“Be Gone, Baby Weight!” Update

Four months have passed since my entry “Be Gone, Baby Weight!”  I figure it’s time to give an update on my progress, although I really don’t want to.  Preface: I have not reached my goal weight yet.  I blame it all on timing.

Immediately after I posted “Be Gone, Baby Weight!” on November 13, 2012, I became motivated to work out more.  Instead of sitting on the couch watching my kids, I started doing my exercise DVDs while the kids played (it took a few times before they realized “don’t bother Mommy during exercise”).  I began to take more walks and ride bikes outside when the weather was nice, so that I was working out 4-5 times a week.

Well, guess what holiday comes shortly after and ruined all my weight-loss plans?  The one where the typical American consumes 4,500 calories…just from dinner! So despite my good intentions, my efforts flopped.  I weighed myself the first week of December and saw that I had not lost any weight.  Okay, then what holiday comes after that?  And it’s not just Christmas, but the entire holiday season that’s a nightmare for anyone wanting to lose weight.  Between the decadent spreads and caloric cocktails at numerous holiday parties, Christmas cookies being baked and passed around, and our Mexican vacation with the all-you-can eat buffet three times a day, it was nearly impossible for me to resist the temptations surrounding me.  Plus, with the hectic holiday schedule of decorating, shopping, wrapping, etc., I just could not find the time to exercise.  So I put all my weight-loss plans by the wayside and figured it would be futile to start during the holidays.  After all, what are New Year’s resolutions for?

In January, I decided to start fresh.  I was committed this time to sticking to my goals.  After all, there were no binge-worthy holidays coming up, and my 40th birthday was around the corner.  I started to exercise again 5 times a week.  I didn’t do much to moderate my diet but I figured since most of our dinners are vegan (husband is a recent convert), that would help.  Soon enough, though, I realized that exercise alone isn’t going to cut it.  My metabolism is not what it used to be and it’s just harder for me now to lose weight.  In addition, the more information I read (from health/fitness magazines, weight-loss websites, etc.), the more I realized that moderate exercise does little to shed weight and that DIET counts for everything (recent studies have shown this to be true, sadly).  I read somewhere that losing weight is 80% about nutrition, 10% exercise and 10% genetics.

So when I weighed myself at the end of January and saw that I still hadn’t lost any weight, I knew I had to do something about my eating habits.  And that’s where my challenge lies, because I’m an EATER.  I come from a family of eaters (except for my dad, who stops eating when he’s full even if there’s still food left on his plate.  I’m not sure where he was growing up when the rest of us were part of the clean-plate club).  People have even commented on how much I eat.  I’ll never forget years ago during my graphic design course when my classmates and I went to McDonald’s for lunch.  One guy watched me eat my Quarter Pounder with cheese combo meal and said to me, “I’ve never seen a girl chow as much as you.” Yep, his exact words.

Starting at the end of January (3 times a charm), I did two things to gain momentum on this weight-loss journey:  1) I signed up for a 5K with my friend (I never ran the 5K in December like I said I would in my last entry), and 2) I started to plan my meals.  I’m not big on counting calories – I find it really tedious, but the point is to be conscious of what you’re eating.  I have sample meal plans from a few sources* that include healthy breakfasts and lunches (low-calorie, high protein, high fiber) as well as snacks to have on hand, and that’s generally what I eat during the week.  I’ve also been better about reading the nutrition labels of questionable (processed/convenience) foods.  Like the other day I was going to make a package of frozen Korean noodles that I typically eat for lunch.  550 calories!!!  And it’s not even a big portion (not for me, at least). Same goes for the tortilla chips that my husband likes to snack on during the weekends – 140 calories for just 10 chips!  He can easily polish off half the bag in one sitting (okay, that’s me).  And the M&Ms I give to my kids as reward for using the potty (and reward for me in dealing with it) – 210 calories for just ¼ cup!  Once I became conscious of some of the foods in our house that were really calorie-dense, I avoided them (or just had 1 or 2 🙂 ), considering I’m aiming for 1,200 – 1,500 calories per day (not easy for me!).

So since training for the 5K and moderating my diet 6 weeks ago, I have lost 4 pounds.  It’s no Biggest Loser (where contestants lose like 10 lbs. a week!  Uh, how?!) but for me, slow and steady seems to do the trick, since these last few pounds are tough to budge.  I can also feel that I’m getting stronger and leaner and my belly doesn’t stick out as much.  Another thing is that I can actually get my skinny jeans on again (my main goal)!!!  Just a few months ago, I couldn’t even get them over my thighs, but now I can put them on all the way and even button them!  Granted they’re still way snug and give me an unattractive muffin top, but at least I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I still have more than halfway to go toward my weight-loss goals, but just being able to put on my pre-pregnancy jeans again gives me added motivation.

I’ve also found that staying busy with other projects helps me stay on track.  When I get bored (which inevitably happens as a stay-at-home mom), I raid the fridge.  I used to eat because there was nothing else to do (or needed something else to do while I watched tv).  If I focus too much on losing weight, then I start obsessing about food, and next thing you know I’m caving to my cravings, whether it’s for pizza, cheeseburgers, or ice cream.  So rather than looking at my Bon Appetit magazines and watching the Food Network, I have recently taken up sewing.  I also have this blog that I’m trying to keep up with (and not doing a very good job of it), as well as a stack of books to read.  I allot 20 minutes to 1 hour of exercise a day, and with the rest of my day taking care of kids, grocery shopping, cooking, paying bills, etc., I find that I’m occupied enough to keep my mind off food and not eat strictly out of boredom.

Although I’m happy to be making progress in my weight-loss journey, I’ve also come to the sad realization that I have to watch what I eat for the rest of my life (did I mention I’m an eater?).  I can’t just stop eating healthy and exercising when I reach my goal weight.  I just don’t have the metabolism at 39 that I had when I was 20.  I need to maintain this healthy diet and exercise otherwise the weight will inevitably creep back up.  I’ve noticed that even two days of bad eating causes my weight to shoot right back up where it started and a big belly to go with it.  That’s why studies show that 80% of people who lose weight gain it right back and why they always say “Diets don’t work.”  So these light and healthy meals and increased activity for me are here to stay.  Unless I get pregnant again. 🙂

*My meal plans come from several sources, but my favorites are Eating Well magazine, The Volumetrics Eating Plan by Barbara Rolls, and The Picture-Perfect Weight Loss by Dr. Shapiro.  The last two focus on feeling full on fewer calories by incorporating more vegetables, beans, water (like for soups), etc. into your meals.  After all, this mama eats like no bird!

A Healthy (and Happy) Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving is upon us – the only holiday of the year in which the primary focus is on food and overindulgence among friends and family. (Okay, maybe the primary focus of Thanksgiving is being thankful, but that quickly becomes an afterthought as soon as we dig into our heaping plates of turkey and its fixings.)  It’s no wonder Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays!

Growing up in my family, Thanksgiving usually involved a typical feast of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and of course, being a Korean household, a side of kimchee (believe me, turkey tastes infinitely better with kimchee). After my mom slaved away in the kitchen all day while we kids watched the Star Wars marathon on tv, we proceeded to sit at the dinner table for all of 15 minutes, quickly devouring what it took my mom all day to cook.  After several Thanksgivings like this and my dad finally declaring that turkey is “the worst meat ever”, my mom changed up the menu to ignore tradition and serve our family favorites of filet mignon and lobster.  However, after a couple of Thanksgivings, my brother and I wanted to go back to the American tradition of turkey and casseroles, so from that point, we volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner.  (My mom was happy to oblige.)  We did our part to make Thanksgiving decadent by having a massive bird, several side dishes (all of which contained heavy cream and butter) and two options for dessert, one of which was always a French silk pie ordered from Bakers Square Restaurant.

It has been three years since I last cooked Thanksgiving dinner, but this year is going to be different from the past dinners I’ve cooked in that it’ll be….healthy.  Why, you ask?  After all, I love butter as much as Paula Deen (okay, not THAT much).  The main reason is that my father-in-law suffered two heart attacks this year, in which he had stents put into his arteries.  Since then he has completely revamped his diet.  In addition, my husband has high cholesterol and switched to a mainly plant-based diet this year to improve his health. As for me, I want to look good in my bathing suit for a family trip to Mexico over Christmas (not quite as important :)).  I know that Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that overindulgence is allowed, but the health of the men in my life is more important than food that tastes really, really good (butter, butter, and more butter).

So how am I going to do this?  Well, I’m going to focus on vegetables, forgo the side dishes that require two sticks of butter like stuffing (which my husband and I don’t like much anyway), and make healthy alternatives to some of the dishes (I got half of the recipes from Eating Well magazine).  Here’s our menu for Thanksgiving:

Herb-Roasted Turkey
Smoked Turkey Breast (My husband wants to try out the new smoker/grill)
Layered mashed potato/mushroom casserole
Roasted Harvest Vegetables
Steamed Broccoli (my father-in-law’s favorite vegetable)
Cranberry with Orange Sauce
Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Chocolate Torte

I look forward to cooking and eating this meal, and I hope my family members enjoy it as well.  I really don’t think we will be missing out on anything when we have our feast on Thanksgiving Day.

Oh, and I can’t forget the side of kimchee.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Be Gone, Baby Weight!

It has been almost 22 months since I had my last baby and 4 months since I stopped breastfeeding.  I’ve finally accepted the fact that the excess baggage that I’ve been carrying is sticking around, and that I actually have to work to get this baby weight off.  Dammit!

During my first pregnancy, I gained a whopping 45 lbs.  They say it’s normal to gain 25-30 lbs. during pregnancy, and that the smaller you are to begin with, the more you gain.  Well, I wasn’t that small to begin with.  I’m 5’5 with a pre-pregnancy weight of 137 lbs., have broad shoulders and size 9 feet…not the typical petite Asian (a friend once called me a “mutant Asian”).  However, I was in pretty good shape back then.  When I was one month pregnant (and unaware of the fact), I was running 3.5 miles around my parents’ neighborhood and “shredding” to Jillian Michaels’ DVD.  I pounded the pavement so hard it’s a wonder the baby stayed in my womb.

I continued working out through my pregnancy (though not as hard-core), but I also ate for two with a diet consisting mostly of Frosted Flakes and fried chicken.  By the time the baby was born, I was as big as a house (topping out at 183 lbs).  Within a year, though, I magically lost all 45 lbs. without even trying (don’t hate me).  Seriously, I exercised maybe once or twice a week, still stuffed my face, and one day nine months later, miracle of all miracles, I was able to fit into my size 6 pre-pregnancy jeans again.

I wore those jeans for about a year and then got pregnant with Baby #2.  I haven’t been able to fit into those jeans since.  I seem to have a 10-pound band of fat around my midsection (and hips and thighs) that has become a permanent fixture on my body.  I know 10 lbs. isn’t that bad and not nearly as daunting as wanting to lose, say, 50 lbs.  But on my frame, an extra 10 lbs. is obvious and most importantly, I just don’t feel good about it.  I can feel the roll of fat spilling over my waistband, and body parts jiggling when I take the kids out on the jogging stroller.  Sometimes after a big meal, my tummy protrudes so much I look like I’m 5 months pregnant (luckily no one has asked me if I am – that’s a good sign, at least).  The times I feel the worst is when I’m getting dressed to go out for moms’ nights out.  I pull those skinny jeans from my closet, hoping that they will glide back on with ease like they did after my first baby.  It’s just not happening.  I can barely get them over my thighs let alone zipper and button them.  In fact, most of my clothes are from my skinnier days and I don’t look good in 90% of them.  (What’s up with all those short-cropped t-shirts I used to wear?!  I must have been small enough back then for them to cover my gut…definitely not the case now).  I refuse to buy new clothes in a bigger size and I’m sick of wearing maternity clothes! (Yes, I still do sometimes.)  I feel that I have to lose this baby weight before turning the big 4-0 next year, otherwise it all goes downhill and I succumb to frumpy mom-dom for the rest of my life.

Now that I realize I need to work at losing these last 10 lbs., I am going to employ weight-loss tactics that have worked for me in the past (I read somewhere that this is a good way for permanent weight loss).  Although, I had never gained and lost 45 pounds before my first pregnancy, I’ve had my chunky days.  In the Peace Corps, I gained 10 pounds the first year (it was a mystery in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan that male Peace Corps volunteers lost weight while female volunteers gained weight.  It didn’t have to do so much with the fatty meaty greasy food as it did with emotional and stress eating), and lost it the second year by running and eating lots of beans.  In my freshman year of college, I lost 10 pounds from eliminating red meat and fried foods from my diet and taking advantage of my university’s recreational facilities.  After grad school, I was the smallest I had ever been as an adult at 132 pounds.  At the time, I was dating a superficial Ukrainian dork who encouraged me to lose 10 pounds.  I did, but then he wanted to me to lose another 10 pounds.  I thought, Screw him!  I gained back 5 pounds and dumped him (not only did he want me to lose weight all the time, he would also wear his shirt unbuttoned to mid-chest to show off his chest hair.  Ick.).

Anyway, here are the weight-loss methods that have worked for me:

1)      Running.  There is no quicker way to lose weight than to run (or in my case, jog) even though I hate every minute of it.  Back in the day (before having babies), I was able to run 3.5 miles pretty effortlessly.  These days, and I don’t know if it’s my age or having children, but my knees, lower back, and ankles scream for mercy every time I run.  Listening to an iPod makes it slightly more bearable.  This will not be my primary form of exercise in my quest to lose weight – just a couple of times a week at the most.

2)      Turbo Jam.  One time while living in New Orleans, I came home at 1am after a night of drinking and turned on the t.v. to find this infomercial on.  Yes, it’s worthy of an infomercial (a cheesy martial arts and dance workout), but it’s fun, has good music, a charismatic instructor, and it works.  I can’t help it – I love Turbo Jam!

3)      Meal planning/keeping a food journal.  Okay, writing down everything you eat and counting calories is super-tedious, but it makes you mindful of what you are putting into your mouth.  Eating the kids’ leftover mac n’ cheese and Halloween candy is not helping me magically lose the baby weight.  Neither is the glass of wine I have almost every night.  I need to plan my meals ahead of time and stick to them instead of munching on whatever’s around when I’m hungry (usually chicken nuggets and Goldfish crackers).

4)      Eliminate bad foods.  This is a given, but for me, it works better to eliminate fried foods, junk foods, and sugar entirely.  I don’t believe in everything in moderation.  After all, everyone’s interpretation of moderation is different (is small fries in moderation?) plus just a taste of cheese can lead to a whole block, or a small piece of chocolate can lead to the whole bar.  Of course these bad foods are hard to resist, especially with the holidays coming up.  I just need to realize it’s not a free-for-all.

5)      Have a goal, timeframe, mantra, or inspiration.  In my freshman year of college, I had a picture of Linda Hamilton (of Terminator 2 fame) hanging on my mirror to inspire me.  Nowadays moms who are fit and healthy inspire me, whether it’s a celebrity mom* like Gwen Stefani or Jessica Alba or my mom friends who teach Zumba and yoga.  I also have the goal of fitting into my skinny jeans again.  I plan to run a 5K with some of my mom friends in a month to help me along.  It’s easy to fall back to old habits (like this past Monday when I ate a bacon cheeseburger from Wendy’s) once I slack on diet or exercise, but an end goal always helps me look ahead instead of giving up.

I think being accountable also helps, which is why I’m laying it all out there, here on my blog.  I am starting out at 146 lbs. and want to get down to 137 lbs. so I can fit into my size-6 pre-pregnancy jeans again.  I WILL NOT BUY NEW JEANS (my new mantra)!  Okay, I’ll keep you posted!

*Recommended Reading: I’m currently reading a book I picked up from the library called “How to Look Hot in a Minivan” by Janice Min, who is the former Editor-in-Chief of US Weekly.  She gives great tips on diet, exercise, makeup, hair, and style for new moms, and features a lot of celebrity moms for inspiration.  It’s a fun read and very helpful for those moms who don’t want to look like they’ve given up!

Scary Food – Arsenic in Rice

In light of the last entry (“Simple Go-To Fried Rice“), I felt the need to write about a recent news story revealing that arsenic was found in over 200 rice and rice products sold at grocery stores in the U.S.  A study by Consumer Reports showed that rice produced in the U.S. had “worrisome” levels of arsenic, and the FDA followed suit with another study which showed similar results.  Arsenic, in inorganic form, is a “level one carcinogenic and linked to lung and bladder cancer.”

I normally would take any Consumer Reports study with a grain of… well, rice.  After all, they recommended a certain vacuum cleaner and washing machine that I ended up buying because of their glowing reviews, and they both kind of suck.  But since this involves the health of children, it’s not so easy to bypass this story with ambivalence.  After all, parents are encouraged to feed infants rice cereal as one of their first foods.  Baby & Toddler mum-mums are passed around the playground, and rice milk is given as a substitute to children who are allergic to dairy and soy.  And for those families in which rice is a staple in their diet, such as Asian families (like ours) and Latin American families (the rest of Tucson), these findings are very much a concern.

According to an article I read in the newspaper, there are some things you can do to limit the arsenic levels in your rice.  Some of them are totally impractical like cooking rice the way you cook pasta – in a ton of water which you then drain.  Yuck.  I mean, who wants to end up with porridge?  But for the more practical suggestions:

  1. Limit brown rice consumption.  Although brown rice is generally healthier than white rice (it has higher fiber content because the outer husk is still intact), it also has higher levels of arsenic.  This won’t be a hard one for me since I don’t like brown rice anyway, unless it’s cooked in chicken broth, butter, and lots of garlic.
  2. Try aromatic rices like basmati and jasmine.  These rices are imported so they don’t have the level of arsenic that American rices do.  By the way, have you tried Thai jasmine rice?  It is so fragrant and delicious.  I remember one time in Thailand, my colleague brought some Thai jasmine rice to the refugee camps for a special event.  The children just ate the rice plain and said it was so good compared to the rice they received in their handouts (broken, substandard rice).  It really is good enough to eat by itself.
  3. Wash your rice.  Supposedly washing the rice 4-6 times (filling up with water, swishing the rice around, draining the water, and filling it back up again) removes 25-30% of the arsenic.
  4. Check where your rice comes from.  California rice was found to have the least amount of arsenic, while southern states along the Bible belt (Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Missouri) had the highest amounts.  And like I said, rice imported from other countries has miniscule amounts of arsenic.

It seems like there’s a lot of stuff we’re eating that’s not so good for us, from genetically modified corn to factory-farmed meat to chemical-laden processed foods.  Even as we speak, there’s a recall on peanut butter sold at Trader Joe’s (due to salmonella), and earlier this year there was a listeria outbreak in cantaloupes.  Although avoiding every single scary food out there would be impossible, I think it’s important to listen to these reports and make changes that you are comfortable making.  In our household we eat rice about 3 times a week, so I’ll probably reduce it by one and replace it with another grain (barley, quinoa, buckwheat – there are lots of options).  And when we do eat rice, I’ll stick to Thai jasmine and the California short-grain that we’re used to eating.  But I’m not going to eliminate rice from our diet altogether.   That would just be too hard for us.  Fried rice, anyone?


Our road trips always lead to…diarrhea

It never fails.  Every time we go on a road trip, it seems to happen – the worst thing to befall a child (and the parents) while on vacation: gastrointestinal illness (i.e. vomiting and/or diarrhea).   We were staying at a hotel the last couple of times it happened, so at least we had running water, plenty of clean towels and sheets, garbage service, etc.  But when it strikes, you would much rather be in the comfort of your own home.  I felt horrible asking the housekeeping staff for new towels and sheets every 2 hours and disposing of the toxic diapers in the main garbage can near the dining area.  I guess it could’ve been worse…we could have been camping.

On our last road trip a few months ago, we were in the middle of the Petrified National Forest near Holbrook, AZ.  I was carrying my then 14-month old girl on my back when she started hacking.  At first we thought the jostling in the Ergo carrier made her motion-sick, but she would not stop throwing up for the next 6 hours.  Then as quickly as it came, it left, replaced by diarrhea (not sure which is worse).  The vomiting curse then passed to my 3-year old son, who threw up all that night into the trash can.  Two nights later my husband was praying to the porcelain goddess.  At least they took turns and weren’t all hurling in unison.  (I suffered from nausea the day after but miraculously didn’t end up vomiting.  Amazing considering that I’m usually one of the first ones to go down in these situations.)

Last week, we went on a road trip to San Diego.  On the third night, my now 19-month old girl was rolling around and whimpering in her sleep.  I could tell she was uncomfortable so I held her, thinking she might vomit.  Then I heard the liquidy-fart sound and thought, Oh no.  We stayed in the hotel room the entire next day as she had her runs, slept, and cried.  We gave her water and Pedialyte, and for the first time in her life, she refused any food.  By the next day, she started to resemble the Sudanese kids that I worked with a few years ago.  Her eyes were wide and glassy with dark shadows underneath, her face was gaunt and pale, and her body lost all semblance to her former chubby self.

As I watched my poor little girl in misery, I asked myself, Why does this happen every time?  Well, I already know the answer.  Road trips mean being out of routine, familiar surroundings, our usual foods, etc.  On road trips I tend to be a bit lax about washing hands (ironically I used to organize hand-washing campaigns at the refugee camps in Thailand), keeping snacks at the right temperature, and de-germing in general.  The day before she got sick, we spent the whole day at the beach.  Not once did we wash our hands.  We ate snacks (yogurt and turkey wrap) that were stashed in an insulated lunchbox without an ice pack.  For dinner, we ate at an Italian restaurant where I shared my linguine del mar (shrimp & shellfish) with the kids.  Between all the sharing, sticking beach-sand hands in the mouth, and eating perishable (perished?!) food, it’s no wonder that some harmful bacteria found its way into my unsuspecting toddler’s gut.

Yep, diarrhea happens.  And while it’s a miserable process, I know that with a lot of water, Pedialyte, probiotics, and the BRAT (bananas, rice, apples, and toast) diet, this will pass within a few days.  We are blessed here in the U.S. to have a standard of living high enough that diarrhea is just a minor worry.  Sadly, this is not the case in developing countries, where diarrhea is one of the biggest killers of children under 5.  In parts of South Sudan where I worked, children suffered from diarrhea frequently due to poor hygiene and drinking from contaminated sources (swamps, the river where I once saw a dead cow floating, etc.).  Limited access to health care and low education increased the risk for the child, whom normally wasn’t given life-saving ORS (oral rehydration solution – water mixed with a bit of sugar and salt to replace the electrolytes lost).  In fact, the mother or caregiver oftentimes withholds all food and water, hoping that it will “dry up” the diarrhea.  Unfortunately, the child ends up dying of dehydration.

It’s tragic that so many children around the world die from diarrhea when it is preventable and treatable (if you are interested in learning more, I found a short and informative video on the subject at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xg26pm_eliminating-child-diarrhea-in-developing-countries_people).  It really makes me appreciate the resources we have in this country that allow us to see diarrhea as a temporary nuisance rather than a real threat to our child’s life.

And for our next road trip, I’ll make sure to pack the antibacterial hand gel.