Sometime after Easter weekend, after indulging in way too much leftover Easter candy, I got the idea to do a sugar detox. I'd say my diet is overall pretty healthy, but l do have a pretty hefty sweet tooth. With all the Easter chocolate lying around, I'd been sneaking sweet treats pretty much after every meal and got to the point that I was even craving something sweet a few times per day. I really didn't like that feeling. So, last Monday, I started on a 5 day sugar detox. Nothing fancy, I just cut out all added sugars. I still let myself have natural sugars like fruit, because I knew that my sweets-loving-self wouldn't make it without at least that. As for all that Easter chocolate? I melted it down and made these amazing brownies to give away to friends/family (one day before my detox, so I could taste them of course): tastykitchen.com/recipes/desserts/milk-chocolate-brownies/
Sugar detox turned out to be hard. I had no idea that some of the "healthy" foods I was eating regularly had added sugar in them. I quickly learned that pretty much all prepared and/or processed foods have added sugar. Bread (even the healthy, organic variety), spaghetti sauce, granola bars, salad dressing, you name it. I had to stick to eating mostly raw foods, which actually wasn't the bad part at all. I ate a lot of fruits, veggies, minimally processed grains, and vegetarian proteins like beans and eggs. The hard part was the cravings. Between the hours of 2-4pm and then again after dinner were the worst. I had this uncomfortable yearning for something sweet to get me out of the natural energy slump of those times of the day, and had to very consciously focus my attention on something other than wanting to eat a piece of chocolate/candy. Sugar addiction is real, you guys. Read this article from Forbes if you don't believe me: www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2013/10/16/research-shows-cocaine-and-heroin-are-less-addictive-than-oreos/#3281d5042427
Doing this 5 day sugar detox thing really brought to light how much sugar I was actually eating in a day, and how I was relying on it for both comfort and quick energy boost reasons. I'd add honey to my oatmeal or yogurt in the morning. Creamer to my coffee. A piece of chocolate after lunch. A granola bar for a 3pm snack. A 5pm cookie from the sweets tray at work. A small and healthy dinner, so that I could afford a bigger dessert. And some wine in the evening with a nice pairing of dark chocolate. Not to mention the added sugars in the foods I was eating for each meal. YIKES. No wonder the cravings hit me hard. And sometimes made me crash...
5 days doesn't seem like a long time, but it was. There were several times I almost caved. Like the time I had a rough day at work and almost dug into the ice cream tub to feel better. Or when shark week kicked in and I instinctively craved chocolate as a "cramp remedy". But I'm happy to say that I made it. Yeah, I had to sniff the Nutella jar a few times, but I made it. I don't really believe in fad diets, I just did this to bring awareness to myself about my sugar habit. And to help decrease my sugar cravings.
Well, it actually worked.
Even though I wasn't limiting myself anymore, I found that I really wasn't thinking much about sweets this past weekend. I did have dessert a couple of times after dinner, but that was about it. And, surprisingly, it hasn't been too hard to find places to cut back on sugar throughout my day. This morning, I ate waffles with almond butter and no honey and coffee with just milk instead of creamer. Once again to my surprise, I really didn't miss the sugar additions. Healthy changes for the win.
Before I dive into the topic of BBG, I need to take a moment to share an amazing breakfast idea I ran across while scrolling through Facebook last night. Plain yogurt + vanilla flavored protein powder. It tastes like vanilla yogurt but with waaaaaay less sugar and waaaaaaaay more protein. I tried it this morning and it. is. SO. GOOD. I added banana and chia seeds to the mix too, and although it doesn't look particularly beautiful in the photo, please please try this if you're a yogurt lover. You'll never buy vanilla flavored yogurt again.
Ok, back to what I originally intended this post to be about - BBG. I guess I'm a little behind the times because I only heard about BBG a few months ago. In case you're in the same boat as me, BBG = Bikini Body Guide and it came out in 2012. It's a 12 week workout plan (there is also an accompanying 12 week nutrition plan you can buy), and its written by 25 year-old Australian personal trainer and fitness guru Kayla Itsines. Here is the website if you want to check it out: https://www.kaylaitsines.com/collections/guides. A friend of mine told me about it after she used it to get fit for her wedding. She took "before" and "after" photos using the BBG program, and her results were impressive. So I decided to buy the workout guide and give it a try.
The workouts in the guide are 28 minutes long and consist of high intensity resistance training. The nice thing is that they require minimal equipment and can be done at home or at the gym. I did them in my garage, although I had to be creative a few times since I didn't have an official workout bench (I used a sturdy step stool and occasionally our dining room bench....shhhh, don't tell my husband). I don't usually like workout programs/DVDs/videos, and honestly didn't think this one would keep me engaged for the whole 12 weeks. But it did. I actually finished the entire 12 week program today.
I failed to take a "before" photo, because whenever I've tried to start some exercise program or DVD I usually get bored and quit 3-4 weeks in. I wish I would have though, because I'm impressed with the results this program delivered. This is the first time in my life that my back and arm muscles are toned without having stepped foot inside a gym. Aaaannd my abs and lower body are more defined too. In a way, I'm not surprised, because each of the workouts in this program are HARD. I had sore muscles 90% of the time after doing a BBG workout. But I really did enjoy them. There is lots variety in the exercises, so I never ever felt like I had reached a plateau. Plus, I felt like the workouts were well designed to maximize muscle gains.
Now that I've finished BBG, I'm not quite sure where to take my fitness routine next. Get back into running? Train for a triathlon? Make up my own 12 week program? Any thoughts/ideas would be greatly appreciated!
I've been a vegetarian since the age of 3. To make a long story short, I was introduced to the way bacon is made a little too early in life (my poor pet pig), and decided not to eat meat ever since. As an adult, I've come to realize that vegetarianism requires good nutrition planning to ensure I'm getting enough B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, and protein. There are certain foods that I've come to love in my quest to find a balanced vegetarian diet, in particular, these 10 staples.
1. ALMOND BUTTER
I eat almond butter every. single. morning. Safe to say it's one of my favorite foods. Great source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. In my opinion, the best tasting kind is the kind you grind up yourself at the store. It has a chewy texture with a hint of crunchiness, and by grinding it myself I know that I'm consuming only raw almonds without added salt, sugars, or oils. I eat almond butter on toast, put it in my smoothies, in my oatmeal, on a banana, in my baked goods, and so on. It's SO versatile. Here are a few good recipes using almond butter: init4thelongrun.com/2016/03/22/20-healthy-recipes-can-make-almond-butter/
2. PLAIN YOGURT AND/OR KEFIR
Yogurt and kefir are excellent sources of protein, B-vitiamins, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and probiotics. I always buy plain yogurt/kefir because the flavored varieties typically come with lots of added sugar. Sometimes as much sugar as a candy bar per serving - yikes. I like to control the amount of sweetness with honey or agave syrup, and of course add in fun stuff like almond butter (I'm seriously obsessed), fruit, etc. I also like to use yogurt and kefir to add moisture to my baked goods, like coffee cake and banana bread. Read more about my love of kefir here: www.bettysbalance.com/home/my-favorite-new-morning-treat
We are a fruit-loving family, and we buy fresh fruits every week based on whatever is in season or whatever we are craving. Except when it comes to bananas. We ALWAYS have bananas in the house. It's sort of a family emergency when we run out of bananas. They are the most portable type of fruit and they go with everything. In baked goods. Used to sweeten smoothies. With a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. On top of waffles. The list is endless. Plus, they are a great source of potassium, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin B6.
If bananas are the one fruit we can't live without, and then avocados are the one vegetable we can't live without. They actually have more potassium than bananas and their list of scientifically-backed health benefits is a long one (www.well-beingsecrets.com/health-benefits-of-avocado/) Our toddler loves to each chunks of raw avocado as a side to her lunch or dinner, and we like to eat them with, well, everything. My personal favorite: avocado toast with salt, pepper, and tomato.
Brandon hates beans. But that's okay....more for me. I often use them as a meat substitute when I prepare our family dishes like tacos, sloppy joes, or chicken and rice (= beans and rice for me). Beans are a nutritional powerhouses, packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals (noticing a trend here?). There are so many varieties and they are SO versatile. I use black beans to make vegetarian burger patties. Pinto beans in my burritos. Kidney beans for red beans and rice. Mixed beans for soups. And I like to bake garbanzo beans for a crunchy little snack that's perfect for on-the-go (recipe here: steamykitchen.com/10725-crispy-roasted-chickpeas-garbanzo-beans.html.)
High in protein, fiber, vitamins/minerals, etc. etc. you get the picture. Quinoa has become all the rage in recent years, so there are TONS of quinoa recipes floating around the internet. You can use quinoa for everything from breakfast to dinner to dessert. I'm a big texture person, and I love the chewy, gritty texture of quinoa. My meat-and-potatoes-kind-of-guy father, on the other hand, gets offended whenever I make him a meal involving this "sawdust." Its hit-or-miss for a lot of people, but luckily both Brandon and Avery love this stuff as much as I do and don't mind that quinoa makes a weekly appearance on our dinner table. Here's a great quinoa recipe to try, just in time for spring: www.pbfingers.com/cold-quinoa-salad/
GOOD QUALITY BREAD
My personal favorite is Dave's Killer Bread. It's made by a local Portland company, but the good news is that they started selling their bread in all 50 states in 2016. The history of Dave's Killer Bread is an interesting one, involving a guy with a criminal background who turned his life around by tapping into his passion for organic, non-GMO bread (read the story here: www.daveskillerbread.com/our-history/). This bread is packed full of nutrients and it is DELICIOUS. We're talking protein, fiber, omega-3s, etc. No toast/sandwich/carb-loving household should go without good quality, nutritious bread. Disclaimer: I do not represent and am not in any way affiliated to or endorsed by Dave's Killer Bread. I'm just their really happy customer!
8. HARD BOILED EGGS
We are lucky to live very close to a farming community, so we get to pick up farm-fresh eggs every week. The taste of these eggs is not even comparable to the store-bought kind, especially when they are hard-boiled. I always keep a stock of hard-boiled eggs in our fridge. They are a great snack to have at work and in the hours between 3pm-dinner time when I'm usually ravenous. Not to mention they are an easy and tasty source of protein.
9. CHIA SEEDS
Besides their protein, fiber, anti-oxidant, and rich vitamin/mineral content, I love chia seeds because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. I don't eat fish, so getting a daily source of omega-3s elsewhere is important for me. Fun fact: chia seeds actually have more omega-3s per gram than salmon. Not-so-fun-fact: chia seeds do not provide DHA, which is considered the most important of the omega-3 fats (Personally, I make up for this by taking a daily vitamin supplement with DHA). Chia seeds are easy to sprinkle onto/into any breakfast item. I put them in my yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, and even on top of my almond butter toast. I also like to make chia seed pudding, recipe here: minimalistbaker.com/overnight-chocolate-chia-seed-pudding/
....If I'm being honest. Hmmm, let's see here, health benefits of wine....
#1. Sanity! #2. Antioxidant?
The truth is, I've googled this topic a lot. It turns out that this topic has also been studied a lot, especially in recent years. What they say is that moderate wine consumption can reduce your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, depression, diabetes, stroke, and early death (read more here if you're interested: www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265635.php). Cheers to that!
It's Monday (again), which means my workout motivation was at an all-time high this morning. I've been on a HIIT routine for several weeks now where I focus on my upper body on Mondays, lower body on Wednesdays, and abs on Fridays. It's hard for me to stick to routines. It really is. I get bored so easily, and even though I know I need some consistency in my workouts to see results, I always crave exercise variety. Well, since I've been on my HIIT kick for 10 WEEKS now (which is a record for me), I decided to give myself a break today and come up with a fun total body workout instead of concentrating on arms, legs, or abs. It requires no equipment (except a timer) and incorporates a lot of variety to work every part of the body. Just the mix-up I needed.
Since I've been doing a lot of weight training/strength building, I've been trying to incorporate more protein into my diet. Especially because I'm a vegetarian. I normally eat a lot of dairy, nuts, and beans, but to kick things up a notch I've also started started adding protein shakes to my diet. No too surprisingly, it has made a difference in how I look and feel. When I drink a protein shake in the morning, I have more energy during the day. I feel less hungry before lunchtime, and I feel like my muscles recover more quickly after a hard workout. Adding the protein shake has also helped me build muscle after I felt like I had plateaued. I definitely notice more muscle definition since starting on the protein shakes. Makes sense right, since protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle.
I've tried a bunch of different varieties in the past, but there are two brands that are my go-to favorites. The first - Bodylogix Natural Whey, which is an animal-based protein. Its delicious and doesn't taste chalky. Its natural with very few ingredients. And its very reasonably priced for the quality you get. Another bonus - it's cold-processed so that all the nutrients and immune factors are retained (a lot of protein powders are high-heat treated, which denatures the proteins and limits their bioavailability and immune-boosting qualities).
My other favorite is Purely Inspired organic protein powder, which is plant-based. I love the chocolate flavor in this variety. It tastes like a brownie milkshake. Bonus points - it's organic, affordable, and more nutrient-dense than the Bodylogix brand (fiber, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, etc). Aaaaaand there is no soy in this product. Whooop.
Disclosure: Betty's Balance is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Every year in the month of February, the winter blues really start to set in for me. I don't feel it much in November or December with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or even in January since we have a lot of family birthdays to keep up with. But come February, the dark and gloomy days really start to affect my energy levels and sometimes even my sleep quality. One of the culprits I'm sure is the fact that I live in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, a list recently published by smart asset.com ranked Portland, Oregon as #3 on the list of cities with the most depressing winters. #1 was Anchorage, and #2 was Seattle. (see article here https://smartasset.com/mortgage/cities-least-depressing-winters). Not too surprising, since this is typically what our weekly weather forecast looks like:
It was even worse when we lived in Alaska. In the thick of winter, the sun would rise around 10:30 am and set at 3:30 pm. During the week I would rarely even see daylight hours since I was stuck inside a building with very few windows at work. That left me with 10 precious hours to soak up the daylight during the weekend...10 hours TOTAL per WEEK of daylight! It was during this time that I really started to experience symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It was also during this time that I came up with some strategies to help me beat the winter blues.
1. A Happy Light. This was one of my happiest discoveries when we lived in Alaska. A Happy Light is a bright lamp that gives off spectrally balanced light (which is supposed to simulate daylight), designed to help improve mood, energy, and concentration. I generally turn mine on in the morning and set it on my dining room table while I eat breakfast and check emails/work on my laptop. I really do feel like it makes a difference in my energy levels for the day, especially the first part of the day. The general recommendation is to sit by the light for 30 minutes per day, preferably right after waking up. A word of caution: I tried to use the light in the evening when I was feeling down and it actually negatively affected my sleep that night.
2. An engaging book. After Avery goes to sleep, one of my favorite things to do is curl up in bed and get lost in a good book. Part of my struggle with the winter blues is having a really hard time falling asleep. I can't ever seem to turn my brain off, and will often lie in bed for hours trying to get to sleep. I get frustrated because I can't sleep, which makes me less likely to fall asleep, and so on. Reading before bed has been a lifesaver in this case. My book makes me look forward to getting into bed rather than dreading it. It also helps me shut off all the noise in my brain and focus only on what I'm reading. This is the book I've been loving this past week (review coming later):
3. Getting outside (even in the rain). This one is SO important for my sanity! One of my favorite rituals has become taking out the trash and checking the mail on work nights, because it gets me outside on days that I would normally be stuck indoors all day. On my days off, Avery and I make sure to get a little fresh air every day, rain or shine, and it helps enhance my mood and energy A LOT.
4. Regular exercise. Surprise, surprise, right? Some good workout music, my garage, and a hard sweat session always works in boosting my energy levels for the day.
5. A cozy home. During the winter months we spend a lot of time indoors, which is why I have started to make an extra effort during the winter to keep our home a cozy and relaxing place to be. An important part of this is keeping the house clean. I alway feel a sense of unrest when the house is upside-down, so Brandon and I have agreed to make a daily habit out of picking up toys, doing the dishes every night, etc. to help keep our house as clutter-free as possible during the winter. I also like to bring out soft throw blankets and candles in the evenings to add to the coziness of home.
6. Vacation planning. January and February are my favorite times to plan our vacations for the year. It helps me transport myself to a sunny, warm place even if the day is dreary and dark. This year we have a few camping trips, a summer Alaska trip, and a surprise trip on the books so far. The anticipation alone is enough to lift my spirits on a cold February day.
Any other suggestions for how to beat the winter blues? Please let me know in the comments!
I’m Betty and I live in the beautiful pacific northwest. I'm a mommy. Vegetarian. Wife to a meatatarian. Pediatric physical therapist. Outdoor enthusiast. Enjoyer of fitness/healthy living. Even bigger enjoyer wine and chocolate lava cake. And hoping to find some balance between it all.