Saturday, April 25, 2015

Weight Loss: What No One Tells You About the "After"

I'm not sure what gave me the idea to do this post. Quite possibly, it might be the fact that I had FOUR slices of homemade sausage pizza for dinner last night and woke up this morning weighing less than yesterday morning. Who knows? Anyway. I want to talk about weight loss, and more specifically, the "after."

When I started losing weight, it was HARD. Every day was a struggle to make sure I got my workout in, and every meal was a battle between what I wanted to eat and what I needed to eat. It got to the point where I thought it would always be hard. I would have thoughts like, "Can I really avoid all of this unhealthy food for the rest of my life? Am I going to have to kill myself working out this hard every day forever just to stay fit? Am I going to give up, gain weight, and have to start all over again?" These thoughts were real, and all-consuming for four months. During that four months, I passed on every single dessert, every opportunity to go out to eat, and I worked out 5-6 days a week every week.

But then something weird happened. I was going through my closet, trying to decide what clothes I was going to donate, and in the process I had to try on all of my jeans. Even those from when I was a freshman in high school. To my surprise, EVERY SINGLE PAIR FIT. I no longer owned a pair of pants that was too small. Whaaaat? I knew I had lost quite a bit of weight, but I had been afraid to try on those jeans because I was certain that they were too small. It wasn't making sense in my head.

See, when you lose all of the weight you intended, and you see that goal number on the scale, you don't see that reflected in the mirror. There is something that just doesn't compute. I would look in the mirror and see all of my "loose skin" from having kids, the fat around my hips and armpits, my stretchmarks - and I would think, "I know I weigh what I wanted to weigh, but I look bigger." It's like my brain didn't catch up with my body. I was still seeing what I was used to seeing, and not what I actually looked like. It's a strange "after" complex, as I like to call it. I was so stuck in weight loss mode that my brain was still trying to find ways to lose weight.

So now what? I reached my goal weight. Everyone is looking to me for weight loss advice, and all I want to do is celebrate by eating REAL PIZZA, and not pizza made with a cauliflower crust for once! (Though that is a yummy alternative ;)) I see these quotes that say things like, "You aren't a dog, so don't reward yourself with treats." Seriously? Then the guilt sets in. Everyone is looking to me for these healthy recipes, and wondering how I'm staying fit, and I just ate PIZZA made with white flour, covered in sausage and cheese. What people don't like to tell you is that YOU WILL GET TO A POINT WHERE YOU CAN INDULGE AGAIN. It's easy to get caught up in the "don't eat this, don't eat that," but once you get to a weight that is comfortable for you, and you have a good amount of muscle built up, it is fairly easy to maintain that.

It's easy? Did I just say that? YES. I would seriously have to blow my diet completely every day, and not workout at all in order to start gaining weight back. I eat well most of the time, but I can treat myself often too. I can maintain my physique by only working out for 15 minutes, 4-5 days a week. This is a huge difference from my "weight loss" phase where I was pushing myself so hard every day, for what felt like little results. It felt like forever. 

I guess what I am trying to say is, those of you who are trying to lose weight, it is hard, but it is not hard forever. It feels like such a huge sacrifice. It feels never-ending. I am here to tell you - IT GETS BETTER. It gets easier. You will eventually reach that "after" stage. You will be able to enjoy yummy foods again. You don't have to spend over an hour working out every single day for the rest of your life. By all means, you can, if that's what you want to do, but you don't have to.

Those of us who have gotten fit and lost weight want it to look like we have this unattainable, super-strict lifestyle, but it's just not true. I eat well most days because of how it makes me feel, but I have days where I don't eat well at all. There are days where I skip my workout because I just don't feel like it. Do those decisions make me lose the progress that I've made? No! Don't let the fear of change keep you from reaching your goals. Understand that we are all human. We all struggle with the same things. I am here for you because I have been where you are, and I have felt how you feel.

Now, I'm not saying lose all of your weight and then hit up the McDonald's drive-thru every day. Yuck. I believe in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Eat foods that will fuel your body to function well, but don't beat yourself up if you want a big ol' plate of pizza or stack of cookies now and then.

I'm not sure if this post even makes sense, but I just wanted to share my thoughts on the "after" part of weight loss. I am still trying to improve my fitness level, but I am technically living in the "after" side of my weight loss journey. It has been strange, and not at all what I expected, so I wanted to share the experience with all of you :).

For those who are unfamiliar with  my weight loss journey. The first picture is me at 149 lbs, and the second is me at 121 lbs.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fat Burning HIIT Workout

Ask and you shall receive. Here is the HIIT workout that I have created for you guys. I won't lie, it is tough, but it will burn major calories. Modify where you need to, and if you aren't sure how to modify a certain move, ask me. This is a Bootcamp-style workout so the exercises are pretty basic and cover all of the main muscle groups.

I plan to add pictures or video of me completing these moves in case you aren't sure what some of them are. I know I found that to be beneficial when I was still a newbie ;).

Without further ado, here it is!

Let me know if you guys like this style of workout and I can come up with more. I'm also open to suggestions, so let me know if you want a specific type of workout and I'll see what I can do.

Hope everyone is having a great Thursday! Now go burn some calories!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Meal Planning on a Budget!

Today's topic is a huge one for me, so I will try to keep it as simple and easy-to-digest as possible. We will dive into WHY I plan my meals, HOW I meal plan, and included at the end will be a sample meal plan as well as a free printable for you to use for your meal planning pleasure. I know, I must really love you guys.

Why I Plan My Meals

1. Less stress. Without a doubt, meal planning lowers my stress level. There isn't much worse than having a super busy day, cleaning up after kids, breaking up fights over who gets to wear the light-up princess shoes, and then realizing it's 5:30 pm and you have no meat thawed out and NO IDEA what you are making for dinner. Having it all planned out and mostly prepared is definitely less stressful.

2. Less time. Personally, I find it much easier to spend one or two larger chunks of time cooking and preparing everything, as opposed to spending a moderate amount of time each evening. Not to mention the time it takes just to decide what we are having to begin with. I enjoy having that much more time in the evenings to enjoy with my family, and not having to dig around in the pantry and freezer trying to piece ingredients together for a meal. Having it all planned out means I look at my calendar, grab the containers labeled for that day/meal, and simply cook it. It really does save so much time! 

3. Less money. I find that when I plan our meals, I am actually USING the items I buy at the store and not letting them go to waste. Rather than piecing together a bunch of random items, I'm looking at what I have on hand first, and then creating my grocery list. This means my grocery list is SMALLER (and less expensive!). It used to be that I would sit down at my computer, find a bunch of yummy looking recipes, and make a list FROM SCRATCH. I wasn't trying to find meals based on the things I have already, or trying to stretch certain ingredients over multiple meals. This also means I was piling more food on top of what I already had, and things were getting overlooked and going bad - which meant I had to throw it away. What a waste of money!

How I Plan My Meals

1. Check what is already there. When creating a meal plan I find it easiest to take a look and see what I have on hand already (I stock up on items with a longer shelf life when they are on sale). For instance, when creating my next meal plan I started out by writing "quinoa, brown rice, pasta shells, spaghetti noodles, & tortillas."  Seriously, that is what it says in my journal. I have other items, too, but these are items that I knew I could plan meals around. You may have things like chicken, pasta sauce, could be anything!

2. Research meals with those ingredients. I know it sounds silly, but this is what I do. I literally pull up Google or Pinterest and type, "easy quinoa dinner," or something to that effect. I look through the search results and try to pick one that has ingredients that are cheap or that I already have. For example, my quinoa search turned up a recipe for Chicken Broccoli Quinoa Casserole. I knew I would be buying chicken, and I already had a bag of frozen broccoli as well as chicken stock. Which leads to my next point...

3. Write down possible meals. While I'm researching, I write down the meals that look like good contenders. I also write down the ingredients I would need to buy to make the meal. The meals with common denominator ingredients are the ones I end up picking. (ex: If I need to buy potatoes, I will try to pick 2-3 meals that use potatoes so I don't waste any and I can stretch that particular ingredient). If that is confusing, hopefully it will make more sense when I list my sample meal plan below.

4. Finalize the plan. To complete my plan, I list the days of the week (two weeks worth), and I start to fill in meals where I see fit. I try not to have pasta two similar meals on consecutive nights (so no back-to-back pasta or Mexican-themed dinners). This takes some trial and error (and lots of marks through my list), but eventually I have a complete two-week meal plan.

5. Shop and prep. This one is fairly self-explanatory, but I want to note that when I grocery shop I only buy what is on my list. Occasionally I will find a really good deal and pick something up on a whim, but for the most part stick the list. I also check ads before I shop to make sure I am getting the best deals. (I won't go out of my way to save fifty cents, but I will go to a couple of different stores if I am saving a significant amount of money). Going to Aldi for my produce saves me enough money that it is worth the extra trip. After I get home, I cook ALL of my meat and cut up fruits and veggies. I check my plan and separate/season the meat according to what meals I have planned, add veggies to the it if the recipe calls for it, put it in a freezer bag, and label it with the name of the meal and the date it will be eaten.  It's awesome to have everything prepared and labeled so I can just grab it, pop it in the oven, put my feet up & relax! Who am I kidding? I have three kids! I try to relax, nonetheless :). Any leftovers we have are used for lunches, and having all of the meat divided beforehand really saves money and calories.

Now, on to the really good stuff! 

Here is what my next meal plan looks like:

You can see that planning meals has left me with a super short grocery list for two weeks of dinners! I have all other ingredients on hand, and (hopefully) won't have to go to the store again for another two weeks. It's fantastic!

Eventually I will have all of the recipes for these meals posted (I tweak all of them to make them my own, and make my own spice blends), but for now, hopefully this is helpful enough. If you really want any of the recipes before I have the posts prepared, just leave me a nice little comment listing which one(s) you want, and I'll reply with the recipe! It just won't have pretty pictures included :).

You can download a blank copy of this meal plan HERE.

I hope this helps those of you who are new to meal planning, or just looking for meals to add to yours!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Health & Fitness: Pregnancy Edition!

It has been requested that I do a post on staying healthy and fit during pregnancy. This is great because I have experience with a not-so-fit pregnancy where I led an extremely sedentary lifestyle and overindulged in food, a moderately active pregnancy where I ate healthy for a while and overindulged toward the end, AND a very active pregnancy where I ate well 70-80% of the time.

SO. I have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding activity level/eating habits and how they affected ME during my three pregnancies.

Alright, let's get to it! Here is a list of tips I have come up with to help you stay fit, healthy, and happy during your pregnancy! (Keep in mind, I only speak from my own experience. These tips may or may not work for you. Always consult with your doctor if you have questions regarding exercise and nutrition while pregnant.)

1. STAY HYDRATED. This does not mean have a bottle of soda with you at all times. That will not hydrate you. Drink LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of good old fashioned water. Other drinks are usually loaded with chemicals, sugar, caffeine and other yucky stuff that will not only make you tired and sluggish, but will pack on unwanted pounds as well.

2. STAY AS ACTIVE AS YOU ARE ABLE. Everyone starts out their pregnancy at a different fitness level. If you were not working out before you found out you were pregnant, now is not the time to go hard in the exercise department. If you WERE working out before you found out you were pregnant, it is usually safe to continue exercising at that same level throughout your pregnancy. What I recommend for most ladies who are pregnant is to WALK. I can't emphasize this enough. Walking helped me tremendously throughout my third pregnancy. I was walking 2-4 miles a day (and sometimes more), and my back pain disappeared. My energy levels skyrocketed. I was able to get a full night's sleep in my third trimester (say WHAAAAT?!). I know, it's crazy. Something as simple as walking can help with all of that. When I would take a couple of days off and sit on my rump all day, all of those aches and pains returned. Seriously.

3. EAT A HEALTHY, WELL-BALANCED DIET 80% OF THE TIME. I know, I know. When you are pregnant and all you can think about is a cookie dough concrete from Culver's, that bowl of oatmeal with blueberries does not sound like something you want to be eating. This is where the 80/20 rule comes in. During my healthiest pregnancy, I ate well 80% of the time, so that when I just COULD NOT shake that craving for a yummy dessert or a big plate of nachos, I had a little wiggle room to indulge. This was not an every day thing! Once or twice a week I would choose to eat whatever craving I couldn't shake, but usually my cravings would dissipate after a day or two.

4. EAT OFTEN. You are not doing yourself any favors by skipping meals to save calories. Try to eat 5-6 smaller meals a day. This will keep your metabolism high and your energy level up. You gotta have gas in the tank to drive, right? Similarly, food is the fuel for our bodies, and we have to keep our "tank" full to function well throughout the day. Try things like oatmeal with fruit, greek yogurt, veggies and hummus, mixed nuts, avocado. These foods have a lot of "bang for your buck," so to speak. They are very nutritionally dense, and the calories that you get when eating them will go a long way. In other words, your body will use what these foods have to offer. Also, eating what your body needs a lot of times will eliminate cravings for the not-so-healthy stuff! Remember, a good rule of thumb is to eat 300 extra calories while pregnant, and 500 while nursing. No need to go overboard!

5. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY & REST WHEN YOU NEED TO. You know your body, and you can tell when something does or doesn't feel right. If you are trying to stay active, but you are feeling faint or dizzy, take a break or talk to your doctor. If you are super swollen, try eating less sodium and drinking more water. That may or may not help, but it is worth a try. I battled low blood pressure during pregnancy and the best thing for me when I felt faint was to REST. If I tried to push myself through it, it got worse, not better. Don't try to be Superwoman. You are already growing a human, for Pete's sake! Plus, you will miss the opportunity to rest once that adorable, screaming bundle of joy enters into the world ;).

That wraps up the tips that I find to be the most important. It's just my "two cents," and solely based on my own experience, research, and opinions, but I hope it helps some of you who are looking for advice! Now here is a little background about me and my pregnancies.

Pictured above, from left to right, you can see how I looked right at the end of my first, second, and third pregnancies. MAJOR difference, right? From #1 to #3 I learned more and more about how nutrition and exercise affected my body. Less sweating, less swelling, less weight gain - all of these are perks that I attribute to taking better care of myself during pregnancy (and always). Not to mention the things you can't see - higher energy, less back/sciatic nerve pain, better quality sleep, less headaches, lower stress and anxiety levels. The list goes on and on. Hopefully this gives you a visual of the difference that your choices can make during your pregnancy. All three resulted in healthy, adorable children, so don't feel bad if you are overindulging or overly enjoying the opportunity to rest. The end result is still the same - a baby. This is just some food for thought for those who are looking for advice on how to stay healthy and fit during pregnancy.

I can post more on pregnancy related topics if anyone is interested. Just leave a comment with suggestions or questions and I will gladly expand on the subject!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Balancing Fitness and Mommyhood

I have been asked a lot about my routine and how I balance fitness and taking care of three small kids. Most days, it is not easy.

I could wait until my husband is home from work and ask him to watch the girls while I get a workout in (which I do occasionally), but I really enjoy having our evenings as "family time," and I would hate to take up time working out when I know I could be spending it with my husband and kids.

One way to avoid an evening workout would be to workout early, like, "before-the-kids-wake-up" early. However, I am not a morning all. I have slowly transitioned myself from waking up at 9am to waking up at 6:30am, but just because I am up does not mean I am ready to get moving and grooving with a workout! I need coffee, some time to reflect and do my morning devotions, and just enjoy the only peace and quiet that I will likely have all day. For me, that is just as important as working out. It puts me in a good place mentally, which is necessary for me to improve physically.

"So...when DO you workout?" 

Well, the not-so-structured answer is whenever I can fit it in. Optimally, I aim to do it when 2 out of 3 kids are napping (My almost-4-year-old no longer takes naps...sigh). This happens to be around 2:00-3:00pm. Not the most convenient time of day, but for me, that is the time when I can really focus. I don't have to worry about who needs to potty, my 7 month old wanting to nurse, who took what toy from get the idea.

There are occasions when my kids are working on a craft/activity or playing really well with something that I know will take up some time, and I will attempt to get my workout in earlier. I love when this happens because I have more time to get cleaned up and ready for the day, and I don't have to rely on dry shampoo and body spray to fool people into thinking I showered when I didn't (Sorry to shatter the glass on that one, friends. It's a cold, hard reality when you have three kiddos).

With the weather warming up, another way that I stay in shape is to take 2-3 mile walks almost daily. Sometimes I walk in the mornings with the kids once they are done eating breakfast, doing their daily "lesson," and cleaning up. Other days we walk as a family in the evenings. I pretty much take the weekends off to let my body rest, but we will likely still walk at least once. Getting out and enjoying the outdoors gives me a sense of peace and grounded-ness (Is that even a word?). Not only that, but the Vitamin D from the sunshine boosts my mood and dissipates any stress I may have at the time. It's good stuff.

The bottom line answer to balancing fitness and mommyhood is that there is no answer. Life with kids is crazy and awesome and hectic, and you just make do with the little time that you have to yourself. You know when you have windows of time to do certain things (clean, scroll through Facebook, watch your TV shows), and when fitness becomes a priority you begin to spend that free time working on your health instead of those other things. It's all about what is important to you.

Personally, I have gotten to the point where I love working out because I love how it makes me feel. Not only does it release those good ol' endorphins, get the blood flowing, and release icky toxins, but it makes me happy to know I am doing something GOOD for my body. Any progress I have made is because I've worked for it, and I have worked hard.

My kids are learning the value of being healthy and taking care of their bodies, and that is priceless.

Just remember: You DON'T have to go nuts. You don't have to be a crazy fitness fanatic. Just make small changes over time and I can promise you, you will look back and realize that you have changed your life. Those little changes that you think aren't really adding up to anything? They are making all  the difference in the world.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fit Tip Friday: HIIT Workouts are your FRIEND!

If there is any piece of advice I can offer when it comes to working out, it's this: JUST DO IT. If you don't have an hour to dedicate to killing yourself each day that's ok. Some of us lead extremely busy, full lives, and when you calculate the time it takes to workout, shower, get dressed, dry your hair, put on makeup, and so on, you know that it can be a bit overwhelming

And let's face it. OVERWHELMED = VERY LITTLE MOTIVATION TO WORKOUT. Am I right? Throw three small kids in the mix and, let me tell you, it can be downright crazy.

Well, let me introduce you to a little friend of mine. Maybe you've heard of it, maybe not. It's called a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout. Basically, HIIT is a way to increase your heart rate and maximize your calorie burn in a very short amount of time. Many cardio workouts have you move at a moderate pace with bursts of high intensity throughout for a fairly long period of time. HIIT turns that on its head - you move at a high intensity with very short breaks in between for a shorter amount of time

Most of you probably just skimmed through that last paragraph not putting too much thought into any of it except SHORTER AMOUNT OF TIME. Yeah, I'm with you. And trust me, it works. I will try to uncomplicate it as much as I can for you (so you can skip all of the trial and error that I had to go through), and I'll walk you through my go-to process for creating a HIIT workout. I will also tell you how I simplify the process using an Interval Timing App on my phone.

Alright. Let's make a workout!

For starters, evaluate how much time you want to dedicate to your workout. Only have 15 minutes? Awesome. Grab a pen and paper. Or better yet, open up the notepad on your smartphone. List 5 bodyweight (no equipment necessary) exercises. You can always incorporate dumbbells or other equipment if you want, but for the sake of simplicity I'll leave them out. I'll go with these moves:

Alternating Lunges
Tricep Pushup + Burpee
Floor Mountain Climbers

That is our round or set. We will be repeating this round three times. Now pick a basic cardio exercise, like high knees or jumping jacks. I usually go with high knees. 

Now that we have our exercises chosen, we will be doing each move for 30 seconds with our cardio move between each one. If you add it up, you should see that it comes out to a total of 15 minutes. And by the end, you will be sweating. You should be sweating. 

If you don't have a fancy interval timer, this is where that app I mentioned comes in handy. The one I downloaded is called, go figure, Interval Timer. I created a preset workout where I do 30 intervals, 30 seconds each. Then I start the timer and go down my list:

Squats. BEEP. High knees. BEEP. Pushups. BEEP. High knees. BEEP. Alternating lunges. BEEP. High knees. BEEP. Tricep pushup + burpee. BEEP. High knees. BEEP. Mountain climbers. BEEP. High knees. BEEP.

Repeat that three times. When the interval timer session is done, your workout is done. You can add as many moves to your round as you want, or repeat your round as many times as you want. The beautiful thing about it is, IT'S YOURS. You have the freedom to pick the exercises, the length of time, the duration of each interval. Want to challenge yourself even more? Do 50 second intervals instead of 30.

Like I said in my previous post, I am not a certified personal trainer or fitness professional of any sort. I only have experience, and this has been the one constant that has worked for me. As a busy mom, I love the flexibility. No matter how busy I am, I know I can at least dedicate 15 minutes to work on myself. For me, exercise increases my energy, lowers my anxiety, and releases endorphins which leads to the ability to manage stress in a much better manner. It has become one of my top priorities because it makes me happy. And when momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

I hope that this post at least inspires you to be creative with your workouts, and to do at least something to get moving every day. Believe me when I say you will thank yourself for it! Leave a comment and let me know if you'd like to see more Fit Tip Fridays!