allergies, fitness, food allergies, health, lifestyle

Food Allergy Testing: Improving Health and Fitness through Self-Awareness

My fitness journey started around the beginning of 2016 but I only REALLY committed to improving both my overall fitness AND health at the beginning of 2017 when I started documenting my home-cooked dinners/daily workouts on my Instagram account @cook2lean. In terms of my goals, not a LOT has changed, but the @cook2lean Instagram is now dedicated primarily to food posts, since I now have this blog as an outlet to discuss fitness-related topics.

That being said, this year I officially got booted from my parent’s health insurance because I reached the tender age of 26 and had to get my own through my employer. Because my health was now fully in my own hands, I decided that this was the year I was going to take full ownership of it, and I was going address any issues that I’d been dealing with for the past few years that had gone ignored, including allergies.

I’ve always had a known allergy to pollen because when spring rolls around, I am in complete misery even though I WANT to enjoy the weather – itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy/sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose – I deal with all of these symptoms at the same time all day, and they are barely alleviated by Claritin-D. If I decide to go on a run outside without taking an antihistamine beforehand, I will end up having an allergic reaction which usually entails the symptoms above in addition to hives, facial swelling, and a hard time breathing. Good times!

Despite having a history of environmental allergies AND food allergies these past few years, I had never been formally tested for any allergies. All of the food allergies that I had knowledge of had developed over time and were discovered by accident or in complex situations where I couldn’t pinpoint the direct cause of the reaction. For example, when I was in high school, I had an anaphylactic reaction to (what I thought at the time) were apples. But I had also eaten Sabre Hummus before the reaction so I wasn’t sure if it was the apples or ingredients in the hummus after I had realized that the culprit could have been one of two things. It turns out it wasn’t the apples because when I got tested for food allergies last week I didn’t react to apples at all (more info about that in a little bit)! A few years later, my brother was snacking on almonds and gave me one  to try, and 30 minutes later, we were speeding through red lights as he tried to get me to a hospital because I was turning purple from being unable to breathe. I ended up being okay about 30 minutes after taking a few Benodryls, but I was in full panic mode during those 30 minutes thinking I was about to die from suffocation! In that case, it was definitely the almond I was allergic to, so since then I have stayed away from any tree nuts…actually, there were a few other instances of tree nuts I reacted to before I completely decided to stop pushing my luck but there are too many accidental anecdotes to list at this point.

During college, I ate peanut butter every once in a while thinking I was ONLY allergic to tree nuts (since peanuts are not tree nuts, but legumes – one of my favorite fun food facts) and I never reacted to peanuts previously. But after working out post-peanut butter consumption one day I had an allergic reaction which resulted in hives, swelling, and a hard time breathing. So I quit peanut butter altogether after that.

So after all these trials and errors, you’d THINK that I would have been smart enough to get tested for food allergies already to avoid further risk, but dealing with my parent’s health insurance and medicals bills and claims while I was in school and after college was always confusing – and as a result I avoided seeing doctors for a few years. Post-college I also had a job that wasn’t as flexible about in-office hours as my current job is, so that also deterred me from going and seeing any specialists about my allergy problems or any other medical problems I had. Now that I work for a company that allows me to work from home on an as-needed basis it’s much easier to focus on my health without having to sacrifice a vacation day, which is what I would have had to do in my previous job.

This year, taking control of my health is my main objective, and that’s why I recently decided to finally get tested for food allergies. It’s been a few years since I’ve had any food-related reactions, and I wanted to find out (1) If I was still allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, because if it turned out I have grown out of the allergy it would change my life and allow me to expand my adventures in the kitchen (spoiler alert: I did not grow out of the nut allergy so MERP) and (2) if I was allergic to any other foods that I wasn’t aware of. In the past 1.5 years or so, my nutrition and health has had a complete overhaul compared to what it was before, and as a result, I feel great when I’m consistently eating whole, unprocessed food. But now I also notice a HUGE difference  in how I feel when I eat things that I no longer consume in my every day diet such as wheat products and cheese, which is one of the reasons I wanted to get tested for food allergies/intolerances. I found that I would get super sleepy, foggy brain, and my digestion would be completely screwed for the next 24-28 hours after indulging on things like cheesy pasta or pizza – even in moderation.

A few weeks ago I finally decided to commit the time and money to getting  tested for food allergies, and last week I got tested for food allergies as well as environmental allergies. As it turns out, I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, and I am also allergic to soybeans and sesame which I was NOT initially aware of. I had actually been cooking with soy sauce and sesame oil quite often before being tested for food allergies without any noticeable symptoms after eating meals that contained either ingredient. But I also had several sinus infections back to back for a few months in the last few months during the time I was heavily cooking with soy and sesame, so it’s very possible that exposing myself to those allergens (without knowing they were allergens at the time) was causing inflammation, compromising my immune system and increasing my risk of getting sick.

Being equipped with this new (expensive) knowledge is definitely going to allow me to treat my body a little better this year now that I know what types of food trigger negative reactions. As a result I think it will make it just a little bit easier to meet my fitness goals. I can’t expect my body to give me the results I’m looking for if I’m constantly poisoning it, so I really want to start getting better at avoiding or at least limiting the intake of foods I’m sensitive to. I think it will be much easier to lose excess fat with reduced exposure to allergens since I’ll experience less inflammation. When your body is stressed, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do, so I really can’t expect it to operate in its prime if I’m constantly stressing it with allergens. I will probably never be able to 100% give up cheese, but I can at least decide that I will only have it in moderation or on special occasions without gorging myself lol.

Just in case anyone is interested in the time/cost of food allergy testing, the consultation and testing took about two hours total and I was billed $431 so it was not cheap in terms of time OR cost (Note: I’m in a high deductible plan with my health insurance which is the reason the cost was high, but this visit helped me reach my deductible which means I’ll no longer be fully eating the costs for medical-related visits moving forward. If you have a lower deductible or better coverage through your insurance this could cost you less…or more if vice versa). This particular visit was only part 1 of 2 visits though – I have a follow up appointment in a few weeks to complete testing for environmental allergies.

I will likely post an update blog in a few weeks about managing my newfound allergies and let you guys know if it’s made any difference in achieving health/fitness goals. Has anyone else had any experience with food allergy/intolerance testing and how has it helped you with your health? I’d love to hear from anyone else with a similar experience!

Speaking of fitness goals, I went to get my body composition/body fat percentage and resting metabolic rate analyzed at the University of Pittsburgh’s Neuromuscular Research Lab this past week and was really happy with the results I received! My next fitness-related post will go into more detail about the experience for anyone who would be interested in getting their body composition/fat percentage analyzed and happens to live in the Pittsburgh area! I promise that my next blog post before then will be some sort of food recipe to share with you guys though. 🙂

Feel free to check out my previous blog posts, leave a comment on this blog post, follow my Facebook page, or follow my Instagram page where I post pictures of my dinner daily! Let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for. Until next time!

 

Previous blog posts:

Experimenting with 5 Days of Reduced Meat Consumption

Crispy Pan Fried Tilapia (Gluten Free)

Fresh Mango Avocado Salsa

Positive Reinforcement: Staying Motivated During Your Fitness Journey

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Weight Loss and Keeping Weight Off – What Worked (and Still Works) for Me 20+ lbs Later

Pan seared salmon with creamy cauliflower mash and sauteed brussel sprouts

My Health and Fitness Journey: Cook2Lean

 

cooking, fitness, health, recipes, vegetarian

Experimenting with 5 Days of Reduced Meat Consumption

If you follow my Instagram page @cook2lean you may have noticed that I cook a lot of meat – chicken, beef, fish, lamb, eggs – pretty much all the animal-based protein I can find at my local Aldi store. It’s funny, because if I look at the accounts I follow on Instagram I am pretty sure at least 50% if not 75% of the food accounts I follow are either vegetarian or vegan accounts. I am also 100% sure that none of these accounts follow me back because of how much meat I publicly consume lol.

Anyway, although I don’t practice vegetarianism or veganism, I love seeing the different vegetarian and vegan recipes on my feed because they’re always so colorful and beautifully plated. But I never really thought of incorporating fully vegan or vegetarian meals into my daily routine until I recently went to the doctor for an annual physical.

To be honest, I thought that I was super spot on with my nutrition this past year and a half or so because all of my meals always contain at least one to two servings of vegetables. But apparently I was wrong! When I went for a check up my doctor questioned whether I took in enough fiber based on a few symptoms I described involving my digestion. She recommended that I start taking a fiber supplement to get in more fiber and reduce the issues I had been experiencing. At first I was a bit skeptical and confused – how was I NOT getting enough fiber when I am constantly making such a conscious effort to eat all these damn vegetables all the time? But as it turns out, not all vegetables are created equal in terms of fiber – when I calculated my daily average dietary fiber intake it only ended up being around 15 grams which is only about half of what is recommended for a healthy diet. And dammit, I want to be healthy! And so I started my quest to increase my fiber intake.

Being the type of person who takes a lot of pride in my health and nutrition, I wanted to avoid the need to take a fiber supplement to meet dietary needs when I could simply adjust my diet to account for more fiber. And thus, the idea to replace my meat-based lunches with plant-based lunches to increase my fiber intake was born (out of an aversion to taking pills). I found out that if I replaced 4oz of animal based protein with ½ cup of beans I’d be adding approximately an extra 7g of fiber to my daily intake. And if I added an extra serving of vegetables to my lunches and dinners I could another extra 2g of fiber, bringing me closer to the 25g my doctor was recommending. It was also really important to me that whatever I did choose to make for my plant-based lunches was still relatively high in protein to supplement my physique goals, so I decided that lentils would be a good option.

Image result for goya lentils

I found a recipe for Coconut Curried Lentils on Minimalist Baker’s website and they looked amazing – as an Indian food lover who doesn’t typically go out to get Indian food (due to food allergies – a topic I will be blogging about soon) I was excited to try out an Indian-inspired lentil recipe that would be sure to be allergen-free and packed with flavor, and this recipe didn’t disappoint at all! I decided to meal prep ½ cup of Coconut Curried Lentils with ½ cup jasmine rice and roasted broccoli and baby carrots for four days’ worth of work lunches. I typically always allow myself one day of free range for lunches in a work week so I don’t get too sick of them and I have some flexibility if a friend or coworker (or I) wanted to go out for lunch instead one day.

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How the week went on a plant-based lunch diet:

Note: My dinners continued to contain around 8oz animal-based protein, but overall I did reduce my meat consumption by about 20oz during this work week

Monday was my first day of trying out the coconut curried lentil lunches, and I was pleasantly surprised with not only how tasty they were, but how satisfied I felt afterwards. The extra added fiber in the lunches (along with the protein content of the lentils) really helped fill me up, but I didn’t feel overstuffed or bloated. I had expected to due to the higher carbohydrate content in my lunch (increased by about 20g from average), but I felt fine! In fact, I felt energized after eating my vegan lunch on Day 1 but that was very likely in my head due to the excitement of trying something different

Tuesday was the second day of plant-based lunches, and by the end of the day I felt EXTREMELY bloated and full from the increased fiber intake. But to be fair it was also my time of month which likely added to the bloating.

Wednesday was the third day of plant-based lunches, and while I woke up still feeling bloated from Tuesday, by mid-day I was definitely NOT bloated anymore and was completely cleared out (Sorry if TMI). My digestive system became extremely active Wednesday morning due to the increased fiber load from the past few days, but I was not complaining because one of reasons my doctor suggested increasing my fiber intake was because I was having a hard time using the restroom initially. By Wednesday I was having way too easy of a time and let’s just say me and the restroom saw each other so frequently to the point that an outsider might call our relationship clingy.

Thursday was the fourth day of having the coconut curried lentil lunches, and for the first time during a work week I was actually sad that I was on my last prepped lunch of the week! Usually by Thursday I am pretty sick of my prepped lunches and look forward to Friday to have something different because by Thursday meal-prepped meat can get pretty gross (though still edible). The lentils kept so well after four days that their flavor/texture never changed which I found really exciting – after experiencing the magic of lentils I definitely plan on prepping them again for future lunches! Very active digestion continued Thursday through Friday just an FYI.

Friday I didn’t have another lentil lunch to bring to work, but I was determined to continue the vegetarian lunch/reduced meat consumption goal for another day, so I packed a lunch of veggie-packed egg frittata and rice. It was delicious, but I would have preferred to have my lentils for an extra day instead to be quite honest! I found that I felt more tired after the egg/rice lunch than I did after the lentil/rice lunches – I’m not sure if it had to do more with the fact that I just felt burnt out from the work week in general or if perhaps my body is better at digesting beans than eggs. Either way, here are a couple bullet points to summarize what I experienced or learned during one full work week of swapping out my meat-based lunches for plant-based:

  1. I got super bloated at first but then my digestion increased SIGNIFICANTLY -after three days I stopped feeling bloated and instead felt completely cleared out 🙂
  2. Lentils are an excellent protein option for meal prep because they keep so well and don’t change in texture/flavor after a few days in the fridge, but they are not a low carb protein option by any means.
  3. That being said, increasing my carb intake by 20g+ daily didn’t make me gain weight – in fact by the end of the week I noticed a small decrease on the scale (Note: during this diet experiment I continued to keep my training in the gym very consistent/intense).
  4. You get a lot less protein from a serving of lentils than you do from a serving of chicken – because of this, I did continue to supplement with a whey protein shake in addition to my lunches (which I already been doing before – so that behavior remained constant).
  5. I felt like I had more energy and increased satiety throughout the afternoon between lunch and dinner.
  6. You can save money by going plant-based for lunches! A bag of dried lentils which actually ended up making more than enough for 8 lunches/2 people was only $4 at our local grocery store. 2lbs of chicken or ground turkey, which is what I normally use to prep 8 lunches/2 people averages about $9-10 at our local grocery store. So for half the price of our animal protein-based lunches, I was able to produce more food.
  7. I decided to go plant-based for my lunches for a second week (this week) after this experience because I liked how I felt after Week 1.

This blog post was rather lengthy and probably teetering on the edge (or falling over the edge) of TLDR, but I’d be interested in hearing from you guys! Has anyone else recently been inspired by plant-based diets and if so, what recipes have you tried or would you like to try out? Let me know.

Feel free to check out my previous blog posts, leave a comment on this blog post, follow my Facebook page, or follow my Instagram page where I post pictures of my dinner daily! Let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for. Until next time!

 

Previous blog posts:

Crispy Pan Fried Tilapia (Gluten Free)

Fresh Mango Avocado Salsa

Positive Reinforcement: Staying Motivated During Your Fitness Journey

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Weight Loss and Keeping Weight Off – What Worked (and Still Works) for Me 20+ lbs Later

Pan seared salmon with creamy cauliflower mash and sauteed brussel sprouts

My Health and Fitness Journey: Cook2Lean

 

 

 

 

 

cooking, health, lifestyle, recipes

Crispy Pan Fried Tilapia (Gluten-Free)

Last week I posted the recipe for my Fresh Mango Avocado Salsa pictured below. What I didn’t share with you guys last week was the recipe for the Crispy Pan Fried Tilapia that you often see me pair it with if you follow my Instagram page @cook2lean. I really look forward to this combo almost every week, so I thought it’d be unfair if I didn’t share the second half of my favorite recipe! This recipe also happens to be gluten-free thanks to the use of corn starch in place of wheat flour for the crispy coating. Corn starch can be used in place of flour for tons of recipes, so it’s a great item to have in your kitchen if you are looking to reduce gluten intake!

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Macro Estimates per Serving (One 6oz tilapia fillet): 37.5g protein, 7g carbs, 20g fat

Note: I say “Estimates” because I do not own or use a food scale – I based the estimated macros on a combination of the Macros app that I use, the nutrition labels, and trusty ol’ Google. Okay, that being said, let’s get started!

 

What You’ll Need (Serves 2):

  • 1 package tilapia (two fillets)
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • ¼ cup corn coil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic Powder
  • Paprika

Remove and rinse your tilapia fillets under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and liberally season both sides of the fillets with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.

In a separate bowl or plate, add one tbsp corn starch. Coat one of the tilapia fillets in the corn starch (both sides). Repeat for the second fillet.

Heat ¼ cup corn oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat. Once it is HOT, add your coated tilapia fillets.

Cook for about 6 minutes each side. If needed, flip again and cook for an extra minute per side to get it real crispy.

When you’re done, remove from heat, and serve it with Fresh Mango Avocado Salsa, rice (highly recommend cooking in chicken broth instead of water for extra flavor), and your favorite veggies! This week I had paired my Crispy Pan Fried Tilapia and Fresh Mango Avocado Salsa with roasted shredded Brussel sprouts, asparagus, and onions.

Let me know if you guys try this recipe out and how it turns out for you!

Feel free to check out my previous blog posts, leave a comment on this blog post, follow my Facebook page, or follow my Instagram page where I post pictures of my dinner daily! Let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for. Until next time!

Previous blog posts:

Fresh Mango Avocado Salsa

Positive Reinforcement: Staying Motivated During Your Fitness Journey

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Weight Loss and Keeping Weight Off – What Worked (and Still Works) for Me 20+ lbs Later

Pan seared salmon with creamy cauliflower mash and sauteed brussel sprouts

My Health and Fitness Journey: Cook2Lean

 

 

cooking, health, recipes

Fresh Mango Avocado Salsa

If you follow my Instagram page @cook2lean you’ve probably seen this Mango Avocado Salsa featured weekly in my dinner posts, and that’s because it is one of my FAVORITE SIDES EVER! It’s so delicious, so fresh, and requires zero cooking – just slice, dice, and squeeze some raw produce and you’re pretty much done! My friend at work gave me this recipe a while back, and from the first time I tried it I was hooked (and so was my boyfriend).

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I initially planned on posting this on a day where I had time to also post a full recipe for an entire meal (i.e. the one pictured above – Honey Garlic Chicken recipe courtesy of Café Delites), but this fresh mango avocado salsa is so freakin’ good you can really eat it with anything – fish, chicken, with tortilla chips, alone with a spoon (lol). I like it best served with fried tilapia, but I will have to save the fried tilapia recipe for another day even though it’s what I promised in my last post, sorry guys. Our Aldi didn’t have any tilapia this week for me to buy/prepare, and I am the kind of gal who practices monogamy when it comes to Saturday grocery shopping for the most part mainly out of sheer laziness). But every now and then I “explore my options” with other grocery stores if I am feeling particularly feisty and ambitious on a Saturday. Either way, I get asked about this recipe quite often and didn’t think it was fair to keep you guys waiting just because I didn’t have tilapia on hand – so let’s get started!

Quick disclaimer: This recipe is in fact pretty high in carbs due to the natural sugar in the mango and honey – but keep in mind that all of the carbohydrates are coming from clean, natural, unprocessed food so don’t be afraid to treat yo’self with this! However, like with everything else, moderation and balance is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet. If you decide to eat this with every meal every single day, I am not sure what the outcome will be for you but it may not be “leanness,” just sayin’.

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Macro Estimates per Serving (1/2 of recipe): 3g protein, 55g carb, 12g fat

Note: I say “Estimates” because I do not own or use a food scale – I based the estimated macros on a combination of the Macros app that I use, the nutrition labels, and trusty ol’ Google. Okay, that being said, let’s get started!

What You’ll Need (Serves 2):

  • 1 mango, sliced and diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 tomato or a few cocktail tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4-1/2 onion, diced (depends on how much you like onions)
  • 1/2 tbsp honey
  • lemon juice (about 1/4 lemon, squeezed)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place the diced mango, avocado, tomato, and onion in a mixing bowl

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Add your honey, lemon juice, salt, and pepper

Mix it all together, and YOU’RE DONE, SON!

How easy was that?? When you’re done, serve it with your favorite protein or eat it with tortilla chips or eat it all with spoon – I don’t care how you serve it – just enjoy it! Although I do highly recommend serving it with Crispy Fried Tilapia 🙂

Let me know if you guys try this recipe out and how it turns out for you! I would like to take a moment to appreciate my friend who gave me this recipe and ultimately changed my life.

Feel free to check out my previous blog posts, leave a comment on this blog post, follow my Facebook page, or follow my Instagram page where I post pictures of my dinner daily! Let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for. Until next time!

Previous blog posts:

Positive Reinforcement: Staying Motivated During Your Fitness Journey

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Weight Loss and Keeping Weight Off – What Worked (and Still Works) for Me 20+ lbs Later

Pan seared salmon with creamy cauliflower mash and sauteed brussel sprouts

My Health and Fitness Journey: Cook2Lean

 

fitness, health, lifestyle

Positive Reinforcement: Staying Motivated During Your Fitness Journey

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This past year I’ve managed to build a decent amount of muscle and lose a good amount of fat due to consistent weekly weight training mixed with HIIT and some cardio, and a balanced, flexible diet – primarily consisting of unprocessed food with room for occasional treats. But staying on track with my workouts and diet occasionally requires a lot of mental energy, some weeks much more than others. Motivation comes and goes quite often, so I wanted to share with you all a few things I do to get out of a funk and back on track in the hopes that it might help someone else who may feel like their goals are out of reach even though they’ve been working their ass off for the past few months.

I personally find myself getting de-motivated in my weight loss journey every 2-3 months for a week or two, and during these weeks I feel lazy, extra hungry, depressed, and find myself feeling like I’ve made no progress even though I’ve worked so hard to look this average. These weeks usually come at a time when I’m really stressed out, like this past week (which is why I thought it might be good time to write about this topic).

For me, getting RE-motivated after a week or two of feeling like all my efforts have been for nothing, requires a LOT of self-reinforcement and reminding myself of:

  • The progress I’ve made so far
  • What I am capable of
  • What my goals are and why I am putting so much effort into my fitness goals
  • The fact that fitness itself is not an end goal but a journey that requires continued investment. 

That being said, here are 4 tips for motivation during your fitness journey:

Tip #1: Take progress pictures so you can celebrate how far you’ve come

I first started documenting the beginning of my fitness journey with pictures around January 2016, and since those first pictures were taken I’ve made a lot of progress. I only lost around 23lbs and am nowhere close to “fitness industry fit”, but my body composition changed SIGNIFICANTLY since then (fat loss, muscle gain) and more importantly my strength and endurance increased SIGNIFICANTLY. I can now do a barbell squat with 4x the amount of weight I was able to do when I first started lifting and I can now deadlift over 3.5x the amount of weight I was able to in January 2016! I can also now do 7 chin ups on a good day – in January 2016 I couldn’t do one AT ALL. I can also now run over 5-6 miles without stopping on a good day – in January 2016 it was an accomplishment to run 1 mile without stopping.

Documenting my journey’s progress with pictures has helped significantly in reminding myself how far I’ve come in my weight loss and overall health and fitness goals (which are really the most important). When I find myself doubting that I am making any progress, it’s really helpful to look at those pictures and remind myself that change doesn’t happen overnight. The below pictures were taken two years apart, and I STILL have so much progress to be made, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t appreciate the progress that I have made so far. If I didn’t remind myself every now and again, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to motivate myself to keep going, and I wouldn’t have made the changes that I did.

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The pictures on the left were taken in January 2016 (@ 154-156lbs) and the ones on the right were taken this week, February 2018 (currently fluctuating between 133-135lbs). I really debated whether or not to share the above progress picture because I know that showing too much skin ultimately leads to judgement and general disapproval, and I am a little embarrassed about the fat I still want to lose in my midsection (I always wear high-waisted leggings because of this).

However, I wanted to stress that even after 1.5-2 years of eating healthy and training consistently (5-6x a week) I’m STILL not even at my “goal physique.” I think this is important to note because many people view fitness and weight loss as this “end state” that they can achieve in 4, 6, or 12 weeks. And they think that once they get to that “goal weight” their life will change and all their insecurities will just disappear with the weight loss. As a result many tend to approach fitness very unhealthily (ironically) and with a restrictive mindset because they want it to happen FAST and NOW – this is no thanks to the constant bombardment of magazines and other “fitness media” that promote this kind of approach to weight loss, which doesn’t work most of the time. Why? Because if you are restricting calories during your temporary diet to lose weight fast and then start eating normally as you were before as soon as your diet is “over” (especially without making any other changes in your life such as regularly incorporating weight training into your weekly routine to build muscle) you WILL gain back the weight. It takes SO much more time and patience to see lasting results if you are approaching it as a lifestyle change vs a temporary goal, which is why I am okay with the fact that I still have pudge, because I know that if I just continue to do what I have been doing for the past 1.5-2 years, it will go away with time.

Anyway, that was a bit of a ramble, but PROGRESS PICTURES WILL KEEP YOU MOTIVATED!

Tip #2: Try to hit a new personal record when you’ve been spinning your wheels

When I am feeling like I’m just running through the motions rather than feeling inspired to reach my fitness goals, I’ll try to reach a new personal record. In the past few months, I’ve hit new PRs on squats, deadlifts, sprints, and endurance running, and each time I’ve left the gym feeling way more excited about my next workout than I did going in. If you’re lacking motivation after a few months or weeks of consistent training, I highly recommend trying to hit some sort of new personal record to get you excited to train again. Seeing what your body is capable of because of the hard work you’ve been putting in is so rewarding and definitely helps with regaining motivation. Recently (within the past two weeks) I dragged myself to the gym and told myself that I would do at least 30 minutes of cardio and then a HIIT workout – I ended up running almost 7 miles for a full hour which is farther than I’ve ever ran in my LIFE without stopping. Seeing what my body was now capable of was so motivating that I’ve started incorporating more endurance runs into my weekly workouts lately which has really helped with leaning out!

Tip #3:Remind yourself of your overall goal – and why you are working towards that goal

When I am feeling demotivated during weight loss, I try to remind myself that my OVERALL goal is to be healthy, STRONGER, fit, capable, and HAPPY. Weight loss at this point is just an extra added benefit of achieving health, strength, fitness, capability, and happiness. Reminding myself that my reasons for wanting to get fit are a lot deeper than ONLY wanting to look good in a bathing suit makes the journey much more rewarding and the hard work worth the effort because the changes will benefit me long-term and enhance the quality of my life. During the weeks where I am not feeling motivated and I try to focus on strength gains over weight loss, I also allow myself eat at maintenance calories instead of “cutting” calories to get my body and mind feeling nourished instead of restricted again so they can have a chance to “reset” without all my hard work going to waste.

Tip #4: Remind yourself that you should just strive to be the best version of yourself – and not this idea of “perfection” that you may have in your head from someone else’s accomplishments

This past year I have found liberation in working to build myself into the best version of MYSELF and not someone else. I think it is fine to look at others for inspiration when you are working towards fitness goals but if all the work you do is for the purpose of trying to look like someone else, I promise you will never be satisfied because you and that person likely do not share the same genetics or body type. And in my experience that has lead to demotivation.

Within this past year I’ve finally accepted the fact that I naturally have an apple shaped body (heavy on top, slender lower body) and rather than wasting time wishing I was born in a different body like I used to, I embrace it now. I’ve always had broad shoulders, and I used to hate them. But now that I’ve accepted the fact that I will always have broad shoulders, I’ve chosen to enhance and tone them through weight lifting – and now I happen to like my big ass shoulders a lot and get a lot of compliments on them! I also tend to carry a lot of extra weight around my middle, so I work on training and building my back muscles to create the illusion of a smaller waist. I was also born with the unfortunate Asian Flat Butt, so since I started weight lifting consistently I make sure to work on my lower body at least once a week –  lifting heavy to build muscle and balance out my proportions so I can look like the best version of me. It’s much easier to see progress and find motivation within yourself when you start accepting and learning to work with what you have, instead of fighting it. 

If all of the above was TLDR, my tips for staying motivated are taking progress pictures, trying to hit a new personal record if you feel like you haven’t made any sort of progress, reminding yourself of your overall goal and WHY you want to achieve it, and staying focused on building the best version of yourself rather than trying to look like someone else.

This blog post was a little different from my previous ones, so please feel free to leave any feedback that could help me improve the next fitness-related post for you guys!

My next blog post will be a step-by-step recipe for Gluten-Free Pan Fried Tilapia with Avocado Mango Salsa and Jasmine Rice (featured weekly on my Instagram page). Looking forward to sharing it with you guys – in the meantime feel free to follow me on Instagram or Facebook to see more Cook2Lean posts. Until next time!

cooking, fitness, health, lifestyle, recipes

Zucchini Crust Pizza

As promised, here is a step-by-step how to recipe for Gluten Free Zucchini Crust Pizza, so you can make this delicious guilt-free pizza at home! I posted my version of this meal on my Instagram account @cook2lean earlier this past weekend. It is gluten free and a much lower-carb, healthier alternative to regular pizza because the crust is primarily made out of vegetables!

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A coworker of mine gave me this recipe a while back, and it is by far one of my favorite gluten free recipes for those days when I want to indulge. It is a bit of a process, but if you have the right tools it’s not too bad. I find prepping food to be relaxing on days like Saturdays when I don’t have a lot going on, so I actually had fun making these pizzas.

What I love about this recipe is how versatile it is – I personally topped my pizza with hot Italian sausage, onions, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and feta cheese, but you can top it with whatever you feel like depending on your taste. I know some people like forgoing toppings altogether, so if that’s your thing, good for you! It will make your process way easier since you get to skip a step. I just happen to love all toppings.

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Quick disclaimer: I ended up eating an entire pizza to myself, so please be aware that once you start it’s very hard to stop.

Macro Estimates per Serving (1/2 pizza, no toppings): 19g protein, 43g carb, 13.65g fat

Note: I say “Estimates” because I do not own or use a food scale – I based the estimated macros on a combination of the Macros app that I use, the nutrition labels, and trusty ol’ Google. Okay, that being said, let’s get started!

What You’ll Need (Serves 2):

Kitchen Tools:

  • Mixing bowl
  • Cheese grater
  • Pizza stone (Prebaked at 500 degrees)
  • Parchment paper
  • Cheese cloth (preferable) OR clean tea towels if you don’t have cheese cloth, but be prepared for them to get pretty dirty if you opt to use towels instead
  • Fork, wooden spoon or spatula for mixing

Here is a video of every single thing I used during this process (minus the eggs) before I got started!

Ingredients Needed for the Zucchini Pizza Crust:

  • 3 zucchinis, grated – if you have time, allow grated zucchini to sit in a strainer for 30 minutes with some salt to help drain excess water

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  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup gluten free flour (I used Trader Joe’s brand which is made from brown rice, potato starch, and tapioca)
  • Italian blend seasoning, 1-2 tbsp depending on how much you like oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic powder

Ingredients Needed for Pizza Building:

  • Pizza sauce (amount used based on preference)
  • 1/2 cup Italian blend cheese
  • Any toppings you desire. I personally used cooked hot Italian sausage, onions, mushrooms, spinach, cocktail tomatoes, and feta cheese, but I did not include those toppings in the macro count for the recipe since people like different toppings (or no toppings).

Making the Zucchini Pizza Crust

Prebake pizza stone at 550 degrees. While pizza stone is prebaking, use a cheesecloth to squeeze as much water as you can out of the grated zucchini.

Once you are tapped out from squeezing zucchini, place dehydrated zucchini in a mixing bowl with the 2 beaten eggs, 2/3 cup gluten free flour, Italian blend seasoning, salt, and garlic powder. Use a fork, spatula or wooden spoon (whatever your preference) to mix well.

Once zucchini crust ingredients are well mixed, transfer to and spread mixture on a sheet of parchment paper into a 12-14 inch diameter circular shape.

Once pizza stone is done prebaking (give it about 10-15 mins), transfer the mixture (with the parchment paper for non stick purposes) to the hot pizza stone. Let it bake for 8 minutes.

After 8 minutes, take it out of the oven (I just take the parchment paper with the crust out of the oven and leave the pizza stone in the oven) and spread the pizza sauce and cheese evenly on the crust. Put whatever toppings you are feeling at the moment, or none at all if you prefer! I happened to forget to take a picture of my raw toppings before baking because I was too excited to eat my pizza D:

Bake for another 5 minutes and remove from oven.

Allow the pizza to cool down, cut it in half (or quarters) and enjoy!

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Let me know what you guys think! Do you think you’ll try this recipe out? If so, let me know how it turns out for you!

Feel free to check out my previous blog posts, leave a comment on this blog post, follow my Facebook page, or follow my Instagram page where I post pictures of my dinners daily! Let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for. Until next time!

fitness, health, lifestyle

Weight Loss and Keeping Weight Off – What Worked (and Still Works) for Me 20+ lbs Later

The hardest part about losing weight and keeping it off is staying motivated and consistent throughout the process – wouldn’t you agree? In the past two years I’ve learned what works for me to both lose weight and keep it off. If you have lost weight in the past but always ended up gaining it back (like me, up until the beginning of last year when I started approaching things a little differently) please give this a read because we were both in the same boat at one point!

Ironically, I am starting to write this post after indulging in half a pint of Talenti Caramel Cookie Crunch Gelato, because successful weight loss also means TREATING YOSELF every once in a while. Balance is key!

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That being said, weight loss itself is a relatively simple formula (healthier foods + caloric deficit = weight loss), but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to stick to the formula all the time. Why? Because restricting calories feels, well, restrictive. And for the majority of people, myself included, telling ourselves “no carbs” and “less food” makes us very sad because carbs are friends AND food (in my head I said that in Bruce’s voice from Finding Nemo btw). But did you know that successful weight loss not only requires limiting your caloric intake? It also requires getting ENOUGH macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein, and fat – in your daily diet. Thinking about how you will hit macronutrient goals feels a lot less restrictive than constantly thinking about what foods you need to cut out of your diet. Specifically, trying to get enough protein requires some extra eating, which I happen to like very much!

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Increasing my Protein Intake Helped me Lean Out

According to this article from Yahoo Lifestyle, the minimum recommended daily allowance for protein is about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight for women, but for successful weight loss that intake should be increased by 50% in order to promote lean muscle retention and control appetite. “0.54 to 0.68 grams [of protein] per [bodyweight] pound is about 70 to 90 grams per day for a 130-pound woman,” according to Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, and corporate dietician at Medifast.

I started tracking my protein intake at the beginning of 2017 and found that my body responded best to weight loss when I was taking in around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight or more. I seemed to look the leanest when I was taking in the most protein, so I started making it a priority to get enough of it!

Trying to make sure I was getting enough protein was more of an addition to my diet rather than a restriction which was kind of awesome, because for once I was trying to eat more so I could get enough protein to supplement my weight loss. Weird concept, right? But it worked. I was not only looking better, but my mentality about my diet was changing for the better too.

My thought process for my diet switched from thinking about restricting my food and focusing on (and thus, being sad about) what I SHOULDN’T eat to focusing on what I SHOULD eat to make sure I was getting my protein needs – and that was mentally liberating! For once I didn’t feel guilty about snacking during the day because eating more protein was helping me get closer to my weight loss and physique goals. To hit my protein goals, I added Greek Yogurt and either a Nugo Bar or Clif Bar as a mid-morning snack when I got hungry. This not only provided me with some protein to start my day/keep me full until lunch, but it also provided me with the necessary carbohydrates to support my lunch time workout sessions.

Once I finished my workout, I would go back to my desk at work, have a protein shake (here is a link to the brand/flavor I like best), and eat my lunch (I still follow this routine now). I read that it was important to consume protein after working out to help your muscles recover and build, and it was important to consume carbohydrates before working out to have the energy needed to fuel and get through your workout. I started following this method of food consumption and as a result, I started eating more for functionality than for pleasure and also stopped being “afraid” of carbs when dieting because I knew my body was using them efficiently.

Optimum Nutrition

 

Eating for Function and Macro Tracking Kept my Nutrition in Check

When I started looking at food as an essential to fuel and recover from my workouts, it became much easier to make healthier food choices consistently. It was also a lot easier to do when I started tracking all of my macronutrients (aka “macros”) – protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Here is a link to some quick info about macronutrients and a macronutrient calculator on Bodybuilding.com if you want an overview or if you want to find out your macro needs based on your fitness goals.

Basically, tracking macros is another way of tracking food/caloric intake. I find it to be more helpful than tracking calories alone because it provides insight into the quality of the food I am eating. 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories, 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat = 9 calories. So by tracking macros you can also determine how many calories you are consuming. I have fun doing the math when I am trying to distract myself from doing other things J

I used/use an app on my iPhone called Macros to track my protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake. On the way to work (I take the bus) I would usually put in my planned snacks, lunch, and dinner for the day, which gave me some wiggle room for other snacks if I got hungry. Tracking food can seem like a daunting task for some people but since I was meal prepping my lunches for the work week every single week it was pretty easy to do.

 

Meal Prepping: A Game Changer

Around Fall 2016, my boyfriend and I moved in together and decided to start meal prepping our lunches for the work week to make things easier on ourselves and save money on buying lunch every day (that sh*t gets expensive!). There have maybe been two weeks between then and now when we decided not to meal prep out of laziness, and it was always those weeks that my diet would go to crap, so I decided it wasn’t worth it to skip meal prepping for an upcoming week

However, just because we have meal prepped consistently since then doesn’t mean that we always meal prepped successfully. The key to meal prepping successfully is making meals that you actually WANT to eat. I personally despise salads because I prefer cooked vegetables. But I also don’t want a mountain of cooked vegetables for lunch – ew.

Anyway, when we first started meal prepping, we were making salads every week and every week I would make a big stink about how much I hated salad. Half the time I would end up throwing out my salad and getting something else during lunch because I couldn’t stand the thought of eating another salad for the fourth time that week! So I was wasting a lot of food and still eating more processed food than I should have been since I would end up buying something for lunch if I couldn’t bring myself to eat salad. Because I was such a brat about eating salad, we decided to change our meal prep approach and started cooking food I could get excited about instead of dread!

For the past year or so since we started prepping more balanced meals, our meal preps have always consisted of a protein (about 4oz), a cooked vegetable, and half the time, some sort of starchy carb. Some weeks we forgo the starchy carb depending on what the cooked vegetable is – for example, if we decide to make zucchini noodles (aka “zoodles”) we would generally skip the starchy carb since the zoodles feel enough like a replacement for the starch, especially if it’s drowned in meat sauce! If we do include a starchy carb in our meal preps, it is usually one that is gluten-free such as rice or potatoes. We usually stay away from pasta because it makes us want to fall asleep, which isn’t a good thing if you still have 4 hours left before you are done with work.

We started choosing to cook meals that we knew we would definitely enjoy but wouldn’t slow us down, because nothing’s worse than wanting to fall asleep at your desk after eating pasta or bread and still having four hours of work left. When my diet became more consistent through our meal preps, I found that I became increasingly aware of how certain foods physically affected me which helped me avoid them the majority of the time. For example, I noticed that after eating gluten-heavy items such as pasta or bread, I would get really hot, my brain would feel foggy, and the fatigue that came with it was unreal. So even though I loved sandwiches, the level of crappiness I felt after eating them simply wasn’t worth it anymore. It’s annoying to be sensitive to gluten because so many of my favorite things have gluten in it, but it also helps me stick to eating unprocessed food 90% of the time which ultimately keeps me on track with my nutrition. So in my head, it’s a good thing!

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Meal prepping our lunches also freed up my lunch hours at work – I would usually be spending my lunch hour driving somewhere to grab food otherwise. It was once we started meal prepping that I started making working out during lunch time a priority. At first I was only going for long power walks during my lunches, but eventually I decided to commit to getting a gym membership near my work location so I could also do a “real” workout after work. However, I ended up going to the gym during lunch to lift pretty regularly and made it a long-term habit! It was nice to get my workout done during the day so I could just go straight home after work.

 

Planning Workouts Ahead Made Me More Efficient

The gym I first decided to join was about an 8 minute drive from my office. That meant between the drive and changing in and out of clothes, I only had about 40 minutes of solid workout time to utilize during my lunch hour. That meant that when I went into the gym, I needed to know EXACTLY what I was going to get accomplished within that time in order to get an effective workout. That’s when I started planning my workouts ahead of time – either the day before, or at the beginning of the week so I had a game plan every time I stepped foot in the gym. Having a plan not only ensured that my workout would be effective, but it gave me something to look forward to and a solid structure to follow. I’ve shared all of my workouts from last week here if you’re looking for something new and want to check them out! My workouts generally consist of weightlifting and HIIT.

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Planning Dinner ALSO Made Me More Efficient

Speaking of planning (if maybe you couldn’t tell by now from reading this post) I’m the kind of person who is happiest and most successful following a planned structure. I freaking love routine. I THRIVE ON ROUTINE!!! *foams at mouth* Maybe that makes me boring, but I honestly hate it when my flow is disrupted – and needing to make game time dinner decisions disrupts my flow big time! On days when I didn’t know what I wanted to eat for dinner I would get stressed over making a decision that would be both satisfying and healthy, and then would eventually just give in to Chinese takeout – not the greatest choice. Realizing that this weekly routine of giving in to Chinese takeout for dinner might not get me any closer to my fitness goals, I started planning out what I wanted to cook for the week on Sundays when we did our weekly grocery shopping. This dictated the shopping list and helped ensure that minimal food would go to waste because I always knew what I’d be using it for. I’d find inspiration by looking up recipes that looked delicious but required minimal ingredients, because I didn’t want to commit to making a dinner that would be a two-hour long process. Once ya girl is hungry she needs to eat yesterday!

I continue to plan my dinners for the week now – leaving at least two dinners out of the week for wiggle room, because of course, you don’t always feel motivated to cook every single day of the week. When we grocery shop, we usually aim for buying 4 packs of protein for our dinners (usually two chicken, a fish, and a beef or lamb product), 3-4 types of vegetables to have options to choose from (usually tomatoes, zucchinis, avocados, mangos as of lately, broccoli – pretty much whatever is available at Aldi), and starchy unprocessed food such as potatoes or sweet potatoes. I like keeping jasmine rice and pasta sauce in the house as well.

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I find that I’ve been able to keep my weight very consistent since losing 20+ lbs thanks to meal prepping, planning my workouts, and planning my dinners. Without a plan, I tend to go off the rails, so having a consistent plan each week keeps me in check. It also helps to have planned cheat meals (not full days of “cheating”) to keep my cravings at bay. I still like to go out to dinner at least once a week, but I’ve finally started making healthier choices dining out too because this past year, through meal prepping, working out, and eating relatively consistently, I’ve really learned to understand my body and how it responds to certain things that I never knew or noticed before I started my health and fitness journey.

 

Learning to Understand my Body: Weighing AND Measuring Changed My Relationship with the Scale

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Note: that is NOT me and I will probably never look like that girl and that’s okay!

This wouldn’t be a weight loss post if I didn’t bring up scales. I’d like to note that I definitely do not want to promote an unhealthy obsession with the scale, which I know many of us struggle with when we are trying to lose weight. I just want to share what I personally learned by making it a habit to weigh myself at least once a day, and also measure myself during my weight loss.

I’ve read a lot of articles that advise not to look at the scale daily as it can be discouraging and potentially unhealthy. I get that becoming obsessive over the scale numbers can be detrimental to your motivation if you’re not seeing the numbers move. But if you are weighing yourself daily, at the same time (I would suggest in the morning after using the bathroom) every single day, you will find that even when you are consistent with your diet, your weight is still going to fluctuate regardless, even if you have the same amount of fat and muscle as yesterday (because unfortunately that doesn’t change overnight). Learning that little bit of information and TRUSTING it really helped me stay sane throughout my weight loss and weight loss maintenance. For example, did you know that if your body feels like it’s not getting enough water, it ends up holding on to more? That’s right, dehydration is actually a cause of water retention (ironically), and thus causes higher numbers on the scale.  If it’s the week before your period, your body is going to start holding on to extra water (not sure what the science is behind pre-menstrual bloat but it sure is a motivation killer if you don’t realize that it’s happening and it seems like you gained 4lbs overnight).  And if you stayed within your set caloric intake, but you happened to eat potatoes or rice for dinner the night before, guess what? Your body is going to hold on to more water than if you had consumed starchy carbs earlier in the day when your body had more time to process them. As a result, the number on the scale will be higher in the morning – but that doesn’t mean you gained fat overnight. It just means your body is holding on to more water than it should. So keep that in mind!

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Weighing myself daily and buying a tape measure to measure myself every few days was one of the best things I did to keep myself motivated during weight loss. Because if my measurements were smaller, but the scale wasn’t going down, it really didn’t matter! What mattered was that my clothes fit better, and I liked how I looked in the mirror more than a few weeks or months ago. And if the scale went up, but my measurements stayed the same, it really didn’t matter either because my physique didn’t change. So if you have trouble staying motivated during weight loss because of the scale, I challenge you NOT to avoid it. I challenge you to weigh yourself daily but also measure yourself so you can see for yourself that the number on the scale ISN’T the single source of truth when it comes to your fitness.

 

Having a Support System Was the Most Significant Factor

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There is no way I would have been able to transform my health and fitness without having an amazing support system – at home, amongst friends, at work, even on social media. Having a loving partner who supports everything I choose to do and happens to be my live-in sous chef has been tremendously helpful in keeping up a healthy lifestyle. Having friends who have known me for years (before my health and fitness journey) and have told me how proud they are for seeing me take such big strides towards a healthier life adds fuel to the fire to keep going. Working full-time for a company that promotes health and fitness and provides a gym to their employees makes it easy to make exercise a routine part of my day. Without social media I would not have been able to connect to so many like-minded individuals who keep me inspired to continue a life of health, fitness, and balance. Having some sort of system in place that offers encouragement as you make big changes in your life is one of the biggest factors of success, and I am so appreciative of everyone that continues to support and show interest in what I have become so passionate about! If you are starting your fitness journey, I hope that you are surrounded with people who support your efforts, because it makes the biggest difference!

If you’ve been frustrated with your weight loss/ body transformation journey, I hope you consider incorporating some of these things into your plan. If you do, let me know how they work out for you!

Feel free to leave a comment or email me at cook2lean@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Click here to see a week’s worth of my workouts from last week if you’re looking for some ideas!

Click here to follow my food posts on Instagram – let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for!

My next blog post will likely be another step-by-step recipe, so stay tuned! Until next time.

cooking, fitness, health, lifestyle, recipes

Pan seared salmon with creamy cauliflower mash and sauteed brussel sprouts

As promised, here is a step-by-step how to recipe for Pan Seared Salmon w/ Creamy Garlic Cauliflower Mash and Brussels Sprouts, so you can make this delicious meal at home! I posted this dish on my Instagram account @cook2lean earlier this week. It is gluten-free, high protein, with moderate carbs and fat. Perfectly balanced and a great post-workout meal option after a big lift!

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Macro Estimates per Serving: 73g protein, 30.5g carb, 24.5g fat

Note: I say “Estimates” because I do not own or use a food scale – I based the estimated macros on a combination of the Macros app that I use and trusty ol’ Google. Okay, that being said, let’s get started!

What You’ll Need (Serves 2):

For the Cauliflower Mash:

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (if you’re not sure how to do this click here)
  • 1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, depending on garlic-loving preference
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp parsley flakes
  • Large food processor
  • Steamer/steam basket/or creative alternative

For the Brussels Sprouts:

  • 2 cups brussels sprouts, halved and stems trimmed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Garlic powder

For the Salmon:

  • 16 oz salmon fillet, sliced in half (or two 8oz fillets)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin (optional)
  • Olive oil

Making the Cauliflower Mash:

Fill about a quarter of a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Fill a steamer/steam basket with the cauliflower florets and cover to steam for 15 minutes.

Note: If you don’t have a steamer, you can try creating a makeshift steamer like I did. I used a large pan filled with water topped with a vegetable grilling pan, and covered with a pan cover to make up for the lack of kitchen inventory. 

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While the cauliflower is steaming, smash 3-4 garlic gloves, remove skins, and saute in a bit of olive oil for about 2-3 minutes until browned and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat.

Once cauliflower is done steaming, transfer (in small batches at a time) to a large food processor.

Once all cauliflower is blended, add your 1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, garlic cloves, and parsley flakes. Blend until smooth. Scrape sides of food processor down with a spatula to get an even consistency in between blends. Once it looks closer to the bottom right picture, it is ready to serve!

 

Cooking Brussels Sprouts:

Heat olive oil in large pan on high heat, add butter.

Once butter is foaming, evenly distribute the butter around the pan and add your brussels sprouts – stir and cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and give it another stir at the end of the 2-3 minutes (the goal is to try to get them slightly browned even though my picture below doesn’t reflect that lol).

Cover pan and set flame to low – allow to cook for 12-15 minutes and then remove from heat. They are ready to serve!

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Cooking the Salmon:

Run salmon fillets under cold water to rinse away extra “fishiness.” Pat dry with paper towels.

Season the salmon with salt, pepper, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin (optional).

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Heat olive oil in a large pan using medium heat – enough to cover the bottom of the pan. I initially didn’t add enough oil and had to add a little extra after I had already put my salmon fillets down.

Once oil is HOT – place your salmon fillets skin side down in the pan and hear that nice SIZZLE!

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Let it cook for about 6 minutes, and then turn the salmon to cook the other side for another 6 minutes.

If the skin isn’t looking as crispy as you’d like it, do another flip and let cook for an extra 1-2 minutes and then remove salmon from the pan. It is ready to serve!

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Now put all your ingredients together on a dish and enjoy!

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Let me know what you guys think! Do you think you’ll try this recipe out? If so, let me know how it turns out for you 🙂

Since this was my very first step-by-step recipe post, I would absolutely love any feedback about the format of the recipe to help me improve the next post for you guys. Do you feel like you got all the information you needed or would more/less detail work better? Leave me feedback in a comment on this blog post, my Facebook page, or my Instagram! I’d also love to know what other types of recipes you guys would like to see. My Instagram is full of my past creations which I’d be happy to recreate for you guys!

I will be sharing my workouts from this week in my next blog post as well as what has worked for me this past year when it came to losing weight, keeping it off, and staying relatively consistent with fitness and health. I hope you guys will find it helpful if you’re just starting out your journey or are looking for ideas to help you stay motivated! Until next time!

 

 

 

 

fitness, health, introduction, lifestyle

My Health and Fitness Journey: Cook2Lean

Why did I recently decide to finally embrace and commit to a healthier lifestyle?

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I mentioned in my last post that I would discuss how I got into cooking and weightlifting, but to do that I need to talk about the foundation of my inspiration. This a story that I think a lot of others can relate to – a long history of poor self-image growing up due to society’s beauty standards, which I was never able to meet. I was never skinny, but I always equated the idea of getting skinny to bringing happiness.

 

Quick Disclaimer: My future posts will never be this long but this journey was indeed a long one, and I want to give it the attention it deserves so I can be as realistic and honest as possible. Additionally, I am not claiming or consider myself to be a fitness or nutrition expert – I’m purely a hobbyist discussing my own experience and sharing what ended up working for me because it was a very long time before I started changing my habits. Okay that being said, let’s move on!

 

Growing up Chunky: The Early Years

I was always on the chubbier and less active side growing up and throughout elementary school – my mom did cook for our family a few times a week, but we also regularly ate a ton of processed food (Chef Boyardee and Kraft Mac & Cheese, I’m looking at you!) Inhaling a family sized bag of Lay’s Potato chips while watching TV was pretty much a weekly norm, and I was totally content with eating frozen, microwaveable dinners.

When I became more self-conscious about my weight in middle school, I started getting obsessive about trying to lose the extra weight. I would try to exercise at home sometimes (sit ups, push ups, eventually Windsor Pilates videos in 7th and 8th grade). I also started developing really unhealthy eating habits at this time and a terrible relationship with food. I would either try to practice “fasting” to lose weight quickly, eat very little, or eat once I couldn’t continue fasting and then purge out of guilt. Around this time I think my diet primarily consisted of Starbucks Frappacinos, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Chinese takeout, and pasta when I did eat – clearly I had no idea what it meant to eat quality food at this point in my life so that didn’t help the cause, and that continued on into high school. Yo-yo dieting was a perpetual source of ups and downs with my self-confidence pretty much up until I graduated high school.

 

Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred: My First Experience with “Weightlifting”

I first started working out consistently when I was 18 or 19 – I started the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred and got pretty great results as a beginner. Jillian’s workout videos helped me get comfortable with the functional movements I still regularly use in my current workouts (squats, lunges, rows, push ups, etc.) and introduced me to HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). I would definitely recommend the 30 Day Shred for anyone who is an absolute novice to any kind of lifting and wants to lose some fat while simultaneously building strength and learning some basic, effective movements and good form.

Note: They have Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred available on Amazon for purchase (Amazon Video and the DVD) and I always see the DVD at Target, so it’s readily available if anyone is interested in checking it out. I also do believe they have one of the workouts on YouTube. However, I did not lose 20 pounds in 30 days, just sayin.

30 Day Shred

College Yo-Yoing

Fast forward to college (Undergrad years Jan 2012-Dec 2014) – I was drinking heavily, as was mostly every other student, binging heavily at night once I started living outside of the dorms and had closer access to late night food. I was still working out religiously (mainly cardio) but I did manage to gain (and lose and gain back) somewhere in the range of 10-15lbs because I was never consistent with my diet (and you know, drank a lot of booze).

During my last semester of college, I was working out regularly again (I’d either go to the gym, do an at-home Jillian Michaels workout, or both) and started cooking healthier food after discovering Trader Joe’s (I love you TJ’s!). This helped me get back down to a size I was okay with but not necessarily a body I was happy with – I was 5’3 and around 140lbs, busty, still a bit chubby around the middle, and had a pretty flat ass (to be quite frank) which didn’t complement a top heavy figure. See FLATTERING pic below.

2014

Post-College Weight Gain

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The year after college (2015), I went from being around 140lbs to 156lbs – my heaviest, ever. I am only 5’3 so that 16 lb weight gain made a huge difference, physically and mentally. By the beginning of 2016 I hated looking at myself in the mirror more than ever and just felt heavy/sluggish overall. It was that point I decided I really wanted to commit to exercising regularly, cooking at home, and improving my overall health and fitness. I was tired of being unhappy with how I looked and felt and really wanted to find out what it would be like to actually love every part of myself for once because I never really had before. I had been fixated on hating my body for so long though and wanting to “get rid” of parts of myself so it was going to require a lot of hard work – not only physically, but mentally as well. Weight loss was always viewed as a temporary concept for me because I could never maintain my weight loss. But learning about the benefits of lifting weights changed everything for me!

 

Getting Comfortable with Lifting

During the first half of 2016, I started taking group fitness classes 4x a week (Zumba 2x/week, Body Pump 2x/week). I also started following a lot of female bodybuilders/weightlifters which sparked my initial interest in heavy lifting. I was reading all this new information about how having more muscle mass helps you get lean and lifting heavy could help you build an ass! So I had my boyfriend show me how to use the squat rack at my gym and it was love at first squat. The first time I used the squat rack, I was only able to squat with the bare barbell (no weight loaded) but after learning the proper movements, I was really excited about challenging myself to build up my strength, use more weight, and transform my body (Google: body recomposition).

 

Lifting Promotes GAINS instead of LOSSES – Positive vs. Negative Connotations FTW

I started out by lifting during my lunch breaks and then doing group fitness classes in the evening after work. Lifting was so exciting and fun, because for once in my life I was focusing on GAINING something positive (strength) instead of focusing solely on LOSING or GETTING RID of something I didn’t like about myself. It completely changed my attitude and mentality towards fitness – I was becoming stronger, fitter, more capable, and my OWN progress became my motivation. Not someone else’s

Unfortunately, I ended up injuring my lower back pretty badly after neglecting to warm up one day and couldn’t lift for a few months. This set me back significantly that year. I ended up gaining back a lot of the weight I lost in the first half of the year, and by the end of 2016 I was fluctuating between 149-152 lbs which was really disappointing. But the whole time I was injured I was primarily concerned with recovery so I could return to the gym and start off where I left off. Thankfully when I was recovered enough I was actually excited to start working out again (I’d never been excited to work out in my life before I started lifting heavy!). Starting January 2017 I was lifting 5x/week and incorporating HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) into my workouts. By May, I was down to 136.5 lbs and stronger than ever. I couldn’t have done it without adjusting my diet though and I did track macros which I’ll get into more detail about in a future blog post.

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Cooking Adventures

I spent a lot of the last part of 2016 starting to cook at home more often versus eating out to save money. I also started meal prepping to save time and ensure I was making better choices at lunch. It turns out that I not only actually started enjoying eating healthier meals because I noticed a difference in how I felt and looked, but I also loved showcasing my food creations. I was so proud of them once I finished cooking and would always share pictures on my personal Instagram account. Getting into the Food Network show “Chopped” really inspired my passion for cooking (and food presentation)!

It was January 2017 that I created the @cook2lean Instagram page to share my meals, inspire myself to continue to cook healthier, and also post my workouts so I could track my own fitness progress and hold myself accountable. I stayed inspired by following other food/fitness pages and reading articles online about nutrition, diet, and weightlifting, and I continue to post regularly and do all those same things now.

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There were a lot of other things that kept me inspired, motivated, and on track this past year, and of course there were also a lot of times where I felt unmotivated. But I will be saving the motivation tips and tricks that have worked for me in a future post as this went on much longer than I had planned!

How about you guys? What sparked your interest in health/fitness? And what do you do to inspire/motivate yourself? Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear your stories!

 

P.S. My next blog post will be a step-by-step how to guide for this dinner I cooked last night! Pan seared salmon with creamy garlic cauliflower mash, and sautéed brussels sprouts! Stay tuned.

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first blog post, fitness, health, lifestyle

First Blog Post: Cook2Lean

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Who I am

Hi everyone and welcome to my first blog post!!! My name is Victoria, and many of you might be visiting this blog after being directed from my Instagram account @cook2lean or from my Facebook page. If so, thanks for being the real MVP and clicking the link! If you’re completely new to Cook2Lean, below is a little information about myself:

I am a 26-year old Pittsburgh-based health and fitness enthusiast/hobbyist who discovered a passion for cooking nutritious meals and weightlifting about two years ago. Since January 2016 I have lost about 23 lbs (SW: 156, CW: 133) thanks to heavy lifting, HIIT workouts, balanced nutrition, and consistency! I’m by no means at my goal physique yet, but I am still relatively satisfied with where I am physically, and I am even happier with where I am mentally after about 1-1.5 years of consistently making healthier choices. I’ll be using this blog to continue to track my health and fitness as I work towards my goals.

Why I am blogging
As much as I love Instagram for its quick “likes” there is only so much content you can put in a post before someone loses interest – most IGers simply double tap and scroll and the message you were trying to share gets lost/ignored (I myself being a culprit of this!)

One of my goals this year is to expand my personal brand on social media, so what better way to do it than to share more content and give more context to my newfound passion for health and fitness? I want my readers to understand WHY I love health and fitness and how it’s changed my life for the better, so maybe I can inspire them to take small steps towards a healthier life too if they haven’t started their journey already. And I hope to inspire readers who have started their health and fitness journeys to continue to work towards their goals.

What I will be blogging about
I will be blogging about the meals I cook, my workouts, staying motivated, my body transformation and what has worked for me, trials and errors, health, fitness, products I use, and life in general! My next blog post will be about how my interest in health and fitness came to be, so stay tuned! I’ll be writing about growing up, starting to exercise, the “freshman 15,” post-college weight gain, and how my weight loss/body transformation started.

Feedback/Interest
Comment on my post to leave feedback or email me at cook2lean@gmail.com if you have any questions or interest in partnerships/collaborations!