Accountability

Personal success can be achieved through taking personal accountability for our actions. This shift takes time for many to achieve and is one I’m working toward.  It’s hard to accept that you and you alone are accountable for your success or failure on this journey. It’s often easier to blame genetics, health or other outside reasons for your failure to make progress. But, today I’d like to talk about taking control of your journey and accepting personal accountability for it.

Think about this, every single decision you make in a day is in your hands. You alone decide to sleep in, get up, work out, or to eat that cookie or apple. You alone must take responsibility for the things you do and don’t do in any given day. Recognizing and honoring this is a necessary first step toward making lasting changes in your health. It can also be a powerful tool toward changing unwanted behaviors and ways of thinking about yourself.

Many of us spend our days drowning in negative self talk, blame and procrastination. On this journey toward reclaiming our health, we first need to address the elephant in the room – blame and excuses. Yes, it is far easier to say I’m still overweight because I’m a middle aged woman, or my parents were overweight, or, or, or. Accepting these excuses and reasons for our struggle is like giving ourselves a free pass. Further, accepting these reasons can lead to accepting where we are and giving up on trying to change our way of life.

Personal accountability is not meant to be a way to blame yourself for all that’s wrong in your life right now. Rather, it is meant to be a means to accept that despite where you are right now on your journey, including the reasons for being there, you have the power and responsibility to improve your health and make lasting changes.

Two of the most common reasons for not achieving our goals can be tied to making excuses and not having strong enough reason for doing something. Excuses can often lead to loss of motivation in any endeavor we take on. Motivation will quickly fade over time, especially as we begin to make excuses for our failures. Once we begin to blame outside sources for our lack of progress, we begin to lose our focus and drive. Having  strong reasons for getting healthy can help improve your focus and drive. Losing weight for a special event, while motivating in the short term, won’t sustain you over the long haul. Generally after the event is over, so is your motivation and drive to continue. Centering your why around longer term goals can keep you move forward when the going gets tough. In my case, my why is to maintain optimum health as I move into the next phase of my life. Seeking to avoid getting a disease such as Alzheimers keeps me focused and on track, even when I fall off the wagon for a few weeks here and there.

Success on this journey will require action. This action includes accepting personal responsibility for actions and not allowing yourself to make excuses when you fail to follow through.

Here are a few of the ways I have been holding myself accountable:

Planning

They say a goal without a plan is just a dream. That definitely applies to any health journey you are on. Planning is the biggest key to success. When I fail to plan I always end up on a bender. Planning includes shopping for healthy food, meal planning and scheduling workouts. Using a calendar and developing a schedule is the easiest way I get my daily workouts in. Blocking out a time to do it is critical. I am a morning person and I know that excuses will get the best of me if I try to workout at night. Knowing this, I plan my day around my workout. I get up early enough to fit it in each morning.

Menu planning and food shopping go hand in hand. If I don’t plan out my meals I end up cooking whatever is easy – pasta, junk food, etc. Whenever I am off target I know that it means I haven’t been diligent about shopping and planning. This is your best line of defense for success.

Share the Journey

For me, writing has allowed me to share my journey. It also holds me accountable. I find writing this blog very therapeutic as I work through issues I am facing myself. Making my journey public has also provided a means to hold myself personally accountable for my actions. I can’t sit here and write about things others should do if I don’t believe in them, or do them myself. This blog helps remind me of my why and keeps my focus on my goals strong. You don’t have to blog to share your journey. I imagine you all have people in your life that are on a similar journey. One of the best ways to stay strong and focused is to share your journey with a friend or loved one. Find yourself a partner and support each other along the way.

Positive Self Talk

Blame, negativity and excuses are hard to stave off. I’m working hard on using positive self talk to replace them whenever they rear their ugly heads. Find yourself a means to use positivity and gratitude to keep your spirits up. This will be a difficult journey and there will be times when your emotions take over. Having an outlet, or means to keep it positive will go a long way towards keeping you moving forward.

Tracking Progress

At the gym I always hear this, “What get’s measured gets improved.” It was on a radio playback. This is so true. Tracking progress will greatly improve your motivation and drive. Don’t just weigh yourself and lament over lack of weight loss. Measure all progress – This week I worked out six out of seven days, Today I ate three healthy meals, I slept through the night, etc. There are so many areas of our life that we can look to for progress. The scale is only one way to track our progress. In past blogs I’ve talked about taking your measurements as an alternative to the scale. Taking photographs is another positive way to see progress. Recognizing the daily and weekly successes to change our thinking is also a great place to celebrate process.

What are some ways you hold yourself accountable?  How do you maintain your positivity?  I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this as it surely can be a struggle for me.  Please take a moment to share your ideas in the comments below.  Also, consider sharing this blog with a friend who is on this path with you.

Lighten Up

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Purchasing healthy food is really just the entry point to healthy eating.   Think about it.  You purchase beautiful, organic zucchini at your local green market.  What a healthy decision that was.  Then you go home, batter it up and fry it, or fry then douse in mozzarella cheese for zucchini parmesan.  Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?  Does that mean eating delicious zucchini parmesan is out for life?  Certainly not!  How we cook our food makes all the difference when it comes to healthy living.  But, that doesn’t mean our favorite foods should be completely off limit.  Learning how to lighten up your recipes is the best way to keep your comfort foods in your rotation.

Paula Deen was often criticized for her love of butter.  I can still recall her clearly saying “add two sticks of butter”, as she seemingly thumbed her nose up at her critics.  We all know what happened to her.  Now, Paula has changed her views and revamped her recipes to create healthier versions without sacrificing taste.  She’s lost weight and reclaimed her health without giving up the food she loves.  That’s the key really, learning to revamp recipes and looking for excess additions that are not needed, like two sticks of butter.

Before I start cooking any recipe, I preview it looking for excess oils, butter, sugar or cheeses.  These are often the easiest thing to substitute out or modify.  Other areas are the methods of cooking,  for example, sautéed lightly in olive oil vs battered and deep fried.  For example, I like to bake my meatballs and chicken cutlets in place of frying them in oil.

Here are some tips you can use to modify your favorite recipes to create healthier delicious versions.

Bake Don’t Fry

I don’t fry meatballs or chicken cutlets anymore, especially if they are going into a sauce for further cooking.  This saves me the unnecessary calories and fat from the oil and produces a delicious lighter version of this staple Sunday dinner.  For my meatballs, I still use meat, but have substituted ground bison as a healthier option.  My family really hasn’t caught on as the taste is similar.  I have also used ground turkey, but when I do I don’t bake the meatballs prior to entering the sauce.  I just roll them and place them in.  This keeps them moister as baking seems to dry them out.

For chicken cutlets, I place them in egg and then bread crumbs.  I make my own bread crumbs to ensure quality ingredients, but store bought could work as well.  To make bread crumbs, I personally use gluten free bread.  I slightly toast it in the oven on a cookie sheet then place into my food processor  (I use this in my meatballs as well).  You can season the crumbs anyway you wish.  I keep it simple and just use some aged parmesan cheese and Italian flavored seasoning.  Once the chicken has been dipped, it goes onto a cookie sheet which has been sprayed lightly with avocado oil.  I bake it for no more than 20 minutes (depending on thickness) if eating as is.  If you spray the top with a mist of avocado oil it will brown nicely.  If I am using in a chicken parmesan dish, I cook for 15 minutes then top with cheese and small amount of sauce.  No longer do I drown my chicken in sauce as it’s totally not necessary.

Grill don’t Fry

Rarely will I sauté my vegetables in oil anymore.  I have an Optigrill that I purchased after a sleepless night watching infomercials.  It was the best investment ever as I use it for almost everything.  As a reformed vegetable hater, I have come to love the simplistic flavoring of vegetables. In the past I would douse my vegetables in sauces and cheeses and cook them to the point of mush to get them down.  All this just added necessary calories and fat and likely destroyed any health benefits found in the vegetables.  When cooking eggplant parmesan, a favorite addition to Sunday meals, I stopped frying the eggplant.  I don’t dip them in flour or egg anymore either.  Overhaul of that recipe included grilling the eggplant (no oil required) , then just adding a small amount of sauce and cheese.  I leave mine right on the cookie sheet and personally love it this way.  If I eat the fried version now I find it often repeats on me.  Try it out and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.  If cooking for a crowd, you can assemble in the pan just like you would after frying.

Here’s the link to see the Optigrill.  What I love about this is the ease of cleaning.  The whole thing comes apart and goes in the dishwasher, unlike the Foreman grill that I never used due to my inability to properly clean it.  Additionally, this grill has automatic settings so you literally set it and it tells you when it is done.  No more cutting into things to see if they are cooked, or dried out overcooked food.  I’ve never had a bad steak on it.  No, I am not a dealer, nor do I make any commission on this item.  Just love it.

T-fal GC704 OptiGrill Stainless Steel Indoor Electric Grill with Removable and Dishwasher Safe plates,1800-watt, Silver

Use Broth instead of Oil

When stir frying quick meals, you can use a couple of tablespoons of low-sodium vegetable broth in place of oil or butter.  This method adds a nice flavor to your food as well as moisture.  You will save calories and fat from the oil during the cooking process.  Since we know that healthy fats are an integral part of our diets, when eating you can serve these broth sautéed vegetables with a salad.  I like to use avocado oil and lemon juice as a nice dressing over the top.  Since I cooked it in broth, I don’t have to worry about having too much fat in one serving and can add a drizzle of oil to the salad.

Be Choosy about Cheese

Cheese is something I love, but don’t often cook with.  For those recipes that call for cheese, I’ve learned to substitute healthier options.  No, I don’t buy low fat, part skim cheese.  Not only is regular cheese not that bad for you, the reduced-fat version has several drawbacks to it.   Low fat cheese has a very high sodium count (20% more) and the taste and meltability are just plain awful.  Next time you are buying something labeled low fat, I beg you to read the label.  You will see a long list of ingredients and that’s really not cheese in my book.  Truly sounds more like genetically modified fake food.

One of my favorite choices is Cabot cheddar cheese. It has four ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes.   When using mildly flavored cheese, you need to add more cheese to taste it. Instead, choose a cheese with intense flavor like feta, sharp Cheddar or aged Parmesan.  Try mixing one of these soft cheeses on your chicken parmesan instead of shredded mozzarella.  With the sauce and cheese combination you likely won’t notice the difference. Since I don’t eat parmesan often, I stick with the mozzarella, but purchase freshly made mozzarella from my local store.

Substitute Ingredients

When a recipe calls for a significant amount of ricotta cheese, you can substitute half the amount with cottage cheese.  This will retain taste and texture while reducing some of the fat and calories.  This works really well in baked ziti and lasagna.  When making cream based recipes, you can substitute half and half for heavy cream.  You will still get the same creamy taste with half the fat found in heavy cream.  For any recipe that calls for mayonnaise, you can substitute a homemade dressing made from Greek yogurt and dijon mustard.  When mixed properly it tastes like mayonnaise and is far more healthier.  I use this all the time on my tuna salad.  Lastly, substitute out any pre-made salad dressing or marinade.  They are all laden with chemicals and sodium and totally unnecessary.  For salad dressing, I am a big fan of avocado or olive oil with lemon juice or vinegar.  Simple, easy and healthy.  For marinades, I use wine or vinegar and lemon juice with spices.  They contain far less sodium, yet they tenderize and flavor just as well.

I’ve talked about giving up coffee creamer. My recipe for coffee includes ingredients that are similar to Bullet Coffee. I’ve substituted out my sugar filled creamer with healthy superfoods. You can see my coffee recipe in many of my past posts, or email me directly for it. Here’s the link to the site where I purchase my coffee, Ghee and collagen protein.

Bullet Proof Coffee

There’s something about eating clean delicious food that is not laden with unnecessary oils, cheeses or spices.  I’ve become a minimalist when cooking these days and have come to truly love the taste of my food.  I used to add so much salt to my food and now find it not needed.  It didn’t happen overnight, but making these simple changes to my cooking over time have allowed me to wake up my taste buds.  Why would anyone need to add sugar to a dish of fruit?  The fruit alone is sweet and delicious.  I’ve only shared a few of the many ways you can revamp some of your favorite recipes.  Thankfully, the internet offers many ways to search for healthier recipes.  Cooking Light is a great magazine that carries many simple to cook, healthy dinner options.  Have fun with your menu planning and be brave.  Be willing to try new things and be open to experimenting with food.  I am willing to bet you too will come to love the new versions of your recipes.

If you have healthier versions of your favorite food, please consider sharing. I’m always looking for new ideas.  Here are two of my favorite cookbooks for light, healthy meals.

5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant, and Irresistible Recipes Clean Eats: Over 200 Delicious Recipes to Reset Your Body’s Natural Balance and Discover What It Means to Be Truly Healthy

Sugar & Spice

Those of you who know me well know my love affair with coffee began only two short years ago.  My dear friend Donna is actually to blame, though Bonny tried for years during our many Dunkin and Starbucks runs enroute to visit our horses.  On this day, Donna offered me a pumpkin spice latte and I decided to try it.  Wow, what a sugary delight that was.  She clearly told me to, “go easy” on them because they are loaded with sugar and calories.

Of course, as we all know one sip of that sugary delight and you are hooked and craving more.  I began having a daily cup of coffee, or should I say sugar.  I purchased sweetened, chemical laden creamer and began my love affair with coffee.  My daily cup at that time consisted of half a cup of creamer (yikes) and half a cup of coffee.  My husband didn’t care how much creamer we went through, he was just thrilled that I was making the coffee after 30 years of marriage.  I tried to wean off the creamer a little each day, but never fully got it under 1/3 cup of creamer.  I was addicted to the sweet, sugary taste and couldn’t take the taste of coffee without it.

Many people told me how they sweetened their coffee to avoid the chemicals in the creamer.  Some used powdered creamer, but most used what I call “fake” sugar.  Yes, they thought it was healthier to use Sweet n Low and Splenda in place of creamer.  I did try that, but was not comfortable with the fake sugar as I now full well the consequences of long term use.  But, when looking at the creamers I was using, I realized they weren’t any better.  What’s a newly addicted coffee addict to do?  Look for healthier sweeteners of course.  This week, I ‘d like to share what I learned in my quest to replace the coffee creamers I used to sweeten my morning coffee.

When I first made the change, I was using organic, hormone free dairy cream with stevia.  This was a good alternative, but I wasn’t happy about how much cream I was still adding to my coffee.  Here’s what I learned about stevia and other healthier options for sugar replacement.

Stevia

Stevia is a plant based, natural sweetener that contains zero calories.  It is perhaps the safest sugar alternative on the market today.  All types of stevia are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant.  It’s not great for baking, but is delicious in tea and coffee.  This is my go to coffee sweetener these days, along with raw honey.  All Stevia is not created the same, so please be careful and read labels.  For example, Truvia, a commonly sold version is really a sweetener that is only in part made with stevia.  It’s actually made from stevia extract and a sugar alcohol.  Further, some of the ingredients in it are made from genetically engineered crops.   I only use organic stevia drops that I purchase online, but if you read labels you can find healthy versions in any supermarket.  I recommend using liquid stevia over the readily available powdered versions.  Just a few drops go a long way!

SweetLeaf Sweet Drops Liquid Stevia Sweetener, Vanilla Creme, 2 Ounce

Honey

Honey has a low glycemic index, so it won’t lead to the dreaded sugar crash.  It does have a higher fructose level, so please go easy on it.  It’s easy to overindulge in the decadence of it’s sweetness, but I caution against over doing it.  Also, not all honey is created equally so please read the labels carefully.  I use only local, raw honey.  When not available locally, I source my honey online.  Side benefits of using honey as part of your health regimen are that it is contains cancer defending antioxidants and has healing properties when applied to cuts and burns.  Lastly, it is thought to help alleviate some allergy symptoms.  This is the honey that I use and love.  I add one teaspoon per day to my morning coffee.  That’s it, not a drop more, though I could just eat it right out of the jar!

Madhava Natural Sweeteners Organic Raw Honey, 22-Ounce

 

I don’t do a lot of baking, but when making any healthy treats, I use natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar, molasses or pure maple syrup.  These have all the benefits of sweetening your treats without the damaging effects of sugar.  When the recipe calls for sugar, you can always substitute that with a healthier sweetener.  When I am unsure of the conversion amounts, I simply google it.

I don’t advocate consuming large quantities of any of these natural sweeteners.  They are meant to be a simple change you can make to modify your daily habits.  These changes have helped me totally eliminate unhealthy flavored coffee creamers.  I don’t even use creamer at all anymore.  My philosophy has always been, small changes toward a healthier lifestyle.  Total avoidance of food groups has never worked for me.  Revising recipes and substituting healthier versions of foods is an alternative approach that has worked for me over time.  Remember, I’m in this to become healthy, not just lose weight.  Becoming aware of healthier alternatives was the first step for me.

What substitutions have you made in your life to make healthier choices?  Please share in the comments section below.

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