The Mind, Food, and Mood Connection

It is common knowledge that what we eat affects our body and appearance. If we eat too much of the wrong foods, we tend to gain weight. If we eat more nourishing foods, we tend to lose weight. But what has been more interesting to me is how the food I have been eating lately has been impacting my MENTAL health, not just physical health.

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**Now, as a disclaimer, mental health has a WIDE spectrum, and I am not assuming that food can cure any mental health disorders. I am just sharing my experience and how changing what I’ve been eating has been helping my mood and my mental state. But PLEASE seek medical advice and attention if you are struggling with mental health, it is real and it NEEDS to be taken care of.

This post is going to be raw and real, because I’m all about sharing my real life with you guys and not hiding anything. I've learned that vulnerability is a part of healing, and also helps inspire others to make changes and grow as well. It’s been no secret that going back to work after Emma was born was rough on me. I only work three days a week, but those days were filled with panic attacks in the bathroom, crying on my way to work, crying when I picked Emma up from daycare, and LOTS of oreo purchases to “get me through the day.” I thought that I could only make it through the emotional ups and downs of the work day by numbing myself with food. But in reality, it just made it worse.

The anxiety and sadness got out of hand. I would burst into tears during work meetings and have to excuse myself. If I wasn’t eating, I was crying. Food was DEFINITELY my coping mechanism, but it also just seemed to numb the pain for a little while, and then it would return with a vengeance and my moods would spiral down again. The days that I was home with Emma were filled with tears as well because I knew that I would have to leave her the next day. I wasn’t being able to actually ENJOY my baby and the time I had with her. I knew this cycle had to stop.

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Being the dietitian and holistic-health proponent that I am, I began doing research on different foods and how they can impact our mind-body connection. One of these foods is gluten. Gluten and I have had a tumultuous relationship over the years. I have a gluten sensitivity and have been told by my doctor over and over again that I need to be on a gluten-free diet. But, I have always told myself that I loveeeeee gluten too much. Such as excuse, you guys. Ready for a science lesson? I hope so!

The thing about gluten is that it stimulates the release of a protein that can actually cause permeability in our gut. Our gastrointestinal (or GI) tract, is considered to be OUTSIDE of our body. It is lined very carefully to protect the INSIDE of our body (anything other than our gut) from receiving undigested food particles, germs, or anything else we ingest. But gluten causes the secretion of a protein called zonulin, which can cause permeability in our gut, allowing particles to pass through and enter our body, where they don’t belong. Food should go straight to our small intestines to get “digested” properly so our body can use the fuel safely. But, with zonulin, the permeability can cause undigested food particles to enter our bloodstream, cause inflammation since these particles are not digested yet, and can also cause symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, and even depression. This is all new and up and coming research, but it fascinated me and makes sense from what I’ve learned in my seven years of schooling to become a dietitian and get my masters in nutrition. Our gut is considered our “second brain” and impacts how we think and feel SO much, so this finding is super interesting to me and motivated me to cut out gluten  with a  new motive: not only to alleviate my stomach issues and bloating, but also to alleviate the mental ups and downs I had been experiencing.

I have also read the book “Grain Brain” in the past, which I highly suggest for anyone wanting to know more on this topic! The author discusses how not only gluten, but also grains, can impact our mental health and lead to issues such as depression, alzheimer's, and other mental health concerns. Of course, following a certain diet is not going to magically cure these issues, btu they can alleviate symptoms, which is what I experienced.

I started back on my gluten free diet on October 29th, and since then, I’ve been happier and more energetic. Yes I've lost some weight and bloat, and my jeans fit again (YAY!), but I am more amazed by my mental shift. I am just HAPPIER. I have been getting creative in the kitchen and am not missing any of my favorite treats thanks to Danielle Walker and her amazing paleo recipes (check her out here!) My husband has been enjoying our meals and my happy moods more, and we’ve spent LESS on groceries and eating out because we always have food ready and are buying less junk! I have SO much energy for my workouts, for my patients and clients, and for my family, and feel like I am finally living each day to its full potential.

Another change I’ve made is increasing my healthy fat intake. I have always been a fan of eating more fat, but I’ve been incorporating these fats into practically every snack and meal. I'll have grain free baked goods made with coconut flour, almond flour, grass fed butter, and coconut oil, I'll add avocado to my salads and lettuce wrapped burgers, and I am not afraid to eat yolks scrambled in ghee. I've been getting a variety of healthy fats in my diet, which boosts brain function because our brains thrive on healthy fats! 

The BEST  cookies  I've ever had! I've made countless batches already because my husband and now, our extended family, can't get enough!

The BEST cookies I've ever had! I've made countless batches already because my husband and now, our extended family, can't get enough!

 

Overall, I am enjoying this journey and am embracing this life of mine, being a working mom and a stay at home mom in the same week, which I am learning is SUCH a blessing! I feel so much better and didn’t cry at all at work this week! (WIN!) Of course I still miss my baby girl like crazy, but I focusing on taking care of ME because this way, I can be a better mom for Emma. I am working out daily, drinking my superfoods (which are full of adaptogens, which also impact your brain chemistry! But I'll save that scientific post for another day!), and am eating foods that I know will nourish my body, my soul, AND my mind.

If you want to get involved with eating for your BRAIN health too, I would love to go through the Grain Brain book together in a virtual book club format! Warning, this book is definitely for nerds, so come ready to learn and grow! Contact me above if you want to be part of the book club! We'll start the first week of December!

ALSO, I am planning on doing more cooking demos and recipe videos in my free facebook community that I run, so if you want to join, contact me! I can add you and you can get access to the meals I’ve been planning, as well as get meal prep and planning tips and tricks from yours truly! Meal prep has been my saving grace for sticking to my gluten free diet, so I am passionate about making it a regular part of my life, as well as yours!

Thank you for reading and for supporting me through the ups and downs of this journey. At times, I don't want to share what I am going through, because I feel that my journey has been such a crazy ride. But, I am a real person, and real life is a roller coaster! What may work in one season of life (ie. my vegetarian diet last year), may not work in another season of life, like this one! My goal with this blog and platform is to share my nutrition knowledge based on research but also my own personal experiences too. Because we are all scientific experiments and each body is so unique and different. So keep figuring yourself out, get curious and find what works for you! And if you need some guidance along the way, I am always here to lend an ear! Feel free to contact me with any questions!

 

 





 

Paleo vs. Vegan: Which one?

There are many hot debates in nutrition nowadays, and one of the major ones that I come across often is whether to adopt a caveman, or paleo diet, or a more plant based, vegetarian, or vegan diet. I've written about paleo before, and I've dabbled in both lifestyles. I'd like to share my thoughts on these dietary dogmas and hope to shed some light or clarity to anyone who gets overwhelmed and confused about the nutrition news out there! FullSizeRender 3

I went to Loma Linda University for graduate school, which is a Seventh-Day Adventist school and a vegetarian campus. Even though I am not Seventh-Day Adventist, I started to adopt a more vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. It was pretty easy since most people stayed away from animal products on campus. I have also always been a big bread lover, and would much rather skip meat and eat more bread! So I started eating more bread, cheese, vegetables, fruit, bread, beans, tofu, crackers, and the like. I lost a good amount of weight (I was being careful with calories too), and felt pretty healthy and confident.

However, about six months into my vegetarian endeavors, I started to notice a drop in energy. My hair was falling out in handfuls, I felt tired, and my monthly you-know-whats had completely stopped. I also started having horrible digestion issues. I've always had digestion problems, but these were painful enough to keep me home from classes or hanging out with my friends. I would be too embarrassed to go out or be with others. I knew something was wrong.

Finally, after a conversation with my cousin and my mom, I decided to add animal products back into my diet. I started with fish, then chicken, then red meat. I felt a lot better eating more animal protein! I realized that, as a vegetarian, I wasn't really eating a plant-based diet. More of a bread and cheese based diet. I cut back on the bread and cheese and felt a lot better eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein.

However, shortly after I started incorporating animal products into my diet, I went to my doctor to figure out why my digestion was still horrible. She recommended that I get tested for celiac disease and cut out gluten. I tested negative for celiac, but felt so much better after cutting gluten out of my diet. She stated that I most likely had a gluten sensitivity, so I decided to go gluten-free. My digestion calmed down, and I finally started feeling more energetic and like myself.

Fast forward about 6 months. I had gained some weight and started eating more gluten-free processed foods, such as gluten-free cookies, crackers, cakes, and popcorn. I was desperate to lose the weight and de-bloat, because yes, even gluten free foods can bloat us up! I came across the book "It Starts with Food." This book is about a 30-day challenge cutting out all grains, dairy, soy, legumes, sugars, and seed oils. It is basically paleo, but stricter. It cuts out "healthified" treats, such as brownies or pancakes made with approved paleo ingredients. I decided to try this challenge out, desperate for an "answer" to my increased snacking and junk food intake.

I completed my Whole 30 feeling better than ever and decided to continue on with the Paleo lifestyle. I became strict about what I ate and advocated Paleo to the world. However, I felt conflicted at the same time. I would be mostly Paleo, then have a weekend where I just couldn't take the deprivation anymore, and I would have all the gluten and dairy and sugar I could lay my hands on. Even though my family was saying this was a depriving diet, I wouldn't listen, and would continue on.

Now, I know Paleo has some wonderful health benefits. I fully stand by their recommendation to eat whole foods and limit processed foods, to eat mostly vegetables, and to limit our intake of processed carbohydrates. But I realized that after a year of doing mostly paleo, my symptoms from my vegetarian days had returned. My hair was thinning out, I felt tired all the time, I was not being able to fall asleep even with sleep aids, and my monthly you-know-whats had stopped again. My digestion problems had even started back up, even though I wasn't eating gluten, dairy, or any other problematic foods. Even though I was eating lots of vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats, I felt like something was missing from my diet. And not only physically, but emotionally.

I was so tired. Tired of always worrying what food I would be eating if we were going to a friend's house, or if I was staying at work late. Tired of not sleeping through the night and always being restless. Tired of always having food on me just in case I got hungry. Tired of not knowing what to do with my thinning hair. Tired of always feeling deprived, and like I couldn't have foods that used to be "healthy" choices for me. I knew this was normal. The Whole 30 website and authors even state that, if you have a history of disordered eating or over-restriction, to consult with a doctor before starting something like the Whole 30. But I decided to do it on my own, thinking the deprivation was just what I needed to snap out of my unhealthy snacking habits. I felt so restricted, and for someone who has had a troubled relationship with food in the past, restrictive diets are not a good idea. They can send you spiraling down a deep dark hole of isolation and utter confusion.

So, even though Paleo made me feel great for a time, I decided to not consider myself Paleo anymore. I've written many posts on this in the past, one of them called "Labeling Life." Currently, I still try to stick to a mostly gluten free diet, but I do eat grains, legumes, and dairy. I bake my healthified treats and enjoy them to the fullest.

I also love having more vegetarian and vegan meals from time to time. I don't consider myself in any food camp, and that decision has brought so much freedom to my food choices. I realize now that the benefit of both these diets is not necessarily what they OMIT, but what they INCLUDE, which is a lot of whole, plant based, fruits and vegetables. We need to start viewing our healthy lifestyles in a different light, not in the light of restriction, but through the lens of what we can add into our lives.

So, being at both end of the spectrum, I've learned the following principles:

1. When your monthly you-know-whats stop as a woman, there is a problem.

2. Eat more fruits and vegetables, mostly vegetables, and add color. This is without a doubt the best foundation from which to build your diet.

3. Vary your proteins, whether they are chicken, lentils, beans, grass-fed beef, or fish.

4. Don't fear food. You are stronger than you think. There are so many healthy choices out there. Be aware of your choices, and pick the healthy choice 80-90% of the time.

5. The best diet is the one you will stick to. So if Paleo is easy for you, then do it. If being Vegan works for you, then be Vegan. You don't have to answer to anyone but yourself.

 

 

Here are some other helpful resources in case you want more information on this topic!

https://experiencelife.com/article/paleo-vs-vegan/

http://drhyman.com/blog/2014/11/07/pegan-paleo-vegan/#close

Running on Up!

Hello everyone and happy Sunday!! It's been a hot but beautiful weekend where I live. I've been enjoying it so much. I'm having a relaxing Sunday afternoon today. After church, I came home and made a quick lunch with some leftovers from last night's 2 year anniversary dinner with my fiancé! Post on that coming soon! But I ate my leftover skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, which was incredible! I added some veggies and egg whites to round out my meal.

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I also made a big batch of my Paleo Kung pao chicken to take to work this week....it was one of the first recipes I posted and is one of my favorites!!

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Isn't it gorgeous!?! It is so colorful and full of healthy veggies and protein! As well as YUMMY!

I thought I would also write a little update on my workouts lately. I've still been doing strength training and toning work about 3-4 times per week, and am loving the results I am seeing! I am increasing my weights and being able to do more than I thought possible! My feet/knees/all other pains have also been better, so I've been increasing the number of runs per week, as well as my mileage and speed! I'm not pushing too far, but it feels great to be running more!

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I'm glad I have been averaging less than 10 minute miles, and even faster in some cases!! I'm making sure to rest between runs do I don't make the same mistake I made when I injured myself in the first place (7 mile runs three days in a row are never a good idea!)

Anyways, I plan on hitting the gym this afternoon with my fiancé, which I am excited about, and enjoying this Sunday afternoon and long weekend!! Have a great weekend and Labor Day everyone!

Protein Confusion Made Simple

I've noticed that protein has been such a popular topic in the nutrition world today. Protein is so important to our health and often either gets overlooked, or becomes TOO much a part of our daily dish. I thought I would write this post to share my thoughts on protein as a dietitian, as well as shed some light on the research for, and against, a high protein consumption. Recently, I came across an article entitled "High-Protein, reduced-carbohydrate weight-loss diets promote metabolite profiles likely to be detrimental to colonic health." Here is the link if anyone is interested:

Russell, Wendy R., et al. "High-protein, reduced-carbohydrate weight-loss diets promote metabolite profiles likely to be detrimental to colonic health." The American journal of clinical nutrition 93.5 (2011): 1062-1072.

These types of articles rub me the wrong way because they automatically take one side without considering other possibilities. I won't go into too much of the scientific detail, but the researchers compared a "weight-maintenance" diet of 85g protein with a "high protein, moderate carbohydrate" diet with 139g protein, and a "high protein low carbohydrate" diet with 137g protein and only 22g carbohydrate daily. They found that the diet with the highest protein and lowest carbohydrate level showed a decrease of colonic protein metabolites (also known as the short chain fatty acid butyrate)...leading to the conclusion that a high intake of protein may cause colon cancer. However, they found that if the diet still contains adequate amounts of fiber, the benefits of the fiber could counteract the possible negative side-effects of the high protein diet. With only 22g carbs a day, I highly doubt that diet contained enough fiber! Lastly, the researchers concluded that even though this relationship exists, there could be other factors leading to an increased risk of colon cancer, such as the fact that all of these experiments were done on obese people, as well as the fact that these findings depend on age, gender, and other lifestyle factors.

To me, these findings don't necessarily mean that we should all cut out protein and eat carbs all day long. I think protein is essential to health, well-being, energy, clear skin, good hair, and muscle strength. I believe that it all comes down to the quality of the foods we eat, including our protein quality. The quality of the foods we eat helps us maintain a healthy weight, which IN TURN decreases our chances of colon cancer, as well as many other chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Stabilizing your weight to a healthy place while eating quality, real foods, and decreasing processed carbohydrates and sugars, leads to optimal health. Protein is definitely a part of that equation in my opinion. I would also like to note that a diet of 22 g of carbohydrates is just too low for a healthy body function. I don't believe we need as many carbohydrates as we are told to eat, but I also think that 22g of carbohydrates is a bit extreme. Going too low prevents you from even eating a good amount of vegetables, which provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber, as well as contribute to overall health. However, an adequate and moderate consumption of carbohydrates (100-200g depending on goals and activity level) can be reached by vegetables, fruits, and starchy vegetables (think sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, etc) without having to turn to breads, cereals, and other processed carbohydrate choices. Real food always wins! :)

Anyways, back to protein! At about the same time I came across the colon cancer article, I came across this article as well from Today's Dietitian Magazine:

http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/060114p22.shtml

This article is about athletes and protein intake. The article suggests that the amount of protein we have been recommending throughout the years (0.8 g protein/kg body weight for the average person) may actually not be enough for some people, including athletes. The author, a PhD RD, suggests that protein needs should be increased to 1.2-1.7g protein/kg body weight based on the activity level and age of the person in question. I fully agree with this! This article even goes on to address concerns of the high-protein diet, and that no data fully establishes a connection between a high protein intake and impaired kidney function in HEALTHY individuals that consume protein. Again, we must remember who we are comparing. In the first article, the experiment was done on obese people with multiple other health problems other than a colon cancer risk. In Today's Dietitian magazine, the author is reviewing studies that have been done on healthy, athletic people. Context is crucial.

Where does that leave us? As cliche, and perhaps disappointing as it sounds, I think it all boils down to balance. We can't completely cut out protein, but we always can't make it 80% of our diet. In fact, our bodies and brains won't let us. Protein has built in mechanisms to keep us full. Think about it; have you ever binged on chicken, or felt an uncontrollable need for 4, 5, or even 6 chicken breasts? I didn't think so. But, how easy it is to have 4, 5 or 6 dinner rolls before even touching your actual meal? Yes, been there, done that! That's why I love having protein with every meal. It's like a built in regulator for how much food I will consume and ensures that I will really stop eating when I am full. Protein is satisfying and filling, and should be a part of a healthy diet! However, please don't eat 4 chicken breasts in one sitting unless you are 300 lbs of pure muscle. You probably wouldn't want to anyway.

Lastly, what kind of protein do I recommend? Well, first of all, animal protein is the most bioavailable protein there is. So I recommend sources such as chicken, eggs, turkey, fish, grass-fed beef*, lamb, pork, etc. But I am also a realist and know that, at times, animal sources of meat may seem overwhelming, especially when consumed multiple days in a row. This is why other sources such as beans and lentils can be used as well. However, I recommend that animal proteins be given priority because they are more nutrient rich and satiating! And, as always, let's not forget what the majority of our plate should consist of...VEGETABLES! As long as your plate is full of those leafy greens, bright oranges, or deep reds, your protein options can vary.

I hope this review was helpful to those out there who are protein confused and will help you gage if you need to increase the quality and quantity of the protein you consume! I always recommend people trying things for themselves. Nutrition research is important, but it is also flawed as it has to do with so many factors other than solely what food is consumed during a certain period of time. And on that note, I am off to prepare my lunch for tomorrow! Green bean stew with leftover Armenian sausage patties...YUM! (Both recipes can be found on the blog with some searching!) Have a great night folks!

*I encourage grass-fed beef because it has more nutrition and is much better for us. Grass-fed meat is rich in vitamins and micronutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, and even antioxidants. So, my opinion is that grass fed is best. But I certainly can't control the source each and every time I have red meat, especially when eating out. The point is to do your best, don't stress yourself out, and enjoy your food and good health!

Daley, Cynthia A., et al. "A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef." Nutrition journal 9.1 (2010): 10.

Sick Day....therefore....Paleo Pancakes!

Soooo today was awful. I've been feeling SO sick for about 5-6 days now (put quite a damper on this long weekend) so I finally called off of work today. I feel miserable and like someone is cutting my throat open! Really...it's that bad. When I was younger and I would get a sore throat, I used to always want to eat warm bready things. For some reason, in my brain, they soaked up the pain and made me feel better. Baguettes, bagels, chewy cookies, anything to "soak up the pain" and I was all in. Well, now that I know better, (unfortunately or fortunately, I cannot decide) I have realized that bread does NOT help the pain go away. However, this doesn't stop me from wanting some pancakes to make me feel better on a sick day! I decided to create a paleo pancake recipe because a) I wanted it to be healthy-ish and b) because I have been disappointed by every recipe out there and just wanted one to work! Let me tell you, this one worked! These pancakes taste like the real deal, but are totally guilt free and made from quality ingredients! I added some blueberries in and on top of my pancakes, and they turned out delicious. Whether you are feeling sick or not, these make a delicious and healthy breakfast for any day of the week!  

Makes 1 serving (3-4 medium sized pancakes)

2 whole eggs 2 T coconut flour 2 T applesauce 1/3 cup egg whites (these really did the trick to add fluffiness!) Dash of cinnamon 1/8 t baking soda 1/4-1/2 cup blueberries

 

First things first, heat up a skillet over medium heat. Then in a mixing bowl, whisk the two eggs together. Add the coconut flour, apple sauce, egg whites, cinnamon, and baking soda and mix the batter until it becomes a pancake batter consistency. Then, spray the skillet or melt some coconut oil on it. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto the skillet. Plop some blueberries on top, and wait till the entire top of the pancake is covered with bubbles...

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This part takes patience...as these pancakes take a bit longer to cook than regular ones! But don't worry, the wait will be worth it. Once the top bubbles, flip the pancake over carefully and cool until cooked through. Do the same with the rest of the batter!

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I topped my pancakes with the leftover blueberries I had. SO GOOD!! You can eat these plain or top them with nut butter, more fruit, or anything!

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Enjoy this recipe and happy Monday everyone! :) I am off to the doctor to see what is up with my throat!

A Day at the Zoo!

This week has been soooooo amazing! I had Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (today) off from work. These days off came at the perfect time because I have been really feeling like I just need some fun and relaxing time! I think we all need to learn to take breaks time and again, and I have definitely been enjoying my 3 day break! Yesterday, my fiancé and I decided to go to the LA Zoo! He took the day off so we could spend some time together. I love zoos and aquariums...I have no idea why, I just do!! I woke up extremely excited for the day! But first, I had breakfast, then went for a run! :) photo 1-3

 

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I ran outside for the first time in a long time. It felt SO good to run outside in the fresh air! My legs are a bit sore today, but in a good way. I only did a 3-ish mile run, but still felt like I got a really good workout! We live in a slightly hilly area, so some parts of my run were definitely more challenging than others!

After my run I showered, got ready, and then we headed to the zoo! I was so excited, I felt like a little kid!

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We walked around for a bit and saw these two lovebirds...

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Then headed to lunch! We went to a little grill, where I ordered a Chicken Caesar salad!

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I was pleasantly surprised by this salad. The chicken was freshly grilled, not the usual cold and chewy chicken they normally top salads with! It was so yummy and filling. After lunch, we walked around practically the entire zoo!

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Giraffs and elephants!

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We didn't realize how hilly this zoo was! We got more tired than we thought we would, and we had take a "let's-sit-on-a-bench" break!

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I was so amused by this sign below...

 

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The poor diabetic monkeys!!! :( I'm glad they have this sign so people can be a little more careful about what they just throw into the animal cages...which is so sad. But it also made me think about us as humans. We don't have signs hanging around our necks saying "I have sugar problems, don't offer me dessert!" We have to make our own conscious decisions...which is great because God gave us the ability to have discernment and make good and healthful choices! Not to say that it isn't hard...because it is! But at least we know that we have the ability to chose something healthy vs. something not healthy, and nothing is forced upon us! :)

After the zoo, we relaxed a bit and then headed to the mall for a nice dinner. We went to Cheesecake Factory. I love their Skinnylicious menu! I got the Skinnylicious burger, lettuce wrapped, with sweet potato fries...so yum!

 

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It was such a fun day yesterday!!! Today is my last day of vacation before I head back to work tomorrow. I am already thinking about how hard it will be to go back after such a nice and restful week...but I'm not going to think about that and instead, I will focus on making today another fun-filled day!!

Have a great Wednesday everyone!

 

 

Article Review: Paleo, Heart Disease, and Diabetes

Today was my first day of my new (and first) job! As I mentioned a few posts back, I am now a Nutritionist-RD at WIC, a supplemental nutrition program for parents and children to receive food and good nutrition counseling! I am beyond excited and was pretty much acting like it was Christmas morning all day long! So, in honor of my first day, I have decided to dissect a rather scientific article I read on our cruise! :) I've talked about the Paleo diet before, but will do a brief overview again before getting into the article I read. This diet may be surprising to some who have not heard about it, but be patient, do some extra research if you are interested, and learn something new! :) The Paleo diet is one that focuses on foods that our ancestors ate before modern agriculture. This includes animal proteins (meat, chicken, fish, lamb, eggs, etc), vegetables, fruits, and healthy fat sources such as coconut, nuts, avocado, and olive oil. NO dairy, legumes, grains, soy, seed oils, or artificial sweeteners allowed. Foods like corn, oats, rice, peas, and quinoa are all considered grains, so those are omitted as well (and if you look at the nutrition composition of these foods, they are mostly carbohydrate and act as starches in your body, so they are omitted with good reason).

I am a fan of the Paleo diet (while I still do love my cheeses...just can't seem to give them up)! I did my first Whole 30 (a very strict Paleo diet for 30 days) last March-April, and it was a good experience for me and my health. However, I did suffer from the usual restriction-overconsumption syndrome that usually follows a strict diet, and proceeded to crave and include gluten in every single thing I ate for a few months. But this experience also reminded me that my reactions to gluten are not too desirable, as I was sick and experiencing symptoms I didn't feel when abstaining from gluten. After a few break ups and reunions with the G-word, we finally broke up on the cruise about a month ago. While I am still having dairy, I am otherwise following a gluten-free and mostly grain-free diet. I feel so much healthier in every aspect of the word. I now have rare, if any tummy issues, am finally sleeping through the night (something I haven't been able to do well since I was an infant), feeling more mentally alert and energetic, and enjoying clearer skin! I am also eating more plants and fruits than I ever have before in my entire life...including when I was vegetarian! I am loading my plate with dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, kale, sweet potatoes, ANY vegetables I can find. I firmly believe that this is the key to a successful and healthy Paleo lifestyle; focusing on the whole, real, and nutritious vegetables, fruits, and healthy proteins and fats you can eat!

However, keep in mind that you don't have to stay away from these foods 100% of the time. Many Paleo enthusiasts follow an 80/20 lifestyle, keeping to the Paleo diet 80% of the time and allowing the occasional non-Paleo foods 20% of the time. Just figure out what works for you, makes you happy and healthy, and go with that!

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The article I read is entitled "Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study." Citation is below! :)

Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., Ahrén, B., Branell, U. C., Pålsson, G., Hansson, A., ... & Lindeberg, S. (2009). Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovasc Diabetol8(35), 1-14.

The goal of this research group was to determine the effects of a paleolithic diet and a typical diabetic diet as "generally recommended" on risk factors for cardiovascular (or heart) disease. The study was done on patients with type 2 diabetes who were not on insulin. The different biomarkers that were measured were HA1C (hemoglobin A1C), which is basically an average of your blood sugars for the past 3 months, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Body measurements were kept track of as well, such as weight, BMI, and waist circumference.

Participants were placed in two, random groups and were told that they were both going to receive a "healthy diet." Each group received guidelines for either the typical diabetic diet (whole grain carbohydrates, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and high fiber foods, with a decrease in fat), or the Paleo diet (defined as I did above).  The majority of the diabetic diet came from carbohydrates, while the majority of the Paleo diet came from proteins and fats, as well as carbohydrates from fruit and vegetable sources. After following their originally assigned diet for 3 months, the group switched diets and followed the alternate diet for the next 3 months.

The findings of this study may surprise some people! Results showed that the Paleo diet significantly resulted in lower HA1C, blood pressure, triglycerides, and waist circumference, and higher HDL (good cholesterol), compared to the typical, recommended diabetic diet. The Paleo diet was also naturally lower in calories, even though no guidance was given to the participants on the amount of food they should be eating. They were just told what kinds of foods they should be eating (quality) and were allowed to regulate themselves. The Paleo diet also increased insulin sensitivity, which means that the insulin was able to work more efficiently in the body, clear the blood sugars effectively, and prevent high blood sugar levels.

What got me the most excited about this study is that the HDL (protective) cholesterol and triglyceride values both improved! HDL increased while triglycerides decreased, which is a markedly improved cardiac outcome. This is huge because many opponents to the Paleo diet claim that the diet is too high in proteins and fats (both from animal sources and nuts/oils). However, this demonstrates that eating these foods does not necessarily cause us to build up cholesterol and triglycerides in our bodies. From my own personal experience, since adopting a mostly Paleo lifestyle, my cholesterol has dropped from 185-113! And I was eating at least 2 whole eggs a day, as well as meats.

Additionally, the study found that the Paleo diet led to decreases in waist circumference, proving that the Paleo diet is not going to pose a health risk on those choosing to follow this eating plan. Cardiovascular markers significantly improved, decreasing people's risk of developing heart disease. Participant's waists actually got smaller, and who doesn't want that? The fact that the diet was also self-regulated and those on Paleo naturally ate less also shows that the Paleo diet, with its combination of protein, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats, is more filling than the typical recommended diabetic diet. I think all of these findings provide ample evidence that adopting a Paleo diet may be a beneficial decision for many people. It isn't just about the quantity of foods we are eating, which I will get into more in one of my upcoming book review posts. The quality of our food matters, and when we are eating high quality, whole, unprocessed foods, our bodies will thank us and start functioning the way they were intended to function!

I hope this post provided some information on the Paleo diet and the possible benefits of following this lifestyle. There is a plethora of information on this internet of ours to help guide you. Again, the best way to find out what lifestyle works for you is to try it and see! It is important to follow a plan that is beneficial, but is also doable and realistic for you. I am also planning on writing a few book review posts in the next few weeks highlighting some books that also support the idea of eating wholesome unprocessed foods for better health!

Have a great night everyone! This girl's gotta pack her lunch for work tomorrow! :)

Zucchini Stew & My Last Day of "Freedom!"

Well, today was my last day of unemployment. Everyone keeps saying it's my last day of freedom, which I accept. I won't be able to spend hours at the gym anymore, cook long drawn-out meals for myself, read a book a day, or go see 10am movies for $7. But, I am beyond blessed to have gotten this job and am so excited to start my career as a Registered Dietitian! I woke up around 5:30 this morning and immediately got up to get a head start on my day. I had things that I had to get done today, such as cleaning my closet and organizing my clothes, so I didn't waste any time! As I've mentioned before, one of my goals this year is to read through the entire Bible in one year. I finished the book of Genesis today, so one book down and 65 to go! I especially love Genesis 50:20, when Joseph reconciles with his brothers that sold him into slavery and says, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50:20 ESV)

I love this verse because it basically sums up God's redemptive work in our lives. There is a lot of evil and hard situations in the world we live in, so we definitely need the grace of God to get us through the life He has given us on earth!! But what is meant for evil towards us, God can redeem and work out for our good! I've experienced this countless times in my own life. When things are going horribly or I have no idea why something is not working out, I remember that God means for things to turn out for good according to His plans and purposes! It fills me with peace and comfort, because even though I may have no idea what I am doing, God always knows, and His plans are way better than mine! Just check out the following verses!

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8, 9 ESV)

After my quiet time, I had a quick pre-workout meal before going to the gym. I had my favorite halloum cheese again melted in one of my grain-free tortillas! Check a few posts back for the link to the recipe I used by Against All Grain!

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I still felt a little hungry after my cheese sandwich, and I didn't want to run low on fuel during my workout! So I had a few of our many macadamia nuts before heading out the door!

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My workout was pretty good today! Which is great because I'm definitely going to have to tweak and adjust my workout schedule once I start my new job tomorrow!! This morning, I did 3 miles on the elliptical, and 12 miles on the bike (which is the equivalent of 4 miles for my 150 miles by valentines day challenge)! I'm at a total of 83/150 miles so far.

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After my cardio, I did some deadlifts, the lat row machine, and the tricep machine! I'm excited because I've definitely been feeling stronger and needing to up my weight, which is a sign of progress! The minute I got home, before losing motivation, I also did my TIU Love your Booty routine for the Love Your Body challenge I am doing with Tone it Up!

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After my workouts, I made some egg tacos and used my last two grain-free tortillas to wrap them up. I was so sad I was out of tortillas, but I'll definitely be making these again on a regular basis because I just loved them!!

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It was almost 9:30 after my breakfast, but I was still not feeling motivated to clean my room. I decided to do the quick TIU Beach yoga routine instead before showering and attacking my closet.

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The yoga routine is 20 minutes, challenging, and gave me the right balance of relaxation and motivation to get to my closet. But, after my shower, I skyped with one of my best friends that moved away a week ago, which was a definite necessity since I miss her like crazy! Then, I finally turned my attention to the clothes! It felt so nice weeding out things that I've had since high school but NEVER wear, and organizing all of my shoes and outfits. It also helped me see that I really DO have ample clothes for a business casual wardrobe, and will not be needing to go shopping for work clothes...drat! :)

After packaging up by clothes to give away, I looked at the time and it was almost 1pm! I reheated the remainder of my turkey chili and sliced up some cucumbers into little "chips" to dip into my hummus. I was STUFFED by the end of this meal! Something about the protein, fat, and veggie combination in that chili makes it a nutritional punch and fills you up, setting you up for an energetic afternoon instead of a slump! Check a few posts back to see my easy peasy turkey chili recipe!

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After lunch, I decided to spend some time out of the house. I wanted to do something fun on my last day as a free woman, so I decided to head to my local Peet's coffee shop and enjoy some time outside while reading and sipping on my favorite Masala Chai tea! The weather has been beautiful here, so I wanted to enjoy every minute of it! And I was even able to wear my cute green shorts in January...and what could be better than that!??

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I spent over 2 hours at Peet's reading, journaling, and doing some Bible study homework. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and I didn't want to tear myself away, but knew I had to get home. After cleaning up my room a little more, I got to cooking dinner with my Mama! My family makes an amazing zucchini stew that is usually served over rice, but since adopting a more grain-free diet, I've eaten it just by its lonesome without the rice, and have never looked back! I don't even miss the rice because the zucchini, beef, and tomato sauce give so much flavor to this dish that is still tastes delicious even on its own. It is the perfect bowl of comforting goodness, which is why I put it on the menu for tonight! I wanted to make a meal that was warm, nourishing, and would make enough for leftovers for me to take to work tomorrow. This meal was just that!

Zucchini Stew (makes 6 servings)

2 T olive oil

1 cup diced onions

1 lb ground beef (we used the grass fed 85/15 from Trader Joe's)

6 medium-sized zucchini

1 15 oz diced tomatoes

3 T tomato paste

1 t salt

1/2 t red pepper

1/2 t black pepper

1/2 t all spice

Start by heating up the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until the onions are tender and translucent. Add the ground beef and chop it up into tiny pieces until it is cooked through.

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While the beef is cooking, wash and slice up your zucchini into thin disks!

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Once the meat is cooked all the way through, add the zucchini, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and seasonings! Mix all the ingredients together, then leave the pot over medium heat for about 1 hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes. There should be enough liquid in the pot since zucchini release a lot of moisture, but if the mixture ever gets dry, add a bit of water to it!

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Once the zucchini cooks through and gets mushy, the dish is done! It should resemble a stew-like consistency.

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We thoroughly enjoyed this meal tonight; my parents added rice to theirs, but I enjoyed the stew as is! I hope you all get to try this dish this winter; it's perfect for cold and cozy nights! Not to mention it is gluten/grain free, paleo, and Whole 30 approved!

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Well, my last evening as a free woman is coming to a close! Now I have to pack my lunch for tomorrow (that's going to take getting used to!) and run a few errands before bed! I need to find a purse that is cute, professional, but still big enough to hold my nalgene water bottle, notebook, and any other necessities I may need at work. It's definitely hard to find a purse with all of those qualities, but I am determined!! I hope you all have a wonderful night! The next time you hear from me, I will be a working girl! :)

New job!!! Lemon-mint salad dressing, and Daily Manna!!

Hello everyone! Whoa look at that, two posts in a row! I am so excited today to announce that I finally got a job!!! photo 2-2

I have been in the interview process for a job at WIC (a program for women, infants, and children that provides supplemental food and nutrition education) for a few months now. Since first learning about WIC 6 years ago, I have been wanting to work there! How amazing is it that you get to empower and support women and kids to get the right nutrition and have access to healthy foods?! I am beyond blessed that this job came to me and I have been thanking God non-stop for this amazing opportunity! I officially start training this Thursday, January 16th (ahhh 1 day left!) and I just cannot wait!

My day was quite a busy one! Even though I still feel like I haven't done much. I have been wondering if I will miss the life of unemployment, but I think I am way too excited about this job to ever look back! Dear Home, it's been nice, but I am SO ready to get out there!

I woke up around 5:30am this morning and did some quiet time. Some people are amazed at how I wake up so early, but let me tell you, it's taken years of practicing how to sleep. I'm serious! From the time I was a child, I was a chronic insomniac and was never able to sleep. I would be up all night, tossing, turning, reading, walking around my room, or just staring blankly at the ceiling praying that morning would somehow come sooner...just this once. About a year and a half ago, when I began to cut out gluten and some other inflammatory grains, I noticed such a huge difference in my sleep! I was able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer (I sound like a commercial). I also learned that I MUST pay attention to my body's cues. If I get sleepy at 9pm, I have to take advantage of that window of opportunity, and actually sleep at 9pm! If I fight my sleepiness, I end up staying awake all night long. So now, if I am sleepy at 9pm, I sleep at 9pm! I try to listen to my body, not only when I eat and when I workout, but also for rest and relaxation. I know that the only way I will be able to be the best version of me is when I am healthy, active, and rested!

So anyways, after my quiet time, I had 2 of my paleo tortillas from yesterday with a bit of almond butter smeared on top. These tortillas are absolutely amazing and are from the Against All Grain website if you want to check it out! I included the link in my post yesterday! :)

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I had an okay workout today. I was feeling really low energy for some reason, so I didn't push myself speed or resistance-wise. I still did about 30 minutes on the elliptical and 25 minutes on the bike, but I definitely didn't try to challenge myself. I broke a sweat and burned some calories while still going easy on myself, which is what I needed! I also did some shoulder and bicep work, along with the chest press machine and the lat pulldown machine.

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I got home and felt so exhausted, and was starving! I decided to not only have my usual veggie omelet, but also have yet another paleo tortilla (I'm telling you, I love these things!) with some of my favorite Middle Eastern cheese melted inside!

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Halloum cheese has been my all time favorite cheese every since I was born. I blame this cheese for the reason why I can't stand cheddar, monterey jack, or any other typical American cheeses. This cheese is just THAT good. It's made from sheep's milk, it's pretty high in fat, and I really don't care one bit! :) I melted two sticks of it in my tortilla this morning, it was delicious, and I enjoyed every bite of it!

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After breakfast, I finished up a great book I have been reading called "Lazarus Awakening" by Joanna Weaver about really enjoying your personal relationship with God, believing that God loves you, and living as an ALIVE person in His love and promises. It was such an incredible study, with questions and journal reflections at the back of the book! I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a bible study/devotional book!

Around 10:45am, I headed out to an appointment I had, which was about a 40-minute drive away. The appointment also lasted a while, so I didn't get to have my lunch until about 1:30pm! Boy am I glad I had a filling breakfast! I reheated some of my yummy turkey chili (recipe is in yesterday's post!) and had some veggies with hummus as a side!

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I started reading an article on green tea after lunch, but about halfway through I decided to get up and do the new Tone it Up Love Your Arms and Abs routine! I had crazy amounts of energy after lunch, which is ironic considering I was exhausted this morning, and atypical of the usual afternoon slump that people suffer from. So I wanted to take advantage of my energy and do the workout two times through, but my sore muscles were not having it. My arms and back were still sore from my workout a few days ago, so I just did the routine once. I absolutely LOVED it though, and will definitely be doing it again!

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The afternoon was busy with some errands: picking up my car from the dealer's and going grocery shopping! My mom and I made fish and salad tonight, with some leftover roasted potatoes from her dinner last night! It was so cute because I walked into the kitchen and my mom was busy portioning her almonds in little containers for work! How cute is that?! She is definitely the mother of a dietitian...in some respects haha :)

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We usually get the pre seasoned Cajun salmon from Trader Joe's on fish night! This salmon is so delicious, has good ingredients (nothing funky!) and is so easy to make! We just popped it on the stove top in some foil for about 25-30 minutes while we chopped up our salad, and dinner was served!

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Everyone asks us about our homemade lemon-mint salad dressing. Honestly, I have no idea how to explain this recipe, because it's definitely one of those "eye-balled" recipes the women in my family have been making for generations. But, for a standard sized salad mixing bowl (about 8-10 inches in diameter) filled with lettuce and veggies, we use approximately these measurements of the following ingredients!

Lemon-mint dressing:

2 T lemon juice

2 T olive oil

1/4 t salt

1/4 t red pepper

1/4 t crushed mint

1 clove garlic, crushed (OR use 1/4 t garlic salt for both the garlic and salt)

Pour the ingredients straight onto the salad, toss, and enjoy! This dressing is light, healthy, and tastes great with pretty much any salad combination!

After dinner we had Bible study, and then headed back home! Now for some Downton Abbey before bed...unless I get sleepy, in which case it's bed for me! I hope you all have a wonderful night!

Macadamia Catastrophe, Turkey Chili, and Daily Manna! 1/13

Happy Monday everyone! I hope you all had excellent, healthy, and happy weekends. Today is an exciting day because I get to share TWO recipes with you! The first one is a funky new recipe that came out of a baking mishap! I had a silly baking experience last night and I have entitled this incident, (and this recipe), the macadamia catastrophe. It all started a few days ago when my friend Kelli, over at http://hungryhobby.net (you guys should all follow her blog, it is fantastic!) sent me a Macadamia Nut Banana Cookie recipe (http://immaeatthat.com/2014/01/10/macadamia-nut-banana-cookies/) because of my obvious obsession with this combination since getting back from Hawaii. I had all the ingredients I needed to try it out last night, except for the oats, which I decided to substitute with my protein powder instead. Obviously, I did not end up with cookies, but something more like a cake/muffin batter. I decided to roll with it, added an egg and some greek yogurt, and ended up with a macadamia nut banana flatbread cake square thing! They are flat, cakey, and crunchy but taste DELICIOUS! So I thought I might as well just share my version of the recipe! photo

Makes 16 squares, one 8x8 glass baking dish

3/4 cup macadamia nuts, unsalted

2 scoops vanilla protein powder

1 banana

1/3 cup non-fat plain greek yogurt

1 T coconut oil

1 egg

1/4 cup low sugar maple syrup

1 t cinnamon

1 t vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. First things first, place the macadamia nuts in the food processor and chop them up until they are coarse.

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Mash the banana and add that to the bowl as well. Then add all the other ingredients, and it will form a batter. Spray your 8x8 dish and pour the batter into the dish. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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Considering this recipe was a disaster in the making, I think that by adding a few of the tweaks, it turned into a great breakfast gluten-free bread option! I enjoyed two of these as my pre workout snack this morning, and they were delicious! I'm so glad I didn't just dump the batter out and tried to work with it because it turned out to be a yummy, crunchy flatbread!

Anyways, on to the rest of my day...

As I mentioned, I woke up, did my quiet time, and ate 2 of my macadamia catastrophe squares before my workout! ;)

My workout consisted of 30 minutes on the elliptical and 25 minutes on the bike, totaling 6 miles towards my 150 miles by V-day challenge. So far, I am at 70 miles! Woo! I'm feeling great even though I am not being able to run. Don't get me wrong, I really really miss running! But I think the variety of the elliptical and bike, plus all the strength training I've been doing, has been really enjoyable! I have been seeing results in my strength and am absolutely loving the benefits of weight training!

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After my cardio, I worked on my triceps and shoulders, then did the leg press and inner and outer thigh machines. I stretched, and then headed to whole foods to grab some coconut flour! I was determined to try the paleo tortilla recipe by Danielle Walker at Against All Grain (www.againstallgrain.com) and that was the only ingredient I was missing.

I HIGHLY recommend this crepe/tortilla recipe if you are looking for a gluten and grain-free tortilla that is paleo friendly! They were so easy to make and so delicious. The recipe is in the Against All Grain cookbook, as well as on her website! Check it out! http://www.againstallgrain.com/2013/01/26/crepes-grainfree-paleo/

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I decided to make my post-workout omelet into egg tacos, so I stuffed three of these tortillas with some egg whites, kale, peppers, and pico de gallo! Delicious!

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I also loved that you can hold these tortillas and they don't fall apart! Which is such a plus when you are eating a gluten and grain-free product.

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After my meal, I read my book for a bit, then headed to my physical therapy appointment. It's only my second appointment and they basically just did some leg exercises with me. Which is good, since all of those exercises are at the gym and I could do them on my own time as well!

When I got back home, I had crazy energy, and decided to do my TIU workout for the day before lunch! I am doing the Love Your Body challenge at www.toneitup.com and today's workout was the Love Your Total Body 2! I love these workouts because they range from 15-20 minutes while targeting each muscle group in your body! Check it out if you want to try it (it is under the workout schedule for Monday!)

http://toneitup.com/2014/01/love-your-body-with-your-weekly-schedule/

After my second workout of the day, I was finally ready for lunch! I got some ground turkey yesterday at the grocery store and wanted to make a turkey chili that could last me a few days! I threw a bunch of things into the pot and simmered the chili for about 30-40 minutes, while enjoying a quick salad as an appetizer.

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Here is the ingredients list and the method for my easy peasy turkey chili! (makes about 3 servings)

8-10 oz ground turkey meat

1.5 T olive oil, separated into 1 T and 1/2 T

1/2 t cajun seasoning

1-14oz can of diced tomatoes (fire roasted and low sodium is better!)

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup chopped sweet bell pepper

1/2 cup kale

1/2 t cumin

1/2 t garlic salt

Start out by heating 1 T of olive oil in a pot, then adding your turkey meat. Grind up your turkey meat with a flat edged wooden spoon until it is in itty-bitty pieces. Add the cajun seasoning while it is cooking, and cook the meat until its browned. In a separate skillet, heat up a 1/2 T of olive oil and add the kale and the chopped sweet bell pepper. Sauté these until they are tender.

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Once the turkey meat is cooked through, add the kale and peppers, the can of crushed tomatoes, the chicken broth, and the cumin and garlic salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then set the heat on low and let the chili simmer for 30-40 minutes.

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Then, bowl it up and enjoy! The easiest chili I've made yet. If you are into beans, you can obviously add some black or kidney beans to this chili as well!

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After lunch, I decided to finally attack my desk. My desk has been in desperate need of cleaning and reorganizing. I emptied out all of my drawers and organized all my books. I am a huge organization nerd, so it felt so good to have everything cleaned out and cleared away!

The rest of the day was pretty relaxing. I sipped on some green tea while reading, got my nails done, got my phone fixed, and had a yummy dinner! Unfortunately, my phone getting fixed prevented me from taking anymore pictures the rest of the night. So dinner will remain a mystery! :) Just kidding, we went to a yummy restaurant by my house called Pita Jungle. I had a Greek salad with a garlicky-lemon dressing, which was so light and delicious. I also added some of my mom's chicken that fell out of her wrap to my salad. They stuff those wraps with SO much chicken that she ends up not eating half of it, so I definitely took advantage of her scraps!

Well, that is all for today! I am feeling so exhausted at the moment and can't wait for bed! I hope you all had a great start to the week!

Good night! :)