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, 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

 

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, 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!