Thursday, February 27, 2014

Staying on Track

The Whole Life Challenge is drawing to a close (only 8 days left! How did this happen?!), and that has been freaking me out a little bit. The crazy thing is that, unlike other fitness programs I’ve attempted in the past, I’ve hardly even noticed how many days I’ve been doing this thing—I’ve just been focused on each day as it comes, and sticking to the rules as best I can. But now, the husband and I are starting to think (and worry, to be honest) about how many healthy new habits we’ll be able to maintain if we’re not checking in and tracking our progress each day. The fact is, there have been times that we’ve focused on eating a certain way (e.g., a 3-week vegan cleanse) or doing a specific workout (e.g., P90X), and as soon as the determined duration (and, well, determination) ends, we go right back to our old habits in a big, bad way.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

RECIPE: Sweet Potato, Carrot and Coconut Soup

The other night, it was getting close to dinner time and I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to make for the family. I know it’s important to plan meals ahead of time when you’re doing the Whole Life Challenge but it had just been one of those days (you know, a Wednesday). I didn’t want to make the usual meat and vegetables. I wanted something hearty, but still Whole Life Challenge compliant. That’s when I remembered that a friend who’s been doing Whole30 (partly because I’ve been raving about the Whole Life Challenge) had sent me links to a few awesome-sounding recipes. There was one in particular that I definitely wanted to try: SweetPotato-Coconut Soup, from Jan’s Sushi Bar (it’s not a restaurant—it’s an amazing, healthy-eating, mostly Whole30 compliant food blog). So I looked up the recipe and yup, it sounded delicious.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Less Junky Junk Food

Okay, so I know one of the primary goals of The Whole Life Challenge is to focus on eating fresh, clean, wholesome and minimally processed foods—and I’ve definitely been striving for that, I swear. But as anyone who’s been doing this for the past five-plus weeks (and/or for more than one Challenge) knows, there are times when you just want to reach into a bag or open up a container of something for a quick food fix.

Oh sure, you could roll with something non-compliant and lose a point, but guess what? In addition to the old, tried-and-true nuts and dried fruit (and LaraBars, which I don't really like since I started making my own), I’ve discovered a few packaged foods that will satisfy a craving (and/or need for speed) while being one hundred percent compliant. (Incidentally, as I'm sure you've noticed, most allegedly "healthy" packaged snack foods on grocery store shelves are loaded with non-compliant ingredients, from artificial sweeteners to all kinds of other garbage.) So, I figured I’d compile a list of a few of my favorites—all A-OK at the Advanced Level. If you have a favorite to add to the list, please do so in the comments. (Just make sure to note if it’s compliant at the advanced, intermediate or beginner level.) Here you go:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Having a Cheat Day (The Wrong Way)

Since starting The Whole Life Challenge over five weeks ago, I’ve been feeling pretty freaking awesome: Happier and more energized, productive and comfortable in my own skin (and clothes!). But the past few days things took a nosedive. Not only have I been in a complete brain fog, I’ve been moody (okay, bitchy as hell—sorry, family!) and had a monster headache and upset stomach. I used to feel this way a lot and wasn’t sure why, but this time the reason is pretty obvious.

So, here it is: Over the weekend, the husband and I decided to use some of our copious Whole Life Challenge bonus points for a cheat day. We're both tied for first place, along with a couple other people on our team (or teams—I’m on two different ones), having had almost all perfect days since we started. So we figured, what the heck? Let’s go totally off program—at least the nutrition part of it—for a day. Fact is, a lot of experts say it’s a good idea to have a cheat day every now and then. However, there is a right way and wrong way to do a cheat day and unfortunately we went the latter route. I mean, the alcohol, the dairy, the gluten or the sugar might have been fine if we’d picked one or even two of them. But alas, I had all of the above, and in excess. I guess you could say I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. Clearly that needs to change.

Friday, February 14, 2014

RECIPE: Chocolate Fudge

Okay, so today is obviously Valentine’s Day—which isn’t really something I care all that much about. I mean, yes, I’m all for love and romance but I think most of us know it’s basically a fake holiday designed to boost consumer spending more than anything else. It’s also a day when a lot of people, particularly kids, consume excessive quantities of sugar. (My friend Stacy Whitman over at School Bites has been trying to do something about this by creating a Candy-Free School Valentine Pledge. I guess it may be a little too late to sign, but check it out anyway!)

Personally, I like to indulge in a bit of chocolate—not just today but most days. (I know, I’m such a female cliché that way. But dark chocolate/cacao is good for you. Study after study confirms it.) I was even thinking about getting my favorite—See’s Candy—and sacrificing a point or two on the Whole Life Challenge as part of a Valentine’s Day treat tonight. But then my 8-year-old son, of all people, asked if there was a way for us to have a chocolaty dessert while still sticking to the Whole Life Challenge rules.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

RECIPE: Chocolate Berry Super Smoothie

I know a lot of people who are extremely into green juices and smoothies. I also know plenty of people who are seriously skeeved out by them. I fall somewhere in between the two: While I appreciate that they’re good for you and an effective way to boost your intake of healthy produce (especially green, leafy vegetables), I don’t find them particularly tasty or satisfying. However, I’m still interested in the idea of blending up a drink that packs in at least a serving of leafy greens—because, honestly, I have a tough time getting enough of them in my diet. I think it has something to do with the fact that they usually need to be chopped and/or cooked or mixed up with other stuff in a salad, which often sounds like too much work.

Anyway, a friend recently forwarded this Choclate-Covered Cherry Smoothie recipe to me and I thought it looked…interesting. I wasn’t really expecting it to taste like chocolate-covered cherries, let alone good, but I had the ingredients handy and it was most definitely Whole Life Challenge compliant. So I figured I’d give it a go and, surprise! It was really, really good! It was so good, in fact, that I made another the next day. Then, the next day, when I ran out of frozen cherries, I decided to make it with frozen blueberries instead—and I liked that even more!

Monday, February 10, 2014

RECIPE: Cauliflower Soup

Have you noticed that health-conscious foodies are going kind of crazy for cauliflower lately? Especially if they're trying to avoid starchy white foods like potatoes, rice and flour tortillas, it's like cauliflower is the second coming. "OMG," they'll exclaim, "you can whip it up like mashed potatoes! You can rice it!" Some say you can even transform it into tortillas (with mixed results, based on the reports I've received).

But I've always been a fan of the cauliflower. Growing up, my momwho was a gourmet chef (okay, not professionally, but she did study at Le Cordon Bleu)used to make cauliflower cheese for us on a semi-weekly basis. Of course, she would drench the hell out of it—coating the otherwise healthy vegetable in buttery cheese sauce and crispy breadcrumbs. Yes, it was delicious. But here's a healthy newsflash: You really don't have to douse cauliflower in dairy to achieve a creamy consistency. Even when pureed with nothing but water, the texture is decadent enough that you might think it’s got cream in it.

Of course if you want to make this recipe even richer, you can certainly use butter in place of the olive oil, or even add a bit of coconut milk (it will still be completely Whole Life Challenge, Advanced Rx compliant). But this version is super simple and a great vegan soup to boot. It’s also high in vitamin C and fiber, which makes it a perfect dish when you’re feeling under the weather (as my son and I were today). I won't say it's quite as indulgent as my mom's cauliflower cheese, but it's definitely a tasty dairy-free alternative.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

RECIPE: Chicken Lentil Coconut Curry

My family loves Indian food (yes, even my 8-year-old son!), and especially chicken coconut curry. I’ve been working on ways to recreate, perhaps even improve upon, the curry we get from our local restaurants—and last night I think I finally did it! This is one hundred percent Whole Life Challenge advanced Rx compliant, and can be modified a variety of ways depending on your dietary preferences.

For instance, you can use ghee or coconut oil in place of the olive oil to make it even richer. Or, you can swap in garbanzo beans or another meatless option of your choice for the chicken to make it vegan. If you don’t like coconut, you can of course leave the coconut milk out (I would probably replace it with a compliant vegetable broth or more diced tomatoes to ensure enough liquid), but it’s worth noting that there really isn’t an overpowering taste of coconut once all the flavors blend together. You can also serve this over brown rice (intermediate level compliant if you’re doing the Whole Life Challenge). I recommend letting this simmer for at least an hour—but the longer you leave it, the more delicious it gets. It’s the perfect meal for a cold winter’s night. If you love curry like I do, give it a try and let me know what you think!

Friday, February 7, 2014

RECIPE: LaraBar Bites

About a year ago, well before I did The Whole Life Challenge, I was already trying to look for minimally processed foods to feed my family, and was especially dismayed at the long list of artificial crap in almost all of the supposedly healthy “nutrition” bars we were used to eating. The one brand that didn’t contain a ton of added sugar and other awful ingredients? LaraBar. Honestly, most of the flavors contain a mere four or five ingredients—and virtually none (except those containing chocolate chips, as far as I can tell) has added or refined sugar of any kind.

This is why LaraBars are a perfect grab-and-go snack when you’re doing The Whole Life Challenge. Again, not all of the flavors are completely sugar-free, so they’re not all compliant, but many of them are—including my favorite flavor: Coconut Cream Pie. However, as much as I love LaraBars, the more I thought about how few ingredients there were, the more I wondered if I could just make them myself. So I did a quick online search and behold! There were a ton of websites sharing their recipes. Coming in at the very top of my “Coconut Cream LaraBar Recipe” search was a site called My Whole Food Life. The recipe looked awesome so I decided to give it a try and OMG was I glad that I did. These things were like coconut crack. Almost too good—and, I hate to say it, a billion times better than the store-bought LaraBars. They’re also crazy-easy to make. If you want to check out the recipe, click here. (Note: My Whole Food Life also has recipes for a ton of other LaraBar flavors that I have yet to try, plus plenty of other recipes that are Whole Life Challenge compliant!)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Is Coconut Oil Really Good For You?

In the nearly fifteen years that I’ve been writing about health and fitness, I’ve seen a lot of nutrition trends come and go (and occasionally come back again). There was the fat-free craze, which backfired in a whole host of ways. (Hey! Licorice is a fat-free candy! These cookies taste like cardboard but have no fat! That means they’re good for you…right? Um, no.) Then there were the low-carb/high-protein diets, which were discredited by a lot of experts but are now sort of back in sleek new (or, really, incredibly old) Paleo packages.

There have also been countless super foods, from chocolate to chia, kale to quinoa, touted for their health-boosting benefits—and some of the evidence is certainly compelling. Coconut oil* is another recent addition to this list, and a lot of people (including plenty of fans of The Whole Life Challenge) have eagerly embraced it. However, it’s also been met with scrutiny, especially because of its saturated fat content. So what’s the deal? Is it a miracle cure for all that ails you, a sensationalized jar of snake oil or, even worse, a heart attack waiting to happen? I’ll admit that I’ve been consuming a fair amount of it myself since starting The Whole Life Challenge, so I decided to take a look at the science behind the health claims. Here are some key facts worth considering:

Monday, February 3, 2014

RECIPE: Simple and Speedy Vegetarian Chili

When you're doing The Whole Life Challenge, cooking can take up a huge chunk of time. This chili, however, does not. It's vegetarian (vegan, in fact!) because I like it that way, but it would certainly be WLC compliant if you added in some browned ground beef or turkey. I've been making it for years now, and my husband and son love it (as do I!). You can serve it as-is or over brown rice (WLC compliant at the intermediate level), as well as garnished with some cilantro or onion or even a dollop of Greek yogurt (again, intermediate level compliant).

I used to feel weird about making a meal almost entirely from cans (and if that bothers you then you can certainly chop up your own tomatoes, and soak and cook dry beans!). But ever since discovering the truth about BPA in the canned goods that I use, I can now make this stuff without feeling the least bit guilty (and while saving a whole lot of time in the process). Anyway, give it a try and let me know what you think. (Note: I know my food photography blows. I'll be working on that in the months ahead!)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

3 Ways to Boost Your Water Intake

Most people have a hard time drinking enough water. Just like eating healthy foods and exercising, it's something they know they need to be better about but they just can't seem to do it. I'm no exception. Most days I barely manage to drink one full glass (about 16 ounces), even though I know all the benefits: It helps to curb appetite, makes your skin glow, keeps you from getting constipated (you can get especially backed up if you're having a lot of fiber but not increasing your fluid intake!).

That's why the first lifestyle requirement of The Whole Life Challenge was such a good one for me (and a lot of other people too). For the first two weeks of the challenge, if we didn't have 1/2 ounce of water for each pound of our body weight (so, divide your weight by two and that's how many ounces you need daily), we lost 1 point that day. I set out to get a perfect score for every single day of this challenge, so not meeting my water goal was not an option!