My Year of Eating Everything

Mark & I shared this pizza in Zurich

Howdy friends, here we are on the cusp of all the November-December eating holidays, starting with the biggest one of the year for Americans- Thanksgiving. And it seems to be the annual kick-off of the food-filled festivities that last until New Year’s Day. These 6 weeks are often met with a mix of eager anticipation of all the yummy treats (& justification of putting all diets on temporary hold),  and anxiety at what 42 days of unrestrained eating will do to us. So we either try to “be good” and avoid the holiday treats, or (unavoidably) eat them anyway, but not really enjoy it because of the ensuing guilt. There has to be a better way, people! And I think there is…

I just spent a year eating everything I wanted to.

And what happened!? Actually not too much, except for me letting go of my previously very tightly held food rules, including tossing out my list of “forbidden foods.” These were foods like hamburgers, ice cream, donuts, marshmallows, or fried anything… foods I claimed to “not like” but in fact I was just afraid of eating, or actually afraid of not being able to stop eating. But I found that once I lifted the taboo, I actually never binged. It’s funny how when the sanction is lifted and any food is allowed at any time in any amount, the allure is gone. We are all just little kids in that way, I guess.

Yes, I did gain weight this past year, but not as much as I would have thought, and much of it was needed, considering how small I’d been after my shows. I gained up to a point and then just levelled out… and now it seems I can truly “eat whatever I want and not gain weight.” Granted, I’m heavier than my self-determined “ideal body weight.” But no one loves me less, including myself, so I’m thinking I must have tossed out guilt and unrealistic ideals along with that list of forbidden foods.

One of the many pies Sara made this past summer… this one is blackberry… mmm…

It’s not that I set out to do an “eat everything and see what happens” experiment, it’s just that 2019 has been a year of some pretty incredible travel opportunities for me. I was honestly so burned out on dieting (even on weighing and tracking my food) from my 2018 bodybuilding season, that I found that I just didn’t have it in me to enforce my usual restrictions. So it was a perfect set-up for this much-needed-&-I-didn’t-even-know-it trial in food freedom.

And so I truly, truly enjoyed myself in New York City in February, where we went to not only look at colleges for Theda (& West Point for Tommy), but also to take in some Broadway shows:

From the Italian take-away restaurant near our apartment
Apparently I can enjoy ice cream any time of year, especially this delicious mochi with its irresistibly chewy texture
Everyone who thinks they don’t like marshmallows should really try homemade ones! They literally melt in your mouth
Homemade donuts… that’s all I need to say

In March I flew to Mumbai with Sara & her middle school Honours Choir team. What an incredible experience! One of the other travelling moms, a friend of mine, is Indian, and she graciously coached me on every yummy thing I should be eating! Luckily I’ve always been a very coachable person.

We ate a lavish breakfast at our hotel every morning
Lunch at a street vendor
The best paneer curry I’ve ever eaten

Thanks to Theda & Tommy, I travelled to Taipei in April to cheer them on at the “IASAS” (International Association of Southeast Asian Schools) Track & Field Championships, for which they both qualified. Track is a sport where you can come and go depending on the events you want to see, and I took advantage of my downtime by sampling the local cuisine. We were lucky enough to go to the hawker stalls with a friend who speaks fluent Chinese… imagine how much the hawker ladies adored this blond, blue-eyed Italian American, ordering our lunch in perfect dialect! I’ve never had better Chinese food. Thanks, Ilaria!

Just a sampling from our lunch- everything was SO fresh!

May brought the opportunity for me to accompany Mark on a work trip to Zurich, Switzerland. Although he had some business meetings to attend, we are mostly just there for fun and celebration. And Swiss hospitality is second to none!

Pizza at a little cafe after a morning run & stroll through the historic district
The best donut I’ve ever eaten in my LIFE… and I hit a motherlode of raspberry on my next bite
Local farm produce- dried apples from the orchard & spiced pumpkin seeds- perfect appetisers with a glass of crisp white wine
Swiss fondue at the gala event on our last evening
Swiss chocolate… it was every bit as good as it looks

At the end of all this travel, I told myself I would “cut back” over our summer home leave… track my macros, try to lose the little bit of weight I’d gained. But I found I just didn’t want to. The body inherently rebels against restriction, and you just tend to crave what you’re trying to restrict. So I kept a free rein all summer, and enjoyed the yummy food we made… Tommy’s fried chicken, Theda’s pasta, and Sara’s homemade rolls & pie.

Sara’s rolls… my Ma would be mighty proud!
I haven’t had fried chicken this good since my Ma cooked it for me
Theda’s creamy mushroom pasta- so yummy & healthy

I certainly still ate a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc, and I took advantage of all the awesome exercise opportunities in Steamboat- hiking, jogging, and biking through the gorgeous mountain trails.

My typical lunch- grilled fish, veggies, and rice/corn/potato- such a delicious combination
At the top of Fish Creek Falls with new friends I met on the way

I have to admit that my eating freedom unfolded little by little, not all at once. But I found that my comfort level continued to grow every time I allowed myself to eat previously forbidden foods with truly no guilt, just enjoyment. And I loved it.

The bottom line is, we really can trust our bodies. We do all have a stopping point. We might just be forgetting to listen, so overridden as we are with restriction that we can no longer hear our own signals. It took me awhile to hear mine, because I’d restricted my eating for so long.

But I found, ironically from lifting the restrictions and eating everything… that I really can trust my body to say, that’s enough. It sure was good. 

And you can too. I promise. Even if it takes awhile. It took me a year to self-regulate. Have patience.

Happy American Thanksgiving, friends! Here’s to nourishing ourselves well.

Why I Quit Competitive Bodybuilding

IFBB Muscle Contest, Sept 2018

Hello friends! Yes, it’s true… after 2 1/2 years of meticulously keeping track of every gram of protein I ate and every pound of weight I lifted, I decided it was time to hang up the crystal high heels and retire from the sport of competitive bodybuilding.

Why??? Why would I quit when I just turned Pro??? I mean, I can make money now…

Lol.

But seriously, to help us all understand why I decided to quit, it’s important to understand why I began in the first place. And let me preface this whole thing by emphasizing that I had the best coach I could have asked for or even imagined. Cherish Hunter of Next Level Bikini Prep was my true angel in this whole journey, and without her I’m sure I would have never stepped on stage at all. She kept me healthy, she kept me sane, and she guided me with wisdom, grace, and humour on this path of physical and spiritual transformation. I will be forever grateful to her. I seriously hope that someday we can meet in person and laugh about life over one or 3 glasses of wine!

At age 46, I’d been fit and active most of my life. But I wanted to see how far I could take it, IF I had the discipline and strength of mind to whip my little ol’ mom-bod into stage-ready condition. (I actually had no idea what it was really going to take, but I was up for the challenge.) I’d been fascinated with the sport for awhile, and bottom line, I just wanted to see if I COULD.

Left: my first progress pic, Nov 2016. Right:ANB Universe, October 2017

Turns out, I COULD! I was good at it, and I LOVED IT. I embraced every aspect of this extreme sport: lifting hard & heavy in the gym, managing my nutrition intake tightly, following my coach’s instructions to the letter, and surprisingly enough, even the stage presentation on show day. You would think that prancing around in a tiny bikini in front of a panel of judges and a room full of spectators would be a bit daunting, but to me it was an exhilarating high, the thrill of a lifetime. We were always coached to “Smile!!!”… And, “Act happy!!”… but for me, it was genuine- I couldn’t NOT smile, I actually was thrilled to be on stage.

For me, being on stage was the ultimate reward

Bodybuilding was a perfect fit for me and something that felt like mine. Everything about this sport suited me: the extreme discipline required, the meticulous records to be kept (both with food and in the gym), the feeling of control over my body, the science of physiology, and the beauty of muscles revealed.

The night before IFBB Muscle Contest, when my muscles were full of carbs!

In my 2 seasons and 3 shows, I won 4 gold medals, 1 silver, 3 bronze (1 in the Pro show), and professional status. Not too bad for a 48-year old mom of 3 teenagers!

ANB Universe 2018, where I won my Pro card

I honestly thought I would be in this sport until my old bod couldn’t take it anymore.

But I began to see another layer that wasn’t quite fitting with who I was or what I wanted to represent. (It’s very possible that I changed along the way, and that would be a good thing too.) I began to feel incongruity between the lifestyle & values I felt like needed to embrace to succeed in bodybuilding, and my own values, the way I want to live my life, and the message I want to embody not only as a dietitian and health professional, but also as a mom.

At the top is that bodybuilding is a subjective sport based solely on physical appearance. It’s all about aesthetics. And it never claims to be anything else. To be successful in this sport, it’s necessary to achieve super-low levels of body fat (most bikini competitors hit the stage at around 9-10%- for comparison, essential body fat to sustain a menstrual cycle is usually 12-13% and normal for women is somewhere around 25-30%.)

Late August 2018, about 2 weeks before Muscle Contest

So I found myself walking around in a body that represented an unrealistic and unsustainable ideal, not a healthy norm. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the look of my muscles rippling under my skin. I found it fascinating to see the lines & striations that I knew existed in anatomy books but I’d certainly never seen on my own body. In some ways I couldn’t believe what I’d actually achieved! It seemed unreal. And in some ways, it was. The measures I’d taken to achieve this look were difficult & extreme (more on that later) and definitely unsustainable. Yet I got so many compliments on my “transformation” from people who, not knowing what it took to get here, had the idea I intended to maintain my new physique indefinitely. That’s when it began to hit me that I was sending a mixed message with my look: that it was possible, sustainable, & desirable to walk around with super-low body fat, even while I verbalised that this physique was only for the stage. But I discovered that it didn’t matter what I said… I realised that I was unwittingly promoting this look to my community… and to my daughters. Not what I’m ultimately going for. I don’t want my girls, (or anyone!) to think that this is how women should look, or how they should look. I get it that it’s a sport, but it’s a powerful image, and I want our lives to be about so much more than physical appearance.

Point number 2: prep is HARD!! And not just physically, though that is a big part of it. The body doesn’t like getting below a certain percentage of body fat, and fights against it. So, as happens for every competitor, as the show date got closer, we had to keep reducing calories and increasing cardio for me to keep losing weight. We got the results all right, but at the cost of my sleep and energy. Having low body fat and an ongoing calorie deficit promotes hormonal changes that disrupt the sleep cycle, and I regularly had 2am wake-ups after only sleeping 5 hours. It seemed unfair to me that just when I needed sleep the most (not only to give me energy, but also to pass time until I could eat again, haha), it was elusive.

3 days before IFBB Muscle Contest… this was a day I felt very depleted

And it wasn’t so much that I felt hungry, I just felt exhausted. The thought of doing anything past 7pm other than being in my pajamas was overwhelming, and I missed out on countless social occasions. But more than that, I found I had little to give to my family during the last several weeks before each show. I was tired and irritable, unable to offer my kids & husband the support I normally did. I became a taker. My family gave to me, for a loooong time! It was a beautiful thing and I felt so supported. But I don’t want something in my life that makes me inherently self-focussed.

My beautiful fam… so grateful for each one of them!

Point number 3: with so many external regulations on my food intake, I forgot how to trust (or even hear!) my internal cues of hunger and fullness. During my whole first year of building, I ate in a caloric surplus to the tune of 2600 calories a day. That meant that every day, I ate past my “full” signal. It didn’t matter that I’d had enough, I needed to clean my plate and hit those calorie goals. And then when it came time to diet and calories were reduced, I couldn’t eat every time I was hungry. Nor could I always eat until I was full. No going back for seconds! I just ate according to my set calorie level. I learned to ignore my internal cues to the point where after the show, it was difficult to hear them again.

In the 8 or so weeks since my decision to stop training for the competitive stage, I’ve been practicing “intuitive eating” a lot. This means not weighing my food, not tracking it in my app, just eating according to my (very tiny, but growing louder) cues about hunger and fullness. I’m slowly learning to trust my body again to eat the right amount. I don’t have all the rules & restrictions around food that I used to have, and it feels good.

Tacos! From the little taqueria in Steamboat… sooo good!!

Sooo, looking at all these reasons I’ve given up the stage, I have to ask myself: do I regret doing it in the first place? NOT ONE BIT. I wouldn’t trade my time in competitive bodybuilding for the world. Being involved in this sport for so long helped me grow in ways I didn’t even know I needed to. I feel like I know myself better, I know in my heart that I have the discipline and mental toughness to do whatever hard thing comes along, and at the same time, I’m much more gentle with myself, if that makes sense. All these good things came from pushing my limits in this sport. I’m so happy I did it, and I’m proud of myself too. And so with deep satisfaction, I can put away that tiny little bikini and move on to the next thing. What that is, I’m not sure! But stay tuned, friends! Life is an adventure and good things are coming.

Sunrise… bringing a new day

Mango Banana Smoothie Bowl

Hello friends! This mango banana smoothie bowl will keep you cool no matter the weather… and here in Philippines it’s HOT. Around December through the end of February I always get a little smug feeling inside and think to myself, “Oh, I’ve lived here so long now I’ve acclimated to the heat.” And then March 1 hits… and with it a wall of heat that can make me lie down and wish someone would bathe me in icy cold towels.

Hello friends! This mango banana smoothie bowl will keep you cool no matter the weather… and here in Philippines it’s HOT. Around December through the end of February I always get a little smug feeling inside and think to myself, “Oh, I’ve lived here so long now I’ve acclimated to the heat.” And then March 1 hits… and with it a wall of heat that can make me lie down and wish someone would bathe me in icy cold towels.

So I don’t eat hot foods anymore. I even let my coffee cool off before drinking it, because why start the day overheated??

But this smoothie bowl is everything you need to keep you cool. It’s made from 5 simple ingredients: local mangoes (the best in the world, in my humble opinion,) local bananas (sweeter with a more intense flavour than our American Cavendish), a chunk of pineapple to give it some zing, caramel protein powder (again from a local source- and they deliver right to your door!), and a splash of soy milk.

That’s it! That’s all it has. Couldn’t be simpler… unless you make it even easier and make up a few baggies of pre-measured frozen fruit & protein powder to keep in your freezer. Then when you want a smoothie bowl, just dump it into your blender, add the soy milk, blend, and away you go.

It’s delicious plain, but of course I like to add extras… in this case it was toasted coconut flakes and one of my pumpkin oat cookies. It’s a great flavour combo, but lots of things would work- toasted almond flakes, cacao nibs, sliced fresh strawberries… the sky’s the limit, my friends!

If you can’t get good mangoes where you are, I am truly sorry for you… however, that probably means you can get amazing peaches, and that would be a great substitute.

Just want everyone to be able to beat the heat this summer (whenever summer happens to be for you!) Cheers, friends!

Carrot Cake Overnight Oats

Hello, friends! As we move into summer here in Manila (and it seemed happen overnight, right??), my craving for oatmeal doesn’t diminish… but my craving for hot food certainly does! These carrot cake overnight oats are the perfect answer: you get your oatmeal fix AND don’t have to heat up the kitchen (or yourself!) to enjoy them.  Better yet, they can be made in advance and in multiple quantities so you can have breakfast in a snap….

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GF Quinoa Cranberry Breakfast Bread

Hello friends! This naturally gluten-free quinoa cranberry breakfast bread is packed with flavour and goodness… and delicious any time of day, not just for breakfast.  Really, breakfast is just your starting point with this chewy, not-too-sweet loaf. Studded with sweet-tart dried cranberries & scented with orange peel, it’s perfect with a drizzle of honey or a big swipe of almond butter- or both!  It’s hearty enough for a meal and a source of complete protein from the quinoa, seeds, and nut butter. What better way to fuel yourself through the day?…

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Pumpkin Oat Cookies

 

Hello friends! I feel like I’ve been eating these pumpkin oat cookies so often (think every day!) and for so long (nearly 2 years now!) that everybody knows about them. But in reality, I think only Theda and a dear friend who happened to come over at an opportune time actually does.

Time to remedy that….

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The Yummiest GF Banana Muffins

Happy New Year, folks! I always have big plans to hit the ground running in the new year… and then something always happens to lay me low for a couple of weeks.  Last year it was a rib contusion from a random trapezing accident, and this year it’s just a good old-fashioned cold.

Maybe this is God’s way of telling me to just chill out…  that my new year actually starts on January 15!

So in that case I’m still a couple of days ahead……

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Vegan Chocolate Peppermint Cups

Merry Christmas Eve, friends!

I always think I’m going to post waaaay more recipes for you this season than I actually do… in fact, nearly every time I make something I think, “I should post this,”… and then we eat it so fast I can never take any pictures! It almost happened with these chocolate peppermint cups also, but as you can see it didn’t take too many to do the photo shoot, so I got lucky. And to be honest, these are one of the best things I’ve made this holiday season.  They’re fast, they’re easy, and they’re absolutely delicious!…

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola

This easy,  yummy (and healthier!) granola will put you back on top of holiday preps no matter where you currently are…

Howdy friends! How did it get to be the middle of December already?! I always have the best of intentions right after Thanksgiving… to not be behind for once on my holiday preparations. Yet somehow by the last week of school, I find myself  stuck somewhere between “Deck the Halls” (not quite done but may be as done as it’s gonna get) and “making the list and checking it twice (I guess I need to actually make the list before I can check it??)…

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