Real Helpful Holiday Eating Tips

If you Google “how to eat healthy during holidays,” you will get hundreds of tips and tricks eager to help you avoid packing on the holiday pounds. And they really mean well. I know when I hear “holiday weight gain,” I picture all of us blowing up like blimps with an extra 15-20lbs by January.

Luckily, it’s not that crazy. Recent studies show that the average amount of weight gained in America over the holidays is 1-2lbs per person (from mid-November thru mid-January). In fact, less than 10% of people gained more than 5lbs. So, first of all, it’s not as bad as we think it is. Second of all, even though those people have well-intentioned advice, almost none of it does me any good when piles of cookies comes calling. Here are a few of them I’ve heard over the years: stick to your healthy-eating-guns; eat an apple before you go to a party/dinner/etc.; don’t go back for seconds at the buffet; only eat off the vegetable platter at parties; bring healthy food to the potluck.

I’m sure there are billions of other tips, but those are the ones I hear most often. Now. Let me tell you why I think they’re useless.

1. Stick to your healthy-eating-guns

This “helpful” tip involves not only depriving yourself of yummy holiday treats, but it also involves you turning down generous food offers from your hosts and hostesses. They just want you to try some of the pie they spent hours making – they’re not trying to sabotage your life. I know exactly what this rule is based in. It is based on the thought that we are a horrible society because we celebrate all joyous occasions with food (i.e. birthdays, weddings, holidays, etc.). Apparently, that is the root of all evil. But I say this: cultures that were around eons before us celebrated with food. Romans, Mayans, Celts, Vikings, etc. All major events involved banquets of some sort. So you know what? Ignore this tip. It is dumb and completely un-fun.

2. Eat an apple before you go to a party/dinner/etc.

Um. What? You want me to eat an apple before a party and that is magically going to make the 5 plates of cookies look disgusting? I don’t think it works that way. I understand. The science behind this tip makes sense. Eat an apple, which will fill you up with healthy fiber, then you’ll be too full to nosh on yummies at the party. Makes good sense. It, however, has never worked for me. Even if eat a full sensible meal before a party, I still end up eating a bunch of stuff at a party. It’s a party!! So my rule for this is a tad bit different. If I’m already getting hunger pangs before I leave, I grab a small healthy snack like nuts or fruit. That way I’m not starving when I get to the land of food temptation. However, if I’m not hungry, I won’t grab a snack. Because I’m not hungry. See. That makes sense, too.

3. Don’t go back for seconds at the buffet

Now this just breaks my southern girl heart. People, it’s a buffet. All that food is just lying there for the taking. I want to take it. Not going back for seconds hurts my soul a little bit. So I have other tricks I use when facing the buffet table (I’ll talk about those a little later in the post).

4. Only eat off the vegetable platter at parties

Um, no. When host/hostess spends X amount of hours preparing his/her signature crab dip or pumpkin cheese log, you better believe I’m going to show my appreciation and dig in. Honestly, I’m not even sure that vegetable platters belong at holiday parties…

5. Bring healthy food to the potluck

This actually isn’t that bad of a tip. You could certainly bring a healthy dish along to ensure that you have something good for you. But…is anybody going to eat it (besides you)? See, here’s the thing. I love to cook and bake FOR other people. So if I brought a uber-healthy dish to a potluck (steamed green beans anyone?) and nobody ate any…well…I would feel like a failure. I want my food to make people happy. My advice is if you want to bring a healthy dish to a potluck, make it a sneakily healthy one. You know, sneak some pureed veggies into the sauce or bake some goodies with whole wheat flour and flaxseed. Nobody will ever know.

So those are tips that (I think) don’t work so well. Now here are some of the things I keep in mind over the holiday season:

1. Keep Moving!

The holiday season is crazy-busy. We all know that. And we all know that when life gets insanely busy, the first thing out the window is exercise. Don’t let that happen! The most important thing about exercise is that it makes you feel good about yourself. So if you quit moving during the holidays, you’ll just end up as the love child of Mr. Scrooge and the Grinch. Of course, holidays may be so busy that you have to forgo gym time. And that is okay. Instead, try parking really far away from the mall entrance while Christmas shopping. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator (or climb the escalator instead of just riding!) If you are going on vacation somewhere, try to keep moving there as well. Most hotels have even the tiniest gym nowadays…and if you’re staying with family, take a morning or evening walk around the neighborhood. *Bonus* Evening walks mean looking at Christmas lights!!

2. Never Deprive

Always remember: this is the holiday season. It is special. So go ahead and make those cookies that you only make once a year. Eat those pies that you have to wait 11 months for again. Just remember to keep it in moderation. You probably don’t need a quarter of the pie in one sitting. I promise, if you start depriving yourself for whatever reason, you’ll become a not-nice-person and you might just end up gorging on the whole pie at midnight anyway.

3. But Not Every Day is a Holiday

Sure, the holiday season spans just over a month. But there are only a few actual holidays in there. Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean every single day should be a festival of sugar and fat. During family events, parties, and the real holidays, go ahead and enjoy all the wonderful things that have become traditional. But during your daily routine? Try to pack in those vegetables you’re missing out on. Keep it to one or two cookies instead of a plateful. Besides, if you eat like Thanksgiving everyday…Thanksgiving won’t be special anymore.

4. Don’t Eat It if You Don’t Love It

This rule is a little tricky for me to follow. Mostly because there aren’t a lot of holiday treats I don’t love. But the concept is pretty simple. Only indulge in the foods you truly love. Don’t eat Aunt Miriam’s strange mincemeat cookies if you don’t like them. I know she made it from an old family recipe, but if she’s not standing in front of you staring at you with soulful puppy dog eyes…she’ll never know. Here’s my example: I love love love classic sugar cookies. And I only love gingerbread cookies. So instead of having 2 of each kind, I’ll usually just choose 2 sugar cookies. And also, I’m not super crazy about pecan pie, so I don’t even include it in my slivers of pie on Thanksgiving. There is no rule that says you HAVE to eat something just because it’s there.

5. Dessert Once

This one is hard. But it’s an easy rule to follow. Unless we’re talking about Thanksgiving or Christmas day (where dessert happens whenever you want it to), I try to stick to one dessert a day. That means that if I decide to have milk and cookies for my afternoon snack, I won’t have them again (or pie, or cake, etc.) after dinner. Since I’m a BIG fan of sugar, this rule really helps me cut down on what could be massive sugar highs.

6. Cook/Bake Sneaky-Like

Again with the cooking and baking, Candace! Yes, yes. I know. But if you can cook and/or bake even a little bit, you have so much control over your food! I take extreme control when it comes to the holidays. I’m all for keeping all of the traditional flavors of the holidays. But I ask you this: does EVERY dish really need a whole stick of butter? Probably not. Here’s a couple of really easy swaps I make that nobody even notices:

  1. Use chicken stock in place of most of the cream/milk in mashed potatoes
  2. Use skim/lowfat milk when making the green bean casserole
  3. Read labels on the dinner rolls (make sure no yucky trans-fat, colors, preservatives, etc.)
  4. Don’t eat the skin on the turkey (I think it’s gross anyway)
  5. Use olive oil instead of butter when sautéing ingredients for the stuffing

Of course, you could also add some new dishes to the table, too. Try roasting some squash with a little cinnamon. Super simple and delish. Also, root veggies make a really easy, tasty roast. Just mix some cubed beets, parsnips, and carrots and roast at 400 for about 30 minutes. Toss them with a honey-maple vinaigrette and you have yummies ready to go.

7. Befriend the Buffet…and then go away.

Don’t be afraid of the buffet. It’s just a table full of food. Not scary at all. Go ahead. Pick up a plate. Now, put just a little bit of each dish you want to try on there. Good. Now. Turn around. Walk all the way to the other side of the room. That’s right. That’s my buffet rule. Get away from it! I’m 100% for trying all the tasty offerings on a buffet. But if I’m within arm’s reach, I will just keep eating and eating and eating. So I try to position myself as far away from the food as I can. That way, when I want seconds, I have to REALLY want them in order to venture back to the table. Bam. Mindless snacking avoided AND I get to try a little bit of everything.

So there you have it. Some of my personal rules for making it through the holidays without hating myself or buying new pants. I have no idea if you will like any of them, but I hope they help. My only plea to you is to PLEASE enjoy the holidays and all the traditions that come with it.

Stay tuned for my Thanksgiving blog…when I tell you all how these tips didn’t help me at all…

(But, no, really. I’m going to tell you all about how I kept my Thanksgiving “Real World Healthy” as soon as I recover from the food coma.)

Let’s Get Real

Alright. This is the blog post where I spill all the beans on my life. This is where you’ll find out how I really eat, how I shop, and how I stay my definition of “healthy.” For this to happen, I’m going to have to start at the beginning. I’m going to have to start with something I don’t publicize much (although, the pictures are all on the book of Face if anyone ever wanted to snoop). In college, I was fat.

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Yep. That’s me. Christmas of 2006. In 2004, my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. For those who have no clue what that is, here is the short version: my metabolism functions at very low levels. People with hypothyroidism typically experience fatigue, cold extremities, hair loss, and uncontrollable weight gain. Luckily, I managed to largely escape the hair loss symptom (although, my hair is so thick, I probably wouldn’t have noticed). But, in my last three months of high school, I put on 50lbs of extra weight. (Oh, the pregnancy rumors that spread…)

I admit, I had a penchant for carbs even at that young age. I would eat MOUNDS of pasta as an after school snack. So when I gained weight, I naturally thought that was the culprit. I cut back on pasta and started exercising. When the pounds kept creeping on, I finally went to the doctor and got the news. I was going to have to fight with my metabolism for the rest of my life.

For the first couple years of college, I stayed overweight. I was taking synthetic thyroid hormones trying to balance out my silly metabolism. Finally, I decided it was time. I was 21 and my knees were killing me. It was time. I made a New Year’s resolution in January 2007 to lose weight. I joined Weight Watchers and over the next year I lost those annoying 50lbs. Here is October of 2007.

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That is my back story. I tell you because I want you to know I haven’t always been a small girl. I want you to know that I completely understand the social stigma of needing to change my body. I want you to know I struggled with food. And I want you to know that I still struggle.

Having been overweight, and constantly having to deal with my lagging thyroid, I developed a constant fear of getting “fat” again. I was constantly locked in a battle between my plate and my mind. I read countless nutrition and health articles. I learned just about all an average person could about diet and nutrition. And I’m here. On the other side of it all. In the past year, I’ve finally started seeing my reflection for what it is. I no longer (usually) see the “fat” girl in the mirror. And I believe it’s because I’ve finally stopped listening to all the mumbo-jumbo diet/health/fitness crap out there. I’ve figured out how MY body wants to eat and what makes MY body feel good. In doing that, I’ve reach a level of acceptance that I don’t think can come from doing something because the industry tells you to. It can only be achieved by listening to yourself. So now, here is my approach to the world of health, food, and fitness. All laid out for you in a numbered fashion (because apparently that’s how I do it in this blog). Please read and enjoy. But remember – I’m not TELLING you how to do it. I’m giving you what works for me. Take it. Digest it. Edit it. Implement some (or all) of it. See how it works for you.

1. Discover What You LOVE

All the diet gurus say if you have a trigger food, you should get it out of your house. Never to be seen (eaten) again!! But…I love my trigger foods. And a life without them seems…wrong. Let’s use pasta as my example. If given free reign, I would eat mountains of pasta per sitting. I love the stuff. But a lifetime without it would make me the most miserable person on the face of the planet. In fact, a week without it might do that. So instead of kicking it to the curb, I measure it. Every single time I cook pasta, I weigh it before it goes in the pot. This keeps me accountable for my portions and prevents me from gorging myself. I say don’t kick out the best foods you love! Just acknowledge that you can’t give yourself free reign with them. Figure out a way to portion control. Measure, weigh, get special bowls/plates, whatever! But please don’t deprive yourself. You’ll just be sad.

2. Eat Whole Foods

Someone once told me “You’re food should look as close to its natural state when you eat it.” That’s the fancy way of saying “no processed foods.” I completely agree with this advice. Not only are processed foods typically loaded with unnecessary sugars, preservatives, colorings, etc…but they also don’t usually taste as good as real food! I stay away from 95% of processed foods. Sometimes, they’re unavoidable in today’s market (chips are way easier to buy that make!). So, when you DO buy the processed stuff – read the label! If it has more than the ingredients you would use to make it at home, then don’t buy it (i.e. tortilla chips = corn, water, oil, salt.).

Now. That being said…I have to say this: I think the GMO, non-organic attack happening today is just stupid. First off, labeling something a “GMO” is like calling something flying a “UFO.” The very first “GMO” was the pea plant that Gregor Mendel studied. And genetics modify ALL THE TIME on their own. It’s called evolution and adaptation. The current battle against “GMOs” is based in pseudo-science and uses scaremonger tactics to promote the ideas. However, if you research real scientific journals, you’d find that “GMOs” have already saved a lot of lives and there is not actually a GMO (to my current knowledge) that has been definitively linked to any health issues. Non-organic foods have a similar story. While many vegetables and fruit (especially the thin skinned ones) are better in their organic form do to pesticide absorption, the majority of overpriced organic foods are a waste of your money. There has been no real scientific evidence to show a nutritional difference in most of these foods. Again, most of what you hear is scaremongering.

The foods I choose to cut out and/or limit are ones that have a definitive toxic reaction in the body: artificial sweeteners, man-made preservatives, trans fat, artificial colors, and excessive sugars.

Now, as promised…here is a look inside my grocery bags this past week:

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Here we have 75% of the food that will stock Erich and I for the week. The other 25% comes from our CSA produce box, our pantry, and our stock of freezer meats from the local butcher. We have sprouted wheat bread (2 loaves), eggs (2 dozen), pasta, flaxseed tortilla chips, canned tomatoes, chicken stock, cheddar cheese (2 blocks), parmesan cheese, mushrooms, bananas, vanilla coconut milk, light coconut milk (for cooking), 1% kefir, tuna (3 cans), slice turkey, frozen strawberries (2 bags), frozen blueberries, peanut butter, heavy cream (2), apple cider, wine (2 bottles), and a couple bottles of hard cider.

Our grocery budget for this week was around $82 (normally it would be around $65, but we have a little extra this month since we won’t need our budget for the week of Thanksgiving when we’re with family). All of that food up there, including wine and cider, cost us around $75. Holy monkeys. We also have our CSA box full of produce (see below) and our 14lbs of frozen meats. Combine that with my stocked pantry of flour, spices, grains, etc…that’s a lot of food!

See guys. It is completely possible to buy wholesome food to nourish your body AND be on a really tight buget. In an average week, Erich and I eat for roughly $2.40 per meal (per person). Not too shabby.

3. Get a CSA Box

I’ve said this before in a blog…but I’ll say it again! Get a CSA box!! CSA (community supported agriculture) box is an excellent and affordable way to get your produce. It’s good for you and it’s good for the farmers. Plus, they’re so popular now that just about anybody, anywhere can find a good CSA. I get mine through a company called New Roots Organics. They get their produce from a network of farms in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Occasionally they supplement with imports from Mexico, but only in the cases where they will not have enough local produce to round out a box (and only include bananas, and exotic fruits).

The other awesome thing about a CSA box is that it will force you out of your comfort zone. You will get veggies you’ve never heard of (garlic scapes, anyone?) and be forced to incorporate them into your meals. Not only is this fun and adventurous, it’s really great for your diet!

CSA are also typically a bargain on produce. You get organic, locally grown produce at wholesale pricing. Erich and I pay $29.50 for our weekly box. Here is what we got this last week:

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1 yellow onion, 1lb parsnips, 1 bunch broccolette, 1 bunch arugula, 2 bartlett pears, 8 kiwi, 1 bunch beets with tops, 1 bunch kale, 1 bunch carrots with tops, 1 sugar pie pumpkin, and 2 fuji apples.

Nomz! I got very excited when I found out we were getting a sugar pie pumpkin. I can’t wait to roast that! A CSA box is like a little mini Christmas gift every week. And it’s a healthy little adventure.

4. Learn to Cook/Bake

If you learn to cook, you will always be able to control what food goes into your mouth. Cooking is actually really simple. All you need is a few simple basics (maybe in a future blog…) and you can whip up dinners super-fast. I cook almost every night of the week (we eat out once every couple of weeks) and most of those meals take me around 30 minutes from start to finish. I had every intention of taking pictures of ALL our food this week…but I forgot.  So here are a couple of photos and a quick run-down of what we at for the week:

Breakfasts: Mine usually consists of two slices of peanut butter toast OR scrambled eggs and a slice of toast. Erich almost always eats a couple of eggs and a couple pieces of toast. These are our go-to healthy breakfasts that take less than 10 minutes to prepare and set us up for a good day. We also always pair our breakfast with our signature smoothie. Our staple smoothie that we drink at least 5 days a week consists of strawberries, blueberries, lowfat Kefir, vanilla coconut milk, banana, greens, and flaxseed. Per serving, this smoothie hovers around 250 calories and supplies a load of vitamins, fiber, omegas, and healthy carbs to get us revved up.

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Lunches: These vary depending on the day. If we have leftovers of dinner, that is our go-to lunch. Because it requires no thought. Other easy-peasy staples could be egg salad sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, tuna salad, or peanut butter sandwiches. We also always take a piece of whatever fruit we got in our box during the week.

Dinners: Here is where I get creative. But I’m also pretty lazy about cooking sometimes. So I love go-to meals that I can mix and match. Here are some of the things we had this past week: mac & cheese with mushrooms and kale, chicken stir-fry with tons of veggies in a sriracha sauce over noodles, steak with roasted squash and scalloped potatoes, and noodles with “pink sauce” (a mix of tomato sauce and alfredo sauce), mushrooms, and arugula. All of these were made completely from scratch – included all the sauces. Notice how I don’t shy away from some taboo food items in my diet, namely cheese and pasta. Our trick to eating whatever we want and not being miserable is measuring/weighing everything and making everything from scratch. Yummy!

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I also mentioned learning to bake up there, right? Now, I know this is a bit more complicated than cooking. There is science involved. But if you can overcome your fear of baking, you can make all sorts of wonderful things. You can bake your own bread, cookies, muffins, cakes, pies, donuts…the possibilities are endless!! Of course, these things should all be enjoyed in moderation…but it is a lot nicer to your soul to know the pumpkin pie you are enjoying has no trans fat, preservatives, and is made with whole-wheat flour.

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5. Move

Move a little or move a lot. Just move. If you are currently sedentary, maybe try a gentle walk for 10-15 minutes a day. Eventually you’ll be walking more briskly and maybe for longer periods of time. If you already exercise, maybe you can kick it up a little bit? Maybe not. I currently work out in the mornings before work 5 days a week. That is all I can manage. I usually get a decent workout in (20min cardio and about 30min strength), but that is the only time I can squeeze into the day. So if what you are currently doing is all you can give, then awesome! Keep doing it! The important thing is that we all move. Trust me. Even a little bit will instantly start making you feel better in your own skin.

6. FORGIVE Yourself

We all mess up. We all overeat. We all skip a day of exercise. Today’s society wants you to say “how dare you!” or “you failure!” whenever one of these things happen. I say no!! Forgive yourself. Please. One day does not make the entirety of your life. To prove this, here is my confession: I adore ice cream. I will put away a pint of Ben & Jerry’s like nobody’s business. I have one at least once a month, occasionally once a week. And that is okay. I’m still healthy. I’m still human. So please, please, PLEASE…if you mess up a little, just brush it off. It is no big deal and you will totally conquer the next hurdle!

7. Pause

When I was in graduate school, we studied a concept of stage movement called Viewpoints. Long story short, in Viewpoints you are always moving – forward, backwards, sideways, etc. – on an invisible grid. When my peers and I were learning this, we were all so focused on moving in the correct direction that we never stopped moving. Our brilliant movement teacher told us this: “Pausing is always an option.” I pass that advice on to you. When you’re life is moving forward, backwards, sideways, quickly, slowly, or erratically…remember that pausing is always an option. Breathe. Rest. Relax. Do something purely for your peace of mind. Because you are the most important person in your life.

I’m back! And it’s time to get Really Real.

Remember back on my very first post how I said I was really bad at blogging? Well, I think I proved that to be true.  However, in my multi-month absence, I’ve noticed how much I feel I really need to write this blog. I keep getting bombarded by articles and people saying “you must do THIS to be healthy!” It’s as if there is only ONE correct way to achieve that elusive “healthy.” And that annoys me to no end.

So here, in my come-back blog…I am going to give you my opinions on some of those naysayers. Because it’s my blog and I can. It is not my intent to offend anybody or say anybody is wrong. I just want to point out why I think these things are NOT the end-all-be-all of health.

1. Shakeology

I’m a firm believer that you should be able to get all necessary nutrition from real food – not a shake mix. I understand that there are some athletes who need more calories and protein than they can eat in a day, so maybe something like Shakeology is great for them. But for someone like me, who is living a fairly normal life and trying to be as healthy as I can be in my real world, I just don’t think it’s necessary. I think it is unnecessarily expensive and robs you of the pleasure of food. I also get really REALLY annoyed and people who push Shakeology claiming it can do all but cure cancer. I know you’ve heard the claims and seen the memes: “I don’t get sick because I drink Shakeology! You get sick because you’re took stupid to spend a lot of money on this stuff…” (Excuse me, I’m having an irate moment here…) To those people, I say this: I very rarely get sick. When I do, it is not a product of not drinking something or of poor nutrition. It is a product of me working with children 5 days a week and working over 40 hours a week at 4 different jobs. Whether I’m drinking Shakeology or not, that strep throat virus is probably still going to get me.

2. Cross Fit

Exercise is great. Everyone should exercise. But not everyone should try throwing a tractor tire across the room or do jumping jacks until they pass out. I know people who do Cross Fit. That’s cool. If I tried to do Cross Fit, my body would rebel in the most horrible, atrophying way and I would probably never be able to exercise again. I’m a strong and healthy girl. I know my limits. My problem with Cross Fit is that it tries to teach people that limits are only in your head. I beg to differ. My knee with almost no cartilage in it? That’s a real limit. My hypothyroidism that robs me of precious energy when I least expect it? That’s a real limit. There are days when I simply cannot exercise – and if I do, it will be detrimental to my health. I think knowing your limits is a really important part of overall health and you certainly cannot learn those limits if you are pretending they don’t exist.

3. Organic/Non-preservative/Nothing-that-isn’t-pure

Science has proven a lot of things. But science has also NOT proven a lot of things. There is a huge movement right now to shame every piece of food that is non-organic, not locally grown, non-GMO, non-grass fed, etc. But here’s the thing: this movement is led largely by activists who are not only not scientists, but they’re also not reading the scientific articles! They are citing sources like Natural News (a known biased source) and other non-profit organizations that have no legitimate science backing them up. I agree that some organic foods are better for you. Pesticides cannot be at all good for us. And I agree that foods should be free of preservatives and dangerous chemicals. But I also know that many of the things we are lambasting are not nearly as bad as the activists want us to believe. I’m sure I’ll get into the specifics (and cite real sources) in a later post, but here is my simple way to eat well: always eat food as close to it’s natural state as possible. Eat organic produce if you can afford it (especially thin-skinned foods), and make sure you can read all of the ingredients on your food. And if you want to read about the effects of GMOs and the like, research real sources and learn for yourself.

4. Paleo Diet

My beef with this (no pun intended…?) diet is simply this: no one diet works for all people.  This diet is based in the idea that we should eat like our ancestors. But they’re talking about ancestors from 2.5 MILLION YEARS AGO. That is a very long time evolutionary speaking. Our bodies have made a whooooooole bunch of adaptations in that time. So I don’t think we should be eating like 2.5 million year old cavemen. But I do think there is truth in the idea that we should eat like our ancestors. My roots are Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian. Those were countries that had access to a lot of protein and a lot of grains. But the cold climates made produce pretty rare. In the past few years, I’ve noticed that my body functions best on a high-carb diet with a lot of protein and a moderate amount of vegetables. Likewise, a friend of mine whose roots go back to Africa has noticed that her body functions best on a diet rich in fruits, nuts, and meats – things that were readily available in most parts of Africa.

So, I’m sure you came to realize over those rants that my main issue with there being a “right” way is this: nothing works the same for everyone. YOU need to find the diet and exercise solution that works best for you. It may take a few tries, though, so don’t get discouraged. It is my goal in this blog to give you ideas and options to start following in your life.

Starting this week, I’m going to be making this a weekly blog. My first week is going to be an in-depth look at the way me and my sweetheart (Erich) eat. I’m going to let you into my fridge, my pantry, my grocery bags, and my dinner plate and explain how we eat clean in the real world and on a very real budget. So look forward to my next post, because it is going to get really real around here.