This March brought about a few big milestones for the Phoo-d family. Our sweet Anna turned 1 year old, marking progress from the sleepless nights and constant feedings of a newborn to the laughing, clapping, crawling (almost walking!) antics of a soon-to-be toddler. March also ushered in the 1 year milestone of changing our lifestyle to follow a vegan and gluten free diet.

Last April, I shared with you the story of my diagnosis with rheumatoid arthritis and my struggle to keep the disease under control during pregnancy and my child bearing years, when medicated options are limited. After much research and soul searching Mr. B and I decided to embrace a vegan and gluten free diet to lower the overall level of inflammation in my body. That decision has changed my life in so many ways.

First, the good news on the arthritis front- in October I had a second MRI scan of my knuckle. 18 months after the first scan the joint showed no further progression of arthritis. Fantastic news! Since changing my diet I have not experienced any of the scary and immobilizing flare-ups which left me unable to use my hands during the pregnancy. In a nutshell- the diet is working to keep my symptoms at manageable levels. The more closely I follow the diet the more I notice how even a slight deviation will cause swelling and painful inflammation.

I’ve stopped drinking beer because of the gluten it contains. A few bites of pulled pork brought swelling and heat to my joints within two hours. After eating no meat for months a piece of bacon made me feel sick to my stomach. When I started the diet I thought that I would still be able to have the occasional “normal” meal and be fine. Instead I’ve found that the longer I eliminate animal products and gluten from my life the harder it is to sneak them back in occasionally. It is important to note that while the diet changes help tremendously with pain management they are not a cure and will not stop the disease long term. I strongly encourage anyone struggling with rheumatoid arthrtis to pursue treatments that are disease modifying (i.e. drug therapies) in addition to adopting holistic lifestyle changes.

But! There is no reason for sadness, the positive result of following this diet is that I have never felt better in my life. I feel good. Really, really good. My energy levels are tremendous, my skin is clear and my hair is shiny. All the benefits you read about from people who consume lots of fruits and vegetables are real. And in the process of reducing my inflammation I also reduced something else- my weight.

Over the last year I have lost more than 70 pounds. Yes, a little more than half of those pounds were from my pregnancy, but I am now sitting here at a healthy weight that my body has never seen before. All my life I have struggled with extra pounds. By the time I was in high school I had tried everything from Atkins to Weight Watchers. I was never extremely obese but I was also never happy with my size. Extra pounds clung to my frame and made me feel uncomfortable shopping for clothes, looking at myself in pictures, and god-forbid wearing a bathing suit. After having Anna, I vowed to do whatever it took to lose the weight for good and have a healthier body before a second pregnancy.

After reading the inspiring story of Amanda, who lost 110 pounds using Livestrong’s free MyPlate online calorie and fitness tracker I started tracking my calories and exercise. Amazingly, it worked. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this tracking system. It is the easiest, most effective way to lose weight I have ever encountered. You can enter your own recipes and calculate the servings and calories for what you really eat, not packaged food approximations. They have apps for the iPhone and Android platform so you can keep track of your food no matter where you are. When you exercise, it calculates the calories burned based on your size and fitness level and uses the calories burned to offset what you eat that day. So if you work out hard, you get to eat more. It is as simple as that.

Now, the MyPlate might be easy to use but that doesn’t mean losing weight is easy. In fact it is hard. Really hard. The pregnancy pounds came off over six months of exercising, breast feeding, and careful eating but once I reached my pre-pregnancy weight my body just stopped. It didn’t matter that we were eating an unprocessed vegan and gluten free diet. You can still eat too many calories even if they are healthy.

A pound of fat equals about 3,000 calories. That means to lose 2 pounds a week (the maximum you can lose safely), you need to eat 6,000 calories less than you burn. That is almost 1,000 calories a day under what you need. There is pretty much no way to avoid being hungry when you are reducing your calories by that amount. I was hungry every day for months and yes it really sucks to be constantly hungry. Over time I learned to eat bulky nutrient dense food that would satisfy me temporarily and take the hunger down to a dull whisper instead of a head pounding I’m-going-to-eat-my-shoe roar. I also learned that if I exercised daily the gain in the additional volume of food I could eat would make a big difference in how full I felt. It was powerful motivation to exercise regularly.

When it comes to exercise I held tightly to a simple mantra- “just do something every day”. It didn’t matter if it was 5 minutes of simple stretching or 90 minutes of biking, I made myself do something, anything, every day. I found that killing the mental debate of “Will I or won’t I exercise today?” was a huge step toward successful weight loss. Once you decide that you are going to exercise and do something, more often than not those 5 minutes of stretching turn into 25 minutes of yoga. Yes, everyone is busy and has packed schedules. Many days I would wake up early or use the one and only naptime I get a day to work out. But if you commit yourself to doing something, anything- for exercise every day it will happen. Everyone can find 5-10 minutes, and you’ll probably be surprised at how those minutes can stretch into a half an hour once you are in it.

The thing about healthy living that no one tells you is that it can be just as addictive as unhealthy living. That’s right, when you start going down the rabbit hole of regular exercise and super healthy food choices, your body rewards you by feeling crazy good. Habits change, routines are established and before you know it previous obsessions with slow braised short ribs are turning into love affairs with teff, swiss chard, and chickpeas. A year ago I never could have predicted the changes that were ahead. I would not have recognized the person now standing in my kitchen making green smoothies for breakfast- and loving every minute of it.

After this long retrospective I do have a recipe for you! One of the ways I managed my hunger while dieting was by making a giant pot of soup each week. The soups would change depending on the weather and our cravings, but this Kitchen Sink Vegetable Soup showed up several times a month. It is one of those hearty satisfying soups that can handle endless variations. All alone it only has 50 calories per cup, but if you want to make it a meal you can stir in big fat beans, tender pasta, bits of soyrizo (or low-fat sausage), brown rice, or whatever else you have on hand. With these variations the pot of soup can stretch all week without feeling like you are eating the same thing over and over.

This next year promises to be full of as many surprises and life changing events as the last, and I can’t wait!

Kitchen Sink Vegetable Soup Print Recipe

Recipe Thumbnail

Serves 30 Cups

Serving Size: 1 Cup

Calories per serving: 52 Calories

Fat per serving: 0.3 grams

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon Olive Oil
  • 4 Large Carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 Stalks Celery, trimmed, strings removed, diced
  • 28 oz Can Diced Tomatoes
  • 3 Leeks, split lengthwise, cleaned, and sliced into 1/2
  • 1 1/2 pounds Potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 2 medium)
  • 1 Cup Corn, frozen or fresh
  • 2 Onions, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 4 Tablespoons Garlic, minced
  • 8 Cups Green Cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Cups Kale, stems discarded, coarsely chopped
  • 8 Cups Purified Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Sea Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Marjoram
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Basil
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Black Pepper

Cooking Directions

Place a very large soup pot with lid over medium heat. Add olive oil to the pot. Stir in carrots, celery, tomatoes, leeks, potatoes, corn, onions, garlic, cabbage, and kale. Saute the vegetables, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Pour in the water and salt and bring the soup to a simmer. Cover part way and cook for 25 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are tender. When the vegetables are tender stir in the marjoram, basil, oregano, apple cider vinegar, and black pepper. Taste the soup and adjust the salt and black pepper as necessary. If the soup tastes \\\\\\\'flat\\\\\\\' add a generous pinch of salt and an additional drizzle of apple cider vinegar.
The soup will keep in the fridge for a week. Toppings of beans, rice, sausage (soy or regular), Parmesan cheese, or pasta all work well.

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