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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dinner of Champions

I'm back to my old tricks of cooking up a storm. Here's what I made for dinner:

Chicken Stew
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
Show: Everyday Italian
Episode: One Pot Meals
Chicken Stew

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks celery, cut into bite-size pieces
1 carrot, peeled, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 chicken breast with ribs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
1 (15-ounce) can organic kidney beans, drained (rinsed if not organic)

Serving suggestion: crusty bread

Heat the oil in a heavy 5 1/2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, and onion. Saute the vegetables until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, chicken broth, basil, tomato paste, bay leaf, and thyme. Add the chicken breasts; press to submerge.

Bring the cooking liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently uncovered until the chicken is almost cooked through, turning the chicken breasts over and stirring the mixture occasionally, about 25 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the chicken breasts to a work surface and cool for 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Add the kidney beans to the pot and simmer until the liquid has reduced into a stew consistency, about 10 minutes.

Discard the skin and bones from the chicken breasts. Shred or cut the chicken into bite- size pieces. Return the chicken meat to the stew. Bring the stew just to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Ladle the stew into serving bowls and serve with the bread.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I've Said it Before ...

... But the following bear repeating:
  • I love AchievOne Cappuccino RTD protein supps.
  • Using RTD protein supps (like Micellar Milk) as creamer in your coffee is a great way to get your protein and caffeine boost in one convenient dose.
  • Sugar-free syrups and flavorings are a great, low-cal way to add variety to your protein shakes and beverages. They also help you get through a huge tub of protein powder without wanting to yak from boredom.
    • Some of my faves: Add peppermint syrup to a chocolate protein supp with a little coffee for your own peppermint protein mocha; add caramel and hazelnut syrups to a vanilla shake for a little decadence; fruit-flavored syrups are great additions to vanilla shakes in the summertime.
  • You can use Micellar Milk in lieu of fluid milk in recipes. Just be sure to adjust the amount of sweetener added. I love using vanilla MM in custard recipes.
  • You are worth every dime you spend on protein supps, vitamins, gym memberships, personal training, etc. Remember, these are not luxuries; they are investments in your health.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Ugly Side of the Holiday Season

Now is the time of year when people are decking the halls and spreading holiday cheer to everyone and their brother. But there is an ugly side to holiday cheer. It's also the time of year when decadent treats and desserts seem to multiply like caged rabbits. For those of us who struggle or have struggled with controlling our body weight, the holiday season can feel a lot like a Cambodian minefield. It feels like everyone we turn, there are cookies, cakes, pies, candies -- and a million and one reasons why it's OK to indulge.

But the worst part of the holiday season are the food pushers. The name is self-explanatory. Food pushers are those who push food at you. They tell you that you deserve to treat yourself, that just one bite won't hurt, that we all need to splurge now and then. Food pushers are a year-round hazard, but the holiday season seems to be when they are in rare form.

I try to see the good in people, to assume that they mean well and don't understand the ramifications of their actions. After all, that's a much more pleasing thought than to believe they are intentionally trying to sabotage your efforts to maintain a healthy way of eating.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Shock and Awe

When I accepted this new job, I was excited at the prospect of a new start in a new town where I had no expectation to live up to. Following a dear friend's advice, I considered not sharing my past with my new coworkers and acquaintances.

My friend suggested I keep mum about my past because he felt I deserved to make impressions based on who I am now, not on who I used to be. He's always thought my column, blog and transparency on my history with obesity was unfair to me. I understand where he's coming from. He's seen firsthand how people treat me differently once they find out I used to be morbidly obese or that I had weight-loss surgery. They scrutinize my body to gauge whether I've had cosmetic surgery or if I was ever big enough to "truly need it." They talk to me differently; the watch everything I eat. It's like living in a fishbowl, and it loses its charm quickly.

My attempt to follow his advice didn't last long, though. After all, I can't change that fact that I used to be morbidly obese and how it has shaped my character. I can't change my dietary restrictions, and I refuse to let people assume I'm one of those healthy-looking women who hates herself and is perpetually on a diet.

I don't broadcast my past or my surgery, but I don't shy away from the subject when it comes up. I've showed my before pictures to a couple of people and the reaction is always the same: shock and awe. I'm told I look like a different person, that they never would have guessed I had a history of obesity. I know I should be flattered, but it's hard. It's been 2.5 years since I had WLS; I'm at home in this new body. At the same time, I can't blame people for how they react -- especially if I'm openly sharing my history.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Happy Trails

The Livermore Walk From Obesity was Oct. 6 at LifeStyleRx in Livermore. The walk was a fundraiser for the American Society of Bariatric Surgery Foundation and Obesity Action Coalition. The ASBS Foundation raises money for the study and treatment of morbid obesity. OAC is an activism group dedicated to fighting discrimination against the obese and encouraging insurance companies to cover medical treatments for the disease.

I won't deny that I was a bit disappointed by the walk's turnout. I had lofty goals when I signed on as a team leader for the walk. I thought I could amass a Tracy team of at least 20 people who would raise $5,000. After all, I know how much this town raises in the American Cancer Society's annual Relay For Life. So I knew it could be done. But it just didn't happen for us.

Instead of 20 people, my team -- One Step at a Time -- had four members who raised less than $1,000. But as walk organizer Julie Rooney of LifeStyleRx said, "every little bit counts." And other walkers raised similar amounts of money, which added up to a decent sum of money for the charities involved.

Personally, I want to thank my generous sponsors: Dagny of Sassy Ladies of WLS; Kenny Luiz (my uncle); Lorraine Cardoza (my aunt); and Ben van der Meer (former colleague). Their support has meant more to me than words could ever articulate.

Those who didn't participate missed out on a fun day and a leisurely three-mile stroll down the Arroyo Mocho Trail. Walkers enjoyed a goodie bag and free breakfast, courtesy of ValleyCare Health Systems, and AchievOne protein lattes (a personal fave).

More than one person questioned why there wasn't more participation. Each of us talked about how we had difficulty getting people to join our team and the challenge of fundraising. The conversation reminded me of a friend of mine, Heather Maes. Heather is a 30-year-old single mom battling colon cancer. She's documented her fight on MySpace, in a blog she calls My Cancer Chronicles. The Tracy Press occasionally prints entries from her blog, which is how we first met.

Heather is a calendar model. Well, to be precise, she's actually Miss December on this year's Colondar. The Colondar is a fundraiser for the Colon Club, which is an organization that raises awareness of colon cancer among those younger than the stereotypical over-50 crowd. In September, Heather blogged about online encounters with people who did not agree with Colondar concept. Some called it disgusting; others lamented what they considered preferential treatment of cancer patients. One person even said that the limelight on cancer made others suffering from chronic illness feel "left out of the fun." I'm sure Heather can tell you all about the fun she's having as she undergoes her second round of aggressive chemotherapy.

But I digress. My reason for mentioning Heather and her Colondar (BTW: they are on sale for $15; you should buy one) is that I found myself walking three miles on an early October morning wondering why thousands of people get so passionate each year about fundraisers benefiting cancer societies, Special Olympics, and even the American Heart Association, but it was like pulling teeth to drum up any interest in a Walk From Obesity. I don't want to sound like the ignorant idiots who told Heather and other cancer patients that they didn't deserve to raise money for their causes. At the same time, I'm curious at why obesity doesn't get the same attention as other diseases.

Cancer, special needs and heart disease are relatively random afflictions caused by a combination of family history, lifestyle and luck -- or more correctly, a lack thereof. Obesity, on the other hand, affects a majority of our society. About 60 percent of our nation suffers from obesity (BMI of 35 or more); morbid obesity (BMI of 40 or more) affects about 35 percent of all Americans. Obesity is preventable, treatable and deadly. We all know how the disease comes about; and assuming you subscribe to the "calories in vs. calories out" theory of nutrition, we all know how to overcome it.

So why is it so hard to get support for a Walk From Obesity? I think because obesity is preventable and curable, people don't view it as a disease. And that includes those who suffer from it. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an obese or morbidly obese person say, "I know what I need to do; I just have to do it," I'd be a very rich woman. If the obese don't realize they are diseased, why should anyone else?

When I participate in Relay For Life each year, I am surrounded by those who are fighting cancer, have beaten cancer, have loved ones who fit into the previous categories or have been touched by cancer in other ways. At the Livermore Walk From Obesity, I was surrounded by bariatric medical professionals, post-ops and their loved ones. I even tried to drum up interest among my non-op friends, regardless of size. To me, this walk was about silencing a killer (just like any other fundraiser walk); nothing else.

But I realized that it's impossible to silence a killer when its victims refuse to come forward and defend themselves. I haven't given up, though. I hope the Dr. Mary Estakhri, the bariatric surgeon who has sponsored the Livermore Walk From Obesity for the past two years, will continue to support this event; and I also hope that, in time, the walk will gain steam as more and more people realize the how tight of a grip obesity has on this nation.