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The Daniel Plan: Complete!

Today I had a small piece of mint Oreo pie and immediately felt like I needed fruit to balance it out. Pete made the pie for me to celebrate the end of the Daniel Plan/Valentine’s Day, and it is scrumptious, but I think I have a lower tolerance for sweets now. (That doesn’t mean I won’t continue eating a little here and a little there.)

The plan ended Friday and I waited until the next afternoon to have my first non-Daniel Plan morsel: a square of dark chocolate with sea salt from World Market. I was happy to know that I still adore chocolate, but I admit it wasn’t the hallelujah moment I thought it would be.

Overall, I’m really glad I did the Daniel Plan. Here are some good things that came of it:

  • I feel calmer. Not all the time, but in general. I’ve been less stressed with house work and with things that typically annoy me. I think it’s a combination of eating well, trying to get more sleep, exercising and making a point to read the Bible every day. Any one of those things can affect mood, but I think taken altogether, they can really pack a punch.
  • I feel good about myself. I feel like I’m doing myself a favor by trying to take care of the one and only body I’ll ever have.
  • I’ve experienced new things. I’ve tried several new recipes since this thing started. I even bought flax seed for the first time last week to add to my smoothies. (It’s high in fiber and Omega-3’s.) You can use it as a substitute for eggs, butter and oil, too, but I haven’t tried that yet. I’ve also discovered a slew of free workout videos. Pete added the All Fitness TV app to our Roku and I tried one of them this morning.
  • I learned more about Daniel. Reading through the book of Daniel in the Bible was fun for me. A couple of my favorite stories are included in that book, and as a whole, it was a great lesson in courage and faithfulness.

Here are some things I could have done better:

  • I still haven’t finished The Daniel Plan book. My bad. I had every intention of finishing it by now, but that hasn’t happened. I’m still going to read it all, though. The parts I have read are chock full of good advice.
  • I wasn’t great at checking in with friends. One focus of the Daniel Plan is friends. You’re supposed to encourage each other and hold each other accountable. I did that more with one of my friends than the other because I see her more, but that’s not the greatest excuse.
  • Fewer date brownies. I had my fair share of “healthy brownies”—made with dates—while on the plan. (I referred to these in my Week 3 blog post.) While I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, it was a bit of a crutch. Dates are still sweet, and it probably would have benefited me to take a cleaner break from anything sweet. My sweet tooth still craves chocolate some afternoons, but I’m getting better at blocking the craving by focusing elsewhere or munching on fruit instead.

So what now? Stuff my face with bacon cheeseburgers and ice cream? Decide No. From here, my goal is to keep up some of the good eating/fitness/focusing habits. If I feel better doing those things, why give it up?

If you missed it: Read Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4 of The Daniel Plan blog posts.

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The Daniel Plan: Week 4

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Mom and Dad got me new running gear for Christmas. The fitness part of the Daniel Plan has been more challenging than I thought it would be.

The past week has been a week of denial. By denial, I don’t mean, “Problem? What problem?” I mean denying myself things I would normally jump at.

Like a rare frappuccino at a coffee shop with a friend.

Or a bun for my hot dog at a chili dinner fundraiser.

Or some cookie cake at a Super Bowl party. (And cookie cake is seriously one of my favorite things.)

Then there’s leftover (and homemade) cookie cake at work.

Or red velvet cookies at work.

Or an opportunity for free froyo at Menchie’s this weekend.

The denial is endless. I also had to pass up Kit Kats and Snickers yesterday when I failed to pack enough in my lunch and made a trip to the vending machine.

“I’m off to find something gluten-free, sugar-free and non-dairy in the vending machine!” I told a co-worker. She wished me luck.

I was warned that kale doesn't smell good in the oven. It smells kind of like cooked spinach. Not exactly a pleasant aroma, if you ask me.

I was warned that kale doesn’t smell good in the oven. It smells kind of like cooked spinach. Not exactly a pleasant aroma, if you ask me.

I ended up with a package of what I thought were peanut butter crackers but ended up being Lance Nekot Cookies. Whoops. At least it had 1 gram of dietary fiber.

I did, however, try to make kale chips for the first time last week. I’d never even purchased kale before. Harris Teeter had a huge bundle of it for a buck!

I heard beforehand that you have to limit your olive oil use when you make kale chips. You’re supposed to put a little olive oil on them, then sprinkle salt and pepper on top and bake them, but I got too much olive oil on them and they came out half crunchy and half soggy. I still have a bunch left that I might try to make tonight.

So how about the other F’s mentioned in the Daniel Plan? Food is a biggie, but there’s also faith, friends, focus and fitness.

Faith. I slacked on my reading a bit last week, but the past few days have gone well. I’m on chapter 9 in the book of Daniel, and there are 12 chapters total. I want to finish the book by the end of my plan, which is 10 days from now. I’m also praying that I can make healthy choices each day and that I’ll crave good food instead of junk food.

Friends. Lots of people have asked me how the plan is going, which forces me to evaluate myself. I’ve also gotten a few yummy recipes from Joy. In fact, I’m using her hummus recipe tonight and maybe her baked fruity oatmeal recipe, too.

Focus. This one is a little harder to measure. I guess you could say I’m focusing on healthy eating goals when I decide to pass up stuff I can’t have, like cookies and cake.

Fitness. This has actually been harder than I thought it would be. I’ve always enjoyed working out, and I’m pretty good about exercising at least a few times a week, but the past couple of weeks have been so hectic that it’s been a struggle to make the time and find the energy to do some kind of exercise 6 days a week like the plan suggests. I do feel stronger, more focused and energetic when I exercise, though. I did work out when I got home last night and again this morning, so right now I’m feeling good. I’m also hoping to go for a run later this week. I meant to run last weekend (I’m trying to do it once a week), but then Anja had an unexpected vet visit, so plans changed. It’s also been frigid in the mornings and I don’t do cold.

One thing I’m disappointed in is my lack of discipline in reading more of The Daniel Plan book. I’ve read enough to know what I should and shouldn’t have or should and shouldn’t do, but I really wanted to have most of it read by now and I haven’t read any in the past few weeks. BUT…it’s never too late to start back up again. And if I want to make some permanent lifestyle changes, it will still be applicable even when the 40 days are up.

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A three-bean turkey chili I took to a Super Bowl party. Hearty and not bad for you.

The Daniel Plan: Week 3

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A typical lunch for me these days: an avocado and gluten-free crackers.

I made it past the halfway mark! 23 days down, 17 to go. …

So this past week has been crazy. With both my birthday and Pete’s birthday over the weekend, I had a lot to do leading up to a big birthday dinner Friday night. A lot of it was unbeknownst to Pete, who turned the big 3-0 on Sunday. (Hooray!) His birthday gift from me included a surprise visit from his brother and friend, which meant a full, fun weekend.

The big weekend also meant a cheat day for me. A big cookie and a piece of cake? Yes, please! I did stick to my plan during dinner Friday (a bunless black bean burger with avocado and a cup of fresh fruit), but happily sat down to a piece of yellow sponge cake with chocolate buttercream icing afterwards. A friend made it and it was heavenly. So was the monster cookie, also made by a friend. Everyone commented on how exceptionally delicious they both were.

At the same time, I was a little shocked that the sweets weren’t more satisfying. They were INCREDIBLE, don’t get me wrong, but the sugar itself didn’t leave me floating on clouds like I thought it might. In fact, half a cookie was plenty at the time, and I couldn’t finish my piece of cake. When I did go back for more sweets, I was actually disappointed that I didn’t want to finish it. I was craving non-sugary food.

What’s happening? I thought. Then a slight panic set in. Will I still find chocolate to be God’s gift to mankind when this plan is over? … They said this would happen.

“They” being The Daniel Plan writers. They talk about craving real food once your body gets used to it.

Chocolate has always been my go-to treat. It makes me happy, whisks me out of bad moods and gives me a boost of energy. And yet I haven’t really missed it. I do feel slight temptation when I see chocolate around the house, but it’s not that “gotta have it or I’ll die” kind of temptation. It’s more like “Man, I wish I could have that … but I’ll be OK.”

The first couple of weeks of my plan, I had my “date brownies” to rely on for a chocolate fix, but those were just dates, unsweetened cocoa powder and walnuts—no sugar. I’m used to having chocolate every day, but now it’s been several days since my last chocolate high. It reminds me of that year in high school when I gave up chocolate for Lent … and swore I would never go that long without it. Ha.

As for gluten and dairy, I have added the slightest bit of that in my diet this past week. I thought I was buying gluten-free bread at the grocery store last week, but got home and realized it definitely has gluten in it. It’s one of those sprouted wheat loaves that’s twice as expensive as regular bread and housed with a bunch of gluten-free stuff in one of the frozen aisles. I think the only dairy item I’ve had is the cheese in some spinach artichoke dip I brought home from the birthday party.

I have found that I need a little more time in the morning to get breakfast ready. I can’t have my typical cereal since it has gluten in it, so it’s either pumpkin flax seed granola with almond milk, a banana or a fruit smoothie. I could do eggs, but who has time for that? Not me.

There have also been multiple mornings where part of my breakfast is a small bag of Snapea Crisps in the car on the way to work. Not super proud of that, but it could be worse. At least there’s no gluten, dairy or sugar!

Daniel Plan Week 3 collage

Some other tidbits:

  • Without my daily chocolate, caffeine hasn’t been a problem. I don’t drink coffee, and caffeine-free hot tea is fine with me.
  • With a hectic week last week, my exercise was less intense. Think walking in lieu of TurboJam. But I did start my birthday off with a Zumba video, and the past two days I’ve done some recommended exercises from The Daniel Plan.
  • I have just over 2 weeks left on the plan, but afterwards, I still want to cut out a lot of sugar and dairy. Probably eat less bread, too.
  • One facet of this plan is “focus.” Part of that is not dwelling on negative thoughts. So, when I feel like I’m not exercising as much as I should or reading the book of Daniel as often as I should, I try not to be too hard on myself. Then I make an effort to improve.
  • Some people have asked if I can have meat on this plan. Yes, if it’s not pumped full of hormones. You should go for lean, grass-fed and antibiotic-free meat when possible.So far, I’ve had chicken, salmon, Italian sausage and one bite of steak.
  • Pete has discovered a love for roasted veggies. I’m glad he likes vegetables because I see more and more of those in our future.

The Daniel Plan: Week 2

When I got home from work last night, I was really hungry. I looked around our pantry and wanted everything I couldn’t have: my prized veggie chips that someone had to add sugar to, gluten-laced cereal, sunflower seed butter, a Toblerone bar from Christmas and so on.

There were plenty of things I can have, but they weren’t as instantly gratifying. *Sigh* I really could’ve gone for a chocolate bar.

Thankfully, the ravenous rage quickly subsided and I heated up some leftover spicy honey chicken and quinoa with pine nuts for dinner. (Veggies are currently on my grocery list.) Pete and I went to a movie last night and I took some apple slices as a snack. … I mean, I purchased apple slices at the lovely concession stand. … Yeah, that’s right.

I will admit that I had a small piece of bread last night that Pete made. I really shouldn’t feel guilty because the plan says you can introduce small amounts of gluten back into your diet after the 10-day detox and see how your body responds. It was glorious. But I’m not going to make a habit of it whilst on The Plan.

Some people have asked me how I feel since starting this thing and I tell them I feel pretty good. I mean, I didn’t feel bad before, but I can see some small differences.

  • My skin seems to have improved a bit. It’s far from radiant, but it’s decent enough so that I’ve been comfortable not wearing my typical powder foundation at work or church. It’s also much less oily, but that could also be the lack of makeup. (Show me an anti-shine mineral powder that actually works and I’ll love you forever.)
  • In general, I’m not getting enough sleep, but I’ve found that I’m not as tired during the day. I’m still tired in the morning and on my drive home from work, but at work I seem to stay focused and alert throughout the day.
  • Before I started The Daniel Plan, I set a goal for myself to drink 3 of my water bottles a day. My water bottle is 18 ounces, so that’s 54 ounces total. I was slacking off some before starting the plan, but I’ve ramped it up again and I’ve been doing pretty well. That could also factor into the skin thing in #1.
  • I’m not trying to lose weight, but I’ve lost about a pound and a half. More water, less sugar maybe?
One downside is that I haven’t read any more of the book since I wrote last time. I wanted to read more over the weekend, but Pete and I ended up doing hours of yard work. As in raking, mulching and bagging 63 39-gallon bags of leaves. That was my workout for the weekend, plus taking the dogs for a run. (The Daniel Plan does include a fitness plan for each day, but most days, I’ve been doing my own thing.)
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If you’ve ever wondered what 63 bags of leaves looks like, this is it. Well, most of it.

On the faith side, I’m still reading through the book of Daniel and just finished the part about Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into a furnace for not worshiping the king, but survived when an angel protected them. That’s one of my favorite stories ever. Like The Daniel Plan says, spiritual health is as important as physical health, and I find that reading the Bible regularly helps keep me balanced and fulfilled spiritually.

Last but most certainly not least, I’m trying Joy’s white bean chicken chili recipe later this week. Joy is doing the plan, too, and I’m excited for Pete to taste this Daniel-friendly chili. That quinoa with pine nuts dish I mentioned earlier was something I made last week, but it turned out kind of bland, so I’m sure my better half will appreciate something with flavor.

The Daniel Plan: Week 1

IMG_4474A few weeks ago, my friend, Sara, asked if I wanted to do The Daniel Plan with her. I looked into it, ordered the book, and we started it together on January 5. Today is the one-week mark.

So what is it? The Daniel Plan is a 40-day healthy lifestyle plan consisting of the 5 F’s: faith, food, fitness, focus and friends. It gets its name from Daniel in the Bible who, along with his 3 friends, turned down the rich foods of the king who held them captive. Instead, they opted for vegetables and water. After 10 days, Daniel and his friends were healthier and better nourished than those who ate from the king’s table.

Here’s what I like about it: This isn’t just about eating well. And it’s not just about working out. It’s about your life as a whole: mental, physical and spiritual. They all affect each other, so it makes sense to look at the big picture. The Daniel Plan is also big on getting some friends to do it with you. That keeps you accountable, encourages you along the way and gives you people to celebrate the victories with.

My biggest question at the start of this thing was “What can I eat?” Well, the first 10 days you’re supposed to do a detox. That means no dairy, no gluten, no added/refined sugar and no caffeine.

After the 10 days, you can add a little dairy and gluten back into your diet to see how your body responds, but for the most part, you should eat fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lean meat/fish—what the plan calls “real” food: whole, fresh and unprocessed.

At the start of the plan, Pete and I went to the grocery store to get ingredients for a few new dishes I wanted to make. We looked a lot closer at labels and bought some things we’ve never bought before. Some things were more expensive, but healthier, and many of the items will go a long way.

So far, the hardest part has been turning down a couple of amazing looking desserts at a party and at Bible study over the weekend. I also found myself a little jealous over the cheese in Pete’s sandwich, but overall, I surprisingly haven’t craved that many things I can’t have. Instead of regular crackers, I got some gluten-free, six-seed crackers that I actually like a lot. And instead of some kind of sugary treat, I made some raw brownie bites that curb the chocolate craving. (Pete thinks they’re weird, but I like them. They’re made with dates, pecans and cocoa powder.)

Some things I’ve missed are craisins in my salad, my favorite multi-grain chips, my favorite salsa, sunflower seed butter (like peanut butter) and veggie chips. All because sugar is an ingredient, and that’s a no-no these first 10 days.

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What are some benefits of this plan? As I mentioned, The Daniel Plan is about 5 essentials, the 5 F’s. One of those is fitness. Exercise can increase energy, reduce anxiety and depression, improve muscle strength, sharpen focus, help manage weight and increase productivity. Another area of focus is food. Eating well can improve skin, balance hormones and eliminate certain allergies. It’s more satisfying than processed food and can cut down on inflammation that’s linked to things like heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and dementia. That’s not an exhaustive list, but those are some highlights.

What I want to get out of it: I’d like to become more familiar with healthier substitutions, like raw honey instead of white sugar, or coconut oil instead of butter. I’d also like to see healthier skin and to crave fewer sweets.

How’s it going? A few people have asked me this. I still have 33 days to go, but so far, so good. When I feel full after eating, it’s not an icky, I-feel-blah full. It’s a satisfied full. I did make a bulgur wheat dish yesterday and had two helpings of that (yesterday and today) before realizing it has gluten in it. Oops. I think I was getting it confused with buckwheat, which doesn’t have gluten. I’m also experimenting with quinoa, lentils and sweet potatoes. I’ve had all these things before, but they don’t make a regular appearance. As for the spiritual side, I’m asking for God’s help to make these lifestyle changes (since willpower alone doesn’t always cut it), and I’m reading through the book of Daniel.

Here are some of my favorite passages from The Daniel Plan:

  • “There is no magic pill, no quick fix, no instant formula, and no shortcut that will make you healthy overnight. You must make wise choices every day.”
  • “When God puts his Spirit inside you, your body becomes a temple of God, a residence for his love. So let me ask you this: If you saw someone vandalizing or damaging a temple dedicated to God, wouldn’t you consider that a crime? Of course! But you abuse and vandalize God’s temple, your body, when you deprive it of rest and sleep, overeat, put too much stress on it, and fail to take care of it.”
  • “Food is medicine. Food is the most powerful drug on the planet. … Every bite you take is a powerful opportunity to create healing or infirmity.”
  • “We have been convinced that it is time-consuming, expensive, and difficult to eat well. We are here to tell you that enjoying real, fresh, whole food is easy, inexpensive, and most important, delicious.”
  • “Without God’s power in your life, you are just running on your own energy. God never meant for you to do that. … Think of it this way: You have a small battery inside you. It has a limited amount of energy. When it depletes, you shut down. At the same time, God offers you access to his unlimited power plant. All you need to do is plug in—and the power cord is prayer.”
  • “We have outsourced our cooking to the food industry for packaged, processed, and prepared convenience foods and to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. But there is nothing convenient about feeling disconnected, sluggish, slothful, foggy, or depressed or having the diseases you get and medications you have to take when you fuel up with ‘convenient food.'”

Well that’s all for now. I’ll update you again next week!

Daniel Plan week 1 collage

Healthy recipe of the week: shepherd’s pie

I have this cookbook that Pete doesn’t like. He doesn’t like it because it’s all vegan and in his words, “What’s wrong with meat?” (Quality meat anyway.)

I got the cookbook from a woman I interviewed about the 7th-Day Adventists’ diet. Many of them stay away from meat and dairy. I’ve only made a couple of things out of the cookbook (the other was zucchini creole), but last week was one of those things.

I made a shepherd’s pie for the first time ever. I used almond milk instead of regular milk and a black bean burger instead of actual burger. (The recipe says “burger substitute,” and we had the black bean burgers on hand.)

Here’s what it looked like:

It looks really yellow because 1 - I used Yukon Gold potatoes, and 2 - the lighting wasn't great.

It looks really yellow because 1 – I used Yukon Gold potatoes, and 2 – the lighting wasn’t great. The red stuff is tomato soup.

It was kind of bland and not my favorite thing ever, but it smelled good when I made it, and I like that it’s mostly veggies.

Here’s a bad picture of the recipe that you can cherish always:

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Healthy recipe of the week: Shrimp fried rice

OK, so I didn’t make this dish; Pete did and I ate it. 🙂

I have to say I was impressed by how well this turned out. When he told me he was going to make fried rice, I was skeptical, thinking back to the time a friend and I tried to make it. It was a disaster.

I ate every bite of this, so here’s a shout out to my sweet Pete. He said he overcooked the shrimp, but I thought it was good, plus I’ve determined that it’s nearly impossible to cook shrimp just right.

Also, I realize fried rice is not super healthy, but it did include veggies (!), plus the cashews I added to mine. And I consider beans and shrimp healthy options.

Here’s the recipe for the fried rice. Pete used basmati rice.

And here’s the one for the shrimp.

Hopefully you know how to cook green beans.

A dinner treat from sweet Pete.

A dinner treat from sweet Pete.