Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Journey to a Healthier Me (Grocery Shopping)

I just love this pink fridge!  Not anything I would have in my own home, but it sure is cute!

So, besides asking how I have been taking off the weight, a few sweet friends have been asking me what I actually eat...

...because in the end, that's what we all want to know, right?!!!  (What she eats and how to prepare it!)

Let me preface by saying...I am a continual work in progress.  My weight loss goals are flexible as well as my eating habits and choices.  I am constantly learning about healthy eating...whole foods/plant-based diets/organic fruits and vegetables/etc., ...and I really do see sugar as the enemy (although a delicious tasting one!).  I have become even more wary of artificial sweeteners.

We've all heard about shopping "the perimeter" of the grocery store right?  (Avoiding the middle aisles filled with all the processed foods.)  Well, I hardly ever did that.  I got a few fruits from the produce aisle and that was about it.  Veggies were not my thing, and if they were they came from a can.  Not even fresh frozen!

Today I shop radically different and we eat extremely different.  Most everything I prepare is made from scratch and involves whole foods.  Nearly my entire grocery cart comes from that "perimeter" of the grocery store.  Here are a few pics I snapped of my fridge from yesterday's grocery shop.  (I try to shop weekly to save on gas...we live quite a bit away from any large grocery/retail stores.)

First stop...the top shelf.  

This is where I keep the eggs and dairy.  We used to go through tons of milk and dairy products until I realized just how much sugar (lactose) is in those products.  Did you know that one 8 oz serving of nonfat skim milk has 12 grams of sugar? I'm not saying to stop drinking milk, but I am saying be aware of how many grams of sugar you do take in throughout the course of the day...even through "healthy" food choices.

We also eat a lot of eggs at our house.  Eggs are a fabulous source of protein, but they do contain fat and cholesterol.  Although I do not have a cholesterol problem (even at my heaviest), I do have family history of issues with cholesterol.  Couple that with being in my early 40's, well...

...hello egg beaters!

Love these things!  Made with all natural egg whites, egg beaters are low in calories, contain no cholesterol and no fat.  Three tbsp. of egg beaters = 1 large egg; contains only 25 calories and 0 fat grams; 0 cholesterol and 5 grams of protein.  Sometimes though, I just love a good yolk!  Thus I do the combo thing...1/4 cup of egg beaters mixed in with 1 regular egg. 

 I recently discovered almond milk and love it.  I had seen several bloggers sharing recipes using almond milk and didn't have pleasant thoughts, but was delightfully surprised at the taste.  I will say this, I tried a generic grocery store brand of almond milk and couldn't stomach it...so I tried the more expensive SILK brand and loved it.  Sometimes it pays to not go generic!

Finally, hiding behind the egg beaters is my container of OIKOS Greek Yogurt (plain).  One cup (8 ounces) contains 190 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 9 grams of sugar.  Oh, and ONE ingredient (cultured Grade A Milk)!  Compare that with the very same brand of OIKOS Traditional Greek Yogurt (Raspberry Flavor) that hubby buys...5.3 ounces contains 160 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 17 grams of sugar.  I can't reiterate enough how important it is to read labels!  

2nd Shelf  & Drawer

Fairly self explanatory.  We eat lots of seasonal fresh fruit and veggies.  My parents turned me on to the Jimmy Dean TURKEY sausage crumbles.  I love using those in my scrambled eggs.  We also use lots of salsa on our eggs.  I used to always use bottle brand salsas until I realized how much sugar they contain.  I still buy Pace in a pinch, but have recently been buying freshly prepared salsas from the refrigerator case.

You might also see Gogurts, Laughing Cow cheeses, and um, hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meat.  

Look folks...I still have kids.  Two skinny kids and a toddler.  They get three healthy, well-balanced meals during the course of the day, but I do allow them a few "indulgences" and if that's a sugar-laden yogurt tube or nitrate-loaded hot dog...well... 

This was the extent of my "middle aisle" grocery shop this week!  These types of products used to be the bulk of my grocery shop and probably totaled 8 of 10 bags of groceries.  Yesterday they comprised 2 bags of 10!

Oh, and a word about cheeses.  I LOVE cheese.  But it is high in fat and Mary told me to cut waaaay back on it.  So, I switched to feta and I love it. Gives a kick to my salads, burgers, scrambled eggs,etc. 

Finally, my crisper drawers.

I have really begun to experiment with fresh, seasonal veggies.  I won't lie, I'm still trying to develop a LOVE for them, but I'm closer and much more adventurous!  I love eggplant Parmesan in the restaurant so I bought my first fresh eggplant.  I have no idea what to do with it.

And a note about salads...

I use to really dress up my salads with lots of hard boiled eggs, cheese, croutons, salad dressing, etc.  I no longer do that.  Today, my salads are typically a mix of iceberg lettuce with fresh spinach our romaine.  I use almonds, sunflower seeds, shredded chicken, canned chicken, black beans, refried beans, sliced steak, feta, Roma tomatoes, and avocado to make up different types of salads.

And one more thought...a few friends have commented that they just don't bother with salad.  That it has no nutritional value (iceberg is the reference) and so it is not worth the bother.

Mary, nutritionist extraordinaire begs to differ.  I shared with her those thoughts and she disagreed.  She says anything that comes directly from the earth has nutritional benefit.  Even if it just provides some trace minerals and vitamins.

I find that salads allow me to fill up/bulk up and really CHEW my food!  No liquid meals for me!

So there you have it...a quick tour of my fridge.  Below is my typical weekly shopping list. Feel free to copy and use for reference!

Fresh or frozen strawberries
Fresh or frozen blueberries
Fresh or frozen blackberries
Peaches, Plums, Nectarines
(No grapes or bananas (too high in sugar for me), but I do purchase for Mary, Ben, and Luke)

Fresh or frozen broccoli
Fresh or frozen green beans
Iceberg lettuce
Hearts of Romaine
Summer Squash


Fresh or frozen chicken breasts
Steaks (fillets, strips, flank)
Kabobs (chicken or steak)
(side note...one benefit of our small-town living...a real BUTCHER shop...I really don't buy meat from the grocer anymore)

Lactaid (lactose free) milk
Shatto Brand (hormone free) skim milk
SILK or BLUE DIAMOND almond milk
DAISY brand (light) sour cream
OIKOS Plain Greek Yogurt
Cottage Cheese

Hope this gives you a feel for what I eat and how I grocery shop.  I occasionally choose an indulgence (like a birthday cupcake and scoop of vanilla ice cream to celebrate Luke's big day!), but I just can't celebrate every single day WITH FOOD even though every single day is certainly a celebration of life!

Hugs and kisses,

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Happy 2ND BIRTHDAY, Luke Alexander!

Clearly, time stops for no one...

...how is it possible that this little guy was born 2-years ago TODAY?!!! 

Happy 2nd Birthday my sweet, precious son!  You are a beautiful gift to the world and I am so blessed to be your mama.  
Your laughter is contagious and you are an absolute delight to our family. 

We love you to the moon and back!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Journey to a Healthier Me (The "Formula" Behind the Weight Loss)

My IRL (in real life) facebook friends (is that an oxymoron?!!!) have been asking me to share the "how" behind my current weight loss. So, I present to you the "formula", if you will, behind how I have taken off nearly 30 pounds this summer.  My wish is that someone reading here, maybe even you, might be helped by my own personal journey to get healthy!

I am not, nor do I present myself as, a certified dietitian.
I am only sharing what information, Mary, my nutritionist/dietitian, has shared and taught me over the past 8 weeks. 

And as we've all heard over and over...
 "Before embarking on any weight loss plan, consult a physician."

Okay, now that that is out of the way, let's get started, shall we?!

When I first met with Mary (May 29th) I weighed 212 lbs., took a daily nap, and barely moved a muscle!  After all, I chased 3 kiddos around each day...didn't that count for moving my muscles?!!!

Prior to our meeting, Mary had emailed me a food diary entry that she asked me to keep for one "typical" day.  I was mortified.  I mean, it's one thing to keep a mental running record about what you consume during the day...it's quite another to put it in writing...and then have to share it with the food police.

And "food police" is exactly how I felt about Mary.  

Don't get me wrong, I wanted to take the weight off..

...I just wanted to do it by exercising more...maybe increasing my water consumption...and throwing in a garden salad or two! 

Not changing my ENTIRE eating habits.

I wanted to die at that first meeting when I brought my completed food dairy entry...Mary's exact words, "Oh my goodness, Valerie.  You are preserving yourself from the inside out."

And let's face it...I didn't weigh 212 lbs because I ate lean cuts of protein and steamed  veggies!

No, I ate "fortified" breakfast cereals or frozen waffles with maple syrup with skim/fat free milk for breakfast....I ate leftover macaroni and cheese (and not from scratch) or spaghetti o's and meatballs that the kids didn't finish at lunch...and for dinner we ate lots of frozen pizza, Hamburger Helper, or "Mexican" dishes that involved lots of ooey, gooey cheese, tortilla chips, etc.

Yup, preserving myself from the inside out.  And apparently, my kiddos too!

So, where to begin cleaning up the train wreck of an eating program that I was following???

At our first meeting, Mary drew an illustration of what my breakfast/lunch/dinner plate should ultimately look like! The grated cheese reference cracks me up!  I think I looked like I wanted to cry when she told me that I needed to cut out my massive cheese consumption and so she threw me a bone...a sprinkling of grated cheese on my scrambled egg beaters!  LOL

There you have it...in her own words..."Less than 25 grams of sugar per day"!

Brainstorming a list of protein choices...I really was at a loss of what to eat when I first met with Mary.  My diet was comprised mostly of crackers/potatoes/noodles etc. 

Step 1:  We reviewed my pitiful food diary entry of a sample "eating" day.

Step 2:  We then had a short review/lesson on the good, the bad, and the ugly of sugar/carbohydrate/protein consumption.  (My personal eating philosophy is this...protein=good...carbohydrate=bad (unless it comes from a natural source such as fruit!)...and sugar=UGLY!) 

Step 3:  We then came up with some "rules".
As in...
A)  I don't eat after 8:00 PM

B)  I eat a minimum of 3 meals and 2 snacks a day (There is no set calorie number that I am to eat each day...in fact I've never even counted up how many total calories I consume in a day.  I might figure it out just so that I know!)

C)  I do not consume more than 25 grams of sugar per day!  (The SUGAR rule is HUGE for me.  Remember, I have been gestational diabetic 3X, a definite precursor to Type 2 diabetes.)  SUGAR in DAIRY products count toward my 25 grams...sugars that naturally occur in fresh fruit do NOT count!  yay!  And by the way...The American Heart Association recommends no more than 20-24 grams of sugar for women per day...so Mary isn't crazy like I thought!)

D)  I drink half my body weight in water.  (Yes, at one point I really was drinking over 100 ounces of H2O a day...I am down to 90!!! Woo Whoo!)

E)  I am expected to eat within 30 minutes of waking up.  (This is a personal struggle for me.  Since it has been so stinkin' hot here in Kansas City, I have needed to wake up and take my daily walk between 5 and 5:30 AM each day.  I walk for one hour and have zero appetite upon returning.  Plus I am hot and sweaty and need to get myself cleaned up before the littles get up.  So, I'm usually  not eating until 1.5 hours after waking.  Apparently, this makes for an unhappy metabolism.)

F)  I am expected to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes 5X a week.  (This has now become my most favorite rule to follow...I currently walk 60 minutes (briskly) a day EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Using my cars GPS device I mapped out a 3-mile route to follow.  Mary would like to see me cover that same distance in 50 minutes.  I'm trying...but still walking with a bum foot!)

And Step 4:  I was asked to keep the dreaded "food diary"!  

Sample page from my food diary notebook.

Yes, it travels with me everywhere...and gets a bit greasy!

Just keepin' it real...my preschooler loves to use it to practice "writing"!  :)
While this might seem like a lot of "rules" to follow, they have actually become 2nd nature to me. The rules were there, basically to help me follow a "program" of sorts...without being on any official program (like Atkins, Weight Watchers (WW), Jenny Craig, etc.).  

And that's what I love about this...and maybe even why I have been experiencing so much success.  

For the first time, I am not following anyone else's program...I'm following the Valerie Kueter program.  Mary knows her stuff and devised a program around me...with my personal strengths and weaknesses. 

Unlike WW (which I have tried many times...and lost weight on!) where I was accountable to somebody else...and was in a group setting (allowing for anonymity), I am now accountable only to myself...but I'm also sharing that information with Mary in a very personal, very intimate setting.

And it's been totally free!  No membership fees...no weekly or monthly dues...no missed meeting (and guilt) fees, etc.!  If I can't meet up with Mary because my kiddos have VBS or are sick, we just reschedule.  If Mary needs to push me back a week because the Wellness Program has her traveling all over the state of Kansas, we just reschedule.  You see, in the end, what I've come to learn, is that I have always been the one in control of my eating habits.  I just never exercised the word NO.

But the best part of all is the change that has come internally.  What started out as just a desire to lose the weight and feel better...has truly become a passion to live life in a healthy manner, and to educate those I love and care for about the importance of  truly understanding where their food comes from...how it is processed...and what it is doing for their bodies (both good and bad!).

So, there you have it.  

No magic weight loss pills.  No group therapy.  Just a whole lot of will and determination coupled with an amazing cheerleader and food educator in my dietitian, Mary.

Oh...and maybe a bit of "brainwashing" from watching one too many Netflix documentaries on the obesity epidemic in America...farming-organic gardening...and food production in America!  LOL  More on that to come!!!

So, my next post....

Sample menus of what I actually eat every day along with some awesome recipes and links to some of my favorite food bloggers!

If you have any questions or would like further clarification on how I do what I do, please do not hesitate to contact me via email (address is on my sidebar).  

Hugs and Kisses,


At LuLu's in Gulf Shores, Alabama with two of my favorite 3 guys! (July 17, 2012)

Eight weeks ago today, I would not have purposely mugged for the camera!  Now I LOVE to be photographed with my kiddos...and I still have weight to lose.  I just FEEL so much better about myself!

Me with 2 of my 3 precious gifts at "The Hang Out" in Gulf Shores, Alabama (July 19, 2012)

Just so I don't forget...or get discouraged by how far I have to go...a pic to remind me of how very far I've already come!  Taken on June 1, 2012


Monday, July 23, 2012

Beach Shots (Gulf Shores, AL)

We returned late last night from our 12-day summer vacation! 

It was a wonderful trip spent seeing dear friends along the way, touring American naval history museums, and spending quality (and quantity!) family time together on the beach. 

 Here are just a few shots I took of our three kiddos the morning we departed... 

Looking forward to sharing more pictures of our annual summer vacation, tomorrow. 

As for now, I'm off to bed. 

It's been a long day catching up on laundry, wrangling an uncooperative ALMOST-2-year old for birthday pictures, and getting acclimated to the horrible 105 degree weather that we were fortunate to get a respite from while vacationing down at the Gulf of Mexico!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Journey to a Healthier Me (Weight Loss Post)

The following photos were taken on June 2, 2012.  It was the evening of my 25th High School Reunion in St. Louis, Missouri.

Just a few days prior (May 29th) I took the initiative to get healthy and met with a registered dietitian through my husband's employer.  The city has a required Wellness Program that all employees and their spouses (*if on the family health insurance plan) must participate in, in order to keep health insurance premiums from doubling.  For a year and half now I have been resistant to their offers of help to get healthy and take the weight off.

I'm  not really sure why.

Partly, because I just had a baby when required enrollment occurred (October 2010), and also because I was suffering from a debilitating foot injury.  I kept using the new baby/foot injury as excuses for not doing the hard work...taking control of my eating.

After mulling it around in my head for several months (basically as a New Year's Resolution to reclaim a sense of self!) I picked up the phone and called the Wellness Center in early May.  My assumption was that they could get me right in and schedule me to meet with Mary (my dietitian) and I could at least begin taking off a few pounds before the BIG reunion...my 25 YEAR!

It was not to be.  As I mentioned, Mary could not meet with my until May 29th...just a mere 3 days before my reunion.

But in the end, the late scheduled visit was a blessing in disguise.

You see, if I had only wanted to take off the weight to look good for a bunch of women, (I attended a Catholic all-girls high school) most that I haven't seen in 25 years, then it would be all for not.  The reunion would end and the motivation would be lost to continue on to do the hard work.  (And hard work it is...at least it was in the beginning.)  

Instead, I decided that it was time to get healthy for me!

To prevent the onset of Type 2 Diabetes...
(I was gestational diabetic 3 times which is typically a precursor to Type 2)

To prevent any type of cardiac issues (blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, etc.)...
(unfortunate extended family history)

To regain energy and vitality...

To find the "happy" me once again...
(NOT based on any scale number, but on how good and energetic I am feeling)

To live life to the fullest each and every day!

So, here I am on June 1, 2012 at 212 lbs.  I look like a stay-puff marshmallow!
(Oh yes, I did just type that!  I'm not typically one to air my dirty laundry on a public forum, but I feel the need to be honest with myself...and if I don't put some things in writing...then I tend to wish them/ignore them away!)

 And here I am on June 29, 2012 (1-month into my lifestyle changes and TWENTY-ONE pounds lighter!)
(I've decided to photograph myself once a month wearing the same dress.)

I feel like the changes are most notable in my face, but MORE importantly, I FEEL wonderful.

I have so much more energy than before...and I don't take NAPS.
(Yes, I really did take a nap every single day when Baby Luke (now a toddler!) napped.)

And, what was just my change in eating habits has now extended to the entire family...yup, hubby and kids are on board too!

We eat radically different than we did before and everyone is looking and feeling better!

Anyway, just wanted to share what has been keeping me so very busy this summer.  
At first, my lifestyle changes were all consuming...

I needed to expend lots of mental energy thinking about how to prepare home cooked-whole foods-mostly plant based (with some lean proteins) meals for myself.  

I needed to expend lots of physical energy to move that 212 pounds on a nightly or morning walk. 

I needed to expend lots of self-discipline to cut my horrific sugar and processed foods addiction.

But today, as of this writing, I feel like a new me...or maybe it's the "old healthy me" returning. Either way, it's a terrific feeling to be able to bend over and put on my tennis shoes, simply crouch down to bathe my kiddos, or run errands all day and still have enough energy to take my kids to the pool in this terrible 100+ degree heat!

I'm under no delusions, though.

I have plenty of weight left to lose.  While TWENTY-SEVEN pounds off my not quite 5'4"  frame is a fantastic start, I am still overweight and have a lot more to lose.

More importantly, my family and I need to continue to modify our lifestyle habits so that our healthy eating and exercising become permanent lifestyle changes! 

If you've read to then of this unusually long post I thank you!  It has been incredibly cathartic to share the beginnings of my weight loss journey publicly.  

Tomorrow:  A glimpse of our new eating habits!

And one last bit of "food for thought" (pun intended!) I found this on Pinterest...and it's become my new life motto...for now anyway.

Source: etsy.com via Valerie on Pinterest
Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Firecracker Cookies

I spent the evening making "firecracker cookies" with my little ones to kickoff the month of July. According to my kids, they were a smashing bursting success! And I always appreciate a recipe that is both easy and delicious. 
 Better yet...I discovered a new blog by a local gal...the Cookin' Cowgirl.  Her blog looks scrumptious!

What is the essence of America? Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom "to" and freedom "from." 
 ~Marilyn vos Savant, in Parade 

Wishing you a wonderful start to this new month...and a Happy 4th of July week!