Lost: a physical self-identity

"Exhibit 1: I dropped 20 lbs in 2.5 months"

That's quoted from an earlier post, and believe me, you don't want to try it. One of the things that has been really hard about this whole experience is the extremely fast weight loss. It was a huge struggle mentally and emotionally, and did very little to help me get better physically, since stress sets off my symptoms. And people, let me tell you, losing weight this quickly is not fun - it's stressful. All my life, I've heard those silly commercials for "lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks" or something ridiculous like that. My tip for the day: don't do it.

When I started this diet, I started slimming down a bit after a couple of weeks. And this totally made sense to me - I wasn't eating all of those sweets from the bakery or the candy aisle at the store. I cut down my fat intake, and almost eliminated my sugar intake. I ate more fresh foods - veggies and fruit - and more whole grains. You know, all of that good stuff. Naturally I should slim down a bit. I was actually looking forward to that part of the diet. There was always that 10 lbs I kept strategically hidden that I really wanted to lose... It was exciting - to see the real-time effects of this diet. Look at a new me forming in the mirror each morning.

Sometime in June, I dropped down to a size 4 in jeans. And I was thrilled! A size 4??? I've never been a size 4 in my life! Exciting? Yes. Fun to look at this new profile in the mirror? Totally. I felt like I was emitting this new energy that made me feel like I was glowing. I went to my 5-year college reunion in June feeling amazing about myself and the way I looked. I went to dance events feeling terrific and energized. It was a fantastic feeling!

And then, it didn't stop. I kept dropping pounds. A week would go by and I'd see less of me in the mirror than I did the week before. I felt like an ice sculpture in the middle of August. It's really hard to explain how this feels if you've never been through it. I felt confused, afraid, anxious - but mixed with that was a bit of joy, and a huge desire to like the smaller version of me.

But most of all...
Panic. I was so afraid I'd keep losing weight. I'd already lost so much already. Every visit to the doctor I'd brace myself for the new reading on the scale...and wince. I kept telling myself that it was the diet, that I'd have to bottom out at some point, that I wouldn't keep losing weight forever. But I'm a data analyst, and so the way my brain works is to trust the data in front of me: and all data collected said it was gonna keep going. What would happen if I didn't stop losing weight? I couldn't get that thin... I ate all the time!

I actually started getting annoyed when people told me I looked fabulous. The silent reaction in my head usually was something like: "What do they know?" or "They obviously don't know that I'm afraid I'm gonna disappear..." or "What, really, did I look all that bad before?" Unfair reactions - which is why I tried hard to just give a simple thank you to those compliments, as they were meant. But all of those reactions were functions of that panic.

I mentioned I think like a data analyst; go from what I see in the data in front of me. Here are some data points for you:

April 2008: 145 lbs
[A little too much for my taste, but I didn't think I looked bad.]
end of June 2008: 125 lbs

Shopping was a chore - I didn't have anything to wear from my closet, but buying more clothing meant acknowledging this new body I was trapped inside. It might have been easier had I chosen to lose this much weight - but it wasn't me, it was me following doctor's orders. I even took a trip to Victoria Secret for a refitting. [Yep, they shrank, too.] One thing I can promise you is 100% truth: losing weight is expensive. And no one ever tells you that part. You get caught up in the actual weight loss, and later realize that, um, you don't have anything to wear anymore. Argh.

The panic ended on June 30, 2008 when I went to the doctor's for another check-in. And the scale reading said I'd gained 7 lbs. Wait, what???

Let me say it again - since it was the most exhilarating news I'd had in weeks: I gained 7 lbs! Hooray! I wasn't going to disappear after all! This isn't to say I was suddenly happy with all of the weight loss, but at least I wasn't constantly afraid that I was never going to reach the end of it all.

The unfortunate thing is that this is not the end of the story. After that weight gain, I went and lost that 7 lbs, perhaps even as much as 10 lbs before gaining something back again. This was a slow time for doctor's appointments for me, and I refuse to own a scale at home, so the losses are guestimates, but let me tell you the story of how I knew I'd once again lost a significant amount of weight:

One day this past July, I went to Express to buy a couple more pair of size 4s, since up to that point I'd only bought 2 pair of pants and I really needed a few more pair to vary my wardrobe just a bit. I grabbed about 4-5 different styles, and made my way into a fitting room. It didn't even occur to me that I might need something smaller. And every pair I tried on fell funny - like they were all too big or something. But, that couldn't be. I was a size 4 now, right? I needed the 3-way - check the butt fit. That's always the best way to tell whether a pair of pants is working on you or not.

As I stood in front of the 3-way mirror, a fitting room attendant came up and asked if I needed help at all. I told her, in a very confused and perplexed voice, that I wasn't sure these fit me, but that I'd bought a size 4 here only a few weeks ago. She took a look at the size and said, "Oh honey, no. You need a size 2." And she checked the other styles I had in my fitting room, then ran off and collected a size 2 in everything. I trudged back to my dressing room, in a state of utter bewilderment, reciting her words over and over in my head. "You need a size 2." What?! But I was a size 4 less than a month ago! I'm not a size 2. I'm not, I'm not, I'm NOT!

The girl came back with those size 2s. And I tried them on, almost out of obedience, because I certainly was no longer excited to be shopping for more size 4s. It honestly took me a couple of minutes to walk out to the 3-way mirror in those size 2s. Okay Nina, deep breath. Here we go... I looked at every angle, I did the butt check. It all fit so well - no, it fit too well. Repeat with all of the other styles. I couldn't believe it. And so, with a feeling somewhere in between surprise and defeat, I bought 2 pair and left the store.

What did all of this feel like? I talked about the fear, the panic, the exhilaration. But in the aftermath, what was life like for me?

A struggle to redefine my physical self-identity.

I had to retrain myself with a whole new set of identity labels. And it made me so mad - I didn't ask to, I didn't choose to. But I was left with a fraction of my physical self and only time to try and process it all - the weight loss, the image now facing me in the mirror.

Now, you may say it's not exactly healthy to live under a set of identity labels. And you're probably right. But, personal self-image is all about self-labels. How do you view yourself? How do you think you look from another's perspective? How do you want people to see you? If you sat down and thought about it, you've got your own set of labels that you apply to yourself in your mind's eye. And looking in the mirror affirms those labels. But that all falls apart when the mirror shows you something different that what you expect to see.

The other thing I kept feeling was guilt. I know what you're thinking: What? Guilt? About what??? But really, there was a lot of guilt. I felt guilty talking about this with a lot of people because they'd look at me like I was crazy. That "stop complaining, look at how thin you are now, I wish I was that thin" look. Or that "how can you complain about being thin, I'd kill to lose that much weight" look. I've always been a very vocal person when trying to muddle through an experience before I've fully processed it. But it felt like I couldn't talk about it with hardly anyone. I felt guilty that I wasn't happy about losing all of this weight. [Crazy? Perhaps, but the mind is a complicated entity...]

I feel like it's common knowledge that gaining weight is a mental stressor, because you see more of yourself in the mirror and you feel helpless to stop it. Guess what? The same thing applies to the opposite end. Losing weight without meaning to took the control out of my hands. I felt completely helpless to stop it. I looked in the mirror and mentally pleaded with it to pop up a "just kidding" sign and show me the "real me" - i.e. the one I expected to see. Not a good way to start each day - a make-believe fight with my mirror every morning, trying to make it give me a bigger image of myself to satisfy what my brain told me I should see.

It took me a good month to really start to appreciate what I saw in that mirror. To step through the process of figuring out what this new image meant to me in my own head and in my interaction with the world around me.

Today, for what it's worth, I'm happy to report that I'm still at a stable weight, and that I smile at myself in the mirror again each morning. I finally realized that the best way to deal with all of these changes was to accept them and see where that takes me. Start smiling at myself in the mirror - and eventually I'll believe it's a good thing. It's amazing how little tricks like that can affect the way I think and feel.

This experience has taught me a lot about myself, a lot of which I'm still not able to voice in words. But I can say that the thing I'm most proud of throughout this experience: I learned that I'm not a quitter. I realized that the one choice I always did have was to quit the diet and make the weight loss all stop. Unhealthy as that choice may be, it was mine to make if I wanted to. But that's just it. I found out that deep down inside, this is what I wanted. It was my body's way of screaming at me what I didn't realize on my own: I want to have a healthier lifestyle. This new physical identity is part of that, the diet is another part. Sometimes I'm amazed at how smart my body is compared with the rather idiotic brain that tells me what I think about that body.


Muffins - finally I can eat a baked goodie!

One of the hardest things for me when adopting this diet was to give up baked goods. Cookies, muffins, brownies, pastries - they all got thrown out of the proverbial window. Suddenly, walking past a bakery was torture, and I couldn't bake anything at home either. That second part was even harder, since I've always loved baking - it's something my grandmother and I bonded over when I was young, and still do together whenever we see each other.

Recently, I participated in a Pringle Can Swap with some girls from my Stitch 'n' Bitch group. (Basically, you get assigned a person, and have to make stuff for them - all of which are stuffed into a Pringle Can. The "stuff" can be knit, crocheted, sewed, woodworked, baked, etc.) My Pringle Can recipient cuts out a lot of the fattening stuff in normal baked goods - and though not vegan herself, she's well-known for finding delicious vegan baking recipes that satisfy the sweet tooth and don't fatten you up all that much. And so, I went on a search for an appropriate muffin recipe for her - because how cool is it to open up a Pringle Can stuffed with, among other things, a stack of mini-muffins?

And, through my search, I opened up a whole door of baked goods that I can make, and more importantly, eat! Who knew there were so many delicious, fat-free baked goods recipes? Baking at home was suddenly possible again! Woot!

The muffin recipe below is the one I used for my friend's Pringle Can. They're fat-free, vegan, and fantastically moist and fluffy. And beware, they're also incredibly addicting! I love eating them plain, but I also found that the blueberry sauce my cousin gave me goes extremely well with these little guys.

I got this recipe from about.com - in their vegetarian section. I made a few minor adjustments to work better with my diet, but I'm sure the original recipe would be yummy as well! http://vegetarian.about.com/od/breakfastrecipe1/r/applebanmuffins.htm

2 cups unbleached flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups organic apple juice (the foggy stuff, not the clear stuff)
1 large baking apple, diced
2 ripe med-size bananas, mashed

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease muffin pan (I use Earth Balance butter substitute. You can use what you like; or use muffin cups.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar. (It's a good idea to break up the brown sugar after packing into the measuring cup before adding to flour/baking powder/cinnamon.)
3. Add apple juice, apple, and bananas. Mix well.
4. Pour batter into muffin pan, filling each cup approx. 2/3 full.
5. Bake 35-45 minutes, or until muffins have raised and are golden brown on the top.


Note: I suppose you could use raw sugar in place of the brown sugar, but why? Brown sugar is so good!


The Diet

...of doom? That's definitely what some people say. And I've certainly been known to refer to it as such. Usually a sarcastic jab at the docs who put me on this diet. I think my favorite name for it is the "Crazy-Ass Diet of Doom." [You can tell we're close, this diet and I, huh?]

But seriously, folks. If you've read the No-List, you've got a basic sense of how this diet works for me. But there's more to it than a list of food I can't eat or have to limit in my diet. It is, like the No-List, rather strict. And it also is more of a lifestyle change than the typical way our society thinks of diets. It doesn't just apply to food, though food is the main focus. Take a look at the list below for more explanation.

1. Follow the food restrictions on the No-List. No acceptions.
2. Portion control. Pay attention and follow the serving sizes for the foods I eat.
3. Eat smaller meals, and eat more of them per day.
4. Eat sitting down, do not eat and run. Make sure the environment for meals is calm and relaxing.
5. Take small bites, chew thoroughly, take my time to finish a meal.
6. Keep belly fat to a minimum. Keep general weight at an optimum level for my height/age.
7. Do not eat 2-3 hours before lying down to sleep/rest.
8. Raise the head of the bed about 6-9 inches (either with foam wedge under the mattress or with props under the legs).
9. Exercise 3-4 times a week.
10. Wear loose-fitting clothing.
11. Keep a food journal.
12. No smoking.
13. Drink a lot of water every day.
14. Take prescription antacid & OTC probiotic daily, 30 minutes before breakfast.
15. Take 1 Tbsp fiber supplement daily with dinner.

I'm not gonna lie - I do so much dislike the pills/supplement part of my current diet. I've never been good at swallowing pills, and the supplements have to be taken at a certain time every day, making it hard to have a spontaneous evening. But, I've gotten used to it - and the fiber supplements aren't all that bad, actually. (It's not in pill form, so I'm more inclined to like this directive from my doctor.) The stuff my doctor told me to take is called Benefiber, available at any CVS or other drugstore near you at a pretty good price. I mix it in with my water for dinner. It's great - it's tasteless, odorless, and dissolves very quickly in water - it's like it's not even there. [Hmm, suddenly this stuff reminds me of Iocane powder from the Princess Bride...]

I eat about 5-6 meals a day: generally breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and optional snack if I'm up late (read: at a dance or blues/house party). Main meals take about 30-45 minutes (breakfast and lunch are closer to 30, dinner closer to 45) and snacks generally take 10-15 minutes. All meals include a full glass of water.

Portion-control has been something that I've had to work hard at making into a habit. It was never something I thought that much about in the past. Now, I keep a measuring cup in my cereal box, I've begun to gain the ability to eyeball serving sizes of different fruits and vegetables, and I own a Tupperware lunch set that has portion-sized containers - making it much easier for me to pack lunch and snacks quickly in the morning.

Because I don't eat an over-abundant amount of calories anymore, I've found that I have to eat every 2-3 hours throughout the day in order to sustain my energy level. If I don't, I can fade in minutes from my regular bouncy self to feeling faint, not able to walk straight, and completely exhausted. It's a weird feeling... it's like watching myself wilt.

As I've mentioned a couple of times now, this diet has quite the rigorous schedule, and I've had to learn to stick to pretty rigidly. I can't say I'm good at staying on the schedule 100% of the time, but I can say that I feel better when I do follow the schedule. A typical day-in-the-life-of-Nina-on-this-diet:

5:30 - take antacid, probiotic pills
6:00 - breakfast
9:00 or 9:30 - snack
12:00 or 12:30 - lunch
3:00 or 3:30 - snack
6:00 or 7:00 - dinner, take fiber with water
10:00ish (only if I'm at a dance that evening): snack
[This is quite obviously a weekday, given the early rise hour, but on weekends that hour changes very little - I probably get up at 7:00-7:30 instead of 5:30-6:00.]

And what do I actually eat for those meals, you ask? Yeah, that's food for another post. [Hah, pun totally intended! You roll your eyes and pretend to scoff at me, but you know you love it!]

My suggestions if you're starting a diet, or trying to follow one:
- Food journal. I did it for the first 6 weeks I was on this diet. It really helped me control what I ate, when I ate it, and how much I ate of it. It also reminded me to drink copious amounts of water, and helped me figure out a way to plan out a day's meals in my head such that I get the right balance of foods that I need. I'm not a very good food journaler anymore, but I do still write out meal plans for the week - to see how I can use ingredients in more than one dinner dish so I keep my grocery bill down, stuff like that.
- Measuring cups - use 'em. Portion control is key.
- Smaller meals and more of them.
- A diet is more than food restrictions; it's a lifestyle change. You can't lose weight if you're not committed to actually changing the way food interacts with your life. ['Nuff said, really. No soapbox here - just my own observation - for what it's worth.]

If I had to take a guess at what's going through your head right now, I'd say something along the lines of either A) "wow, I could never do something quite that drastic" or B) "wow, that's strict!" [Am I right, huh? Huh?] Yeah, to those I say: A) you can do more than you think you can, you just have to be willing to do it - there's no half-assing allowed; and B) strict, sure, but they say a habit is formed after 21 consecutive days of action and I've been doing this for 6 months - so it's become normal to me.

[It certainly does amaze me at how much the mind plays a role in your food-habits and overall nutritional health. It can deceive you into thinking one more cookie will be fine. It can also convince you that you never really wanted the cookie after all - that really, you wanted some blueberries. Go get some, they taste good!]



A friend of mine recently reminded me that "desserts" is "stressed" spelled backward. I love that little adage - because it's so true!

One of the things I've lamented during the past 6 months is how much I miss dessert. Sure, most meals I can fill myself up enough to not need a dessert as a finisher, but dessert is such a fun part of a meal! And, according to the No List, all of my classically held ideas of what "dessert" entails is off-limits to me.

The time had come to get a little creative. So, after dinner yesterday evening, I sat down to ponder just what my stomach was craving. I came up with "sweet and crunchy." Taking stock of what I had in my pantry, I created myself a wonderfully low-fat dessert that I think I can also dub 'healthy' (if you can stand to think of dessert as healthy). It was thoroughly delicious, and just what I needed to finish off my dinner.

I've called it "Honey Banana Crunch" - simple way to bring out what makes up this very simple dessert. And I think my favorite part about it (besides the obvious - that I can eat it!) is the way the banana and honey mix together to unstick-ify the honey and instead create this sweet banana-honey syrup in the bottom of the bowl. The granola then soaks up this syrup to meld everything together in a naturally sweet, banana-infused party in my mouth!

Honey Banana Crunch
[I use natural honey and organic bananas and granola - the honey comes from southern Minnesota, from neighbors to my family's hunting property who keep bees and give us a yearly allowance of honey. Mmm, there's nothing better!]

1 medium-sized banana
Low-fat, whole grain granola
2-3 Tbsp natural honey

Slice banana in thin disks in a bowl. Pour honey over banana disks. Sprinkle 1-2 handfuls of granola on top. Best eaten with a spoon.

A New Spin on Minnesotan Soul-Food

My profile says that I'm a proud Minnesotan by birth. And, except for a brief 6-year stint of living in New England between the ages of 2-8, I grew up there as well. I lived in the same town until I went to college...which was 1 town away and still definitely in Minnesota. (Purely coincidence that the college was so close to home, though.) Suffice it to say that Minnesota runs through my veins. And I grew up on hot dish. That's pretty much what dinner was about 6 nights out of the week. Hot dish is my soul food. That comfy meal that I have on a blue day to cheer me up. Some of my favorites from childhood include Cream Tuna on Rice, my family's Macaroni & Cheese recipe, Tater Tot Hot Dish, and Hamburger Hot Dish (of which there are multiple versions).

You're now asking me (unless you're actually Minnesotan yourself), Um, what is "hot dish?" The official translation for "hot dish" from Minnesotan English to Other-49-States-English is "casserole."

The definition that you'll find in any Minnesotan English Dictionary (if one actually existed...) is:
Hot Dish n. A meal comprised of 4 elements: a meat, a vegetable, a grain, and a sauce. Some hot dishes also include an optional 5th element: a starch.

I would add to that definition (5th element: a ton of fat. Perhaps you see where this is going... Yeah, since I started this diet, I've been unable to eat any of the hot dishes I grew up on. Nor could I use any of the new ones I've discovered in my Minnesotan cookbooks over the years. (Yes, I own more than one - 3 to be exact.) The classic sauce for a hot dish is cream of mushroom soup. Cream of chicken soup comes in a close second. Ketchup or BBQ sauce an easy third. Check the No List - none of those are allowed. Cream soups are dairy based, and have you seen the amount of fat in one can of it? It was a sad day when I had to acknowledge the fact that hot dishes seemed off-limits while I was on this diet...

And then, one day, I discovered that butternut squash soup has the consistency one needs for the sauce element of a hot dish! My world suddenly became so much brighter! And I set about concocting my own version of a hot dish. And it makes me so happy - sticks to my bones the way a real hot dish should, and makes use of left-overs just as hot dishes were made to do! As the Guinness guys would say, "Brilliant!"

I made this last Thursday, after a few days of eating my butternut squash/carrot/leek soup. The pictured version is the result of the recipe I've posted below, but I've added some alternatives to the recipe at the end - since the whole idea of a hot dish is, of course, to be versatile and to use up food that will go bad. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Chicken & Butternut Soup Hot Dish
[Note that this recipe might actually take longer to make than the average Minnesotan would expect a hot dish to take, but it's worth it, believe me!]

Sauce: About half of the Butternut Squash Soup recipe found here (about 4-5 cups?) - or really, use whatever butternut squash soup you want to use (Whole Foods has a great boxed version that doesn't use pepper in the creation)
Meat: 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small chunks
Veggie: 3/4 cup corn, give or take depending on how much corn you like (I use frozen, but you could use fresh off the cob just as easily)
Starch: 2 medium-sized red potatoes, cubed
Grain: About 1.5-2 cups grains from "Grandma's Grains" recipe (not my grandma, though)
Approx. 1/2 cup water
Ground cinnamon, to taste (probably about 1/2 tsp)
Ground nutmeg, to taste (probably about 1/4 tsp)
Ground ginger, to taste (probably less than 1/4 tsp)
Pinch of salt

1. In a medium pan, bring enough water to boil to cover potatoes. Once boiling, add potatoes and lower to medium heat. Cook until potatoes are soft enough to stick a fork through, but not mushy. Remove from heat, drain water and set aside.

2. Put corn in a small pan and add enough water to slightly cover bottom of pan (not enough to cover corn). Cover and simmer over very low heat until corn has steamed and water has evaporated. Usually about 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Put butternut squash soup in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in water to desired consistency. (Honestly, the amount above is pure guesswork - this depends more on the consistency of the soup you're using and how runny you want your sauce to be). Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. (Again, the amounts listed above are guesses, which is why I say "to taste.") Heat until soup begins to foam on top and is hot to the touch (the old "pinky finger test"), but not boiling.

3. While soup is cooking, sear chicken pieces on a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring and flipping continuously. Cook until middle of thickest chunks are no longer pink. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Once soup is hot, add a pinch of salt. Taste soup, and add more spices if needed. Stir in grain mixture (should be precooked, don't add the grains uncooked!) and heat for about 2-3 minutes. Add potatoes, corn, and chicken. Reduce to low heat, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, allowing flavors to meld together and all elements to heat equally.

To round out the meal, serve with whole grain bread and steamed green beans and a side of Waldorf Chicken Salad found here, minus the chicken chunks.

An alternative to this recipe: instead of using the grain mixture, use about 1-1.5 cups of whole grain rotini. Cook to not quite done (pre-al dente?), since simmering in the soup will cook the pasta the rest of the way through.

I've also considering trying peas instead of corn, to give some different colors to this hot dish.

I think, for a vegetarian, one could certainly use tofu here, or just skip the meat part (although a little part of me cringes to say that, because that essentially undoes the whole idea of a hot dish...)

My Date with a Butternut Squash

Right around mid-August, I discovered the wonder of butternut squash soup. Butternut squash does nothing bad to my stomach (always a major plus for a food in my book!) and the soup doesn't include a lot of spices - just a few comfy ones that bring out the flavor of the soup. I started cooking with it using one of those boxed soups you can find at Whole Foods or in the Natural Foods section of Shaws. And I'd add some stuff to it, simmer it all together, and have a meal for the week that's pretty symptom-free. [I currently am incapable of claiming ANYTHING is 100% symptom-free because I've yet to eat anything since this diet began that doesn't set off some sort of symptom in my system...]

Last weekend, in deciding what to have for Sunday's dinner and subsequently left-overs for weekday dinners, I thought to myself, "You know, I could just make my own butternut squash soup - and then add stuff or not depending on how I feel. I figured it wouldn't be all that hard. And why not give it a try? The worst thing that could happen? - eh, ultimate failure.

So, I stopped by the Farmer's Market in Copley Square (across the street from my office!) and picked up a butternut squash, some fresh carrots, and a leek. And I tried it - and it was so much fun! Granted, I certainly didn't realize how hard it is to peel a butternut squash, but I came out on the other side with a peeled squash and all 8 fingers/2 thumbs still in tact. I consider this success. Also, let's be serious, the pureeing part of making butternut squash soup is alone enough to make me do it again. I literally got that stuff everywhere!!! Sure, a little bit of clean-up was necessary after this foray into uncharted butternut squash soup territory, but hey, that's half the fun of cooking or baking anyway!

With my soup that night, I also had my modified version of a Waldorf Chicken Salad. It occurs to me that perhaps it shouldn't even be called that, since it includes different ingredients, but whatever. In my head, I call it Modified Waldorf Chicken Salad, so that's what I'll call it here. [If you take serious issue with my misnaming of this salad, um, okay...]

All in all, it was a delicious and satisfying dinner - something that doesn't always happen due to my lack of ability to use regular spices in my cooking. So, I was very excited about it! Below are the recipes I used to make my dinner that night.

Butternut Squash, Carrot, Leek Soup
[I got this recipe off of King County, WA government site. Thanks to Google for pointing me there, too, because it's delicious and fat free!!! The recipe below is reprinted with my modifications. Here's the original recipe.]

1/2 Tbsp non-dairy butter substitute (I use Earth Balance sticks)
3 cups peeled and diced butternut squash
2 cups carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large leek, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
1 32-oz box organic low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4-1/2 cup water
Salt to taste

1. Heat large, non-stick saucepan to medium-high heat. Melt butter substitute in bottom of pan (just enough to coat the bottom). Add squash, carrots and leeks and cook, uncovered for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add broth, nutmeg, and a little salt then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

3. Place a third of the soup mixture in a food processor, cover and process until smooth. Repeat with remaining soup and then return to saucepan. Bring to boiling, reduce heat then stir in water to desired consistency. Add salt to taste. [Note: be careful at this stage - if the soup is too thick, the boiling will create bubbles that pop butternut squash puree all over the ceiling...]

4. Serve soup with a bit of cinnamon and ginger swirled in for extra flavor.

Modified Waldorf Chicken Salad
[This is my low-to-no fat version, minus foods I can't eat, and plus stuff I can. I don't use salad dressing, but find that the use of fruit gives enough moisture to any salad to get rid of the need for salad dressing. If you want original Waldorf-Chicken Salad, try here or just Google "waldorf chicken salad" - you'll get hundreds of recipes along the same theme.]

Handful salad greens of your choice (I like baby mixed greens from my local farmer's market)
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in small chunks
Pinch of dried rosemary
4-5 strawberries
10-12 green seedless grapes
4 wheat-free brown rice crackers

1. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and sear chicken chunks until the middle of the thickest chunks is no longer pink. I do it stir-fry style - moving the chicken around constantly so they don't burn. Once fully cooked through, sprinkle some dried rosemary leaves over the top for flavor.

2. Put salad greens in a low, flat bowl (like a classic soup bowl). Slice strawberries into 4-5 slivers each and divide evenly over greens. Cut grapes in half and add to top of salad. Add about 6-7 pieces of chicken (depending on how large you made them and how much chicken you want in the salad; the rest can go in the fridge for future use).

3. Finish off by fanning rice crackers on side of salad bowl.

The No-List

I did I lot of talking about the "No-List" in my backstory. So, I offer up the contents of the No-List. The two most common responses I get to this List:
1. Wow, I'd never be able to give up (insert item from No-List).
2. So, what exactly CAN you eat?

Once upon a time those responses used to bother me. Now I just sort of shrug them off - hey, if roles were reversed, I'd likely have one of those reactions as well!

The No-List comes in two parts. The "no items" that I absolutely have to avoid, and the "limited items" that I can have but only in very small, measured out quantities.

A side-note before I begin the List: I'm also lactose-intolerant, which only serves to lengthen the No-List and add further restrictions to the diet because of past dietary requirements surrounding my intake of lactose.

The No-List

NO items

- tomatoes/tomato-based foods (includes pasta sauce, ketchup, bbq sauce, salsa, etc.)
- citrus fruits
- peppermint/spearmint
- chocolate
- alcohol
- caffeinated beverages
---regular tea
---energy drinks
---other caffeinated soft drinks)
- decaffeinated coffee and decaffeinated regular tea (herbal tea w/o mint is okay)
- carbonated beverages
- pepper
- high-fat dairy products
---2% milk and whole milk
---high-fat cheeses
---high-fat yogurt
---chocolate milk
- other dairy (from previous lactose intolerance guidelines)
---cow's milk
---soft cheeses
- cocoa
- fried meats
- bacon
- sausage
- pepperoni
- salami
- bologna
- frankfurters/hot dogs
- other fried foods:
---french toast
---french fries
---deep-fried vegetables
- pastries and high-fat desserts (the directive on this item: say goodbye to bakeries)
- chips
- store bought cookies, candies, sugary snacks of any kind
- hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils
- high fructose corn syrup
- high-sodium foods
- peanut butter, and other nut butters
- cheese
- dried fruits
- vinegar
- bell peppers, and other members of the veggie pepper family
- broccoli
- cauliflower
- asparagus
- celery
- onions
- beans (green beans are currently allowed)
- apple peels (apple flesh is fine, cooked/baked apples are better)
- red grapes (green grapes okay in moderation)
- raspberries
- salad dressing (check the labels, every one of them has something on the No-List!)
- store-bought juices (check the labels, all of them add citric acid!)

**for the next 2 weeks: 0 foods containing any trace of lactose (this includes foods on which the label says "made/processed/packaged in same facility as milk products")

Limited Items
- maximum of 40-50g of fat per day
- oils (olive, vegetable, etc.) - 1 Tbsp has 14g of fat
- nuts - 1/4 cup or 2 Tbsp nut butter has 17g of fat **nut butters currently prohibited entirely
- cheese - 1 oz has 10g of fat **cheese currently prohibited entirely
- processed sugar
- dairy foods not listed on "no items" section at a minimum; must take Lactaid with any foods containing lactose **currently prohibited, as per note above on No items

Whew! So, this is what I currently run under, or rather run around, when choosing foods and planning meals for the week. (There's certainly more to my meal-planning rules that are contained in the rules of the diet, but I'll leave that outline to another post.)

As the No-List is an ever-changing entity, this list will shuffle items on and off or between the two categories quite a bit. As that happens, I will be posting a newer, updated version of my No-List so that I have it actually written down somewhere, instead of always just floating around somewhere in my head!


My Food Revolution: the back story

Though this blog was hardly created to list medical woes and symptoms and such, I figure a bit of a back story is necessary to explain the significance of this "food revolution" concept in my life. And why I feel the need to start a blog about it.

In March of 2008, I went to the doctor with complaints of stomach and digestion problems. Skipping the minutia of this, the result was a lot of tests and a new diet - with referrals to a nutritionist and a gastroenterologist. The result of my visit to the nutritionist: a few strategies for my new diet and the No-List, a list of all of the foods I was not allowed to touch and the foods I had to limit in my daily food intake. Results from the visit to the gastroenterologist: a whole new line-up of tests (in which you never want to partake) and more foods to add to the No-List.

Thus began the drastic shift in my personal food culture. The diet is most succinctly described as a "low-fat, no-acid" diet, but with strict ties to the No-List. The No-List became (and still is currently) a central theme in every day life, starting relatively small, but building in length with every doctor visit or new odd symptom. A 6-month period of time has resulted in the No-List firmly planted in my brain, and an almost comical length of restrictions. [Seriously, sometimes, when I sit back and think about it, it makes me chuckle.]

The past 6 months have also seen some big changes in my life, all related to the mysterious digestive issue and my ever-present No-List.

Exhibit 1: I dropped 20 lbs in 2.5 months - which translates to dropping from a size 6/8 to a size 2 pant-size, a medium to an extra-small shirt/dress-size, and a size 6 to a size 5 1/2 shoe-size. [Yes, even feet shrink when you're weight is disappearing like ice cream on a hot summer day!]

Exhibit 2: My refrigerator/freezer/pantry now contain very little processed or pre-packaged foods; exchanged instead for natural, fresh foods and lots of home-cooked leftovers (my new idea of "pre-made meals").

Exhibit 2.5: I have gained a much greater awareness about my personal food-landscape and bodily nutrition and I've developed a new interest in general nutrition, healthy-eating, and the effects of different foods on a person's digestive system (whether healthy or whacked out like mine).

Exhibit 3: I'm eagerly planning my first meal when the restrictions slowly begin to lift. [See the countdown on the sidebar!!!]

As of this writing, I feel like I'm finally taking things into my own hands with regard to this diet and the restrictions it has imposed on my food world. The No-List has become less of a defining force in my life and more of a daily challenge - a game, a battle of wits if you will. I have to constantly get creative to avoid the No-List, to skirt around its strict rules and limitations. And it's become quite fun, actually! I no longer feel so much imprisoned by the restrictions; instead I'm creating a whole new world of food - food that works for me and my stomach. Food that isn't just bland nothingness thrown together in a pot, but actually allows me to appreciate things like taste and flavor combinations a little bit.

And this is what I mean to share on this blog. The creations I've made in my kitchen, thoughts and stories surrounding this diet and the restrictions I live with, and ways this diet has changed the way I approach, think about, and cook food. It is as much for me as a reminder of what I've been through and how far I've come as it is a breakdown of my experience for anyone else who cares to read this blog.

This is my food revolution. I hope you enjoy the ride.