Homemade Chocolate-Cherry Larabars

DSC_0239Yum!

I’ve been meaning to make my own energy bars for a very long time. According to my Pinterest board, I’ve been meaning to make them for 15 weeks, ever since I pinned this recipe for Cherry Pie Larabars! Turns out I didn’t even use that particular recipe, but my point is that the intention to make a healthy energy bar has been in my mind for a while.

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For those who don’t know what a Larabar is: it’s an energy bar, made of very few ingredients, combinations of different nuts and dried fruits. I’ve tried a couple flavours in the past and did not like, but I was very open to the idea of making some of these simple bars at home, especially since those bars are pretty pricey!

I had a lovely sushi lunch with my friend Laura the other day, and amidst talk of dating no-no’s and the upcoming running season, we talked about trying to eat healthier, plant-based meals and she reminded me about this great blog, Oh She Glows. It’s a vegan blog with all kinds of delicious-looking recipes, and I’m having a good time looking through the archives! When I looked it up again, the first recipe on the homepage was for homemade Larabars, quelle coincidence. Anyways, I was inspired, blah-dee-blah, and found this recipe for Dark Chocolate Cherry Energy Bites that I made in due haste, yestereve.

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I don’t have a very powerful food processor. It is tiny. I think the issues I’m having with these bars being slightly more crumbly than I’d like is due to the fact that I had to process the individual ingredients one at a time in my mini food processor, and then combine all the ingredients with a wooden spoon and my hands. They pressed nicely into the pan and stuck together, but didn’t hold up 100% when I put one in my bag to take to school. But the good news is, they’re delicious! So tasty. Considering that I’ve never liked dates before, ever, eating a nut-and-date-based energy bar was remarkably pleasant. Other notes: I couldn’t find dried cherries as per the recipe, so I used dried cranberries that are flavoured like cherries. That’s sort of weird, but I just went with it. The recipe only made 8 bars, and they are dense with healthy, pure, raw ingredients.

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I’m excited to experiment with different flavours of homemade Larabars! I like making trail mixes every once in a while, but these bars are a more compact version of the same thing and I think I might like them better, because bars are more fun to eat, n’est-ce pas?

Happy Thursday! TGIAF!

What I Eat

Ever since the end of summer, I’ve been trying to slowly change what I eat, and how I think about what I eat. I’m a foodie, which is clear to almost everyone who gets to know me. I love food! I like to plan great meals and linger in the grocery store choosing yummy ingredients and I love to savour food, even sometimes talking about how good it is while I’m eating with like-minded friends. I don’t think that doing any of those things is inherently harmful – savouring things is a great way to add more joy to life. Unfortunately, sometimes I use food for comfort – after a long day, a bad breakup, to make a boring day more exciting. I would look forward to eating – again, not inherently bad, but in my case this was slightly maladaptive. I never wanted to “waste” a meal on sub-par food, and sometimes ate until I was too full. None of this is horrible, but add to it the fact that I did my fair share of mindless eating, and ate a bit too much junk food for my liking, and I knew I needed to make a few changes, just for myself.

All of this to say? I was ready for new eating habits, for the sake of my health and, yes, my weight. I never got to the point of being technically overweight, but I wasn’t happy – primarily because I wasn’t eating healthy. Keep in mind, I haven’t made any enormous changes – that’s the very key to why I’m succeeding! I’ve changed small things slowly in such a way that it doesn’t feel like I’ve changed anything, and it certainly doesn’t feel like I’m on a diet. I’m still not the epitome of health, and nor do I want to be. But I’m now hovering around a weight that’s about 10lbs lower than it was a month ago, and I often feel more energetic and less hungry throughout the day. I’m on a good food routine, and I thought I’d share what worked for me.

One thing I did was read Secrets to a Healthy Metabolism by Maria Emmerich. It’s self-published and has typos and strange formatting at times (at least the Kindle version), but the information is helpful, and lays it all out using the science behind everything. My main takeaways:

  • try not to eat or drink anything that will spike your blood sugar
  • eat or drink potentially blood-sugar-spiking things (ex. sugar, juice, fruit, carbs) with a fat or protein or both.
  • beware of “fat-free” products
  • yay, fiber!
  • fats (and fiber, and protein) slow down the absorption of food, which means less extreme blood sugar spikes
  • blood sugar spikes lead to blood sugar crashes = hunger and fatigue

So what did all of this translate into?

Breakfast: My breakfast nearly every day is a smoothie. My current smoothie is delicious and simple. It follows this awesome formula, and my ingredients are 1/2 frozen banana, handful of fruit (usually mixed berries or mango), flax seed, protein powder, water, spinach. I blend it up in a cup with my immersion blender and it’s delicious. The banana has enough natural sugar to make it palatable, but there’s a ton of fiber and protein as well. I usually pair it with a piece of whole grain toast with natural peanut butter, and that keeps me full for hours.

 Lunch: I used to make myself these elaborate toasted sandwiches and other things for lunch, because I had enough time between classes to come home. Not anymore, but that suits my new healthy purposes! Lunch these days usually means leftovers or a portable “fuel-only” option. Leftovers recently have been a butternut squash and cheese risotto, perogies, frittata, pasta with tomato sauce. The “fuel-only” option, as I call it, is usually a no-fuss meal I can make in a few minutes. Most of the time, this means a whole wheat tortilla with red beans (mashed with salt and pepper, sometimes a little onion), salsa, and sometimes some avocado or sour cream. It’s so filling (the beans!) and pretty yummy too, all things considered.

Regardless of what I eat for lunch, I always try to make sure it has enough healthy fat and protein. I still sometimes make fancy sandwiches if I’m home, but now I pay more attention to what goes in them.

Snacks: My new snacking system is the thing that’s probably made the most difference. Basically it boils down to this: eat a fat and/or protein. Most of the time, this means nuts. Plain nuts, of any kind. If I’m hungry, nuts are my first line of defence. I usually eat around 12 and I’m good for another little while. If nuts are unavailable, a spoonful of any nut butter will suffice. If I don’t want nuts, I eat a wedge of cheese. At work, an absolutely amazing snack (I work as a waitress, so not much time to snack during the shift) is a hard-boiled egg. I don’t usually pair my snacks with any kind of carb, they are fine on their own. Honestly, having a kind of implementation plan in place (if I’m hungry = nuts, protein, fats, etc) has made a world of difference. It means I don’t snack on chips or popcorn or any random thing I find in the fridge, and it doesn’t feel like I’m depriving myself either, not at all.

Dinner: I still sometimes make elaborate, carby meals with my friends (often, actually). I still sometimes pig out, and that’s okay. What’s important is that my paradigm has shifted. When I think about what to eat for dinner, I’m always thinking about whether it will give me an extreme blood sugar spike, and if there are enough good fats and protein in it. Previous to making these changes, it would have never occurred to me to make scrambled eggs for dinner in a pinch. I’d often get fast food while I was working, but making these changes lead me to now get sushi (full of great fats and protein) instead of a Subway sandwich (mostly carbs) or cheese ravioli (almost totally carbs and comes with a bread roll!). I also try to eat a lot of vegetables – usually spinach, peppers, and root veggies (my fave is roasted sweet potatoes). This is probably the meal that I have changed the least, so I feel that I’m still able to eat the food I like, with minor changes (ex. switching to whole wheat/brown rice pasta).

Drinks: This is the area I still need to focus on. In my freshman chemistry class, I learned that alcohol is converted to sugar in your body – a fact that was reiterated by the book I mentioned above. I still drink my fair share of wine or cider, but I try to pair it with a meal, at least. Working on it! I now drink only water between meals, and never drink juice anymore. That, too, didn’t feel like a big change but I think it has made a big difference. I drink my tea with a bit of sugar and real cream.

Other changes: I drink a lot more water now. I’m no longer usually hungry between meals if I eat my snacks, but my body sometimes feels like it wants to eat anyways. To curb that, drinking cold water is really great. I also weigh myself almost every day. I write the numbers down in a notebook where I also write down the food I eat. I do not count calories. I have tried before, and it does not work for me, whatsoever. Instead, I just write down what I ate, not many other details – the tracking is only for me, after all! I weigh myself so often because I like knowing where I’m at. I should emphasize that I’m not tracking these things urgently – it’s just to keep an eye on how things are progressing, and often I miss tracking a few days if I’m busy. Having a food log has really worked for me as I began to stop mindless eating. Now the eating habits are more internalized, so I don’t need the food log as much.

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I’d love for you to share your healthy eating tips, tricks, strategies for fooling yourself into eating better, tasty recipes, best snack ideas, etc, etc.

Also please know: all of the above are things that have worked for me, specifically. The reasons for undertaking these changes are personal, I’m not suggesting that anyone should follow my lead. I’m just posting in case you find the material interesting! Happy eating.

Running Routines

2012 was the year that I got back into running. I haven’t run so much, or so consistently since I was on the cross-country running team in Grade 10. I’m happy that I’ve kept it up, I’m happy that it’s getting easier, and I’m happy (most of all) that I’m enjoying it.

When I wrote about running here, I had really only just started up a running routine. Happily, all of what I wrote then still holds true for me today. I still adore my Nike+ GPS app and my bright turquoise shoes. I still focus mainly on just getting out the door and not pushing too hard. I still try to run variations on the same route.

But I’ve picked up some more motivational tips along the way! Running has spread like a virus within my friend group (a few of us recently did The Colour Run together!) which means there’s a wealth of information about running at my fingertips. I’ve now created a running routine that works for me, and I’ve been sticking to it. I’ll share what works for me, but keep in mind that everyone is motivated differently, and not everything that works for me may work for you! That being said, maybe you’ll see something here that hits home – I certainly did, since most of these things I learned from someone else.

Schedule: I run (at least) twice a week, just like I blog (at least) twice a week. In fact, I do both activities on the same day. For the past two semesters, I’ve had fairly open mornings on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I tend to run and blog during those mornings. I find it much easier to declare which specific days and during what time periods I’ll run than to decide to just “try and run twice a week”. By having an “implementation intention”, it makes it easy and automatic: for me, if it is Monday or Wednesday morning, I am going running.

My other rule is that I have to leave the house by 11:50AM to go running, otherwise I don’t have enough time to run, shower, get ready and leave for class on time. I find this strategy of singling out the last possible time I could leave to be extremely helpful, because it doesn’t let me make excuses or get flustered. I know that if I leave at that time, I will still have lots of time, so I don’t get stressed out during my run (when I want my mind to be relaxed, not worrying!). Also, having that time in mind makes planning my morning easier. There is no second-guessing or thinking involved, I just know I have to organize myself well enough to be able to go running by 11:50. Having a window of time I could go running in works better for me than having a specific time that I have to leave.

Running in the morning for me is a no-brainer. I know that later on in the day I’m usually busier, not to mention I don’t want to change my clothes, or disrupt my day. If I run in the morning, it’s out of the way and taken care of.

My advice would be to take a good look at your schedule, and work backwards. Choose a window of time that you could go running in, whether that be in the morning or evening, then schedule it in.

Fuel: Mornings that I run, I’ll do one of three things.

1. Not eat anything (rarely)

2. Drink a smoothie (only if I have enough time to eat/partially digest it before I run, otherwise it sloshes around in my stomach and makes me nauseous)

3. Drink a cup of caffeinated tea (usually chai) and eat a Clif bar.

I typically go with option #3, though today I chose option #2. Clif bars are expensive, however, and are a meal replacement. I am planning to make my own energy bars (from nuts, dates, etc), which cost far less! The meal replacement part doesn’t worry me as much, because I’m not eating it as a snack – it truly is replacing my breakfast.

When I get back from running I’m usually not very hungry. I haven’t investigated post-run protein shakes, but for the past few weeks I’ve been drinking a big glass of cold water with 1 tbsp of chia seeds. I don’t love the texture, but I’m glad to be working them into my diet as they are very healthy. I’m still working out the best fuel system for me. I have friends who don’t eat anything, or who eat four hours before they run, so there are a lot of options. I think that deciding what/if to eat is a process of trial-and-error, of experimenting and then listening to your body. I still haven’t perfected what I eat pre-run, but my current systems are working out pretty well.

Thoughts: Running has become a bit of a “flow” activity for me, which is wonderful. I don’t think about much while I’m out there, except avoiding pedestrians, focusing on the next stretch, or a few mantras. When I think back to my runs, sometimes I’m surprised at how empty my mind was – I really do just focus on the next micro-goal, one at a time. My “mantras” when I run are more like prompts, and most of them I pirated from Born to Run. The main one is “easy, smooth, light, fast”, which is self-explanatory but so, so great. Those words really direct the way I try to run. The second is “tall”, as in stand up straight, don’t hunch. Others include “cycle your legs underneath you”, “small steps”, and “check your form”. These thoughts pop into my mind quite a bit throughout the time I’m running, and they really help me focus on my gait. I would recommend choosing any one thought/mantra (you can get them from anywhere!) and thinking about it while you run. It’s interesting to me how quickly these thoughts became automatic for me, and now they just pop up spontaneously.

“Gear”: This one’s in quotation marks because I don’t have much of it at all, nor do I think I really need all that much. Until I’m running half marathons, I think for the most part my regular old track pants and gym t-shirts will do me just fine. The two exceptions to this are my sports bra and my running shoes. I recently bought this bra, which cost me an arm and a leg, but I don’t regret it one bit. It’s comfortable, and doesn’t dig in. There isn’t too much elastic. It’s supportive without being constricting. My last sports bra was made entirely of elastic, and always felt like it was constricting my breathing (granted, that could have been all in my head, but it also left scary marks on my sides). This one’s a dream! As I’ve mentioned before, I have the New Balance Minimus Zero shoes. They are great, but I definitely have to pay attention to my form and posture, and not let myself just bang down hills. There’s no real cushioning, so I have to be very careful. Yes, sometimes I wish I had more fancy Lululemon shirts, but the truth is that wearing those doesn’t make you a runner. You’ve got to put in the work, and the work can be done wearing pretty much anything at all.

Goals: I love goals. They are so great for boosting my focus and motivation. My main goal this year was to be able to run 10K. I’ve been slowly (very slowly) working towards it, a little at a time. When I set that goal, I wasn’t even running at all, but now I’ve gotten up to 8.35K and I’m very proud. I still have a couple months to go before 2013, and I have no doubt I’ll reach it. Setting a broad goal for the year is better for me than setting goals for each week. Some weeks I’m very tired, and only want to do a short loop before stopping. Other weeks, I’m ready for a challenge. Having a very broad goal gives me freedom from week-to-week, which stops me from getting too discouraged!

My second goal was to run a race! This one was very effective in keeping me going when September rolled around and I didn’t feel like running. I chose a fun 5K for my first race, but nonetheless I was doing it with 3 friends that I didn’t want to look silly in front of! So I practiced, and kept running, and kept practicing. I didn’t want to be too slow or out of shape to keep up, and it was very good motivation! (Because of this practice, I was actually able to keep up during the race, and keep up my running into the fall).

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I’m happy to report that because of all of these small changes, I’m actually enjoying the process of running. I don’t necessarily love it while I’m out there, sometimes it hurts and it’s always pretty hard. But I always find myself smiling – yes, smiling –  at some point during my run. Sometimes the right song comes on and the wind blows and I just feel great, and I smile. That usually happens for at least a couple seconds, even if the rest of the time is a slog. In any case, running is a great activity because it’s fresh air, exercise, goals, “runner’s high”, people-watching. Plus, it is a huge confidence booster to see yourself slowly improve. I’m hoping to keep up my running practice during the winter, but I might need a bit more gear for that! We’ll see.

Do you have any running tips for me? I’d love to hear them! Do let me know what works for you.

Get Well Soon

Ugh, guys, I just recovered from a cold.

Twas like death, warmed up.

Last Wednesday morning, I suddenly awoke with a sore throat. Thought it was nothing. Went about my merry business. Was repeatedly slapped in the face and sent to bed with my tail between my legs for the better part of the next four days, clutching my aching head, rubbing my swollen lymph nodes, painfully swallowing and gargling with salt water. LAME.

I discovered the practical applications of Advil around day 2.5 and spent considerable mental effort thereafter adhering faithfully to the bottle regulations. I didn’t exceed 6 in 24 hours! It worked miracles. MIRACLES I SAY. When I called my mother to A) assure her I wasn’t dying and B) listen to her tell me I might have strep throat, she herself even proclaimed: “Advil is a great drug.”

There you have it people. Great drug.

Anywho, I just wanted to come on here and let loose my mouth on the subject of the common cold. My mother has versed me well in her cures for this mild affliction, and I would like to share my little bit of knowledge to try and help prevent you from feeling as bad as I was feeling. (I thought it would never, ever end!)

Feel Better Again..

  • Start washing your hands, all the time. Use soap. Never touch doorknobs. Carry hand-sanitizer with you and use it before you eat finger food (aka all the food I eat). This is a preventative measure. Thumbs up.
  • Tons of water/fluids
  • Vitamin C and Echinacea every 4 hours
  • Tons of sleep
  • Zinc tablets for your immune system
  • Gargle with salt water if you have a sore throat
  • Citrus fruits (Vitamin C! Vitamin C!)
  • Garlic & ginger as much as possible in your food
  • Avoid dairy and meat (bad for immune system!)
  • Sleep
  • Don’t do any strenuous activities! Your body needs its energy to fight off the cold.
  • Listen to your body and do what it says. Like sleep.

Alright, I feel that I’ve done my civic duty. Please don’t get sick you guys! It seriously sucks.

OFF TO WATCH GLEE!

xoxo,