Summer Fun Food

Hi! I did not mean to go this long between posts but I’ve been busy. Last weekend was Memorial Day, which means summertime is here! I love summer, and all that it entails. However, I have noticed that now that the weather is nicer, people are a lot quicker to want to socialize. Memorial Day Weekend must be the number one picnic/barbecue weekend of the year. Personally, I went to a lovely pool party pitch-in. Everyone was instructed to bring one shareable food item and adult beverage.

As I’ve written about, I’ve found that socializing is the hardest obstacle for healthy living. So I knew that for this event I wanted to bring healthy stuff. Full disclosure: I brought one healthy thing (the fruit salad below) and one less healthy thing (a taco salad that would be great for health if not for the half bag of fritos in it…). But the fruit salad was so successful I thought I would pass it along. I’ve made it twice now and both times got rave reviews. It’s super easy, but while I was chopping fruit I thought it would be nice to add some kind of sauce for additional flavor. And here we are.

Summer Fun Fruit Salad

Summer Fun Fruit Salad

The recipe is incredibly easy.

  • 1 Mango, chopped
  • 1.5 cups Pineapple, chopped (approx. 3/4 of a pineapple)
  • 1.5 cups Strawberries, quartered (approx. 12 good sized berries)


  • 1/2 cup Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice (1 large orange or 1.5 small ones)
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon

The instructions are easy. Chop all the fruit. Add to a bowl. Pour dressing over the fruit. Mix until dressing is spread over everything and the fruit is mixed well. Obviously variations abound. You could do more or less of any of the three fruits or add in other elements. Kiwi might be good, or papaya if you’re fancy.

It’s very easy and a great healthy option for this year’s cycle of barbecues and pitch ins that are so popular in the warm summer months. I’ve already given the recipe away twice to people who really liked the dressing, especially. Using honey in the dressing is a good way to sweeten the salad (sometimes strawberries can get a little tart) without piling on a cup of refined sugar.

I’ve been using honey quite a bit lately. I realized fairly quickly it was unrealistic to get rid of sweeteners all together. Stevia packets work well for some things, but sometimes it can taste a little…unnatural. I have noticed that Truvia is better about this than the generic brand I’m currently using, but that tells me Truvia is probably more processed. Who knows though?

At any rate, I am finding honey is really useful. It is a lot healthier than sugar, even if, nutritionally speaking, in grams they have the same amount of sugars. Apparently, honey is easier for the body to convert than processed sugar because of some chemistry thing with the fructose and glucose. The two enzymes do not bind together in honey, which is a good thing, apparently. Science!

Honey also has other health benefits. According to this surely unbiased site honey is an antioxidant, it is an anti-carcinogenic, it is a natural energy supplement, and it is good for the immune system. So, I am onboard with honey.

Substitutions are a slippery slope, though. I almost prefer avoidance because then you know you aren’t going to cheat or eat anything you’ll regret later. But sometimes substitutions are successful. For instance, the other salad I made last weekend was a taco salad (the one with the Fritos). Sadly, there is no healthy substitute for chili cheese Fritos, I looked. But the dressing could be easily modified. Originally it called for sour cream and mayo. I used Greek yogurt instead. It was really hard though, not to say, ok I can use the yogurt but still use mayo. Or what if I just used low-fat sour cream and low-fat mayo? Well, none of those options would have had the health benefits of the protein-crazy fat free Greek yogurt. And it turned out that the Greek yogurt worked amazingly well, and I’m glad I made that discovery because I will be using plain yogurt all the time now.

Thus, the moral of the story is twofold: 1. that fruit salad is delicious and I recommend using honey as a natural sweetener. 2. Substituting healthier ingredients works to a degree, but it is important to continue thinking about calorie counting and only eating healthy foods, even throughout this year’s round of weddings, pool parties, barbecues and other fun summer food-heavy festivities.

Restaurant Review: Seasons 52

Maybe this isn’t true everywhere, but in Indianapolis, where I live, there is a strong green/clean living movement that continues to grow and new restaurants are really reflecting that attitude change. That’s not such a new phenomenon, I guess. Businesses always want to accomodate the current needs of their customers and restaurants are the same. When I worked at TGI Fridays during the summers in college, I remember we had a “diet menu” that was Atkins certified. Have I mentioned I don’t believe in fad diets? I’m sorry but you’ll never convince me it is thebun that is the problem with your bacon cheeseburger.

But this time it feels different. Just like people are becoming more aware of what they put into their bodies, restaurants are becoming more aware of what they are serving. Granted I live in the most hippy-friendly neighborhood in town, but there are at least four restaurants within three blocks that serve food using local ingredients.

Seasons 52 is kind of like that. I say “kind of” because it is a chain, and it’s a little swanky, and I had no indication that anyone on staff smelled like patchouli. But, the menu has a similar appeal.

I went there for dinner last night with my mom who is in town visiting. She does Weight Watchers and is impressively skilled staying on point. So we both wanted somewhere that we could enjoy a nice meal out without any splurging or guilt. I had heard this place was good so we gave it a try.

It was amazing. Their schtick is that everything is seasonal, so the entire menu changes every few months. Additionally every plate on the menu is under 500 calories. My mom, who got a filet mignon with mashed potatoes, thought maybe they were cheating and really meant every piece of food, but the server said it really was per plate. That theory is corroborated by the nutritional chart.

I was so excited by what I was eating that I really wanted to share it on this blog. The whole meal seemed so decadent, but in terms of nutrition it really wasn’t. I was a little bit worried when we went that I would be happy with the healthy quality but sad about how bland and dull all the food was. I was really pleasantly surprised by the rich flavors in all the different things I got. Nothing tasted like “diet food,” which is big for me, because the disappointment of a bad cheat meal seriously bums me out! That was not a problem last night though because this was neither disappointing nor really even a cheat meal, though we certainly tried our best.

As I said, we wanted a nice night out, so we helped ourselves to all the courses. Yep, a four course meal. Generally not super diet-friendly! To start we had a tomato flatbread, which was basically like a margherita pizza with a really thin crust. Then I had a spinach salad with raspberries. I’d recommend getting the dressing on the side because there was too much on it, and in my mind that is just wasted calories. For my entree I had a kind of fish called cobia. I had never heard of it before, and since my animal protein almost always comes from fish I was surprised. Turns out it is a really delicious saltwater based whitefish, but not too flaky or fishy. I wish it was more readily available. It was prepared with a curry sauce, basmati rice and steamed carrots and green beans. And a grilled lemon that smelled so good I wish it was a candle. Then they had little single-serving desserts and I had raspberry-mango cheesecake.

Single-serving mini desserts…I really wanted two.

So, this whole thing sounds really indulgent, right? Well, it felt indulgent. But according to the nutritional chart my whole four course meal was only 1160 calories. Granted, that is way more than I normally eat in one sitting, but still way less than normal restaurants. Last weekend I went out to the old brewery where I used to work and in four hours ate (and drank) 2600 calories. So 1160 is really not so bad, considering.

I know this is different from my normal kind of blog post but I really recommend this place as a healthy alternative if you don’t feel like cooking and do feel like a nice meal out. I love the idea of clean living becoming mainstream enough to garner a chain restaurant. Seasons 52 is on the pricey side but not crazy outrageous. Considering how much organic groceries are, I think it’s okay. I read through the list of locations and they appear to be mostly in neighborhoods that cater wealthy old people. But if you live in Indy or happen to be somewhere near a different location I think it’s worth checking out.

Compromising for the win.

Well, after nearly three full weeks of feeling unmotivated and lackadaisical about my healthy living goals, this week I finally have pulled it together.  I was planning to do another cleanse, as a sort of jumpstart to re-amp my routine. But life got in the way, and what I think I have instead is even better. I finally feel like I’ve found common ground. I’m not depriving myself absolutely, but at the same time I am being very cautious. I think this is the best technique because I don’t risk feeling like I can overindulge when a cleanse is over after a certain amount of time. This is a more lasting solution (hopefully!).

Since I laid out my formula several weeks ago, I haven’t changed what I am doing for my diet. I’m still avoiding sugar, gluten, dairy, meat, processed foods and alcohol as much as possible. That’s a long no-no list, and I realize it is crazy to think I can sustain like that for too long. But the difference between two months ago and now is that I am willing to compromise. Last night, a friend was in town unexpectedly and wanted to go to dinner. I was supposed to be cleansing this week, but rather than sit there and stare at the menu, feel sad, and end up cheating more than I intended, I got the healthiest salad on the menu that still sounded appetizing, and I put a piece of salmon on it, because I figured I might as well have the protein while it was around.

I’m compromising in other ways, too. A big cheat for me for the last two months has been through trail mix. Nuts, dried fruit, and something sugary. Not too bad. But the problem was portion control. I’d get a half a pound meaning for it to last half the week, but instead it would last a day and a half. Instead, I’ve been eating larabars. It’s so much easier to monitor portions because it’s a bar, a singular piece of snack. They are mostly made of dates, and then there are a variety of flavors. Currently, I am partial to chocolate chip cookie dough and chocolate chip peanut butter. But the thing about them is they contain neither cookie dough nor peanut butter. Just dates, a few chocolate chips and either cashews or peanuts, respectively. I have come to accept that a small handful of chocolate chips will not cause my entire demise, and it’s a lot better than a Snickers. FYI they look like this-

I’ve also found compromises in the other direction. Last week I talked about my guilt over eating my friend’s delicious pasta dinner. It really was so good though, so I got the recipe from her. However, instead of using wheat-based pasta, I used spaghetti squash. Even though it still tastes a little like squash, it is a fantastic substitute for noodles, because after it is cooked it breaks apart into noodle-shaped strands. I wasn’t too confident in this recipe because I didn’t know how the ripe, springy tomato-basil taste would mix with the more autumnal flavors of the spaghetti squash, but I was not disappointed. It was perfect. The original recipe calls for parmesan cheese, but in the spirit of compromise I left it out. I missed it a little bit but not enough to change my opinion on this meal’s success. Plus, the whole thing is crazy easy to make, and will be a lovely dinner when it starts getting really hot out in the summer.

Spaghetti Squash Pomodoro

Spaghetti Squash Pomodoro

Serves 2.

  • 1 Spaghetti Squash
  • 2 Cups OR 3/4 Carton Cherry Tomatoes (I used a whole tub but that was too many.)
  • 1 Tbsp Diced Onion
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves (chopped)
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped Basil (you can use less, I just like basil)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp EVOO
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven for 375˚F. Grease a baking pan. Poke a few wholes in the squash. Bake the squash in the pan for about an hour. Cut the squash in half “on the equator” and let it cool for a few minutes. Then, scoop out the pulp and seeds. Once they are removed, use a fork to scrape down the sides of the squash. The fork will help get the noodle effect you want from the squash. Place in bowl, mix with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and salt & pepper.

Chop all tomatoes in half. Mix with diced onions, garlic, and 1/3 of the basil. Top with salt (if desired). Then cover in 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and mix.

Finally, add the tomato mixture to the spaghetti. Drizzle with remainder of olive oil. Mix. Top with black pepper and the remainder of the basil. Enjoy!

I really like this recipe, and I like that it is different from what I normally eat. The flavors worked together surprisingly well. And even though the squash takes a while to bake, the prep time is not too extensive. Definitely recommend!

So, hopefully my new upswing will last a while. I expect ruts are a natural part of this process and I can deal with that. But I’m hopeful that if I keep finding nutritious ways to trick myself, like Larabars and spaghetti squash, the downswings will be fewer and farther between.


A Healthy Social Life

I don’t know what it is about our culture, or at least my own personal life, that so much of our social interaction is based around calorie consumption. But almost every interaction I have with people revolves around eating or drinking (or both). It makes sense. People are busy, they work all day, have other obligations, eating and socializing is a way to multi-task. Plus it gives everyone something to do.

I’m a very social person. As an extravert, I get a little stir-crazy if I spend too much time by myself. At first, I was passing on invitations, laying low and just using avoidance as the best option. But that doesn’t work for me AT ALL because being alone stresses me out and stress eating is one of the reasons I am here in the first place! Thus, I find myself in restaurants searching menus for diet-friendly things to eat quite frequently. I have found thus far it is often a difficult task, but not unmanageable.

There are generally two types of meal companions: those who help you cheat and those you help you stay on course. Generally, I think which kind of helper you are dining with depends on what that person’s goals are for him or herself, and what kind of relationship he or she has with you. For instance, I have friends who don’t pay any particular attention to what they eat, and/or have zero nutritional knowledge, and those people generally say things like, “it’s just cheese, you need to get your protein in from somewhere!” or “you really need to give yourself a break once in a while.” Neither of those statements are necessarily untrue, but cheese is not the healthiest (or most efficient) protein choice and I give myself plenty of breaks, I’m not looking for an extra!

The other friends are great. “The grilled salmon looks like it would be pretty good, and I bet it’s fairly low-calorie.” Those are the helpers I like to go out with. Unfortunately, even with those friends around, there is still that pesky laminated card stock of gluttony staring up at me at any restaurant, teasing me with all the foods I want to eat instead of the pickled beet salad. Usually, though, if I’m with the helper friend, the helper will help talk me down. Or (and admittedly this is not the healthiest tactic) I will feel bad about myself for cheating when the person I’m with is really pulling for me. I don’t want to be a disappointment! Nothing like a little neuroses to keep me in check. (Isn’t that the point of this blog, anyway??)

There is a third kind of friend, and that is one that I struggle with for different reasons. That friend is the one who is also dieting, but is on a much more conventional (less strict) diet plan. For instance, last week, a friend made me dinner. I’ll start by saying it was so delicious! And much more nutritious than if we had gone out for Mexican like we used to. But this friend is trying to lose five, maybe ten pounds, if she even has a goal weight at all. And, her weight loss is basically superfluous because I’m sure she already was in a target BMI category. Although, I will never look down on someone for trying to be healthier, so her brand new interest in physical health is great! But I got to her house, and she was so excited she was making a beautiful, very healthy meal for us. Except the very healthy meal was spaghetti. And certainly if this was me six months ago, it would have been the healthiest thing I ate that week. And, I really loved it! But pasta is supposed to be off limits. So is parmesean cheese. So it’s difficult because this is a diet-friendly meal by all accounts, and it is great to have someone who is also working on changing her lifestyle, but I have to make more extreme changes. And how do you say, “thank you so much for being healthy with me but it’s not healthy enough?”

So how do we deal? I’ve started gathering techniques.

  1. I try to look for the healthiest option on the meal that isn’t just going to make me sad. For instance, I’d rather eat a salad, even if it has say, cheese and boiled egg on it, over some depressed, soggy steamed frozen vegetables (that have been marked up 500% from the bulk grocer). But I still definitely stick to as little dressing as possible! And make sure it has more nutrients than an iceberg wedge, too.
  2. I guess this should have been number one, but try to go to places that actually encourage healthy living. I live in Indianapolis, which has not historically been known for its physical fitness, but there are tons of restaurants that specifically market eating fresh, local and healthy. So, if I can pick one of those places to go, we go there.
  3. The to-go box. The to-go box has a downside, which is that there is another unhealthy meal later. But, eating half the meal on Monday night and half of it a couple of days later at least gives your body a chance to balance that small portion of restaurant food with all the green, clean superfoods you are eating in between.
  4. Plan for the meal. If you know where you are going ahead of time, and you can anticipate how much cheating will be involved, it makes it a lot easier to make up the difference. If you know you are going some place where it’s nearly impossible to eat a meal up to super-diet standards, maybe you should plan on that being a cheat meal for the week. If you think you can find something relatively healthy, maybe just have a smoothie and some mixed greens earlier in the day.
  5. DO SOMETHING ELSE!! I have started suggesting to my friends that we catch up by going for walks. Why not burn calories instead of adding on extra? Or, I don’t know why it isn’t more acceptable to just sit and visit. Growing up, my mom and her old lady relatives used to do this all the time. There didn’t need to be a precursor or a crutch like sharing a meal, we could just share each other’s company instead.

But, since I know five is not particularly realistic, I try really hard to follow advice 1-4. Try. Sometimes I institute four retroactively, and decide while I’m eating that that better be a cheat meal. It’s hard, though. I never want to be that girl that says, “oh no, thanks, I’m on a diet.” That girl is boring and uptight.

Except of course usually that girl isn’t making up for 2 decades (on and off) of eating whatever the hell she wants, and thus that girl doesn’t actually NEED to “diet” for health reasons.

Sadly, this girl does. So I am constantly learning to manage my social life in terms of healthy living.

Oops, this was a long one. xo


Exercise Philosophy

It’s been a while since I posted! I have been really busy with work. Also, to be honest I hit a sort of rut for a couple of weeks. A lot of it has honestly been that eating healthy can be such a time commitment, whereas eating still-sort-of-healthy but not up to my goals is a lot easier. But this week I’ve been working on getting back on the right track.

One thing I did do right is join a gym, and that’s what I want to talk about. It’s been mostly great so far! I’m still walking outside a couple of times a week because I like to be in the sun. But a few times a week, 2 or 3, I’ve been going to the gym to do cardio. I generally do 35 minutes on the elliptical and anywhere from 10 to 25 on the recumbent bike. I like the sense of accomplishment I get from going to the gym, even though sometimes the walk seems like just as intense a workout.

I’ve been avoiding any kind of strength training so far, though. I haven’t really felt good enough in my body to do it, so I was planning on continuing with cardio and nutrition until I lost a little more weight, and then I would work in weight training, Pilates and yoga.

However, I joined LA Fitness, a national chain, and they offer a free workout with a personal trainer for new members (standard practice for big gyms). I thought it wouldn’t hurt to see what a trainer would have to say about what would be good for me and what kind of things I should focus on.  So, I went. And unfortunately it was a really terrible experience.

My trainer asked me first thing when I got there, if I was interested in pursuing a personal training program full time. I told him, honestly it would depend on pricing. I am a poor little freelance writer and don’t have a lot of extra cash to burn. Well, immediately I could see that the direction of my training session was going to take a brand new course.

Granted, there were some things that were my fault. I didn’t eat enough beforehand, having only had juice and some fruit all day. I also forgot my water bottle but there were plenty of drinking fountains in the room, so I thought it would be fine.

I went to personal training hoping to get a good idea of what would be useful for me personally. What are good exercises someone with my level of fitness and my size. He was not interested in helping me with any of that. I tried to tell him how much I have accomplished so far on my own but he interrupted me and changed the subject. Instead of helping me as an individual, he took me through the training session of someone who already uses a personal trainer. At every machine the weight was one step higher than it should have been, so I could barely complete the last half of each segment. And, he was going so fast, I didn’t have a chance to note which machines we were using (I know most of them, but some were new to me) and more importantly I didn’t get a chance to see what weight I was using. On top of that, he took a very militaristic approach, yelling at me and calling me a quitter when my muscles would give out. This was yesterday. By last night I was too sore to move much and for most of today I couldn’t get out of bed. I am typing like a tyrannosaurus rex with just my wrists and fingers because I have very limited movement in my arms.

Now, this is extreme. He was horrible and instead of making me feel great about the future of my fitness journey and feeling confident in all I’ve accomplished already, he made me just feel weak. To be honest with you, I was practically in tears by the time I left the gym. Although that might have been partially due to low blood sugar.

Now I’ve had a little time to process everything that happened. More than one loved one suggested I complain to the gym’s management about how many ways that trainer upset me. But, I’m not really interested in that, since I have to keep going to this gym and potentially seeing him.

What I am interested in, is figuring out what can be learned from this experience. The first thing is that, even though he was an unfriendly stranger who was not interested in providing guidance, he accidentally was useful in one way. He was a reminder that I do have a long way to go. Not knowing me, not knowing how much I’ve accomplished already, I probably looked like a lost cause to him, just there because it was free and that was that. I certainly don’t want people making assumptions about me (especially negative ones) but it’s not so incorrect. For all that I’ve done already, I’m really only just starting. I’ve made it maybe 10% of the way so far. That’s not enough.

The other thing it made me think about was how I want to proceed with working out. I don’t want to be a body builder, but I do understand cardio isn’t always going to be enough. Maybe it would be enough for weight loss, but I want total wellness. Things like strength and balance are as much a part of that as everything else I’ve been doing. The trainer said if you aren’t pushing yourself every time you work out, there’s no point. I can’t decide if I buy into that philosophy. Certainly it’s not productive to have 24 hours of injury for every 45 minutes of weight train. But at the same time it was kind of a wake up call that maybe it’s time to rise up to a next level.  I haven’t totally decided what the next level is but I will work it out.