An Open Letter To All Jews….

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As the Jewish New Year is about to commence, I thought I’d share with you an experience that happened to me today, the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

First, let me explain to those of you who don’t know, what the high holidays represent.

It’s tradition that Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, is the time to ask forgiveness and 10 days later, on Yom Kippur, is the last opportunity to repent for your sins of the prior year and to ask your friends and family for forgiveness for any transgressions you may, or may not have, been aware of.

Essentially the next two days are designed for the Jewish people to come together as a community and pray to God for redemption and salvation and to be transcribed in the book of good life. All good, right?

There’s typically a lot of homemade (and not so healthy) food, – although there are apples! – Yes, we dip the apple in honey to truly symbolize a sweet new year and let’s not forget the symbolism of eating the pomegranate fruit, which holds 613 seeds, the exact same amount of mitzvot (good deeds) that the Jewish people believe everyone should fulfill. But holidays are celebrated with food, family and friends, so calories don’t count, right?

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And for the 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, which literally means head of the year, implying that this is the beginning of a fresh start to be a better Jew, or as I’ve always learned, to be a better person, we are on a probation type status-  in the sense that we should take the extra time to really reflect on the past and contemplate how to transform and improve the future, or at least, the year  ahead….while there’s still time-  because on Yom Kippur the decision is sealed – will you have a good, healthy, year ahead or will this year bring you to your ultimate demise?

Most other religions have a New Year and celebrate the start of something new and positive and it’s a really beautiful tradition in its literal sense.

I grew up in a very religious household.

I went to Orthodox Jewish Day school, followed all the rules (and believe me there are several) and essentially was a good girl most of my young life.

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I’m still a good girl, but I’m no longer Orthodox.

I wouldn’t even label myself as religious, as I do not connect to religion as a whole, I personalize my spirituality and beliefs.

I find myself connecting more and more to nature and the spiritual connection I get from walking on the beach and overlooking the ocean at its vast under world that is just so miraculous to me.

I thank God every morning while I’m riding my spin bike and fully appreciate my healthy body, my functioning legs, the blood pumping through my heart and how everything – my organs, my joints, my muscles, my bones – are all connected to work together to keep me healthy and functioning.

I thank God every time I tuck my kids into bed (or realistically when they tuck me in, as I go to sleep much earlier than these teens do… mama’s gotta get her sleep!)

I believe that being a good Jew means being an honest, moral and good person – to everyone – no matter what race, color, religion or political affiliation.

So flash forward to today:

I decided I wanted to join the volunteer committee called the Chevra Kadisha – which literally translates as “holy society”-  as they are a group of people that clean freshly dead bodies and prepare them for burial.

I was a member of this group when I lived in NJ and always felt a spiritual connection – almost a super hyped, elevated  type of connection to the souls as they were leaving their physical bodies. On some level, it truly was an out of body experience as I would envision and almost feel the soul of the body still standing in the room among us until the body is sealed in its casket awaiting the burial.

To me, connecting to a person’s soul on its way to the next world, regardless if you believe it’s up or down, was still the ultimate way to give back and I considered it an honor to take part in such a big mitzvah (good deed).

But when I moved to Florida I wanted to get my kids involved in doing good deeds too, so we made our mitzvah to visit the local nursing home every week and actually sit and talk to the elderly – those who were one step away from meeting the next world.

We would spend time with those who had dementia and although they had no idea who we were, nevertheless we helped them smile, if only for a short part of their day, their week, or their month.  Old people are sweet and gracious and so appreciative.

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But now that my kids are a little older, we still visit the nursing home, but I decided I wanted to go back to the chevra kadisha to prepare bodies for burial. I missed the spiritual connection and fullfillment it provided to me. So what better day to call the group leader  than the day before the holiest day of the year?

So I called up the woman in charge, I explained my experience and my desire to join and volunteer.

Within minutes of speaking to her, a lovely and polite woman no less, she asked me several questions regarding my lifestyle,

such as where do my children go to school? (I told her public school). Where do I attend synagogue? ( I told her I don’t).

And after a few minutes it became obvious she was holding something back until she finally said she appreciated my effort but she didn’t think I would be accepted into the group.

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In a little bit of shock at what I was hearing, I asked her why – isn’t this a well needed volunteer group- and possibly a very limited amount of people are actually willing or able to clean dead bodies- surely there was need for another volunteer?

Her response was that I would not be accepted because I’m not Orthodox.

 

Needless to say I was flabbergasted, and I asked her what my level of observance has anything to do with cleaning dead bodies?

Her answer was that she simply couldn’t fight the “politics ” of the synagogue that the group was affiliated with and they don’t accept non Orthodox people, it was just the way things were.

On the verge of tears, I stood my ground and insisted that they consider me – a young healthy body that can undertake the physical role of preparing for funerals – not to mention my deep spiritual belief and asked her, how is it possible she would deny me from doing what some consider the “biggest mitzvah possible”??

Unfortunately she had no answer other than that’s just the way it was.

And here we are, the Eve of the Holiest day of the year and I’m left wondering ; what has religion become? I can’t help thinking that Orthodoxy- in any religion-  is not unlike the Taliban- with such scrutiny and strictness of rules and regulations and such exclusivity and judgement on others who are unlike you.

Where has the beauty and inclusiveness of religion gone?

As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a very religious home, yet my best friend was Irish Catholic, my parents were always hosting friends from all religions races and backgrounds in our home.

I put my kids in public school for a better education than what they were getting at the local Jewish Day school, but without even realizing it, they are getting the best part of learning I could’ve asked for: the ability to befriend kids from so many backgrounds and cultures. They are truly diverse and well rounded and I consider them much more worldly at their young age than I was even as an adult.

 

Lesson Learned:

I’ve always been, and will continue to be, open minded and non judgemental. I try and include rather than exclude. I try and ask questions rather than make assumptions.

I stay away from conversations regarding anything political, as I try and keep a positive environment and part of that is positive mental space. I am a Holistic Health Practitioner and am a strong believer in the healing powers of clean eating, clean living and keeping a clean mind.

All I ask from my community this coming New Year- and to all communities regardless of race, color, religion or background, is to consider what would happen if you opened up your mind to acceptance – even just a little.  I personally think, and hope, that  the tiny world around you – would be a much bigger – and better – place.

 

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Those of you who really dread the idea of spending the week eating what tastes like day old cardboard- (even if it is gluten free and $7 a box) – just remember, weed is not chametz.

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For those of us who observe Passover, regardless of how strict or lenient we may be, tomorrow night starts either an 8 day detox and glorious cleanse or a feast of gluttonous potato starch and constipating matzo.
It’s your choice…You are in control of how this week turns out.
Some of you are away on holiday at relatives or in hotels and have access to non stop all you can eat buffets.
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And some of you are home and have stocked up on enough Streit’s cake mixes and aluminum tins to secure your spot in a bunker, should the world come to a sudden end.

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So, I leave it up to you- You can choose to eat the over priced matzo meal laden mixes or you can use this week to jump start a healthy clean diet plan. (I choose the latter- duh).
Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t diet. I think the word diet unfairly brings up negative connotations.
I prefer to eat clean and enjoy a healthy lifestyle plan with a few cheat meals (OK, OK, cheat DAYS) in between.

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My “diet” is basically eating the same SUPER FOODS in different variations everyday and I stay far far away from anything processed. (More on which foods later).

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For today your focus is to jump start your week and even if you are not observing the holiday – take this opportunity to give yourself a spring cleaning – inside and out (and no, I am by no means encouraging a juice cleanse- I stay far away from that hyped up sugar in a bottle marketing madness)- this is just eating really really healthy.

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How to begin? It’s easy! Start with removing all white and processed foods from your kitchen- (some of you aren’t eating bread this week anyway so you’re already half way there.) Throw away anything that has more than one ingredient on the label. Stick to simple whole foods like, apples, avocado, leafy greens, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, seeds etc- you get the idea.

Update: I used to encourage Passover observers to eat whole grains like whole wheat matzo- which, incidentally, is amazing with lox and avocado- but now I personally stay away from wheat as it destroys my belly. I eat loads of quinoa everyday and thats what I plan to continue eating this week. Stick to the one ingredient rule and you’ll be slim and energized!

 So here goes- my 10 Commandments to get you through Passover:

  1. Drink ONLY Water, Seltzer (and of course, wine!!!) Use this week to abolish your body of toxins and flush out the artificial sweeteners. Just say no to Diet soda! (If you want more info on this rule see my article this month in Boca Club News: http://seabreezepublications.com/papers/1604/BocaClubNews/index.html#p=14

This water commandment alone will make you feel so much better.

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  1. Eliminate all whites from your diet this week. Try it – what have you got to lose (besides a few pounds)? This means no regular matzo or anything with matzo meal as an ingredient. If you really MUST make yourself a sandwhich try whole wheat or bran matzo at least it adds fiber. (I bet you thought I was going to suggest lettuce wraps as bread replacement- duh? Do you think I’m that basic??- leave that crap to Rachel Ray.)

You can have one exception of  matzo balls in the soup if you so desire – after all it is Passover and if you are like me- and look forward to those matzo balls all year then go ahead and indulge – it won’t matter at the end of the day. But just seder nights!!!! Not all week.

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  1. Choose lean proteins such as chicken and fish. Salmon is considered one of the best protein sources as the fat is unsaturated and loaded with Omega 3’s and is amazing for your heart! (But try to avoid farmed –that has more problems than this blog can describe so stay tuned for further reading!) I do buy farmed fish from Whole Foods as they have a very serious policy – claiming they are “responsibly farmed” which is probably just a marketing tactic like all their other organic produce – but it makes me feel better when I buy it so- yea.

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  1. Did anyone say dessert time? Are you worried about where to go in that tea room???

Grab the almonds and cashews! I know what you are thinking….nuts are SOOOOO fattening. Again, fatty heart healthy foods like nuts are one of my favorite go to snacks or dessert – as nuts are filling- but make sure they are RAW and UNSALTED. Have some almonds with an apple. I LOVE charoset at the seder table – it is literally the only item from the seder plate that I actually eat – and help myself to seconds and thirds (who am I kidding – I just keep the bowl).The crunch and sweet tartness of the fruit is a very good combo and the nuts help reduce some of the glycemic index of the fruits natural sugars. (Noteworthy to mention is an apple also aids in digestion).

Another dessert to try is avocado chocolate pudding- sounds gross as do all my concoctions –but trust me –your kids wont know! It’s literally just avocado, stevia, almond milk and unsweetened cacao (cacao is similar to cocoa but  more expensive – I mean healthier) blended together then frozen for 20 minutes –seriously to die for- I eat it at least twice a week for dessert (and the best part is that the avocado doesn’t need to be exactly ripe when you make it)

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  1. Try a lox and omelet for lunch tomorrow. Have it with a side salad and toss in some avocado. I actually split the avocado in half, remove the seed (yes its called a seed not a pit- who knew?) and put an egg in the middle then bake it- yes bake it- for 20 minutes! Don’t knock it till you try it.Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 11.54.56 AM.png

(Who we kidding? Mine never looks that perfect – I stole that off Pinterest)

6. Egg whites!! Can’t get enough of them. Make and omelet with spinach or broccoli. You will feel like you are at the Canyon ranch or a spa in Palm beach. Garnish with some orange wedges.

7. Blueberries for breakfast? An excellent source of vitamin C, dietary fiber and manganese (important role in bone strength). Blueberries are one of my absolute favorite super foods. They have antioxidants and they can be eaten alone, with seeds, in a smoothie- frozen in a cocktail- you get the idea. If you can handle dairy then mix with greek yogurt (plain non fat only). Add cinnamon and stevia and you’re good to go!

8. Go for a long walk after lunch. Take that well deserved break from the Passover table (and your inlaws) and put on those running shoes. Just 20 minutes will do ya good. (And prepare you for tomorrow night’s seder!)

9. Sweet potato fries!!! Cut sweet potatoes into thick wedges and spray with a little olive oil and bake for 20 minutes. They will taste like the real thing. Also good choices are chunks of big carrots. They become caramelized when baked and their natural sugars indulge your sweet tooth.

10. WINE. No need for explanation- but trust me, this will get you through not only one but two seders .

Remember: Stay away from anything processed or made with more than one ingredient. Those over priced kosher passover fake pizza bagels made from matzo meal and potato starch are loaded with chemicals and will only trigger a sweet tooth. Seriously? You can wait the week to eat the real deal and order your pizza then.

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Lesson Learned:

A week off from regular eating habits can be a good thing. Rather than viewing the dietary restrictions as a negative, turn it around and think of it as a great way to jump start your healthy way of life!! (plus will save you some money – Those kosher for Passover products must be laced with gold – based on their prices). And again, a reminder that weed is not chametz!!!

 

Is healthy eating making you fat?….

Every once in a while I like to bake brownies or cookies with my girls. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Ms. Balsamfitsecret lets her kids bake, let alone eat, sweets?

Why yes, yes I do. I absolutely wholeheartedly believe in allowing your children to indulge in sweets once in a while- maybe even everyday. The key is to not go overboard and make it an all day option.

 

Junk food should be limited to one  after school, or pre-swim practice or (fill in blank activity) snack and it is in no way ever to be referred to as a “treat” because treats are organic farm fresh cherries that are only available a few months out of the year, not processed chemical saturated and trans fats wrapped in BPA toxic plastic that can be purchased at every  gas station, convenience store and vending machine.

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Please, let’s just be honest here people, junk food is served and made readily available in every school, camp and at pretty much every event I have ever attended.  It’s hard NOT to allow your kids junk- because we are a fast food nation and fast food is everywhere.

In my defense, I do not bring junk into my home. When my kids come home from school they are presented with a platter of freshly cut up vegetables and hummus to dip them in- and sometimes pita chips. One could easily argue that the GMO’s in the produce outweigh the health benefits but thats a different blog.

I’m a firm believer in ‘if you build it they will come’. If you present your kids with healthy options- and ONLY healthy options, they will eat if hungry enough. I do take them for Starbucks fraps and dunkin’ donuts here and there- but again, this is not a daily activity it’s a once in while thing and I ALWAYS make sure to step up on my soapbox and give them my lecture on just how bad it is for them- (at which point they cut me off and finish the speech for me – and then dig in).

 

So when my friend came to visit me with her kids a few weeks back, she asked me if I bake with healthy ingredients or do I use the non-healthy recipes?

Well, the answer is ‘yes’.

Let me explain. I do use “healthy” ingredients like: coconut sugar, coconut oil, Greek yogurt, oat flour, unsweetened almond milk, and egg whites in lieu of the processed cake mixes but I am in no way fooling myself that these are diet friendly.

Sure, they are healthiER than the store bought, as they don’t contain shortening and stabilizing agents and other cancer causing chemicals, but when eaten in quantity- like say, more than ONE at a time, they certainly add up.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I got on a kick of baking and experimenting with healthy ingredients to try and encourage my kids to eat healthier. So I came up with so many new recipes and concoctions like: quinoa cacao muffins and Greek yogurt brownies, avocado pudding, oatmeal pancakes and cacao chip cookies- there are plenty of recipes online that I have tweaked to adapt to my own standards and taste buds. The result? I gained 5 pounds. I realized that every little BLT (bite, lick and taste) of these delicious recipes were, in fact, adding up- to my waistline.

I am well aware that Abs are made in the kitchen and  I do eat clean and exercise daily. I eat A LOT actually- more calories in a day than most women eat in a week (Albeit all nutrient rich and wholesome). So when my clothes started feeling tight I had to figure out what I was doing differently and make that change…..which meant no more regularly baking “healthy brownies”.

Lesson Learned:

Healthy options are great and there are so many available these days. You can easily find healthy replacements for your favorite recipes. Just understand that a brownie is a brownie and a cookie is a cookie and when you eat them every day they will give you the same results regardless if they are “healthier” or not.

Stick to an apple for dessert and save the quinoa cupcake for a special occasion.

Didn’t need no welfare state, just call me Cait…..

 

The other night, while trying to combat a bout of insomnia, I flipped through the channels and struck gold…..I came across a rerun of The 70’s hit T.V. show “All in the Family”- a show I hadn’t seen in years.

I couldn’t help but think two things:

  1. Archie Bunker sounds just like my 80 year old neighbor
  2. My, how this world has changed.

While I certainly miss the innocence and censorship of television as it used to play out back in the days when the words “Bitch” and “Ass” were still considered to be curse words, I realized just how far we’ve come when referring to the discipline of language. True, they no longer censor foul language or separate husband and wife into twin beds in a Ricky and Lucy manner, but there is a new form of editing that has developed over the years. Yup, the modern day version of censorship is simply referred to as: “Political Correctness” or “P. C.”

Political correctness has become so celebrated in today’s society that people go out of their way to ensure they don’t slip-up when addressing even the most obscure topics. We have become so accustomed to labeling things in a P.C. approach that people actually believe if they change the terminology it will change its definition.

Changing the label does not necessarily mean it changes the integrity of the underlying body. But apparently, it changes the way it is viewed by society.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I am referring to Bruce Jenner’s “the new normal”, or now better known as “Caitlyn”.

I have to admit, at first when I heard about his transgender status I was so gung ho and “inspired”- I immediately blogged about his courage. I really did believe him to be the bravest person –man or woman- for making such a bold and public statement about the importance of being true to yourself.

I thought; here is a man who has the power and influence to encourage those who are afraid to lead their lives in the manner in which they desire. I really believed that he truly was an inspiration to those that lead secret lives because they may be ashamed to be open about their own identity.

….Until I saw the promos for his new reality show, by which he is contracted to make hundreds of millions of dollars from.

Now all I can think about is, like the other female members of his family, she is a major sell out.

I still wish her well on her journey, I just wish she weren’t mocking all of us who rooted for her along the way.

Lesson Learned:

No matter how you label it, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck- it’s still a reality TV star/whore.

Now for your listening pleasure click here:

 

Know your turf and back off the ladies night….

Every other week I meet my best girlfriend for drinks. Because we’re both busy (i.e.: lazy) we typically choose a location that meets our needs:

  1. Close to our houses and
  2. Is low key (that’s code for ‘you can wear flip flops and don’t have to put on makeup’).

Sometimes it’s the local Alehouse where you can get $3 house drinks (as you know, this girl loves a bargain). Other times, it’s a restaurant in a strip mall after peak shopping hours and just before dinner hour so we are always guaranteed parking (have you seen me actually walk in my 5 inch heels?… not pretty). Neither one of us is picky or snobby about the location and we both agree that we’d drink at Wendy’s if they served alcohol.

But last week I decided to try something different. Because Boca and Delray are such buzzing and hopping cities, I decided to Google the local happy hour places to see where there would be action in the hopes of stirring things up a bit.

So I came across a popular steak house that offered a happy hour deal with ‘Ladies Drink Free’ (they had me at ‘free’).

When I walked in, I became immediately aware that I was in a meat market – and not because of the steak they were serving.

With one glance around the room I could tell that this was the place where the over 60 crowd came to hook up…. I suppose it was somewhat like the senior citizen version of Tinder.

The people were in the middle of the restaurant dancing, twerking and grinding like Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke- only they were in their 70’s and there wasn’t a dance floor.

Because there were no seats available we stood by the bar for the most part until one stool became available, which we ended up sharing (one buttock cheek each). We sat there for hours drinking the endless flow of free vodka martinis as we laughed and chit chatted away, ignoring (or admiring) the fact that those around us were hooking up and making out despite the fact that they were old enough to be our parents- and that they were in public.

But as we ended our night and walked out together to the valet, it occurred to us that not one man (or woman for that matter) hit on us or even attempted to pick us up. Here we were, the youngest by far and coincidentally neither of us married ladies wore our rings – yet no one seemed to care. In fact, now that I think about it, the women seemed annoyed – as though we were encroaching on their turf.

It made me think, perhaps there is a (not so) subtle code for stand down and back off when it comes to social circles.

Lesson Learned:

In life, know your territory. Stick with the local taverns with the regular, tattooed, motorcycle gang crowd if you don’t want to start a bar fight.

Go make ME a sandwich…..

I recently read an article written by a female reporter about a blog she started over a year ago (which made me wonder; who reads blogs anymore?) She wrote about her journey to win over her man’s heart through his stomach by making him sandwiches every day. You see, he had promised her that once she’s made him a total of 300 sandwiches then he will propose to her- and not a bite before.

As you can imagine, a flood of angry feminists came out scolding her for throwing us back 50 years by acting subservient or submissive to have to chase a man down like a 1950’s housewife wearing nothing but an apron (actually I’m making it sound a lot more sexy than their argument really was- that would seriously be a dream come true for my husband- not the apron part but the cooking a meal without the fire alarm sounding part).

But their point was clear: this woman who publicly wrote about how she serves up her man- greased buns and all- may sound a bit archaic when it comes to how far equal rights movement has come.

I however, disagree entirely – in my opinion it is the complete opposite…. you see, I think women who prepare food for their men actually hold all the power.

Flash back 14 years ago when my (now) husband and I were just getting to know each other. Neither one of us had any real kitchen utensils (my fancy and magical plastic ware consisted of a fork that also acted as a spoon). Nope, our biggest issue was agreeing on exactly which local sushi restaurant delivered the fastest.

So when we got married and kept up our busy work schedule nothing much changed in the domestic area other than we now had two bowls to pour our cereal into. But after we had our first child, something changed in me. I decided I wanted to clean up our eating habits and modify what we put into our mouths. I was always a student of health and fitness but I was even more determined to lead a clean and active lifestyle from all angles – which included banning chemicals in the foods we ate- so I deemed that changes had to be made. And so they were.

In other words, I was the one who did all the healthy cooking but I also was the one who made all the decisions on what was brought into our home and ingested into our bodies. Don’t get me wrong- it wasn’t a tyranny- he had and still does- free reign to change things back to steak and potatoes if he wants to – but alas, he is simply too lazy to cook or even consider the idea of meal planning. And so it was and so it came about – the new king of the kitchen – i.e. the head of the household – was designated and she is still reining true to this day.

Lesson Learned

Go ahead! Make your partner some sandwiches! You see, all these feminists (myself included) have it all wrong. It’s not about who makes the sandwich or who reaps the benefits of the calories- it’s really about who controls what goes in the middle of the bun.

Healthy Habits Hump Day….

Here we are… winter has come and gone and now we are left facing what some deem intimidating and others empowering: The swimsuit season.
And it’s Hump day after a long memorial day weekend, which makes it a double whammy.
No more “it can wait until after the weekend” and none of the “next week I will eat better and move a little more”….nope, summer is here and now so CONFRONT it head on.
It is time to PLAN!
 
What’s interesting about diet resolutions is that to succeed, you need to understand that it’s not about will power. You heard me. Contrary to what you may think , its not about holding back from eating certain foods or restricting yourself from junk, but rather, it’s about formulating structure and making the effort to plan to make the right choices. Structure is the key element to accomplishing your fitness resolutions. Another key factor is confronting your weight- get out of denial!
 
I am one of those people who likes to eat the same thing every day. Some may call it boring but i just call it a healthy habit. I simply have very choosy and picky tastes and therefore stick to the same “super” foods each day and vary them up by mixing them together in different (often gross sounding but tasty) combinations that I refer to as “concoctions”.
My diet almost always consists of the same foods:
  1. Healthy fats (TONS of raw nuts, olive oil and avocado)
  2. Lean proteins (Salmon, Tuna, Sashimi etc)
  3. Complex carbs (sweet potato, lentils, (I used to eat chickpeas but have since given up legumes), 100% oats)
  4. Non fat non dairy beverages (almond milk and plain non fat Greek yogurt)
  5. Fruits and vegetables -tons of them (and yes, wine is considered a fruit:)
I eat more calories in a given day than most women my age eat in a week.  I simply eat from the above list and don’t count calories, don’t control portions but do enjoy healthy clean eating.
Lesson Learned:
If you structure your diet with clean, fibrous and nutrient rich filling foods you will not feel that you need any “will power” to stay on track to accomplish your goals.
As always, feel free to reply with comments or questions I will be more than happy to help you structure a new fitness and healthy eating plan specifically for you!
Happy Hump day!