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March 2010

Shrinking Sisters 2.0: Now with actual shrinking!

"What a stinking fraud I am. I have a blog called Shrinking Sisters, and I'm not losing any weight!"

(I'm not going to comment on my sister's weight loss; I'll leave that up to her.)

That's what I was thinking a couple weeks ago leading up to last week's Fitbloggin' convention in Baltimore.

So I took that weekend to recommit myself to do some actual shrinking because by next year's convention I want jaws to drop -- or to at least go slack a little bit.

So I'm happy to say that from the Monday after I got home to this past Monday, I dropped 4 pounds.

Scaleillo And I'm keeping track of my weight by stepping on the scale every morning.

Scales drive some people crazy and evoke all sorts of hatred but after not weighing and weighing once a week, I find that stepping on the scale every morning keeps me aware of the little fluctuations and serves as a signal to keep going.

I decided to weigh every day because I'm the kind of person who can step on the scale once a week and see it swing wildly up and down 3 or 4 pounds at a time. I want to be able to see where things start going south (north, really). 

I'm really not eating any differently, but this past Sunday's episode of Ruby had me thinking about that. Ruby's scale has been stuck and she wants to get below 300 in the worst way, so she decided to make five changes in her life -- things like taking the stairs, changing her workout and dumping the diet soda.

So I thought about what five changes I could incorporate. Here are mine (cue the trumpets):

  1. Cereal will only be eaten with a bowl and a spoon, not by the handful out of the Tupperware container.
  2. If I'm eating for recreation (yes, it happens sometimes), I'll do it with raw vegetables. My trip to the new green market in town will keep the fridge stocked with good-tasting produce.
  3. Exercise will not be negotiable. Something will be done every day, even if it's as small as the 12-minute strength-training DVD workout I did on Monday. That little bugger still has my butt sore from the squats and lunges.
  4. Coffee, tea and water will be my liquids of choice. I don't have a diet soda issue (I can quit anytime!). Seriously, I drink maybe two a week, but that carbonated science project has been shown to trigger sweet cravings in people so when I'm out and about (because it's easy to control at home), it'll be an unsweetened iced tea or water for me.

Eeek! I've only come up with four!

What should be my fifth change? Is there a "rule" you incorporate for weight-loss success?

Leading my own food revolution at the green market


I'm gonna sit around and eat lettuce all day. Take that, West Virginia radio dork! (All photos/Gail Gedan Spencer)

The city I live in is about as suburban as one can get. Strip malls, big malls, mini malls (even a vacant mall) and lots of big chain grocery stores. So I was thrilled to discover that Plantation just started a green market three weeks ago at a city park.

It's the perfect antidote to watching last night's Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, where the poor schoolkids couldn't tell an eggplant from egg salad. Oliver, a chef who I've long admired, has a tall task ahead of him to win the hearts and minds and stomachs of Huntington, W.Va. (especially that dork of a radio host, who has something against lettuce).

FMmarkettableI don't have anything against lettuce or any vegetable, so I grabbed my reusable grocery bags and headed to the green market. 

 I pulled into the parking lot and discovered that the green market was a little smaller than I expected, but better to start out small and feel out the neighborhood. And the neighborhood was loving it. By the time I left, the crowd was three-deep at the row of folding tables.

The goal is to have mostly local produce. And there was, with a smattering of food from throughout Florida and places like Mexico and Costa Rica. But it was all certified organic, except for the hot-house produce, which is harder to certify since it's not pulled from the dirt, explained one of the employees from Baleigh's Organic Produce, which runs the market.

So what did I buy?

That gorgeous head of red-leaf lettuce, at the top of the page.


... A couple of heirloom tomatoes, which at $6.99 a pound were a splurge but totally worth it. They weren't labeled but I think the purplish one might have been a Cherokee and the green one (which stays green when ripe) was probably a Green Zebra. 

I bought a few carrots, which were as sweet as candy, some sweet potatoes and white potatoes and ...


... A couple of monster onions, which were edible from root to tip.


I used one to make a Three Onion Tart, a Weight Watchers recipe so old that it still used exchanges instead of Points. The recipe called for onions, leeks and scallions, so I subbed out all three parts of this big guy. I even made the crust from scratch. Usually I just punk out and buy premade stuff, but I still have a bunch of Ultragrain flour in my freezer, so I was able to sneak in some extra fiber.

Next week, fingers crossed, there will be Rainbow Carrots, which they said they had last week.

While I shopped today, in the back of my head was writer Michael Pollan's credo:

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

That is downright revolutionary.

Produce of the Month: Asparagus

Grilled asparagus asparagus recipes grilling vegetables

The Food Channel photo

Back in the day, we did a Produce of the Week, where we'd spotlight new or favorite fruits and vegetables.

I'm bringing the feature back but it's Produce of the Month, lest we deplete the produce section of the grocery store.

And this month, we shine a spotlight on asparagus, those slender stalks that pop up this time of year.

I've been buying asparagus every week and doing the same thing with it -- snap, rinse, microwave. But I got an e-mail from The Food Channel that had a delish photo of grilled asparagus. And since it's always grilling weather down here and becoming grilling weather around the rest of the country, I'm eager to slap those green guys on the grill. Grilling vegetables caramelizes the sugars in the vegetable and gives them a smoky sweetness.

Here's all you do:

  • Place a pound of trimmed asparagus in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
  • Place asparagus in a grill basket and grill until just tender and lightly charred, about 5 minutes.

Boom -- that's it.

Beriosprays A drizzle can sometimes turn to a downpour if you're not careful with the oil bottle. I often use an olive oil spray from Filippo Berio, which is cool because it's nothing but olive oil. No propellants, no lecithin, no additives. It's not aerosol, so it's more of a spritz than a spray, but it's a great way to evenly and lightly coat things with olive oil. I found it at my local grocery store (Publix). 

I'm planning on checking out the new weekly farmers' market in my town this weekend -- something I've been longing for. And perhaps I'll find something cool for next month.

Fitbloggin' 10 recap

Daffodils spring flowers daffodil

Daffodils -- one thing we don't see in Florida. All photos by me

The second I got back into town I promptly caught a cold (thank you old coughing man on plane!), so it's taken a few days to get my head clear enough to do anything (except Twitter, of course).


Fitbloggin' 10 was fantastic! And to think, Roni Noone of Roni's Weigh had never organized a blog convention before this. We certainly couldn't tell.

Baltimore is one of my all-time fave cities, so deciding to go was a no-brainer. Even better was getting to finally meet in person some of my favorite healthy-living bloggers.

Icing on the (rice)cake?

  • The New Balance walking shoes, socks and shorts. Walking that predawn mile was great fun, and it wasn't as cold as I thought it would be.
  • My groovy new Gruve device, which tracks my movements and gooses me when I need to move my butt (it's doing it now).
  • The Fitbloggin' commemorative T-shirt from thriv, made from a comfy blend of bamboo and cotton.
  • All the other samples, coupons, bags, bowls and whatnot that made my suitcase fall over in exhaustion on Sunday.

More highlights:

  • The Friday cocktail party was a blast, and that one Pomtini went straight to my head (the only time I can refer to myself as a lightweight in anything).
  • Roni put together a great list of speakers for Saturday, and every last seminar was thought-provoking and useful.
  • I finally got to meet Melissa McNeese in person, someone who I've e-mailed and tweeted for years. (She was the person responsible for the 10-Minute Solution DVD table.) I said to more than a few people that Fitbloggin' was like 100 blind dates.
  •  A group of us went to dinner with Lyndsay and Nicole from Weight Watchers and had a great discussion about everything under the sun. The poor waiter couldn't get a word in edgewise.
  • I also got in a lot of exercise -- a Friday hotel gym Camden Yards 
Baltimore Oriolesworkout, Saturday morning's 1-mile walk and another mile walk in the afternoon, Sunday morning's yoga class and a final 3-mile walk to Camden Yards and back. My Gruve was very happy.

I was inspired to exercise, eat healthy foods, and rethink what I've been writing and who I've been hanging out with online.

I decided to devote more time to Shrinking Sisters (this place) and to keep the focus on writing meaningful stuff for Examiner (the other place). I decided long ago that I wasn't going to chase down pageviews by writing garbage about various Kardashians and Snookies.

I friended and followed lots of great, like-minded bloggers when I got back. Conversely I pared down my Facebook and Twitter lists of people who I just don't have time for anymore. I met so many writers with a healthy, balanced attitude toward food and fitness that I don't need to waste my time with people who think certain food groups are evil.

I switched my food tracking back to Weight Watchers, and realized that having a finite number of Points works better for me than having an open-ended calorie count. Counting down the Points seems to work better for me than adding up the calories. And in the months that I've been away from the Weight Watchers site it's gotten a lot better and faster.

I'm also not going to stress about working out. I'm taking the theory of "diet for weight loss, exercise for health" and running walking with it. I have a crappy cold right now and I'm fighting off the guilt of not exercising. But it's OK -- when I can breathe again, I'll workout.

I'm making my online life and my real life less toxic, and I can't wait until next year's Fitbloggin!

Fitbloggin' fun starts tomorrow!

Buildings at the waterfront, National Aquarium, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

So psyched to be heading up to Baltimore for the first-ever Fitbloggin' conference. Way back when I decided I was going I made the grand pronouncement that I was going to lose 20 pounds in 20 weeks.

Did I? No, because, as I've said before, I suck at losing weight. I did lose a little but, hey, it's better than not losing or gaining.

I'm hoping Fitbloggin' will be a great motivational shot in the arm, because I really want to go back next year as a diet blogger success story (there's my latest grand pronouncement). There will be some great speakers and lots of fellow bloggers who I've only "met" online.

I've got the nearest Starbucks and Whole Foods Markets already scoped out and my workout gear is packed.

Now I just have to finish laundry and whatnot.

So bring on the fun and motivation!

St. Patrick's Day food challenge and recipe ideas

Person preparing spinach
Just had a brainstorm: Let's celebrate St. Patrick's Day by including something green in every meal -- and I'm not talking about green bagels, green beer or green M&Ms.
  • Throw some spinach in your morning omelet
  • Eat a big salad with some healthy protein
  • Dip celery sticks into hummus, guacamole or peanut butter for a snack
  • Saute some rappini at dinner (but don't be surprised if your kid says there's "something awful" in his dinner; that's what I heard last night)
  • Drink green tea -- it's super healthy

If you want to try your hand at some authentic Irish dishes that skew healthy, check out THIS post where  I round up a bunch of Weight Watchers Irish dishes from all over the world.

And here's one of my favorite green recipes -- spinach hummus, which I got from Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy written by Elizabeth Somer (I've added more spinach and it comes out great and greener!):

Elizabeth Somer's Spinach Hummus
  • 1 16-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup raw sesame tahini
  • 3 to 4 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 /2 tsp. light soy sauce
  • Dash of ground cumin
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, washed and patted dry

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Add water, if needed, a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Serve with toasted pita bread wedges, whole-grain crackers, or as a dip for fresh vegetables.

Makes 5 servings, 1/3 cup each.

I'm not going to use the 'middle aged' excuse

Another birthday came and went last week, shoving me officially into the late 40s. But you're only as old as you feel, right? And as long as I have a kid in elementary school, I'm going to keep up the "young" ruse.

What's acting "old" is my metabolism. Back in my 20s I lost 40 pounds and while I can't say it was effortless, it certainly was easier than it is now.

Helenbeforeandafter I watch those wonderful women who are my age or older on The Biggest Loser and think that if they can do it I can, too.

(That's middle-aged mom Helen Phillips, Biggest Loser season 7 winner at right. NBC photo)

Sure, they're sequestered in a weight-loss camp where they do nothing but work out and eat healthfully. But they probably had the same middle-aged metabolism as me -- they (and a fleet of experts) just figured out a successful work-around.

So where's my fleet of experts? There are some great new books that seem to be helping by emphasizing key pieces to the puzzle:

  • Fiber, which is the centerpiece of The F-Factor Diet
  • Antioxidants, which The O2 Diet is based on
  • Balanced, non-bird-food meals, like those of The 400-Calorie Fix and The Flat Belly Diet
  • Goosing your hormones with the right foods to release weight, which is the point of The Perfect 10 Diet

Right now, I'm finally getting back to reading The Instinct Diet (also known as The "I" Diet), which is based on more than 20 years of clinical research done by Tufts University nutrition researcher Susan Roberts. What I like about the book is that it explains why weight loss is so difficult and comes up with different strategies to counteract human nature. It focuses on 5 food instincts:

  • Instinctdiet Hunger
  • Availability
  • Calorie density
  • Familiarity
  • Variety

The foods in the suggested eating plans are all designed to keep you fuller, fight cravings and deprivation. My lunch today, for example, was a big salad that had in it garbanzo beans, turkey and crumbled bacon.

I like the "radical common-sense" approach of the book so far, and I'll let you know how it's working. And I'm not going to let the latest and greatest diet book deter me from getting through this one. That has been a problem -- I start reading one book, then another one shows up at my door and I get all ADD and drop the first one.

I'm going to do the Phase 1 plan up until Friday, when I head over to Fitbloggin' 10. It may be difficult to stick to the plan over the weekend, but I'll be among a whole lot of bloggers with the same healthy mindset so I'm sure we won't be wallowing in doughnuts.

Cheerios' chocolate reign

From Jay Leno's March 1 Tonight Show monologue:


Chocolatecheerios I beg to differ, Jay.

He obviously hasn't tried them, because he wouldn't be dissing them if he did.

The second General Mills came out with Chocolate Cheerios I bought a box and rejoiced. Yay! A whole cup of chocolatey goodness for the same calories as a little chunk of the real thing. My Blog Spark sent me a gift pack with another box of cereal so that was just icing on the cake.

Actually, it wasn't cake, it was chocolate cereal. A little better for you. The fiber content is kinda "meh" but it's made with real cocoa, which is high in antioxidants, and the cereal is vitamin fortified.

Don't get me wrong, this ain't health food. This won't be a breakfast staple; it'll be a prime-time TV-watching snack, perfect for when you get a chocolate/crunchy craving.  The key is to eat the Chocolate Cheerios one at a time, to slow yourself down and make that 100 calories count.

(I received the cereal, gift pack and giveaway from Cheerios through MyBlogSpark.)

Burger King and 'Food Inc.' in the same day? Bad mommy!

My son had his first Little League game of the season, and while his team didn't win, they looked solid. My husband was umpiring another game so I told Little Slugger that we'd go to lunch after the game and that it was his choice.

He's 11 -- he chose Burger King.

FoodincDVD Fine, whatever. We don't do fast food very often -- perhaps half a dozen times a year. So after our Whopper Jrs and fries (small), we got home and fired up iTunes because I wanted to rent the documentary Food, Inc. After 20 minutes my son was on the floor sobbing.

"I don't like animal cruelty!" he cried. Then he left the room.

I admit, the juxtaposition of a meaty burger and crispy fries with scenes of potato factories and "downer cows" was pretty jarring. It's certainly not the humorous activism of Super Size Me. But kids need to know how the sausage is made, literally and figuratively. He needs to know why I cringe and say no to cheap fast food (at least most of the time).

But will we never idle through a drive-through window again? Nope.

That's what got me into my big-butt predicament. There was a lot of finger pointing and "should you be eating that?" going on during my childhood, making the verboten seem all the sweeter and crispier and meatier. 

True story: I once came home to an after-school snack of thawed frozen rhubarb doused in Sweet 'n' Low.

(Try not to gag -- I did.)

My mom meant well -- she was only following doctor's orders. Those horrible, doctor-prescribed "reducing diets" would make anyone hate and resent food. And some of those genius snacks came from early copies of Weight Watchers magazine. Oven-baked canned mushrooms were "peanuts." White bread spread with boiled-down tomato juice and rubbery cheese was "pizza." Pureed green beans was "guacamole."

That wasn't food -- it was performance art. But it was the opposite end of the spectrum from the factory-farmed and produced garbage that we bought through the car window today.

Don't get me wrong, my son is not a slave to Madison Avenue. I've had healthy eating drilled into his brain since he was a Stonyfield Farm YoBaby-slurping tot. I told him the other yogurts had "paint" in them. He regularly reaches for fresh fruit and other whole, healthy foods.

I don't want him to ever eat a bowl of artificially sweetened rhubarb as long as he lives.