Taking Time to Be Grateful

After doing this blogging thing for a few years now, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to me and how it’s changed my life. Which has caused me to get pretty introspective lately – in a good way.

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Back in 2003 I was miserable, but I hid it by being overly confident and brash. Think Samantha Jones from Sex & the City but without all the ridiculous sex stuff.

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but WITH the martini habit

I was in college, but instead of figuring out the balance of how to have a social life while excelling in school, I avoided going out almost entirely and threw myself into professional development instead.

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Taking extra classes, loading up on extra-curriculars, networking, building up my resume and getting an awesome internship with the NJ Devils. I took no prisoners and managed to do some amazing things. But my confidence was SO delicate.


At the end of every day, I was truly miserable. I would either hang out with my friends in their dorm rooms and watch TV and eat and drink to oblivion, or go back to my dorm room and do the same, but alone.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I knew something had to change. I HAD TO CHANGE. To beat the odds now stacked against me, I started to pay attention to what I ate at the dining hall. I watched an hour of Everybody Loves Raymond on the stationary bike in our dorm gym instead of on my bed. And wouldn’t you know it, I started to lose weight – and my confidence started to grow too.

Fast forward a few more years: I graduated, got a big girl job in the real world, and jumped into the dating scene. I reconnected with an old friend from my high school days and we started something serious – and I even convinced him to marry me! My friends started having babies and getting married. Throughout it all, I continued to lose weight and shape my new life along with my new body.

 

Fast forward even further, to when I discovered running. I ran my first race in 2010, started falling into a rhythm, and discovered the world of running bloggers. I would see them talk about all the progress they were making and all the opportunities they had and get all moon-eyed over just how awesome that would be, never expecting to do anything like that. But after realizing that in addition to these blogs there was a whole fitness and running community on places like Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, I decided to jump in too.

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My first race ever: a Pink Ribbon 5K with my papa and cancer-free mama ❤

Instagram was my first foray into the online fitness community. Then I started blogging, and soon Twitter and Facebook followed. When I started this ride I NEVER expected it to be as much of a blessing it has been, and that’s the truth. But I put myself out there in a few different – and scary – ways: offering to share my story, baring it all about my history with depression and anxiety, talking about the impact weight loss and running has had on my personal relationships, etc.

And then one day, those things I used to see the running bloggers talking about – they started happening to me.

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Shape Magazine interviewed me. I was asked to take over the Brooks Running IG feed. I was invited to run the NYRR 5th Avenue Mile. I’ve been selected as an Ambassador for the 2016 RWHalf and Festival next month. And as I get ready for what is shaping up to be an unbelievable few months, I have to take this moment to thank you all for coming along on this adventure with me.

I am TRULY grateful for all of the amazing opportunities that I’ve been given; I’m one of the luckiest people I know. But none of it would be possible without you reading, commenting, liking, following, and being with me on this ride. Whether I know you in real life or have only ever “met” you online – or even if you never say anything! – please know that I appreciate you taking time out of your day and reading and looking at the stuff I put out into the ether.

Thank you for being here – and I look forward to seeing where this road takes us in the future!

Freekeh Foods Giveaway!

Hello all and happy Tuesday! I’m feeling slightly head-cold-y and miserable today, but rather than wallow in the ickiness I figured why not make others happy by hosting a little giveaway?

I was so stoked to score a few free packages of Freekeh Foods a few weeks ago – it’s a roasted grain that’s similar to quinoa, but lower in calories and higher in protein than brown rice, and it can be used in a variety of different dishes, too. Since I’m already fully on the quinoa bandwagon, I couldn’t wait to try it out in some different ways!IMG_9324

I started with the Rosemary Sage flavored freekeh and from the moment it started boiling, my mouth was watering. The scent was so delicious, it took over the whole kitchen. At one point I was a little worried – we had planned to serve it with marinated lemon pepper chicken, and I didn’t want the flavors to compete. But once it was ready (it took just about as long to cook as quinoa), I was relieved that the mild flavor was the perfect compliment. While it smelled heavenly, the spices and seasonings were really just a fragrant addition so the grain itself had just a hint of flavor. We added a pinch of sea salt and blew through two servings that night and two the next day during lunch (with the leftover chicken).

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Confession time: we ate the first batch I cooked so quickly that I forgot to take any pictures. Occasionally my husband and I turn into hungry, hungry hippos, what can I say? This pic above is from our second batch – I added some freekeh to my spring mix salad yesterday, but what you can’t see are the black beans and other yummy goodies underneath that mountain of deliciousness! It was just the right addition to give my salad a little protein boost. I’ve got another batch on deck for lunch today and can’t wait to see what’s on the menu in our office cafeteria. The great thing about this stuff is the mild flavor – it goes with almost anything.

Tomorrow I’ve got some big plans to cook up the last of my regular flavored freekeh to try out the absolutely delicious-sounding Warm Breakfast Freekeh. I’ve turned quinoa into a breakfast dish before by adding vanilla almond milk and cinnamon and raisins, and I can’t wait to do the same with this stuff!

And as if that’s not enough, they want me to spread the Freekeh Love by giving away a package for free to one of you beautiful people! Enter the giveaway here – it runs through 12AM on 8/19 – and get ready to fall in love!

My New Favorite Go-To Snacks

As if you couldn’t tell by my Instagram pics, Tweets, and the variety of posts I’ve written on the subject: I freakin’ love food.

But now that the weather is getting warmer and I’m forced to shed my winter running layers to exercise outdoors comfortably, those extra few pounds wobbling around my middle have got to go. To get rid of them though, I’ve got to fight my number one problem: night-time snacking.

spI swear there’s like a magnet in my body that draws me into the kitchen every night. And no matter how healthfully I’ve eaten all day, I sabotage myself by binging on whatever junk food we have lying around the house. My mind tricks me into thinking I’m hungry, but I don’t crave things that would actually satisfy that hunger like a banana or roasted chickpeas. No, I’d rather go for the Pirate Booty or the Chewy Chips Ahoy.

Frankly, it’s a problem I’ve battled on and off for years, and I’m slowly getting better. But while I don’t always win the battle, I’ve learned a few things about my body that I’ve turned into ammunition against the nighttime snack attack:

1. Eating sugar makes me crave more sugar. Other people may be different but this is 100% the case for me. As soon as I finish a Hershey’s Kiss, I want another one. And another and another until I wake up from a chocolate-induced coma, covered in little foil wrappers with a sugar crash headache. Not pretty. To fight the sugar-begets-sugar Monster, I rely on some not-so-sugary treats that feel like real indulgences. Lately, this means stocking up on my newest favorite Chobani Flip flavor: Chocolate Haze Craze.

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The Greek yogurt has extra protein to fill me up, and the chocolate chips/hazelnuts that you stir into it tastes seriously so much like Nutella you may find yourself licking the container (not like that’s ever happened to me…) It’s the perfect “dinner is over, this is my dessert” signal to my brain, and not SO sweet that I find myself craving more chocolate after I’m done.

2. I need to snack a little more throughout the day to stay satisfied. This means bringing more healthy choices in to the office with me, which means I need to do some prep work ahead of time. To make it easier on myself, I’ve been digging Wasa crisps – delicious, crunchy little flatbreads – with some good old Laughing Cow cheese.

cheeseBesides the yummy crispy/creamy combo, I think the fact that I’m adding stuff together to make a snack kind of tricks my stomach into thinking it’s getting a meal, which helps!

3. My tastesbuds equate super-flavor = super-satisfying, so I’ve branched out and experimented with flavors that I’m not really used to. For years I’ve shunned spicy things because I felt like it dulled my tastebuds and burned too much, but my Naturebox delivery this month included a bag of Jalapeno Cashews that I chomped RIGHT through in a week or two. Who knew?! I also love me some Blue Diamond Salt & Vinegar Almonds.

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I make it a point to always have a jar of these bad boys around: in the office, at home, hell, even in the car! See that little “Intense Taste!” sign on the package? It’s not kidding! After savoring a small handful one at a time, my mouth is coated in that familiar boardwalk-fries flavor and the craving to eat all the things has subsided thanks to the extra protein in the almonds. That’s a win-win to me!

So now that I’ve shared my favorite snacks, it’s time to share yours! Tell me: what are you snacking on? How do you fight the hungry monster?

Jess Eats Happy: Protein Brownies

How could I let another week go by without giving you a new recipe from the Jess Eats Happy Cookbook? In honor of the Super Bowl and all the excess and eating it entails, I’m here with an indulgent but super party-friendly and sneakily healthy dessert recipe for my famous (infamous?) Protein Brownies.

Also known as Black Bean Brownies, these babies have been my go-to treat when the urge to bake (and eat raw brownie batter) knocks on my door. With just two ingredients – seriously – I’m betting that these will become your new favorite too. But here’s a tip: don’t tell anyone how you made them. Just say they’re brownies. Because once you say “beans” and “brownies” in the same sentence, about 85% of the people in the room will not want to eat them on principle alone.

But then again that may work out to your advantage, cause you’re gonna want to eat them all yourself. I guarantee it.

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Protein Brownies

Ingredients:
1 box of brownie mix any flavor (13×9 pan size)
1 can black beans (15.5 oz)

Directions:
1. Strain and rinse beans, put beans back in can and re-fill can with water to top.
2. Pour can of beans and water into blender/food processor (I use the magic bullet) and purée til liquefied.
3. Combine box of brownie mix and puréed beans in a bowl and mix with a spoon til lumps are gone. It’ll take a while. Consider this your arm workout for the day.
4. Bake according to box, checking towards the end. It might take a few minutes longer than it says on the box, but start checking it at the posted time and keep sticking a toothpick in the center – when it comes out clean, it’s brownie time!

And that’s it! I promise you will not be able to taste any beans whatsoever. Just chocolatey goodness. After they cool, I slice them smaller than normal brownie size. They’re more dense than normal brownies; more like fudge really, so a little square will fill you up more than you’d think.

The best part about this recipe is the lack of eggs and oil, meaning you can eat all the batter you want without having to worry about salmonella! So go ahead, lick the bowl (and the spoon and your fingers…) and enjoy!

Running on Island Time

Before I begin – I apologize for my silence lately! I had a nasty sinus infection at the end of March so I had to take a full week off running (UGH). As an aside: how do people run through illness like that? I had a fever of 102 and hallucinated that I was Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle; I couldn’t even sit up straight let alone run!

Anyway, after that, I set sail on a 7 day cruise to Florida and the Bahamas with my mama! Usually, I see vacation as my time to forget the rules and return to my natural state. Unfortunately my natural state is less “let’s get physical!” and more “screw the training plan, they’ve got free brownies 24/7 up in this bitch, it’s brownies-for-breakfast time”.

But with the half marathon looming ahead of me (18 days, eek!), I knew I had to stay active – and BOY did I! I’m proud to say that this was the most active vacation I’ve ever had – filled with running, open-water swimming, biking, rope climbing, capoeira, weight training, and LOTS of walking. No lie, in Florida we walked for 6 hours straight. We didn’t even stop to eat. I had a soft pretzel at 7pm and freaked out the pretzel cart woman with my obscene moans of relief after my first bite.

So I started my 2nd morning on the boat with a nice 5K, spread out between the fitness center and the jogging track on the ship’s top deck.

with a view like that I HAD to go on deck

with a view like that I HAD to go on deck

It was amazing – between the sun and warm air and new route, it was the most invigorating run I’ve had in months! I finished with a half hour of full-body strength training in the gym and then took the 8 flights of stairs back to our stateroom for good measure. And if you’re wondering – yes, I did have a brownie for breakfast. Life is all about balance.

That same day we toured the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and we ended up walking the equivalent of about 284 miles* (*I may be estimating). We spent 7 hours touring, and aside from the one hour bus ride we were on our feet. The. Whole. Day. The following day we were at Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. I planned on doing nothing (except for drinking pina coladas on the beach), but once I got in that cool, refreshing, 15-foot deep turquoise private lagoon water? I just had to swim.

wouldn't you?

wouldn’t you?

I haven’t swam in open water in more than 2 years, but I jumped right in that water and floated, kicked, dove, frolicked, and generally played mermaid for about 3 hours. I even swam around that island you see in the center of the lagoon (the water surrounded it on all sides), stopping just once on the far side beach to give my shoulders a break.

After getting a crazy sunburn from all this beach fun (the price a mermaid must pay, I suppose), I took the next day off in Atlantis, and spent most of the day in a flowy caftan in shaded areas. It was actually kind of fun, I pretended I was a Kardashian. Not a bad way to spend a day in the Bahamas.

By our last day at sea, my sunburn had finally calmed down enough for me to put sneakers on so I started with a quick 2 miles of speedwork on the treadmill, followed by 2 hard and fast miles on the bike (in 7:40, a new bike PR!!), then ran up the 4 flights of stairs to the top deck for a session on the ropes course.

ropes course (bottom), see also "terrifying workout in gale force winds and a full body harness 17 stories above the Atlantic Ocean"

ropes course (bottom), see also “terrifying workout in gale force winds and a full body harness 17 stories above the Atlantic Ocean”

Suffice it to say that I would have been content sticking with mini-golf after my time on the ropes course, but I perservered and went to a free capoeira class instead. A bucket list item of mine, capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines dancing, fighting, and games. Lots of hovering, squatting, kicking, and general break-dancing. Lots of fun.

Now, full disclosure: the class was taught by a blindingly gorgeous Brazilian man who pronounced the word “since” with a long “I” (s-eye-nce), bless his heart. And while we’re sharing and feeling religious, God bless those rocky northern Atlantic currents. Because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to cap off my last day at sea with a face-full of Brazilian man-thigh when the boat zigged and we both zagged during a particularly intense sparring session. Cue the bad-ass music and “calmly walking away from a car explosion” scene:

and when I walked off the boat, it burst into flames, too.

and when I walked off the boat, it burst into flames, too.

Cut to today: my muscles are still on FIRE from all the wild and crazy things I put them through in the past week, and I couldn’t be happier! So what do you think? When you’re on vacation, do you go for the brownies or the ropes course (or both)? What’s your favorite activity to do on vacation? Tell me a story 🙂