Project LIFE: road rules 

Project LIFE: road rules 

This year I had a crazy stint of traveling which took me to 10 countries in 10 weeks! As I described in my blog post, I hadn’t quite put together in my head the magnitude of my travel schedule but I knew I’d be on the road a while and one of the first things I considered before I began my traveling was how I would maintain my new weight on the road. When I look back, I basically instituted a few rules which I plan to continue to use in the future. My life  and work often has me traveling about 30 to 50% of the time so it’s not an option to just take a break from working out or lax too much on my eating when I travel. I could, but I’d lose my gains for sure! So, here are my road rules:

Road Rule #1. Pack workout clothes and good tennis shoes.

When I pack up for a trip I always put a pair of tennis shoes – each one wrapped individually in a plastic grocery bag – at the bottom of my bag (or I wear them on my feet depending on how and where I’m traveling). I check the forecast and then pack either running shorts, tights and tank tops or long-sleeve shirts. If the weather is uncertain I’ll bring a sock hat or ear warmers and running gloves. I also bring a lightweight rain jacket which can be used for workout or just for a cool evening out. This way I’m ready for any weather conditions. 

Road Rule #2. Pack a way to carry your ID.

Now that I live in Europe I have this über cool Marmut fanny pack. And I totally rock that fanny pack when I travel. It’s a great place to throw my phone, ID and some cash when I’m running in a new location. I also have a road ID stuff stash that attaches to my tennis shoes which is just large enough to hold my ID, some cash and a hotel room key.

Road Rule #3. Pack a swimming suit. 

You never know when you’ll find a pool for swimming laps or a beach! Trust me, you will only regret it is you don’t pack the suit!

So, as you can see the first 3 rules ensure that its easy for me to burn calories when I travel. I find that the toughest thing about traveling is that it can be difficult to influence my food options. It’s also a wonderful thing – you have the chance to try new foods! The flip side of this is it can be hard to estimate calories and ensure you’re consuming within your target range. By working out 30 to 60 minutes a day I get an endorphin rush, often get to see some great scenery (if it’s a good place for running outside) and give myself a cushion of 300 to 500 calories each day. I have a habit of getting up early to workout because otherwise it’s difficult on the road due to evening obligations that often end late at night. If I start the day with a workout I’m more relaxed and I can have a glass of wine without worrying about it going to my waistline.

Road Rule #4. The rule of 3.

When you eat there’s a simple trick to apply to 80% of meals to avoid going way over on calories. This is particularly important for dinners. Think of your meal in sections: appetizer, main course, desert. You should only eat one of those, maybe two at the most. I’ve read that bread can also be considered another course, and I actually believe this is true especially if there’s a bread basket and butter. Alcohol is an entire additional category, especially if it’s a long meal. Remember that a glass of beer or wine can be 200+ calories and that’s basically the same as your average bread roll with butter. So, I try to apply the rule of three to say I’ll have no more than 3 of these elements I listed above. 

Here’s a couple of examples:
Bread, main course (lean meat dish or maybe fish if I can get it, or a good salad with protein), desert.

Or, if I want to have that combo with wine or a beer I don’t eat desert.

Another option is to skip the bread completely. Sometimes this is perfectly rewarding for me, it depends on if the bread looks awesome! Then I’ll go for it! Life is short!

Road Rule #5: eat a smart breakfast. 

Hotels often offer some super high calorie breakfast options which you’d rarely consider on a weekday at home – Belgian waffles with cream anyone? Or maybe a few slabs of bacon to go with the sausage and eggs. So, my strategy for breakfast is to try to eat as close as possible to my home routine. For me this is yogurt with granola (perhaps honey as a sweetener – a great way to protect against local allergens) and a piece of fruit. It satisfies and provides good balance. As a bonus, I recently read that eating local yogurt can help you adjust your gut flora to the local foods and leads to less illness when traveling. I don’t know if it works, but it makes sense, so I stick with it.

Road Rule #6: monitor by packing a pair of skinny jeans or using a scale in the gym.

Just to make sure I’m not getting off track, I like to being at least one piece of clothing that is a bit snug on the waist so I can see if it starts to get uncomfortable. Another option is to weigh myself the first day of a trip on a scale in the hotel and then check it every once in a while to see if I’ve shifted. It’s easy to start to creep up on the road and I’d say it’s pretty normal, but for me it’s a cost to benefit thing. If the food is amazing, then I’ll let it happen. But if it’s stress eating or just too many late night big meals I like to exert a little self control.

Road Rule #7: break your habit of clearing your plate

This is a really, really tough one for me. I hate to waste food, but I’ve also discovered that sometimes portions are just way too big. So, if I order a cut of meat that is just more than I can eat, then I’ve finally given myself permission to not eat all of it. But I also try really hard to order smart, healthy, whole foods: lean meats, veggies, nutrition dense carbs. This works pretty well for me and I can clear my whole plate with no hesitation.

I do believe that’s quite enough rules. These tricks keep me sane on the road and help me maintain my goals. Hope they’re helpful for you. 

What are your trick?

Bike Bahn

Bike Bahn

I love to plan trips but every once in a while I love to just go along for the ride when someone else has built the plan. It brings an element of surprise that delivers a bit more excitement for what my otherwise be a routine activity. 

Today, this is just what I did. I rolled out of bed at 6 am, brewed some coffee, had a quick breakfast in the courtyard while I took my cat for a stand (cats don’t really walk) and then put the finishing touches on my bike – pumped up the tires and the frame shock. Threw my wallet, a rain coat (it’s Germany you can NEVER trust the forecast) and a banana into my camelback before rolling out of my apartment for the ride to the Düsseldorf HBF (hauptbahnhoff = main train station).

My instructions were to meet my friend (aka epic bicycle tour guide) at Gleis 7 to catch a train for Hamm (supposedly – German trains are notoriously late) departing at 8:47 am. Our plan was to ride a stretch of the Römer-Lippe Route. You can link to the route here

Römer = Roman and this trail is so named because it is located in one of the territories that was ruled by Rome during their reign in Europe. Later it became, and continues to be, an industrial region fueled by a ready supply of water from the Lippe river. This region was also in the past dominated by coal mining and coal power generation. The coal power plants are now gone, but the remnants of coal mining remain in the form of huge iron structures near the river banks.

I thought this post could be a bit about our actual ride and a bit of an instructional guide about how to travel by bike and train in Germany. It’s not so complicated but could be a bit intimidating for the un-initiated. Also, legal disclosure, I am certain there will be some errors and omissions of rules in this post. Honestly, it’s impossible to know all the rules in Germany! But, what we did today worked so hopefully it would work for you.

The first thing is to buy a ticket. While this may sound easy, it can be very complicated! Fortunately, my friend had a local help with this. What we used was a ticket that was a 24 hour fare for the entire state of Nord Rhein Westfalia. In addition to the ticket for you, you also need a ticket for your bicycle (aka Fahrad). You can try to make these selections online but I highly recommend (I cannot underline this point enough) that you go to the DB office and ask for their help during your first few trips. The people at the counter speak English and are very helpful. These are the tickets we used for our trip.


You will also notice the price on the ticket. This ticket is for up to 5 people because we originally planned to be a group of 3. It was still cheaper than two individual fares though. Be prepared to pay to play on German trains! They are not cheap. If you believe you will ride them often you can purchase discount options. As it turned out, I didn’t ride trains as much as I’d anticipated so I never did buy a discount card. But it’s worth exploring if you plan to be a frequent traveler.

Then when it comes to boarding the train with your bike, you need to look for the bike train car. You’ll see this on the sign board. In NRW the platforms have four sections: A, B, C, D. When you see the details for your train you just need to look for a pictures on the electronic sign board at the platform that has a picture of a bicycle under a letter. It’s often under the letter D. When you board the train have your fingers crossed that it’s not already full of bikes or baby carriages. In that case you’ll need to wait for the next train. Fortunately, we found space for our bikes probably because it was a bit early in the morning. As the train car filled with more bikes we lost our seat in the carriage, locked up the bikes and headed upstairs for the hour ride to Hamm.


As we traveled along we chatted exchanging travel stories and getting caught up on life. I found a great farmscape at one of the stations we passed. The tractor was the right color!


When we arrived in Hamm, we walked out and found the bicycle sign and started our ride to Lünen.


Our route was marked with the Roman centurion helmet. It was relatively easy to follow. We quickly left the city center and found the Lippe. I paused to admire a tall corn field that bordered some grain bins.

We paused near some cooling towers for a photo. They were impressive structures! I couldn’t tell if the plant was still active.

Soon we entered into a section of trail that was closed in on both sides by trees and we stopped to pick some blackberries.


As we started to takeoff I noticed a sign for a natural area and we paused to admire the view.


About a kilometer later I spotted what looked like a small path to the right so we stopped to check it out. What a surprise when we discovered a herd of cattle called Heckrinder that looked a bit like buffalo. My friend translated the sign for us and we learned that the habitat was a semirestired natural grassland and the herd is an attempt to restore European buffalo. I enjoyed watching the herd move about and we even spotted some calves!


By now we started to get a little hungry and fortunately our lunch stop was nearby. Our plan was to stop at a yacht club in Bergkamen. We passed my favorite bridge of the day and then entered the city.


I knew it was going to be a great lunch destination when a few Harley’s passed us and then we saw a guy in a root beer brown stingray getting an ice cream. Then the place was actually called California! That was too coincidental for me.


This is one of the best parts about bicycle touring by train in Germany. You can enjoy a nice bier with lunch without worrying about the drive home!


The next half of the ride went pretty quickly. Along the way we saw some retired coal mine equipment, an interesting industrial plant and a beautiful swamp.

Soon we entered Lünen and made a very important observation. Almost everyone was carrying an ice cream! This was certainly a sign. We needed gelato. We paused to snap a photo finish and then made our last refueling stop. 


I could not believe they had watermelon gelato. Of course, I had to try some.


We rolled the final 400 meters to the HBF and boarded the train to Dortmund. Then transferred to a train running to the Düsseldorf HBF. This is where it got interesting… the train was packed! Like, standing room only packed. We were able to cram ourselves and our bikes into the car.


Then, perhaps the most entertaining part of the day happened when I watched a girl grab her bike and walk off the train with a tomato plant, an entire tomato plant (!), peaking out of the top of her rucksack.

Soon we pulled in to the Düsseldorf HBF, lugged our bikes down the stairs from the platform in to the station. I was biking home and my friend needed to catch another train to her home. Happy and sleepy and relaxed we hugged and parted ways. Promising to try to squeeze in one more ride in September before I move back to America. Yes, the clock is ticking down. It’s time to grab hold of every moment. But, when is it not? 

Life is short, make it a good ride.

My Practice 

My Practice 

Many things have changed in my life – school, work, state, country, but one thing has remained constant – my yoga practice. I did not realize just how long I’ve been practicing until a teacher asked in a class recently. I did some quick math and realized I have been practicing yoga for more than 20 years!

What makes me keep going back? 

Why is a studio one of the first things I seek out when I move to a new place? 

Tonight as I walked home from the studio in Düsseldorf, I pondered  these questions. 

My interest in yoga began when I was a teenager. I don’t recall if I was first introduced through a home video course or at the racquetball club we belonged to when I was a kid. I do know that it was one thing that made me feel graceful and confident and strong.

When I went to college I kept up my practice at a 24 hour fitness studio that I would pedal to after class on my town bike. I began to learn more about body movement and used yoga as a way to stretch out muscles strained from bicycle racing.

During my postdoc we lived in the Texas hill country and I’m not certain that I practiced but we did take up country dancing. Which is kind of the same thing…? Maybe??? This two years was a blur of working during the day and teaching at night. While I was a charter member of the local YMCA, I’m sure I had stretches where I didn’t train as much as I’d prefer. I spent most of my time either driving to work or working.

Louisiana is where I again returned to my practice, training at the local YMCA, but I soon found the training in a open space near the noisy weight racks to be a little less than zen. This is when I discovered the peacefulness of a true yoga studio. I began to practice at yoga bliss with some skilled instructors. At this time I was really in to running, I completed a half marathon and trained for a full. I also returned again to bike racing. Yoga became an essential part of my recovery program.

In North Carolina, I became friends with a German expat and learned she trained in hot yoga, so one day I went to the studio and found the perfect combination – Louisiana climate + yoga! Most people won’t believe it, but I actually missed the hot, humid climate of Louisiana when I moved to North Carolina. The studio became my oasis a few nights a week. I enjoyed the physical challenge and deep stretching of hot yoga practice.

When I moved to Germany I wasn’t sure how I’d practice since I was only beginning to learn German. This is when I made a spectacular discovery. I stumbled upon the magic of learning a language through movement. I found a studio that had two English speaking instructors. First I only went to their classes. Then, one day, I wanted to go to class, but it would be taught in German, and I figured “I might be learning German, but I can speak yoga, so maybe I can do this”. I went up to the instructor, explained I was learning German and asked her to correct me if a pose was wrong. As we flowed through the poses I was amazed at how much German I could understand, but also how my body simple knew what to do. Most poses follow a sequence and after decades of practice my body knew what to expect.

Now we come full circle: what keeps me coming back? I believe it is a craving for balance and understanding my body and how I move. Also, funny enough, I don’t usually make friends at yoga, although over time I’ll certainly begin to recognize a friendly face, but simple knowing I’m with like-minded people is a comforting experience. I believe this spirit of belonging is one thing that keeps me coming back. Oh and that familiar tightness is my left hamstring that spring up if I run too hard… or the tightness is my shoulders after a long day on the computer. So, again it’s a mind and body craving.

Why is a studio one of the first things I seek out when I move? Perhaps this is my attempt to find familiarity and peace, in the midst of changing environments and circles of people. I associate a yoga studio with the chance to escape from everything for 60 to 90 minutes. No phones, no speaking, no thinking about anything except my breathe and movement. The studio becomes my home. The one place I can go and know that in the midst of the chaos of my life this one place will always be the same. For this next 90 minutes, I will know what happens next and if I happen to get lost a caring and compassionate guide will come along and help me make small adjustments to find my balance. 

I do believe that this is why I continue my practice. I might pull anchor and sail across a new sea but when I land and drop anchor again, it will be there waiting for me. Much like a sailor seeking out a seaside inn to rest and find nourishment, so my practice provides nourishment for my soul on this journey through life. I find it again every stop along the way. The simple beauty of my practice is that although I, and my studio and my teacher may change, the practice stays the same. Downward facing dog is the same in California and Louisiana and Germany. The only thing that changes is me and my increasing gratitude for my practice and the people who teach me how to understand my body, nurture my soul and be kind to my spirit.

Namaste

Project LIFE: bye bye McFit

Now that I’m in maintenance mode I’m tracking myself with daily weigh-ins and experimenting with different foods to add some variety. I also felt like it’s a good time to reassess my workout routines.

I went to my gym for a morning workout last week and found it was closed for the final days on an ongoing renovation. I went to the grand opening yesterday and was sort of shocked my what I found!!! It has been transformed from a basic (occasionally stinky) McFit to a too cool for school John Reed. 


Complete with uber cool lounge areas, spin class and workout rooms with virtual instructors speaking English (and attempting a Texas accent) and I got a free new member t-shirt!


Strange art now adorns what used to be marked up walls. Actually I don’t remember the old color, funny how you can go somewhere every day and not really see it…

When I walked into this room I wasn’t clear if it was a workout room or a changing room… things could get awkward!

Is this the temple of doom or the men’s locker room…maybe they’re not so different from each other?


I just don’t understand the purpose of this space at all. Is this where people discuss their workout over a protein shake? 

The change is strange, but comes at a perfect time when I’m looking to revamp my workout routine. Now I have tons of easy options to build in to my mornings.

Nice touch screen next to the workout room that explains the class options. A great example of danglish, by the way, a mix of German and English.


The workout set was an oil farm in Houston, Texas! Complete with a working oil derrick and an instructor who was possibly trying to impersonate an oily worker, complete with oil smudges on his white tank top. He even said things like y’all, yeehaw and boy, this Texas son is hot! I was very entertained.

The virtual class trainer is an interesting concept that I’d never encountered before. Has anyone else seen this at a gym?

Project LIFE – maintenance mode

Project LIFE – maintenance mode

I DID IT! Y’all, I did it! I hit my goals (adjusted, I’ll explain in a bit) and now I’ve moved on to chapter 2 (aka the rest of my life): maintenance mode. This is a vague path for me and it feels a bit like a hike I took over a rocky path (see feature photo for this post) where the trail was marked by a series of red dots. The dots were strategically placed at any point that I needed to decide where to go next – especially if the next step was up a suddenly climb or through an otherwise indistinguishable series of rocks. As on this hike, where I sometimes found myself teetering on a rock ledge and hopping between stones. Now that I’m in maintenance mode, it’s a bit unsettling to not see the entire path at once. I expect that I will build this maintenance chapter through a series of experiments (red dots) that appear as I approach them. Some dots will take me along the correct course and other times I might find myself drifting and need adjustment. I’m ok with this method of trail mapping. I feel though like I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me first explain how I confirmed I had achieved my target…

Over the past couple of months I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback from colleagues and friends who’ve noticed my weight loss progress. This often involves a fun discussion about how I managed to drop the weight and exchanges of healthy habits. A few weeks ago I was chatting with my manager about my project LIFE and I mentioned that I was encountering trouble dropping any more weight. I had hit the dreaded walk and I began to wonder if maybe I’d achieved my healthy weight. She told me about a recent health assessment she’d completed at a work event and emailed me the contact of the person who ran the assessments. I shot him a message and then we both were traveling over Easter so I practiced another muscle I’ve been growing lately, patience, and after a few weeks we managed to meet for my assessment appointment.

I woke up early the day of my appointment (scheduled for 7:30 am, gulp) and fought off hunger pains. I was instructed to arrive on an empty stomach. The night before I had deposited notes around the house in strategic locations (near the coffee pot, on my backpack) saying: “do not eat”. I usually eat first thing after I wake up. I allowed myself one cup of black coffee so I could drive safely….threw on some yoga tights and a tank top and brought work clothes to change into. Then I headed to the office in Leverkusen.


I met the assessor and then the rest of it went quickly. He asked my specs – height, age – and then I stood barefoot on the machine and gripped the handles. Then it ran its magic analysis.


The machine works, I believe, by running a current through your body and measuring the amount of resistance that helps it calculate the relative percent of water, fat and muscle in your body.

My report spit out in about a minute and we sat down to analyze. I was pretty curious and excited to study the results. The report told me what I had suspected: my body weight (plotted as an average – below, healthy, high) came in at the upper end of healthy. I wasn’t surprised by this outcome – my BMI calculation is never good according to the averages charts. I know I’m a strong type of build (with very strong bones – once I had a body scan that told me my bone density is in the 90th percentile, further when I was a kid I suffered a bone tumor that in most people would have led to a broken bone) and I’m fine with that, I enjoy being strong. 

The next figure explained the body weight being on the high end of healthy – this was my estimated amount of muscle calculation, which was 20% above average. The person running the assessment was pretty happy with this result. My profile was falling out as expected as a strong body type. For me this explained why I struggled to achieve the same weight I had 8 years ago when I was running for exercise 80% of the time. Changing my exercise patternsto more  fighting and weight training had subsequently resulted in more upper body muscle which of course brought more muscle weight.

The last figure also made me happy and this was my estimated amount of body fat. I know I always carry a relatively high amount of body fat for a fit person, or at least I’ve always had this opinion of myself. According to this assessment, my current body fat is 22% which is good and healthy, not super lean, but, wow, that’s a tough way to live. Maybe not right for me. Although part of me still toys with the idea of a 6-pack for a day. 

At this point, we paused to discuss how I could use this data. The assessor asked me a simple question: “what are your goals?”. For a moment, I was lost. I have to admit, I was so surprised to find that the weight loss journey was done, that I didn’t know where to go next. I think I really didn’t believe I could do it, so I hadn’t thought to the next step…

But, as we talked, it came to me. My goal is to be healthy and strong and capable of tackling any physical challenge that comes my way, I would say within reason, but who defines what is reasonable? 

I also have a new goal to maintain my healthy weight and built a sustainable eating and exercise balance to eliminate as much as possible future swings.

Throughout this post i have bantered about the term: “healthy weight”. I’m sure there’s a scientific definition of this term, but here is what it means to me. First I start with what it is not: healthy weight is not super-lean. I’m by no means currently super-lean. Healthy weight for me is feeling strong and happy with how clothing fits. 

Over the past 7 months through attention to diet and a solid exercise routine, I dropped nearly 3 pants sizes and now find medium tshirts to be a bit too large. For me, this is a very rewarding combination (although it does mean I might need to get some of my skirts adjusted and buy some new blazers – hmmmm, I’ll survive).

Now we get to one of the most interesting parts of the discussion. When I said I was happy with the report and agreed that I didn’t want to drop any more weight, we shifted the topic to daily calorie needs to maintain my current body profile. The report informed me that with my weight and muscle mass combination, I need 1500 calories a day when I don’t exercise and 2000 on the days I exercise. Which basically means I need 2000 calories nearly every day! What a surprise!

Now I encounter an unanticipated challenge – how to increase my daily calorie intake in a healthy way? I cut loose a bit this weekend (increasing the fat in my diet a bit and adding back in a bit of bread) and found I was suddenly again losing weight. Strange predicament to be in since I no longer want to lose! But, I’m going on vacation again soon, the England, the land  of pubs, fish and chips and meat pies, and I predict I’ll gain a bit and then can stabilize.

Now that I’ve hit my target I am savoring success. Sometimes this is a new piece of clothing hat fits. Sometimes I allow myself a bit more ice cream, but I’m surprised to find that I really don’t feel a need for the quantities of food I used to eat. Which is also surprising.

As I take my first steps down fork in the road from weight loss to weight maintenance, I would appreciate any advice from those who have traveled this road before me. Please share in comments, it will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragenent. Especially my husband who never told me I needed to lose weight, but when I decided that did, offered me help to find a path back to a healthy me. Then put up with a million silly conversations about dietary minutiae and how many 10th of a kilo I had lost or gained each week. Without you, I wouldn’t have had the courage to start the journey, let alone be where I am savoring the success of taking back my health and my life.

Peace before the storm 

Peace before the storm 

Bathed in warm sunlight, the crunching of carpenter bee mandibles tickles my ear drum. A slight tip of my right ankle forward and backward slowly moves the rocker beneath me. My dog rests her head on the bottom porch rail.

I breathe deep, embracing the peace and admiring the warm blue sky.

The wind picks up, the stir of new green leaves brushing against each other obscurs the bee whispers in my ear. Temperature drops swiftly as the sky shifts from blue to gray. Clouds block the warm sun. No longer squinting, my eyes relax and my breath lightens.

A spring thunderstorm is blowing in, taking her time to arrive. 

I eagerly await the first drops. Anticipating the scent of fresh rain on warm stones accompanied by the chatter of drops falling upon leaves, saturating the parched earth, before accumulating in rivulets on saturated soil and running into creeks, rivers, and lakes.

The tapping of a woodpecker is replaced by the rhythmic creaking of wood crickets. My gentle revery is broken by a mosquitoe lighting on my leg for a bite, prompting a quick slap.

Wind picks up again – the American flag begins to wave. This is my home, this is my land, this is my place of contentment and peace.

I find myself ruminating on a yoga mantra my uncle left with me during his recent visit to Germany.

“I am safe. I am sound. All good things come to me. They bring me peace”.

Namaste

Project LIFE – subtraction and addition

Project LIFE – subtraction and addition

Now you written a plan. You’re committed to achieving your goals. How will you ensure success? This is where it’s important to begin writing down best practices (you might call them “rules” – this is the term I usually use) focusing on behavior changes you will make to achieve you healthy lifestyle goal. In mathematical terms – what will you subtract and add to hit your target weight?

In my project LIFE plan, I wrote my rules on the right hand side of the page opposite  my weekly weight targets on the left hand side. Now it’s all on one page. I workout a lot and I’ve done so since I was a kid (I’ll devote another post to this topic). So I did plan to change my workout patterns slightly but I knew this wouldn’t deliver the results I craved. My first focus was on changing how I eat. The truth was, my mathematical equation was out of balance. I was simply consuming more calories than I could burn which had increased my weight and was now maintaining the current weight. 

When it came to adjusting how I eat, I focused on two things – what to eliminate and what to add. Be fully aware that it will be impossible to 100% follow the rules. I am not perfect. You are not perfect. None of us will ever be perfect, so it’s time we give ourselves a little compassion. (Hence the reason I love the Dali quote at the beginning of my post). I give myself compassion by following the 80:20 rule. I’m successful (not perfect, not even seeking perfection) if 80% of the time I follow the rules. 

I also had a goal for how to balance the source of calories in my diet. I wanted a ratio of 50% complex carbohydrates, 30% protein and 20% fats. Carbs to fuel my brain, protein to build and maintain muscle, and fat to produce hormones and utilize vitamins I consume through the other items in my diet. My UC Davis biochem class is coming in handy!

Project management hack: identify obstacles that will make it difficult to follow your rules and decide how you will overcome the obstacles. 

My project LIFE plan Rules:

1. Eliminate drinks that contain calories. 

Why? Soda, alcohol, juices, even milk – these liquids contain insidiously high amounts of calories that can completely torpedo your success. Besides they’re not satisfying or filling. Also, I think making this change – for instance – ordering an americano with a dash of milk instead of that daily cappuccino – you can easily cut out 200 to 300 calories a day. It’s too easy to overlook. If you replace caloric drinks with water or hot tea, you’ll see immediate results.

2. Add 2 Liters of water a day + coffee + tea as desired. 

Add a lemon or mint to your water bottle if you start to get tired of plain water. Also, an exception to rule 1: milk or almond milk is included in my diet via my normal breakfast routine (I’ll explain that later). A warning about caffeine. I read in a book that when you reduce calories you can become more sensitive to caffeine so be careful you don’t overdo the coffee and caffeinated tea and get all jittery. 

3. Eliminate simple carbs and processed snacks. 

I nearly completely cut out granola bars and all processed snacks foods. This is not actually that hard to do once you kick the sugar addiction (one I’m still fighting myself – lately I find myself strangely craving sweets at night, which is maddening! :)). If you’re like me, another thing you have to kick is the joy that comes from receiving free food. I picked this up in grad school… a meeting with snack! Heck yeah, I’ll save some money by eating that granola bar you’ve given me. On a quick flight – why yes, thank you for the breakfast bar or pretzels! Now I don’t need to pay astronomical airport prices. This is a tough habit to break!

4. Add unlimited fresh vegetables + 3 to 4 pieces of fresh fruit a day. 

First obstacle: I know what you’re thinking. I’m busy, when will I prepare the vegetables? I am here to tell you that it’s not so hard to find the time. Give me a moment to convince you that you, yes you, can find the time to chop fresh vegetables! Here’s what I do. During my weekly shopping run I buy: carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, and maybe something else that catches my eye. Then when I get home I unload the veggies, pile them on the counter near the sink. After I’m done unpacking and storing everything else I bought (which isn’t so much since about 1/2 of my diet is veggies now), I jump right in with prep work. I promise you, it’s fast. I can prep enough veggies (chopped into small portions for snacking) for the week in about 20 minutes! For this to be a winning strategy, make sure you have a nice sharp large chef knife and cut with care! Buying some nice size tupperwares is also a great idea. Immediately, I pack my weeks-worth of veggies into tupperwares or small bags in a quantity that is just right for each day – probably 2 to 3 cups of veggies. 

Voila – you are now a vegetable prep pro!

If you want something sweet, turn first to fruit, but watch your intake, it can also be high in calories so it’s good to eat in moderation. Melons are a sweet treat with a lot of water and fiber with low calorie count. Other fruits don’t require any prep time which makes them super-convenient to carry with you.

When you begin to reduce calories you will be hungry. When hunger strikes, eat vegetables! It’s surpassingly satisfying and I also find it gives me lots of energy and a clear mind. No sugar crash!

5. Make sure to eat enough healthy proteins. 
I admit, I don’t really know the difference between a healthy protein and an unhealthy one – but there are lots of different sources of protein and some make me feel lighter and stronger and some weigh me down. I think it might be related to how much saturated fat comes with the protein. So, it’s something to consider with a meat protein source.

Here are the proteins I try to consume to feel full and not have too much fat:

  • Chicken breast – a light coat of olive oil and paprika sprinkled on top and broiled in the oven.
  • Tuna fish – sometimes packed in olive oil if I also want some fats. A favorite dish is to mix this with a fresh avocado. It’s delish!
  • Nuts – this is a great snack but a tough one for me because I often eat too much in one sitting. Try to prepackage appropriate portion size. It’s a good attempt (which sometimes works!) to watch the calorie intake.
  • Greek yogurt – plain with no added sugar. I like to top with granola and fresh fruit
  • Cheese in small portions
  • Eggs – boiled or fried in olive oil
  • Almond milk with chia seeds and or oatmeal soaked in for breakfast. A great way to start the day!
  • Occasionally I’ll have a protein shake if I’m in a hurry after an exercise round in the morning.

6. Avoid saturated fats and eliminate trans-fats. 

If you eliminate prepared snack foods you’ll nearly eliminate trans-fats without trying. Saturated fats can give lots of energy – because they’re packed with calories. So, limit them to maybe once a week – this is a method I apply to red meat and pork.

7. Reduce bread and crackers. 

The need to do this might vary from person to person. And you’re probably thinking, oh my gosh, she’s an expat in Germany, she must eat all the delicious breads! Yes, in fact, this is what I also thought in the beginning, and it was killing my waistline! Breads + my metabolism do not equal a slim Natalie. I also believe that breads get processed fast in my system leading to a sugar crash. So, I’ve nearly eliminated them from my diet. 

8. Add complex carbs as close to natural condition as possible. 

I now receive most of my carbs and fiber from granola, oatmeal, chia seeds and all sorts of beans (lentils, etc). Amazingly, I don’t even really miss the bread now, and when I do eat it, it’s a real treat!

Try implementing a few of these steps and let me know how it works for you. What secrets do you apply for healthy, fulfilling eating?

Next post: fire up your engine!