Confessions

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It’s been 9 months since my last confession. And I’m guilty of almost all 7 sins. 

First there was pride. I had accomplished so much and my head was in the clouds, knowing how great this felt I was certain I would never ‘go back’ again. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Obviously. How many before me have said it and failed? Right.. Because in some way, shape or form we all know greed and gluttony. And laziness. Though I must say this last one hasn’t haunted me as much. Fortunately, I’m still very active, still riding my bike to work, going places on foot instead of by car, and I even started running!  So not a lot of laziness going around. But I have noticed my body is objecting to all the excessive exersising I’ve been subjecting it to during the past two years. Therefore I haven’t been visiting the gym as much as I used to. But that’s OK. Too much of a healthy habit could turn out to be counterproductive. If I keep asking too much of my body, it could fail alltogether and where would that leave me? 

However, in the meantime I’ve gone from pride to envy and wrath. Envious of those who seem to be able to eat what they want without repercussions. Or better said; envious of those to whom it seems to come naturally, to eat only when hungry and not for all the other reasons my twisted mind has somehow decided to justify as a reason for indulging. The wrath part is a bit exaggerated, of course, but in modest form it exists and it is pointed at myself for sabotaging my weight loss. For wanting it so badly and still not being able to resist the temptations way too often these days.

But now it’s time. Now that I’ve confessed to all these sins, publicly and without shame, it is time to forgive myself and carry on. I’m making a choice. Simple as that. My sins end here.

Disclaimer: this piece may implicate some form of religion, but it is 100% satirical. However, I do believe in myself. In my strength to continue my fight, even though lately it seems to be a major struggle, I will never give up. Even though I have regained a small part of the weight I initially lost, I will not go back to where I started two years ago! I will take back control and treat my body the way that it deserves to be treated. I have done it before and I will do it again! 

Back on track!

After my surgery on July 29th I haven’t had the inspiration to write about being healthy, hence the radio silence. Honestly, I didn’t feel that healthy at all. The pain actually wasn’t that bad and I was on my feet again quite quickly. But I wasn’t prepared for a diet of only liquid nutrition of 10 days. Ten loooooong days.

After my gastric banding in 2009 I could only eat liquid foods for a whole month, but that was different. I had been preparing for that for months and months and I was totally motivated to keep to all prescribed rules to lose the weight. When I was allowed to start eating normal foods again, I didn’t even like fatty foods for quite a while. Hallelujah! But my taste for that returned, unfortunately. Or fortunaly? Not sure… well; yes, fortunately. Because it is part of my healthy habits now to enjoy these foods as well once in a while and in moderation. And I deserve to enjoy them just as much as anyone. Ha!

Anyway, let’s return to the here and now. First I ate liquid foods for 10 days and during the weekend I celebrated the fact that I could eat as a normal person again. Yay, Chinese food (and board games) with the whole family at my parents house!

And today I decided that, even though I can’t go to the gym yet, I can step outside and take a long walk. So that’s what I did. Burned some calories and afterwards I prepared a nice and healthy evening meal for my boyfriend and myself.

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A salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, pasta, tuna, feta cheese, olives and oregano, flavoured with a dressing of red wine vinegar, olive oil, sweetener, pepper, salt and lemon juice.

And tomorrow, my three week holiday is over and I start working again. Time to get back to my healthy habits. Have a nice week everyone!

Breakfast Benefits

In one of my earlier blogs I already mentioned I’m a huge fan of breakfast, but I want to devote a whole piece to it since it is my belief that one can never stress the importance of it enough! We all know how beneficial breakfast is to our everyday lives and our health but still millions and millions of people skip it. This piece covers (1) the reasons why people don’t eat breakfast and how to break the habit, (2) facts and figures on breakfast and (3) a summation of the benefits of breakfast as they have been proven by science and also how I experience them.

There are many reasons to skip breakfast that at first glance seem logical and/or understandable. People often complain they simply can’t get a bite down so early in the morning. Perhaps this is related to a second often used reason; they don’t have time. I’m probably bursting through an open door here, but by getting up a little earlier you can make the time ánd give yourself some time to wake up properly, making it easier to eat something before going to school or to work. Get up half an hour earlier, have something to drink, then take a shower, get dressed, or whatever your routine is, notice how you still have some time left and simply decide to make yourself a decent breakfast. A third reason for not eating breakfast is not feeling hungry. This could be a result of late night snacking or having large dinners. If you are truly devoted to breaking the habit and wanting to benefit from a good breakfast every day, try to eat a little less at dinner and during the evening and find yourself with a rumbling stomach in the morning craving for some food. One way to help yourself with this would be to go to sleep a little bit earlier too; this way you don’t have that much time to snack in the evening, and you leave yourself with more time in the morning to prepare breakfast. Two birds with one stone!
Another reason many people don’t eat breakfast is to manage their calorie intake. They think that, by simply skipping a meal, they can eat a little more during the day or skip those calories altogether. Breaking this habit may be as simple as realizing how incorrect this reasoning is and as a result, wanting to change it. For this I recommend to just carry on reading!

Did I miss any reasons? Let me know! 

Even though I’m writing mostly from my own experiences, I hate writing without attaining some facts and figures first and to double check if what I think I know about the subject is in fact correct. These days scientists research all subjects thoroughly, and fortunately breakfast is one of those subjects. I found a website that summarizes scientific research on breakfast from as early as 1996 until the present day, the most interesting and relevant outcomes being the following:

1. People who eat breakfast:

  • have improved memories, reaction times / alertness, concentration and better performances on tests;
  • experience reduced hyperactivity and improved psycho-social behaviours;
  • make better nutritional choices during the day in regards to their other meals and snacks;
  • have a lower body mass index than people who usually skip breakfast;
  • burn more calories throughout the day and have tighter blood sugar control. The bigger the breakfast, the higher your metabolism and reduces the amount of fat that is stored by your body during lunch and dinner!
  • have a higher intake of important vitamins and minerals.

2. People who skip breakfast:

  • smoke more, drink more alcohol and are less physically active;
  • are four times more likely than others to become obese and they are more likely to develop type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol;
  • are prone to impaired metabolic responses (unhealthy spikes in insulin and glucose levels) after lunch, which makes you crave sugary foods;
  • have higher risk of tooth decay.

3. Different types of breakfast

  • Advantages of high protein breakfasts:
    • Feeling full longer, especially when eating egg proteins versus wheat proteins. Add a bit of bacon and this effect is even higher!
    • Reductions in cravings for sweets and less likely to indulge in unhealthy snacking later in the day. This can reduce your calorie intake during a whole day with 100 – 400 calories!
    • Better regulation of dopamine, the chemical in the brain that regulates food motivation and reward.
    • In a particular study, people who had eggs for breakfast lost 65% more weight than participants who ate a bagel instead (with an equal number of calories). Plus they felt more energetic.
    • Specific antioxidants found in eggs protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet light and they reduce the risk of blindness.
  • Cereals
    • Eating low-sugar cereals makes you more inclined to put fruit on it and it makes you eat less as opposed to eating high-sugar cereals.
    • Breakfast cereals provide a surprisingly large amount of disease-fighting antioxidants
    • A high-fiber breakfast appears to help women burn more fat when exercising.
    • Particular cereals can help reduce acne breakouts and help make your skin beautiful
    • Including whole grains in your breakfast reduces the risk of heart disease.

An additional interesting fact about eggs: they have gotten healthier over the years. According to a report from 2011 the average egg contains 14% less cholesterol and 64% more vitamin D than an average egg tested in 2002.

To summarize the facts and figures above into the benefits of breakfast: breakfast improves your mental and physical health, energy levels and metabolism. It stimulates weight loss and supports you during your diet (which you should actually call a healthy lifestyle instead, diet is such an ugly word that suggests you are suffering all the time, which I, for instance, am not!).

With regards to the type of breakfast, as you can see they both have their advantages, so I’m guessing you should choose the type that suits you best. For me the breakfast that is rich in proteins (especially eggs) works best. Since I started my new lifestyle in March last year, I have been eating an egg almost every day. And look where it got me! Recently I started having even bigger breakfasts because I noticed my cravings during the day were coming faster and were getting worse. Having these bigger breakfasts has helped me get back on track.

For those who are interested, I will be posting some rich-in-protein breakfast recipes soon. They will all include eggs, since I never leave home without eating one. If you’re thinking “Hey! You should only be eating a maximum of three eggs a week!”, think again. Fortunately studies have refuted this. For more information, you can visit the Egg Nutrition Council website.

Delicious salad containing only 107 calories!

Tonight I prepared this salad for the second time and it’s so delicious ánd low-calorie that I wanted to share it with you!

It’s perfect as a side dish or a very light lunch, but since it’s so low on calories you can also eat it as a snack.

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Ingredients

  • Lettuce
  • 1/4 of a medium sized red onion
  • 1/6 of a medium sized cucumber
  • Artichoke hearts (approx. 20 g.)
  • Feta cheese or white cheese (approx. 20 g.)
  • Premium tzaziki sauce (approx. 20 g.)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt

Preparation

The preparation is simple. Just make a bed of lettuce in a deep round plate and garnish with the slices of cucumber and red onion and with the pieces of artichoke hearts and cheese. In the middle, place a teaspoon of the tzaziki sauce, and add some freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to finish it off. As you can see it looks delicious and hopefully you’ll find out it tastes even better.

Enjoy!

Gastric (un)banding

May 26th 2008. This was the day I first met my surgeon, Dr. Claessens, at the hospital ‘Maas en Kempen’ in Belgium. Before this meeting I had already done lots of research online about weight loss surgery and finally decided gastric banding would be the solution for me. So I made an appointment and there I was. They turn you inside out, mentally as well as physically, but I was prepared for all of it. On the same day I saw a dietitian, a psychologist, another medical examiner who performed a lung function test and an ECG and they took several x-rays of my lungs and my stomach. All this was evaluated and I finally received approval to join the educational pre-surgery meetings and then have the surgery itself on January 28th 2009.

When I woke up after the procedure I was in agony. I wasn’t prepared for this much pain, but mostly I remember feeling afraid and I was convinced something had gone terribly wrong. Everything inside me felt so strange, but this is actually not surprising considering they’ve put something inside your body that doesn’t belong there. But still. Brr.

Eventually it turned out that everything had gone perfectly as planned, but I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. Even until this moment. Who was I kidding anyway? But at the time I was so desperate that I thought this was my last option. The last possible solution for me to regain my health and happiness. It was either that, or that was the end. I had to do it, even if it killed me in the process. And honestly, I was quite prepared for that unfortunate possibility as well. I was that far gone.

But life went on as before, though I must admit I did lose weight during the first months after the surgery. Of course you already lose a lot weight easily during the first month because you’re only allowed fluids and minced foods. But after several months the weight came back. And then there was the regret. This surgery did not help me at all. All it did was make me miserable during each meal. And the worst thing is that the healthier the food, the more difficult it passes through your stomach! Each bite hurt and on top of that there was the fear that something was wrong. Every time I sensed something different in my stomach or chest area I was immediately alarmed and thought “this is it”. I imagined myself at the hospital undergoing emergency surgery – or worse. And that fear never goes away. Never. Not as long as it’s in there.

So two months ago I made a decision, consulted my surgeon and as a result, next week, the fear will go away. Along with this silicone thing in my stomach that has been continuously reminding me how I failed myself during all those years – until that moment 17 months ago when I decided I was strong enough after all.

With this blog I not only want to share my story for the first time, but mostly I want to give hope to all of those who are considering to undergo weight loss surgery because they think it is their last option. It is NEVER too late to take matters into your own hand and GO FOR IT. Without a doctor cutting into you and messing with your body while it was never intended for that. You can do it. At every age. At every time. Not just on a Monday, as we’ve all so often thought (‘I’ll give my diet another go starting on Monday’). You can also start on a Friday evening if that’s your moment. Take it. Do it. And then when you’re ready; never look back. Just be happy. And be proud!

Courgetti or Spaghetti?

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Pasta – one of the ultimate comfort foods. But not so comforting to me anymore once I realized that I can’t eat it without suffering the consequences on that dreaded scale. And let me tell you I was very skeptical when I read about “courgetti”, the zucchini version of spaghetti. But it’s absolutely delicious and leaves you even more satisfied than the real deal.

For me it’s perfect, because usually I always eat seconds when it comes to pasta. One plate is not enough, I’m never satisfied, I keep wanting more. Not sure why. And then when I’m done, I feel both guilty and stuffed.

The zucchini version satisfies me after one plate, not because it doesn’t taste good, in the contrary! I’m simply not hungry anymore and my mind is telling me I had a healthy meal and it makes me feel good. Mentally and physically.

So if you were having doubts about this courgetti and if you were wondering if it’s worth the effort; it certainly is!

And don’t worry… it’s easily prepared and you really don’t need a special appliance for it or anything; just use a big knife (and please make sure you don’t confuse the zucchini with your fingers).

Get started by making your favorite pasta sauce, replace the spaghetti with zucchini strings and you’re ready to go. Enjoy!

What are habits and how do we break them?

Looking up the definition of ‘habits’, there appear to be several, including but not limited to the following relevant ones;

  • an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary
  • addiction

Being stuck in my own unhealthy habits for most of my life, I can honestly say that this is so true in regards to eating and drinking. Until my ‘change’ in March of last year, I felt everything but in control of what I ate and how much of it I ate. Something else was controlling me, while I kept screaming at myself to stop. I had so many reasons to stop doing what I was doing, but I just kept on going. It felt involuntary, it was an addiction.

Let’s have a further look and break the habits down into three topics; what we eat, when we eat and how much we eat.

What we eat
When addicted to certain types of food, we tend to be addicted to savory foods that contain fat, sugar and/or salt. Experiments on animals as well as humans have shown that they can have the same effect on the brain as drugs such as cocaine or heroine. If you are an emotional eater (like myself) it’s easy to become addicted to chocolate, potato chips, fast food and many more unhealthy foods.
What we eat is also greatly influenced by experience; what did our parents teach us to eat? What do our friends eat? Which foods are we exposed to in our environment (school, work, and so on)?

What can we do?
Once these habits are part of our lives, all we can do is work hard to break them by searching for alternatives. First we need to know which foods on our current menus are good for us and which foods aren’t. Don’t change the foods that are good for you. It’s going to be hard enough to take out the foods that aren’t. For the latter, try to find alternatives that you can live with and ease into it. There’s no need to go from one extreme to another. Take small steps by either changing one or two things at a time or by choosing for the middle ground first.

When we eat
Some of us can eat ’round the clock. You can wake them in the middle of the night, serve a complete meal and they’ll eat it all. Others cannot eat two bites of a sandwich in the morning even if they wanted to.
Luckily I’m not one of those people who can wake up in the middle of the night feeling hungry as hell, needing to grab anything that’s available. Only during the first weeks of my changed lifestyle, while I was still searching for the best way to lose weight, I’d wake up sporadically feeling so terribly hungry that I decided to eat the egg white of a boiled egg. Which would keep me sleeping for the rest of the night until it was time for breakfast. But moving forward I’d learn how to avoid that and eat just enough to feel OK until my morning meal. And the morning meals themselves also aren’t an issue for me at all.
However, even though I don’t struggle with it myself, it is definitely worth mentioning here because so many people do. And, not to be cliche, breakfast is so important! Recently I found that, perhaps because of my increased exercise activities, my breakfast wasn’t enough for me to go without snacks until lunch time. Therefore I decided to increase my protein intake during breakfast. This worked; I didn’t feel the need for a snack before lunch time but I even found that I ate less during the whole day! For me, eating a big breakfast makes me lose weight quicker and easier.

How do we change it?
Methods to change when you eat aren’t that easy to find. To know if there are methods at all, besides ‘breaking the habit’, I needed to know first if not being able to have breakfast, for instance, is something that’s physically determined as well. But apparently studies on this aren’t easily available online. Most websites – if they provide reasons at all – focus on having too much for dinner the night before or they call it (there’s that word again) a habit. So for those who struggle with this; let’s just assume we can break the habit and give it go?

How much we eat
Pleasure signals we experience when eating the savory foods mentioned above can override the signals our body would normally provide once we are full. So we just keep eating, despite the voices in our head that scream it’s not good for us. These voices can even make things worse; it’s a vicious circle. We eat to feel better, but it makes us feel worse, and then we try to compensate by eating even more. Strange but true.

Methods to change how much you eat include: 

  • Measuring your food intake; simply use a kitchen scale to determine how much food you’ve put on your plate! This way you can decide in advance how much you want to eat of each food group and during this particular meal, based on your rational thoughts and not on involuntary behavior that is triggered by the pleasure center in your brain. Be strong and don’t go for seconds.
  • Logging your food intake; to be able to log your food intake, of course you must measure it first. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s definitely worth it and remember that eating too much is a habit, but measuring and logging your food can also become a habit making it something that you do automatically! Ha! Habits CAN be positive as well!
    Tip: www.myfitnesspal.com is a great website and app that facilitates logging your food and so much more. Be sure to at least check it out!
  • Using a smaller plate; filling up a small plate leaves you much more satisfied than using a big plate that has empty space on it.
  • Making it more difficult to eat more; if you leave the pots and pans on the stove and have to go back to the kitchen for seconds, that takes more action then just extending your arm to the food that’s right in front of you. This also works for snacks; don’t take the bag of potato chips or M&M’s with you to the couch, but fill up a small bowl with the quantity you think is acceptable and just eat that.
  • Don’t exaggerate; it’s definitely OK to go out to dinner once in a while and eat what you want without measuring it. The longer you’ve been following the methods above, the easier it gets to estimate your calorie intake based on your experience, if you insist on logging on your ‘cheat day’.

Sources used:
www.merriam-webster.com
www.webmd.com