Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tonight's Dinner: Black Bean Cakes

"What do you want for dinner?"

"Err, I don't know...what do we have on the list that's quick?"

", nothing..."

This is a common conversation at our house, especially during the spring semesters when Andy is often at school for 10-12 hours a day and I'm juggling teaching with dissertation work, plus making sure that we don't starve or dress like hobos. Before we made the decision to healthify our lives, the above exchange usually ended in fast food; it is not pretty when I let my hunger go far beyond the point at which I should have eaten, and Andy knows this. ;)

Embracing healthy eating as a consistent lifestyle choice hasn't been as difficult as I had expected, but there are hard days; every time we "fall off the wagon," so to speak, we realize how crappy it makes us feel, and thus find ourselves doing it less and less. At first we tried the South Beach diet, which was rather miserable because we didn't know how to incorporate that much vegetable matter into every meal without it becoming boring or cumbersome. Instead of allowing ourselves to get bogged down and stressed by all those "diet" rules, we've decided to focus on consuming as little junk as possible, and emphasizing whole, healthy ingredients. Along the way we've discovered that neither of us particularly care for large hunks of meat (especially me). We have not gone full veggie (because sometimes you just need a Burger Stand burger), but we only eat meat a couple of times a week at most; even then, it's often more like a garnish than the centerpiece, if that make sense.

I'm slowly getting better at choosing dinner options that can hang out in the crock pot indefinitely or be thrown together when Andy is on his way home. Tonight's dinner is a good example of a quick fix: this recipe is tweaked from Emeril's black bean cakes. It isn't suuuuper healthy because it involves pan frying, but at least it's olive oil, which is good for you, right? ;)

The original recipe calls for cajun seasoning, and I've yet to find one that isn't ridiculously salty; instead, I use about half of what has become my personal spice blend for lentil tacos. The amounts on the spices are approximate, as I rarely measure them out.

Black Bean Cakes
(image from

Black Bean Cakes (adapted from Emeril's Black Bean Cakes)


  • approx. 7 T olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced fairly small
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 T ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 T cumin
  • 1/2 T oregano
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (or more, to taste)
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • pinch of ground red pepper
  • 2 cans (15.5 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained very well
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • chipotle Tabasco (to taste)
  • small amount of flour (enough to dust the cakes)

Heat 1 T of olive oil over medium heat; add onion and cook until it has become translucent and is starting to brown (about 5 minutes or so). While the onion is cooking, combine the spices and set aside. Stir in the garlic and allow to heat for about 30 seconds before adding the spice blend. Allow this to heat until fragrant, about 60 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat, and allow to cool.

In a medium bowl, mash the black beans well: I usually use my potato masher. Stir in the cooled onion mixture, egg, and hot sauce. If the mixture seems too sticky/soft to form into patties, put the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so; it will still be squishy no matter what, so be prepared!

Heat the remaining oil in a non-stick skillet at medium to medium-high heat. Generously dust a cutting board with flour, upon which you'll form the bean mixture into four patties. Dust the tops as well. Cook the patties on one side until they slide around the pan pretty easily and are a bit crispy on the edges, then flip to brown the other side; you will probably need about 2-4 minutes on each side, depending on how hot the oil is.

Serve immediately! Garnish options are endless...we like plain Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream and/or grated cheese.

Monday, February 11, 2013

To interval run, or not to interval run? That has been the question.

When I started running, I began VERY slowly: 60 seconds at a time was about all I could take for the first several weeks; I gradually decreased the walking intervals as I added on running time in 30-second increments, then 1-2 minute increments, until I was able to run for 20 minutes. It took a little over two months to reach my goal, but I felt it was the safest way to allow my body to adjust to running.

Once I reached 20 minutes I decided to try one of the Hal Higdon 5k training plans, but I've stalled out on it several times. However, I've learned an important lesson in the past few days: I've become mildly obsessed with distance and pace, which causes me to poop out and want to lay down on the trail about halfway through a 1.5 or 2-mile run, and turns me into a zombie for the rest of the day. The plan started out something like this:

Week 1: 1.5 mi / 1.5 mi / 1.5 mi
Week 2: 1.75 mi / 1.5 mi / 1.75 mi
Week 3: 2 mi / 1.5 mi / 1.75 mi
Week 4: 2.25 mi / 1.5 mi / 2.25 mi
Week 5: 2.5 mi / 2 mi / 2.5 mi

...and so on, until you reach 3 miles. I was supposed to do Week 5 this week, but I struggled with last week's long runs (ok, so it's long for me, anyway), and my legs are SO sore today from doing squats and lunges yesterday that Andy suggested that I revisit interval running...and I did! And guess what? It felt pretty good! I did 2 minutes running + 1 minute walking for 10 rounds, which still gave me 20 minutes of running time (only a minute or two more than my 1.5 mile runs have been averaging). Lesson learned.

I think that for now I am going to continue to "revisit" interval training, and focus more on gradually being able to comfortably run for 30 minutes or so instead of frantically trying to improve my pace or distance. Plus, we've just started adding strength training into the mix, and I don't want to injure myself. I'll continue with the 2 + 1 ratio next time, then probably follow a schedule that looks something like the mess posted below, and go up a level every two runs or so. Who knows: I might feel good enough to progress faster after a while. It will take approximately eight million years to get to 30 minutes, but that's okay. :)

2 min run, 1 min walk x 10 (20 minutes running)
3 min run, 1 min walk x 7 (21 minutes running)
4 min run, 1 min walk x 6 (24 minutes running)
5 min run, 1 min walk x 5 (25 minutes running)
6 min run, 1 min walk x 4 + 2 min run (26 minutes running)
7 min run, 1 min walk x 4 (28 minutes running)
8 min run, 1 min walk x 3 + 6 min run (30 minutes of running from this point)
9 min run, 1 min walk x 3 + 3 min run
10 min run, 1 min walk x 3
11 min run, 1 min walk x 2 + 8 min run
12 min run, 1 min walk x 2 + 6 min run
13 min run, 1 min walk x 2 + 4 min run
14 min run, 1 min walk x 2 + 2 min run
15 min run, 1 min walk x 2
16 min run, 1 min walk + 14 min run
17 min run, 1 min walk + 13 min run
18 min run, 1 min walk + 12 min run
19 min run, 1 min walk + 11 min run
20 min run, 1 min walk + 10 min run
21 min run, 1 min walk + 9 min run
22 min run, 1 min walk + 8 min run
23 min run, 1 min walk + 7 min run
24 min run, 1 min walk + 6 min run
25 min run, 1 min walk + 5 min run
26 min run, 1 min walk + 4 min run
27 min run, 1 min walk + 3 min run
28 min run, 1 min walk + 2 min run
29 min run, 1 min walk + 1 min run
30 min run!

So, that's the plan. Any suggestions are welcome!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Current Workout - Strength Training

Kelly and I are starting a new workout regimen this week.  We are incorporating both cardio (in the form of running) and strength training.  After a bit of downtime over the holidays, we are redoubling our efforts for fitness, and wanted to schedule ourselves a bit more thoroughly.

We're trying to include core/abs, arms/shoulders, legs, and a specific shoulder routine.

Below you will find our current schedule:


  • Lat raises (palms down/thumbs up/thumbs up then down) (10 reps)
  • Front raises (10 reps)
  • Cross overs (10 reps)
  • Military press (10 reps)
  • Bicep curls (10 reps)
  • Tricep extensions (10 reps)
(For these exercises, Kelly is using 3 lb. dumbbells, and I have 5 lb dumbbells)

  • Squats (10)
  • Lunges (10 each side)


Cardio (running)


  • Plank (45 seconds)
  • Forearm plank (45 seconds)
  • Side plank (30 seconds each side)
  • Pushups (10)
  • Crunches (10)
  • Reverse crunches (10)
  • Twists (10)
  • Bicycle Crunches (10 each side)

Cardio (running)


  • Lat raises (palms down/thumbs up/thumbs up then down) (10)
  • Front raises (10)
  • Cross overs (10)
  • Military press (10)
  • Bicep curls (10)
  • Tricep extensions (10)
  • Squats (10)
  • Lunges (10 each side)


Cardio (running)


  • Plank (45 seconds)
  • Forearm plank (45 seconds)
  • Side plank (30 seconds each side)
  • Pushups (10)
  • Crunches (10)
  • Reverse crunches (10)
  • Twists (10)
  • Bicycle Crunches (10 each side)

We can already tell that we'll have to do a bit of customization.  We've both found 10 crunches to be too few, but we'll stick it out for the week and see what comes of it.  We'll update with whatever current workout we've got going!

Expect a post from Kelly about our running regimen soon!

Warning: Fat Kid Running

For as long as I can remember, I have been acutely aware of my weight compared to those around me. I recall my little, petite friends in the fourth and fifth grades; I remember being the slowest kid in middle school P.E., and getting picked last for teams. In high school, not much changed, except for the fact that I found my niche in band...I found a place to belong with a teacher who ultimately affected my career path by convincing me that I was fully capable of pursuing a music degree.

Fast forward to college. I think I actually lost a little weight at first, since I was walking all over campus every day, and I lived on the third floor of a dorm without an elevator. Once grad school hit and I moved into my first apartment, however, I became lazy; fast food and studying on the couch became a way of life. Once Andy & I got married, the fast food consumption curbed somewhat, but the trend of sitting a lot continued, because I began work on my PhD. I didn't think I had time to do anything but study!

For years I fed myself vicious lies which eventually destroyed my self-esteem--I'm not good enough to succeed at my goals, nobody could possibly want to be my friend, I don't deserve to be healthy and happy--and I think that a great deal of my self-abuse stemmed from deep insecurity with my own body, and just festered from there. This all came to a head around July/August 2012, and I realized that I had to do something to change my attitude toward myself, and I started with focusing on how I could nurture my body. Though I wanted to make huge changes right away, I quickly found that I had to take small steps into a healthier lifestyle, rather than jumping in head-first, getting frustrated, and quitting when I didn't see results immediately. It's human nature, I suppose. 

Before this summer I never felt capable of exercising because I have became accustomed to living life as the slow, chubby kid (and what budding academic has time for that crap, anyway)?, it turns out. First, I began practicing yoga a few days a week. Yoga is something I've enjoyed sporadically for the past 4-5 years. I even took classes for a few months, but never practiced consistently; however, it was in those classes that I realized I'd finally found a physical activity I felt capable of doing (and even enjoying)! I may not be able to do some of the crazy, pretzel-like poses, but it still makes me feel good. It was on my mat that the seed of self-respect was finally planted.

The next step was figuring out what cardio exercise was going to work for me. Andy & I started walking around our neighborhood, which was nice because it was something we could do together that didn't involve sitting on the couch. Then toward the end of July I thought, "Hmm. I wonder what would happen if I tried to run?" Of course, that also made me wonder if the heat was getting to me or something, but I researched beginner running plans, and kept putting off starting for various reasons. I think I was a bit embarrassed to be a fat kid running; that changed one morning when Andy went to school for a while, and I decided to just go for it. I alternated 60 seconds of running with 4 minutes of walking, and it was TERRIBLE: I thought that my lungs were going to explode, and every pore in my body was pouring out sweat. But something strange happened: once I was done, I felt great, and actually wanted to continue the torture later in the week. I couldn't believe that I'd actually gotten my lazy butt off the couch to run! When Andy came home and asked me about my day, I casually mentioned that I ran; rather than the "pffft, really?!" that I was expecting, his response was, "why didn't you wait for me?" I had no idea that he would be willing to give it a try too. Exercise and health were topics we never discussed, and now they are quickly becoming things we focus on together. Anyway...I continued to slowly add to my running time and subtract walking time, and reached my first goal of running for 20 minutes straight at the beginning of November. It was such a great feeling; that day, I realized how little credit I had been giving my body, and how much it is capable of doing. It was (and still is) a very slow process, but I'm in it for the long haul now. I wasn't consistent at all during the holidays, and even took almost a month off from running at one point, but I'm now less than a mile away from my next big goal: a 5k.

A component that we are now starting to incorporate is strength training. Both of us did pretty well at slowly taking off weight during the fall semester, just by getting a bit of cardio and paying close attention to what we were stuffing in our faces, but now we've both been sitting on a plateau for a couple of months, which is a little frustrating. Hopefully building some lean muscle through body-weight exercises will help shift our body composition in the right direction, and get us back on track. We're still experimenting, but perhaps when we find routines that work for us, we'll post about them.

So, where does nutrition fall into all of this? Right now, we're focused on creating meals and snacks that incorporate as many whole foods as possible, and keeping the processed carbs to a minimum. We are not cutting out grains and starches entirely, but are focused on eating whole grains in sensible portions (whole grain crackers, oatmeal, brown rice, etc.), eating quality proteins (such as Greek yogurt, eggs, beans/legumes/nuts, and seafood), and getting as many veggies as we can. For me, I've found that consuming large amounts of fruit does not work well--too much sugar. This whole nutrition thing is something that we are still learning about and experimenting with, but I imagine I will post some about our changing relationship with food, and share some of the recipes we like.

I think the most important lesson I've learned so far is that I am a work in progress, and that I'm strong and capable of succeeding. It has been (and will be) a long journey, but I truly believe that I can do it: that BOTH of us can. I don't know if anyone will ever read this, but if you are out there wondering whether you can make a positive change for your mind and body, you CAN do it. If I can, anyone can! Find someone who can be your "support group." It really does help when you have someone pushing you to be better, and encouraging you when you temporarily lose focus. Take it one day at a time, and don't become obsessed with your "big" goal: focus on the little successes along the way, such as consistently going for that evening walk, having to buy pants a size smaller, or finding muscles you didn't realize you had!

Life is short, and you only get one body. Make sure the journey is a healthy one.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Start

I'm a fat kid in spirit. I always have been, and always will be. But that doesn't mean that I have to be a fat kid in body.

Two fat kids getting marriedWhen I got married, I weighed over 300 pounds. Life at that size is not pleasant. Nothing, including our physiology, is made for that much weight. I felt tired. I looked sloppy. Clothes didn't fit. I couldn't ride roller coasters. I was trapped in a cycle: I wanted to lose weight, but I thought I was too fat to exercise. It was a handy excuse. Not valid, but handy.

With my first job came my first bit of weight loss. It wasn't intentional, but it worked. Being up and moving around all day helped me lose my first 30 pounds. I didn't notice, at first, but already I was beginning to have more energy. I felt better, so I didn't figure I needed to do anything more.

Nothing changed until the summer of 2012. Kelly and I spent a month in Madrid. We didn't have a car, so we walked everywhere. It was tiring, but it felt so good after a day of hiking through the city. By the time we came back, we had both lost a little bit of weight, and realized how good that exercise made us feel. (It didn't hurt that Madrid is an amazing city!)

We decided in September to try to be healthier. We put ourselves on a diet. We began walking with a bit of jogging thrown in. It was awesome. Our weight was dropping, and we felt better physically, and better about ourselves.

The weight started dropping. Nothing sudden, but enough for us to notice.

As we begin this blog, we realize this is a long process, and have prepared ourselves for that. We will succeed. We know there will be stumbles along the way, but our end goal is to be fit and healthy, even if not an Adonis/Aphrodite. We'd love for our successes to help others in their struggles with weight.

If we can be successful, anyone can.