toward the light


January is the month when most people who are inclined to, try to jump-start lifestyle changes by way of New Year’s resolutions, gym memberships, “dry January,” or any number of other regimens. But for us, January is a month still jam-packed with celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, and the accompanying (over)indulgence. By the time February rolls around, we are definitely ready to lighten things up a bit, to take stock of the past 12 (or 13!) months and to think about things we’d like to change or improve in the months ahead.

For the last four Februaries, I have been either pregnant or nursing a baby, and my main dietary focus was on giving those little creatures what they needed to grow healthy and strong. Prior to that… well, let’s just say that at times, I enjoyed my child-free lifestyle a bit too much. Now, at 43 years old, with two small children and a demanding job outside of the home, I’m really feeling the weight of it all.


When Mike and I first met, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. By the time we started dating a few months later, I had already begun to lose what would be a fairly substantial amount of weight, by making a few simple changes to my diet and activity level. Twelve years and two kids later, I’ve gained almost all of it back. It was a slow creep at first, but I’ve put on nearly 20 more pounds just since Mira’s birth.

I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and while I have some underlying health issues to work on too, this week, after coming up with a game plan, I kicked off a new regimen of my own. I’m only a few days in, and while the numbers on the scale haven’t budged, I’ve already noticed a marked improvement in the way I feel.


Like many people, I’ve never done well on a deprivation diet. What has worked for me in the past (and what I hope will work again) is to focus on adding things – whether more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, oily fish, or fermented foods – and replacing the bad or questionable stuff in my diet with better, more nutrient-dense items.


One of the best and worst things about living in New York is that you can get anything delivered to you. I’ve relied far too heavily on delivery services for breakfast and lunch at the office, and I think we can all agree that eating takeout at your desk while working is not an ideal way to work or to eat a meal.

So one of my goals when planning dinners for the week is to do so in such a way that leftovers can be incorporated into breakfast or lunches later in the week. (This is in no way revolutionary, but we aren’t great about working through leftovers, so having a plan for them is going to be key.) This week, Monday’s dinner was Martha Rose Schulman’s Polenta with Beans and Chard. The bean stew was delicious over polenta, and I used some of the leftover beans and chard to top a grain bowl for my lunch on Tuesday.


Mornings are just plain hectic at our house, no matter how we try to plan ahead for them. (Have you ever tried to pack a lunch the night before for a 3-year old?) Our current routine is that Mike wakes first, showers and gets ready for the day, and while I shower and dress, he fixes the kids (and himself) breakfast. Then he gets them dressed and ready while I sip something warm and get our lunches together.


In the past, I’d drink coffee, but since caffeine doesn’t really agree with me anymore, these days it’s a mug of warm lemon water. As far as my own breakfast, I’ve been packing a travel mug of miso soup to heat and sip when I get to my desk. It sounds weird, but it’s actually quite satisfying, and the miso is good for my gut – which needs all the help it can get these days.

Once I arrive at the office, I’m setting reminders to do two things: get up and stretch/move regularly, and drink more water. I always thought I drank a lot of water during the day, but I recently realized that when I get super busy and involved in a project, hours can pass before I get out of my chair or refill my bottle.

bean bowls

As for lunch, I still won’t always be able to get away from my desk to eat, but I want to work on at least eating better – whether it’s a meal that I brought from home (preferable), or better delivery choices (in a pinch). Those choices include the ubiquitous grain bowl, with beans or another lean protein, a ton of vegetables (I like a mix of fresh + roasted + fermented/pickled), and a zesty or spicy dressing; or a big crunchy salad (again, with lean protein). If we’re flush and I’m feeling splurgy, I’ll order my favorite sushi lunch from time to time.


And that brings us back to dinner.

For eight years now, I’ve been blogging about our dinners here, and over those eight years, we’ve definitely seen some changes in both what we eat and how we cook. Having kids has made a huge difference; having less time and money to spend on shopping and preparing meals has certainly had an impact on our choices and menus. And while I think Mike and I have shown that we’re pretty adventurous cooks, and the kids fairly decent eaters, we have definitely fallen into a food rut of late.


So my final food-related goal for this year is to move away from meat-focused fare, away from rich and starchy “comfort food” dishes, and to incorporate more plant-based foods into our dinners. There have been so many inspiring vegetarian and and “meat-lite” cookbooks released recently, and cuisines and ingredients I’ve been curious about – the time is ripe to explore them. After all, we love vegetables and beans and all sorts of grains – why not move them to the center of our plates?

12 thoughts on “toward the light

  1. You are on your way – it is those small changes that reap huge benefits in the long run. What worked for me, when I lost 30 pounds, was never letting myself get really hungry, depending on little protein snacks to keep my blood sugar up. Yes, drink that water, so easy for me to forget about…

    • Liz, I agree! I have a few things in my desk drawer, but I’m planning to stock up on a few more things. My current favorite snack is half a small avocado, divided up and spread on 2 Ryvita crackers, then sprinkled with sea salt and chile flakes or gomasio.

  2. You definitely have the right mindset to take this on, because personally I feel that the key to making a change like this that ultimately becomes sustainable in the long term is relegating some foods to “sometimes food” status while figuring out how to add in more vegetables into the daily rotation. It takes some patience, but you’ll get there!

    • Adding more vegetables is so key for me. My long-ago 65 lb. weight loss happened in large part because I made a point of having one big, veggie-packed salad a day. And I am happy to be patient – really looking at the long-term rather than for immediate results 🙂

  3. maya says:

    Good luck, and yes, you can pack a kids lunch the night before (and your own). I highly recommend it and do my lunch and two kids lunches every evening. your mornings will have more time and be more enjoyable! And since you are packing leftovers (as I do) you simply go from the pan right to the container.

    • Maya – trust me, I have tried! Unfortunately, J can be finicky, and a lunch we agreed upon the night before often just won’t fly by the next day, so I’ve decided to pick my battles and just prep his lunch in the morning for now. Maybe by the time he starts pre-K in the fall things will be different 🙂 I agree, though, it will save us a ton of time once we do get there!

  4. I’m on the same journey myself…I can’t believe how much I now relish snacking on fresh veggies and almonds instead of chips and cookies. Change is hard, but change is good. Your plan sounds both doable and delicious. Good luck!

    • Thank you! Almonds are a big favorite in our home as well – the kids love almond butter and jam sandwiches, and Mike and I will eat them out of hand or toss them onto a salad for a satisfying crunch. Good luck to you, too!

  5. Margit Van Schaick says:

    Recently, there was an article in the “New York Times” about a study that showed that it is really important to eat all food within a 12-hour window of time, including that new lemon water morning drink. Apparently it makes all the difference in whether one gains weight or not! Your ideas for healthful changes are very sound. Establishing new habits (like getting up from your desk every 1/2 hour or so), takes a bit of time, but the pay-off is huge. Maybe you actually need to use a timer of sorts as a reminder–I think it’s that important– for circulation, and so much else. I practiced portion control by experimenting, figuring out just what a handful of polenta or rice looks like. Another tip is that when you eat your original helping, and really want more, if you wait ten minutes, the craving goes away. I have that feeling frequently after eating oatmeal. Veggies of all kinds are wonderful– I find that soups are the easiest way to eat lots of them. Anyway, with your awesome skills as a cook, I know that you not only have the ability to succeed at your goals, but if you take us along the journey, you can help so many who are dealing with the same issues.

    • Margit – I’m going to have to look up that article, thank you! We struggle sometimes to get the grown ups’ dinner on the table before 9 p.m., especially on nights when I get home from work late. Our weekly schedule is still fairly fluid, but as the kids get older and more into similar routines, I think things will improve. I think having a good meal plan for the family, plus prepping things ahead of time on the weekends or the night before, is going to be so helpful for all of us!

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