covid19 · diets · eating · fitness

Has Pandemic Weight Gain Helped You Notice Your Own Fat-Phobia?

Feature photo credit: GR Stocks via Unsplash

CW:  Talk of weight gain, negative body image, and the potential for intentional weight loss

I’ve put on some additional body fat this year.  I’m not totally ok with it.  I mean, I’m OK in the sense that my world isn’t coming to an end, but I was more comfortable in my body when it was smaller.  And the habits I had that kept me at that smaller size were absolutely healthy, sustainable habits for me.  Until they weren’t for a while.

I’m going to say some things that I know aren’t in alignment with everyone in this community, starting with the fact that I’m ok if you have decided you’re more comfortable in a smaller body. I don’t think that feeling is always problematic.  However, I do think we need to examine the reasons why we are more comfortable and make sure we’re being honest about what we have control over and that our reasons for wanting to be smaller that are based upon our own values, not someone else’s.  

After all, what if you do some soul-searching and realize you have a belief that being a bigger size makes you less successful?  What if you feel less attractive or less worthy in a bigger body? Most likely, these are not beliefs that stem from your own values but rather a reflection of internalized fat-phobia.  So, when you notice this bias, approach it with curiosity, and then decide how you want to live your life and what kind of world you want to live in.  If it’s important to you to address this internalized fat-phobia, then there are things you can do to counteract it.  One of them isn’t being mean to yourself for realizing you have work to do.  I think unlearning fat-phobia and misogyny are lifelong processes, just as unlearning and dismantling our complicity with White supremacy will require a lifetime of attention and learning.  I’m ok with that.  These are complicated challenges, and we are co-creating new societies and cultures.  That work will take time, and it is appropriate that it does.

So, I’m not gonna get down on you, or myself, for noticing some shame about the changes in our bodies.  I’m also not going to say that the only solution is learning to accept our bodies larger.  We can choose that solution.  It’s on the table to do absolutely nothing to intentionally change size and to instead focus on feelings.  In fact, if you or I decide we aren’t ok with this larger size, we will still need to deal with these feelings in order to find a healthy, balanced approach to changing things.  The lifestyle and habit changes that come from a place of shame or self-judgement are not going to be changes anyone would want to sustain.  Who wants to live in perpetual self-punishment?

Doing the work of learning to accept ourselves without judgement, even when we’re currently uncomfortable in our bodies, will likely take some time and reeducation.  We must notice our feelings.  Question the beliefs that they stem from.  Learn to reframe our thoughts.  It will take time and patience for this process.

I am bigger that I was a year ago and for a long time, it was really uncomfortable for me–physically and psychologically uncomfortable. I found myself feeling like I’d failed, like I was less valid. 

However, I’ve been working on building up my healthy habits again and finding new mindsets that help me see the work I’m doing, not just a measurement against some false finish line. One of the biggest lies of diet culture is that the only changes that matter are big changes and the only changes in our bodies that matter are dramatic transformations. I’ve been working on noticing my internalized fat-phobia–how often I’m so much harder on myself than I would be to anyone else, expecting myself to make big, dramatic changes, and I’m working on counteracting this narrative in my head. As a result, I’m feeling pretty good right now.  I’m a tetch smaller than I was a few months ago, but that doesn’t compare to how it feels to being able to move again without pain in my joints.  It doesn’t compare to how it feels to be eating in ways that gives me more consistent energy–not bouncing between loaded down and overfed, and hungry and undernourished.  I’ve made this progress because I’ve given myself credit for the work along the way, even when it seemed small or “insignificant.”

For me, this work is about how I feel in my body every day and having the freedom to pursue the life that I want to live in this world. Feeling good IN my body is helping me feel better ABOUT my body.  It’s helping me counteract my internalized fat-phobia, showing me the strengths of my body rather than focusing on perceived weaknesses.

It’s ok to notice that you’ve internalized fat-phobia.  In fact, the only way we can address it is by acknowledging it.  Shaming yourself, or someone else, for participating in the dominant culture isn’t going to lead to lasting, healthy solutions.  Do the work to learn to accept yourself, your body, and your thinking as you are right now, as a work in progress, and then find solutions that work for you from that place of love.  

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found questioning her beliefs, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

eating · food · running

Running Fuel:  Avoiding a sour stomach and what to eat after a run

Feature photo credit: Roman Koester, via Unsplash.

Does running risk upsetting your stomach?  Do you have to treat it tenderly when you get back home to ensure you’re comfortable the rest of the day?  How do you balance your nutritional needs with that overwhelming desire to live off of starchy carbs?

Saturday, I wrote about some of the meals and foods I can enjoy for breakfast that help me feel better during my runs.  Now, I want to address the post-run meal.  I come back from my runs ready to enjoy something, but not ready to eat.  I also want to reset my gut so I can enjoy more fibrous vegetables and satisfying meals with more protein and fats than I have usually put into that day’s breakfast.  Here are the “rules” that seem to work best for me post-run to help me avoid an upset stomach and get me back into my regular eating routines.

Rule one:  Have a recovery beverage asap.  I read somewhere that dehydration can add to that sour stomach feeling, and maybe it’s a factor for me.  So, I make sure to have some water with a little juice or other sugar in it right away.  I might not be ready to eat immediately, but I find having something cold and refreshing immediately following my run really helps me to get back to feeling normal faster. I’ve put two of my favorite ways to rehydrate below.

Rule two:  Keep food easy to digest for the next few hours at least.  Cooked veggies over raw, moderate fat, some low-fat meat is fine for a protein boost. 

Rule three:  Eat when I’m hungry just until satisfied, not until full.  After a run is not a time to stuff myself, which honestly isn’t a habit of mine in any case, but I have been known to keep eating when something is really delicious.  That overfull feeling doesn’t mix well with my post-running stomach.  It’s also not a time for a rich dessert.

If I follow these guidelines, I feel mostly normal and back to my usual eating options by the time for my afternoon snack rolls around.  I keep hoping that someday I won’t need to negotiate so much with my gut before and after a run, but after years of running, I’m beginning to think that this is just how my body works.  I enjoy running enough to keep doing it, at least one day a week anyway.  But if I couldn’t find a way to work with my eating challenges, I’m not sure that would be true.  I’m happy to have found solutions that allow me to integrate running into my weekends and still feel like I’m taking care of myself nutritionally as well.

Homemade Orange Sports Drink

This is my go-to beverage after a run.  I mix it up and either keep it in the fridge ready to enjoy when I return, or if I’m running outside of my neighborhood, keep it in the car to enjoy as soon as I get back to it.

Mix together orange juice concentrate with twice the cold water recommended.

Add a dash of salt.

If you’re a meathead like me, you can put your daily creatine powder in this as well, to check off that box for the day.

Stir or shake together until fully combined.

Ginger-Apple Frothy Recovery Drink

Ginger has natural happy-tummy abilities, reducing nausea and upset stomachs.  This is a great option for days when you’re really struggling to set your stomach right.

In a blender, combine until the texture of a slushie:

Candied ginger

Apple juice (or concentrate plus water)

Ice

Maybe half a frozen banana

Pureed Vegetable Soup

Whenever I get around to lunch, I want to get back to my full serving of vegetables, since I’ve avoided them before my run.  This soup really works for me.

In a large stock pot, add 1 tablespoon of oil and 4 cups chopped carrots, onions, and celery. Frozen is fine.  Don’t bother to chop anything really finely, because you’re going to blend it all up later.

Add another 4-6 cups chopped other vegetables of your choice such as more carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, zucchini, spinach, etc.  I also like to add a red garnet yam for the sweetness.  Again, you can “cheat” and just throw in some frozen veggies, if you want to save time.

Flavor with 4-6 cloves of crushed garlic and 1-2 tbsp fresh ginger root.  If you want curried soup, also add 2 tbsp curry powder, 1 tbsp each cumin and powdered coriander, and some hot pepper (to taste).

Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is very soft.  This can take an hour or so, but you don’t have to pay attention to it most of that time.  It can burn as it gets close to being done, so check on it every 5-10 minutes or so near the end and give it a good stir.

Add 8 cups of (preferably homemade) vegetable or chicken stock.

Use a stick blender to blend it all together until completely smooth.  Add salt to taste and adjust seasonings.  Allow to simmer a bit to combine flavors.

I freeze this in 1-2 cup servings and pull out one each weekend.  It makes 10-15 servings, depending on how much you eat at a time.  When it’s time for lunch, I add some shredded chicken and a dollop of Greek yogurt on top. I make it a balanced meal with some toast or a muffin on the side.

Do you have dietary “rules” you follow to help you feel good after a run?  Have a favorite post-run food?  I’d love to hear them.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found slowly cooking vegetables on the stove, picking up heavy things, and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: Not my soup, but someone’s lovely bright yellow-orange pureed vegetable soup with fresh herbs and pumpkin seeds garnishing the top. Photo credit: Monika Grabkowska, via Unsplash.
eating · food · running

Running Fuel: What do you eat beforehand to avoid a sour stomach?

Feature photo credit: Marcos Paulo Prado, via Unsplash.

What do you eat before a run?  Does what you eat impact how you perform?  

I struggle with a sensitive stomach on running days.  If I eat the wrong things beforehand, I get a sour stomach during and/or after my runs, which can send me rushing into the bathroom repeatedly and disrupt my appetite for the rest of the day.

Based upon my own experimentation, I have found a few rules for a happy gut and a good run.  Today, I want to share what I have found works for me before a run.  I’ll post later on what I do afterwards.

My eating “rules” for the meal before my run:

Rule 1: Eat something.  I run in the morning after breakfast.  I tried running on just coffee, and my energy tanked rapidly and the run just plain felt harder.

Rule 2: Don’t eat too much fiber.  One of my B365 habits is to aim for 2 cups of fruits and fibrous vegetables at each meal, but I make an exception for breakfast before my run.  Fruit seems to agree with me more than vegetables, but even then I need to be careful.  One apple or a banana is totally fine.  A cup of berries might cross the line into unhappy tummy land.

Rule 3: Focus on easily-digested starchy carbohydrates like hot cereals, bread, or yams.  

Rule 4: Avoid too much fat.  Fat slows down our digestion, and I don’t want too much food hanging out in my digestive track during a run.  So, I aim for enough to keep me satisfied and not hungry on the run, but not so much that I feel full or heavy.  

Rule 5: Get enough easily digested protein to feel satisfied. My preferred sources at breakfast are eggs, usually mixed with egg whites, and/or plain Greek yogurt.   

I let my gut tell me when it’s time to head out.  Some thirty to sixty minutes after breakfast, I need to use the bathroom.  When that business is done, I can safely head out to do the work.

Some menus/recipes that have worked well for me:

Oatmeal with apple (I’ve shared several of my recipes here), Scrambled egg/egg white, Greek yogurt, Coffee

Roasted sweet potato (with skin), Parmesan cheese, Scrambled eggs/egg whites, Coffee

All-in-One-Bowl Oat Bran and Wheat Porridge 

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 whole egg plus 6 Tbs. egg whites (2 large whites), or two large eggs
  2. In a microwave-safe glass measuring cup, bring to a boil (2 min. in my microwave): ½ cup soy milk (or dairy, if you prefer) plus ¾ cup water
  3. Slowly pour the hot liquid into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time.  This tempers the egg and keeps it from becoming scrambled eggs.
  4. Turn on the heat to medium under the egg mixture.  When it returns to a near boil, lower the heat and whisk in, 2 Tbs. Cream of Wheat or other wheat farina product, and 3 Tbs. oat bran.  
  5. Cook at a slow simmer stirring frequently until thick, about 4 minutes.
  6. Stir in cinnamon, 1-2 Tbs. raisins, 1 Tbs. of peanut butter, and 1 cup other fruit as desired (chopped apple, banana, peaches, etc.). Heat through.
  7. To serve, pour it all into a large bowl, plop on top ½ cup or so of plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle with a little brown sugar.

Banana Nut Pancakes

I make my own “pancake mix,” which is really just all the dry ingredients from a favorite pancake recipe, mixed together in bulk and stored in a container in my cupboard.  My absolute favorite of the moment is from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book (multigrain with buttermilk), but I have also used the Joy of Cooking Basic Pancakes recipe many times (subbing in some whole wheat flour).  

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together: 1 mashed banana, 1 whole egg, 1 Tbs peanut butter or 2 Tbs chopped nuts, ½ tsp vanilla, a shake or two of cinnamon, and enough liquid (water or milk) for one serving of pancakes (¼-⅓ cup for the recipes I use).
  2. Stir in the dry ingredient pancake mix for one serving (½ cup-ish on my recipes).  Adjust the texture as needed.
  3. Cook on a hot griddle with a tetch of butter melted on it.
  4. Serve with Greek yogurt, a little real maple syrup, and a couple eggs/scrambled egg whites.

These have been my go-tos for breakfast before my runs.  What are you eating?  If you struggle with tummy issues on your runs, what keeps you satisfied but doesn’t upset your stomach?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found searching up new pancake recipes, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: A stack of pancakes and maple syrup on a fun glazed plate (with fruit designs?), a knife and fork. Photo credit: dazedream Via Unsplash
diets · eating · habits · overeating

Diet Deprogramming: Diet Mindset and Time

CW and Note:  This is part of an ongoing, occasional series based on the work I’m doing as a participant in Balance 365.  You can read about my decision to join the group here.  Discussion of nutrition habits and diets.  Feature photo credit: Mick Haupt via Unsplash

Are you struggling to make changes to your nutrition without swinging between extremes–first you’re on a roll, aiming for optimal and then you’ve got a big case of the eff-its and eating ALL THE FOODS?  In order to make healthy, consistent changes to our nutrition habits, we need to have healthy, consistent thinking about them and find a way to reduce these swings in behavior.  If you were raised in a “Western” society, your thoughts have been influenced by diet culture, even if you’ve never been on a diet.  Diet culture and it’s equally problematic sister, dieting mindset, make it harder for us to make the consistent habit changes we aim to make.

Diets limit when you can eat, how much you can eat, and/or what you can eat.  Each one of these limitations creates patterns of thought that we might need to address in order to successfully make healthy changes to our nutrition habits.  Today, I’m going to address only the first one, how limiting when we can eat influences our mindset. Diets might say you can’t eat before or after a certain time each day, or when it’s ok to eat your next meal.  Even if you’ve never been on a diet, you’ve probably been told everyone should eat breakfast or avoid late night eating.  The coaches at Balance 365 teach that these kinds of rules create habits of thought, and therefore behaviors, that can contribute to diet mindset, and we must address our mindset, if we want to make long-lasting, sustainable changes to our behaviors.

Returning to my area of expertise, my own experiences, I can see that I sometimes have thoughts about limiting when I can or should eat.  I wrote this summer that I’d noticed that I was experiencing hunger between breakfast and lunch and was preventing myself from eating more because it seemed like I “shouldn’t” be hungry.  If I didn’t want to add a snack between breakfast and lunch, there were other options besides just going hungry.  I could change what I ate for breakfast to something more satisfying. Or, I could increase the size of the portions of some or all of what I was eating at breakfast.  Notice that in order to consider these options, I had to first be ok with the reality that I was hungry between meals and accept that it was problematic for me.  The dieting mindset showed up as invalidating the information my body was giving me, and telling me to ignore my hunger.  My solution this summer was to increase how much protein I got at breakfast–making sure I have eggs AND Greek yogurt most mornings.  Recently, I’ve also started adding kale or some frozen veggies to my eggs, and I’m finding that it is helping me feel even more satisfied and to have stable energy levels before lunch.

Another example of time-based restriction I’ve observed in myself is that I adhere to strict meal times.  I don’t ever remember deciding that breakfast is at 8:00am, lunch is at noon, snack at 3:00, and dinner at 6:30, but every day this is my routine.  I look at the clock, and use that cue to inform when I am eating.  3:00pm snack can be especially powerful, and I sometimes find myself anxious if I’m doing something that interferes with this schedule.  Diet mindset kicks in, I become worried I’m going to go hungry (another consequence of dieting mindset, fear of hunger and treating it like an emergency, worthy of a post all its own), and I begin to figure out how I can make that snack happen.  A downside for my health is that I often make less nutritious and less satisfying food choices when I eat in order to assuage my anxiety.  For now, my solution is to preplan some healthy afternoon snacks so I know I have options that will keep me satisfied without ruining my dinner, and I’m working on tuning into my internal hunger and satiety cues to determine when I eat, at least to the degree that I can within the confines of my job.  This is a bigger task, and I imagine it will require some time for me to become consistent with this skill.

Diet culture tells us to use external factors like time to determine when we eat.  Unlearning this element of dieting mindset requires noticing when we are limiting ourselves temporally, and finding solutions that work for us that address the underlying challenges.  How this shows up will be different for each of us.  For me, I’m noticing that I have strong feelings about when it’s ok to be hungry and when I expect to eat. I look forward to a time when I have fully let go of some of these restrictions and anxieties and have found patterns that support my health and help me feel my best in a sustainable way.

Have you ever noticed yourself using external, time-based restrictions on when you eat? Does it feel problematic for you? Is it a mindset that you’ve considered changing?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found noticing how she feels before and after meals, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Image description: Red neon sign in front of a dark, brick background. It reads “EAT.” Photo credit: Tim Mossholder, via Unsplash
eating · habits

Marjorie Joins Balance 365

CW: Mentions weight, body size change, and desire for change. Feature Image photo credit: Jon Flobrant via Unsplash.

I’ve been a fan of Jen and Annie for a while now.  Jennifer Campbell and Annie Brees host the Balance 365 Life Radio Podcast, where they discuss all things women’s nutrition, health and wellness.  The podcast is clearly a vehicle for bringing women into their sphere of influence and to introduce us to the philosophy behind their coaching program.  And while it’s obvious that is what it is, they do not hold back the “juicy bits” of info, dangling them to tempt you to join up.  It may be a hook, but they’re up front about who they are and what they have to offer, and it’s the clear moral compass behind these sorts of business decisions that finally convinced me to trust them enough and join in November.

Balance 365 is a program designed for women to find a balanced, healthy lifestyle that works for them.  It is not a diet and it does not assume that you have fat loss goals, although it is ok if you do, and it is ok if you don’t.  The program is about creating a genuinely healthy relationship with food, bodies, and movement, with a big emphasis on “Diet Deprogramming,” changing mindset out of a scarcity/restriction place with food and to find that place where healthy, balanced food choices are less of a big deal.  It is a habit-based program, encouraging small steps at your own pace, building over time to a more significant lifestyle shift.

For me, the appeal of the program was maybe to get some new information, but mostly to find a community in which I can share my process, to get feedback, and to find support.  I’ve written here a few times since the pandemic that I’ve been struggling with my healthy habits.  As my size has increased over the last year, my mindset has struggled, too.  My goals for this program at this time is to work on shifting my mindset into a more neutral place about my food choices, to give less salience to my decisions, and to continue to rebuild habits that are supportive of my longer-term goals.  For me, that does include a desire to be a smaller size again, but I don’t want to do it in a way that is fragile or temporary.  I want to find the best, healthiest lifestyle I can habitually maintain, and I suspect that will mean a smaller size than I currently am.  Even if it doesn’t, reduced stress around food would be a big win.  Jen referred to this as having a “goal life, not a goal weight,” and I’m onboard with that.

What I’ve purchased is access to the self-guided program.  This includes three e-books (Diet Deprogramming, Nutrition Habits, and Movement), lots of online “handouts” and worksheets, and access to the private Facebook group.  There is a group coaching option, and I’ve decided not to take that on at this time.  I don’t really want the added project of a coaching session to attend, and I feel pretty good about being able to instill habits for myself.  I’d like to check in here with the FIFI community from time to time as I explore these resources, reflect upon them, and participate in the work.  This community shares the value of leaving behind dieting mindsets, but we rarely explicitly address what that process involves.  I am especially interested in sharing that work with you, and I hope you will grant me the grace to be imperfect, to do the work, and to share that process.  If you have questions as I go along, your comments are always welcome!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found journaling on her core values, lifting up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

eating · habits · holidays

Make-Ahead Breakfast Food Prep–The Pumpkin Spice Edition!

Last year I offered up some breakfast and lunch food prep ideas based on what I’d been eating at the time.  Appetites change, work from home has replaced “the office” for many of us, and I wondered if it might be time for another set of recipes.  Today, a few more ideas for make-ahead breakfasts.  I know we’re reaching the end of the “pumpkin spice” season, but I find these flavors wonderful and soothing as long as the weather is cold. 

Marjorie’s Homemade Granola–Master Recipe

I’ve been working on a good homemade granola recipe for probably a decade now.  I like to have some sprinkled over fruit and Greek yogurt.  I eat it for an afternoon snack fairly often as well.  I will first provide the master recipe, in which you can switch things up as much as you prefer.  Then, I will give my go-to version, for those of you who don’t want to make so many decisions.

one.  Preheat the oven to 300 oF.

two.  Stir together in a baking dish or large glass casserole:

2 cups old-fashioned oats, quick oats, buckwheat groats, other flaked grains, or a mixture of any of these

1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut (you can use sweetened, if you can’t find it unsweetened, but obviously, the final result will be sweeter)

1.5 cups coarsely chopped nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or a mixture of these

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp powdered ginger

three.  Heat briefly in a microwave and stir together:

2 tbs nut butter or coconut oil

2 tbs honey or maple syrup

four.  Add 1 mashed very ripe banana to the honey mixture

And maybe ½ tsp almond extract or 1 tsp vanilla extract 

five.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until everything is evenly moistened.

six.  Bake until completely dried, stirring every half hour or so.  If it starts to toast too quickly, lower the temperature to 250oF.  Takes about 1 ½ hours.  

seven.  Allow to cool completely before packing into containers with tight-sealing lids.  Stays good, at room temperature, for several weeks.

My Go-to: Coconut Buckwheat Granola

Ingredients:

1 cup buckwheat groats (also called kasha)

1 cup quick oats (these seem to make the best, crunchy oat clusters in my experience)

1 cup unsweetened, flaked coconut

2 tbs all-natural crunchy peanut butter

2 tbs honey (really delicious with a strong-tasting honey like blackberry honey)

1 cup slivered almonds

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp powdered ginger

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 very ripe banana, mashed

Harvest Egg Bake

This custard is like a less-sweet pumpkin pie for breakfast.   In parts of the world where you are sadly without copious quantities of canned, winter squash puree, you could substitute mashed, roasted sweet potatoes.  One final note, if you want to substitute another milk, keep in mind that fats serve an important purpose in custards, keeping the proteins happy as they reach temperature.  A less fatty “milk” like almond milk or skim may split and create a less favorable texture.

one. Preheat the oven to 350oF.

two. Butter a large, 9×13 baking dish.

three. Whisk together:

12 whole eggs, or 6 whole eggs plus 2 cups egg whites

1.5 cups whole or 2% milk or soy milk 

15 oz can (about 1 3/4 cups) pumpkin puree

½-1 tsp cinnamon (honestly, I don’t actually measure this, I use a lot)

A few shakes of ground nutmeg

¼ cup brown sugar (or more, to taste)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of 1 orange (optional but delicious)

four. Pour the custard into the prepared baking dish.  Then sprinkle evenly with:

2-3 finely chopped, good baking apples

⅓ cup raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, or a combination thereof

Maybe a few tangerines or a naval orange, finely chopped

five. Bake until just set in the middle, about 1 hour.

six. Allow to sit 10 minutes before serving.  Makes 6 servings.

Variation:  Harvest Oatmeal Bake

Follow the recipe, adding 1/2 cup additional milk or water to the custard and evenly spreading 2 cups of old-fashioned oats with the apples and fruit, gently pushing the oats down into the custard with a spoon.

Serve warm with a scoop of plain Greek yogurt, maybe a little maple syrup, and a tablespoon or two of chopped walnuts, for a satisfying, balanced breakfast.

Bonus “recipe:” Spiced Coffee

I make my coffee in a pour-over, but I would think this would work in a French press, too, you will just get a little more spice powder circulating in the cup.  But hey, the sludge is part of the charm of French press coffee, right?

Add to the filter with your coffee grounds:

A generous shake or two each of cinnamon and ground turmeric

A little nutmeg

Maybe a dash of cardamom

Sweeten and cream your coffee, if you like, as you like

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found buying cinnamon in bulk, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: Pumpkins in a pumpkin patch. Photo courtesy of unsplash, photographer Christopher Rusev.
covid19 · eating · fitness · habits · health

Taking Stock of Healthy Habits

What are your healthy habits?  What do you do to take care of yourself that requires very little consideration or intentionality?  The pandemic disrupted my healthy habits for a while, but over the last several months, I’ve been able to create new routines, and I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot right now.

What makes something a habit or routine?  These are the things I do just because “it’s what I do.”  If I were to place intentional behaviors on a scale of zero to five, zero meaning they require no thought at all (brushing my teeth in the morning), five meaning they require a conscious effort and a fair amount of discomfort to follow through (signing up for a new activity I have no experience with, like joining a rock climbing gym), habits fall in the levels of 3 or less.  I like to keep my healthy habits in the 0-2 range on this scale, as I am far more successful when they require very little thought or discomfort.  Although those 3 level habits are a place of growth, so I don’t mind that they show up now and again.

I also think of habits as having layers like those Russian nesting dolls–foundational habits create the space to hold a lot of smaller, supporting habits within them.  The stronger my foundational habits, and the less effort they require, the more supporting habits can fit within them and help me build a healthier lifestyle overall.  If you struggle with creating structure and healthy habits, these would be the habits you need to find for yourself–it’s the “big rocks” that make a greater impact on improving your overall health.  Here are some examples of what works for me.

Food/nutrition.

Under the category of eating well, the big foundational habit for me, and this has been true for many years, is sitting down on Saturday to plan my meals for the week and make a grocery list.   With this habit in place, there are many other food-related routines and habits that I give very little thought.

Sunday: Food prep day.  I prepare breakfasts, lunches, and afternoon snacks for the week.  It matters to me to make sure there’s plenty of washed, prepared fruits and vegetables, and I cook protein (eggs, chicken, and turkey most often) to make prep of the individual meals fast and require very little thought.  I cook a big dinner Sunday night, and we eat the leftovers for the next 2-3 days.  Sometimes I prep desserts and place them in the freezer so they’re available when I decide I want some.

Any day:  I like 4 meals a day.  I eat my meals at pretty much the same time of day every day.  I rarely snack or nibble outside of meals.  When Sunday dinner is eaten up, it’s my husband’s turn to cook.  We rarely eat “out” anymore.  I eat most meals either at the table or on the kitchen island.

Fitness/Activity.

I think the foundational habit for this one for me is scheduling my lifting sessions into my calendar for the week.  I look over when I have meetings, and I make sure I have 3 lifting sessions scheduled in addition to the session with my trainer on the weekend.  I choose the date and the time in advance (before work, in the middle of the day, or possibly afterwards).  When I have them scheduled, I don’t have to decide to lift that day, which really helps on days that I’m tired or feeling especially busy.  I also schedule a run on whichever weekend morning I don’t work with my trainer.

When I lift, I log my workouts in a little paper journal.  I track the exercise, weight, and reps.  I try to pick up more or do more reps each workout.  I find it very rewarding to see the numbers go up over time!

In addition to these activities, I take a walk nearly every day.  This has become an essential part of my wellness during the pandemic, and it is so rewarding, I’d call it a 1 on my “intentional activity scale.”  I stop work, put on my shoes, download a podcast or two onto my phone, and out I go.  The route is habitual, too, more or less.  I walk pretty much the same neighborhood streets each time.  I like going on autopilot, spacing out, listening to my podcasts, getting some time in my head at the end of the day.

Rest/recovery.

Foundational for me is getting enough sleep.  I try to go to bed within the same 30 minute window each night (9:15-9:45).  I get not quite enough sleep during the week, waking up at 6:30 most weekdays, and I “sleep in” to maybe 7:30 or 7:45 oftentimes on weekends.  My daily walks could just as easily fall into the rest/recovery category, as they serve as much-needed introvert “alone time” in this era of constant homeboundness.  I make the bed and journal every night before I turn out the lights , and then I put earbuds into my ears and listen to an audiobook set on a timer. I use a sleep mask to cover my eyes.

Early in the pandemic, I lamented the disruption to my healthy habits.  I rely upon these habits and routines to take care of myself without having to use much “motivation” or “inspiration” to get things done.  Now that working from home has become the norm for me, my habits have been reestablished, with some tweaks to address changes in the times.  I feel so much more at ease these days, knowing that I’m taking care of myself in so many important ways without much conscious work.  It really helps me feel more like myself and better taken care of.

What habits have you established/reestablished in these challenging times?  Which ones would you consider foundational to building a healthy lifestyle for you?  I’d love to hear about it!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found cooking shredded chicken in her crockpot, picking up heavy things, and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

eating · Fear · food · overeating

Food Scarcity as a Trigger, with a pot of lentils as an aside

CW: discusses food and eating behaviors, with references to dieting, food restriction and overeating

Do you find perceptions of scarcity triggering? I do. Food scarcity in particular, even the belief that it might become scarce at some point, can lead me to make self-soothing decisions like buying extra “just in case.”

I’m not truly hoarding food, but I’ve definitely got an especially well-stocked pantry at the moment. And chest freezer. And refrigerator.

And I’m settling into old habits like baking bread in batches, so there’s always some fresh sitting on the counter. Last night, when I made rice, I made a double batch. Now, I can freeze half of it just in case. And maybe now my lizard brain knows I will have rice, even though I already knew that, since I have several pounds of dry rice sitting in my pantry. But apparently, that primitive part of my mind needs the reassurance of cooked rice in my freezer right now.

I recognize that this is not a rational response. It is not in response to actual scarcity, but its perception. It’s true that when I go grocery shopping, I don’t have access to quite everything I want. However, suitable replacements are often available. My grocery store has instilled 2-can per purchase limits on precooked beans, and there are no dry beans to be found other than lentils, so I bought a couple pounds of those. My pre-pandemic meal preparations had me consuming 2-4 cans of beans a week. This week, I’m eating lentils. I have enough. But I can feel some uneasiness that I’m using them, like a part of me wants to just keep them on the shelf so I’ll know they’re there. I bought a whole, frozen turkey when there wasn’t any chicken available on one grocery trip. But I don’t want to cook the turkey. I want to keep it in my freezer, so I know I’ll always have a turkey.

This feeling of scarcity has led to some unplanned eating, too. It’s not so very different than the imposed scarcity that chronic dieters put themselves under. When we feel restricted, we tend to lash out and overeat eventually. Sometimes not so eventually. I am NOT restricting what I eat, except to recognize that when I eat something, then it is no longer available to eat! And so I suspect that is sometimes leading to me doing the counter-productive thing of eating ALL THE FOODS. I suppose I’m storing it in my body in preparation for the hard times.

These behaviors have long been a part of me–the uplanned eating and the food storage. Friends and family members have teased me for as long as I’ve been an independent adult for my tendency to can and preserve mass quantities in the summer and fall. I can freeze, dehydrate, can, bake, ferment and pickle with the best of them. For as long as I’ve had the resources to do it, I’ve kept 20-30 pounds of flour in my pantry. I keep bulk nuts in the freezer, and dried apple slices, candied orange rinds, and every kind of jam and jelly you’d ever want on my shelves. Every year, I put up apple and pear sauces and butters, whole seckel pears, pie apples, berries in wine pie filling (amazing!) and whatever else floats my boat. I have the habit of putting something on the grocery list the minute I open up the last back-up, so there’s always an extra bag of sugar or canister of oats. All of this was true right up to before our world was put on hold.

And yet, I still do not feel secure. I can see it in how I’m doing math every time I reach for something in the pantry. If I open this jar of berries, that leaves me only 2 more jars, how long can I stretch those out? Can I make them last until berry season again? Will I even get to go berry picking this year? If I make coq au vin for dinner tonight, that will be the last of the chicken breast in the freezer; will they have more this week, or should I plan on cooking something else so I can keep some chicken in the freezer?

I do not like feeling triggered in this way. I like to feel like I’m in control, and when I’m triggered, my more primal self is in the driver’s seat. And, of course, the fact that there are so many important things out of my control is in its own way triggering. I know, intellectually, that it’s going to be ok, but I wish there was a way to reassure my lizard brain of that fact. For now, I’m going to head down to the pantry and gaze upon my stockpile of homemade applesauce and try to contemplate abundance.

In case you’re eating lentils this week, too, here’s a recipe. It is loosely based upon one for Lentil and Barley Stew from the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (Jean Hewitt, 1971), which was a staple of mine when I was a vegetarian. Today’s version has ground turkey in it, which you could completely omit and still have a lovely dish of lentils.

Lentil Stew with Turkey

one. In a large, heavy duty stock pot, sauté in a couple tablespoons oil and/or butter:
1 diced onion
4 large carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, sliced
1 tbs dried rosemary
4 cloves minced garlic
1 bay leaf

two. When the onion is soft, add 3 lbs. ground 93% lean turkey. Break it up with a wooden spoon so that it isn’t in big chunks.

three. Once the turkey is fully cooked and no longer pink, add
1 lb. green or brown lentils (not the red or yellow kinds that cook down into mush)
5 cups water, stock, broth, or a combination thereof
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, with their juices

four. Bring stew to a simmer. Lower heat, cover, and cook at a low simmer until lentils are fully cooked, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This will be 9 2-cup servings for me, so I plan on portioning it out and setting some aside for my freezer so it’s available when I need a quick lunch, or you know, so I have it just in case.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found making fermented cabbage and using her bodyweight in lieu of picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Image description: A large pot of lentils, ground turkey, and vegetables. Maybe not very pretty, but it tastes delicious!
eating · fitness · habits · self care

Marjorie Muses on Missing her Routines and Ruminates upon the Ramifications

I miss my routines.

Over the years, I’ve built dozens of routines that have improved my life–routines that make going to the gym nearly automatic, routines that make it easier to eat in a way that reflects my values, routines that increase my contact with other people even though my natural introversion can lead to isolation. These are routines built to increase my self-care, which honestly is a challenge for me otherwise. In the past, I found it hard to prioritize myself if in the moment I had to make a choice–right now, do I do what I need or what someone else needs? Most of the time, in the moment, I would more readily take care of someone else. But when these things are routine, when they are habitual, I do what I need to do for myself and I feel better for it.

But my routines have gone all to hell these days.

I am a teacher, and school has been closed down, possibly for the remainder of the year. In my life before pandemic, I worked too many hours, and I had to be very strategic to get everything done. I welcomed any bit of extra time to rest, connect with friends, and to mindfully plan the next busy day. I eagerly filled nonschool days with activities and self-care. But that was before businesses started closing down. And it was before it was unclear if I was making an unethical choice every time I stepped out the door.

And so now, with sort-of school slowly becoming a reality, I’m not quite sure how best to take care of myself. Would it help to get back to prepping my meals? (Some of my previous breakfast and lunch practices are posted here, if you are interested.) Maybe I’d eat better if it were all decided for me each day. However, every trip to the store has become an act of foraging for prefered staples–seeking out and competing for limited prized goods like beans, chicken and frozen broccoli. Inconsistent availability makes it difficult to plan meals ahead of time. And besides, giving myself some food variety is an appreciated source of entertainment right now.

Should I write down my “gym” and “running” days on the calendar and schedule them like appointments with myself? It might help to feel like I’m accomplishing something when I can check them off, but uncertainties in other aspects of life make it hard to know when to reliably fit those in. I started off pretty enthusiastically figuring out home versions of various lifts, but as work is coming back, and directives from the state and school district change on a daily basis, I can’t reliably determine when I have time for an hour of “lifting” on any particular day. And there are still days when I seem exhausted by it all, and the best thing for me is to let myself sit like a loaf on the sofa with a cat in my lap.

I acknowledge that some of the mini-habits are still in place. I’m still brushing and flossing my teeth. I did laundry, although it did not get put away as rapidly as it usually would have. I’m going for walks most days. I’m still mostly going to bed at my usual bedtime, and I’m enjoying sleeping in. I’m still eating a good amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and some protein at most meals (although there’s also a good amount of brownies, too). It doesn’t feel like enough, but it’s what I am managing to do right now. I’m trying to embrace an 80/20 mindset–80% intentional, 20% whatever. I’d be more comfortable closer to 92/8, truth be told.

I don’t have a solution to offer here. I feel like it’s important just to observe the challenge right now and to be kind to myself (ourselves) if I’m struggling to maintain my healthy habits and routines to the degree to which I prefer. I genuinely don’t mind being a little lax for a while, as long as it’s not indefinitely. And I think that’s where I get anxious and stressed–without knowing for how long this will be my new normal, I don’t know how important it is to develop new routines. I suspect we are in this for a long time, and so I want to find solutions that feel real and meaningful. I’m not there yet, but I am trying to believe I will be soon.

How about you, dear reader? Are you missing your routines? Have you found a new set of habits readily available, or are you still struggling to find them?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher who misses her students. She can be found using resistance bands while pretending she’s picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Image description: The unlit, Art Deco marquee of the Laurelhurst Theater. It says, “laurelhursttheater.com, closed for now, stay healthy & warm, support each other, take care of yourselves.”
eating · food · nutrition

Make-Ahead Lunch Meal Prep: Boxed Lunch

Continuing with the discussion of make-ahead meal preparations, today I thought I’d tackle lunch. Christine nudged me this way during my previous post on oatmeal, and I admit, I started with oatmeal because it was easier to describe and to write about! The trouble with lunch is all the pieces you need to have ready in advance in order to make the prep painless. Over the years, I’ve developed routines to make this pretty easy for me, but it took a while, and many Sundays spent too long in the kitchen, to develop the routine. However, I kept plugging away until it became habitual, and now I spend less than an hour prepping lunches for the week (sometimes a lot less), which works out to under 10 minutes per meal.

So, I am going to write this post with two parts, “Saturday” is going to be the prep that needs to happen before you want to make your meals for the week. This doesn’t have to be Saturday, of course, but at least a day before you need those ingredients. Judicious use of your freezer space can allow you to do this part weeks in advance, and as you develop a meal-prep routine, I strongly suggest you do it that way. “Sunday” is your meal-prep day. I always make enough to eat one of them that day, so then lunch planning is done.

A final note before I get to the recipes–you are going to have to experiment with how much variety you need in the week and from week to week. I do not require much variety to be satisfied with my breakfast and lunches. When I was single, I also ate the same dinner for four or five nights in a row. However, I know many people would be very disappointed in their meals to have so much sameness day to day. You will have to adjust these plans to meet your meal-variety needs, but be aware that the more variety you decide to require, the more time the preparations will take. Easy switches like a different serving of fruit or vegetable may be enough to give you a hit of variation without throwing off the whole week of preparations.

Saturday
Prep your protein. My go-to is boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs cooked in the slow-cooker on low heat for many hours. You can also do these in a low oven 20-30 minutes on a baking pan. I usually fill my slow-cooker to the top and leave it on medium for the day. This gives me enough chicken to last a month or so. Whatever I don’t need this week will be chopped up, placed on a cookie sheet and frozen individually. Then, once it’s frozen, I put it in plastic zipper bags to be pulled out as needed for the next month. You could sub in cooked ground or roasted turkey easily enough. I do not eat red meat, but I’d guess you could do something similar with beef. If you want fish or seafoods, I would recommend you keep them frozen until a day before you want to eat them to avoid spoilage.

Photo description: A cookie sheet with diced, cooked chicken breasts. They have been frozen and are ready to use or store in the freezer.

Prep your grains/beans. Whenever I cook rice, barley, dried beans, lentils, quinoa, etc. for dinner, I make extra. Then I freeze the leftovers in convenient amounts (3 cups, if I’m going to add them to lunches.) Thaw just before you do your prep for the week. I often use canned beans to save time. Just drain and rinse in a colander before using. You can also find cooked grains and beans in the freezer section of the grocery store, and they work well, too.

Consider prepping vegetables. I “cheat” and buy frozen veggies these days, but when I had fewer financial resources and more time, I would buy fresh vegetables, chop and steam them to have ready for lunches all week.

Sunday
Basic “boxed” lunch
This is my go-to lunch. To make it interesting week in and week out, I change which variation of flavorings I use. This is the starting place.

  1. Put out 6 reusable 4 cup containers with good lids.
  2. In each container begin with:
    1 ½ cups chopped, cooked vegetables (I like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, summer squash, and/or green beans, it’s ok if they’re still frozen)
    4 oz chopped chicken, turkey, or protein of your choice (also fine if frozen)
    ½ cup beans and/or brown rice, quinoa, or other cooked grain (more if you’re vegetarian)

Teriyaki boxed lunch variation
Add the following to each container of the the basic boxed lunch:
Use black beans or small, mild-flavored beans like azuki or black-eyed peas
⅓ 8oz can of sliced water chestnuts, drained (about ¼ cup)
2 Tbs prepared teriyaki sauce (I use Kikkoman Takumi collection original)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2-3 tbs cashews
Suggested fruit pairing: tangerines, oranges and/or pineapple

Tex-Mex boxed lunch variation
Use pinto and/or black beans and rice.
Either use a prepared salsa or make a spicy tomato sauce by stirring together:
2-3 cups tomato sauce
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
hot pepper flakes to taste

Put ¼ to ½ cup sauce/salsa over the veggies.
Sprinkle with 1 tbs. pumpkin seeds.
Add 1 oz grated monterey jack or pepper jack cheese on top.
Suggested fruit pairing: diced melon and/or papaya (with a squeeze of lime!)

Italian boxed lunch variation
Use garbanzo or white beans.
Either use a prepared marinara sauce or make one by stirring together:
2-3 cups tomato sauce
2 tsp dried basil and oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 minced garlic clove

Put ¼ to ½ cup sauce over the veggies.
Sprinkle with 1 oz grated mozzarella cheese and 1-2 tbs. parmesan.
Suggested fruit pairing: grapes or an orange

For each of these, when you’re ready to eat, simply remove the lid and heat them up until hot, 3-4 minutes in the microwave. This is what I’m eating these days, although I’ve gone through periods when I was eating soups, stews or big salads instead. I’d be happy to share some of those recipes and ideas in future posts if folks are interested, so let me know and keep an eye out for them!

Do you have a go-to lunch that you like to make ahead for the week? Please comment below, and do let me know if you try any of these and what you think!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found eating out of reusable containers, picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: What you can see in my refrigerator right now–containers of “teriyaki boxed lunch,” scrambled eggs, tangerines, and portions of greek yogurt with chopped apples.