Amidst a bunch of major life changes in less than a year, (moving, going back to work, getting a divorce), I’ve lost 20-some pounds (yay!) and gained five back (boo). Before my friends chime in, I’ll acknowledge that I wasn’t “overweight,” but I sure felt great five pounds ago. I think I was in the best shape of my life, probably. I had to buy a whole new wardrobe to go back to teaching, since the clothes I’d worn two years before were about 4 sizes too large.
Before I am forced to go clothes shopping for bigger clothes again (in a fit of optimism I donated all my too-big clothes), I am re-evaluating my eating and other life habits since September. That’s when the graph started moving in the opposite direction.
Is it exercise? No, I think I am actually getting moreexercise now that I’m back to teaching than in previous months. It’s not hours sitting in front of a television, either (a habit which is associated with weight gain and premature death). When I moved to my new house, I decided not to get a television set at all. I don’t even watch Hulu or Netflix anymore. I do spend too much time in front of a computer, but probably less than before September.
Is it my diet? I eat pretty similarly to what I’d been eating during the weight loss phase–at least for the first half of my day. I am actually more religious in my farmer’s marketing and veggie consumption (I even finally made the commitment to join a CSA). My snacks between 2:30 p.m. and bedtime, however, just might be the culprits.
After school, after the gym, and after dinner, I’ve been eating crackers and pretzels and cereals. They’re all from the health food section, all claim to be high in fiber and protein and low in bad stuff, but as the trainer at the gym pointed out to me, they’re all processed foods, specifically, carbs. Eat whole foods, he advised.
He’s right, of course. This satisfying black bean stew, served over brown rice, is part of my new regimen. But before the recipe, I should also share my other tactics, in case any of you readers want to play along at home.
After a good, honest self-chat, I admitted to myself, I am eating more than before and more calories than I need. It turns out that I’m lucky enough to not want to eat when I’m feeling all out of sorts. On the other hand, I tend to snack nervously when I’m just feeling tired and overly busy. (I’m down with this NYTimes editorial that “busy” is not a worthy goal.) Trying to simply “eat less” doesn’t work for me, so I came up with some rules:
Rule one: No eating after 8 p.m. Studies suggest that late evening eating itself is associated with weight gain. I also know that for me, when I get tired I feel hungry and think I want yet another bowl of honey almond granola, but actually what my body wants is some sleep. Which brings me to my next rule.
Rule two: Get more sleep–at least seven hours a night. Less than seven hours of sleep has been associated with weight gain, according to studies.
Rule three: As much as possible, as advised by the National Institutes of Health, eat whole, not processed, foods. I’d been doing a great job making huge vats of food and having healthy meals ready to eat on days when I got home too late to make something from scratch. What I was ignoring were my processed carb-y snacks. I’ve been replacing them with cut up veggies and hummus (recipe coming soon for healthier hummus) and low sugar Greek yogurt with fruit. (And I’d love other suggestions!)
I also realized I’d snuck in some high calorie foods during the day, without thinking about it. Natural peanut butter and preserves on whole wheat crackers, despite their provenance–the Natural Foods section of the supermarket–is still a whole lotta calories. And those calories still count, even if they are meant to stave off the funk that comes over me when faced with a mountain of papers to grade.
Rule four: Eat more slowly. The evidence on this diet claim is somewhat mixed, but I know that wolfing down my food just cannot be good for me as enjoying my food and giving myself time to feel fuller sooner.
Caribbean Style Black Bean Stew
- large onion, chopped
- 2-3 ribs celery, cut into half moons
- 1 large carrot, cut into disks
- 1 red and 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 gigantic clove garlic, minced
- 3 cans black beans, rinsed well and drained (or pre-soaked and cooked black beans–soaked overnight, if you can plan ahead, probably better for your digestion! They take about 1.5-2 hrs to cook after soaking.)
- 2 cups veggie broth or water
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into medium chunks
- juice of one small lime
- 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
- 1 chipotle pepper, minced, with some adobo sauce
- a few sprigs of cilantro, chopped
- optional: 1/3 cup fresh salsa (I used this to up the sweetness and make up for the fact that it’s late in the season for tomatoes, and they weren’t too flavorful)
- 1 TBS ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- In a large pan, saute onions, celery and carrots in a tiny bit of olive oil. You don’t need much oil. I add some salt to help sweat the veggies.
- Add the garlic and peppers and cook briefly until the garlic is fragrant.
- Dump in your black beans, broth, sweet potato, lime, and tomatoes. Bring the whole shebang to a boil and then allow it to simmer until the tater begins to soften.
- Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until you’re about ready to serve. You can transfer it to a crock pot, set your rice cooker, and have dinner waiting for you when you return from work or the gym, or wherever you’re going. Before serving, you can turn off the heat and briefly stick your handy dandy immersion blender in to thicken it up, or just leave as is.