Five-Year Reflection

January 4 marked five years since I started my plant-based journey (six, if you include the year that I gave up pork, red meat, butter, and eggs in an effort to lower my cholesterol…read more here).  Yay me!  Am I a perfect vegan?  No.  Never claimed to be.  I will say, however, that I am closer and closer to becoming a true vegan—lifestyle included—each and every day.

As you know, initially, my decision to forego eating animal products was strictly to live a healthier life.  Today, health is still my number one priority in practicing a plant-based lifestyle.  Throughout the years, however, the environment and animal ethics have come to play a role in how I live as well.

Over the course of the last year in particular, I’ve begun trying to consider where my makeup comes from or what cleaning products I’m using.  As cosmetics and cleaning supplies ran out, I replaced them with plant-based alternatives that include no animal products and that are not tested on animals.  Below you can check out a few of my favorite vegan beauty brands.  🙂  (NOTE:  I have not been paid to endorse any of these products.)

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As a result of adopting other aspects of the lifestyle rather than just the diet, I find that plant-based living is becoming more complex in some ways.  Each time I use one of the leather purses that I was gifted or bought years ago, I feel a little guilty about it.  I’ve realized, however, that I can’t change the past, but I can control how I live my life moving forward.  That was my last leather purse!

Another valuable part of my experience with plant-based living has been mentoring.  Somehow, some way, I’ve inspired people to live healthier, more considerate lives.  THANK YOU!  I am not an expert by any means, but I’ve done the research and I continue to research.  I’m grateful that vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming THE way to nourish ourselves and protect the environment.  (Did you know that sales of cow’s milk have decreased by $1 billion?!)  I’ve had countless individuals reach out to me over the past five years looking to get started with their transformation and I’m honored to have been a part of their journey.  ❤

Finally, I’m at a place where the occasional “cheat” is becoming virtually nonexistent.  The first couple of years into my new diet, once or twice a year I would still treat myself to a piece of salmon or a handful of ribs; I now have no cravings whatsoever for even a once-a-year burger or chicken wing.  I would consider myself 100% vegetarian and 95% vegan.

The pickings in our fridge were slim a few nights ago, so hubby suggested we order a pizza.  Like a “real” one, with actual dairy cheese.  The first few years into plant-based living—especially when I was pregnant and had all sorts of unusual cravings for crap food—I would have been all about that.  My desire for such items has become less and less.  We did order that pizza (vegetarian, but with cheese) and I told Travis that night that I think that that was the last time.  I don’t need it, I don’t crave it…and I make my own vegan pizza that’s fresh and delicious anyway!

I also used to go out to restaurants and pick out a salad on the menu and think to myself, “Ok, I don’t really eat cheese anymore, but there is goat cheese on this salad and they aren’t going to lower the price if I ask for it to be removed, so I am going to consume what I’m paying for.”  I’m proud to say that I don’t think that way anymore.  Now, I think about how I can request an easy substitution that would still allow me to get my money’s worth out of the salad and fill me up if I decide to omit an animal-based ingredient.  If there are cucumbers on the salad, for instance, I just ask the server if I can have extra cucumbers instead of cheese.  If the salad comes with ranch, I ask to sub a vinaigrette instead.  Always polite, I’ve never once been turned down.

If you’re interested in starting your plant-based journey, please reach out to me.  I’ve been at the starting line and am now well into the race a healthier person with a bigger heart and smaller carbon footprint.  It’s the gift to yourself, the environment, and the animals that keeps on giving!

How to Keep an Omnivore Happy

I just said goodbye to my dad, who we lovingly nicknamed Papa Kale while he was visiting from Michigan.  My dad was raised in a typical American omnivorous family with meat and potatoes and good old comfort foods on the menu often.  In fact, I think a lot of us millennials were raised that way, too; research about plant-based living is relatively contemporary in the grand scheme of human existence.

Thankfully, amid overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet is substantially healthier than an omnivorous one, it is becoming increasingly popular to ditch animal products.  Check out any menu at a respectable food establishment:  vegan—or at least vegetarian—items are popping up everywhere.  It’s never too late to eat healthier, to educate ourselves, and to educate generations prior.  I don’t try to convert anyone; I just share what I know when people come to stay with me.  You might eat hamburgers, but they’ll never be flyin’ off the grill chez Witzke.  🙂

My dad earned the title Papa Kale because he really embraced what he calls “how the other half lives.”  Ha!  Although skeptical at times, my dad cleaned his plate—and went for seconds whenever possible—of all of our vegan food.  I’m still new-ish to the plant-based eating scene (four and half years in), but for real, my food is delicious.  As you know, every party or get together we host at our house is 100% vegan…and no one goes hungry…ever.

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I’ve written before about how making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle takes time and patience, but truthfully, that’s much easier that pleasing those that have little or no intention of changing their diets long-term, but simply want to survive staying with you.  🙂  Whether you have out-of-town guests or are trying to convince a persnickety spouse or children to consume healthier foods, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t start with something extreme. Items like kale and tofu aren’t likely to win anyone over on the first try.  A green smoothie or edamame?  Same ingredients, different story.
  2. Offer variations of popular comfort foods. Classic dishes like chili and pizza (two of my dad’s favorites, vegan or not) are generally winners in everyone’s book.  Make a vegan version and blow minds.
  3. Dispel myths about how bland and boring vegetables are. Yes, frozen, crinkle-sliced carrots that are heated, salted, and served can certainly be unappealing.  In addition, I think that when Americans picture “salad,” they often see iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, and ranch dressing.  Travis and I whipped up these two salads (above and below) for my pops and vegetables were the main event.  (The top salad is a combination of kale, cucumber, millet, red grapes, and slivered almonds.  The bottom includes fresh tomatoes, grilled corn, avocado, lime juice, green onion, and black beans.  Both salads were loaded with herbs/spices, too.)
  4. Have sweets on hand, too. I have literally never made a bad vegan dessert—I’m not just saying that!  So far, they have all turned out fabulously, despite the gambling I’ve done with substitutions for animal-based components.  My brownies are always a crowd pleaser and my dad enjoyed my first-ever dessert smoothie, which I make all the time, and not just for dessert.
  5. Most importantly, foster a supportive, judgement-free zone. Plant-based living isn’t totally effortless for anyone.  I’ve been very frank with you about occasionally splurging myself and it takes time to break those habits…IF they are ever totally broken.  No worries—making an effort to do better is what matters…and we can ALL do better.

Moral of the story?  I can’t prepare chicken or steak for my dad—or anyone—in good conscience now that I know what the potential consequences are.  So, I continue eating and living how I always do and end up keeping my guests full and happy in the process.  Good luck—not everyone is as easy to please as Papa Kale.  🙂  Miss you, Dad!

bean salad

I’m Back!

It’s been a while since I provided you an update on my postpartum progress…or since I posted anything.  Let me explain…

Since we last checked in, I am happy to report that many of the issues I had been facing since giving birth to baby Oliver have been resolved.  I got back into working out, shed another few pounds, and was starting to feel better about myself…

…until I started to have pain in my right foot.  X-rays revealed inflammation around the two small bones in the ball of my foot.  After a number of treatments and finally, a minor surgical procedure, my foot is now back to normal.  My podiatrist said that the problems were a result of being on my feet too much.  A mom with two young boys on her feet too much?!  🙂

In addition to this setback, I have been suffering from a bit of postpartum depression.  Despite being physically on the mend, I have many moments of feeling alone, lost, and disappointed in myself when I fail to balance everything in my life with a smile.  Over the last few months in particular, this feeling had been intensifying, so in addition to regularly communicating with my doctor, I knew I needed to think more about my body in order to put my mind at ease…literally.

Working out helps to improve my mood immensely.  Prior to my foot complications, I was getting up nearly every single morning, no matter how early or how tired, and getting moving before the rest of my family awoke.  Thankfully, my podiatrist cleared me to start back up again!  Sometimes I go for a jog, other times I complete a circuit on an app that I love, SWORKIT.  I heard about SWORKIT on an episode of Shark Tank.  It’s free, customizable, and contains a variety of workouts in different categories (Strength, Cardio, etc.).  I choose how long I have to work out and can easily achieve a good sweat in just fifteen to twenty minutes.

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As you know, working out is only part of the equation.  I have found that following a plant-based diet and incorporating exercise into daily life (i.e. walking to the store instead of driving, etc.), I don’t have to work out for long or with an expensive program or gym membership to see results.  I also don’t need to count calories or worry about food portions.

You also know that I am a big proponent of consuming a diet composed of primarily raw plants.  I am truly happier and more energetic when I chow down a fruit salad or drink a green a smoothie.  I’ve noticed that on the mornings I work out after having a heavy cooked dinner the night before, my routine is more difficult and I have to stop for breaks more often.

With that said, increased physical activity comes with a need for more calories, at least for me!  So, I’ve been adding a healthy, dense, cooked protein to many of my raw salads or as a side to something else I’m eating:  I am currently obsessed with shelled edamame.

Yea, I know, word on the street is you’re not supposed to have too much soy.  Remember, my sister lives in Japan, where I’ve seen more tofu, soy sauce, miso, and tempeh in one place than I could ever eat in my lifetime and the Japanese are living long healthy lives, so I’m not going to obsess over it.  In Japan, cancer rates are lower and life expectancy is greater…something is clearly going very well over there!  Lately, I’ve been consuming roughly a half cup of shelled edamame a day, a few days a week.  I’m certain I am ok.  🙂  (Just a reminder that I am not a health care professional.  If you’re unsure about consuming soy—or any food, for that matter—ask your doctor.)

Why is this an amazing plant-based snack or meal add-on?  For one, edamame is truly a heart-healthy super food.  It is loaded with protein, fiber, manganese, copper, and vitamin K.  In addition, it is neutral in flavor, so it is adaptable in endless applications.  I throw it into salads and wraps containing both fruits and vegetables all the time.  It fills me up and provides me with the extra energy I need for increased working out as I continue to tone up my post-baby bod.  When I add it to raw plant foods, it’s just what I need to feel a little fuller with more calories to pound through my workout.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to for the past few months:  healing, focusing on being happy, working out more, and eating edamame!  Oh, and raising those two crazy little boys I have, too.  🙂  Check out these adorable jars of plant-based goodness for Baby Oliver!

Baby Food

Recipe/formula posts (for non-babies!) to return this week!

Garden Update II

I’ve written a few times now about how maintaining your own garden can save you tons of money on fresh produce and also allow you to control how your produce is grown (i.e. organic). Our backyard garden has seen its ups and downs as Travis and I continue to learn about making it work in arid Arizona, but most of our plants are going strong. My last update included tomatoes galore and wonderberries!

Winter in Arizona means success for entirely different crops. It’s citrus season here. We recently planted a baby lemon tree which we didn’t expect to produce for several years. Here at only a couple of feet tall, we already have one lemon. Woo!

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Another impressive plant in our garden that has been thriving in both summer and winter is this awkward basil tree. We bought a standard basil plant from Trader Joe’s two years ago and planted what was left of it after nearly picking it clean. There is something about where we decided to plant it in our backyard that is apparently the perfect year-round climate and moisture level for basil. We harvest from this plant rain or shine, cold or hot.

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As you know, we also have a potted herb garden in the front of our house. Some of our herbs have not survived winter, but a few are still green, including this bright parsley plant. Up until recently, I was also regularly harvesting various types of mint leaves for holiday desserts (check out my peppermint cookies and mint chocolate chip brownies, both made with real fresh mint leaves).

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Next, we have a lemongrass plant that just won’t quit. Like the small basil tree, we planted lemongrass years ago and it is nearly the size of a shrub now. We’ve harvested leaves to flavor food and make tea, but I’m thinking I may need to venture into the natural soap and candle worlds. Anyone have tips for DIY bath, body, and home fragrance products?!

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Finally, I’m excited to show you our purple potato plants (excuse the slight blur…I was taking pictures with two-year-old Nolan running around the yard!). The potatoes themselves are, of course, growing underground, but what you see on the surface indicates the progress beneath. Travis says that once flowers appear on these plants and then they die off, that it’s time to dig up the potatoes – I can’t wait. Let me add that growing potatoes couldn’t be easier. Have an old-looking potato with spuds blossoming? Bury it in the backyard and you’re well on your way to more potatoes.

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One of the easiest ways to be healthier (and save money!) is to DIY. Happy gardening!

Happy New Year!

Yea, I know – I’m a few weeks late in wishing you a Happy New Year.  🙂  January (and the holidays in general) has been a hectic month for me.  My sister and her husband visited from Tokyo and my maternity leave officially ended.  Now that the dust is settling a bit, I am able to catch you up on what’s been going on in my world.

First of all, The Fresh Formula turned one on New Year’s Day.  This blog was born from recipe requests from my Facebook friends.  Several of them encouraged me to put all of my recipes (formulas) and budding knowledge in one place so that others could learn, too.  As I am not a nutritionist, professional chef, or food expert of any kind, I was flattered.  What started as a hobby for me has turned into a way to help and inspire people everywhere.

THANK YOU – The Fresh Formula continues to be a passion of mine because of YOU.  What can you expect from the blog in 2016?

I will, of course, continue to share formulas and recipes.  In addition, I am going to write a bit more about me, my family, and our life.  My readers have expressed a great interest in reading more about my plant-based journey—particularly since I’ve recently given birth to my second child—in addition to the regular meal, snack, and dessert ideas.

Let’s start with an update.  When I last checked in with you regarding my post-partum progress, I was a pound away from my pre-pregnancy weight, fresh off of a one-week raw food challenge, and continuing to work on getting back into shape.  I am happy to report that I officially reached my pre-pregnancy weight just before Christmas and successfully maintained that weight throughout the holiday season!  (Plant-based living makes weight maintenance effortless for me.)

Unfortunately, I haven’t been as dedicated to exercise and toning up as I had originally planned.  Without going into too much detail, as pregnancy and the aftermath are not the true focus of this blog, I have been experiencing bleeding, cramping, and other signs of my body’s inability to heal from childbirth.  Yes, this is still happening nearly three months post-partum and seems to be triggered by strenuous physical activities like working out, lifting, etc.

I went to my doctor and my bloodwork came back normal, although more testing may be needed.  I am awaiting the official results of an ultrasound, but what I have been told so far is not terribly worrisome.  I am potentially looking at a hormonal imbalance, among other contributing factors.

The bad news is that while I have kept up with getting outside to walk and doing a little light toning with weights at home, I have not picked up the pace with any cardio since every time I have tried I have experienced a setback in my healing.  The good news is that now that my test results are showing that my issues aren’t likely serious, I can power through and really, finally, now get back into getting in shape.

I look forward to sharing more of my progress with you.  For now, check out my latest pic!  My abs don’t have much definition yet, but that tummy is damn near flat, less than three months post-baby.  I’ll take it!

Progress Pic

Sprouted Beans and More from AZVFF

I’ve recently been reading at length about raw vegan diets. As you know, I aim to consume 60-70% raw plant foods daily, but I recently upped that amount to 90% in my one-week raw food challenge. I generally feel better than I ever did when eating a traditional American omnivorous diet, but during the challenge, I felt even more energized and satisfied with my appearance.

As a result of my piqued interest in raw eating, I went to this year’s Arizona Vegetarian Food Festival looking to learn more about the lifestyle. While I don’t believe I have the willpower—or interest, for that matter—to go completely raw, I’d like to try and consume even more raw plant foods. Uncooked food is easier on the body; there’s no disputing science.

Again, not looking to go 100%…just interested in living better, which I believe all of us can do, no matter what our lifestyle or food preferences. While at the AZVFF, I made a beeline straight for a booth advertising raw, sprouted hummus. I love beans, but they are inedible raw (or so I thought), so I had to see this for myself.

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When I think of “sprouts,” I imagine tiny green sprigs with delicate little leaves, grown from whole grains or seeds. Sprouts are delicious and make for an aesthetically pleasing addition to salads and raw veggie wraps. Sprouted beans? I couldn’t wrap my head around it…

Turns out, in the raw vegan world, “sprouted” can also refer to a plant food that has ballooned in size as a result of extensive soaking in water. This allows an item like a dried bean to take on a cooked consistency, while still being technically raw. The soaked bean is never boiled, sautéed, roasted, or otherwise nuked with heat and is palatable enough to make into a salad sandwich or blend into a creamy hummus. The nutrition nerd that I am, my mind was blown. 🙂 Why didn’t I think of this before?! I’ve always soaked dried beans and then boiled them, or purchased them already cooked in a can.

This learning led me to look into sprouting other seemingly inedible raw foods to avoid the cooking process. A vegan writer that I love operates a blog called Oh She Glows. She soaks rolled oats overnight—recipe is aptly titled “Vegan Overnight Oats”—and they are ready to consume for breakfast the next morning with no cooking required.

I am now working on revising some of my formulas to incorporate sprouted beans, lentils, or grains where I think they would work just as well as cooked – stay tuned!

Below, enjoy other sights from the 2016 AZVFF. 🙂

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Baby Oliver’s first time at the fest (with Daddy).

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My sister, Petra (in town from Tokyo), with Nolan. A gloomy day, but a pretty park.

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Last year’s vegan pretzel truck made a return!

Tried some vegan eats from a new place – delicious!

Staying on Track During the Holidays

I am pleased to report that while I didn’t see a decrease in numbers on the scale this week, I’ve noticed my body starting to tone up and change shape. After my previous failed jogging attempt, I decided to hold off on trying again until this week. So, in the past week, I focused on continuing to do some light toning with hand weights and ab exercises.

The real victory for me in the last seven days was getting back into my skinny jeans! I hadn’t attempted to wear them until this past Saturday and was excited to see that they slipped on easily and fit just as I remembered them. At six weeks post-partum, I’d say that’s not bad.

The holidays—and my December birthday—won’t stand in the way of my progress to reclaim my pre-baby body. Today, I’m offering some tips that have worked for me and will hopefully get me all the way through the New Year:

Eat more raw plants. If you tuned in for my one-week raw food challenge, you know that it resulted in an easy three-pound loss and left me feeling more energetic than I have in months. I strategically took on the challenge at a time when my weight loss plateaued, hoping to kick-start my metabolism and continue to achieve my goals. It worked, and I even succeeded in sticking with it despite Thanksgiving falling in the same week. I am not suggesting that you give up eating cooked foods – there are so many that are highly nutritious, besides being darn tasty! What works for me is to plan ahead. Since cooked foods are higher in calories and generally less nutritious than raw, if I know I’ve got a decadent cooked meal coming up, I try to eat raw only (or pretty close) the day or two leading up to that meal.

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I don’t splurge like I used to, but I still do to some degree. You won’t see me eating any turkey, but I’ll probably have a good two helpings or more of vegetarian (but probably not vegan) green bean casserole. I won’t “pay” for this indulgence later because I was proactive about making room for the splurge. My thirty-first birthday was last week and let me tell you, I didn’t hold back on more than one piece of cake and a whole bunch of cocktails. 🙂 I was sliding into my skinny jeans just two days later…

Offer to host. The holidays are a time for more frequent family gatherings and parties with friends. Chances are, you’ll attend at least a couple of events from November to January and there will probably be an abundance of meat and dairy served at the majority of them. If you want to control how you are partying this season, offer to host.

I’ve written several posts—starting with Nolan’s second birthday party—about hosting a non-vegan crowd with a totally vegan menu with great success. When guests come to my house, they know that they will be eating an entirely vegan meal that also extremely healthy and satisfying. No one complains and there is always at least one dish served that guests are truly raving about. When I host potluck-style, I never have to ask my family and friends not to bring meat; they just don’t. The respect that in my home, I don’t eat it, and there’s never a discussion. They typically bring dishes that are vegetarian and I never bat an eye – not everyone eats as strictly as I do and it won’t hurt me to go off the beaten path now and again.

Make your own satisfying treats. What many Americans—myself included—love about the holidays is the opportunity to eat special foods that they don’t prepare year-round. Every year since childhood, I look forward to my mom’s traditional Christmas cookies, which are definitely not vegan…and I will definitely be eating a few. 🙂 Surely you’ve indulged in a treat or two already and we aren’t even halfway through the holiday season.

So, don’t be left out. Make treats. Be a part of the holidays. Just do it on your own terms. I’ve proven time and time again with my dessert formulas that you don’t need butter and eggs to make a rich dessert.

Coming up on the blog before Christmas: thumbprint cookies made with leftover cranberry sauce and my classic chip cookies with peppermint. I’m starting a new cookie tradition—Nolan needs something to leave for “Santa,” after all—and not missing out on any of the holiday fun.

Many Americans gain significant weight over the holidays – you can still enjoy yourself without being one of them. 🙂

Progress Report and How to Build a Salad

The results are in: I’m down another three pounds and just one pound shy of my pre-pregnancy weight! My one-week raw food challenge yielded exactly the results I expected. Honestly, despite all of the raw produce I eat on a regular basis (and my success this past week), going 90% raw was more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until a few days in that I really got into a groove with snacks and small meals that kept me satisfied.

I found myself eating roughly 40% each raw fruits and veggies, 10% raw nuts, seeds, and butters, and 10% “other” (cooked items, oils/vinegars to dress salads, etc.). I experienced increased energy levels, which is essential these days with a newborn waking several times throughout the night. I found it easy to lose a little bit more weight even though working out did not go as planned.

In my last post, I was beaming about our new B.O.B. jogging stroller and getting back to running again. Well, I tried, and let’s just say I experienced some healing setbacks that I didn’t expect. I thought I was ready for a low-impact jog, but my mind and body had different plans. I did, however, keep with regular outdoor walks, began doing arm exercises with two-pound hand weights, and even got down on the floor for some good ‘ole ab toning. I’m feeling really great and look forward to trying jogging again soon.

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So, how did I consume all of that raw produce in order to feel satiated and energized and achieve the results I was looking for? Mostly, salad! No, we are not talking iceberg lettuce with shredded carrots…I mean big, hearty, versatile salads with flavorful low-sodium/fat/sugar homemade dressings.

Here’s how I build the perfect salad:

Start with a nutrient-rich leafy green base. While there is certainly nothing wrong with iceberg or romaine lettuces, you’ll get more out of a salad with kale or spinach. Leafier greens tend to be more fibrous, so chop them small and/or massage your dressing onto the leaves to make them more palatable. Also, consider greens that you may not have realized you could eat. Travis and I consume the tops of beets and carrots, for instance, either in salads or smoothies.

salad at home

Mix a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies pair well together, allowing you to balance sweetness and freshness. I prefer hard, crunchy fruits like apples or pears in my salads, but there’s obviously no limit to the combinations. This salad—surprisingly, from Chili’s—includes pineapple. Berries make for a delicious addition, too. As for veggies? Really anything goes. I prefer veggies that are palatable in a raw state, but you could even prepare a butternut squash and slice it thinly. Play around with combinations that maximize flavor and nutrition.

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Kick it up with a crunch. Raw nuts and seeds do the job nicely. Whenever possible, opt for those without added oil, salt, or sugar, of course. Even nuts that aren’t necessarily tasty raw—walnuts, in my opinion—take on a whole new life when paired with the right produce and dressing. I will eat a whole bowl full of kale with just nuts/seeds and am totally satisfied.

Make your own dressing. ALWAYS. There are many a tasty option out there in the world of premade dressings, but an abundance of them contain animal products, preservatives, and/or an excess of oil, salt, or sugar. It is simple and fast to make your own dressing. A vinaigrette comes together by mixing acid (mustard, citrus juice, vinegar, etc.) and a touch of oil and/or sweetener, plus salt, pepper, herbs, and spices to taste. Love ranch? Caesar? You can still have creamy dressings using a nut or seed butter as the base. This extra effort is worth it for a healthier salad. Ranch might make veggies tastier, but it takes over whatever health benefits you were gleaning from them without it…

Add cooked elements to make it extra filling. Lastly, your salad will keep you fuller longer if you add cooked beans, lentils, tofu, or whole grains. I especially love to do this when I’m making a burrito bowl. 🙂 Remember, though, that cooked items contain more calories than raw, if you’re trying to watch your weight. Point is, if you’re aiming to eat more raw produce, that is what should be the star. (You can’t go wrong, however, with my multi-grain salad, bean salad, or potato salad for a filling fix that is highly nutritious!)

Salad with beans

During my one-week raw food challenge, I was comfortable eating a lot of salad. In my ordinary plant-based life (60-70% raw produce), I typically eat at least one salad a day, either on its own or in a wrap. If the thought daunts you but you’re trying to eat more produce, start small: carrot sticks and dip (homemade, of course!), apples and peanut butter, etc. Once you find yourself having more energy, you’ll be chowing down on fresh fruits and veggies on the regular in no time!

One-Week Raw Food Challenge

As expected, this week, I plateaued on my weight loss journey. After I gave birth to Nolan, the last four pounds were the toughest to lose and it looks like that is going to be the case again. While I didn’t gain any weight over the past week—plant-based eating works wonders for maintaining a healthy weight, regardless of the intensity or amount of exercise—I didn’t lose any either and I’m not seeing any differences in my appearance.

So, it’s time to take it up a notch. As of Sunday, it’s been four weeks since Oliver was born and I feel mostly healed from childbirth. I’m ready to make my daily walk at least a partial jog. My in-laws hooked us up with a brand new B.O.B. jogging stroller that can hold a child up to seventy pounds, so Oliver—or Nolan even—will be accompanying me for my runs for years to come.

While exercise is important and essential for heart health and weight loss, it is my belief that diet is even more so. As you know, I follow a mostly vegan plant-based lifestyle composed of 60-70% raw plants and 30-40% cooked. Since I have reached a plateau, to accompany gradual changes in exercise, I’m doing a one-week raw foods challenge where I’ll be upping my raw plant intake to 90%.

Eating raw plants is extremely healthy and in many cases, preferred to cooked plants. Most raw plants contain more nutrients than if they were cooked and cooked plants also contain more calories than raw. What?! I’m not a scientist, but in simple terms, according to what I’ve read, when a plant is cooked, it is injected with energy (heat). Since calories = energy, increasing the “energy” in a food is also increasing its calories. Point being, while I don’t count my energy molecules, I don’t need as many of them if I’m trying to lose weight. 🙂 All the more reason to go raw.

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Because I am used to eating mostly raw plants anyway, I am not concerned about feeling satisfied by even more of the raw stuff and less of the cooked. I don’t think I could sustain a 90% raw diet in the long-term because there are so many cooked plant foods that I can’t live without (potatoes, beans, whole grains, etc.), but I know I can do it for a week and expect to see a few more pounds drop as a result.

What are you going to eat? Where do you get your protein?

Some of you are thinking it, so here are the answers:

I’m going to consume a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, and plant milks as they are or in easy-to-combine dishes like smoothies or salads. I’ll incorporate grains by putting them dry and uncooked into the Vitamix and turning them into flour. I can use this flour in power balls or bars, for instance, and obtain the nutrients in fewer calories.

There is some level of protein in virtually all plants, but especially high levels in nuts and seeds. I’m not worried about getting enough protein—I never am—and I’m not a bodybuilder, so I just need to make sure to eat an adequate amount for my body type and physical activity level. Protein is nothing to stress about, despite getting this question often. A dietician I follow has written numerous times about how most Americans (even vegans!) eat way too much protein…I’m not a nutritionist, so I’ll leave it at that.

Part of staying full and satiated, for me, anyway, is grazing. The pics in this post exhibit snacks I eat all day long in lieu of three traditionally large meals. Just an idea if you’re not sure how you could make this work. 🙂 Check in next week to see how my raw food challenge went!

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Clean Drinking Matters, Too

This week, I’m down another pound and a half! I don’t have a progress shot for you because while every little bit matters when you’re trying to lose weight, not all losses are enough for a visible difference. Regardless, I’m proud of how far I’ve come in a short amount of time. I sense that I’m just about to plateau, so I’ll need to step up my game now that I’m feeling worlds better. More on that next week…

For Week Three post-baby, I’m focusing on clean drinking (check out my clean eating tips from last week). What you drink is just as important as what you eat on the journey to improved fitness. Today, I’m sharing with you what I drink on a regular or semi-regular basis. It’s a short list compared to what I don’t drink, but in a nutshell, I stay away from juice (except for occasional freshly pressed), soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, dairy milk, and coffee (coffee only because I don’t like it).

I try to consume beverages that are simple, as natural as possible, and packed with nutrients. Here’s my “do” list:

WATER AND WATER WITH LEMON: I’m not a scientist or nutritionist, but I’d venture a guess that water is the most beneficial liquid that you can put in your body. Living in the desert of Arizona, it’s especially important I am well-hydrated at all times. I don’t leave my house without taking water, even if I’m just running a short errand. While I don’t buy bottled water for environmental reasons, I do filter my water to remove the metallic, chemical-like taste in Arizona tap water. I don’t miss Michigan winters, but boy do I miss drinking delicious water straight from the tap!

Not only do I not leave my house without water, I don’t go to bed without a glass on my bedside table. If I wake up in the middle of the night—which is occurring quite a bit lately with a newborn—I drink water. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is drink water. Drinking cold water, in particular, right when you get up is a great way to get your metabolism revving.

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When I have lemons on hand, I also add lemon to my water and/or tea. Lemons are loaded with vitamin C and lemon in warm water (thus adding it to tea) has even more health benefits. In Arizona’s heat, I am only drinking my tea hot a couple of months out of the year, so most of the time, I am consuming lemon juice cold. You could simply cut a slice and squeeze it into your beverage of choice, or try making my drink infusers. They are quick, easy, and packed with flavor, and because they are frozen, you won’t have to worry about pre-squeezed juice spoilage.

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UNSWEETENED, UNFLAVORED PLANT MILK: It’s not often that I pour myself a glass of say, almond milk, but I love the taste of it enough to drink it all on its own when I’m not adding it to a smoothie or other dish. I love almond milk, but also drink oat, hemp, and cashew. Coconut milk is growing on me and I’m open to trying just about any kind; I’ve seen rice, sunflower, grain, and hazelnut milks, too. The key with buying processed plant milk is to find a brand that is organic, unsweetened, and unflavored. The upside to the processed variety—not often that those words are together in one of my sentences—is that they are often fortified with calcium, containing even more than dairy milk.

The downside, of course, is the processed part. Making your own plant milk is not terribly difficult, but it is somewhat costly. The amount of almonds, for instance, that it takes to make a half gallon of almond milk will likely cost you substantially more than purchasing it premade. There is also texture to consider. Having purchased a Vitamix a few months back, Travis and I are ready to attempt plant milk again, and recently acquired a plant milk bag (a sheer bag with tiny holes for straining) to help us with the job. We have made pumpkin milk in the past (from the seeds), but haven’t experimented with other types yet. I’ll let you know how it goes…

In short, plant milks contain an abundance of nutrients without the cholesterol found in animal milk, and are often lower in calories (if you’re counting) than the other kind, too.

GREEN TEA: You have probably heard that drinking green tea is great for boosting your metabolism and burning fat. It’s also loaded with antioxidants and has been a trusty health tonic in Asia for thousands of years. I was just getting into green tea when I visited my sister and her husband in Tokyo a couple of summers back, and after that, I was hooked. Green tea—and not that canned stuff with all the sugar in it—is available everywhere, hot or iced, and seriously tasted great every time I had it. There may not be any bad tea in Japan. 🙂

After drinking water upon first waking up, I start my day with green tea—typically before I even eat—and drink up to four cups a day. I am lucky to be a morning person and function extremely well without caffeine, so the nominal amount in green tea (when compared to coffee) does not play a role in my decision to drink it; the aforementioned health benefits and the taste make it my tea of choice. Now that I’m no longer preggo, I can go back to making it a regular part of my day.  (This one contains acai berry!)

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BEER AND WINE: Yup, I drink alcohol…not every day, and not a lot, but I do drink it. I love to have a couple beers while watching football or a glass of wine to wind down at the end of a long day. If alcohol consumption is smart and not excessive, there’s no reason why you can’t treat yourself and still lose or maintain weight.

Travis and I try to purchase craft and/or craft and local whenever possible. Quality and taste are important to me if I’m going to splurge on something that I don’t need. Growing up in Michigan—one of the country’s top craft beer destinations—and coming from a family that owns a gourmet food store specializing in some of the rarest and most sought after craft beers makes one a beer snob. Yea, I’m a beer snob…and so is Travis…

…so much so that we often make our own beer and wine just so that we can control the quality and flavor. There are tons of craft beers out there that we love, but when I offer you DIY as a wellness tip, I live up to it in nearly every aspect of what I consume, alcohol included. Turns out that brewing beer and fermenting wine yourself is not as difficult as one might imagine. While I don’t stress about beer and wine being vegan if I purchase it in the store (thankfully, most of it, naturally, is), if I make it myself, I can ensure that there were no animal parts involved in flavoring or stabilizing the product.

Cheers to good health…and enjoying it!