A Shift in Perspective

Isn’t it amazing what excuses we tell ourselves when we fail to make time for things we have committed to, or even the things we enjoy doing?

Like this blog, for instance. I love to write. Like really love it. And I love the idea of taking time for myself to write here every day – or even just a few times a week. This is something that I have committed myself to doing time and again, recommitting every few months with a renewed vigor. “This time for sure! This time I will make my list of post ideas and work on one to publish every 2-3 days. This time I’m really going to do it!”

Then without fail I enthusiastically throw myself into the creation of one grand post. I publish it. I feel amazing and creatively fulfilled and can’t wait to begin work on the next one.

And then a day passes.

And then another. And another.

My list of blog post ideas goes untouched as the excuses start to dim the rosy glow of creativity and satisfaction that had enveloped me following my previous post.

“I have to run errands today.”

“I don’t really feel like writing.”

“I don’t have any good ideas today.”

“This post isn’t perfect.”

“No body will care to read that.”

“My baby is taking too much of my time today.” (This is, in fact, a somewhat valid excuse I think. My almost 5 month old is still quite needy and dependent on me, as most 5 month old babies tend to be. I am writing this right now at 9pm after he has fallen asleep in my arms).

But I think the biggest limitation I put on myself was my initial intent of making this a health/nutrition/fitness-y type of blog. I find myself struggling to come up with new and original post ideas that fit within these categories (when there is already SO MUCH out there), and have not even allowed myself to consider writing about other subjects.

But what if I didn’t just have to write about these things?

What if I were just to write?

I started this blog at a time when I was trying to transition from a teaching career to one in the fitness industry. I cared so much about getting stronger and having abs and counting my macros and having a popular Instagram.

But then I got pregnant. And eventually had my little baby boy. And my entire perspective on the universe changed so drastically that things that used to seem really important to me, all of a sudden diminished in their importance.

Don’t get me wrong, I still work out every day and lift heavy things. But my goals have shifted dramatically. I just want to lose the last little bit of my baby weight and stay active and healthy – not because I want to look like a fitness model, but because exercise makes me feel good, physically and emotionally.

I still love to cook because I am passionate about the process of cooking. It is one of my favorite ways to relax. But I don’t care about creating “macro-friendly” recipes that will somehow become Instagram famous and be shared around the internet. I just enjoy eating deliciously healthy food and sharing it with my family.

I don’t put time or effort into my Instagram because I don’t care how many followers I have anymore. The time I spend playing with my little guy and experiencing all his giggles and wonder at the big wide world is much more valuable. These are passing moments that are much better experienced with a fully present heart and mind, not moments to be constantly recording and uploading for others to ogle at.

This baby, little Noah, has changed my life and put so much into perspective. I find myself milking every last drop of joy out of each moment of the day. I have never felt so engaged and satisfied with my life.

Rather than letting him be an excuse for not writing, I’m going to use him, and the beautiful moments we spend together, as inspiration for writing.

And not just him (even though he is like, 96.3% of my life right now). But I am going to write about whatever I want. Fitness, books, food, me, gratitude, quotes. Whatever comes to mind, inspires creation, and contributes to my happiness.

Isn’t that what having a blog is all about?

Coping With Grief During Pregnancy

Going through pregnancy is supposed to be one of the most magical and joy-filled times of your life.  You spend your days eagerly preparing and awaiting the arrival of the beautiful new child that is growing inside of you.  Friends and family members shower you with more attention and gifts than you will ever know what to do with – seriously, I already have a wardrobe for my baby that spans at least to 24 months of age.  All of this excitement and happiness is what you expect from pregnancy.  At least, these are all the wonderful things I always expected from my first pregnancy.

What you don’t ever expect from pregnancy is having to cope with the grief over the death of a close family member during what is supposed to be the happiest time of your life.

It’s been a little over six months now since the tragic loss of my father.  I’ve had my baby (birth story to come!), but I think I am finally ready to talk about how losing my dad affected me and shaped the rest of my pregnancy.

This past November of 2018, I was about four and a half months pregnant.  I was nervous, but happy.  Floating along through my second trimester on the cloud that all expectant mothers find themselves on.  Halfway between “the pregnancy still doesn’t feel real” and “my belly is getting bigger every day.”  We had just moved back to Miami from Dallas, leaving my parents and extended family behind.  Before we left, my dad was sad that we were leaving, but knew we had to do what was best for our little growing family.  My parents were going through their own issues, and it was hard to be around so much stress at a time when I was trying to paint my life with positivity.  We left Dallas with promises from my dad that he would travel to Miami when it was time for the baby to be born.

I knew my dad had been sad.  I knew he had been depressed for what seemed like most of my life.  But he had always reached out before.  When my mom called me on a Friday night to inform me that he had killed himself, I was absolutely gutted.  The world disappeared from underneath my feet.  Nothing can prepare you for news like that.  It’s something you see in tragic movies and read about in novels, but you never think it can happen to you in real life.  I was so shocked and numb that it took me more than an hour to finally break down into tears.

I was hyperventilating on the phone with my mom and my aunt, almost in denial.  How could this possibly be true?  I was pregnant with his first grandson!  He had promised to come for the birth!  I hadn’t spoken to him in several days!  Why hadn’t he called me?!  He never said goodbye.  I had so much left to say to him.  My mind was spinning with all of these thoughts that I could not comprehend or accept.  I was overwhelmed.

My aunt emphasized that I should take care of myself and take care of the baby, above all else.  I felt pressured to “be okay” and to “stay strong”, so as to avoid harming the baby in some way.  What I came to find out, however, is that grief (pregnant or not) is a one-way journey.  There is no way out of it except to go through it.

I know that I am not the only one who has lost someone dear to my heart during pregnancy.  Reflecting back on my pregnancy, I want to share some of the lessons that I learned on how to cope with such a life-changing, heart-wrenching event while simultaneously trying to create a beautiful place in this world, and in your heart, for your new baby.

Allow Yourself to Grieve

I think the first and most important thing is to allow yourself to grieve.  Feel all the feelings.  Crying your eyes out is not going to harm your baby, no matter what others may tell you.  The joy of your pregnancy does not cancel out the despair, just as the despair over your loss does not cancel out the joy of your pregnancy.  Suffocating these intense emotions and ignoring them for the “welfare” of your baby will only cause them to resurface in a more detrimental way later.  Allow yourself to grieve, but also allow yourself to feel the joy that comes along with your pregnancy.  Some days will be wrought with sadness, and others you will find yourself in such mother-to-be bliss it will almost seem like the tragedy never happened.  The emotions will come in waves.  Ride them.  Experience them.  But don’t ever try to swallow or ignore anything you feel, whether it be positive or negative, especially for the sake of others.

Honor Your Loved One

My dad may have never had the chance to meet my baby boy, but I wanted to make sure that he would always be a part of my little one’s life.  We knew our baby’s first name was going to be Noah, but were having a difficult time choosing a middle name.  We had even toyed with the idea of not giving him a middle name.  Before we left Dallas, my boyfriend and I went to dinner with my dad and suggested to him the idea of making the middle name David – my dad’s name.  He kind of half laughed it off, in the way he always did.  We thought about it, but still weren’t sure.  The night I found out about my dad’s death, I knew that Noah’s middle name had to be David.  Giving the baby my dad’s name felt like the right way to honor his life.

And Noah will always know that he was named after his grandfather, even if he never gets to meet him.  He will always know who his grandfather is, and what a wonderful, sarcastic, funny, and intelligent man he was.

Find an Emotional Release

Whatever it is that you like to do to relieve stress, do that thing.  If you love to paint, spend time every day painting.  If you like to cook, cook.  My personal therapy is working out.  Having that hour every day to move my body, lift weights, sweat, and focus solely on myself really helped me to work through my emotions.  It provided an outlet for my anger – the anger I felt at the world for taking my dad away, and the anger I felt at my dad for leaving me without saying goodbye, the anger I felt at myself for not reaching out to him just one last time to make sure he was doing okay.  Even on the days that I felt like doing nothing but laying in bed and staring at the ceiling, I would force myself to get up and go to the gym.  It would get me out of my funk and give me the energy to continue with my day.

Seek Some Sort of Support

Losing a loved one to suicide can be really isolating.  Losing a loved one in any way can be isolating.  Your whole world has crumbled and come to a screeching halt, but everyone else around you just keeps moving forward with their lives.  Please understand that you don’t have to go through these emotions on your own.  You don’t have to hold everything in and pretend like you’re okay.  You aren’t going to bother people with your problem.  Find someone to talk to, whether it be a friend, family member, therapist, or even a support group.  Most cities have grief support groups for the survivors of suicide and other tragic events.  It can be scary to confront the feelings you have, especially around people that you may not know very well.  But you are not alone.  Find someone to talk about your loved one with.  Find someone to share your feelings with and to share all the wonderful things about the person you have lost.  Personally I found that focusing on the beautiful memories I have of my dad really helped me to grieve him in a healthy manner.  I am lucky to have those 27 years of memories with him, when so many others may have never even known their fathers.


I am not usually a very religious person, but I can’t help but feel like I was blessed with this baby boy because the higher power out there knew what was going to happen.  The love I feel for my baby has helped tremendously with my healing.  It has allowed me to focus my energy on creating something beautiful.  This love has reminded me what a gift it is to be alive and how important it is to cherish each moment.  Life is painful, but life is also a wonderful adventure.  Beauty and pain will always coexist with one another, and we cannot truly appreciate the blessings without also experiencing the suffering.

I always tried so hard to help my dad see this.  He had a difficult time finding the beauty in life.  My life will never be the same without him.  Every night he is in my dreams, and in my dreams he is always still alive.  I love him so much and am so grateful for how hard he worked to give my family the life that we had.  But depression is real and dark, and sometimes people just can’t find their way back into the light.  My only hope is that he has finally found his peace.

It’s crazy, my boyfriend is Cuban and his whole family has dark hair, dark eyes, all dominant genes.  Most of my family is light haired and light eyed.  I have blue eyes, but my dad was always the only one with kind of hazel-green eyes.  We thought for sure the baby would be born with dark features, but Noah David was born with greenish eyes.  Just like my dad.


If you are currently pregnant (or not) and experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone. If you are having thoughts of self-harm or feeling suicidal, I urge you to reach out to a friend or family member before making a decision that you can never undo.  You can even contact me directly by email at clairelaster91@gmail.com or on instagram @paleoclaire.  You are not alone, and I would be happy to hear you and help you.  Life is beautiful and there is always something to live for, even if it seems like the pain will never pass.

Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies

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As I mentioned in my post on dealing with sugar cravings during pregnancy, one of my favorite ways to allow myself to indulge in a sweet treat every now and then is to simply make a healthier version myself and keep them at home.  That way I know exactly what ingredients are inside and can more or less control the amount of sugar than I’m consuming.  That being said, a lot of baking experiments happen in my kitchen.  Here is the result of one of them, and I am so excited to share them with you today.

This recipe is super simple, relatively quick, and definitely offers a healthier option if you L-O-V-E chocolate chip cookies as much as I do.  These cookies turned out fluffy and perfectly sweet, and you definitely need to try them. Like today.

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Closeup of the melty, chocolate-y goodness inside.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar free maple syrup (I use Cary’s because it’s super cheap at Walmart)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein powder (my favorite brand is Gold Standard Whey by Optimum Nutrition)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or dark chocolate, whatever you prefer!)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, slightly melt the coconut oil and mix it well with the maple syrup.
  4. Add the egg and vanilla to the coconut oil mixture.  Mix with a whisk until nice and smooth.
  5. In a separate medium bowl, add the almond flour, protein powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Mix until well combined.
  6. Add the flour mixture into the bowl with the coconut oil mixture.  I like to use a rubber spatula to combine them, because the dough gets all stuck inside the whisk and you are definitely not going to want to waste any of this cookie dough!
  7. Fold the chocolate chips into the dough.
  8. Use a tablespoon or a regular spoon to spoon the dough onto the cookie sheet.  This dough is a little sticky, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!  I got 10 medium/largish-sized cookies from my batch.  Make them slightly smaller and you could easily get an even dozen.
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies just start to turn slightly golden on top.  It’s important not to over bake these to ensure maximal fluffiness.
  10. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before enjoying!  Store in an airtight container in your fridge for up to 5 days.

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In case you’re the type of person that cares about these sorts of things (which I’m totally not right now), here are the nutrition facts per cookie:
Calories: 255.2
Protein: 9g
Carbohydrates: 13.5g
Fat: 19.5g
Sugar: 7.6g
Fiber: 3.4 g
*these numbers are based on a batch of 10 cookies.  For more cookies, numbers will be slightly less.

Hope you all enjoy!

Hold the Pickles, Pass the Ice Cream

The Gummy Bear Files, Part III – Dealing with sugar cravings during pregnancy.

Snapseed (5).jpg“Are you having any weird cravings?!”  This is the number one question I have been asked since becoming pregnant.  And the answer is, NO.  I am not having any weird cravings.  No pickles and ice cream for me.  My doctor even told me about women that have craved fresh mud when pregnant (ew).   Definitely also not me.

Now let me clarify something.  I said I was not having weird cravings, but that does not mean I am not having any cravings.  Namely I am having cravings for one thing only: SUGAR.  Before getting pregnant I was on a very low-carb (almost zero sugar) diet.  Before I even knew I was pregnant my desire for cookies, cupcakes, brownies, and all things sugary and sweet skyrocketed and I did not understand why.  I found it really  stressful to deal with, and in the beginning of my pregnancy I gave in to those cravings.  A LOT.  I gained more weight in my first trimester than I needed to, but this is also my first pregnancy and I have definitely learned from this experience.

I told myself that it was okay to eat whatever I want because I was pregnant.  But in all honesty this is not actually true.  When you are pregnant it is even more imperative to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.  Everything that you put into your body is going to be broken down and digested by the baby as well.  And with my family history of diabetes, there is always a chance that I could develop gestational diabetes.

My challenge became: How can I manage my sugar cravings without completely going off the rails? 

Here are my tips for doing just this…

  1. Make sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet. Include plenty of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, some starches, and healthy fats.  Whole foods keep you full much longer than processed sweets.  Oftentimes if I’m craving something sweet I literally just eat a regular meal of chicken and veggies.  I promise you there’s no more room for a dessert after that.
  2. Eat 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day, rather than eating 3 large meals.  Not only will this keep your blood sugar from crashing at any point, but it is also incredibly useful for keeping that pregnancy reflux and excessive bloating at bay.  Trust me.  If you eat too much your already growing and swollen belly will not feel very good.
  3. Keep sugar out of the house! This is pretty common sense, but if sugary foods are not easily accessible to you, you will think twice about having to do the extra work to obtain them.  Set yourself up for success.  If you know that you won’t be able to stop at just one serving of ice cream, don’t leave the grocery store with a pint of your favorite flavor!
  4. Fruits.  I always keep my fridge stocked with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and apples.  The fructose in these is usually enough to satisfy your sugar cravings, plus fruits have nutrients in them that you won’t find in that pack of oreos.  Win-win.
  5. Distract yourself.  If you’ve just eaten a meal and find yourself yearning for an unnecessary dessert, distract yourself by going for a 15-20 minute walk.  Not only are you getting a little bit of movement and exercise, but by the time you get back you probably won’t even be thinking about those donuts that were on your mind before you left.  Endorphins from exercise can be just as satisfying as the high you get from a sugary treat.
  6. Drink a glass of water.  When that mid-afternoon hankering for a cookie sets in, drink a full glass of water.  Sometimes your brain mistakes thirst signals for hunger.  You’ll get a little extra hydration, plus the water will take up the space in your stomach where that cookie would have resided.
  7. Delete food delivery apps if necessary.  Fortunately (and unfortunately) we live in a world where your significant other does not have to run to the grocery store at 10 pm to pick up whatever sweets you might be craving.  It is so simple to just push a few buttons on our iPhones and someone will deliver fresh baked cookies (or even Dunkin Donuts!) right to your door.  If you find yourself falling back on Postmates or UberEats on a regular basis, even if you are not keeping sugary foods in your house, do yourself a favor and just delete the app until your pregnancy is over.
  8. Don’t restrict ALL the time.  Allow yourself to a indulge a little every once in a while.  If you always say no, you will wear out your willpower muscle and this can lead to binges and overeating.  I like to set parameters with myself.  5 days of the week I do not allow myself to have any sugar.  That gives me two days of flexibility, so if I go out to eat with friends and decide to partake in dessert, I won’t feel so guilty.

One of my favorite ways to allow myself to indulge a little in dessert is to make healthier options to keep at home.  I love to experiment with low-carb and low-sugar baking.  If I have an absolutely unbearable craving for something sweet, I like to at least know exactly which ingredients (and how much) are in what I’m eating.  In fact, in my next post I’m super excited to share one of my favorite recipes for almond flour chocolate chip cookies with you all!

Most importantly, remember to go easy on yourself! If you do eat something sweet you hadn’t planned on, don’t beat yourself up!  It already happened, just keep moving on and make sure to have plenty of vegetables in your next meal.  It is absolutely OKAY to treat yourself every once in a while, just make sure the bulk of your diet comes from healthy, whole foods.  This is true of anyone, but especially for pregnant women like me, who are using all of our resources to grow tiny and healthy humans!

Pregnancy, PCOS, and Paleo

The Gummy Bear Files, Part II

Let’s talk about some girl problems today. And perhaps you’ll start to see just why I consider me getting pregnant such a miracle. I have never had normal periods. From the time I was 14 years old I always struggled with debilitating cramps and pain, so bad that I would even stay home from school some days. Obviously this wasn’t normal. Soon after, my first gynecologist discovered that I had some cysts on one of my ovaries, and at the tender age of 14 I was put on oral contraceptives because this was the only way to make the cysts go away and achieve some sort of normalcy in my cycle.

Fast forward 10 or so years and I had more or less been on the pill consistently THIS. WHOLE. TIME. In fact, it got to the point that any months I spent not taking the pill I simply wouldn’t even get a period. I sometimes would stop taking it because of worries that long term use would affect my fertility. After one of these 3-4 month stretches of consciously not taking my pill and not having a period, I decided to bring it up at my annual check up.

I was about 23 or 24 and this time I was officially diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (or PCOS). Again, my new doctor told me that the only way to control the cysts is to consistently take an oral contraceptive. He also mentioned at this appointment (and I will never forget these exact words) “That when I am ready to start trying to get pregnant we will need to have a whole other conversation.” He made it very clear that it would be difficult for me to get pregnant naturally with PCOS.

This is not surprising, as infertility or complications with getting pregnant is one of the most common PCOS symptoms. My aunt suffered from PCOS and had to undergo many stressful and expensive fertility treatments before finally getting pregnant around age 35 or 36. Once pregnant, she also developed gestational diabetes. Not sure if these are necessarily related, but maybe. Insulin is one of the hormones involved in PCOS so it would make sense that these two conditions would be comorbid (comorbidity, noun, the presence of two or more simultaneous medical conditions, for you non-science geeks out there).

So with a familial history of PCOS (my maternal grandmother also had it) how did I manage to so easily and unexpectedly find myself expecting a little one?? Could LIFESTYLE have anything to do with it? Honestly, I 100% believe that this is the case. Let’s discuss further, but first a disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A DOCTOR, JUST SOMEONE WITH ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE WHO HAPPENS TO ENJOY EDUCATING MYSELF ABOUT NUTRITION AND THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY.

For those of you that don’t know, the symptoms of PCOS can include the following:

  • Abnormal menstruation – either a lack there of or extremely heavy menstruation; lack of ovulation
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Unwanted hair growth
  • Mood changes – mood swings, depression, anxiety (my adolescence was definitely wrought with plenty of depression…)
  • Acne
  • Infertility
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By no means did I experience all of these, but many of them have affected my life at one time or another. The depression was a big factor in my life up until the last couple years or so. I’ve suffered with mild acne, fatigue, and most definitely the complete absence of periods for months at a time. In fact, the doctor had a hard time determining my due date because I had been off the pill since about January 2018, had my first “normal” period on March 28 and then never had one again after. Yet there I was in early September already 9 weeks pregnant. That means I had gone at least 3-4 months without having a seemingly “normal” cycle. Yet apparently I was.

Around the same age I was diagnosed I had also become addicted to crossfit. And as so often happens when one discovers crossfit, my eyes were opened to a whole new universe of nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle changes. I didn’t embark on my crossfit journey without rearranging almost every aspect of my life to supplement that journey.

I started consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. I began educating myself about the structure of the human body and about how sports performance is affected by nutrition. I read books about the paleo diet and that evolved into me following a low-carb ketogenic diet for almost 2 years straight. I cut out ALL processed foods, sodas, almost all sugar. I couldn’t even touch a food item in a plastic wrapper without cringing. I taught myself how to cook (and VERY WELL, I might add) so that I could make all my healthy food at home. If I was ever in a situation where I didn’t know the exact ingredients present in the food I was eating, I almost couldn’t even bring myself to put it in my body.

Every day for breakfast I had scrambled eggs with spinach and bell peppers, with 1-2 strips of bacon. For lunch I would always have chicken or ground turkey with kale or broccoli and carrots or cauliflower or some combination of vegetables. Every night we would cook dinner at home which always followed a simple formula: one type of meat, one vegetable, and a serving of healthy fats. One of my favorite examples of this is a little grass fed steak served with roasted Brussels sprouts and half an avocado. It became so incredibly simple to eat healthy. I just tried to include as many vegetables as possible, and the more I tried the more I loved them and loved experimenting with different ways to prepare them.

I was DISCIPLINED. I denied myself desserts, and the more I did the easier it became. It’s crazy how the more you eat vegetables and lean proteins and other healthy foods, the more your body craves that sort of food and rejects what was previously deemed “normal”. I was disciplined and I saw results. I lost that little bit of extra body fat (I was never super overweight), but more than that I saw my body composition changing completely. I developed muscle tone and I looked and felt FIT. Even more importantly, I felt STRONG and HEALTHY.

I started getting sick less and less and my stamina in my day to day life improved. I had (and more or less still have, despite growing a human inside me) SO MUCH MORE ENERGY. Two or three years into this lifestyle change I went back to my gyno and never had the cysts again. At this point I was still on (and occasionally off) the pill. So obviously, that had to be the reason for the management of my PCOS symptoms right?

There are plenty of anecdotes on the internet of women who have decreased or even reversed PCOS symptoms on a low-carb or ketogenic diet. I feel like I am one of those anecdotes. I genuinely believe that my fertility health was positively affected by my long term and consistent dedication to health and eating good quality foods. I spent so much of the first half of my twenties so anxious that I would never be able to have my own children. That I would never be blessed enough to get to experience growing a life inside of me. Even after hearing countless nutritionists and even Robb Wolf himself (go check out his podcast The Paleo Solution, it is geeky, informative and all-around awesome) declare the link between the ketogenic diet and improvement with PCOS symptoms.

For all the anecdotal evidence, there has unfortunately not been many scientific research studies done on the subject. One such study was conducted by researchers at Duke University, on eleven women with PCOS over a 6 month period. The women followed a low carb, ketogenic diet (less than 20g of carbs a day) and by the end of the study had improvements in body weight, percent testosterone, and fasting insulin levels. Two of the women in the study even became pregnant, despite suffering from previous infertility problems!

Now, as someone who’s respectful of the scientific method it’s important to point out that one study (or even a few studies) does not necessarily prove causation. At best, this study reinforces the link between insulin levels and PCOS and warrants more extensive research. Despite this, I think the myriad examples of anecdotal evidence of women whose lives have been changed by following a low-carb lifestyle merits giving it a try for yourself.

If you’re trying to get pregnant but have been finding it difficult, whether due to PCOS or not, take a look at your lifestyle. Maybe it’s time to evaluate some of your habits and change them for the better. It’s never too late to start exercising and it’s never to late to follow a diet rich in quality foods, and low in processed, sugar “foods”. (I put that in quotations because an apple is a real food. The unpronounceable chemicals in the ingredient list on a plastic wrapped cookie are NOT real foods.)

I believe that you have the power to create lasting, positive changes in your health based on your daily habits and the nutrition choices you make each day. Day to day it may be difficult to detect any differences, but then all of a sudden three years have passed and you realize how much weight you’ve lost, or that you can run three times farther than you ever were able before, or that you have a baby on the way when you never even thought you’d be able to conceive. Little changes add up to make a BIG DIFFERENCE.

Thus concludes part II of my pregnancy journey. (To read Part I click HERE). I’m so ecstatic to be sharing my emotions and experiences with you all. If you continue to follow along, even if you don’t learn something I hope to at least provide some entertaining reading material. Thanks for reading, and look out for my next post on DEALING WITH SUGAR CRAVINGS IN PREGNANCY in a few days.

Happy holidays and happy new year!!

Some Thoughts Regarding Alcohol

We’ve all been there.  Especially if, like me, you went to college away from home. You were 18 years young, and finally got to experience that sweet taste of freedom and cheap, watered down beer.  I am 110% guilty of falling down this college-drinking rabbit hole and gained more than the freshman fifteen.  I had immense difficulty losing (and maintaining that loss) until recent years.  What starts off as benign college fun can turn into something more sinister, and even affect your health.

 

Isn’t alcohol what being an adult is all about?!

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It’s the culture – you go to house parties, go out for drinks with your friends every weekend night starting on Thursday (Thirsty Thursday is a real thing, people), you sneak pregame drinks in your dorm room.  But this doesn’t stop at college, it carries over into after work happy hours three days a week, and turns into “needing” that glass of wine (or four) every night after work just to wind down.  I was that chick at college parties that would literally HOARD room temperature bud lights in my purse, just to be stocked up when the party inevitable ran out of booze.  I firmly believed that you could not go out and have a “fun” weekend unless it involved a whirlwind of cocktails and bad decisions.  Needless to say, I entered into adulthood with a very unhealthy, “all-or-nothing” relationship with alcohol.

My junior year of college, I started working out because I seriously wanted to shed that freshman fifteen – which at this point had become more like the freshman 25ish.  I became obsessive about counting the calories I ate, never once stopping to give second thought to the calories I DRANK.  Yes, I lost some weight due to eating lower calorie foods, incorporating lots of veggies, hitting cardio 4x a week with mild strength training (I had yet to discover crossfit!!), but I always seemed to kind of plateau.  I never quite got to the level of fitness and health that I wanted.  I thought I was doing everything right!  Oh, the frustration that ensued!

Alcohol goes straight to the a** (and belly and face and joints).

At this time I was still drinking a lot of wine on the weeknights – you know, because that’s what adults do, right?! – and going out to drink on weekends Friday through Saturday.  And don’t forget about mimosa-fueled Sunday brunches.  That’s a lot of empty liquid calories.  Like, a lot.  One mimosa has about 160 calories with 9 grams of sugar.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever had just one mimosa… yeah I didn’t think so.  Multiply that by 4 or 5 and you’re staring down the barrel of almost 1000 calories, just from your brunch drinks alone.

And there’s the other sneaky thing about drinking: it affects your eating habits as well.  When you’ve had a few drinks, all of a sudden it becomes so much easier to make poor food choices.  Who cares about that 1 am pizza??? I’ll tell you who doesn’t care: those three beers, two tequila shots, and four vodka sodas you consumed in a span of 3 hours.  And what about the next morning when you wake up cranky, dehydrated, and feeling like a jackhammer wrecked your whole body?  Definitely gonna need a triple stack of pancakes and/or a giant plate of sour cream chicken enchiladas to soak up those bad decisions.  And then the downward spiral ensues.

As I started to maintain a healthier lifestyle throughout the week, it became so much more noticeable how crappy I felt on the weekends after countless drinks and junk food.  By every Monday morning, I felt like an inflamed whale, only to get right back on track and feel great again by Friday night.  This cycle of healthy week, boozy weekend, Monday morning guilt lasted for years.  I thought this was normal, along with my IBS issues that came along with it.

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Here we encounter a prime example of me not following my own advice and drinking a beer.  Inflammation and gastrointestinal issues ensued post consumption of this beer.  But it was really hot out and this beer was refreshing and provided a great photo op. (Taken with Moment lens.)

Alcohol: the other macronutrient???

Now I am certainly not saying alcohol is terrible or that you should NEVER drink it, but in my personal experience I have just found that overall I feel better when I don’t.  I don’t need to get blackout wasted to have a good time, and I’d rather just not experience the post-drink inflammation and blues.  If you are trying to lose weight, an easy way to boost your progress is to seriously limit or cut out alcohol altogether.  Remember, alcohol is NOT a macronutrient that your body needs.  On the contrary, your body views alcohol as a toxin, and will always preferentially burn any alcohol that enters your system.  That means any carbohydrates, fat, or protein that enters your system at the same time as alcohol will not be processed.  I repeat, ALL OTHER METABOLIC PROCESSES WILL CEASE.  All of a sudden, you have all these extra carbs, fats, and proteins floating around in your body, so what happens to them? They get converted to fat and stored for later!

So next time you go out for dinner and drinks, remember that when you drink a lot of alcohol, and eat excess calories, the alcohol is hindering your body’s ability to metabolize that food.  Again, I am not saying to never drink.  It’s just no wonder so many of us gain the freshman fifteen when we are poor college kids drinking alcohol all the time and eating fast food at 2 am after a night of partying.

The key is to find BALANCE.  If you must drink, save it for special celebratory occasions.  And when you do drink, don’t drink to excess.  Have a few drinks, and remember to drink water so you don’t get dehydrated.  And try not to give in to those late night alcohol-fueled munchies: they are not your friend.

The Juiciest, Cheese-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs!

I don’t know about you guys, but I used to completely not enjoy cooking with ground turkey.  It seemed liIMG_9327.jpgke every time I attempted to make turkey meatballs or turkey burgers they turned out dry and bland.  But if you’re like me, you also get tired of the daily rotations of beef and chicken.

I embarked upon a mission to make the juiciest, tastiest turkey meatballs of all time, just to have another option for mealprepping or as another dinner protein to have handy.  These meatballs did not disappoint, delivering all the moistness you’d expect from a meatball, and an explosion of flavor in every bite.

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Seriously guys, there’s nothing more satisfying than oozy, melty cheese…especially when it’s in the middle of a meatball.

I was trying to figure out just why these turkey meatballs are so satisfying, and why I feel just so gosh dang good after eating them, when I came across this article on Mark’s Daily Apple.  It turns out that turkey (when made into juicy, delicious meatballs) doesn’t just taste good, but it’s also loaded with tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin.  Serotonin, known as the “feel-good hormone,” is vital in regulating your mood, sleep, and even your sexual desire.  But enough science about why turkey is great.  Let’s make some balls of meat!!

Ingredients:

Serves: 10 medium-sized meatballs

  • 1 pound ground turkey (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 large handful of kale (chopped)
  • 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic
  • Salt + pepper
  • Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Seasoning (AS MUCH AS YOU WANT. SERIOUSLY I USED LIKE 1/4 OF THE JAR)
  • 10 cubes of cheese – I used Trader Joe’s Grassfed Organic Cheddar slices; I just stacked two slices up and cut them into squares, but I recommend cutting cubes from a block of cheese.
  • 1 tablespoon Kerrygold Grassfed Butter (unsalted) – for the pan

How To Do It:

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1. Put the pound of turkey into a large mixing bowl and season it generously with salt + pepper.  Crack the egg inside, then douse that thing with Everything but the bagel seasoning!

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2. Take your large handful of kale (about this much) and chop it all up into smaller pieces.  Make sure to remove all stems, lest you be in for a crunchy surprise on biting into your meatball!  Add the chopped kale to the bowl with the turkey.

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Fresh garlic packs so much more flavor than garlic powder.  For optimum deliciousness, use 3-4 cloves. (One clove of garlic is one segment of the bulb).

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3. To crush the garlic, you will need a mortar + pestle tool, as pictured.  Peel all skin off the garlic cloves and chop them into somewhat smaller pieces.  Put them in the mortar + pestle and crush them up!

4. Add the crushed garlic to the turkey.  Use a large spoon to mix all the ingredients well (or use your hands – they’re going to get dirty anyways when you are ready to start rolling the meat into balls).

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5. Now we’re ready for the best part: the cheesy insides!  You can use whatever type of cheese you like best, I recommend cheddar or mozzarella…I bet it would be fantastic with feta cheese as well.  I double-stacked these organic cheddar slices from Trader Joe’s and cut them into squares, just because this is what I had on hand.  However, I’m 347% sure that it would probably be easier to cut a block of cheese into cubes.

6. Then it’s time to get messy.  Using your hands, take a small handful of the meat mixture and roll it into a ball.  Using your thumb, create an indentation in the middle.  This is for your cheese.  Insert a cube of cheese, take another pinch of meat to cover the cheese, and continue rolling into a ball so that all the cheese is covered.

7. Continue until all turkey is used up.  You should have about 10 medium sized meatballs.

8. Add the butter to your pan and heat it on medium-high heat.  Allow the pan to get hot (once the butter starts to bubble) and then add the meatballs one by one.  Cook them about 8-10 minutes, continuously turning them with a spatula so they can get browned all around, and making sure they cook all the way through (remember, you don’t want medium-rare turkey….)


Unless you have some sort of magic power that I don’t, these meatballs are not going to be perfectly round.  They will get flat-ish on some sides because the meat is so soft.  But the softness of the meat and cooking them in butter are the keys to what make this recipe so juicy!  The meatballs will absorb the butter, giving them lots of flavor!  These are great for meal prep lunches, or to have on hand for preparing quick dinners.  The first night I made them I paired them with cauliflower rice and some veggies.  The next night I threw the leftovers into a kale salad. Boom – five minute meal magic!  Enjoy them with zucchini noodles and marinara sauce to combat those Italian food cravings!

Super versatile, super yummy!  Hope you enjoy guys!  If you decide to make them, feel free to leave a comment and let me know how they turned out!

xoxo