Thursday, June 13, 2019

Dark Chocolate Covered Cherries

I recently picked up a bag of organic frozen sweet cherries which are delightful just by themselves right out of the freezer (at 2.25 calories each) and I've also been chopping them and adding them to my plain Greek yogurt which is just too wonderful to describe. But...I'm always looking for healthy recipes that include dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is one of those treats that really satisfies me with small quantities because it's so rich. I also find that treats that are frozen are much easier for me to control portion sizes. So today I got this really bright idea to melt some dark chocolate chips and coconut oil and to dip the frozen cherries in it. Heaven in a bite, let me tell you. So if  you're looking for a little treat after dinner, at 25 calories each these fit the bill perfectly.

I used the Lilly's no sugar added mini chips because I had them in the freezer. To be honest, they're not my favorite brand. I usually use the Enjoy Life chips even though they're higher in calories because they just taste much better and they don't have any weird added ingredients. Whatever chocolate you use, just be sure to adjust the calorie content of them.

The cherries I used are the Great Value organic frozen ones from Walmart but any organic sweet cherries will work.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chocolate chips of your choice
2 tsp coconut oil
35 frozen sweet cherries


Directions:

Line a small cookie sheet with parchment.

Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil in the top of a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler then use a small pan over another smaller pan with warm water in the bottom pan. Be sure to use low heat. Too hot, and the chocolate will congeal.

Spear a cherry with a skewer and dip it in the chocolate. Tap the side of the pan to knock off excess. Push the cherry off onto the parchment.

Repeat with all the cherries. You will have to use a rubber spatula at the end to scrape the chocolate off the pan and kind of smear it on the last couple cherries.

Place the pan in the freezer to firm the chocolate and then store in a plastic container. These are 16 calories each with the Lily's chips and 25 each with the Enjoy Life ones. They are delightful!


Sunday, June 9, 2019

De-lite-ful Blueberry Muffins

Muffins are the one thing that I've really missed since starting Noom. Muffins are one of those things that I'm not satisfied with only one. If I can't have three, I don't want them. And I'm talking normal size muffins here, not those gargantuan things you get in bakeries. So I started looking around for a lite muffin recipe that I could play with.

Most lite muffins that I've made are small, dense, dry, and totally unappealing. I started out with a recipe for 100 Calorie Banana Craisin Muffins from recipes.sparkpeople.com but by the time I got to today's version, it's completely different. So without further adieu, here is the best lite blueberry muffin I've ever had.

De-lite-ful Blueberry Muffins - 89 calories each (yes you read that right)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup packed Swerve brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 medium bananas, mashed: 1 cup
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup egg whites (I used the refrigerated box kind)
1 cup fresh or frozen thawed blueberries

Directions:

Mix the sugar, soda, salt, cinnamon and flour in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine well and remove any sugar lumps.

Mash bananas in small bowl and add applesauce, milk, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whip egg whites until soft peaks.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir quickly just to combine. Fold in egg whites till no white streaks remain. Stir in blueberries.

Fill 12 muffin tins lined with papers. You will have to pile it up in the middle and you will think they are too full but these muffins don't rise a lot so it's fine. Bake 375° for 15-20 minutes or till golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. At 15 minutes mine were done so don't overbake these. Remove to cooling rack immediately. Let cool slightly before serving.

Notes: Be sure to use whole wheat pastry flour. If you use regular whole wheat flour they will be more dense. If you don't have any, you can reduce the flour by a tablespoon or two and be sure to sift.

Use very ripe bananas for the sweetness. I ran short 2 tablespoons and filled the rest of the cup with greek yogurt which worked great.

Work quickly in your mixing as overmixing causes muffins to be tough.

You can use regular 1% milk but you have to adjust the calories. I like the nutty taste that almond milk gives these.

If you don't like sugar substitutes, you can replace with real sugar, just add the calories to the total. I don't use sugar substitutes that often but I really like the Swerve brown sugar. It tastes and behaves exactly like real brown sugar and it's naturally sourced from plants.





Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Noom: An in-depth 16-week Review








It's hard to believe that I've been working on the Noom lifestyle change program for 16 weeks now. The time has flown by, not entirely due to Noom, but also to the fact that we've moved into a new apartment, helped our daughter fix up, pack, and clean their house that they sold, helped them move into their new house, and then moved out of our apartment and into the carriage house above the garage in our daughter's new home. All in 16 weeks.


The initial Noom program is 16 weeks in length. During that time, the NoomNerds (yes it's a real term) taught me about not only how and what to eat, but why I eat the things that I do. Each morning I open the Noom app and am presented with a screen for today. It includes a tab to weigh in (something you do every morning), a tab to log your meals for the day using their food database, and a couple tabs of lessons, or tasks, to complete. In the beginning, the lessons are light-hearted and a bit on the high school cheer leader-ish rah rah side, a point that almost led me not to sign up after my two-week free trial. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not the rah-rah cheerleader type. I realize the seriousness of being overweight, and I want professional help to deal with it. But...at the end of the two week trial period I was down 6.2 pounds so I decided to sign up and stick with it. The cost for the 16 weeks was $129. I measured that against my previous weight loss program through Weight Watchers, where I am a lifetime member, and it would have totaled $203. So I took the plunge. I'm glad I stuck with it because as you progress through the weeks the approach becomes less cheerleader-ish and more serious. If you were to find professional counseling with the same content, you wouldn't find even one session of this quality of counseling for the price you're paying for 16 weeks of Noom.

The early lessons help you to form your Big Picture: your end goal, why you want to attain that goal, and how your life will be different as a result. Right off the bat your focus is led inward to self reflection rather than an obsession with popular body image or scale numbers. There are lessons that help you to identify what type of eater you are, types of triggers and what trigger causes you to overeat, unhealthy thought distortions and healthy ways to measure success.

Right at the beginning you're paired with an individual coach. The coach checks in with you once a week, but he/she is available to you via the Noom message app whenever you need help. There is usually a delay in response time due to the fact that most of these folks have other jobs as well, but I never had a time when I felt like a question or need wasn't answered. I did have one issue early on with the coaching system. The individual coaches are clearly following a script in their coaching and a lot of times the script just didn't apply to me. I understand the need for some cross-program standardization in their individual coaching, but there needs to be more individual shaping of the coaching depending on the individual in the program. To explain this better, the average person signing up for Noom appears to be middle-aged and in the prime of their high-stress work environment. I, on the other hand, am retired, so I have virtually no stress in my life at all. In addition, I'm in the absolute perfect environment to have success on this program. I have all the time in the world to research, plan, shop, and prepare healthy food. I have excellent sources of healthy food close by.  I have 7 grandkids within shouting distance to walk with and get lots of exercise. I have an incredibly supportive spouse. So my needs are not about stress, but about persistence. As we progressed along, my coach began to get to know my needs and help was more appropriate, so all is well now and I find her support very valuable.

At the end of the two-week free trial you are placed in a group of people who started at the same time. My group consisted of about 50 people, but only about 20 actually ever participated in the group messaging. Our group is incredibly supportive, full of ideas, has a great sense of humor, and a very talented group coach. It has been a tremendously positive experience, but I understand from a few other folks that their groups are not quite as good, so this may not be a universal experience. The absolute key to a successful group is kindness, encouragement and respect. If you can't be kind, encourage those not like you, and respect the fact that different things work for different people, then be silent. At the beginning of our group we had one member that was caustic, was deeply critical of anyone who was doing different things than what she thought was the best way. It got so bad that the offending member had to be transferred out. If you find you're in a similar situation, don't hesitate to be proactive and to get with your individual coach about the issue so they can take care of it before it gets out of hand.

Now, a word to the Noom app. This is my one and only serious gripe with Noom. Their technology is very, very behind the times. The messaging app has a few major flaws, such as the fact that there are no "threads," just a running conversation. This makes it almost impossible to locate a previous message that you wanted to save (like a link to a recipe online or something.) There is also a serious flaw in the messages read function. If you go into the group conversation the new messages will have a NEW flag on them and new comments will be highlighted in red. All good so far, but if you only read the first one and then have to go do something else and leave the screen, when you come back all the new messages will no longer be flagged new. It appears that the NEW function is per entry into the conversation, not on a message-by-message basis. With so many really good messaging platforms out there it's hard to believe that they couldn't find one to use that allows threads and flagging based on individual messages. Granted, I'm a techie, but I hear a lot of other people complaining about the same issue.

The second technological issue is with the food database. While there are some good aspects to it like being able to save a meal that you eat frequently, I've found a ton of errors in the database itself. A huge percentage of brand-specific foods that I log are not correct according to the package I'm looking at and generic foods are not specific enough in their description. Since I've found over 100g difference in some of the apples that I eat, I've taken to weighing each one and logging by grams rather than just "1 apple." Don't depend on the barcode scanner either without verifying the calories on the label of the product. A huge percentage of them are wrong. Another very minor issue is that if you plan all of your meals in the morning, you have to go all the way back out to the main menu between each meal which is several screens. There should be a function that allows you to save that meal and enter the next, a suggestion I've made and has been forwarded to the appropriate people.

Another very minor issue for me was the lack of program instruction in the beginning. There was very little instruction on how to use the food database and it was weeks before I found out I could save my meals. I was almost to the end of the sixteen weeks before I found out I could share a meal to the group.  It took days before I even figured out I could log my exercise. There are a lot of things that make the journey easier and I feel like there should be a tutorial that shows you all of these things. There is a help section in the menu but it's not very complete or intuitive. A simple tutorial with all of the shortcuts would be extremely helpful. I suspect that you could find most of these shortcuts given the time, but in the beginning you are so overwhelmed by what you're learning that it's hard to spend hours a day playing with obscure buttons to see what they do. I also felt a little lost as I approached the end of the sixteen weeks. I needed more information on what would happen if I did or did not sign up for another session so I could make an informed decision, help I needed without asking a hundred questions of my coach.

One of the most profound differences between Noom and any other method I've used to lose weight is the fact that Noom is not a diet program. It's a lifestyle change program. While they will teach you how to choose foods that will benefit your overall health, they don't specify what foods. They stress balance and variety, but one whole week of lessons is dedicated to looking at different food choices like low carb, high protein, vegetarian, vegan, intermittent fasting...you name it. The emphasis is in getting away from labeling food as "good" or "bad" and in saying "I choose to or not to eat such and such." The emphasis is on balanced, whole health including food, activity and happiness. The other huge difference is that the program is designed to train you to be able to do it on your own. No lifetime membership required here. They want you to build good habits, to learn to make good choices, to better your health and happiness and then....they kick you free. Yes, you heard me right. I'ts a scary prospect, a bit like I'm sure little birds feel when they get thrust from the cozy nest, but let's face it folks. We're grownups and we can learn to do this without somebody monitoring our weight and progress with a weekly meeting. Not to say you're left without support if you need it. The relationships that you form with your group members go on after you leave. We've all exchanged emails and I formed a closed group on Facebook so we can keep in touch.

So at the end of my first sixteen-week session, and as I sign up for another sixteen-week session to cement these new habits over a maintenance period, what's my takeaway?

In sixteen weeks I...

lost 35.4 pounds
took 1,171941 steps
walked 506 miles
climbed 2,088 floors of stairs
learned to take the stairs instead of the elevator
learned to correctly estimate portions
learned to change my all-or-nothing approach to success
made my husband a much happier home environment

What makes Noom different? Because it's not a diet. It's a course in YOU.

It's important to note that if you don't like to take an honest look at your motivations then this program will not likely work for you.

It takes about an hour a day for me to work through the tasks and to log my meals. Then there's the increased exercise which takes about another hour a day for me. So if you want to try Noom, be sure that you have the time to properly commit to it, and the desire for genuine success, even if it means discovering some things about yourself that you don't really like.

Six months ago I would never have believed you if you had said I would be here at my goal weight again. I had given up hope, pretty settled in the belief that I would be fat the rest of my life. I was very unhappy with my body, with myself and my lack of ability to fix this. So to say that on this day at the end of my sixteen weeks I am a different person is an accomplishment of huge proportions. So the final end-all be-all is the question, "Would I recommend Noom to someone else?" And to this I can only answer an emphatic "Yes!" 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Silky Ginger Sweet Potato Soup

This is a modified recipe from Jessica over at howsweeteats.com. I modified it to lower the fat content quite a bit. It makes a very large bowl that is a complete meal for me. You could cut it in half for a side dish with something else. It's very filling as a meal. I love butternut squash soup as well, but this one is so deliciously sweet that it almost seems like a dessert.

Silky Ginger Sweet Potato Soup: 388 Calories for the whole thing.


Ingredients:

1 tsp coconut oil - 39 calories
1/4 c onion, diced - 12 calories
1 clove garlic, minced - 4 calories
1 Tbl fresh ginger, grated - 5 calories
Salt
Pepper
2 cups diced sweet potato (265 g or about
a medium potato) - 231 calories
1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken or veggie broth - 30 calories
1/2 cup lite coconut milk - 68 calories

Directions:

Heat a medium pot and add the coconut oil. Add the onion and cook until golden brown and carmelized, about 15 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, salt and pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the sweet potato cubes. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, till the potatoes just start to soften. Add broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and cook till sweet potatoes are soft. Turn off heat.

Either use an immersion blender to blend the potato mixture or transfer it to a blender and cover the lid with a towel and blend it. Return the mixture to the pot and add the coconut milk. Return to the heat and stir till blended and warmed through. Adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg if desired.

Strawberry Chicken Spinach Salad

I've been experimenting with different salads now that the weather is finally getting warm in St. Louis. We're famous for having about three days of Spring before the summer hits here, and summer is brutal. So it's imperative to have a collection of go-to salads that I can make.

Fortunately, the warmth timed itself exactly with the organic strawberry sale at Whole Foods and I had these delicious  strawberries sitting in my fridge. I started out with about 3 cups of baby spinach. Then I layered 1/4 cup of thinly sliced cold chicken breast, 128 g of fresh strawberries, sliced, a 1/4 cup serving of goat cheese crumbles (Feta would work well too,) and a 1/4 cup serving of Great Value Omege 3 trail mix. It was quite possibly the most delicious salad I've ever eaten, and all of this for 358 calories. Score!


Broccoli-Cauliflower Salad

This salad was always one of my favorite summer salads. It's light, It's crunchy, it's both sweet and tangy at the same time and it fills you up. The original recipe called for a mayonnaise dressing but I lightened it up with plain Greek yogurt. If you're dairy intolerant or just don't like the taste of yogurt, using a light mayonnaise thinned with a little 1% milk if necessary would work fine, just adjust the calorie count for it. You can start with this basic salad and then add things. If you need a protein boost, diced hardboiled egg, diced cold chicken, and diced cheddar cheese all go well in this salad.

Broccoli-Cauliflower Salad: 137 Calories for a large bowl


Ingredients:

78 grams chopped fresh broccoli stems and florets
(about 1 cup finely chopped)
122 grams chopped fresh cauliflower stems and
florets (about 1 cup finely chopped)
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion like Vidalia or red
1 Tbl apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup Fage Total 0% plain Greek yogurt
Salt, pepper, sugar substitute

Directions:




Chop broccoli stems and florets into small pieces and place in 3 cup bowl.















 Chop cauliflower stems and florets into small pieces and add to broccoli. Mix well.











Chop onion and add to broccoli-cauliflower and mix well

In a separate small bowl, mix yogurt and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add a teaspoon of Swerve or other sugar substitute or add the calories for a teaspoon of sugar or honey. This sweetening is really necessary to offset the vinegar so don't skip it.

Combine the dressing with the vegetables. Refrigerate for at least several hours to allow the vegetables to absorb the seasoning. This salad will keep well in the fridge for a day or two.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Blueberry Muffins - The Lighter Version

The one food I really found myself craving since starting on the Noom program was muffins, but I really have never found a lite muffin that tasted good. For the past few weeks I've been on a mission, though, to try to find a recipe for one that would satisfy my muffin-hunger. I found a recipe for 100 calorie Banana Craisin Muffins on SparkRecipes and submitted by a member onelesspound that looked like a good place to start. I heavily adapted it and ended up with this blueberry muffin recipe. They clearly weren't bakery muffins, the 580 calorie kind with a moist, high texture due to a pound of sugar, but they were good, and I found them even better the second day after sitting in a closed up leftover container. They were moist, pleasantly sweet due to the blueberries, and had the delicious, more substantial taste of whole wheat. The adaptations that I made from the original recipe were to substitute almond milk for the  If you make them and change anything that you like better, please comment below so we can all benefit.

I also didn't take step-by-step photos of this recipe yet because I wasn't sure I was going to like it. When I make them again, I'll do the step photos.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins-116 calories per muffin-dairy free and vegan

This recipe makes 12 regular sized muffins

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 medium bananas, mashed, about 1 cup
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup almond milk
1 cup blueberries. If frozen, thaw and drain

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375°. Either grease the bottoms of the muffin tin or line with paper.

Mix the flour, flax seed, sugar, soda and salt well with a whisk. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas and measure to 1 cup. Add vanilla, applesauce, and almond milk to bananas. Stir well. Add dry ingredients and mix just till combined. Over-mixing will result in dense, tough muffins. Gently fold in blueberries. Divide evenly among 12 muffin tins. If desired, sprinkle tops with a brown sugar substitute like Swerve. Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes or till toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool completely. Store in covered container. These freeze well.