Friday, January 29, 2010

Allison's Vegetarian Chili

Happy Friday everyone. Here's a hearty, healthy chili recipe from our very own Allison. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Allison's Vegetarian Chili

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 cup chopped onion
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce
1/3 cup couscous (I use whole wheat couscous)
1/2 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

NOTE: If you aren't concerned about this being truly vegetarian, you can substitute chicken stock for the vegetable broth. Also, you should adjust (or omit) the jalapeno and hot sauce to your family's preference.

In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients but the corn, couscous, shredded cheese, cilantro and salt and pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Five to 10 minutes before serving (depending on temperature of slow cooker) add corn and couscous, cover and cook, until couscous is tender. Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper.

Just before serving, top each serving with shredded cheese and cilantro.

This makes a giant batch of chili; it is great left-over and can even be frozen and used later.

Hello, Fiber.

Hi Brave Monkees.

Before we get into the nitty gritty today, I'd like to pause to acknowledge some strong, brave hearts out there. I have learned a lot in the past two days, probably much more than you've learned from me. Let me explain.

I am learning that there are two camps of Monkees here. Some of you are looking to improve your food choices, learn a little more about nutrition and try some healthy recipes. Great, we have that here. But there's another group of Monkees who are really hurting. Food and body image have played a painful part in their lives for years, decades... forever, maybe. These Monkees don't need information from me, they need a safe place to talk and learn that they are NOT ALONE. I can promise those Monkees...just based on what I've learned recently, you are NOT ALONE. There are a lot of you who are hurting. And I don't have answers for you. I've got more questions than answers, really. So I can't offer solutions. But I can offer you a safe place to share your heart and struggles. I will create that here for you. This place is going to be for you hurting Monkees, too. If you are hurting and you feel you need support and a safe sharing place more than, or in addition to, nutrition information, would you email me? I am considering starting a book club group with a book that helped Glennon and Sister begin to understand their food addictions. I'd love to learn alongside you, if you're interested in joining us.

OK, on to the business of the day.

Everyone, meet Fiber. Fiber is your new best friend.

Fiber, meet everyone. We are going to be eating a lot of you.

Now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s talk about the tremendous health and weight-loss benefits that fiber provides. A high-fiber diet has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, lower blood cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of many types of cancer. That bit of info, combined with the fact that fiber helps satisfy your hunger longer and helps stabilize your blood sugar, helping to slow carbohydrate absorption, should have you screaming PASS THE BEANS. Or vegetables. Or fruit. Or whole grains.

The RDA for fiber in this country is 25 grams per day, although most nutritionist recommend consuming 35 grams; however, the average American consumes just 17 grams of fiber each day. Interestingly enough, in countries where the cancer and heart disease rates are the lowest, fiber consumption exceeds 45 grams per day. That’s some serious fiber for thought.

As most of you probably know, good sources of fiber include, whole grains (bran has the highest fiber content), brown rice, legumes (such as dried peas, beans, lentils), fruits and vegetables. Here are some quick and easy tips for sneaking more fiber into your diet:

• Add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran or ground flaxseed to whole wheat pancake batter, oatmeal (whole oats are less processed and better for you than “quick” oats) or a fruit smoothie to jump start your day.
• Switch to whole grains. Look for breads that list 100% whole wheat or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label.
• Experiment with brown rice, wild rice, barley, quinoa and bulgur.
• Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.
• Eat more beans, peas and lentils. Add kidney beans to soup or chick peas to a green salad.
• Eat fruit with every meal and/or for snacks or desert. Apples, bananas, oranges, pears and berries are all good sources of fiber.

High-fiber foods are good for your health and waistline. But, before you scarf down a can of beans on your way to your next party remember this: adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping and make you very unpopular at the party. So, please, increase fiber consumption gradually over a few weeks and make sure to drink PLENTY of water to aid in digestion.

Check back on Monday as we start our “Super Foods” series, complete with super easy recipes for each super nutritious food we discuss. To start we are simply going to focus on including more healthy choices into our current diets. We aren't going to talk about eliminating anything at this point because it's too easy to go off the deep end and try to change everything all at once, which we know never works, only to wind up more frustrated than when we started. The goal is to STAY BALANCED on our quest for better health, right? So we must remind each other that it's about progress ... not perfection. If one of us, including me -- ok, especially me (my enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of me), stumbles and forgets this golden rule, we must remind her.

In an effort to keep it real (and humorous), Glennon will be attempting to make some of the suggested "super food" recipes and blogging about it on Momastery. Stay tuned, you won't want to miss that!

Finally, for those of you interested in some medical mumbo jumbo about how fiber can help promote good health, this is for you:

Fiber normalizes bowel movements
Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it, making it easier to pass. For some, fiber may provide relief from irritable bowel syndrome.

Fiber helps maintain bowel integrity and health
A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids, and small pouches in your colon known as diverticular disease.

Fiber lowers blood cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease

Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering "bad" cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that increased fiber in the diet can reduce blood pressure and inflammation, which is also protective to heart health.

Fiber helps control blood sugar levels
Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can slow the absorption of sugar, which for people with diabetes can help improve blood sugar levels. A diet that includes insoluble fiber has been associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Fiber may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer
Eating fiber speeds up the passage of food through the body. Some experts believe this may prevent harmful substances found in some foods from affecting the colon and may protect against colon cancer.

Fiber aids in weight loss
High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you're no longer hungry, so you're less likely to overeat. Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time. (i.e., more volume of food for less calories).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fruit Loop

Let me start out by saying thank you to everyone who read and commented yesterday. Sharing a burden always seems to lessen it somehow, don't you think?

Now I want to get real with you. Strip off the layers, down and dirty real. So here it is. I used to be a complete fruit loop about food and exercise. And before I get bombarded by people assuring me that I couldn’t have been that much of a nut job since I’m not overweight, I’m going to give you a glimpse of crazy. Just a glimpse. I think it is best not to overwhelm you with all the details right now since we’re just getting to know one another, so we’re just going to scratch the surface of my particular flavor of crazy today.

Keep in mind that during much of my life I was an athlete and a personal trainer so I felt it was my JOB to look good and, for appearances sake, look like I was living a lifestyle that people wanted to emulate. Sure, I said all the right things about how you just need to exercise portion control and moderation and all those annoying “buzz” words you tell people when they are trying to lose weight. And then I would go home, grab a spoon and a pint of ice cream and eat the entire thing in one sitting. For a long time I was convinced that a pint was actually a single serving, hence no need for a separate bowl. Turns out there are FOUR servings in a pint. Who knew?

Of course, I couldn’t bear to gain weight because that might mean I wouldn’t be as good of an athlete or that my clients wouldn’t listen to my advice or, even worse, that I wouldn’t be able to get new clients so I would run … a lot. I have the degenerative knee and decrepit old spine to prove it. And if we’re being really honest, the obsessive exercising started long before I became a trainer. In my early 20’s I remember my best friend (who will remain nameless - but you know who are!) and I eating some french fries one day and being so flipped out about it that we immediately ran around Burke Lake … four times. That’s over 16 miles of penance. And, as I’ve learned, that is not necessarily normal or healthy.

When I think back to those years of my life I realize how much of my time and emotional energy was wasted focusing, obsessing really, about what I ate, how much I ate and when and what I would do to burn off the calories. I don’t think I ever really exercised for fun … I was either training for an event or race, which I felt gave me permission to eat with reckless abandon, or I was running or going to the gym for the singular purpose of weight-loss. It was definitely all-consuming and what I was, or was not, eating and how much I was exercising occupied my thoughts most minutes of most days.

I can look back now with some clarity and see how empty and pointless all that worrying and obsessing was. And how I lacked the balance and perspective to truly be happy. I was either restricting calories to lose that elusive last 5lbs or I was literally running my body into the ground to compensate for the food I ate. It illustrates how we’ve come to equate being thin, or thinner, with being happy. I’m definitely not saying that we should just be “fat and happy” and eat ding-dongs all day. That’s not healthy either. What I am saying is that we need to stop waiting to be happy until we find that “magic” number on the scale, because it doesn’t exist. And we need to start focusing on actually being healthy, rather than only appearing so.

I’m learning that when we make food choices that promote wellness we have the physical and emotional energy necessary to live a much fuller, richer life. It’s hard to feel positive and excited when you are physically tired, lethargic and generally unmotivated. Processed junk food, refined carbohydrates, soda, fast food and large quantities of animal protein really bog down our system and our body wastes precious energy trying to process and eliminate these types of food. Processed foods, aside from being highly addictive in nature, also wreak havoc on our blood sugar, causing swooping highs and lows in our energy levels.

So, in the name of better health, increased energy and an overall more positive outlook on life, we are going to start exploring ways to tweak our diets and include exercise to achieve better health and set a positive example for the next generation.

Take a deep breath and tune in tomorrow to learn who your new BEST FRIEND is in your quest for better health and weight loss.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


For a background on how this blog got started read this guest post I wrote for my friend Glennon’s wildly popular blog. We received a lot of comments on my essay, running the gamut from good to bad, excited to uncertain. Either way, the point is that it struck a chord with a lot of people. A lot. The comments suggest that most women, on some level, struggle for peace and balance in this area of their life. So we decided the best way to proceed was to have a separate, safe place where we could talk about the complexities of food, nutrition, exercise, and health, both mental and physical, without fear or judgment. I won’t pretend to understand everyone’s deep seeded issues and feelings surrounding food or fitness or body image or suggest that making changes will be easy. Because change, even when necessary or desired, is always difficult.

What I will do is listen. I will try to listen to your concerns and fears and hopes for your health and those of your family’s. When you’re ready to take some small steps, or some big ones, towards better health I will gently feed you the information and support and motivation to help you on your journey. If you stumble along the way I will pick you up, dust you off and point you back in the right direction. And if you’re not ready, I will patiently listen to you vent your frustrations and angst until your load feels lighter to carry. Because sometimes that is the first step.

I want us to learn together, and from one another, how to really feed ourselves once and for all. How not only to fuel our bodies with proper nutrition, but also how to feed our souls along the way. I will offer you super easy recipes and time-saving tricks to get you started as well as exercise tips for the busy, bored, motivated or lazy. There will be something for everyone.

I spent over 7 years as a personal trainer before becoming a wife to one and a mom to two, and trust me when I tell you that I’ve seen and heard it all. You can’t scare me. Or shock me. Or make me not want to help you. It can’t be done. And while I know most food issues have little to do with food itself, I do know that sometimes, just sometimes, making an outward change via exercise and nutrition is enough to shift the tides on the inside where real transformation happens.

Think about how important it is, on a scale of 1-10, for you to get healthy, change your eating habits and/or start exercising. If the answer is an 8, 9, or 10 then you will be able to find the time, energy and resources necessary to make positive changes. If your answer is more like a 2 or 3, then you will likely find more hurdles standing in your way. That’s okay, it just means you aren’t fully prepared to make sweeping changes yet; however, please keep reading because maybe you will be ready to take some baby steps. And that’s a good place to start.

If you’re feeling brave please respond to this post and introduce yourself. You can say something like, “Hi my name is Erin and getting healthy is about an 8 or 9 on the scale for me but I’m having trouble fitting in exercise; I love yoga pants but don’t seem to actually DO any yoga.”

Share what’s on your mind. Share your struggles and your burden so we can move forward together. All I want is for you to feel strong and balanced, and to be healthy inside and out. To be full. At last.