My Intentions for 2017

Goal-setting has never been a strength of mine. I over-estimate or under-estimate; I change my mind about what I want midway through. What I am good at, however, is intention-setting.

Since this distinction – goals vs. intentions – may be clear to me but unclear to you, here are some examples:

Setting a goal to lose 30 pounds isn’t my style, but setting the intention to exercise four times a week is.

Instead of picking an amount of money I want to save, I set the intention that I’ll stop spending money on a certain type of thing (ahem, see below).

I’d like to get better. I hear goal-setting is the bee’s knees, and I want to get on board. But I’ve got to take baby steps. I’ve learned that testing the waters first works better for me. Jumping in, feet-first, is scary and big, and I’m not quite there yet. (This is me, being very honest: Goals are scary because then you actually have to do them.)

What I can do, right now, is set intentions for the year. These intentions will help me to create the life that I want, regardless of the bigger goals I’m still working out.

2017 INTENTIONS

1. Exercise every day.

Incorporating exercise into my daily routine has been a cyclical thing for me. Some weeks, I’m excellent, and some weeks, I barely get out my sneakers.

Making exercise a daily, non-negotiable task is a habit I’m going to create this year.

Doing the 30-Day Pilates Body Challenge via The Balanced Life really helped to change my frame of mind on this issue. The workouts on this plan are tough, and 90% of them are less than 10 minutes long. (HIGHLY RECOMMEND!)

While I’d  like to make sure that I’m incorporating longer workouts, like hour-long yoga classes and outdoor runs, having the 10-minute workout to fall back on makes this intention feel doable. Now that I’ve finished the challenge, I’ll often combine two or three 10-minute workouts into a longer Pilates routine.

But even on days where I’m not feeling well, or I’m over-scheduled, or I’m visiting family, I can make 10 minutes for myself.

2. Continue to make the most of mornings.

Productive mornings are crucial to success for me. I am not a night owl, and I never will be. Especially in the winter, when it’s dark before I even drive home from work, my evening expectations of myself cannot be too high. All I want to do is make dinner (or heat up leftovers if I’m lucky), spend time with G, and decompress.

If my workout doesn’t get done in the morning, if I don’t do that load of laundry, if I don’t finish that freelance article, I will be kicking myself all day. Because I know that my relaxing evening will be interrupted by completing this task. And the anxiety of that impending interruption is almost worse than the actual interruption.

Is this anxiety emotionally healthy? Nope. Should I take a chill pill and treat myself with the same grace I reserve for others? Sure should.

And I’d like to work on that. I’d like to work on finding the balance between sleeping in when I truly need to and executing my Miracle Morning the rest of the time.

Right now, it’s all too easy for one morning of sleeping in to turn into a whole week of hitting snooze. Recommitting to a meaningful morning is one of my biggest 2017 priorities. (Expect lots of 5:30 AM emails, friends and colleagues!)

3. Be grateful.

I stole this idea from Ms. Rachel Hollis of The Chic Site. As part of her awesome New Year program, she is encouraging her followers to write down ten things they’re thankful for each day. They can be little things (warm stew on a cold day) or big things (financial stability), but I’ve found that this practice keeps me on the lookout for blessings all day, everyday.

I have a lot to be thankful for. Hashtag blessed, like Bruno Mars.

4. Buy no books.

I saved this one for last because it hurts.

It’s truly insane. I’m not sure that I can do it. And, HONESTY ALERT, I bought Oprah’s new cookbook online this morning. #CantBeTamed

I deleted the Amazon app off my phone as soon as I made this mistake. (I’m sure it will be a tasty mistake.)

This is an area when I justify my spending unjustly. I think that since the purchases are books – which are awesome and healthy and always a good thing – I can buy however many I want. But the truth is that I have approximately 8,000 unread books in various rooms of our house and that shit is out of control.

This year, I want to read that backlog, donate/gift what I’m no longer interested in, and cultivate a happier/healthier/more moderate book-buying attitude for 2018.

(Oh, and I will continue to buy books as gifts, because there is no more perfect gift, okbye.)

What are your goals and intentions for 2017? Let’s keep each other accountable!

I’m still here // end-of-2016 update

Hi! Remember me?

The last half of my 2016 was crazy and hard and very full. Two of my closest family members got sick, I spent more time in hospitals and doctor’s offices than I ever imagined I would, and, oh yeah, I’ve been planning a wedding.

Blogging kept getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, but I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaack.

Life isn’t any less busy, but my family is on the path to wellness, our wedding is in <100 days, and 2017 is just a hangover away.

And speaking of hangovers…

I am in the depths of a carb and sugar coma that only a Whole 30 will pull me out of. Hospital cafeteria food turned into holiday eating before I knew it, with a whole lot of emotional eating in between. My skin looks like I feel — dull, heavy, and needing a cleanse.

I’ll be starting the Whole 30 January 1st like the true cliche that I am. No sugar, soy, alcohol, or grains. I’m going to keep eating legumes, though. That’s technically off-plan, but it’s my diet so I can eat what I want!

I’m writing today to tell you that I’m not gone, I was just resting. It may take me a bit to get back on track, but I’m HERE, I’m hustling, and I’m doing my damnedest.

xoxo, Caitlin

Art above by the incredible Brooke Schelar, of The Wild Fern Creative ✨. Get your print here

Meal Planning 101

Here it is, guys: a crash course in meal planning. This is what saves me time, money, and extra pounds every week.

Healthy eating means something different to everyone. To me, it means vegetables at most of my meals, grains at just a few of them, and plenty of protein. Convenience foods and restaurant meals — especially in the Midwest, where there are just fewer options — don’t easily facilitate this.

Time and expense are big, totally valid barriers to eating healthfully. Learning to plan meals and prep food ahead of time? Game changer.


BARRIERS

Eating nutrient-dense meals is important, and the cheapest way to do that is to make the meals yourself. While swinging through the McDollar menu drive-thru on the way home may be cheaper than grocery shopping and cooking, the calories you’re consuming are totally empty. Buying a kale and romaine salad with chicken, chickpeas, bell peppers, and avocado could easily be $8-12. You can make it at home for WAY less money. You just may have to eat it for a few days in a row to use up all the ingredients.

Eating healthfully is more expensive. It just is. I talk about this issue here, but processed food is full of sugars and starches because those ingredients are dirt cheap. Leafy greens and lean proteins are costly, especially when compared to the $1 frozen T.V. dinner.

I am so fortunate to be able to afford nutrient-dense food. This does not escape me. Not everyone can budget for seven salads a week, because seven sandwiches will be cheaper.

Making a thoughtful grocery list can save money, as can shopping around to find the cheapest place for your staples. I rely on Aldi, a bargain grocery store, and have saved so much money shopping there.

Classic Caitlin meal prep: a big batch of chili or soup that will only taste better as it sits in the fridge. (This is sweet potato, black bean, and quinoa chili from What's Gaby Cooking.)
Classic Caitlin meal prep: a big batch of chili or soup that will only taste better as it sits in the fridge. (This is sweet potato, black bean, and quinoa chili from What’s Gaby Cooking. All ingredients from Aldi.)

Time is another factor in eating healthfully. It takes longer to grocery shop and cook than it does to eat in the cafeteria at work or hit Chipotle on the way home. I choose to spend multiple hours on the weekend planning, shopping, and prepping food for the upcoming week. I enjoy this, so it doesn’t often feel like work (although sometimes it does).

By carefully planning my meals, making an intentional grocery list, and keeping essentials on hand, I’m able to make (mainly) wholesome meals for G and I for the whole week.


SOLUTION

Meal planning can be overwhelming and intense the first few times. It’s full of a dozen little mental calculations: how much rice do I need? Do we have eggs? What about bananas? Which nights am I working late?

I was terrible at first: buying too much, planning to make dinner every night of the week (ha!), forgetting to plan something for breakfasts or snacks.

What follows are the details of how I meal plan. Everyone does this process differently, and a million little factors determine what will work best for you. How many people are you cooking for? How many times do you eat out each week? Do you mind leftovers?

To help you answer those questions, I’ve made a meal planning worksheet. The instructions for use are at the bottom of the post, and you can download the worksheet here.

meal-planning


MY MEAL PLANNING ROADMAP

Friday: Over lunch, I plan meals for the upcoming week, Saturday-Friday. I save complicated or time-consuming recipes for the weekend and rely on old faithfuls and no-recipe meals during the week.

I also give thought to lunches and breakfasts. Grant leaves for work very early, so I pack breakfast and lunch for him every day. If I don’t plan ahead, it’s easy to run out of food mid-week.

By Friday, I typically have a pretty good idea of what our calendar looks like for the upcoming week (happy hours, doctor’s appointments, whatever), so I can plan around that.

Saturday: I review the meal plan I made the day before, check my fridge and pantry for the ingredients I need, and add what’s missing to my grocery list. I use this app. I don’t 100% love it, but it gets the job done. Similar items, like freezer and produce, sort by color-coding, and you can create different lists for different stores (Aldi, Hyvee, Trader Joe’s).

Quantities are one thing that really screwed me up when I first started meal planning. I never bought the right amount of produce — always too much or too little. Now, I have it down. Since I know that I eat one romaine heart for lunch every day, and Aldi sells romaine hearts in packs of three, I should buy two packs. Easy peasy.

I go shopping at Aldi first, getting as much as I can there. I follow up at Hyvee, which is on the way home, and grab the one or two things I can’t get at Aldi. This varies from week to week, but is usually a specialty item, like Larabars or kombucha.

When I get home, I immediately do some prep. I open packages of meat and divide them into fridge and freezer packs. If I need one pound of ground turkey for the coming week, but bought a three-pound pack, I’ll freeze two pounds and put the remaining pound in a container in the fridge.

Other examples of quick prep that I do at some point before Sunday evening: make big batches of rice or quinoa, freeze brown bananas for smoothies, chop squashes and other hearty vegetables, roast and shred chicken, make soup in the crockpot, and mix dry ingredients for oatmeal.

Prepped ingredients smiling at me.
Prepped ingredients smiling at me.

I put everything in glass containers (I have these), so I can see what’s in the fridge when I open it.

Planning our meals and prepping food on the weekend is the only way I can make meals after work while also leaving plenty of time for after-work plans, T.V. time, and more.

My commute takes about 45 minutes, and knowing what I’ll be making for dinner once I get home calms my mind and allows me to unwind more quickly. My non-office time is sacred, and I want to get the most out of the hours before bed. 

This may seem like a lot of work at first, but it runs like clockwork once you’ve practiced a few times. Some of you probably think I’m crazy for devoting this much time/energy/thought to meal planning, but to each their own, dudes!


MEAL PLANNING WORKSHEET

The worksheet has three sections: planning notes, days of the week, and extras. They can be used any way you please, but I’ve listed some ideas below.

Planning Notes:

p1000402
I thought about making my handwriting *perfect*, but that’s just not realistic.

I use this space to map out what makes the week unique. Some questions I think about:

How many people am I feeding at each meal? My answer is almost always two, but sometimes we’ll have family over or Grant will be away for a meal.

Which meals am I packing to eat away from home? Lunches for work? Breakfast to eat after an early-morning exercise class? Healthy dinner before a cocktail party?

What do I want to snack on?

Which nights will I rely on leftovers? If I’m getting home late, or if there’s a T.V. show on I do NOT want to miss the beginning of, I’ll often plan to eat leftovers. That may mean that I double a recipe I’m making the night before, or I’ll plan on eating hummus, crackers, and veggies for dinner.

What’s the weather going to be like? Do you want to grill or eat soup?

Are there ingredients I need to use up? Leftover veggies from the week before? Meat that’s almost been in the freezer for too long?

What are my nutritional goals for the week? If the week before has been full of wine and cheese, I’ll plan a very veggie-heavy week of meals.

Days of the week:

img_4470
Link to the Cheez It-flavored roasted chickpeas here. 👅

I note what’s for dinner each night, accompanied by any relevant notes or reminders.

Extras:

extras

Here’s where I note which snacks are easy to grab and what quick lunch and breakfast options there are. Some examples: cans of tuna and garbanzo beans for topping salads, hummus and rice crackers, nuts, smoothie packs in the freezer, and baked sweet potatoes.

Happy planning! Comment below or tweet/snap/email me if you have questions or comments! My contact info is here.

How I Lost the Weight: A Love Letter to Gretchen Rubin and the Whole 30

When I set out to lose weight earlier this year, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never tried to lose weight before, at least not in more than a half-hearted way.

I didn’t try a bunch of different diets or even consult a nutritionist. What follows is not a magic recipe or a quick fix. It can’t be explained in 30 seconds or less, so I don’t think I’ll be marketing the Caitlin Diet anytime soon. But it’s what worked for me.

I did one round of the Whole 30 diet in February, and then changed my daily diet and exercise habits using the principles Gretchen Rubin outlines in her book Better Than Before.

p1000387

I stuck these books together in a photo because I wouldn’t have had the same success without both. I needed the clean-eating principles of Whole 30 just as much as I needed the habit-formation ideas from Gretchen. One wouldn’t have worked as well without the other, and I am super grateful that I found these books when I did.


WHOLE 30

The #Whole30 gets a lot of play on social media, and I was very skeptical at first. I still think some of the ~science~ in the book (It Starts With Food) is a little sketchy, but the principles worked for me.

The Whole 30 diet is simple and very restrictive at the same time. During the plan, you eat meat, eggs, nuts, veggies, fruits, and fats like coconut oil and avocado. You don’t eat dairy, legumes, any sugar (including honey!), alcohol, soy, or grains.

You stick to this restrictive plan — with no cheating at all, or you have to start over — for 30 days, and then reintroduce the eliminated foods one at a time.

A basic meal for us during the Whole 30 was grilled chicken breast, roasted sweet potato chunks, green veggie. Boring, yes. Low calorie? Not necessarily, especially once you factor in the coconut oil and an avocado on the side.

But cutting out processed food like Cheez-Its, flavored yogurt, and sandwich bread really helped me realize how much I leaned on food like that as a crutch. I thought that Grant and I ate healthfully, but we were ingesting a lot of processed sugar and junky carbs.

And the “occasional” dessert we were indulging in? More like 3-4 times a week. And, yes, banana bread is dessert. It’s a hard truth, but someone’s gotta tell it.

The Whole 30 is difficult. If you’re like me and use food as an emotional shield, cutting out basically all comfort food is a struggle. I formed quite the bond with cashew butter.

Whole 30 grocery haul.
Life after Whole 30 grocery haul. Everything complies with the plan but the kombucha.

Sticking to the plan is a lot of work. You can’t eat out very easily, and almost all meals have to be prepped ahead of time.

Breakfast is especially hard. Since you can’t have oatmeal or toast or cereal, you have to plan ahead so that there is a baked sweet potato to go with the eggs you quickly scramble. Smoothies, the ultimate quick breakfast, are discouraged on the plan. You’re supposed to use the 30 days to train your body to do without added sugar, and the sweetness of a smoothie undermines that progress. Which I understand, but COME ON.

I made egg and veggie bakes every weekend and ate the leftovers until I never wanted to see another egg.

And the plan is not cheap. Grains are cheap. Sugar is cheap. That’s one of the reasons that processed foods are often so much cheaper than fresh ingredients, calorie for calorie.

Coming home from the store with enough potatoes and squash to serve as starchy sides for the whole week, instead of a bag of rice and a box of pasta? That added up. And the no-added-sugar version of typical snack foods, like almond butter or dried fruit? Those are more expensive too. (Case in point: compare the price of a Larabar to a regular granola bar. Yikes.)

It was worth the work and the money, though. I learned what good energy felt like, without a post-lunch carb crash. When we reintroduced the eliminated foods, I learned that dairy makes me break out, and that Grant is allergic to oats.

And I lost 15 pounds.

If you’re looking for a quick way to jump towards a weight loss goal or want to examine your relationship with processed food, I could not recommend this program more. (But again, I’m not a doctor, so you should talk to one first, probably.)

Life after Whole 30 for me includes the occasional pasta and weekly desserts, but keeping our meals light on the grains has helped me to continue to lose weight. (My new thing is bean-based pasta. I know, sounds terrible, but it’s not. Edamame and black bean pastas are my new, protein-packed side of choice.)

Yes, it's that ugly in real life. (From Trader Joe's)
Yes, it’s that ugly in real life. (From Trader Joe’s)

BETTER THAN BEFORE

Gretchen Rubin is my new Oprah, and I do not say that lightly.

Her book, Better Than Before, is all about strategies for habit formation, based on your “tendency.” Gretchen breaks personalities into four tendency types: Upholder (✋), Obliger, Questioner, and Rebel. (You can take a quiz to find out who you are here.) The book presents strategies for forming lasting habits based on your personality tendency.

Better Than Before inspired me to keep going, to push harder, to lose the next 15 pounds.

Gretchen thinks that our life is made up of the habits we repeat every day, and I could not agree more with her. Eating a cheeseburger SOMETIMES is okay if you eat salad for lunch MOST OF THE TIME.

She says that building positive habits can make us happier. Again, I totally agree. Meeting my diet and exercise goals has made me happier and healthier, and I couldn’t have met those goals without positive and fruitful habits.

what-you-do-every-day-matters-more-than-what-you-do-once-in-a-while

There are lots of individual strategies in the book, but one of the simplest and most impactful is ABSTAINING. Gretchen suggests making a very specific rule of something you never do. My abstainer rule: at a potluck, I never eat a store-bought baked good. (To be clear, I mean grocery-store baked good, not a bakery-made baked good. I’m not insane.) I’d rather save the calories and potential sugar headache for something really yummy and really homemade. (And, oh yeah, that’s a Whole 30 side effect I didn’t mention above. Processed sugar gives me a headache now.  😒)

But, more than the individual principles that Gretchen introduces in the book, the idea that HABITS MAKE OUR LIVES HAPPIER resonated with me so deeply. That message (which is also the central focus of her podcast) made me want to do better.

It seems so simple: our lives are made up of habits. Change your habits; change your life. But thinking about life like this flipped a switch for me. Getting up early got easier when I thought of it as a positive habit. Choosing veggies over pasta became easier when I thought of saying no to grains as a habit.

Veggies at every meal? Sure, I can do that most days. Walk laps at work in the afternoon instead of succumbing to the vending machine? Yep. Make my bed every morning? Working on that one.

I’ve heard that Better Than Before speaks to everyone in a different way. I needed help finding wellness habits, but maybe you’re looking for budgeting habits. (Let me know what you find out, k? 💸)

I’m still on a journey with wellness and solidifying good habits. Actually, I’m not sure that “journey” is the best word to use here. Journeys have destinations and endings, and I’m sure I’ll never totally figure this health thing out. Maybe wandering is a better word: I’m wandering towards wellness, with my buddy Gretchen in my ears and a Larabar in my purse.

I’d love to hear if you’ve done the Whole 30. How was your experience?

Any fellow Gretchen-lovers out there? She’s from KC, you know!

Five Ways to Keep Your Head When You’re Stretched Too Thin

Without going into all the details, I need to tell you guys that I am stretched awfully thin these days. The kind of stretched thin where even making a to-do list is overwhelming, where the laundry piles up for what feels like years, and the idea of new things on the calendar — even invites to do something fun — feels exhausting.

That said, I scrapped my half-assed drafted post for today and decided to do what I do best: write it out.

I need the guidance I’m giving today.

It’s easy to spiral into an anxious mess when your life is overscheduled or emotionally messy. It’s easy to give up, do the bare minimum, and wait it out. I have done this. I did this Sunday night.

But schlepping through the tough stuff is what life is about. When I follow the rules outlined below, life is better. My problems don’t go away, but they don’t feel so big.

Note to those of you who are worried: Life is busy and stressful, but everyone and everything is just fine.

1. Stick to your schedule.

When I am overwhelmed, the first things to go out the window are often the things I need the most. I’ll rush off to work without my allergy medicine, or my coffee, or a lunch. Or maybe all three if I’m really on a roll.

That means I’ll have a sore throat, a raging caffeine-withdrawal headache, and I’ll spend $10-15 on a salad in the cafeteria.

If I take less than ten minutes in the evening to pack a lunch and set the coffee to brew, I save myself a world of hurt the next day. I don’t do this evening prep all the time, but try to prioritize it when I know I could use the help come morning.

2. Exercise.

Exercise is easy to blow off for another hour of sleep. And sometimes this is what my body needs. But, mostly, blowing off exercise is just lazy. I never, ever regret a workout, but I almost always regret skipping one. Just like Elle Woods taught us, exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy.

I’ve Pinned a bunch of 30 minute or less workouts here, if you need to power through exercise. This one is my favorite. It’s hard and really quick.

3. Indulge mindfully.

p1000282
A mindful indulgence on vacation.

I am guilty of emotional overeating. Big time. I also know that, for me, eating some sugar easily snowballs into more and more sugar. Example: I got a DQ Blizzard Sunday afternoon, and then felt the need to eat chocolate-covered cherries that evening. Two desserts in one day does not a mindful indulgence make.

BUT, having a glass of wine after a stressful day? Mindful indulgence. Going to my favorite donut shop and buying one, perfect, amazing donut? Mindful indulgence.

I know that this one looks different to everyone. Those are examples that work for me. If I overindulge, I feel terrible for literally days. Small treats work better for me.

 

4. Keep social dates.

When I have spent the whole day go, go, go-ing, the only thing I am interested in doing is reading in bed or watching too many episodes of Law and Order: SVU. I have skipped parties, group dinners, and more to do these solitary activities.

But meeting a girlfriend for a happy hour or an exercise class? Going to that house party (even if I just stop by for an hour)? Usually a good idea. Connecting with my people helps life slow down for just a bit, which makes all the hard stuff feel easier.

Which brings me to…

5. Talk it out.

TALK ABOUT IT. I have amazing family and friends who are always down to lend an ear when I need it. Venting feels good, and it is so necessary sometimes. Go on a walk with your buddy, talk loudly and with your hands. You’ll feel better.

And here’s the big secret: sometimes listing all my problems out loud makes me realize that it’s not so bad.

My problems are small, and my life is full.

Deep breath. Back to work.

life-is-tough-but-so-am-i

What are your strategies when you’re feeling overwhelmed? I could use all the tips I can get!