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Rainbow Super Food Kale Salad {Paleo}

Today’s post is inspired by Skittles.

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Whenever I hear the phrase, “Taste the Rainbow,” I always think of Skittles.

They were one of my favorite candies as a kid, especially the purple and red ones!

Not so fun when you reach a wet hand into a bag of Skittles after an hour of swimming at the pool in the summer though… 🙂

Okay, so this post isn’t exactly about Skittles, but this recipe and the chewy bite size candies do have one thing in common…

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They are both very colorful…and look like a rainbow!

I taught a group of a dozen coworkers how to make this kale salad last week and they LOVED it!

In fact, there wasn’t any left for me by the end of the demo – which is a good sign! Here’s what one of my coworkers said about the salad:

“I have a new appreciation for kale. I never eat it but the salad today was so good. I also want to start making my own dressings and that was fabulous.”

See what I mean?? You have to try this salad!

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So, what inspired this recipe?

I’m currently going through a certification program to become a Culinary Nutrition Expert, and one of our assignments has been to focus on a particular health condition and come up with recipes and meal plans that would help someone with that issue.

I chose inflammation.

If you’ve ever had any kind of “itis” (dermatitis, laryngitis, bronchitis, colitis, rhinitis, gastritis, arthritis, thyroiditis, etc.), you’ve dealt with inflammation.

Our body is really smart, and it’s naturally designed to protect us from harm.

At its most basic level, inflammation is the body’s response to an attack from a “foreign invader,” such as an injury, infection, bacteria, or virus. It’s designed to help us fight the bad guys, so we can stay healthy.

We want our body to respond with inflammation temporarily when we do something like sprain our ankle or scrape our knee. Inflammation brings a rush of blood, nutrients and fighter white blood cells to the area to start the repair and healing process.

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For many of us though, inflammation is driven in part by the food we eat (and don’t eat). Most of the Standard American Diet (abbreviated SAD) is full of pro-inflammatory processed, refined foods loaded with chemicals most of us can’t pronounce and would be more likely to find in a lab than a farmer’s market.

If we can reduce inflammation, we set ourselves up to be much better at preventing or delaying disease and even getting to a healthy weight. Dr. Mark Hyman has written extensively about inflammation and how to reduce it. Click here to learn more from him.

The key dietary recommendation to heal or “cool” inflammation is to consume an unrefined, whole food (ideally organic), high fiber, plant-rich diet, which naturally stabilizes our blood sugar (and energy levels!) – another key to keeping inflammation at bay.

When I was creating this recipe, I focused on making it an anti-inflammatory powerhouse, something that your body would love for you to eat…and that would taste amazing.

Crunchy, creamy, sweet, and the slightest bit salty, this salad has all of the flavors and textures we crave and love.

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I’m about to get a little nerdy here, but just go with it 🙂

The healing foods in this recipe contain anti-inflammatory compounds like antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonoids that not only help us reduce inflammation but also boost our immune system, slow the aging process, sustain our energy, and regulate our weight.

Here are just a few reasons why you’ll want to upgrade your diet and add in this super nourishing salad that’s loaded with immune, beauty and energy-boosting ingredients!

  • Avocado, hemp seeds, tahini, pumpkin seeds, and extra virgin olive oil are excellent sources of anti-inflammatory fats that are not only good for our body but also for our brain (our brain is 60% fat!).
  • The sulfur-containing compounds in garlic are also anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting.
  • Leafy green vegetables like dino kale contain flavanoids and antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Isothiocyanates (eye-so-thio-CYA-nates), sulfur-containing phytochemicals found in red cabbage, regulate the body’s inflammatory response.
  • Turmeric contains over two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds, the most powerful of which is the antioxidant curcumin, which gives it its bright yellow color.

Ok, now that you’re super stoked about eating anti-inflammatory foods, here’s the recipe! Bring it to your next potluck or holiday party – it’ll be a hit!

taste the rainbow salad

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Taste the Rainbow Kale Salad

This is my #1 favorite salad of all time and is always a hit at parties and potlucks. Packed with anti-inflammatory ingredients and full of flavor, this salad will turn any kale hater into a fan in no time!

Course Salad
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 6
Author Rachel Druckenmiller

Ingredients

Creamy Lemon Tahini Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil extra virgin

Salad

  • 1 bunch kale dino kale is best
  • 1 cup purple cabbage shredded
  • 1 cup carrots shredded
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds shelled
  • 1/4 cup goji berries or dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a bowl OR place them in a blender for 30 seconds until smooth. Taste and make adjustments to dressing, if necessary. Add a few tablespoons of filtered water to thin it out if needed. I like mine thick.

  2. In a large bowl, place kale greens and add dressing. Massage dressing into kale leaves for about 2 minutes (until volume reduces by about 1/3). Add purple cabbage and toss to coat. Let sit for 15-30 minutes, so the dressing can continue breaking down the kale and cabbage.

  3. When ready to serve, add in shredded carrots, pumpkin seeds, avocado, hemp seeds, and goji berries (if using). Toss to combine.

Recipe Notes

This salad will stay good for about two days in the refrigerator. The heartiness of the kale greens prevents it from wilting like other salads would.

Double this recipe if you’re bringing it to a party!

You can add in any vegetables you like. Try this salad with some diced bell peppers, chopped broccoli, cooked sweet potato cubes or other vegetables. To make more of a complete meal, add in your favorite animal or plant-based proteins (chicken, salmon, lentils, beans, tempeh). Chickpeas or white cannellini beans would pair well with this salad.

Why I Became a Qualitarian…And How It Changed My Life

People often ask me how and what to eat. I’ve been asked the following questions:

“I’ve heard you should only eat 9 almonds a day…Is that true?”

“Is it really okay to eat frozen fruits and vegetables?

“What kind of bread do you eat?”

“Should I be eating paleo? Vegan? Vegetarian? Raw?”

We have a tendency to want to label the way we eat and what we eat. It makes sense because it provides a shortcut, and we love shortcuts because they make life a bit easier.

If I had to answer the question about what to eat or what “diet” I’m on, I’d borrow a word coined by Dr. Mark Hyman and say this:

I’m a qualitarian who focuses on eating unprocessed, fresh, whole foods that are – when possible – organic and locally grown or raised.

And, in the wise words of Michael Pollan, I strive to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants, especially leaves.” leafy green veggies…not leaves from a tree 🙂

In addition, because of my personal health history and what I’ve learned about my body over the years about the impact of two foods on my health, I avoid milk products and wheat.

I leave room for indulgences like birthday cake, high quality dark chocolate, or a homemade cookie or cupcake, but I focus on eating nourishing foods most of the time because I feel most energized and alive when I doI like feeling good.

I choose to do what I do because of how it makes me feel.

Feeling good on my 30th birthday...celebrating another special year of life at a nearby French restaurant with my hubby!

Feeling good on my 30th birthday…celebrating another special year of life at a French restaurant with my hubby!

I’ve been encouraged and motivated by all of the benefits I’ve experienced since becoming a qualitarian:

  • I’ve lost and kept off 20 pounds for over 4 years
  • I naturally stay within 3-5 pounds of the same weight
  • I have sustained energy all day long (no caffeine needed and no 3:00 crash!)
  • My skin is clearer than it’s ever been and is blemish-free 99% of the time. (I had dry skin most of my life and some mild adult acne in my early 20s, so this is a big deal for me!)
  • I rarely get sick, and if I do it’s not for very long
  • I no longer have seasonal allergies or suffer from sinus congestion
  • My digestion has improved tremendously (almost no more burping, bloating, or gas!)
  • I’m medication-free for the first time since I was a teenager and no longer have acid reflux/heartburn

This food list by one of my favorite nutrition and health experts – Dr. Junger – captures the gist of what I eat (since people sometimes want specifics!), but I eat things outside of this list as well, so these are just the general guidelines by which I make food choices rather than absolutes.

My qualitarian “diet” focuses on fruit, veggies, beans, gluten-free grains/cereals/pastas, nuts and seeds, free-range/grass-fed animal meats/eggs as well as vinegars, oils, herbs and spices for flavoring and cooking.

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned since changing what and how I eat and delving deeper into studying nutrition is that most of us are overfed yet undernourished.

Most of what we’re eating is so nutrient-deficient that our body tells us to keep eating – it’s not being “fed” what it needs. What we’re eating actually depletes our body of nutrients, making us work even harder to replace them. It’s only when we start taking in nourishing food that contains nutrients we need to thrive that we can really start to feel full and satisfied.

I’ve found that following a few clear and simple Food Rules from Michael Pollan’s book of the same name (GREAT book!) helps to keep me on track.

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1) Eat food, not too much, mostly plants, especially leaves.

I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I make plants a priority at each meal. Upgrading my diet to include lots of plants has been a key to me keeping off weight and not getting sick. I focus on incorporating a variety of leafy greens because they are anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, oxygenating and contain disease-fighting, anti-aging compounds. Overall, I eat more vegetables now than I ever have before.

I treat veggies more like the main course and the other foods (grass-fed meat, gluten-free grains, beans, etc.) as the side dishes.

2) Eat real food.

What’s real food? Something that grew in the ground, on a tree, or in a field OR was at one time alive and moving on land, air or water. The life in food makes us feel alive.

So much of what we eat today isn’t real food, it’s a food-like substance. We wouldn’t find the ingredients in a normal person’s pantry…they’re more likely to be found in a chemistry lab.

The remaining rules will give you a better idea of how to tell if something is a real food or food-like substance.

Eating real food means enjoying lots of fresh fruits and veggies!

Eating real food means enjoying lots of fresh and colorful fruits and veggies!

3) If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

Did someone have to wear a surgical mask and a full body suit to manufacture your food? Would you even recognize your food as food when it is being “created” like this American favorite?

Focus on eating real food vs. what was processed in an industrial plant. It’ll have fewer chemicals, your body will know what to do with it, and you’ll look and feel better and more energized.

4) Eat only foods that will eventually rot.

In general, the faster a food spoils, the more nutrients it has and the better it is for you. If a processed food stays “fresh” on the shelf or in your pantry for a year, what’s in it that’s making it last so long? Most likely lots of chemicals, preservatives and other harmful additives that overburden and damage our bodies.

Check out this story about a man who kept a McDonald’s burger for 14 years and how well it was preserved.

5) Avoid food products that contain more than 5 ingredients.

This is a great rule of thumb to follow. Is it a hard and fast rule with no exceptions? No, but try to keep it in mind the next time you’re grocery shopping or cleaning out your pantry. Forget about the pretty marketing on the front of the package and go straight to the ingredient list. Aim for foods with fewer ingredients, ideally 5 or fewer.

If you want to take an initial step and make healthier choices when it comes to processed foods, check out this super cool, free app on your phone. If you have kids, have them use it and strive for “Bs or better,” just like they would in school.

The Fooducate app. Download it on to your phone today!

The Fooducate app. Download it on to your phone today!

6) Avoid food products that contain ingredients a third-grader can’t pronounce.

Assuming we’re not talking about the genius third-graders who are winning the national spelling bee, if a third grader can’t pronounce it, chances are it is not a real, whole food. In other words, it probably won’t give you lasting energy, help you lose weight, or keep you healthy.

Sodium benzoate or monosodium glutamate (MSG), anyone?

7) Cook.

We’ve lost touch with where our food comes from and how it is prepared. We all feel pressed for time these days, but most of us (myself included!) still find at least an hour a day to be online, watching TV, or on social media at home. Cooking doesn’t mean you have to be a fancy chef either. Just focus on using simple ingredients with simple preparations. Start with something like this burrito bowl or one of these smoothies.

We always make time for the things that matter. If we want to be in the best health possible, cooking matters. 

I had to throw in ONE final bonus rule…

8) If you eat real food, you don’t need rules!

Focus on eating more whole foods that don’t come in packages. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store or, better yet, the farmer’s market. Eat food that was once alive. 

This way of eating can fit into even the busiest life. It can (and should!) taste delicious. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. Check out this post for tips on how to eat organic without going broke. For links to all of the recipes I’ve posted on this blog, click here.

My 30 Truths @ 30

Celebrating my first birthday 30 years ago in my parents' backyard! That standup piano must have been my introduction to music!

Celebrating my first birthday 30 years ago in my parents’ backyard, surrounded by friends, family and neighbors.

I’ll be 30 tomorrow. 

I’ve been tremendously blessed over the past 30 years and am incredibly grateful for all of the amazing people whose paths have crossed mine during that time.

I’ve been loved by and learned countless lessons from my family, friends, neighbors, church communities, teachers, classmates, co-workers, clients, and those I’ve been privileged to serve.

I’ve grown and been stretched through school, work, sermons, retreats, service, health coach training, and studying abroad.

Last weekend, my husband, friends and family schemed together to throw me a surprise party to celebrate my 30th. They ordered food, treats, and an amazing carrot cake from my favorite places (Great Sage & Jinji chocolates), hung rustic birthday banners in my favorite colors, made quinoa/veggie centerpieces, and truly surprised me.

I felt loved and special.

A few shots from my surprise party. They got me!

A few shots from my surprise party. They got me!

Due to the encouragement of a wise friend, I gave myself an extended weekend by taking off today and tomorrow, so I could have an opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned over the first 30 years of my life and to help me refocus going forward.

Last night, Bill and I were looking through pictures to print out and hang up on the walls in our basement. I have to admit that I was a bit saddened by one of the first realizations that crossed my mind as I was reflecting.  

Over the past year or so, I’ve been taking more pictures of food than I have of the people in my life.

This is true despite the fact that I’ve intentionally spent more time in community in the past 5 years than ever before – having friends over for dinner, hosting our small group from church, meeting up with friends while Bill catches up with his buddies, and expanding my family through marriages and births.

Sure, the nature of what I do, including writing this blog, lends itself to taking way more pictures of food than I ever thought possible, but it’s no excuse.

I’ve had some time of quiet reflection today to take stock of what I’ve learned through all of the wonderful people in my life and from transformational books I’ve read to come up with “My 30 Truths @ 30.” Here they are:

  1. If you value it, you will find time for it.
  2. We are more alike than we are different. We all need to feel valued, accepted and affirmed. (Brene Brown)
  3. Shower yourself and other people with grace. We’re all doing the best we can, with what we have, where we are.
  4. Don’t rely on outside forces to confirm your reality. Be an intentional creator of your life. (Danielle LaPorte)
  5. If you have been called in a specific direction, you have all the skills you need to be successful. (Andrea Beaman)
  6. There’s plenty of healthy food that tastes good. You don’t have to eat what you don’t like.
  7. Improvement is a far more realistic goal than perfection. (Brene Brown)
  8. Don’t compare yourself with other people. Comparison is the biggest form of unhappiness. (Robert Notter)
  9. Allow yourself to feel worthy. You are worth it. You are important. You are worthy of your desires. (Danielle LaPorte)
  10. Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. (Oprah)
  11. Everything that has happened in your life has happened for you, not to you. Tune in to that distinction. (Marilena Minucci)
  12. The energy of your food creates your energy. Fuel your body with real food, food that was once living, as the life in food gives us life.
  13. In the heart of the pain is the healing. (Paul Epstein)
  14. Everything that feeds us doesn’t come on a plate.
  15. Don’t quit your daydream. Live the life you have imagined.
  16. Get out of your own way.
  17. Allow yourself to honestly and boldly respond to the prompt, “Wouldn’t it be great if…” and then go do that thing.
  18. Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be. (Rick Warren)
  19. You can’t be all things to all people. Your best will be good enough for some and not enough for others. That’s okay.
  20. Take as good care of yourself as you do your pets. (Bernie Siegel)
  21. Be who you came here to be. (Carol Roth)
  22. You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors. (Brene Brown)
  23. Be nice to yourself. It’s hard to be happy when you’re with someone who’s mean to you all day.
  24. What you put at the end of your fork is more powerful than what’s at the bottom of any pill bottle. (Mark Hyman)
  25. We are not alone in our struggles. We are not the only one. (Brene Brown)
  26. Ask and answer this prompt, “If I didn’t have to do it perfectly, I’d try…
  27. Everyone’s perception is not a clear objective reality, but it is a perception worth hearing.
  28. It’s not about “being healthy.” It’s about what health allows you to do. Health is a means, not an end. (Annemarie Colbin)
  29. When your reason “why” is compelling, you’ll figure out how.
  30. Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. (Howard Thurman)

And one to grow on…

31. Take more pictures of and with people 🙂

Celebrating summer with my Link Group from church

Celebrating summer with steamed crabs & my Link Group friends from church!

Go From Nacho Cheese to “Nooch”o Cheese!

Despite the fact that I was a lifelong lover of dairy products like yogurt (ate it every day!), ice cream, string cheese, and Parmesan cheese, I cut out dairy products a couple of years ago.

It turns out that dairy products were triggering a number of health issues I had for most of my life – from allergies, congestion, sore throats, ear infections, indigestion and acid reflux to skin issues, gas and bloating. I used to get congested frequently, had chronic ear infections (which meant lots of antibiotics), and took Claritin and Zyrtec for seasonal allergies, along with reflux reducing meds like Prilosec (for 10 years!).

For me, cutting out dairy has been one of the keys to begin healing my body, not being sick so often (almost never!)…and getting off of those medications naturally. It’s been pretty amazing!

Check out my *NEW* Pinterest board – Deliciously Dairy Free – for additional articles on the topic as well as dozens of recipes for non-dairy alternatives to foods like cheese, cheesecake, ice cream, milkshakes, dips and dressings. I will be featuring many of them in upcoming blog posts, so stay tuned!

One of the questions people often ask me is, How do you live without cheese? I could never give up cheese.”  The short answer is there isn’t an “exact” match, BUT I’ve found some great options to use as replacements!

One of those foods is nutritional yeast (AKA “nooch”).

Nutritional yeast! I bought this kind at Wegmans, but you can also get it at Whole Foods, MOMs, or online

Nutritional yeast! I bought this kind at Wegmans, but you can also get it at Whole Foods, MOMs, Roots, or online at Amazon, Vitacost or other health food retailers.

A few years ago, I had never even heard of nutritional yeast and certainly wouldn’t have guessed it was something edible. This is kind of like the eggplant naming question…couldn’t they have picked a more appealing name??

Despite its odd name, this stuff has been a staple in our pantry for the past 3 years. You can find it online, or at Wegmans, MOMs, Whole Foods, Roots, or other natural food stores.

Here’s the 411 on why you might want to get yourself some “nooch”!

  • If you don’t eat dairy (or are trying to reduce it!), it’s a great substitute for cheese-based preparations. It has a “cheesy” smell and taste to it.
  • It’s a great source of protein and contains essential amino acids (protein building blocks!).
  • It’s loaded with vitamins, especially B vitamins, which are important in hundreds of your body’s processes, including staying energized and fighting stress.
  • It’s low in sodium.

If you can get past the weird name, it’s worth giving this stuff a shot. 

I will be posting my favorite “nooch” recipes in the coming weeks – check out the list below for a sneak peek of what I will be making and sharing!

This is what "nooch" looks like out of the container

This is what “nooch” looks like out of the container

  • Herby homemade popcorn
  • Salad dressings
  • Kale chips
  • “Cheezy” curly kale salad
  • Dairy-free “cheese” sauce for mac & cheese or nachos
  • Nutty rawmesan cheese (a substitute for my beloved Parm cheese!)

Want to learn more about nooch? Click here or here!

If you’re interested in going dairy-free and what it could look like for you, check out this 28-Day Dairy Free Challenge with Dr. Oz or this information on elimination diets from my favorite blog, Nourishing Meals!

Stay tuned for future recipe posts featuring this quirky but healthy ingredient!

How I Lost 20+ Pounds, Got Back to My High School Weight & Kept It Off

Four years ago, I was almost 25 pounds heavier than I am now.

IMG_2767I had gained weight post-college, as I was juggling two jobs, in the midst of my first dating relationship, and trying to figure out “who I was” outside of school.

Ask anyone, and they would have said I was “healthy.” To the outside observer, based on everything most of us have been brought up to believe about eating right, I was.

Each morning, I had a big bowl of oatmeal with a generous handful of raisins and a hefty spoonful of peanut butter. A few hours later, I had a snack of some sort, like a meal replacement or granola bar, a handful of almonds or Triscuits and cheese.

For lunch, I ended up eating pretty much the same thing every day – a turkey breast sandwich on a whole wheat sandwich thin with a small piece of provolone cheese, a smear of pesto, and a piece of lettuce. If I was feeling adventurous, I would throw on some sundried tomatoes. I usually finished off lunch with a creamy Greek yogurt and some fruit.

Dinner had the most variety but soon became routine – whole wheat pasta with veggies topped off with more than just a dusting of parmesan cheese, baked chicken with steamed veggies and brown rice, and occasionally breakfast for dinner, or a bowl of cereal if I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated.

Based on everything I had ever learned, I was doing the right things – eating whole wheat products, getting in enough dairy so I’d meet my body’s calcium needs, and avoiding fast food and fried food.

I thought I was eating healthy.

But why was I overweight? 

I had been the same weight for about eight years and didn’t think it was possible for my body to weigh less. I had just decided that I was “that size,” that it was because of “my bones,” and that I couldn’t change.

Though I was intentionally moving my body on a daily basis, the key to losing weight wasn’t about spending hours upon hours at the gym. I liked Zumba, running, walking and some group exercise classes like BodyPump, so it was easier for me to stick with them instead of doing exercises I “should” do but didn’t like (i.e., spinning).

Although important and necessary, exercise was only about 20% of the answer. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t out-exercise my diet.

In May 2010, I began to do things differently and noticed changes for the first time in a long time.

I used an online database to track everything I was eating and drinking for about 8 weeks. Using this system, I found out that my diet was deficient in a lot of nutrients and that I was eating more food than my body needed to reach my goal weight. I never thought of myself as overeating before, but I was. 

What and how much I was eating were the key factors driving my weight.

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Little by little, I made a series of changes, and I’ve never looked back. I have kept the weight off for almost 4 years, even in the midst of planning our wedding, finishing graduate school, and buying our first house.

This truly has been a “marathon” and not a sprint; I didn’t make these changes overnight. I continue to learn more each day and tweak things as I go. I have learned to listen to my body.

Here are the dietary changes I have made to get back to (and maintain) my high school weight:

1. I upgraded my diet by eating A LOT more vegetables. This was the single most important thing I did. Vegetables have more nutrients per calorie than any other food and are high in fiber and low in calories. They fill us up and nourish us. I started making vegetables the base of my lunch, choosing a salad over my traditional sandwich, and treating veggies more as an entrée than a side dish at dinner (roasted, sautéed, and in salads and soups). I ate more vegetables at every meal.

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2. I ate less food. For most of us, our body tells us it wants more food because the processed foods we are eating are lacking in nutrients…so we keep eating because our body thinks it will eventually get the nutrients it needs. As crazy as it sounds, we are overfed yet undernourished! Once I started eating more unprocessed, unpackaged, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and even beans (for the first time in my life!), I ended up eating less because I was finally giving my body the nutrients it craved.

3. I started “crowding out” processed food. Prior to losing weight, I was eating a lot of “healthy” processed food, like whole wheat bread, string cheese, Vitatops, granola bars, and Wheat Thins. Once I started to realize how few nutrients (and how many non-food ingredients and sugar) were in those foods, I started eating less of them and replacing them with whole foods (see #2 above).

4. I cut out dairy. I know, I know. Milk, cheese and ice cream are the holy trinity of deliciousness, and I am evil for even insinuating we can/should go without them. I grew up loving dairy products. I had mint chocolate chip ice cream cake every year for my birthday, yogurt every day for lunch, and some form of cheese at dinner. In the winter of 2012, I cut out dairy for a couple of weeks and noticed something incredible.

Dairy products (cheese, milk, ice cream, etc.) trigger inflammation, and when we are inflamed, our body holds on to weight. Reduce inflammation, and your body will release excess weight. It’s amazing. As a bonus, I felt less bloated and gassy, my sinus congestion stopped, and I didn’t come down with my typical seasonal bout of bronchitis. Over time, my skin started to clear up and I rarely got pimples! Curious how you might feel without dairy? Cut it out for a few weeks and see what happens!

IMG_08415. I nixed whole wheat products and am gluten-free most of the time.  Gluten sensitivity and intolerance are linked to everything from frequent bloating and gas, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome to joint pain, brain fog, fatigue, depression, anxiety, eczema, and acne. Gluten (the sticky protein found in wheat, barley and rye) can also trigger inflammation, and inflammation makes us hold on to weight. I don’t have celiac disease, but my body is sensitive to gluten. I started eating more brown rice, quinoa, millet and buckwheat – all non-glutinous grains. To learn more about how gluten might be affecting you and your weight, check out this brief quiz or video and article. Talk to your doctor to get tested for a gluten allergy or sensitivity if you suspect you might have one.

Amidst all of those changes over the past four years, the conclusion I’ve reached is this – the way I am eating is sustainable.

I’m not on a “diet.” I’m not counting calories. I don’t feel deprived.

I am eating real food, not too much, mostly plants, and my body is responding by maintaining a healthy weight.

What has worked for you to lose or maintain weight? What is your greatest challenge? Feel free to share!

How I Lost 20+ Pounds, Got Back to My High School Weight & Kept It Off

Four years ago, I was almost 25 pounds heavier than I am now.

IMG_2767I had gained weight post-college, as I was juggling two jobs, in the midst of my first dating relationship, and trying to figure out “who I was” outside of school.

Ask anyone, and they would have said I was “healthy.” To the outside observer, based on everything most of us have been brought up to believe about eating right, I was.

Each morning, I had a big bowl of oatmeal with a generous handful of raisins and a hefty spoonful of peanut butter. A few hours later, I had a snack of some sort, like a meal replacement or granola bar, a handful of almonds or Triscuits and cheese.

For lunch, I ended up eating pretty much the same thing every day – a turkey breast sandwich on a whole wheat sandwich thin with a small piece of provolone cheese, a smear of pesto, and a piece of lettuce. If I was feeling adventurous, I would throw on some sundried tomatoes. I usually finished off lunch with a creamy Greek yogurt and some fruit.

Dinner had the most variety but soon became routine – whole wheat pasta with veggies topped off with more than just a dusting of parmesan cheese, baked chicken with steamed veggies and brown rice, and occasionally breakfast for dinner, or a bowl of cereal if I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated.

Based on everything I had ever learned, I was doing the right things – eating whole wheat products, getting in enough dairy so I’d meet my body’s calcium needs, and avoiding fast food and fried food.

I thought I was eating healthy.

But why was I overweight? 

I had been the same weight for about eight years and didn’t think it was possible for my body to weigh less. I had just decided that I was “that size,” that it was because of “my bones,” and that I couldn’t change.

Though I was intentionally moving my body on a daily basis, the key to losing weight wasn’t about spending hours upon hours at the gym. I liked Zumba, running, walking and some group exercise classes like BodyPump, so it was easier for me to stick with them instead of doing exercises I “should” do but didn’t like (i.e., spinning).

Although important and necessary, exercise was only about 20% of the answer. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t out-exercise my diet.

In May 2010, I began to do things differently and noticed changes for the first time in a long time.

I used an online database to track everything I was eating and drinking for about 8 weeks. Using this system, I found out that my diet was deficient in a lot of nutrients and that I was eating more food than my body needed to reach my goal weight. I never thought of myself as overeating before, but I was. 

What and how much I was eating were the key factors driving my weight.

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Little by little, I made a series of changes, and I’ve never looked back. I have kept the weight off for almost 4 years, even in the midst of planning our wedding, finishing graduate school, and buying our first house.

This truly has been a “marathon” and not a sprint; I didn’t make these changes overnight. I continue to learn more each day and tweak things as I go. I have learned to listen to my body.

Here are the dietary changes I have made to get back to (and maintain) my high school weight:

1. I upgraded my diet by eating A LOT more vegetables. This was the single most important thing I did. Vegetables have more nutrients per calorie than any other food and are high in fiber and low in calories. They fill us up and nourish us. I started making vegetables the base of my lunch, choosing a salad over my traditional sandwich, and treating veggies more as an entrée than a side dish at dinner (roasted, sautéed, and in salads and soups). I ate more vegetables at every meal.

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2. I ate less food. For most of us, our body tells us it wants more food because the processed foods we are eating are lacking in nutrients…so we keep eating because our body thinks it will eventually get the nutrients it needs. As crazy as it sounds, we are overfed yet undernourished! Once I started eating more unprocessed, unpackaged, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and even beans (for the first time in my life!), I ended up eating less because I was finally giving my body the nutrients it craved.

3. I started “crowding out” processed food. Prior to losing weight, I was eating a lot of “healthy” processed food, like whole wheat bread, string cheese, Vitatops, granola bars, and Wheat Thins. Once I started to realize how few nutrients (and how many non-food ingredients and sugar) were in those foods, I started eating less of them and replacing them with whole foods (see #2 above).

4. I cut out dairy. I know, I know. Milk, cheese and ice cream are the holy trinity of deliciousness, and I am evil for even insinuating we can/should go without them. I grew up loving dairy products. I had mint chocolate chip ice cream cake every year for my birthday, yogurt every day for lunch, and some form of cheese at dinner. In the winter of 2012, I cut out dairy for a couple of weeks and noticed something incredible.

Dairy products (cheese, milk, ice cream, etc.) trigger inflammation, and when we are inflamed, our body holds on to weight. Reduce inflammation, and your body will release excess weight. It’s amazing. As a bonus, I felt less bloated and gassy, my sinus congestion stopped, and I didn’t come down with my typical seasonal bout of bronchitis. Over time, my skin started to clear up and I rarely got pimples! Curious how you might feel without dairy? Cut it out for a few weeks and see what happens!

IMG_08415. I nixed whole wheat products and am gluten-free most of the time.  Gluten sensitivity and intolerance are linked to everything from frequent bloating and gas, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome to joint pain, brain fog, fatigue, depression, anxiety, eczema, and acne. Gluten (the sticky protein found in wheat, barley and rye) can also trigger inflammation, and inflammation makes us hold on to weight. I don’t have celiac disease, but my body is sensitive to gluten. I started eating more brown rice, quinoa, millet and buckwheat – all non-glutinous grains. To learn more about how gluten might be affecting you and your weight, check out this brief quiz or video and article. Talk to your doctor to get tested for a gluten allergy or sensitivity if you suspect you might have one.

Amidst all of those changes over the past four years, the conclusion I’ve reached is this – the way I am eating is sustainable.

I’m not on a “diet.” I’m not counting calories. I don’t feel deprived.

I am eating real food, not too much, mostly plants, and my body is responding by maintaining a healthy weight.

What has worked for you to lose or maintain weight? What is your greatest challenge? Feel free to share!

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