Monday, January 16, 2012

We are Moving!

I have some very exciting news to share with Our Lady of Second Helpings readers.  As of today we have a new home!

I have been working on getting the new site tided up and ready for everyone and I think it is ready for visitors.  There is a new look with some extra goodies but the blog will continue on the front page just as it does here.

Please update any bookmarks you may have created so you continue to find the blog quickly and easily.  I can't wait to hear what people think about the new space.

See you over there!

Click this Link to be Taken to the New Site

Friday, January 13, 2012

Nuts and Bolts: Have a Drink!

The number one all time absolute best tip for anyone trying to improve their health is...drink water.  


About a month ago I happened to overhear a conversation at the YMCA where a woman half heartedly lamented to a trainer that she had been working out for a year but only shed a pound and a half.  This statement caught my attention big time and all sorts of things rolled through my mind.  The trainer took the comment in stride and began quizzing the member on a few basic habits.  I don't remember the exact exchange so I'll paraphrase:

Trainer: "Are you drinking enough water?
Member: "Oh, no. I don't drink very much water."
Trainer: "You might consider increasing the amount of water you are drinking.  It helps your body to flush out all the bad stuff."
Member: "Well I'm not too worried because I don't abuse my liver..."

I think my mouth fell open a bit when I heard that last bit.  "I don't abuse my liver."  I started thinking about all the things that go into my body that my organs have to sift out and expel because they are of no use or potentially harmfull to my health.  Air pollution, pesticides on food, chemical additives, alcohol and caffeine, and many more things go through our bodies on a near daily basis whether we knowingly ingest them or not.

I try to stay well hydrated and have gotten pretty sensitive to the need to drink water throughout the day.  Our family stash of water bottles is pretty impressive and we make sure to keep at least one per person full and handy both around the house and when we are out and about.  Drinking water helps me feel better physically and I know it helps me to function better.  Staying hydrated helps my body eliminate waste more efficiently, keeps my skin in better condition, gives me more energy, helps me better identify the difference between hunger and thirst, and reduces some cravings.  It just makes sense to me to drink plenty of water.

I have heard many people say they just can't bring themselves to choose water.  It is too plain or boring or they are addicted to diet soda and just don't drink anything else.  I would like to be sensitive and not make a wise crack about asking people who have to hike for clean water if it is plain and boring (whoops!).  I'll offer instead an article to start.  Water: How much should you drink everyday? by Mayo Clinic Staff on the Mayo Clinic website.  I thought this was a pretty good basic look at why staying hydrated is good for our bodies and makes some recommendations about what we really ought to be drinking on a daily basis.

One of my favorite notes from the article; "Although it's a great idea to keep water within reach at all times, you don't need to rely only on what you drink to meet your fluid needs. What you eat also provides a significant portion of your fluid needs. On average, food provides about 20 percent of total water intake. For example, many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and tomatoes, are 90 percent or more water by weight."  Notice when the authors say "food" they are talking specifically about fruits and vegetables.

Pretty much all fluids are going to contribute to increasing hydration but I would encourage people to consider making it a goal to reach for water most often.

And it doesn't have to be plain and boring...
  • Make a pitcher of water that has slices of favorite fruits or vegetables (washed) floating in it.  Things like cucumber, citrus, mint leaves, or summer berries all make great subtle flavorings.  Punch it up even more by using carbonated water, like seltzer, instead of plain water.
  • Look for zero calorie powdered mixes to add to a pitcher of water.  Crystal Lite or other similar products taste more like juice.  Different brands use different artificial or natural sweeteners so check the labels if you are concerned.
  • In addition to plain carbonated water there are various brands of flavored seltzers on the market.  Again make sure the label shows zero calories.  In citrus or berry flavors these can be a great alternative to diet soda.

Don't get me wrong.  On any given day I might drink a cup of more of coffee, a latte, a diet soda, or a number of other non water beverages but water is always my primary source of hydration.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Time for a Snack! - Chocolate Popcorn Trail Mix

I love popcorn! The fluffy and crunchy kernels make an easy snack to curb the mid afternoon munchies.  A big bowl of warm popcorn is the perfect thing to curl up with while watching a movie (sorry Honey).  Popcorn a fantastic blank canvas to turn savory or sweet and can calm many a craving.

Before we started losing weight I would frequently suggest a movie date in order to make a large bag of theater popcorn my dinner entre. I still love theater popcorn just in much smaller portions.  I also love fresh kettle corn when we find it at fares or farmers markets.  The crunchy sweet and salty little morsels that are slightly smokey from the open flame cooking method make me super happy.  Most often we make popcorn at home with our air popper.

I love to experiment with ways to season popcorn and frequently pull items from my spice cupboard adding a dash of this and that to see what works.  Popcorn's mild flavor allows many flavors to shine but not all, sorry bacon salt.

Some of my go to flavors include:
A couple of teaspoons of roasted garlic or regular olive oil and salt
A couple teaspoons of melted Smart Balance or Butter
Pam Spray - Butter or Olive Oil
Pretty much any seasoning blend tossed together
Kernel Seasons Popcorn Seasonings (so far I like white cheddar)
Nutritional Yeast
Vogue Instant VegeBase

Inspiration struck a couple weeks ago when I was eating lunch and had the t.v. on.  I caught the end of The Chew and a segment on food myths.  Co-host Daphne Oz suggested swapping traditional trail mix for one made with popcorn.  Then she suggested sprinkling in a few chocolate chips to keep that salty sweet mix that is so tempting in trail mix.  Oh it was like a gift from the heavens!

I immediately thought of the granola I made the week before and thought that if I toasted the nuts and popped the corn at the same time I could quickly toss in some mini chocolate chips while everything was still warm and get a nice even coating of chocolate on all the ingredients.  So I did and Chocolate Popcorn Trail Mix was born!

Chocolate Popcorn Trail Mix
Whip up a crunchy, salty, sweet, gourmet snack in just a few minutes.  Simple enough for any day but just the right amount of pizzaz to take to a party or package up as a gift.


    1/2 c unpopped air popped popcorn
    (use whatever combo of nuts and dried fruit sounds good to you but it will change the nutrition information provided below)
    15 whole almonds
    10 pecan halves
    1 TB raw sunflower seeds
    3/4 c. dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, blueberries, raisins, chopped apricots, etc.)
    1/4 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
    salt - to taste


Pre-measure all the ingredients before starting.

Air pop 1/2 cup of popcorn into a large bowl. While corn is popping toast the pecans and almonds so they will be warm when the corn is all popped.

Once the corn is popped toss the chocolate chips and toasted nuts into the popcorn. It helps to use two wooden spoons or spatulas. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top and toss in the dried fruit. Continue tossing until most of the corn has some chocolate on it.

If needed - pour the ingredients into a baking pan and warm briefly in a medium oven to melt the chocolate.

Allow the trail mix to cool completely before serving, otherwise it is very messy!

Serving Size: makes about 6 2c. servings
Approximate Nutrition: Calories 204; Fat 6g; Carbs 32g; Fiber 3.5g; Protein 2.2g

*You know who else likes popcorn?  The Popcorn Board and they have a fun website with recipes, activities for kidlets, nutrition information, and more.  Check it out!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nuts and Bolts - Building a Health Community

I am always grateful for my health community and the support it has provided me along my way.  It is many-faceted and that is one of the most important parts of how it functions in my life.  Building a community to support a life change is not as straight forward as picking a program to structure the change.  We all build our communities differently because we need them for different forms of support. This is what mine looks like:

My Partner:
Mike and I feel extremely blessed to have each other as weight loss partners.  We have helped each other stay motivated and frequently remind each other why the end result will be much better than giving in to a moment of weakness.  I often hear his voice in the back of my mind when I am considering making a choice that I probably wouldn't if we were together.

Coffee Shop Employee: "And would you like a pastry with your latte?"
Our Lady of Second Helpings, Internal Dialogue: Hmm... those Rice Crispy Bars are the lowest PointTM treat in the case.  Oh wait I forgot that the new mini treats are under 300 calories.  I wonder how many PointsTM they are? I could look it up...  I did take a walk earlier... I could play some Wii Fit when I get home...  Mike's Voice: "Why don't you get a banana?  The latte will be sweet and if you are still hungry a banana is filling."
Our Lady of Second Helpings: (with a small sigh of renewed resolve) "No thanks just the latte." - I don't really like bananas. If I'm not hungry enough to eat a banana I'm certainly not hungry enough for a pastry.

I haven't asked Mike if his brain works this way. I would guess not.  Men seem to have far less chaos in their brains, luckies. (Mike's editorial note: We do actually have this level of chaos in common.)

Within our household community I feel a great responsibility to feed my family the healthiest way possible.  Even on days that I am worn out and would love to just serve ice cream for dinner, I want to respect Mike's desire to put healthy food in his body.  It is not fair to make a meal that does not honor our goal of proper nutrition.

My Support Group:
My health community is much wider than our family unit.  Our Weight Watcher's meeting provides us with a fantastic community as long as we keep showing up.  We don't always see the same people and in the three and a half years we have been members our Monday night has seen many faces come, go, and come back again.  I enjoy the bonds we are able to build with the other regulars and I also enjoy meeting new people.  We all have stories and ideas to share.  The meeting room is a safe place to get feedback when things haven't gone well or we are stuck in a rut.  The meeting room is also a great place to remember that food issues affect anyone and our common desire to heal can transcend age, income, relationship status, and all the other things that keep us from sharing our stories in the "real world."  Our weekly meeting community has been the source of many great food tips, words of inspiration, and pats on the back for all the small successes we have had along the way.

In the past year we have had a few fun outings and activities with our Weight Watchers meeting friends.  I posted previously about our recipe exchange and how fun it was to trade cooking ideas.  We have also had a few walking events.  Most recently we joined some friends for a New Years Day stroll.    It was a relaxing and energizing way to start the year off on the right foot!

In a broader sense I tend to consider any person or resource that provides me with positive inspirations and tips a part of my health community.  On-line I look for articles by other people who are striving for the same goals I am.  There are many health and wellness magazines on newsstands that I thumb through from time to time.  In my down time I enjoy television shows like NBC's Biggest Loser or cooking shows that teach healthy recipes.  Not all of the things I read or watch relate directly to my own life but I have found them to be great motivational and inspirational resources.

Extended Social Network:
My friends and family play a role in my health community but in a more nuanced way.  I want everyone to feel as good in their skin as I do but I have had to learn that people need to find their own way, like I did.  Not all of the people in my life are part of my health community just like not all of them were school mates or members of my faith community.  We all love each other where we are at in the moment.

I have found it very important to have a broad community.  Not everyone can be supportive all the time, people and resources come and go.  With so many sources to go to for motivation I always have somewhere to turn when I need a boost or an idea.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nuts and Bolts - Pick a Program

Author's Note: I've been having trouble getting this simple series off the ground. My entire motivation for writing a blog is to share how I managed to lose weight.  I keep falling into a trap of framing my thoughts in much grander terms than I am qualified.  I am here to be a cheerleader for anyone looking to make a change for the better in their own life.  In this Nuts and Bolts series I will give some of the specific changes and tools that I believe have helped me get to where I am now and that I continue to use in my daily life.  I am not the originator of most of the ideas I will share but I hope that my repeating good ideas will help to crowd out the less helpful ones.  Take what may work for you and leave the rest, we are all on our own path and have our own needs.

To Begin - Pick a Program

Once I knew that it was time for a change I picked a program, Weight Watchers.  I have been trying to speak in broad terms as often as possible when I talk about my approach to eating but the bottom line is I learned how to a healthy way to feed myself when I joined Weight Watchers and I stayed because, just like their marketing slogan says, "it works."  The program allowed me to make my own choices about what I put into my mouth on a daily basis while providing healthy guidelines and parameters to help me make those choices.

I focused only on the calories I was consuming.  I don't think I could have built the kind of sustainability I have achieved if I had tried to change more than one lifestyle component at a time.  Changing my approach to food was a huge change all by itself because I had to completely relearn how to eat.  Weight Watchers provided me with my daily PointsTM target.  Everyday when I woke up I had a new budget of PointsTM to spend before bed.  I really enjoyed the game of planing how to use my daily PointsTM.  At first there was a lot of trial and error but taking each day as its own puzzle helped me have fun and quickly move past the frustrations that come with learning a new skill.  Best of all because the program stair stepped my PointsTM total down as my weight loss continued I didn't go through a huge change in food volume all at once and I wasn't hungry all the time in the early days (or ever).

I think anyone looking to begin a transition to different way of eating should work with some established program.  The choices are vast and it can be a stumbling block just to begin.  I obviously recommend Weight Watchers because it has worked so well for our family.  There are some on-line that help you track your eating and encourage a balanced approach and increasing activity.  I think a really great place to begin is a reference from a health care professional that knows a bit about your specific situation.

Personally I would hesitate to start any program that focuses on creating a diet where entire food groups are eliminated or severely restricted, unless it is medically supervised.  In my program no food is specifically off limits, I just weigh the PointsTM total against my daily budget and decide if it is worth the deduction before I put it in my mouth.  I think this exercise of determining a food's value has helped me become a more creative and adventurous cook.  I find myself seeking out ingredients with bold flavors and unique textures but low or no PointsTM value and combining them in ways I haven't tried before.  Weight Watchers also has daily Healthy Checks and participants are encouraged to mark off items like dairy, water, and vitamins as they are consumed.

My final recommendation when beginning a new program would be, give it a trial period of no less than 4-6 weeks.  Breaking and learning new habits takes time and many changes have a rocky and uncomfortable start.  Ask a lot of questions in the early days and make sure you understand not only what to do but why.  Having a solid understanding of the basics helps ensure a sustainable future and sets you up to add more components as you are ready.  If the first program you try doesn't fit your life try another one.  Everyone is different not all programs are going to work for all people it is not a reflection on the program or its participants and it certainly isn't personal.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Encouragement From My Past Self

This week I am working on putting together my Nuts and Bolts series.  Part of my process has been to think back to the early days of weight loss and the tools I found most useful.  I rediscovered a few posts I wrote for a blog that didn't get off the ground a few years ago.  Those posts, from January 2009, are a great reminder of what I was feeling a few months into the journey.  Below is one of those posts. I hope you enjoy this little trip in the, not so, Way Back Machine.

Unexpected Motivation

So my husband and I have been losing weight together on Weight Watchers since the end of August and as I was telling someone last night our names would be in literature with a * after them. *Results Not Typical. Losing weight has been a wonderful gift to give myself everyday since we started. I feel like I have reached a point where I can finally see results in myself. People have been telling me that I look different for awhile but I can finally see it for myself when I look in the mirror. We have been mastering eating within our points and exploring how to make the foods we love healthy and delicious. I cook he cleans and we get better every day! 
For Christmas we "exchanged" pedometers and I think it was just the thing I needed to catapult me to the next level. I find myself keeping close tabs on the numbers of steps I have taken throughout the day. Last weekend we were out and about on Sunday and I got up to over 9300 steps. I was so excited because it had been a busy day but I hadn't built in any specific exercise. At home I have figured out that due to the rectangular layout of our house I can go from one end to the other five or six times and get 300 steps in just a few minutes - during a commercial break no less. The more I find ways to build steps into my day the more I am motivated to look for even more. 
I have been working in the same building for two and a half years and for the first time it occurred to me that while we only occupy the ground floor there are 5 flights of stairs that I have easy access to when ever I want. So Monday I was having a rough time focusing and decided to go get a little exercise in to help my brain. Up those stairs I trot! I was breathing heavily by the time I got to the top but it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. On the way down I stopped on the parking garage level and did a lap around the small garage. Back at my desk I felt pretty pleased. The next day I popped my lean cuisine into the microwave and rather than standing there for 4 and a half minutes watching it spin around slowly I popped out to the stairs again. This time I went up and did a couple of laps in the parking lot and was back before the microwave finished. How cool is that? Well I think it is cool. 
Today I saw that it wasn't raining so I grabbed my iPod and scooted out the door. I was so excited to be getting out to walk around the neighborhood (we have recently been snow bound so I think I am still recovering from cabin fever). It was cold and damp but I kept a comfortable brisk pace and due to a misjudgment in my route I covered just over a mile! I was sad to have to go back even though it had begun raining again. I have this energy bursting out of me and it feels incredible. 
For the past couple of years I have had to deal with minor to moderate SAD in the winter so it is such a relief to be motivated to do anything let alone go charging up and down 5 flights of stairs on a whim. I do think my pedometer is helping because it is a concrete gauge that I am getting up and moving more. The more I move the more I move it is a wondrous feeling that I never thought I would have. I just pray that this is the beginning of something I will get to experience for a long time to come.

If you would like the read the other posts there are a few more at