Thursday, February 23, 2012


I think almost anyone who hears the phrase “I want it now” has an instantaneous flashback to the bratty little girl named Veruca Salt from the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie. Each and every time I hear those words or see her face, I think about those words as they apply to my relationship with food choices.

(My deepest apologies. That lyrical earworm is now firmly planted in your head, isn't it? It's playing in mine too, with little mumbles in the places where I forget the exact words to the song. Am I the only one who appreciated that moment where she fell down the chute?)

As the weeks of FirstLine Therapy nutrition pass,  I reflect on some of my challenges and choices of late. For instance, my friend Emily Woodward just opened a fantabulous bakery in Windsor called Get Baked. (Go ahead, click that link and like the bakery on Facebook.)

Emily is an amazing baker. She pours heart and soul into her creations. Each confection is more drool inspiring than the next - mini whoopie pies, bialy, cheddar and scallion scones, rugelach, baguettes, challah, pizza, garlic ciabatta, cinnamon raisin bread, strawberry lime muffins, pk's chocolate chip muffins, coffee cake, blueberry muffins, orange-cran muffins, chocolate cupcakes - well, you get the idea, right?

*wipes drool*

I am incredibly proud of what this young woman has dared to do and so happy to call her my friend. She enjoyed a successful soft open with a limited menu the weekend before Valentine's Day. Get Baked officially tossed open its doors on the 14th itself with a grand opening day celebration and ribbon cutting. It's been busy, busy, busy ever since.

Did you think I would miss her grand opening just because I am trying to reduce my body fat? Not a snowball's chance. So after a training session at Accelerated Fitness Solutions, I took my sweaty self up to Windsor to wish Em well and see what the place was like. I walked in at 6 pm to a still-packed room. Chatty people sipped coffee and noshed their baked goods at the counter, Emily's mom was running the register and the baked goods were flying off the shelves.

There I stood, wanting to be supportive, but not planning to sabotage myself.

I compromised, purchasing two long baguettes and two pieces of Sicilian style, thick pizza. All were destined to be gifts for my mother.

Here is where Veruca comes in - the old me would have said "I want it now". I would have enjoyed a taste of just about everything and more than a taste of very specific items. But, I have goals. I cannot give up what I really want for what I want right now.

In general, I don't eat sweets or baked goods. They are a once in a great while treat. That is my choice. But this bakery is special and Em's baked goods are special. Once my 12 weeks of this program are over and as I transition into a maintenance phase, I will stop in the bakery to enjoy a cup of coffee with Emily. She is going to make me something very special. I will enjoy, make that savor, the delicious flavor of exactly one Nutella Triple Chocolate Brownie. I'll let that name sink in for a second.

T-R-I-P-L-E  C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E 

Wipe that drool off your lip.

I'll make sure to plan for it, get in a good workout that day and stop at just the one. Then I will return to my clean eating lifestyle.

This will give us both what we want:

  • Emily will have a happy, satisfied customer and a friend who feels loved.
  • I will enjoy a treat baked by a dear friend without derailing my path to a very clearly defined goal.

It's all about planning, compromise and remembering to enjoy life. I won't give up what I want most for a demanding "I want it now moment", but I remember that it is healthy to have an occasional deviation. No one is perfect.

Well, except maybe Emily. That lady rocks a kitchen! I mean, just look at that photo of her bialy!

I should point out, as a matter of record, that the two baguettes and the two pizza slices made it safely to my mother's hands. I drove there with a death grip on the wheel and my windows down because it all smelled so delicious. (My mother studiously avoided looking at the drool stains on my shirt.) I'm looking forward to my Nutella Triple Chocolate Brownie and coffee so very much and Emily's company even more. I really do appreciate that Emily cheers me along on my journey as well. She is not a "food pusher" and respects my choices. She is also the very same Emily who took the photographs for my blog, "Choose Your Hard".

Thank you as always, gentle reader, for following along. If you've missed the first six installments in my health and fitness journey, please click over to my blog archives at Merty Writes. In order, the blogs are:

"Do These Nachos Make My Hiney Look Fat?"
"Choose Your Hard"
"Ya Gotta Have Friends"
"The Attack of the Forty Foot Martini Olive"
 "Inspiration, Motivation, Determination and A Side of Get It Done" 
"5 Weeks Down - Progress & Pizza"

Oh yes, and meet the Head Baker and Owner of Get Baked, Miss Emily Woodward:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

5 Weeks Down - Progress & Pizza

It's hard to believe that I've been following the customized FirstLine Therapy nutrition program from Accelerated Fitness Solutions for a full five weeks. (If you've missed how I got to this place, click on over to my blog archive at Merty Writes and start with my December, 2011 post "Do These Nachos Make My Hiney Look Fat?".) My body is certainly appreciating the changes I have made to my nutrition.

While my dietary routines were healthy (mostly) pre-FLT, my body had adapted to them. I was in a nutritional rut, eating the same things repeatedly, trying to maintain a large weight loss that brought me from a size 20W to a misses size 2 trouser. I was afraid to step outside my comfort zone and gain back everything I worked so hard to lose.

My current goal is to reduce my body fat and show more of the muscle definition that I earned through a year and a half of working with Accelerated Fitness personal trainer and Cromwell managing partner, Kevin Carlson. The changes made to my eating habits with the FLT program are not drastic by any means, but they are exactly what my body and my mind needed. 

More and more, I am aware of how foods affect mood, energy and stamina. FLT is helping me to step outside my comfort zone, experiment with new recipes, to enjoy eating again without fear of weight gain and to start stripping body fat off my small frame. When I say "Strong is the New Skinny", I mean it. I don't want to be a "modelized" woman with a gaunt face who starves herself. I want lean, defined muscle - a healthy, fit, energetic, strong and happy body.

If I had to describe this process in a word, wrapping up workouts and nutrition in one feeling, I'd use the word "effective". Being the wordy kind of person I am, I can't stop at one word.

Please feel free to roll your eyes.

I have to add that these healthier choices are easily incorporated into real life routines and lifestyle. I don't feel like I am "dieting". I am living a real life with healthy, deliberate choices, not starving or ingesting processed foods with hidden sugars.

On the first day of week 6, my FLT group convened for a Friday night meeting in Cromwell with our FLT leader, Caryn Acevedo. Meeting number three meant it was time for what I'd been waiting - a true measurement of progress. Caryn would once again administer the Bioimpedance Test (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) is a method of assessing “body composition”, the measurement of body fat in relation to lean body mass) to see what I was or was not losing in terms of fat and muscle. 

I knew my body was changing. A hop on the scale told me I had lost 7 pounds, but I am not one to live or die by the scale. It doesn't measure anything but pounds. It doesn't tell me what kind of pounds are lost or gained. What about muscle weight? Am I retaining fluids? Am I losing fat? This information is what I need to hone my nutrition to better feed my body. This is about health, not some number on a scale. This is why I pay more attention to my clothes. Jeans don't lie. If you need three large wrestlers using pliers and brute strength to get your jeans zipped up, that's a far more accurate interpretation of things than a number on a scale. If I gain muscle pounds, my scale is oblivious to the difference. I'll say it again, jeans don't lie.

When working out with Kevin over the past 5 weeks, the changes in my body reflected in the large wall mirrors. My frame was visibly leaner. I was well aware that both my size 2 and my size 0 jeans were feeling loose in the waist (different brands are cut and sized differently so in jeans, I can flip from a 0 to a 2, depending in the brand). When I tried to tighten my belt, I realized I was on the last hole. This problem required a little creativity to get resolved. By this I mean it involved a hammer, a screwdriver and some determination. I punched a new hole in my black dress belt and grinned to myself. I also added "buy a smaller black belt" to my to do list.

This is a terrible problem to have, isn't it? (This is me, smiling.)

So, onto the BIA results - it turns out that my body fat dropped by almost a full 2 percent in five weeks.

Insert a Jersey Shore style "fist pump" right here. Dance a little. You know you want to - I sure did!

My body is hydrated at 52% and my fat mass reduced itself nicely. (In case you are wondering why hydration is important, if you are not hydrated, your body cannot eliminate fat efficiently or well.)  

There are still another 7 weeks before I transition into the maintenance phase. I can't wait to see what the next few weeks bring. I am pleased beyond words and I love that FLT has sprung me free of the food trap in which I was stuck. 

I am no longer afraid of food. I am not worried about balance in what I eat - am I eating enough protein, am I eating too much protein, will this carb cause my jeans to burst when I bend over - FLT has provided a frame of reference, education about different foods and how the body processes/reacts to them and some recipes to try. If I have any questions, Caryn is a quick email response away and a super resource for suggestions. It really does make such a difference to work with a positive and energetic person.

In the spirit of experimentation, I created a healthy version of pizza. I dubbed it "Lavash Wrap Pizza ala Maria". This recipe takes about 4 minutes to assemble and 11 minutes in an oven (more or less). 


1 Joseph's Lavash Wrap (low carb, flax, whole wheat - I find them in the deli department at Stop & Shop)
2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 can diced tomatoes, garlic flavor
2 tsp grated cheese, I like Pecorino Romano
salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano to taste

You'll notice, I also included a picture of an olive can. I originally intended to use chopped olives, but since I used 2 servings of EVOO, I opted to keep the olives out because that is a third fat serving. 

Place the Lavash wrap on a non-stick baking sheet, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle the 2 tsp of EVOO across the Lavash and spread evenly to coat. Sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder across the coated wrap. (I used the entire can of tomatoes minus the liquid - but be aware that the weight and moisture of all those tomatoes will not allow the center of the wrap to crisp up even though the outer portion of the wrap crisps nicely. I ate the center with a knife and fork, but I think that issue may be resolved by using fresh tomato slices and some real roasted garlic. This version is a time saver.)

Once the tomatoes are added, sprinkle more salt, pepper, garlic powder and then add some oregano. The oregano really pops the flavor! 

Then sprinkle your choice of grated cheese evenly across the top. 

Place the tray in the oven and cook for approximately 11 minutes. 

Check the underside periodically to make sure the Lavash is not burning!

This is the finished product. It proved to be a delicious treat!

I am definitely planning to use this recipe again, but will try variations to keep it a fresh idea! Perhaps I will use fresh tomato slices and roasted garlic instead of the "wetter" canned tomatoes. I also will cut the Lavash in slices before cooking to see if that helps the crisping process. 

I plan to try a "white" version of this pizza with sauteed onions, roasted garlic and kalamata olives. This pizza may prove to be a never ending experiment. 

Cheers to you all and thank you for following along on my journey!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Inspiration, Motivation, Determination and A Side of Get It Done

Inspiration - that wonderful spark that jump starts an idea or an action - can come from many sources. I follow many blogs by people on the same journey to good health and fitness as myself. We share similar triumphs, failures, joys and frustrations. Somewhere in there, I find laughter and support. I also find inspiration which for me is motivation. The bloggers inspire me to up my workout game, put myself out there by writing about my experiences and often enough, try something new in the kitchen.

I've been seeking some cooking inspiration, especially in the realm of changing up my vegetable routine to avoid monotony. I read a recent post by another blogger who has begun a weight loss and fitness journey. She goes by the handle Fat Chick Fed Up. She wrote about brussel sprouts.

My immediate, almost violent reaction to her post was a "blech" accompanied by a facial expression reminiscent of an unhappy five year old. Only once in my life did a brussel sprout pass my lips. To call the experience unpleasant is an understatement of epic proportion. I remain indebted to a kind friend named Bernie, who in the spirit of generosity, stoically consumed all of my brussel sprouts that evening. (For the sake of full disclosure, everyone at the table passed their sprouts to Bernie. His efforts that evening were nothing less than heroic.)

The brussel sprout incident occurred about 20 years ago. I've taken extreme care to never interact with another of those little green cabbage-like culinary nightmares. But, then I read that blog post about brussel sprouts. She even posted pictures of her kids giving the brussel sprouts two thumbs up. My brain started churning.

Had I suddenly discovered a recipe for the elusive Tasty Brussel Sprout Chupacabra? I needed to find out for myself.

I bought fresh brussel sprouts on the vine. Following instructions, I snapped them off, rinsed them and then cut them in half. I was officially in a state of vegetable dread. If it all went south, I was in a bind. It's not like there's a dog in the house to help make it all disappear.

Suddenly I experienced an almost overwhelming desire to borrow a dog. A very hungry dog. One without taste buds.

Mustering up my courage, I pressed on, drizzling the little green ickies with EVOO and seasoning with salt & pepper. Once a Sicilian, always a Sicilian, so I added some garlic powder and tossed with vigor. Making sure they were thoroughly coated, I spread them on a baking sheet and popped them in the oven at 375 degrees for about forty-five minutes (I altered her recipe a bit there, too). Once they came out and cooled slightly, I stabbed one with a fork and carefully placed it in my mouth, waiting for the ick factor. My eyes widened. Great taste and amazing texture - who knew?!

Apparently, I am now an avid brussel sprout fan. As I posted this adventure on my Facebook page, the legions of closet brussel sprout fans came out to comment. Some of them commented about how much they loved brussel sprouts. Several were amazed at how clean my oven looked (thanks, ladies, truly). Several made suggestions for other vegetable adventures, including one from my friend, Mary for kale chips which she and her daughter, Ava enjoy as a snack. (I have never eaten kale, but duly emboldened by my current success, I added it to my grocery list).

It was even suggested that I saute the brussel sprouts in butter and add bacon. 

Yeah, I'll let that sink in for a moment.

I'm trying to reduce my body fat - so thank you, cousin John from Tolland and my friend, Henry in New Britain for both suggesting this idea, but I'll pass on the butter and bacon. This is me placing my glasses at the end of my nose and looking down over them at you both. Sternly. 

You both know that look, right?

This post really isn't about brussel sprouts despite the paragraphs already devoted to them. It's about inspiration, so let me get back to that. One of the most intimidating things I have ever done is joining Kevin Carlson's version of Extreme Boot Camp at Accelerated Fitness Solutions in Cromwell. The Extreme class is invitation only. I'd been working with Kevin for six months in private training at that point. I wasn't given the option of the All Levels camp and to be honest, I didn't want it. I was placed right into the Extreme next to two of Kevin's long time clients, Heather and Nancy. Those two set the pace for this small class. I don't like coming in second but watching those two workout is like watching two little Terminators. They never stop, never slow. Both Heather and Nancy welcomed me into the group and made me laugh through my first camp. More than that, they inspired me to get stronger and faster.

Heather is nicknamed Mighty Mouse. At 4'11" and significantly smaller than me, she is incredibly conditioned. Her best squats and dead lift weights have been in the 180 pound range. She jumps up on a two foot box like its nothing. Nancy can do pushups and pullups until Kevin falls asleep watching her. She's a machine. When I started this camp, she didn't just do a few more pushups than me, she smoked me. Left me in the dust. Both Heather and Nancy were encouraging and never seemed to pass any judgment. They inspired me to get more conditioned. I didn't want to be the one to slow them down if we were paired for an exercise. It was "game on" time!

I started doing pushups anywhere and everywhere. When I worked at home, I had to do 10 if I got up to get a bottle of water. I needed to do 10 more before I sat back down. Same requirement in place for trips to the laundry room. I did them in my office at work every opportunity I had. Then I upped the requirement to 20 for each time I got up from my chair and 20 for each return. Finally came the day when Kevin called for a minute of pushups and I matched Nancy for 50 in one minute. You should insert a really big grin right here. It was a great feeling. It still is. This is not about competing with my friends. It's about all of us working together to improve. We challenge each other as we all have strengths and weaknesses. If one of us wants to stop, a glance over at another bootcamper pushing through it is incentive enough to keep trying.

Inspiration equals motivation plus determination equals success.

This is me working out opposite Nancy - a pushup with a clap at the top. Sadly, Heather couldn't make boot camp and missed her photo op!

As a post script, I made the Kale Chips on Superbowl Sunday. I ate the whole bowl. It was delicious!

For anyone interested in trying this recipe, wash the kale, pat dry and trim all the stems out. Cut the leaves into chip sized pieces. Toss with EVOO, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Spread on a baking sheet and place in a 400 degree oven, occasionally turning and moving the leaves to avoid sticking. The leaves get crispy. So amazingly good, I plan to have this snack often. I really like flavor so I sprinkled some extra salt once the leaves were spread on the baking sheet. Thanks again to Mary and her daughter, Ava for sharing one of their favorites. It fits beautifully into my nutrition plan.

For those who have been following my progress, I am happily sticking with the FirstLine Therapy nutrition program. My grocery costs are down and I am eating a healthy, clean diet. I haven't stepped back on a scale since the two week mark, but our group will have its third meeting in a few weeks so I will check my muscle/fat composition with another bioimpedance test and a hop on the scale to see where I am. All I know is I needed to add another notch in my dress belt which is now too big.

For anyone who missed the first four installments in this saga, you may catch up by reading my blog Merty Writes. The first post is a December, 2011 blog called "Do These Nachos Make My Hiney Look Fat" followed by "Choose Your Hard", "Ya Gotta Have Friends" and "The Attack of the Forty Foot Martini Olive". Thanks as always for reading along. My readers help inspire me as well.