Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mind Over Matter | On the Road to Sweet Success

In the trenches of the No Sugar Challenge, one might think that there is nothing but survival as we muster the strength to forage for food not laden in the sweet stuff, however, the taste of sweet success is not served on a silver spoon. It is the taste of victory...

Meet Kristina, a new friend of mine. In mid April, she posted in a local running Facebook group that she was looking for a running buddy in my city. I NEVER respond to this sort of thing... call me shy, backward, whatever, but it is just not like me. I decided to comment and say that I was in the area, so we met at a local coffee shop the next day to get to know one another. From the first meeting, I could tell that Kristina was a fun-loving, super dedicated working momma. It wasn't hard to find common ground in our love for family and the all-too-real struggle to bounce-back-after baby (her second baby was born in October of 2013). She told me that she began running (and completed 3 5k's) before her recent pregnancy and was ready to jump back in. We wasted no time, and planned our first run the next day on April 15. 

Let's just face it, folks, runner's anxiety is real. "I wonder if they are the same pace as me. Will I be able to keep up? Will I die from lack of oxygen? What if I have to walk and they don't." Even my BFF, Darcy, says I make her anxious when we run, and I PROMISE, that is the last thing I am trying to do. This "runner's anxiety" has kept me a lone runner for the first 2 1/2 years of my running habit. It can keep you from really enjoying the company and safety of others, and create all sorts of unhealthy "comparison conversations" in your head. The truth of the matter is, everyone starts somewhere. If you start where you are now, just think of where you will be in 1 year, 2 years, 3 years!

If Kristina had any of these apprehensions, she surely hid it well. Our first run was an interval set, with a 16:39 min/mi pace. The greatest milestone of the day was for her to make the decision to get dressed, put her shoes on and drive to my house, and run with someone that she hardly even knew. It was that day that she clothed herself with determination, and now she is on her way. 

The following week, she moved and had to take a week off of running. That sort of thing could derail anyone's efforts in a new lifestyle change, but not Kristina! This gal works full time, has a 4 year old and an 8 month old, handled a move, spends the weekends living a full family life, and yet, her mind is set on accomplishing the goal of running and greater health. 

Each time we have met, we have stretched the running intervals a little longer. The first goal was to reach running a full 1 mile without stopping. Imagine my hysterical surprise when partway through our first full mile she turns into full coach mode, saying, "Tasha, keep going, don't stop, you better not slow down!"... lol... Boy, I'm glad she was there to keep me motivated! :-) Every time we talk about visualizing the progress for the future months, I tell her to imagine what her family Christmas pictures will look like, and her response is, "I'm going to rock those pictures, look at me now!" So much fun to see a go-get-it personality in action. 

This morning was a particularly monumental day for Kristina. We are almost halfway through the 30 day No Sugar Challenge, and she discovered that she is down 10 lbs! Whoop whoop! Not only that, but our last full run interval on Tuesday was 1.28 miles with an average of 13:33 min/mi pace, and today, she rocked out a full 2 mi run with a 13 min/mi pace! When we hit the 1.5 mi mark and she kept running, I had a feeling that she already had a goal in mind, and she did! For the most part, I have tried to give Kristina a couple options each running session as to how to reach the next goal level. Sometimes it is based on length of intervals, sometimes it is "run to the next stop sign." Almost always, she has exceeded the goal based on something she has made up in her own mind. Her motto, "Mind over Matter" presses her on to her next goal, despite what her body may fee like. I respect the fact that Kristina stretches her own abilities without setting the bar so high that it is unattainable. 

It is so exciting to see the transformation within Kristina and this is just the beginning! Share this and follow along as we watch this crazy girl in action!!

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Breakfast Tacos | Day 5 No Sugar Challenge

I absolutely LOVE having fresh ingredients on hand to assemble quick and healthy meals. I am a firm believer that we should include vegetables in our breakfast, and it makes eating healthy all day very natural. Last night, we made tacos, so I had whole wheat tortillas on hand for breakfast (check brand ingredients for added sugar: La Tortilla low carb whole wheat seemed to be good). So when I came home from running with my friend Kristina, I quickly cooked:
 1 whole egg and 1 egg white in a pan with a small amount of olive oil spray
Grabbed a hand full of baby greens
Layered them on the whole wheat tortilla 
Topped with the below salsa
and 1 tbsp of plain Greek Chobani yogurt

Yes, you should come over :-)

Yesterday, on The Brick House Facebook page, I shared this super easy Ninja-made salsa.

18 Roma tomatoes
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
2 jalapeƱos
2 garlic cloves (grated finely)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt to taste

Using Ninja Mega Kitchen System (BL771) food processing attachment (you can cut by hand if needed), I processed the tomatoes, pulsing for only about 15 seconds, then drained excess liquid. Process all the peppers to desired chunkiness, and combine ingredients. Eat. Yum.

Happy Day 5 of the No Sugar Challenge!


*affiliate links to keep The Brick House lights on :-)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

National Running Day | June 4th, 2014

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:14

Running. It is either loved or despised. And sometimes both. At the same time. Four or five years ago, if you told me that I would run, on purpose, and not because someone was chasing me, I would have told you to check your meds. When I began trying to shed some weight, I could not dedicate enough time to walking in order for it to begin to rev my metabolism. Since I was a teenager I often used at home workout videos, but that was not doing it for me either. It seemed like everywhere I turned, someone was talking about running, or using a couch-to-5k program to get started. I read where people who were much bigger body frame than myself were getting out there and trying to run. Out of nowhere it was like something inside me said, "Tasha, you are going to conquer this thing you said you would never do."

You may have read a previous post about this, so just humor me. When I set out to do the first day of the couch-2-5k training, it appeared that I would almost die for lack of oxygen. However, I survived. It was during a time of personal/family economical struggle, which threatened to crush me emotionally. Every time I laced up my shoes, it was like I was slapping my situation in the face. "You cannot beat me," was my heart's cry. I would literally pray during the run intervals that God would lengthen my endurance, no matter what the trial was, that I would be able to persevere and come out on the other end. Those very prayers are what kept me from stopping my run intervals before the timer dinged. It was a test of my physical and emotional ability. Rev. Joe Hanthorn said, " Faith is not faith until you have had a good chance to quit." Running was my opportunity to build my faith. In God's strength and in my own. 

1 Corinthians 9:24 says: 
24Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
 26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
 27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Everytime I ran a little further, I felt weakness leave my body. Physical and emotional weakness. It was bringing my unruly, spoiled, don't-like-to-be-uncomfortable flesh back in check. Life is hard, but we, powered by the Spirit of God, are equipped to be stronger than we ever thought we could be.

And running made me a stronger person. 

What will you conquer today, on this National Running Day?


Monday, June 2, 2014

Coffee Talk | Day 2 | No Sugar Challenge

Did you survive day 1? Are you still speaking to me? The first week is the most challenging. For one thing, EVERYTHING seems to have sugar in it. And, just when you have bravely made up your mind to stay away from sugar, something crazy happens like you have to decorate 140 cupcakes and remember not to lick the frosting off your fingers (spoken from experience). Just keep on trucking. If you hit a snag, pick yourself up off the floor and move on. 

The biggest concern that I heard about yesterday was the fear of losing your sweet date with Mr. Joe. You know, that tall, dark, and yummy, make-your-heart-beat-faster, coffee date. I hear your concern. I agree, this was my toughest battle! The coffee is not the problem. It is what we put in it that is the real issue. We are aiming to stay away from sugar & artificial sweeteners and it would seem that life just simply will not be the same without coffee just the way we like it. I encourage you to open your mind to the possibility of learning a new way to enjoy your coffee. 

In The No Sugar Challenge post, I talked about how, in effort to eliminate the use of Splenda, I opted to brew flavored coffee, and add a splash of half & half. Please recognize, that flavored coffee beans are very different than going to a coffee shop and ordering a flavored coffee (French Vanilla, Irish Cream, etc.). The baristas use flavored syrups that are sugar or sugar alternative based. This will not help you on your No Sugar Challenge.
In the case of flavored coffee beans (grounds), the beans have been flavored during the drying process with a very small amount of oil (somewhere around 3%) that allows the flavor to penetrate the porous exterior of the bean. This translates to a negligible amount of nutrient difference, but it offers a great flavor boost. Some great brands to try are New England Coffee (hazelnut, blueberry, French vanilla), Eight o'Clock (French vanilla, caramel macchiato, hazelnut). Additionally, Panera Bread restaurant serves hazelnut coffee in brew form (not a flavored syrup), however, the other flavors are via syrup. It is important that you ask the barista/restaurant if their flavored coffee is brewed flavor or syrup based. 

The next thing to consider is your cream choice. Some folks are good with straight up black coffee. They are my heroes. :-) For the rest of us, cream or some form of milk is used to round out the sharp, bitter flavor that straight brewed coffee has. The Virginia Cooperative Extension did a side by side comparison of non-dairy creamers, half & half and skim milk. Hands down, nutritionally speaking, skim milk won, due to the decreased fat and calories, however, for most people that will not offer enough body to make their coffee experience enjoyable. Let's go back to the non-dairy creamer for a moment. Both the liquid and the powdered form have some concerning ingredients that put them on our "no-no" list.

Liquid Non-Dairy Creamer has Water, Corn Syrup, Soybean & Cottonseed Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Derivative), Dipotassium Phosphate, Mon-& Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate. Not A Source Of Lactose

Powdered Non-Dairy Creamer has Corn Syrup SolidsPartially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Derivative), Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono- And Diglycerides, Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor, Artificial Color. Allergy Warning: Contains Milk And Soy.

So you can see the trouble that this could cause, as one of the main ingredients is corn syrup (or solids), and in the case of the powdered, partially hydrogenated soybean oil is a nasty form of trans fat that we need to avoid like the plague.

Another option you may want to consider is unsweetened vanilla almond milk, however, it is important to read labels, as some varieties contain added thickeners and hidden sugar. Silk brand unsweetened vanilla is the most clean variety, so give it a go. 

A final thought on half & half. If you are eating mostly vegetables, fruit, lean protein and healthy carbs, the added fat from a tablespoon or 2 of half & half will not be too dangerous to your weight loss/ health goals. That being said, carefully monitoring all other areas, and keeping your consumption within recommended serving size should be a safe way to enjoy your morning coffee date. 

If you are adventurous, try adding a shake of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or a dash of vanilla extract directly to your coffee grinds for brewing. It will give a warm, yummy aroma with added flavor. If you simply cannot handle zero sweetener, you may want to drop a dried, pitted, unsweetened date in the bottom of your coffee cup, allow it to sit for 2-3 min and remove it (it begins to break up). Dates have a caramel flavor that is very yummy, totally natural, and may add just the right amount of sweetener for you!

So, you and Mr. Joe are happily reunited, on to a more healthy future, and will be off to conquer the world...


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Crockpot Apple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats | Day 1 No Sugar Challenge

So, I have been challenged to share a "no sugar" recipe each day of June. I am going to do my best to keep you stocked full of ideas.

While it is summertime, this crockpot oats recipe is good to make ahead for the week, and doesn't heat up your whole kitchen. Let me point out a few things about the ingredients.

  1. Steel cut oats are a more whole form of oats that are heartier and retain their shape better in cooking. They take longer to cook, but the result is a almost nutty texture. The best brand (or most widely recognized) is Bob's Red Mill Oats Steel Cut. I order them from Amazon, or Big Lots has been carrying them as well. 
  2. Almond milk is all the rage, but many varieties contain sugar, especially the flavored ones. Silk brand unsweetened almond milk is the cleanest variety out there. You can use regular skim milk if you would like.
  3. Be sure that the raisins and dates that you choose are not coated in sugar, dextrose, or the like. Look at the ingredients and it should only read "raisins" and "dates". No brainer.
  4. When buying coconut oil, it is really important to choose extra virgin, cold pressed. It is the highest quality with the most nutrients available. The cheapest place that I have found it is Sam's Club. 
Just yesterday I  made a different variety of this using ripe bananas, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and walnuts. It was like banana bread in a bowl. You will be so surprised at how the fruit can sweeten oatmeal without added sweetener. And you get the benefit of fiber, to boot!

Happy first day!