Archive for home-cooked meals

Travel post #10: The art of eating

This is the tenth in my series of short travel posts from the road as my husband and I drive from one side of the country to the other. See highlights from our trip here: Across the Great Divide.

 

We just returned from the second part of our cross-country trip, which took us from Kentucky to New York and New Jersey for a week.

I grew up in New Jersey, where homemade Italian food reigns supreme in many kitchens, so I was thrilled to have a chance to visit a couple of my favorite Italian restaurants—The Chimney Rock Inn in Bridgewater (where we had New York pizza) and Espo’s Restaurant in Raritan (where we had sumptuous lasagna and stuffed shells with Peroni on tap). The Rock had been updated, but Espo’s had not changed at all, looking exactly as it had the last time I’d been there, 28 whole years before if you can believe it.

Here’s the picture to prove it:

This is an image straight out of my childhood. (My family went to either Espo’s, Chimney Rock, or Joe’s Pizza in Martinsville every Saturday night after mass when I was growing up. It’s not an accident that these are all traditional Italian restaurants since Jersey means some of the best Italian food in the U.S.)

New York also meant plenty of culinary treats for us—Sarge’s (our favorite deli), Havana NY (a delicious Cuban place we found), Angelo’s (more New York pizza, pictured above), and Osteria Al Doge (upscale Italian recommended by a friend).

As is usually the case on the East coast, every meal was exceptional, like a tour de force for your senses.

And this made me consider how much eating has become a part of traveling for many of us. I know that every time Dave and I travel we look forward to the food almost as much as the sights. In that sense, food is really a big part of our whole travel experience.

But what’s strange is that, as I said in my “Seeing but not eating America” post, I don’t eat as much when I travel even though dining out is such an integral part of traveling for me.

So why is that the case?

I think it’s because, when I’m on the road, eating becomes an art form. I take my time finding the perfect items to order, I eat it all very slowly so I can enjoy each bite, and I never eat to the point of feeling as if I’ve overdone it or gorged myself. (And sometimes I even take photos of the food as has become the trend on Facebook and Instagram.)

In this sense, eating is much more controlled and purposeful when I travel, which makes me wonder if I would eat less at home if I ate more interesting food.

While I was in New York, I visited my good friend, Kara Thurmond (who designed this website and is pictured buying some local ingredients above), and since Kara is a big foodie—her blog is called The New 19th-Century Kitchen—she cooked an amazing meal while I was there: pan-roasted pork chops with black sour cherries, sauteed kale with navy beans, and beet salad followed by homemade cherry ice cream.

Despite this amazing meal, I didn’t overeat. Instead I only ate enough to enjoy what Kara had prepared and feel satisfied, telling me that if my cooking were more artful, maybe my eating would be too.

Food is not magic by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld


Sometime during all this cooking*, I had a revelation: Food is not magic.

Yes, food can sometimes feel like magic. In most cities, at any given moment you are less than fifteen minutes away from an instant burger, fries, sandwich, or pizza. The only effort you have to put in is forking over your debit card.

But effort was put into that food, even if you didn’t see it. Someone prepared it for you. Someone delivered the ingredients, someone put them together and made them presentable for your consumption. In the case of fast food, there are food developers, food tasters, and food scientists involved. Food scientists.

Before I went to Costa Rica, I was in Houston for a physical. It turns out that my cholesterol is high. Like really high. Not high enough to cause my doctor concern, but high enough that she suggested I work on lowering it. Then I went in for an eye check up and while my doctor was looking into my eyes through the phoropter, she asked, “So do you like eating sugars or starch?” Turns out she could determine my diet excesses by looking at my eyes.

In combination, those appointments made me realize that cooking at home is an important goal for me. My cholesterol tends to be on the high end of normal, and the amount of stress in my life recently hasn’t helped. Throw drive-thru meals on top of that, and it becomes a problem. Even eating too many sweets has an effect on my body.

But here’s the good news: If you eat out of your own kitchen, you kind of can’t help but be healthier. Baking cookies and brownies is an involved process that takes far more time and energy than grabbing a box of them from the store, so there are likely to be fewer temptations sitting around. Fruit, meanwhile, is naturally sweet and requires no more preparation than a quick rinse under the tap. Chicken and beef often take more time and effort to cook than fish and vegetables, so you’re more likely to throw some tilapia in the oven and make a salad for yourself while it bakes.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend such a major shift in eating habits to anyone. I had to work the Saturday before I left for Costa Rica and it resulted in me cheating. I was on my feet for eight hours, which I expected, but then my relief called in sick and I was asked to stay for four more. After running around like crazy getting eleven brides started with their registries, I almost had to crawl out of the car and onto our couch. My husband was already there, at the end of his own long day. He offered to order a pizza for us, which filled me with a rush of relief. Once I was finished eating, however, I had another rush—one of guilt. “I really could have made that pizza,” I found myself thinking. As Molly has pointed out in her “Cheeseburgers and the importance of indulgence” post before:

“The other thing that’s important is not feeling bad about allowing yourself to eat that cheeseburger or brownie sundae. Because the worse you feel about it, the more you’re going to want to do it again and again.”

So true! Once I got back from Costa Rica, the pendulum swung back in the opposite direction. I went on a pizza, Panera, Taco Bell, McDonald’s binge. I didn’t go to the grocery store for a week. Without realizing it, I’d put myself on a kind of diet. I dedicated myself to an unreasonable goal. I’m back on track now, with the realization that sometimes it’s okay to eat out, whether it’s ordering a pizza after a long day or going to a nice dinner with a friend to catch up.

Restaurants aren’t the enemy, as long as the kitchen is your close friend.

*In case you don’t remember, I committed to cooking all of my meals at home for the entire month of February.

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Faster than fast food by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld

I like to cook.

Actually, let me qualify that: I like to cook the way I like to write poems. It isn’t about practicality, it’s about self-expression, creating something from nothing.

So while I collect recipes that call for madeleine pans, lavender honey, duck fat, and hours and hours of my time, preparing a daily evening meal for myself isn’t something that interests me. This presents a bit of a challenge for me since I’ve committed to cooking all my meals at home this month.

Making dinner is even less interesting after work. I enjoy my job as a bridal consultant. When a couple comes to register for gifts, I get to know them. I get an idea of what their lifestyle is like or what they want it to be. I help them figure out what they’ll need to build their new home together. I walk them around the entire store and help them make smart decisions. In between couples, I help people shop from registries and gift wrap their selections. One way or another I’m dealing with happy people all day. But it does take a lot out of me. I’m on my feet all day, up and down ladders sometimes, running from one end of the store to the other. Most of all, as an introvert, connecting with people is something that takes a lot out of me. It’s not a difficult job, but I still come home tired.

Over time I’ve developed two tricks that help me with the chore of feeding myself once I get home. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. Keep your pants on. Literally.
Usually the first thing I do when I come home is change from my work pants into PJs. My work pants were uncomfortable in October, when they were just a little bit too tight, and they’re uncomfortable now because they’re so loose they’re falling off me. I change into elastic-waisted PJ pants, kick off my shoes and sit down on the couch to relax. I notice I’m hungry, but as time passes I have less energy and less motivation to get up off the couch and do something. So how to avoid this trap? When you get home from work, as tired as you may be, go directly to your kitchen. Don’t take off your work clothes, don’t turn on the TV, don’t sit down. If it isn’t time for you to eat, get all your prep work done. If it is time to eat, start cooking. Or cook first and reheat later. However you want to do it—just make sure it’s the first thing you do once you get home. (I know a lot of people love to cook once for the entire week, but living with three men makes that impossible for me. In our fridge, food is devoured instantly; ingredients are not.)

2. Collect practical recipes.
Keep an eye out for recipes that appeal to you. Move the efficient ones to the front of the pile. Twenty-minute meals, ten-minute meals, one-pot meals. Try some of those. Experiment. The more you make something, the better and faster you can make it. You can always try new recipes whenever you want, but it’s important to have something to fall back on. Here are three of my current go-to recipes:

Sauteed Bell Peppers over Pasta
Adapted from Twinkle. Family friend, culinary genius.
Slice a bell pepper into thin strips. Cook in a pan over medium heat with olive oil and pepper until soft. Serve peppers on top of pasta—I prefer penne—and serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese on top.
Upgrade: Add some sliced sausage links on top. My personal favorite is chicken and apple.

Tomatoes, Tuna, and Couscous
Adapted from Jules from Stonesoup
Boil water in the microwave. Add couscous, cover, and set aside. Slice a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes and one or two cloves of garlic. Add to a pan with a can of tuna in olive oil. (Don’t drain it!) Cook until the tomatoes are soft and the sauce comes together. Fluff couscous with a fork and serve with sauce on top. Upgrade: Add a handful of chopped chives and a drizzle of olive oil to the couscous when you fluff it.

Parmesan and Prosciutto Chicken
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Have your butcher butterfly a chicken breast into two pieces. (The original recipe calls for just one chicken breast but American chickens are much larger.) Sandwich chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap and use something heavy to bang it down so the breast is the same thickness all the way around. Peel away the top piece of plastic and sprinkle the chicken with grated Parmesan cheese and ground pepper. Top with a slice of prosciutto. Pick up the chicken from the bottom and slam it face down into a pan over high heat. (The faster you flip it into the pan, the less your prosciutto is going to get out of place.) It takes three to four minutes per side and when it’s done, the cheese holds everything together. Upgrade: Add fresh thyme and grate lemon zest on top of the cheese. Before serving, add a small drizzle of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and/or olive oil on top.

3. Keep your successful recipes somewhere easy to find.

I have mine on index cards in the kitchen. If worse comes to worse and I feel a fast food craving, I go to the cards. I can make all of the above meals in fewer than twenty minutes, minus the time it takes to boil water. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it to get in your car, drive somewhere, order something, wait for it, pay for it, come all the way home with it and eat it. In the same amount of time or less, you can have a home cooked meal that’s much healthier for you. And look at it this way: you’ve already bought your groceries. Dinner at home has already been paid for. Dinner out has not.

Hopefully one of those recipes will inspire you to go in your kitchen and make yourself something delicious. Tomorrow, maybe? Report back when you do. Extra credit for photos!


Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Don’t even think about Lunchables by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld









Guest blogger Emily Threlkeld continues telling us about the challenge she has given herself: cooking every single thing she eats for the entire month of February. This week she explains how she handles homemade lunches at work. (Also included are photos of Emily’s actual lunches for a week!)

So before we get to the hardest part about this month—dinner, in case you were wondering, although breakfast comes in at a close second—let’s do the fun part: lunch.












There is no place more depressing to have lunch than in the employee break room of a retail store. You’re surrounded by lockers, cleaning supplies, vending machines, and, in the middle of winter, other people’s coats hung over all the chairs. It’s not pretty, and yet lunch is my favorite part of the day. Not just because it’s half an hour of quiet away from the needs of all the couples I try to pick out housewares with, but because I have become an expert lunch packer. So much so that my co-workers, who usually bring a Lean Cuisine or the remains of last night’s pizza, always want to know what I’m having.









When I first started working, I invested $25 in a lunchbox. It felt like an unreasonable sum to me at the time, but it was really just the equivalent of two or three lunches out. I wanted to pack my lunch mostly to save money. Also, because we have such a short lunch break, I didn’t want to spend my lunch break running out to my car, ordering something, shoving it in my face, and rushing back to work.












The problem is that I work in a shopping center. In less than one mile there is a great crepes place, a Chick-fil-a, Jason’s Deli, a noodle place, and a fantastic Greek restaurant. There are probably even more awesome eateries that I don’t know about. So if I was going to pack myself a lunch, it had to be good enough for me to resist temptation that surrounded me.

Here’s the good news about making a lunch for yourself: No matter what memories you have of brown bagging it as a kid, you’re a grown-up now. You know what you like.









I usually try to think of my main dish first. Some recent favorites include egg fried rice, curry chicken salad, stir fry, half a baked potato covered in cheese and bacon, and, because sometimes I’m in a hurry and don’t feel like reinventing the wheel, a turkey sandwich.









Then I try to fill my lunchbox with fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh ones. Not only is this healthy, but it makes your lunch pretty to look at. Sometimes I even make myself a side salad.












Finally, make it nice. Pack a napkin, real cutlery. I usually throw in a piece of candy as a small treat. When I can, I throw something in the tiniest container in my lunch box. Sour cream, fruit dip. Partially because it’s fun to interact with my food and partly because I love hearing, “Oh my God, she brought parmesan cheese to sprinkle on her pasta.”

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

The February Challenge by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld












A good friend of mine—Emily Threlkeld—has decided to challenge herself to do something INSANE this month, and she will be blogging about it every week on I WILL NOT DIET. Read Emily’s first post below to find out what that insane thing is.

As I type this post, there is a roasting pan full of a potato (thinly sliced) topped with an organic lemon (also thinly sliced), sea salt, pepper that I ground myself, and fresh dill sitting in my kitchen. In ten minutes I’ll toss this all together, wait another ten minutes and then add two tilapia filets that I drove to Whole Foods to buy because the grocery store right by my house only had Chinese exports. I have nothing against China, I was just really hoping for fish that was in the same time zone as me.

(I realize how obnoxious that sounds, but I’m just doing my part to make the world a better place.)

But, on the other hand, last night I put off making dinner for so long that I didn’t have any energy to deal with it anymore and just ended up eating grapes. I ate so many grapes that I gave myself a stomach ache. Later, around midnight when all the fructose wore off, I polished off the bottom of a bag of BBQ chips.

Yikes.

I’m not going to lie to you. Last night’s “dinner” is a more accurate reflection of how I usually eat. It’s just so easy to go out and get a burger or pizza or lo mein, or to stay in and snack on whatever will stave off my hunger until I can go to sleep.

But in the last six months, I’ve been trying to lose weight. My diet and exercise routines were so out of whack before then that just by walking a few times a week and trying to eat like something resembling a grown up, I’ve lost twenty pounds.

What’s interesting is that the more time I spent in the kitchen, the more weight I lost, and the better I felt. Not only that, but I started realizing just how expensive eating out was and just how little I could afford to do it.

So I decided to make a challenge to myself for February: I will eat no meal that isn’t made in my own kitchen.*

Convenience food is okay, cooking from scratch is better, but absolutely no take-out, fast food, or even barista-made coffee.

I’m hoping this challenge will push me over to the good side of things. I’m hoping the extra pressure will motivate me to figure out a better way to do things, so I don’t just cave every time I feel too tired to cook. I’m also hoping that I’ll end the month a tiny bit thinner, a tiny bit richer, and a tiny bit healthier.

*Well, February minus one week when I’ll be in Costa Rica. I have no idea what the food situation will be there.

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Bless me, readers, I have sinned . . .

199 pounds

According to food guru Michael Pollan, the obesity problem in our country would be solved if we all ate every meal at home from here on out.

I agree with Pollan, but I’d back away from his extreme solution by one step and say that we should all only allow ourselves one meal out a week.
I mean, come on, Michael.
You don’t want us to EVER eat out again?
You can’t expect a nation raised on Happy Meals and pan pizza to go cold turkey like that. And once a week is a pretty good goal. There’s no way that wouldn’t make a dent in our nation’s collective girth.
And I don’t mind sticking to once a week if I have to.
In fact, that’s what Dave and I try to do. To be honest, we’ve become pretty darn routine about it. Saturday nights, we see a movie and go out to eat. It’s downright scary how much we’ve become like my parents who took us out to eat every Saturday night after mass when I was growing up. I guess you could argue that Catholic mass is its own form of theatre, huh?
Despite the similarity of my own life to that of my parents’, I’d be happy to stick to the eating-out-once-a-week routine if I could. The problem is that things keep getting in the way.
For instance, I had to go the doctor today—does this just happen more often as you get older?—and after numerous tests and x-rays and surgical gown changes, I decided that I deserved lunch out on the town.
(In case you’re wondering, Dave and I went to Taquiera Azteca on Old Morgantown Road, which has some mean tacos de carne asada if you’re ever in Bowling Green, Kentucky.)
I don’t know why I always want to go out to eat after I go to the doctor. It just feels right—I figure if I have to suffer a little, I should live a little too. Know what I mean?
The problem is that it violates my only-eat-out-once-a-week rule.
And going to the doctor isn’t the only thing that causes me to break this rule. Going shopping or to a movie also makes me want to eat out. As does running errands. Or going to campus when school’s not in session. It’s almost as if I think that if I leave the house at all, I deserve some kind of culinary reward.
And let’s face it—that is seriously f***ed up.
Maybe Pollan’s right. Maybe I should go cold turkey. But it’s hard to imagine doing that if I can’t even cut back to once a week.

The fattists attack!

192 pounds
I’m a big fan of The Huffington Post, which you might know since I feature Arianna Huffington in my “Gallery of Gorgeous Women” to the right. But this week I was frustrated to read an article by Vicki Lovine on HuffPost that claimed we needed to stop staying away from the word “fat.”

As you may know from my “Fat is off the List” post, I firmly believe that we should not use the word because it’s almost always used in a hurtful and derogatory way, but this article argued that the politically correct desire to not call people fat is making us fatter.
I don’t buy it.
And here’s why I disagree: I don’t buy into the idea that the obesity epidemic in our country is related to people being nicer to each other. In other words, I don’t think our collective girth is growing bigger because people think twice about calling someone “fat.”
Instead, I believe that America is getting bigger for three* simple reasons:
1) Because we don’t exercise nearly as much as we used to. From my way of thinking, this is especially true of children—a major contributing factor to the shocking increase in childhood obesity—and you can read why I think that in the second of my posts on that subject.
2) Because we eat far too many processed foods and don’t cook enough at home. One of the big reasons this is more of a problem than ever before is because processed foods have become incredibly cheap to buy as well as available on almost every corner in America. In fact, in my “Processed Foods and Little Pink Houses” post, I argue that’s the reason why working class people are the segment of our society that are gaining weight faster than any other group.
3) Finally, I believe that our country’s obsession with dieting makes us actually eat more. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: when we tell people that they need to look like Angelina Jolie to be beautiful, it makes it very easy for them to give up trying to be healthy and grab another box of Mac ‘n Cheese. I truly believe that as long as we hold women to standards that are unattainable for regular people, we will have an obesity problem in our country.
And that’s why I completely disagree with Vicki Lovine. She believes that if we start using the word “fat,” we can start shaming people into being healthier. Sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo to me because if there is one thing I know it’s that making people feel bad about themselves does NOT help them. In fact, the first step to being healthy is feeling good about yourself. And I stand by my belief that until we accept ourselves the way we are, we will never lose weight.
I’ll even take it a step further and argue that promoting the use of the word “fat” is, in fact, fattist.
Can you imagine if we proposed using another derogatory word to make a different group of people change their behavior? What will Lovine propose next? Using the word “retarded” more so people act smarter? I hope that the recent debate about that word proves why taking digs at those who are struggling with any issue doesn’t work.
Lovine says that we need to start calling people like me fat, but despite my strong desire to do so, I will maturely refrain from calling Lovine the “R” word.

*There is also evidence that the chemicals that are now so ubiquitous in our country are making us fatter as I mentioned in my post on that subject.

Falling off the wagon

192 pounds

If you haven’t already noticed, my weight went up another pound this week. It’s a pretty frustrating thing to see happen when I pride myself on being the person who’s always watching the numbers on the scale go down. But I’m trying not to make a big deal about it since I know we all fluctuate from time to time.
Nevertheless, I’m feeling even more determined to lose weight without dieting. I know it can be done. I just have to be more dedicated to making sure I get enough exercise and living my life the way I want to live it. If I do those things, I know I’ll lose weight.
Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, I haven’t been living my life the way I want to live it. I may be the single biggest advocate in the world of giving into our indulgences—as I said in my “Cheeseburgers and the Importance of Indulgence” post—but I also don’t believe that indulgence should be the rule rather than the exception.
Unfortunately, that’s been the case over the past week or so. I’ve had a good deal of stress in my life, and I’ve been taking it out on my body—eating unhealthy food at almost every meal, drinking soda on nearly a daily basis, and cutting my exercise routine when I feel like I don’t have time to do it.
In that sense, I’ve been letting my stress dictate the tenor of my life when what I really need to do—what we all need to do—is have my health be the focus of my life. Like everyone else, I need to keep reminding myself that exercise and homemade meals need to take priority over work. If something doesn’t get done today because I have to make time for those things, so be it. Work will still be there tomorrow, and I want to make sure I am too.
I’ve been acting like a drunk who fell off the wagon these past few weeks, and I feel like I should apologize to all of you for that. So I’m sorry about my recent slip-ups, but I promise that’s all in the past.
Will I ever slip again? Sure, but it’s not going to happen for quite some time because I’ve restored my priorities and I’m refocused on my health.
Look out, world. I can do anything.

Exercise and television: a pledge for you and me

195 pounds

I’m sure most of you know that watching television is directly linked to obesity. As a matter of fact, “For every two hours spent watching TV, there is a 23 percent increase in the risk of obesity.”*
So I guess we should all stop watching TV altogether, huh?
Yeah, right.
No one—not my doctor, not my husband, not you—is making me give up Mad Men or The Office or 30 Rock or Southland. (If you can’t tell, I like to spend Thursday nights in front of the TV.) Why won’t I give these things up? Because certain television shows help me relax and give me a break from my real world concerns. I’m sure you have shows you’re not willing to give up for the same reason either. And I don’t believe that giving up our favorite television shows—shows that sometimes help us keep our sanity—is the answer.
So rather than give them up, I’m going to make them work for me.
When I was laid up with my knee injury this summer, the only exercise I could do was on the floor, where I did stretches, leg lifts and sit-ups and lifted weights. I did this for an hour a day, and in order to keep from dying of boredom—and stay motivated—I watched television while I did it.
Normally, I’m not a fan of having the television on during the daytime, but you know what they say about desperate times.
As it turns out, I’m entering a bit of a desperate time again. I found out on Friday that I’m going to be teaching five classes this semester instead of three. Yes, I said five. And if you know anything about college professors, you know that’s more classes than most of us teach.
I know from past experience that this could be a recipe for disaster in terms of my health and my weight. I haven’t told you the whole story yet (and I will soon), but the last year I lived in North Carolina and the first six months I lived in Kentucky, I gained about twenty pounds because my life was so hectic that I didn’t have time to eat well or workout on a regular basis.
But I’m not giving in so easily this time. After all, I’ve got this blog to keep me motivated. And there aren’t many things more motivating than having to post your weight online twice a week. Sure, I have a tough schedule, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find ways to stay healthy.
Since cooking food at home is a crucial part of my approach to weight loss and healthy living, I’m going to be forced to be just like the couple I discussed in my “Nothing beats a home-cooked meal” post, making food with Dave on Sunday that will have to last all week.
I’ll also have to find different ways to fit in my exercise routine. The first way to do that is to exercise before I go to work in the morning (at least three days a week)—something I always hate to do but which is now necessary if I have any chance of getting in a real workout on weekdays. And the second way to do that is to start exercising in front of the television again. In fact, I’m going to make a commitment to exercise for at least thirty minutes every time I turn the TV on. I don’t watch television every night, but when I do watch The Office and Mad Men and 30 Rock this semester, I’m going to be on the floor, hoisting weights in the air and crunching my way through dozens of sit-ups.
(Of course, in addition, I’ll supplement these weekday activities with more frequent and more fun exercise on the weekends.)
What I would love is if I could get some of you to commit to doing the same. What do you think? Anyone want to make this pledge with me? Thirty minutes of exercise every time you turn on the TV? Let’s say just weekdays to make it a little bit easier. To be honest, some part of me thinks that if everyone American made this pledge, we’d be a country of healthy individuals in no time.
So what do you think? Are you game?

Are you still with me???

196 pounds

As I mentioned in my discussion of the recent Time magazine story on exercise, my grandfather had a massive stroke Friday, August 7th and died a few days later on Monday, August 10th. As soon as we heard about the stroke, Dave and I got in the car and headed for Ohio, where we spent Grandpa’s last three days, staying until we had to leave in order to get back to Kentucky to teach our last few days of summer school. Hours after we left for Kentucky, Grandpa died, so as soon as we were finished with our classes on Thursday morning, we got back in the car and returned to Ohio for the viewing and funeral, a trip that was extended with side trips we had to make to Indianapolis and Cincinnati on the way home.

When all was said and done, we were on the road for three days, home for the next three, and then on the road again for five more days, meaning we were traveling eight of those eleven days. It was obviously exhausting, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy to come home.

The day before Grandpa’s stroke, I weighed 194 pounds, and the day before that, I’d bottomed out at 193—a full ten pounds less than where I started back in March. Since I hit 193 on a Wednesday, I didn’t get to post that number with my blog. I also knew full well that the first time you hit a low number like that, you’re bound to go back up the next day and fluctuate numerous more times before that low number becomes a reality. So I didn’t make a big deal out of it on the blog—though I was happy to mention it in passing.

But now that I’m back from the trip, I find that my weight is back up to 196 pounds.

Sigh.

I don’t spend a lot of time talking or complaining about the numbers on the scale because, as I’ve said before, one of the goals of this blog is to demystify those numbers, to send the message that the numbers don’t matter as much as how we feel about ourselves and how healthy we are.

On the other hand, I also started this blog to document my weight loss. So when I have to admit to the world that I weigh 196 pounds almost five full months after I started trying to lose weight, I feel more than a little bit frustrated. I guess in some ways I feel like I’m letting you all down.

I don’t want to send the message that my only goal is to lose weight because it’s not. And I definitely don’t want anyone to think that I believe that losing weight has to happen on a timetable because I believe that’s one of the worst things we can do to ourselves. In fact, for years, I’ve believed that as long as the numbers on the scale are going down—even if its only by one pound a year—instead of up and the doctor says I’m healthy, then I’m doing well.

At the same time, I have to admit that I first hit 196 pounds back in April, only weeks after I started trying to lose weight, which makes me feel like I haven’t accomplished anything in months. And if this is frustrating to me, I imagine it must also be frustrating to the people who tune in merely to see how many pounds I’ve lost.

(Mom, are you listening?)

Seriously, if you read any of the weight loss columns in women’s magazines—or, God forbid, watch shows like The Biggest Loser—you’re used to seeing the pounds drop pretty quickly. And if you’re disappointed by how long it’s taking me to get back to a healthy weight, I apologize.

But at the same time, I don’t want you to give up on me. I want you all to believe me when I say I know my plan will work. It’s worked in the past, and it will work again. Yes, I’ve had some setbacks this summer—first with my knee injury, and then with my grandfather. We all have setbacks (that’s how I gained 27 pounds in the 18 months before I started this blog), and I don’t want to use them as an excuse, but I do want to acknowledge them.

And maybe that’s all I—or any of us—can do: acknowledge that sometimes the unexpected happens, and we can’t blame ourselves if we are forced to backtrack a little when dealing with the unexpected.

A few years ago, my friend Al, who’s a psychologist, listened to me flagellating myself for eating far too much after a long day at work, and he wisely pointed out that if I beat myself up for making a mistake, then I’m only causing myself more misery. Better to let mistakes go than to rehash them, Al said, and it was this advice that eventually led to my belief that we must allow ourselves indulgences from time to time.

Obviously, the important thing is to keep going, keep improving. During those eight days I was on the road, I only exercised twice, and I ate a lot more crap than normal—visits to Skyline Chili, Graeter’s Ice Cream, and Frisch’s Big Boy come to mind. But I’ve been home for three full days now, and it took me two of those days to get back to the person I want to be: a person who eats delicious home-cooked meals, a person who gets plenty of rest, and a person who exercises like a kid let loose in the schoolyard. I’ll keep doing this until the next setback comes, and maybe, just maybe, in the meantime the numbers will prove that not dieting really can help people lose weight.

I believe. Do you?

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