Hummus & Gym Membership

For some reason, I was craving hummus a few days ago. I’m not a fan of store bought hummus so I decided to make my own for the first time. I used this recipe from Inspired Taste, went off to the store and gathered the ingredients but discovered that a 16 ounce jar of Tahini was 9-effing-dollars at Hannaford. No thank you. I googled a substitute and found that peanut butter would work, which was perfect because I always have a jar of natural no sugar added peanut butter on hand. I followed their recipe to a T, except I replaced the 1/4 cup of Tahini for 2-3 tablespoons of that wonderful natural no sugar added peanut butter, and I didn’t add more olive oil for serving. Ugh, the hummus was so good and so easy. Better than any store bought hummus. TRY IT. I also made Quinoa Stuffed Peppers the same day, but I’ll post that recipe tomorrow.

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Now for random thoughts: I’m debating on a gym membership. I’ve never wanted a gym membership because they’re costly and I’ve never had the extra money for one, and I’ve always preferred exercising at home. I’m three weeks into my new full-time job, and I’m struggling to keep up with my exercise regimen. I tried getting up earlier to exercise but I hated it, and I wasn’t giving it 100% because I was so sluggish. I’m doing my best to exercise a lot on my days off and do less on my work days, but all I’ve been doing on my work days is 15-20 minutes of Yoga or Pilates. Yes, it’s at least something, but to me it is definitely not enough. My plan is to get a membership at HealthLinks, and while it’s expensive, I think it would be worth the money. I would go after work on my way home. I need to do more strength training, and the 10-pound dumbbells aren’t cutting it anymore. I don’t want to keep buying a new, heavier set every month. So, I think a gym membership will be worth it. Also, I heard great things about The New Rules of Lifting for Women. I bought the book the other day on amazon.com, and I’ll follow that program.

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And now, since it’s my day off, I better get my ass moving. Today’s workout: Jillian Michaels’ “Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism” followed by strength training and body weight exercises. Maybe Pilates a little later if I’m feeling up to it.

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Day two: A HEALTHY DIET IS NOT EXPENSIVE.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Yesterday my boyfriend sent me flowers. Aren’t they pretty?

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It wasn’t the best Valentine’s Day. We received bad news about my poor kitty at his vet appointment today. His cancer has worsened, and it’s not looking good for him. So upset. This is Baby’s favorite sleeping spot for the night: in his new box with his pink camouflage blankie. I love him.

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Today, I did my best to keep track of how much everything I ate was costing me. Dinner was tough to give an estimate – homemade vegan chili I pulled out of the freezer. Didn’t feel like cooking. But a can of tomatoes, beans and rice, some of the main ingredients, are cheap. So I’m just saying it’s around 99 cents for what I ate (about 1/3 of the batch I made). Good enough.

Cost of breakfast: $0.60
16 ounces of coffee (~2 tablespoons Maxwell House grounds): 30.6 ounces for $6.99 = 6 cents
2 tablespoons of Hannaford half and half: 32 ounces for $1.59 = 6 cents
1 Thomas’ Bagel Thin: 8 for $2.99 = 37 cents
1 tablespoons of Hannaford Natural PB: 16 ounces for $2.99 = 11 cents

Cost of lunch: $2.05
1 Zone bar: 6 for $4.34 = 72 cents (Normally I don’t eat these, but I didn’t have time to make lunch today, so it’s better than nothing.)
1 banana: (~5 oz.) 57 cents per pound: 18 cents
3 ounces Hannaford baby carrots: $1.70 per pound = 32 cents
1/2 red bell pepper: 2 lbs for $5 (~3 peppers) = 83 cents

Cost of snack: 23 cents
2 ounces of Hannaford mozzarella cheese: 16 ounce block for $3.68 = 23 cents

Cost of dinner: 99 cents
Leftover homemade vegan chili that I pulled out of the freezer: 99 cents, give or take.

Total for the day: $3.87. And you say eating healthy is expensive? Maybe if you buy out-of-season organic produce. That can definitely get pricey. I don’t eat a perfect diet, but I would say that 90% of the time, I eat pretty damn healthy, and, AS YOU CAN SEE, it doesn’t cost a lot. Be smart about what you buy – buy what’s in season, what’s on sale, make what you can from scratch, buy in bulk (sometimes it isn’t always cheaper, at least at the grocery stores around here). I promise you, you’ll spend a lot less money when you’re not buying junk food or drive-thru meals!

A HEALTHY DIET IS NOT EXPENSIVE. PERIOD.

It irritates the living hell out of me when someone says, “I can’t afford to eat healthy.” My head explodes when they add on, “…and that’s why I still hit the drive-thru.” WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? To ANYONE who thinks this, PAY ATTENTION. If you REALLY think that you save money on lunch or dinner by going to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, WHATEVER it is, think of it this way: you are loading your body with simple carbohydrates, saturated fats, trans fats (I just scanned through the nutrition information of McDonald’s menu and found that more than half of their food contains trans fats, known to increase “bad” cholesterol and decrease “good” cholesterol and a contribute to heart disease. Take a look: http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/nutritionfacts.pdf and read more about trans fats here.), and MINIMAL fiber. Hardly anything you eat from a fast food restaurant is likely to keep you satisfied for long. (If you’ve seen “Supersize Me,” remember how Morgan was hungry again soon after his meal at McDonald’s?) Anyway, you’re loading your body with not-so-good stuff that can contribute to a number of health problems: heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, just to name a few. Think of how much money you’d have to spend on visits to the doctor and medications, and it would be even worse if you don’t have insurance. So what would you rather do: eat healthy, take care of your body and reduce the risk of health problems or eat to death?

I would say I’m moderately frugal when it comes to grocery shopping. I shop for what’s on sale and in season, I buy almost everything generic, I make what I can from scratch (not only cheaper in most cases, but also healthier), I don’t eat out often and my family gardens so that we have lots of fresh veggies in the summer and fall. I’ve kept my receipts from the last week or so to calculate how much each meal is costing me. I’ll do the same thing tomorrow (hopefully with pictures). Here is today’s breakdown:

Cost of Breakfast: $0.90
16 ounces of coffee (~2 tablespoons Maxwell House grounds): 30.6 ounces for $6.99 = 6 cents
2 tablespoons of Hannaford half and half: 32 ounces for $1.59 = 6 cents
1 Eggland’s Best large egg: one dozen for $2.49 = 21 cents
3 Great Value (liquid) egg whites: $3.88 for 32 ounces = 58 cents

Cost of Lunch: $0.59
2 bananas (~10 oz. total): 57 cents per pound = 36 cents
2 tablespoons of Hannaford Natural PB: 16 ounces for $2.99 = 21 cents
1 teaspoon of Price Chopper cocoa powder: 8 ounces for $2.99 = 2 cents

Cost of Snack #1: $0.72
1.5 ounces of Hannaford mozzarella cheese: 16 ounce block for $3.68 = 35 cents
1 Thomas’ Bagel Thin: 8 for $2.99 = 37 cents

Cost of Snack #2: $1.60
6 oz. container of plain Chobani = 99 cents
1 cup of Great Value frozen fruit: 64 ounces for $7.98 = 61 cents

Cost of Dinner: $3.62
4 ounces Price Chopper whole wheat pasta: 15 ounces for $1 = 27 cents
2 tablespoons Filippo Berio olive oil: 25 ounces for $6.99 = 28 cents
5 ounces of shrimp: $7.99 per pound = $2.50
1 tablespoon of Price Chopper parmesan cheese: 8 ounces for $2.99 = 7 cents
4 ounces of asparagus: $1.99 per pound = 50 cents

Total for the day: $7.43. On a normal day, I wouldn’t have shrimp, but Mama was cooking and I wanted some. I’ll do this again tomorrow, and I’ll have pictures!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana “Ice Cream”

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana “Ice Cream” – another one of my favorite healthy alternatives! This stuff may or may not be one of my favorite things ever. I love ice cream. Way too much. Unfortunately, there’s REALLY nothing about it that makes it remotely healthy. I could practice portion control and moderation, but just like any other decadent sweet treat, once I start, I can’t stop.

I discovered this pseudo-ice cream recipe on Pinterest, tried it out, and fell in love. Chocolate, peanut butter and bananas are one of my favorite combinations.

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All you need for one serving:
1 cup frozen banana slices (approximately 1 large banana)
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

(You might want to let your bananas thaw slightly for 20-30 minutes prior to making.) Combine everything in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Either serve right away for soft-serve consistency or freeze. You can make multiple servings ahead of time and keep in the freezer to enjoy at a later date. (My bananas weren’t frozen enough, so it wasn’t as thick, but it still tastes amazing.)

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So good! And it has healthy fats, protein and carbs. It’s a well balanced dessert. Win-win!

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

A few months ago, I found a recipe that would be the perfect alternative to traditional homemade mac and cheese, which is one of my all-time favorite meals. Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese! I found the recipe on SparkRecipes.com and fell in love. I love butternut squash, so if you don’t, you may not like this recipe, but it’s worth a try. This is the original recipe, but I made a few changes here and there. Mmm, doesn’t it look good?

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What  you’ll need:

3 cups cubed butternut squash (about a pound or so)
1 cup vegetable broth
1.5 cups milk (I use 2%)
1 12-ounce box whole wheat pasta
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add pasta and cook when the water is ready.* Meanwhile, combine squash, milk, broth, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil and let it simmer until squash is tender and turn off heat. Mash contents of saucepan, and add the cheddar, Parmesan and ricotta cheeses. Drain pasta and transfer to 9×9 casserole or baking dish. Stir in squash/cheese mixture and mix around so it’s evenly distributed. Top with mozzarella cheese. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serves 8.

*I under-cook my pasta by a minute or two. It will continue cooking once it’s in the oven. If you don’t want mushy pasta, under-cook it a little!

Calories: 378
Fat: 17 grams
Carbs: 40 grams
Protein: 20 grams

Traditional Mac and Cheese can have upwards of 600 calories and 30 grams of fat for one serving. I love my healthier alternative!

Plyometrics, barbells and groceries

This won’t be a very informative post; my energy and excitement is minimal today. A few months ago, we found out that my 14-year-old kitty has oral cancer, and he was doing okay for awhile but it seems like he’s starting to go downhill more and more each day. Just looking at him makes me want to cry because I know what we’ll have to do eventually.

I distracted/tortured myself with a 20-minute Plyometric (jump training) workout. I love (and hate) Plyometrics. I compiled a list of 20 Plyo moves, and I did each one for 20 seconds and rested for 10, and did that sequence twice (after a brief 3 minute break between sets). I felt like my legs were going to fall off…but in a good way. I might post the workout tomorrow, so stay tuned. AND THEN, after that torturous 20-ish minutes, I ventured down to the basement to dust off and use the old bench down there. But first I had to move all of the booze and soda. How ridiculous is this? It didn’t go as well as I had hoped; there’s simply too much junk down there so I have to relocate it or relocate the junk.

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And what makes me happier than Plyometrics? Grocery shopping for good food. (Chocolate is a vegetable, okay?)

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I found a recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk cookies from How Crazy Cooks, which is what the chocolate was for. And I loved them! I had to pop them in the freezer or else the entire batch would’ve been gone by tonight. Sigh, hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a better blog post.

Vegetarian Meatballs & Creamy Avocado Sauce

I used to LOVE a good, creamy Alfredo sauce from my favorite Italian restaurants. I miss it sometimes, and then I remember that almost any Alfredo dish from a restaurant is upwards of 1,000 calories and 60 grams of fat. I found a good alternative that is plentiful in flavor and heart-healthy fats (unlike traditional Alfredo sauce that is full of heavy cream and butter – saturated fat). Main ingredient? Avocados! Avocados ARE high in fat, but they contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats, as well as potassium, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6 and folate. My dearest friend, Emily, and I made this sauce last week and I loved it. So I made it again today and paired it with my Vegetarian Meatballs! Florida Avocados were used both times for the sauce, but you could definitely use a California Avocado.

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What you need for the Avocado sauce:

1 Avocado
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 garlic clove
Juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Dash of salt and pepper

Throw everything in a food processor and blend until everything is smooth and combined. Cut up and/or mash the avocado first, which makes blending it a little easier. This makes 2 servings, so you might want to share this with someone, eat the entire batch yourself or wrap it snugly with plastic wrap touching the sauce so that it doesn’t brown. Since there’s lemon juice in the sauce, it will also help it from browning. Mix with hot whole wheat pasta (the sauce can’t really be heated up – avocados don’t do well with heat.)

(Sauce only, nutrition info for pasta not factored in)
Calories: 314
Fat: 27 grams (like I said, heart-healthy fats!)
Carbs: 14 grams
Protein: 9 grams

Now for the Vegetarian Meatballs. It’s weird that I made these because I’ve never had real meatballs, not even when I ate meat. But the idea came to me and I just went with it. They turned out yummy!

1 15.5 ounce can of white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 of a medium sized onion, cut into wedges
1-2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1-2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
3 handfuls of fresh Kale
1 teaspoon olive oil plus more for blending
Salt and pepper to taste
One egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or old-fashioned oats

Heat 1 teaspoon of oil and saute kale in frying pan. Cover with a lid to allow it to wilt slightly. You might need to add a little water in the pan to keep it from getting too crunchy. Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, mash the beans with a fork or potato masher. Add the beans, onion, garlic, Parmesan cheese, wilted kale, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and a little sprinkle of olive oil in a food processor; blend until smooth. Put this mixture in the bowl you used to mash the beans. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg then add to bean mixture. Finally, add the breadcrumbs or oats and stir well to combine. Form into 8 balls. You can either make them right away or freeze them. I made these yesterday afternoon and froze them, then popped them in the oven for 15-20 mins at 350 degrees, flipping halfway through. This afternoon, I fried them in some olive oil (not calculated in nutrition information), which makes them taste even more awesome, but it increases the calories and grams of fat. Keep that in mind!

(One meatball)
Calories: 135
Fat: 3 grams
Carbs: 19 grams
Protein: 8 grams

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YUM.

Healthy Snack Ideas

Most days I have a mid-morning snack, afternoon snack and something after dinner. I (try to, at least) stay away from things like crackers and pretzels because once I start, I can’t stop. Even if I get one serving on a plate, put the box away and sit at the table, I go back for more. I’m addicted. I like to have mini-meals that fill me up so that I’m not tempted to graze until the next meal. Other times, it’s just raw fruits or vegetables, which is a great option. Fruits and vegetables with a high water content have been shown to curb hunger, which means you’re likely to eat less during your mealtimes. Despite what you may have been told, drinking water does not have the same effect of satiety that eating high water content freggies does. Lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, celery, cucumbers, radishes, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower are some examples of vegetables with a high water content. Some fruits with a high-water content are strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, apples and grapefruit. So basically, snack on fruits and veggies!

When I want my mini-meals, I have to be careful. A mini-meal can turn into a big meal if you don’t pay attention to your portion sizes. Just like any other meal, I try to have a fruit or veggie and combine healthy fats, protein and carbs. Some good snack options that won’t leave you hungry an hour later:

Banana or apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter
Plain greek yogurt topped with 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit and 1/2 ounce nuts
Veggies with 2 tablespoons of hummus
Cottage cheese prepared in a number of ways – with fruit, vegetables, all sorts of things
Veggie egg white omelet
Grilled cheese sandwich (I always make mine with no butter and part-skim mozzarella)

Happy snacking!

Vegetable Lasagna

Boyfriend requested Vegetable Lasagna for dinner last night, to which I replied, “Sure, why not?” I had never made lasagna, so I had NO IDEA that it would take FOR-FREAKING-EVER between boiling the noodles, prepping the veggies and assembling the entire thing, AND I was doing dishes for what felt like a lifetime. The entire time, I kept telling him, “YOU BETTER LIKE THIS LASAGNA, OR ELSE I’M NEVER MAKING DINNER FOR YOU AGAIN.” But it was worth all of the work because it was ahhhhhh-mazing. Boyfriend thought so too. I gave myself a well-deserved pat on the back.

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I didn’t really keep track of any measurements when I made this. (Oops?) But I used an entire box of Ronzoni Healthy Harvest lasagna noodles, a 16 ounce block of whole milk mozzarella (cheaper than shredded), an entire batch of my homemade marinara (recipe posted below), maybe 4-5 ounces of reduced fat Ricotta, 2-3 cups fresh chopped broccoli, 2-3 cups kale, a small thing of sliced mushrooms, half of red bell pepper and half of a green bell pepper chopped into smaller pieces. And then I just did the whole layering business. Sauce on the bottom, noodles, veggies, sauce, cheese, noodles, veggies, sauce, cheese. Or something like that. I winged it. And it was good.

I’m not a fan of store-bought marinara, so I always make my own:
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4-1/2 cup EVOO
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2-1 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic and Italian seasoning in olive oil in a stock pot on low for 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for at least an hour. The more it simmers, the better it will taste! Stir occasionally and add salt and pepper to taste. (Tip: if your pot isn’t very deep, invest in a splatter screen OR if you’re cheap like me and don’t want to buy one, poke lots of holes in a piece of aluminum foil and place over the pot. BOOM. Makeshift splatter screen.)

Now it’s time for some football! Between the 49ers and Falcons, I really don’t care who wins. I’ll root for either one in the Superbowl. I’m just crossing my fingers that the Ravens beat the Patriots. As a Giants fan, I would not be happy seeing the Patriots in the Superbowl.

Where do I start? Part 1: Nutrition

Losing weight is incredibly frustrating. It sounds easy – eat less, move more. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. There is simply too much (and often contradicting) information out there. In this entry, I want to give you some tips on getting started with the nutrition side of weight loss.

Weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% fitness. Many people believe that they can simply exercise and lose weight. But think about it, which one is easier? Eating 300 calories or burning 300 calories through exercise? Eating, of course! Nutrition is, in my opinion, the hardest part of losing weight.

The first step to losing weight is setting a realistic goal. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your goal. Don’t try to lose 20 pounds in one month because it’s pretty far from realistic, and unless you have a lot of weight to lose, it may not even happen. Aim to lose no more than 2 pounds per week. Some weeks you may lose a few pounds, some weeks you’ll lose nothing. Once you have your goal and a date you want to reach your goal, find an online nutrition tracker (I use SparkPeople.com, and I love it. MyFitnessPal.com and LiveStrong.com are also good ones. And they’re all free.) that will give you an accurate amount of calories you need to consume to reach your goal. (Your level of physical activity is also factored into that equation. If you exercise a lot, you will probably need to eat more. If you’re a SparkPeople member, you can manually enter the amount of calories you burn each week, which will automatically fix your nutrition tracker to reflect your level of physical activity. I’m sure you can do the same with MFP and LS.)

Eating a balanced diet is important. Your body needs carbs, fats and proteins. 45-65% of your calories should come from carbohydrates, 20-35% should come from fat and 10-35% should come from protein. If you use an online calorie counter, your nutrition tracker will (at least it should) give you a range of how many grams of each macronutrient (carb, fat, protein) you should aim for.

Okay, so now what? Here comes the fun part: counting calories and weighing and measuring your food (NOT eyeballing). Yes, it’s tedious, it can be REALLY annoying, but it’s a highly effective way of losing weight. Online calorie counters have made it pretty painless most of the time. You also have to make an effort to read nutrition labels. The most importance pieces of information on a nutrition label are the serving size and the amount of servings in each package. When you read the label for Poptarts, they don’t seem THAT bad in terms of nutrition. But did you know that there are two servings in a package of Poptarts? Who leaves the second Poptart in the package all by its lonesome? I never did. One 20 ounce bottle of soda is 2.5 servings. But again, how many people stop at one serving?

Like I said before, a balanced diet is important. The best way to achieve a balanced diet is make each MEAL balanced. Each meal should have a combination of lean protein, healthy fats and carbs (whole wheat is better than white). Sometimes this can be hard, but if you divide your ranges by the number of times you eat per day, you’ll have a range for each macronutrient and number of calories you should aim for each meal. We’ll use my ranges as an example. My calorie range is 1,540 to 1,890. If I eat 5 times a day, I should aim for 308-378 calories each meal. My range for carbs is 173-307 grams. Divide that by 5, my range for each meal is 35-61 grams. My range for fats is 35-75. Divided by 5, my range for each meal is 7-15 grams. My range for protein is 60-165. Divided by 5, my range is 12-33 grams. Like I said, this could be difficult to get each macronutrient in this range for every meal, and it can require a lot of planning on your part.  Do your best to eat a balanced diet. You’ll get the hang of it if you continue improving your diet overtime, which leads me to my next point.

Do not try to overhaul your diet in one day. It is recommended to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. If you’re not a big fan of fruits and vegetables, don’t force yourself to eat anything you don’t want to eat. That said, try new foods and/or prep them in a way that you can enjoy them. The other day, I tried kale for the first time in the form of kale chips. I never thought I would enjoy kale. Make small changes in your diet continuously a few times each week. If you have a big, fat bagel slathered in butter and cream cheese for breakfast (mmm), swap that out for 100% whole wheat bread (read ingredients. If the first ingredient is not 100% whole wheat flour, then it’s not 100% whole wheat bread.), 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and a banana. (Look at that! A balanced meal!) If you eat a lot of red meat, swap that out for chicken, fish or even meatless meals with legumes. If you enjoy Alfredo sauce on your pasta (who doesn’t love a creamy Alfredo sauce?), opt for marinara sauce instead. You can still enjoy all of your favorite foods, but do so in moderation. Finding healthy alternatives is a great way to enjoy something that is similar to your favorite indulgences. I’ll elaborate at a later date on some of my favorite healthy alternatives.

Drinking plenty of water is important, not only for weight loss, but for a number of bodily functions as well. The more hydrated you are, the faster your metabolism works. It is recommended to drink 8 8-ounce glasses of water each day. I drink from four 16 ounce bottles of water everyday, and I give myself 3 hours to drink each bottle. I start drinking water at 10am and I finish my last bottle by 10pm.

This is all incredibly overwhelming if you’re just starting out. I’m overwhelmed just typing all of this up. I hope some of  you have found this helpful. Tomorrow I will post Part 2: Fitness! I hope that won’t be as overwhelming.