’t just mean in the obvious way.

So, let’s say you’re meeting a friend for dinner at some new trendy Mediterranean resto you’ve been wanting to try for ages. But, you’re on a diet. Or you’re watching your weight. Or you’re trying to #eatclean or you’re just trying not to feed into the Standard American Diet stereotype. Whatever the reason, you bypass the dishes of flaming cheese and french fried whatever, and your trained, seasoned dieter’s eyes head straight to the “Entree Salad” section of the menu. But… you already had a salad for lunch. Or, maybe you just don’t like salad. Maybe you just wanted to try the grilled octopus dish that folks have been RAVING about, or you hear the lamb burger calling your name. What do you do?

In ages past, I would probably say that the “right” choice would be to muster all that willpower, ignore the siren song of the slightly “unhealthier” dishes, and go for whatever salad sounds best — dressing on the side plz. I mean, it’s definitely the easy choice, right? After all, calories in < calories out, right? Weight loss! Willpower! Health! But... let's really think about this. Because what happens if you are unsatisfied with your dish? Well, I don't know about you, specifically, of course, but I do know about me. And I know that when it comes to me, ignoring a craving doesn't really work. And passing up something decadent for something healthy, because I think it's the "right" choice, has a nasty habit of backfiring on me. 'Cause what's gonna happen later? I'm probably still going to go in search of something to satisfy that earlier craving, and it probably won't be in a good way. See, eating healthy while eating out is, in my opinion, all about balance. It's about striking a balance between what you "should" have -- what's healthy, what's nutritionally solid, what will leave you satiated and well-fueled -- and what you WANT. I'm not saying that you should have license to eat crap because you say that you want it, though. Of course I'm not. I'm saying that the art (or science, depending on how you look at it) of eating out while trying to lose weight is more complicated than calories in vs. calories out. Scratch that, the art of eating PERIOD while trying to lose weight is complicated. Or, at least it is when you have prior food issues, like I do. Here are some examples, just from this past weekend! Sean took me to an Italian restaurant after the concert on Saturday, and, faced with a bevy of creamy, delicious-sounding pastas, I ended up choosing the dish with the fewest amount of calories off of their "Lighter Side" menu:

It was a 5 oz filet with grilled vegetables, totaling (according to the menu) a whopping 365 calories. But aside from the fact that it’s a pretty sad-looking plate (incidentally, the veggies were undercooked, the steak tasted pretty good but looked weird, and generally, I would not recommend), even if it had been an excellent plate of food I’m not sure I would have been happy with it… because it wasn’t really what I wanted. It’s just what I thought I should eat.

But in contrast, let’s look at another example from this weekend:

After the Baltimore Aquarium, we dined at Phillip’s Seafood in Inner Harbor, and I opted for the crab cake salad. I knew I wanted a crabcake — I was in Baltimore for crying out loud! I knew that crabcakes are not inherently the healthiest of foods. But I wanted one and knew I would regret not having it later. So I got a single crabcake with a nice salad on the side instead of a crabcake sammy with fries or any number of the other delicious-sounding items on their menu. And while, yes, I’m sure that eating it with french fries and cole slaw would have been even more delicious, I can say that I had a satisfying meal that I don’t have to feel guilty about.

It probably doesn’t even need to be said, but the same goes for eating dessert. If you want a little something sweet, have it. Otherwise you (or at least I) am more likely to end up making bad choices — maybe even binging — later when the craving gets too strong. After my delicious crabcake salad lunch, our entire party split a slice of pie:

Just a couple of bites were enough to satisfy my sweet tooth completely without making me feel laden down, guilty, or regretful at all. And I also didn’t go scavenging for something sweet later on! Win-win.

I’ve been rambling on for a while now, and I’m not 100% sure if I’m still making my point well, so I’ll cut myself off now. I guess the tl;dr message in all of this is: eating out does NOT have to come down to either making a “good” choice and feeling unsatisfied, OR getting what you want and feeling guilty. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, mutually exclusive situation at all. You can make choices you feel good about AND end up leaving the table happy and satiated — you just might have to get a little creative.

Eating Out, In

You guys know that one of my biggest struggles in terms of my weight loss is how much I love to eat out. I do love to cook, but I also love restaurants. Trying new ones, revisiting my favorites, being social with my friends and family… I just really like to go out to eat. Of course, as I’ve mentioned (and as we all know anyway), going out to eat with such frequency is not good for my wallet OR my waistline.

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There are just too many variables when someone else is preparing your food for you. Even nowadays, when more and more restaurants are offering nutritional information up front, you can never be 100% sure of what you’re getting. Plus, even if you KNOW what the calories are, it doesn’t mean you’re getting the most bang for your figurative buck (we KNOW you’re not getting the biggest bang for your literal buck, since eating out is expensive, hahahaha).

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So part of my Act II weight loss game plan is to cook at home as much as possible. Of course, given all the restaurant-eating that went on this past weekend, I’m kind of already failing, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Sometimes curbing the urge to splurge (can I get that on a t-shirt) is as simple as upping the ante in your own kitchen. Last night I fixed myself a gourmet meal that I feel any fine dining establishment would have been proud of! And for half the cost AND half the calories. Win-win-win.

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I picked up the most gorgeous tomato at the farmer’s market on Saturday (probably one of my last farmer’s market tomatoes of the season! Cry!) and a GIANT thing of basil to accompany it. Then I zipped over to the regular supermarket to pick up a ball of fresh mozzarella and decided to make myself a super schmancy caprese salad.

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I mean, seriously. Do you SEE how huge these basil leaves are!?

I chiffonaded (can “chiffonade” be used as a verb? Ahaha) the basil to make it look nice. For those of you who don’t have a tried-and-true method of doing so (chiffonade = slicing herbs into long, thin strips), this is just how I get ‘r done:

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After you’ve stacked the leaves on top of one another like in the first pic, roll them up lengthwise into a little bundle. Don’t wrap it TOO tightly or you’ll bruise the herbs, but hold it tight enough so that they won’t slip out from under you.

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Then using a SHARP knife, just slice through the bundle using quick, thin slices. You don’t want to “saw” through or press down with the knife, because again, you can bruise the herbs and that’s what makes them look wilted and unappealing.

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Ta-da! Easy peasy.

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While I was doing that, I was also letting some balsamic vinegar reduce on the stove (with the flippin’ sweet guitar spatula that I got my brother Ben for Christmas).

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And heating up some corn. As always, I like to make a lot more food than just for me because I like to be able to have the leftovers for lunch. Leftovers > sandwiches! I had already broiled up some rosemary-marinated pork chops the night before, so I just reheated one of those and added it to the plate. I drizzled some balsamic reduction on top of the caprese with just a splish of extra virgin olive oil and some salt & peppah, and there you have it!

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Ooh, pretty.

And that’s how you get one beautiful plate of deliciousness. And the total nutritional damage of my dinner was (drumroll, please!) approximately 550 – 600 calories. Not bad considering how decadent it tasted! And a whole lot less than it would have been at a restaurant. Granted, fresh mozzarella is not necessarily the best weight loss food, but hey, when the craving strikes… better to nom on a few slices of delicious cheese now than an entire box of Cheez-Its later, amirite?

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Oh, and just of note: I stored the extra tomato, mozzarella, and basil together in little individual piles so they’re easy to grab and eat. Cute, non?

Weekend Update: Labors of Love

Howdy folks! I hope you all had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Unfortunately, mine has ended with me picking up a(nother) little cold, but prior to waking up with my head feeling like it needs to be popped (seriously, cannot even hear out of my right ear right now) the weekend was pretty rad! Let’s flashback to Friday for a hot second.

Shocking though it may seem, I actually did start my weekend off with a workout. I know, who am I? I ventured back for my third CrossFit class and it totally kicked my ass.

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Coach Jeremy was cruel kind enough to document the experience for me. The warm-up this time was actually really fun. We grabbed a partner and a medicine ball (ours was 15 lbs) and went out to the parking lot.

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Then, one of us would throw the ball as far as we could, then the other would sprint from their position to where it landed. Then the second partner would throw the ball while the first stayed in place, and so on, and so forth.

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Turns out that just because something is shaped like a ball does NOT make it easy to throw, hahaha. 15 lbs is a lot to toss forward!

After the warm-up we spent 10 minutes working on a particular CrossFit skill that we have a hard time with (note how it’s phrased on the whiteboard in the first pic, hahaha). Since ALL of the skills are new to me, I didn’t particularly know where to start. Jeremy suggested I try working on my jump ropes, since “double unders” are a pretty standard CF move. I’m pretty sure that 11-year-old Gretchen would be VERY disappointed in how my jump rope skills have lapsed. I could barely make single unders happen. Oh well, something to work on, I guess!

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Then came the Workout of the Day itself. Just like last time’s, this was an “AMRAP”, or “As many reps as possible” in the allotted time (10 minutes). The WOD consisted of 5 power cleans, 5 thrusters, and 10 burpees. Since I had absolutely no clue was a “power clean” or “thruster” was, the coach spent a good amount of time going over the movements, and then gave me a little extra practice time, too. I practiced with a PVC pipe at first to get the general motion, and then did the actual workout with a 15-lb practice bar (rather than a 45-lb + weights bar like everyone else). At first I thought that 15-lbs was totally lame, and almost asked if I could use a heavier weight, but in the end I’m sooooo glad I didn’t try to get ahead of myself.

Dude, this ish be hard! I had a really hard time getting the proper form down for the power clean. A power clean is where you take the bar (from the floor for the others, from my knees for me — like in the picture above) and lift it up under your chin with this kind of jumpy/jerky move. It’s really hard for me to explain in words, but I found it very difficult to do correctly without leaning back and doing all sorts of weird stuff with my posture. I actually think it’s one of those things where it would have been a little easier with more weight on the bar, because I would have had more resistance keeping me in place.

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The thrusters I did okay on. They involve starting in a squat position with the bar under your neck, then standing and thrusting (get it?) the bar over your head and back (keeping your head “through the window” that your arms make).

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Then… came the burpees. 10 of them. After doing them at the first CrossFit class I attended (in which I was supposed to do 20 burpees), I thought that 10 would be no problem! Boy, oh boy, was I ever wrong.

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I don’t know what it is about this move but it is basically like an instant recipe for me to become nauseous. I don’t know if it’s all the bending, or just the fact that they’re always in combination with some other hardcore movement, but seriously. It is awful. I had to take like a 5 minute break after my second set because I suddenly felt so terriblw. Wtf, burpees?

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This face is all for show. (Also, apologies for the cleav shot, hahaha.)

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There we go. That’s a little more accurate as to how it felt.

In the end, I ended up making it through 3 full sets, plus an additional 7 (5 power cleans and 2 thrusters). Each class I’ve been to has been so different from the last, I still feel like an uber-n00b. That said, I can’t lie: the variety does make it kind of fun. And at least the fact that I started off the weekend with such a hard workout made me feel slightly less guilty for eating out so much over the weekend. I promise I had good reasons to though!

Saturday night my bestest best friend Bethany and her husband Colt came into town. Bethany and Colt have been living in Texas for the past two years and just moved back to Charlottesville. I couldn’t be happier! It’s hard to believe it’s been over TWO YEARS since I’d seen them last (at their freaking wedding!) Bethany and I were roommates throughout almost all of college (we were hallmates Freshman year), and we definitely have one of those friendships where it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, we just kind of pick right up where we left off. Sean & I took the two of them to Dogfish Head and spent the night chatting away. We had such a great time I literally took 0 pictures. Oops! 🙂

But, much to my other friend Lara’s chagrin, I more than made up for the lack of picture-taking Sunday night.

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Sean & I met Lara and her new fiance (!!) Dan for dinner on Sunday at the Vietnamese restaurant Four Sisters.

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I’d been hearing rave reviews about this place for a long time but had never gotten a chance to go. Lara said she was in the mood to try something new, so I immediately suggested it!

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We started off sharing an order of fresh summer rolls (the best!) and fried shrimp wontons. When it came down to ordering, the menu is HUMONGOUS. Like, of Cheesecake Factory proportions. Luckily, I already knew what I was in the mood for:

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Pho!

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With all the appropriate accouterments, of course.

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Theeeere we go.

I thought it was really good. A lot of the time Pho broth can be way too strong for me, but Four Sisters’ was very balanced. I got it with beef and meatballs, which was kind of a weird combination but I dug it. The meatballs reminded me of the fish balls that my mom puts into soup noodles sometimes, so it was nostalgic for me. Next time I go to Four Sisters I’ll want to branch out a little for sure, but it had been so long since I had pho that there was no reasoning with me. The caramelized fish in clay pot is particularly well-reviewed on Yelp…

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Since Four Sisters is located right in the cute new little shopping center in Merrifield, we walked right past a Coldstone on our way in. Both Lara and I agreed that we couldn’t just pass up the opportunity!

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Sean and I shared a mint chocolate chip ice cream in a waffle bowl. Sadly, I think it’s the last bit of ice cream I think I’ll be seeing in a while. Good thing it was delicious!

Monday was spent primarily bumming around the house. There was one ill-fated trip to Target that I mildly regretted (Target was CRAZY on Labor Day!) but other than that, it was just a lot of Guild Wars 2…. as well as a lot of Virginia Tech Football talk, haha. I guess that since Sean and I didn’t really start dating until college football season was almost over, I didn’t fully understand what I was getting into dating a Hokie! As someone who is almost entirely apathetic when it comes to sports of any kind (especially including my own alma mater, JMU, ahahaha), I guess it’s a good thing they won last night?

Have a great day!

Back in the Groove

So, as mentioned in yesterday’s chicken-tastic post, I have been eating out A LOT lately.


(via Hyperbole and a Half)

This always seems to happen to me. For all my talk about how much I love cooking, I’m a bit wishy-washy about it, frankly. I go through phases of being incredibly motivated in the kitchen, wanting to experiment to high heaven and craft new, delicious, and healthy recipes. Then, for no apparent reason, I just lose it. The thought of slaving away in the kitchen exhausts me, and all I want to do is curl up with a Burrito Bowl or a styrofoam container full of takeout sushi each night. It’s been especially bad lately. Restaurants and fast-casuals have taken over my life, and it’s not doing my credit card statement much good either.

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Of course, there are many, many reasons why eating out every day is not a good thing. I mean, I definitely don’t prescribe to the idea that you can never eat out if you want to lose weight. Um, obviously. I love trying new restaurants, going out to eat with friends, and I firmly believe that you can make healthy choices when eating out. That said, it does make things much more difficult. When your dinner buddy suggests splitting an appetizer of mozzarella sticks, it’s pretty hard to say no. And when your entire group orders burgers, it’s a challenge to choke out your order for a lightly dressed chopped salad.

This is Good Stuff.

I am all for going out to eat, but (to run the food analogy to the ground) I know that it should only be a side dish to my overall food lifestyle, not the main course. So, I am going to make a concentrated effort to get myself back in the cooking groove, and stop eating out so often. I also really want to move further into clean eating, not just low-calorie eating. I generally try do that anyway, but it’s still really hard not to be stuck in the dieter’s mentality of “anything with fat grams is bad for you!”. To this day, I still tend to steer towards all the non-fat, low-fat, pre-packaged kitchen-helper options when I’m grocery shopping. Even though the meal that I made Friday was fairly decadent and used things like (gasp!) butter, eating a comfortable amount (i.e. not stuffing myself silly) of real food with real ingredients left me feeling pretty good.

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I’m still calorie counting (weeeeeell, most of the time), but I definitely want to reignite my desire to learn how to be healthy and balanced without caloric content being the sole determining factor of my meals. It is a learning process, so I know I need to be careful about not going overboard, but still! After all, if calories were the be-all and end-all, I would just be volume eating spaghetti squash for the rest of my life — and where’s the fun in that?

I’m actually pretty excited about having my post-roast homemade chicken stock on hand now to do some experimenting with in terms of homemade soups and sauces (as well as any other suggestions you might have for using broth!), and I am excited to restock my pantry with fun salad toppers. I would love to hear what your “go-to” at-home meals are! You know, the kind of meal that you always have the ingredients for in your fridge and pantry. If I’m going to break my bad eating-out habit, after all, I’m going to need all the help I can get!

What’s your favorite/easiest/best go-to meal when cooking at home?

Social Whirlwind (Weigh-in)

This week is crazy. I love it, but it’s crazy. I literally have something to do and someone to meet up with every single day this week. And I am by no means complaining — not at all! — but five straight days of social eating and drinking (more than that, if you count the weekends on either side!) is certainly not the norm for me. And given this morning’s post-Super Bowl weigh-in, it’s not doing me any physical favors either. (Emotional health is on the up and up though!)

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Last night was a two-fold social celebration, starting with happy hour with my dear friend Lara! We went to Chef Geoff’s in Tysons, which despite it being a fairly upscale restaurant, had some pretty good happy hour deals!

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Check out the size of her beer! Superbeer, indeed. We also got some extremely healthy appetizers to nom on while we caught up — wings & fried pickles. Heh.

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Not content to have those kind of nutritional goldmines (ha!) comprise my entire dinner, a couple hours later I went to dinner with Ben, his girlfriend Taylor, my roommate Erin, and my new manfriend Sean (who yes, I’m sure you’ll be hearing about in more detail later. ;)) And where did we go for dinner?

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I mean, do you even have to ask? Koi Koi, of course! Just can’t get enough.

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For once, we actually ordered an appropriate amount of sushi for the five of us and I didn’t leave completely overstuffed (because you know that if there is sushi in front of me, I am going to eat it — full or not). Still, the sodium from the soy sauce and edamame, paired with Friday’s book club, Monday night’s decadent dinner AND the Super Bowl SnackFest 2012… well, we all knew that this week’s weigh-in wasn’t going to be particularly inspiring.

Starting Weight: 246 lbs
Last Weigh-in: 192.4 lbs
This Weigh-in: 192.6 lbs
Difference: +0.2 lbs

But! It wasn’t as bad as I was honestly expecting! Huzzah! (It’s the little victories, y’know?) I’m probably holding on to quite a bit of water today, so my goal will be to drink lots of water, flush out my system, and check back in on myself in a couple of days to see if it’s made any difference. Hopefully it will have, and by next week I’ll be another pound or so down! That said, if my social life keeps being as active as it has been (and I sure hope it does!) I’m going to need to figure out some new ways to be social that don’t necessarily include mindless calorie consumption. Maybe I’ll have to instigate an at-home happy hour policy where we cook our own healthy apps, haha!

What are your suggestions for things to do with friends that don’t orbit around eating out?