Monthly Archives: January 2016

Mental Health and Meditation

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I could not do a series on what inspires me in health and wellness without addressing meditation. A few years ago, we had recently moved from Vermont to a little town outside of Lake Placid, NY. Everything was going well.  Kirk had a good new job that he enjoyed, we found a great house to rent that was right in front of the school.  The kids had friends to play with, we had great neighbors, and we were fitting right into this wonderful little community.

The only problem was that we were having trouble selling our house in Vermont.  Paying rent and a mortgage was a lot.  We decided to rent the house, which resulted in even bigger headaches, causing me to never ever want to be a property manager.  Among other things, it was really difficult being two hours away.

I had this great life.  I had a great marriage, and great kids. I loved my work, and we lived in this idyllic little town with amazing mountains and great friends.  The house in Vermont, however, was causing me unbelievable stress.  I had heard of the book, The Secret.  I remembered seeing it on Oprah years earlier.  One day Kirk said to me,  “I know it’s a little hokey, but I’ve been watching this movie on Netflix.”  It was The Secret.  I watched it, and watched it again.

I was mesmerized by all of the experts in the movie. They seemed so knowledgeable, and so happy.  The movie is about the Law of Attraction.  The main idea that I took away from it is that you should train your mind to focus on what you want, and not what you don’t want. What you focus on grows.  So, if you don’t want more bills, don’t think about them.  Think about what you want and you will attract more of it.

I started looking up the people in the movie, and looking for their books and  teachings.  I have learned so much from these amazing teachers.  My favorites are Jack Canfield, Joe Vitale, LIsa NIchols, and Michael Beckwith.

They all contribute different ideas and methods, but here’s my little summary of what they all teach:

1. Try and stay as positive as possible.  Look at bad things that happen to you as life lessons that you will emerge from stronger.  Try and avoid negativity.  Distance yourself from negative people, and stop watching the news – it’s very negative.

2. Set goals.  Think hard about what you want in life.  Get clear on this.  Write it down.  The more detailed the better.  Do you want to make more money?  Write down exactly how much.  Do you want to travel to Paris?  When? What are you going to do there?

3.  Tap into source energy.  Source energy comes from the universe, or creator.  This can pertain to whatever deity or Deity moves you spiritually.  You might be thinking how to do this?  The best way is to get quiet and go inside yourself.  The best way to practice doing this is to meditate.

My Mom has been meditating since I was in High School.  She explained it to me, and I tried to do it, but it was really hard.  The thought of it haunted me for years.  It was always in the back of my mind.  “I should try and eat healthier…I should exercise more…I really should start to meditate.”

What exactly is meditation?  The best definition I could find comes from good ole Webster’s Dictionary – to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.  I like to think of it as exercise for your mind.  You basically try and focus your mind on one thing.  Your breath is the “anchor.”  Pay attention to you breath.  What does an inhale feel like?…going into your nose?…your throat?…your chest…?…your belly?  What does an exhale feel like?…going out your nose?…your throat?…your chest…? your belly…?  There are some other things that you can try and focus on, like sounds in the room or sensations in your body.  You can recite a passage or a mantra mentally, and focus on the words.  The goal is to truly be in the moment.  To try and have your mind focus on the present, and not what you have to pick up at the grocery store later. If your mind does wander (and it will), just release the thought and come back to the breath, or the sounds, or the sensations, or the passage. Don’t get frustrated if it is difficult at first. It is a meditation practice.

I started meditating consistently a couple of years ago, and it has changed my life.  My level of stress has gone way down.  My husband and family have noticed the positive change.  It’s also helped me to focus much better on my work, my exercise, and to sleep better.  Overall, it has taught me to live in the moment. and to be more aware of my surroundings.

HOW TO GET STARTED?

The best way to get started is just that, start.  Pick a time and a place where you will not be disturbed.  I wake up at 4:45 in the morning so I have my meditation time.  I recommend starting with some guided meditations.  One of my favorite websites, Fragrant Heart, has a little mini-course you can sign up for (it’s free!).  You get an email every day for five days, lengthening the time each day you meditate.  Elizabeth Blaikie’s sweet voice guides you through, bringing you back when you need it.  Another great website that goes a bit deeper with a meditation course, is Quiet Lotus.  The site offers a five week course, with each week following a theme, also free.

Some other great programs that are not free are Oprah and Depak’s Meditation CD’s.  There’s several themes that you can choose from.  They offer a daily lesson, and then you meditate with a mantra.  It’s hard to go wrong with Oprah and Depak.  Lastly, I want to mention Holosync, by Bill Harris (also from The Secret).  Bill has been meditating so long he is a bona fide zen monk. He has also done extensive research on how the brain works.  His audio program has cues and tones that are supposed to take you deeper than you just meditating on your own.

Now that I have been meditating for a couple of years consistently, it’s become like brushing my teeth.  If I don’t do it, my day doesn’t feel quite right. It’s sometimes difficult to get it in every single day.  Sundays are hard. I need one day to sleep in, but sometimes I can sneak away and find  a bit of alone time later in the day. Even if you can get in five minutes, it’s well worth it.  Overall, if you are a spiritual person or not, I highly recommend meditation.

A book that I’ve read recently, which really explains all of the above in a funny, easy to read, easy to digest book is You are a Badass by Jen Sincero.  I recommend getting the audio book, and listening to it more than once.

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

As promised, here is my recipe for Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Chicken.  The recipe is fairly easy, but there are several steps. It’s delicious, and less than 300 calories/serving.

Clean the fat from the chicken thighs.

chicken

 

Season chicken with spice mix.

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Roast chicken thighs for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees,

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Add salsa and water, and stir to combine.  Cover with parchment paper and foil.  Turn oven down to 325 degrees, and braise chicken for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven, allow to cool, and shred with a fork.

 

Cut spaghetti squash in half, remove seeds, place in the oven, with the chicken, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

 

Allow squash to cool, remove the threads from the shell, and add to the pan with the shredded chicken.

Add shredded kale, cottage cheese, and stir to combine.

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Return casserole to oven, and cook until the top is browned, about 20 minutes.

See full recipe here.

It Begins and Ends with Your Diet – Chef Katie’s Eating Plan

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It all begins and ends with your diet.  Don’t get me wrong – I passionately believe in exercise and working out.  It’s an essential part of my program (and my sanity).  However, if you want to lose weight, and have a truly lean body, 90% is about your diet.  Any time I am injured or fatigued and cannot work out, I get really tight when it comes to my diet, and the results tend to be the same.

THE TOOL

Everyone is different.  Everyone has different motivations, and systems that make them successful.  I will share what works for me, and has worked for many of my clients.  My plan starts with just that, a plan.  You have to prepare and plan ahead for success.  My favorite tool for planning and tracking my progress is the app, My Fitness Pal.  Create an account, and set your current weight and your goal weight.  It will ask you a few more questions pertaining to age and activity level, and then it will recommend an amount of calories for you.  Every day you go to your diary to add everything you eat.  You can search the extensive database for the food you eat.  You can go into “recipes” and type in a recipe and the serving/portion amount, and easily add it as an entry to your diary.  This is such an amazing tool (it’s free!), and it sets you on the path to success. Here’s why:

  1. TRACKING – it’s so important to track what you eat.  I have been cooking and living through clean eating for a long time, but I still need to measure and track.  Ultimately, your success is in the details.  Download the app and track what you eat for a few days.  You will be shocked at how much the little things add up.  At certain moments throughout your day, you might think, “just a couple of squares of dark chocolate”….”just a few almonds”….. “just one latte, it’s a skinny one”…  It adds up, people!  If you really want that chocolate, or latte – go ahead and have it – but add it to your diary, and you will have to subtract something later. Another method is to wait.  Get through your day, and if you have extra calories to spend, have some dark chocolate after dinner.
  2. IT KEEPS YOU ON TRACK FOR ULTIMATE HEALTH – Not only does this app track your calories, but it also sets daily goals for your protein, fat, and carb intake, and more. It will tell you if something you are adding into your diary is high in fat, or if you have met or exceeded your goal for your daily fat intake.
  3. RECIPE TRACKER – This is an amazing tool within the amazing tool that My Fitness Pal is. I have added recipes that I thought were clean and low calorie, and I was surprised to see how high the calorie count was when I typed it all in – which goes back to one of my themes – It adds up, people. You need to track and measure everything.  Maybe you can only have half a portion of that recipe, and add in some more veggies.
  4. EXERCISE TRACKER – You can add in your daily exercise. I love tracking my progress to see where I am every day.  Also, it shows how many calories you burn doing the exercise you do.  It takes a lot more exercise to burn off a little bit of calories, which leads me back to the main theme of this post – It begins and ends with the diet.  There’s one aspect in this category that I do not like about the app.  It subtracts your exercise calories.  DO NOT eat back the calories you burn with exercise.  You will not be successful.  If you work out for four hours one day, okay, maybe you will need to eat a little more.  Do not, however, spend half of your morning Zumba or spinning away, see that you’ve burned 500 calories, and head straight to Starbucks and suck down a “Beast Mode Frappucino.”  No joke – that’s what it’s called.

THE PLAN

So now that I know what to shoot for daily (1200 calories), here’s how I break it down.  I try and eat a small meal or snack every two and a half to three hours.  If I eat breakfast at 7am, my morning snack is at 10, lunch at 1, afternoon snack at 4, and dinner at 7.  Now, I know that life happens, and we need a bit of wiggle room in our lives.  I give myself half an hour before or after those targets.  If I am starving, and I simply cannot wait, I will eat a bit early.  If I am doing that yoga class that I really like, I need to wait until after class to eat my morning snack.  The idea is that if you keep feeding your metabolism every few hours, it ramps it up.  I am serious when I say that this works!  Try eating this way for a week, and you will get on the “train.”  I know when I am on the train because I am hungry when it’s time for me to eat, but I get full easily.  I also know when I am on the train because I am bounding out of bed in the morning.  It gives you lots of energy, and makes you feel great.  A note here, (forgive me if this is common sense to you) you need to eat the right kinds of foods to feel good. You can’t substitute in a coffee drink, some chocolate, or potato chips, and expect to feel good. This paragraph describes clean eating plain and simple.

For breakfast I like to eat a bit more, since it’s the first meal of the day, and I usually exercise during the morning hours. After breakfast, no matter what my plans are for the day, I pack my snacks and lunch.  This way, I can take my food with me all day.  I will eat when it’s time to eat, and I will eat my pre-portioned, healthy food.

Here’s what I ate yesterday:

Breakfast (256 calories):

2 teaspoons coconut oil (I put it in my coffee)

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 eggs

Morning Snack (218 calories):

½ cup nonfat greek yogurt

½ cup frozen blueberries

13 almonds

Lunch (245 calories):

Tomato Soup with Chicken and Barley

½ cup homemade tomato soup (see recipe here)

½ cup cooked chicken breast

½ cup cooked barley

Afternoon Snack (139 calories):

½ Ezekiel Sprouted Wheat English Muffin

2 teaspoons homemade almond nutella (see recipe here)

Dinner (253 calories):

1 Portion homemade Mexican Chicken and Spaghetti Squash Casserole

(I will post this recipe in the next day or two)

Total Calories for the Day = 1,111.  That’s 89 below my goal.  That means that I will have some berries with almond milk and stevia for dessert after dinner.

TIPS AND TRICKS

A Few Notes:

  1. VEGETABLES – You might have noticed in my diary above, there weren’t any vegetables.  That’s because I don’t count them.  I like to follow the 80/20 rule = 80% of what I eat comes from vegetables, and 20% is everything else (proteins, grains, dairy, fruit).  I like to think of vegetables as free, so I eat more of them.  There are a couple of points to make here.  You have to count what you cook the vegetables in.  If you sauté or roast veggies, you usually use oil, right?  Measure it and add it to your diary.  Secondly, all vegetables aren’t the same.  Butternut squash and sweet potatoes, while delicious and very healthy, pack a lot of calories.  Here’s a list of veggies I count, and veggies I don’t…

 

VEGGIES I DON’T COUNT

All leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, collards, etc), broccoli, green beans, zucchini,  yellow squash, cauliflower, asparagus, bell peppers, celery, onions, tomatoes (I know – it’s technically a fruit)

 

VEGGIES I DO COUNT

Winter Squashes (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, delicatta, kombucha), sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, corn, beets

 

  1. WHAT IF YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY STARVING? – If I am starving, and it’s not time to eat, first, I wait 5-10 minutes to see if it passes. Next, I drink something. Tea, black coffee, water, and seltzer, are all calorie free and they fill your belly.  Third, if I still am feeling like I am going to eat my hand, I just eat.  I eat my meal or snack early, or I add in an extra snack that is low in calories.  It’s okay to add – some days you are just hungrier than others, just don’t make a habit of it.

 

  1. TREATS AND CHEATS – I am going to devote a whole post to this in a few days. If you don’t ever enjoy the food and treats you love, you will set yourself up for crash and burn failure. We are in post-holiday boot camp mode right now though.  If I am feeling LARGE, I will put myself on a 21 day plan of the above diet.  After that, if I feel it’s necessary to keep going, I will.  If I want to lose more weight, but I am dying for some wine and greasy food, I will have a cheat meal, and get back on track.

 

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MY SERVICES – I have made a career out of cooking healthy food for others.  Many of my clients know how to lose weight, they just don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking. You can hire me by the hour to come over and cook foods specific to your needs.  I also offer a 21 Day Program of the above method, tailored to your specific needs.  I will prepare, portion, package, and deliver breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks to your door for 21 days.  It’s a great way to lose weight.  It’s a great way to get started, and get yourself in the habit of clean eating.  Lastly, I offer workshops that will teach you how to prepare, cook, and set yourself up for your own clean eating plan.  My cooking expertise follows a program with the emphasis on taste and satisfaction, so you hardly realize how healthy you are eating, but reap the benefits of truly eating clean.  chefkatiecooks@gmail.com.  (828)707-3166.

 

Fighting the Holiday Blues and the Holiday Bulge

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When I was younger, I loved Christmas. What child doesn’t? I even loved it as a young adult. Christmas Break always meant parties and fun. Once I had children, Christmas got a bit more complicated. All of the sudden, the season became full of financial stress as well as expectations.
Trying to hide “Santa” gifts as well as keeping up with traditions can also be exhausting. I don’t mean to sound like a total scrooge because I really do love making Christmas cookies, Panetonne, and Christmas dinner. Let’s face it though, buying a Christmas tree, putting it up, and decorating it is at least a two day process. I know making 1,500 plus cookies is my choice, but as busy as we all are these days, it can be difficult to squeeze it in.
Since I’ve had kids, I’ve kind of struggled with the whole Santa thing. I know it’s a fun, magical, old tradition. It is really fun when your kids are young, but isn’t there something a little scary about a strange, large man coming into your house while you are sleeping? My daughter, Lidia, is one of the most confident souls I have ever met. She will walk up to any group of kids anywhere and say, “Okay guys, what are we playing here?” She was totally into the idea of Santa, but trips to see him, and the idea of sitting on his lap, would always send her running for the hills.
I also struggled with having to lie to my kids. I hated when they got older, and the lies had to be more elaborate. I felt like I always had to be on alert for a radio or TV show that would “spill the beans.” So many of us have stories of finding out, and feeling totally duped by our parents. Aren’t these the people we’re supposed to trust more than anyone? Once you find out about Santa, you question the Easter Bunny (how frightening is this character), the Tooth Fairy, and perhaps, even baby Jesus. Worst of all is the child who makes it to seventh or eighth grade, still believing, standing his or her ground, only to be completely humiliated and crushed. Maybe it’s just life. Maybe believing in Santa and finding out about his lack of existence is a rite of passage that all kids must endure. Maybe our ancestors hundreds of years ago knew exactly what they were doing.
This year was no different. My personal chef services tend to slow down approaching the holidays. Three of my steady clients moved to Florida for the winter. Also, my weight loss and clean eating programs sort of get tossed out the window during party season. I decided to pick up a job waiting tables through the holidays to help with seasonal expenses. Working at Biltmore’s Stable Café, I knew I could bring in good money, besides, it would be really festive and fun. It is also the busiest time of year for my husband’s job. He’s stressed, I now find myself with three jobs, and relatives are headed down to stay with us. The Biltmore job was fun and festive, but it was hard physical work, and long hours, AND the kids were out of school. I found myself getting up at 4am to roll out, bake, and decorate cookies. Waiting tables, running the household, my personal chef business (I still have active clients), entertaining relatives, keeping up with traditions, shopping, and cooking was about as much as this Momma could take. I found out several years ago that you can’t beat Christmas. You just have to weather the storm, ride the current, flow with the rapids. It’s a wonder we all get out alive. It makes sense that everyone is stuffing their faces with cookies and candy, and downing cocktails, wine, beer and other treats.
My husband and I have been suspicious for a year or two that our kids totally knew about Santa. They are such bright, smart, sharp little humans. I felt that we were almost insulting their intelligence by continuing the charade. We wanted them to find out the truth from us. We also wanted them to be aware that Christmas gifts, toys, and electronics did not just fall from the sky. It’s a big expense, and we have to work extra to cover the cost. We had several discussions, and the topic happened to come up in conversation over dinner one evening, so we went ahead and told them who the “real” Santa was. My son, who is 10, said that he kind of figured as much. Our daughter, however, who is 8, had tears shooting from her eyes. She absolutely had no idea. Major parenting fail!!! In hindsight, I still agree with our decision to tell them, but perhaps we should have waited one more year. She assured us that we didn’t ruin her Christmas, and she decided to “just pretend” that she didn’t know the truth. Hopefully, when she has kids of her own, she will truly understand.
Fast forward to now. Christmas is over. New Year’s is over. My diet and exercise has been spot on for two weeks. I love it! I feel as if I am reborn. Everyone is hitting the gym with an intensity like no other time of the year. The internet is full of juice fasts and new exercise programs. My inbox is flooded daily with whole food, paleo, vegan, clean eating, and low calorie recipes. I am training to run an ultra-marathon. I am hitting the gym daily. I am in a flurry of yoga, meditation, setting and visualizing goals, boot camps, spinning, running, and weights. This is my Christmas! My husband tells me that I might be flying too close to the sun (meaning that I might crash and burn), but I disagree. Please join me for a series of posts for the next couple of weeks. I will be sharing what motivates me and lights a fire under me in the areas of diet, exercise, wellness, and overall success. Cheers!