Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Fitness Pal Exposed the Ugly Truth About my Eating Habits


If you’re like me, you are generally fit.  In the past, I’ve run half marathons and marathons, and I still run 5K and 10K races regularly, but I don’t train nearly as hard as I used to.  I work out 6 days per week, 60 minutes of light cardio per day.  If I’m really good, I will fit in 1-2 strength workouts per week ( I know, that’s not enough) but usually I just stick to the cardio. 

I also have a pretty restrictive diet.  I don’t tolerate dairy or gluten too well (they don’t make me deathly ill, just give me cystic acne, red, watery irritated eyes and GI distress—I’ll save that for another post).  I also don’t eat meat.  My dad is a colon cancer survivor, and because of that and the results from my own colonoscopy I had to have early due to this family risk, I don’t eat any animal products except fish and eggs.

So given all of that, you would think I don’t struggle with my weight, right?

You’d be wrong.

I was complaining to my sister the other day about how my stomach pooch is making my clothes tight and I hate how bloated I have been feeling.  I blamed it on water retention, my clothes shrinking in the wash, peri-menopause…maybe loss of muscle mass due to laziness with my strength workouts.  She had one question for me.

“What have you been eating?”

I started thinking about it, really thinking about it.  Then I got defensive.  I don’t even eat cheese, butter and ice cream!  Or any processed snacks!  I hardly ever eat desserts like cake, pie and cookies.  And my diet is mostly vegetarian.  How could it be what I’m eating?!?

Enter My Fitness Pal.  


My Fitness Pal for iPad

For those of you who haven’t yet seen this app, it’s a very easy to use way to thoroughly record what you eat, your workouts and your water intake every day.  It starts you out at your present weight, asks for your goal weight and your activity level during your average day, then gives you a calorie goal for you to reach your chosen goal weight loss per week.

So let’s say you have your 20th high school reunion in eight weeks, so you want to lose 10 pounds by then.  My Fitness Pal will set up your calorie intake vs. your calorie consumption so that you would expect to lose 1.25 pounds per week.  What’s more, you can up your total allowed calories by working out and logging it in the app.  If I burn 300 calories in an hour of brisk walking, I get to decide whether to eat those calories during that day.  I work out almost every day anyway, but it is such a motivator to see those calories in my allotted amount. 

The “aha” moment for me came when I started entering all of the foods I ate into the app.  Almost every day, I eat a three egg white omelet with leftover veggies and Daiya vegan cheeze.  I also eat 1-2 slices of Rudi’s gluten-free millet chia bread with some dairy free margarine.  That sounds like a pretty healthy breakfast.  But what I discovered was that I often used two servings of Daiya instead of one, when it didn’t really add to the flavor.  I was just dumping it on there without taking the time to consider how much the serving size was.  And the coconut milk I was using in my coffee had 9 grams of sugar per serving.  It totally wasn’t necessary for the flavor.

Wait, you might say.  That saved you, what—maybe 80 calories?  Big deal.  But then I also realized that I was mindlessly snacking throughout the day.  I work out of a home office, so the pantry is calling me all day long.  I might wander in and grab a handful of dark chocolate, some dry cereal or chips.  (Gluten-free people!  Anyone else totally hooked on chips?)  When my stomach started growling, instead of waiting for the next meal coming in an hour, I would eat a bunch of crackers with peanut butter and jelly, then eat anyway at dinner because I’ve cooked and my family’s there, and well—it’s time to eat. 

Even worse, somehow, I’d gotten into the bad habit of thinking I needed something sweet after every meal too.  Luna bars, chocolate, hard candy—even coconut milk ice cream.  I caught myself wanting sugar even right after breakfast.  And if the evening dragged out, I probably would make popcorn or break out a bowl of cereal.  Hey!  I eat healthy, and I work out almost every day, so why can’t I have cereal? 

I was clearly eating way too many calories for what my body needs to run each day.  And my workouts were burning maybe the equivalent of a one big snack per day.  I also had to admit that sugar was rearing its ugly head throughout my “healthy” eating habits. 

My Fitness Pal made me accountable—to myself.  All I have to do is enter the foods I eat, and usually they are already in the library.  All I have to do is search, adjust the serving size or number of servings to reflect what I ate, and add.  I absolutely love the bar code feature too—just train your iPad’s camera on the bar code of the food you want to enter, and add.  It’s simple and easy.  And here is the absolute key to my success:  I am not willing to plug in that crap I was eating before and see it on the My Fitness Pal screen.  I like to compete with myself and win every time.  So I am more willing to tolerate some hunger pangs to see that I have plenty of calories left over at the end of each day.

So far it's going great!  After only four days, I am losing that uncomfortable, snug fit on some of my clothing.  I plan to update after four weeks, so I will be back to let you know how it turned out!    

You might say, “That’s so annoying!  I don’t want to enter everything I eat it some app.”  To that, I would answer that it’s much easier than buying special foods or making meal plans for a diet.  And it gets you closer right away to changing your lifestyle, which is what we all need to be healthier and maintain weight loss. 

Another objection is that you don’t want to share all of that information.  The simple solution is that My Fitness Pal lets you make the choice whether to link up with others through their app or through social media, or be stealthy and surprise your friends with your great results later.  If you are that person who likes to commiserate with others and it helps you stay on track, then by all means reach out.  I didn’t choose to share through Twitter or Facebook, but I did recruit one other lucky soul to join me.

As we hopped on the treadmills at the Y yesterday, my sister started complaining about swimsuit season.  I just had one question for her.

“What have you been eating?”           

Saturday, January 5, 2013

More Coupon Savings with HealthyEssentials.com


If you liked my post Couponing for Dummies Like Me, you know that I am looking to save money, but only if it's super quick and easy.  I just found a new way to save on some of the products I already buy, so I thought you might want to know where to get these coupons.  Check out healthyessentials.com and enter just a little bit of information and install the coupon printer (if you haven't already) then check the boxes for the coupons you want.  It's as easy as that!

I am a huge fan of Listerine Whitening mouthwash and Lubriderm skincare, and I was happy to see there were $1 coupons for each.  I even noticed in this article in Allure magazine that whitening mouthwashes were shown to work as well as bleaching gel at whitening teeth.  Great news for those of us who love coffee, tea and red wine!

Happy Saving!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Getting Craftsy with Craftsy.com


Sometimes, things just come together.  As part of my New Year’s re-evaluation (I refuse to call it “making resolutions”), I discovered that I am interested in learning some new creative skills.  Then, this morning I read the Wall Street Journal article, and Boom!  There it is.

Craftsy.com is a website that offers a full range of interactive classes that teach you how to do everything from cake decorating and jewelry making to spinning, weaving and knitting.  And it’s based in Denver, so who doesn’t love supporting a local company?  With the gorgeous local hand-dyed yarns available in my area, there is no excuse not to learn how to make them into treasured hand-made items.  Right?

I will be checking out craftsy.com and writing a follow-up, hopefully with photos of what I’ve made.  I already know how to crochet (poorly) but my grandmother was a huge knitter, crocheter and quilter, so I probably have it in my genes.  The part I am worried about is the patience.  But that’s where the New Year’s re-evaluation comes in!  Two birds with one stone, of course.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reused, Repurposed

My kids drink a lot of O.J.  They love the kind that is fresh in the jug, and I like it that it's calcium fortified.  They don't drink soda or other sugary drinks, so I try to keep the orange juice on hand.

I have been keeping the empty jugs, because they are so great for watering plants, filling the dog bowl, and just generally keeping around for pouring.  Once I had enough of them for these types of uses, I asked myself, "What else do I pour besides drinks or water?"

As a partly gluten-free household, we go through a fair amount of rice.  We use a rice cooker, and I buy in bulk to save money.  I don't like scooping the cup into the bag of rice, which can introduce germs or dust into the package, and I get so annoyed trying to pour the bag into the measuring cup, which almost always creates a shower of rice all over the counter and the floor.  So imagine how excited I was to find that these great O.J. jugs are perfect for storing rice!  And since they are a free, repurposed item, I can collect as many of them as I want to store jasmine, basmati, brown, and long grain rice.

Here's how:

Start with an empty Tropicana orange juice jug
Remove labels if you like
   





Use Goof Off to remove adhesive from bottle



Wash jug with soap and let thoroughly air dry (1-2 days)

Fill with your favorite rice

Easy to pour!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

It's the Little Things

It's the little things in life that are so enjoyable.  My favorite restaurant in Boulder, the Kitchen, (you really have to try it sometime if you're in the area) has bottles of water they bring to the table when you are seated. That way, your server (they are so friendly there) can easily refill your glass anytime he or she steps by your table, or you can refill yourself whenever you like.  It's dry here, and it's nice after walking around Pearl Street to come in for a delicious, fresh lunch and drink water to your heart's content.



Well, my sister and I found these great glass bottles at Ikea that are similar to the ones that I so appreciate on the table at the Kitchen and other restaurants.  These adorable and functional bottles cost only $3.99 each, and I absolutely love them.  We fill the bottles with water and keep them on the door of our refrigerator.  They are great for a sip anytime (or to fill a water bottle) but my favorite use for them is placing them on the table during dinner, so everyone can refill their glasses whenever they like without getting up from the table.  Because they are stoppered, they also stay clean and free of gnats and other critters that can end up in a pitcher during an outdoor party.

For those of you who don't have an Ikea nearby, I'm sorry, but these are only available in their stores.  We waited (not so patiently) for the Colorado store to open in Centennial, and it really is fun to wander around, finding something new during every visit.  If you like to see how to fit lots of function in very small spaces for not a lot of money, Ikea is definitely for you.  

Dinner at my house can't hold a candle to the Kitchen.  But I can stay seated and keep pouring, and that makes for a more relaxed and enjoyable dinner.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Couponing for Dummies Like Me

Couponing-Does anyone really save money?

My teens are eating me out of house and home. I mean, my grocery bills are astronomical. Like into four digits per month. I have been complaining about their chirping hungry mouths for years now.

But recently I realized that I have been guilty of convenience shopping, impulse buying, and all of those bad habits that make my grocery bill such a monstrosity. My sister, even though she’s younger, is smarter than me. She uses coupons.

Why would I ever buy cereal full price? Or disposable razors? Or toothpaste? Am I just ignorant, lazy and wasteful? It turns out, the answer is yes. Many years ago, I used to play “The Grocery Game,” which is a great way to take a lot of the extra time out of nabbing the most rock bottom sales, coupled with coupons. What I found, though, is that when I played the Grocery Game (for a monthly fee), what I mostly ended up with was a lot of personal care and health and beauty products I would never use. I didn’t develop a beautiful stash of dry goods and canned food I could feed my family on for over a year, the way the Extreme Couponing people do on TLC. I just had a sad jumble of White Rain shampoos and Degree deodorants under my bathroom sink. And a bunch of Oral B toothbrushes (I use a Sonicare).  I am definitely a Coupon Dummy.

So I took that experience as an excuse to never cut or use a coupon again. I was deathly afraid of buying something I didn’t need, or a product that was more expensive than the store brand, just because I had a coupon. And we haven’t gotten the paper delivered in years-we read it online now. So how would I get these coupons anyway? Would I have to drive to the store to buy the Sunday paper (another outlay of cash for this process that was supposed to save me money)? And most of the coupons were for processed food that we didn’t eat anyway. Why was it I never got any coupons for the expensive energy bars my son likes so much or the soy sour cream that never goes on sale?

Taking another look at my credit card statement shocked me out of all the naysaying.  A $389 shopping trip, in one cart?  Okay, we were out of a lot of things, but that's more than anyone should be spending, even for almond milk, gluten-free crackers and coconut milk yogurt.

I started in my own junk drawer. I have a loyalty card for King Soopers, a local grocery store. It turns out that as a result of using my Sooper Card, King Soopers sends me coupons for things I actually like to buy. I found a coupon for a free bag of Lay’s Potato Chips. Free! There was $3 just sitting in the junk drawer and I was going to throw it away by letting it expire.  And when I shop with my loyalty cards, I get gas discounts, too, so savings multiply!  The last time I filled up, I got a 50 cents per gallon discount.  That definitely takes a little of the sting out of high gas prices.

Pulling out the other assorted coupons, I headed to the computer. RedPlum.com and Coupons.com had some deals on items I already buy, like Cottonelle toilet paper and Hefty zip top storage bags. I printed the coupons out, and headed to KingSoopers.com to add electronic coupons to my shopping loyalty card. These deals are automatically given to me at checkout when I purchase the items. Easy! Before jumping offline, I visited the supremely great site budgetsavvydiva.com and found an amazing deal. By completing a quick survey, I was able to get a $3 off two Advil coupon, which the Diva explained I might be able to get money back on by purchasing two packages of four tablets at WalMart. Coupons making me money? Fantastic!

Finally, I spread out the weekly ads for King Soopers and Safeway on the table, and started matching up coupons with specials the stores were running. I discovered my Cottonelle toilet paper coupon could be matched up with a special buy 10 mix and match deal at King Soopers. It wasn’t the kind of deal you would see on Extreme Couponing, where the shoppers get things for free or for five cents apiece. But it was something I would have bought anyway, and the price was better than what I would pay for a store brand of the same item.

Safeway meat-deals deals deals!


Safeway’s ad caught my eye right away. Bone-in chicken breasts for 99 cents per pound. I use these all the time to cook up my family’s favorites, chicken with peppers and chicken cacciatore. Pork Loin was also on sale for $1.99 per pound, and seven bone chuck roast also for $1.99 per pound. I love the pork loin in the crock pot or on the grill, and the chuck roast is fantastic for spaghetti sauce. The bones give it even more flavor!

The first stop was King Soopers, where I nabbed my free Lay’s potato chips, along with scoring my favorite True Lime powder packets (I put them in water or seltzer for a nice refreshing tang), for which I had a $1.00 off coupon that was coupled with a closeout price of $2.69. My high from saving money was tempered by the knowledge that my beloved True Lime was probably being discontinued…too bad I had only one coupon! Another coupon for Private Selection salt and pepper potato chips (yummy) went well with their sale price that week. We don’t normally keep soda on hand, but sometimes when we have people over I serve it. I hate overspending for sugar, water, carbonation and coloring! So I used a $1.25 off two 12 packs of Pepsi coupon, coupled with a four for $10 deal on 12 packs of Pepsi products. I only bought items I really would use, and I only bought items with coupons. My end result? 42% savings. Meh. I know I should be happy, but after seeing those crazy people on TV and the deals they get, it was hard to be excited about less than 50% savings. I told myself, “chin up!” 42% is not peanuts—that’s money in my pocket! And I am just a coupon dummy after all. Maybe I needed a little more practice, and a little more time to build up my coupon stash.

My second trip, to WalMart this time, started with the buzz of excitement that comes from saving serious money. I had a cash back coupon-one that exceeded the value of the items I was buying! Making a beeline for the pharmacy, I located the Advil. Scanning the shelf, I could see right away that the smallest bottle they carried was 20 tablets, for $3.69. Since my coupon required me to buy two, the final cost would be $4.38. This would never do, because the price for generic ibuprofen for the same bottle size was $.88. I would never overpay for the brand name in this situation, so it looked like this trip was a bust.

But wait! If I was going to sell convenience sizes of Advil, I would place them by the registers, where last minute shoppers would be more likely to grab them on the way out of the store. Scanning the checkout areas, my heart leapt, then sank. The smallest size was ten tablets, and it was priced at $1.69. So no cash back for me today, but…my coupon allowed me to buy the two packages of Advil for 38 cents. The packages are convenient for throwing in my purse or carry-on for a trip, so it wasn’t a complete failure.

The Advil Deal


Time to load up on meat at Safeway and redeem myself. It was the first day of the new circular, so I was reasonably sure they would be stocked up. I hate rain checks, or even asking at the meat counter. I had already spent time online looking for coupons and deals, and at home reviewing the circulars. Now I had just come from my coupon fail at WalMart, so I was ready to find what I was looking for.

Furtively glancing around at the other shoppers, I loaded five (yes, five!) packages of chicken in my tiny sized cart, followed by three large pork loins and the two packages of chuck steak they had in the cooler. On the way out, I splurged on some Oreos, which were buy one get one free, plus get a free 12 pack of Safeway brand soda or seltzer. Loaded down with meat, I chatted with the checker as she rang up package after package. My total? $88.67. The checker pointed out my savings: $120.32. Yes!!! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Freezer full of chicken-uh huh
Five half breasts for under $5-that's *cheep cheep*












I think I’m ready to make saving money a habit, but only with the following couponing tips in mind:

• Never buy items that someone in my immediate family won’t use within the next six months (or that are not donation-worthy, to a charity I care about)

• Always consult the weekly ads to identify meat and produce sales that are truly astonishing, then go cherry-pick the best deals from each store. My number is $1.99 per pound or less for white meat chicken and beef or pork—I am running to the store for that special! Freeze what you can’t use right away for those weeks when the rock bottom specials aren’t appearing.

• Don’t even cut or print coupons for items I know I will never use. For items on my list from the middle of the store (in cans, bottles, boxes and bags) look for coupons online and in my stash. Is an item I want not on sale? Make a spreadsheet of those products and watch for them to get cheaper next week.

• Research the supermarket sales trends to know when to stock up on certain items. We all know that soda goes on sale at Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day, and turkeys, pumpkin and stuffing mix are cheap around the holidays. There are other sale items too, and they are predictable, so I will watch and pull the trigger on stocking up at the right time.  Here's a list from livingrichlyonabudget.com.

• Using a help service wasn’t the right choice for me, but if you buy a lot of items from the middle of the store and are pressed for time, consider thegrocerygame.com or savingsangel.com. Both are paid services that do the research for you, and provide a way for you to easily make a shopping list that takes advantage of your coupons and the best deals at the stores you already shop at every week. Both services offer free trials, so there’s really nothing to lose!

 Happy Saving! $$$$$

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Adora Calcium Supplement is Calci-Yum!



Calcium weighs on my mind.  I am sipping a Coke Zero...and thinking about my bone density.  I don't consume dairy products (they cause inflammatory skin problems for me...see an upcoming post for how I got rid of my embarrassing adult acne), so I always wonder whether I am shortchanging myself with dietary intake of calcium from food.  Even with conflicting studies out there questioning the effectiveness and safety of calcium and vitamin D supplements, my doctor still recommends that I take supplements to make sure I get the recommended daily allowance.  The NIH says I need 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and that's not easy for a dairy-free gal like me to get.  

Here is a typical day's worth of calcium from food for me:

1 serving fortified almond milk (in coffee and on cereal)
1 serving vegetables like broccoli or kale (I eat lots of other veggies but not ones known for calcium)
3-4 Servings of other foods that have calcium in small amounts (fortified cereal and juices, Vega smoothies, handfuls of almonds)

I eat salmon often, but because I don’t eat the bones, I don’t get the calcium.  L  There may be other sources of calcium in my diet, but if I’m honest, I will admit I am not getting anywhere near the RDA.



Vega Choc-a-Lot vegan smoothie mix
I don’t really enjoy drinking alternative milks straight up.  I used to be a huge cow’s milk junkie, so I just can’t get past the difference in flavor but I do enjoy it a lot mixed in other things, like smoothies.  One cup of fortified almond milk has 45% of the RDA for calcium, and a serving of Vega chocolate smoothie has 6%.  That means if I had two smoothies per day, I would meet the recommended allowance for calcium (and, incidentally, also vitamin D).  Not such a bad idea…these smoothies are yummy, low in sugar, vegan and full of protein.  I just mix them in my shaker bottle, so they’re portable too. 

But there are times when I probably need a backup plan, like when I have a long workday or my schedule changes.  Pills, as convenient as they are, can be hard to swallow, and honestly, they tend to slow down the system.  Constipation is a common complaint when it comes to calcium supplements, but if you try several, you might find one that works for you.  The one I like is Citracal with D, and I do take it occasionally, but I usually forget.  Liquid calcium supplements are great in theory, because you know the calcium will break down in your digestive system so your body can use it.  But I did not enjoy the texture and flavor of these…the bottle just sat on the door of my fridge, glaring accusingly at me when I went in for the wine bottle.



Adora Chocolate Calcium
When I heard about these new chocolate calcium supplements from a friend (Thanks @BrendaScammon!) I couldn’t wait to try them.  I am a huge chocolate fan.  I eat dark chocolate every day (ok, I admit it, every time I go in the kitchen), so I might as well get some calcium in my treat.  Each serving is just 30 calories, so that’s a nice bonus.  But would the chocolate be good quality?  Would it taste weird because it had calcium embedded in it?  My hopes were high, because I would be more likely to remember a chocolate treat every day than my typical calcium supplement pills, which get shoved to the back of the kitchen cabinet. 

I open up the Adora package, and the chocolate looks real.  It comes in a little foil wrapper and smells like chocolate.  Mmmmmm…amazingly creamy and delicious.  I wonder if I can overdose on calcium…ok, I’d better stick to the recommended serving size.    

Between the Vega smoothie with almond milk and the Adora chocolate with calcium, I will easily make the RDA of 1,000 mg per day.  I’m already doing weight bearing exercise, so now I can cross that worry off my list.  On to the next one…but first I will just take one more quick chocolate break!         
Boulder Colorado's Haven for Chocoholics!