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The Flat Belly Diet and Dinners for One

July 14, 2010

My husband works in a restaurant. For those of you who don’t know what that means, let me put it this way: My husband works very odd hours, so often I find myself cooking dinner for one.

I’m handy enough in the kitchen, but most of the recipes in the cookbooks I own make 4-6 servings, or whatever. We occasionally make something like that for his days off, and eat the leftovers later, but if I made a meal of 4-6 servings every day, our kitchen would be over-run with leftovers and we wouldn’t know what to do with them all. Besides that, I’m not so ambitious to want to make a full-blown meal every night. Most of the time I just want something small, simple, and easy. The only catch: with the exception of Annie’s mac and cheese, I don’t do boxed or canned meals. They’re too full of sodium as well as other industrial food stuffs that I don’t like to put into my body. But what’s one person to do?

Enter the Flat Belly Diet.

You may have heard of it. Or know someone who’s doing it or considered doing it. Or seen it on the shelves of your local store. It’s a bright yellow book, so it’s hard to miss, and I’ve heard it mentioned many times in the last few months. As eye-catching as the book is, the ideas contained within are the really remarkable thing about it.

Here’s the basic premise:

You eat 1600 calories every day in the form of four meals (this is for women; for men the caloric count is slightly higher).

That’s 400 calories a meal, and each meal must contain a full serving of the MUFA (mono-unsaturated fatty acid) of your choice. A MUFA can be anything from a handful of almonds to 1/4 c of avocado to a few Tbsp of olive oil to a couple pieces of dark chocolate.

The MUFA takes up 70 to 244 of your calories for each meal, and then you have to build something around that. If you’re not feeling terribly creative, there are plenty of recipes in the book, and the authors even provide ideas for a few healthy options if you’re eating out. The diet is really effective, and I can say this from personal experience. Almost my entire family is using it (one set of my parents, my aunt and uncle, my cousin and her partner, my sister, and my husband and myself) and it’s provided really great results for all of us.

What does this have to do with making dinner for one? Well, for one thing, when you have to concentrate on the constraint of 400 calories in a meal it makes coming up with food ideas that much more of a challenging, and therefore more interesting. Where I used to be content to stick any old thing in my mouth as a form of sustenance when my husband was at work (from PB&J to ramen with egg to cold cereal), now I actually am creative about my meals, and they’re better for me, which is great.

Take tonight’s dinner, for example.

I had a few leftovers from a dinner gathering we had over the weekend, where we served tacos and burritos. I had brown rice, pulled chicken, and chopped tomatoes and lettuce left over.


1 c steamed brown rice = 110 calories
1 1 oz cube of cheese, grated = 110 calories
1/4 c avocado = 96 calories
1/3 boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked in salsa and shredded = 60 calories
1/2 c tomatoes = negligible
1/2 c lettuce = negligible

Total: 376 calories, give or take.


I warmed up the rice on the stove with a bit of water (better than in the microwave, because it doesn’t get hard).
To make the chicken, I originally cooked three boneless, skinless chicken breasts in on 10? oz. bottle of salsa in a Crockpot for four hours on high (six hours on low). I heated up the leftovers on the stove. (We don’t own a microwave.)

I put the rice and cheese in a bowl, and topped it with the chicken so the cheese would melt.

I cut a small avocado in half, cutting half-inch slices into the flesh and spooning it out of the rind. (Fun fact: half of a small avocado is very close to 1/4 of a cup. Makes the Flat Belly math very easy. ^_^)

I placed the tomatoes and lettuce on top of the chicken and topped the whole thing with avocado. If I had known how delicious it was going to be, I would have taken a picture so you could see the final look. And the best part? It was so much more fun to make (and to eat) than a bowl of cereal, and almost as fast.

Besides actually slimming you down (a job that many “diets” aren’t actually very successful at), I think the fact that the Flat Belly Diet makes coming up with meals a creative act is one of its greatest benefits. It makes it fun to prepare food, even if you’re just serving one person. You can mix and measure this that or the other together and experiment to see what you can come up with.

And it makes it easier to cook at home, too. I know that if I have some brown rice, beans or chicken, cheese, and an assortment of vegetables in my fridge at any given time, I can put together a tasty meal. I’ve taken to stocking nuts and other healthy snacks in my pantry, and always having a few avocados on hand, just for fun. And any given week I can change up what basic meal parts I have on hand for a completely different flavor profile. I highly recommend it, especially if you have only yourself to feed, but even if you aren’t cooking for one.

Finally Made it to Colorado

June 26, 2010

We’ve officially been in Denver for a week, and my apartment’s almost unpacked (we need more bookshelves) and I’m applying for jobs. The entrepreneurial “self-employed” thing is going to have to play second fiddle to a “real” job for a little while here while I get my feet under me and figure out where to go next.

Ideally I would figure out a way to get a few more clients so I could continue working from home as a VA while I build my personal finance business and blog… but in order for that dream to become a reality, I need to figure out a way to pay the bills for a while, so that’s the current plan.

I went to my first ever meetup today, which was a fun and interesting experience. The MeetUp is a group for women with big aspirations in search of like-minded individuals and it was very interesting. I met a wonderful woman about my age with whom I hope to become friends, and talking with everyone else was really great. Strangely, in a group of 8 women, most of whom were several decades older than myself, I was the only married woman. I thought that was sort of funny.

Now I have to decide if I want to unpack more boxes, stare mindlessly at the TV for an hour, or go to bed and read…. I’m already on the couch, so the TV might win, but we’ll see.

The Price of Cheap Food

June 8, 2010

I’m re-reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I had forgotten how sad and frustrated it makes me about the current Agricultural situation in… well, at least in America.

Over the last fifty or sixty years, we have been pushing the edge of the envelope on science, technology, and, among other things, food production. I appreciate many of the advancements that have come out of this time of technological advancement and prosperity. I’m typing this on a laptop computer that weighs less than four lbs and stores more than 250 gigs of data, I going to upload it to the internet, which I can no longer live without (or so it feels), where potentially millions of people could read it. I have a cell phone and flat-screen TV and cable and DVDs and all of the other modern conveniences turned “necessities.”

I’m not saying I want to turn back the clock on any of those things, necessarily (although there is a strong argument for doing so), but when it comes to food, I often wonder if we’ve pushed too far, too fast, without stopping to think about the consequences.

Just because we can grow 180 bushels of corn on one acre of soil doesn’t mean we should, especially when it means pumping artificial pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals into the environment.

Just because we can cram cows and pigs and chickens into small pens and boxes and feed them corn and other refuse doesn’t mean we should, especially when it means feeding them things they have never evolved to digest, and having to pump them full of antibiotics and chemicals to keep them “healthy” long enough to kill them.

Just because we have the scientific know-how to extract things like High Fructose Corn Syrup and Xantham Gum from a kernel of corn, doesn’t mean we should, especially when it means Food is losing ground in grocery stores around the world to “food-like” substances like Margarine and “fat free” anything and Doritos and soda and cereal with Omega-3s.

Just because we have the scientific know-how to modify the basic make-up of our plants at a microscopic level doesn’t mean we should, especially when we have no concept of how the affectively mutated genes will effect the people who consume them.

The hopeful, optimistic part of me looks at where technology has brought us in terms of food production and hopes that we open our eyes and decide to take a collective step back. I have the sinking suspicious that we’re getting dangerously close to “too late,” where we won’t be able to sustain the farm subsidies that are producing more corn than we know what to do with and driving countless farmers into debt. Where we won’t be able to sustain the feed lots with their overflowing manure lagoons and the risk of antibiotic-resistant bugs, not to mention the unhealthy, artificial, food-like byproducts of excess corn and soybeans that are slowly killing us all.

For those of you who haven’t read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (or don’t remember the specifics), here’s a rough, paraphrased recap of the problem with feed lots.

Feed lots exist because we have excess corn (which arises from farm subsidies, which are only pushing farmers more and more into debt). Nature abhors excess, so we feed the excess corn to the cows to make them fatter faster, and therefore cheaper. We’ve been trained over the years to want cheap meat, as much as possible.

The only problem is that cows weren’t designed to eat corn, so when they do, they get sick. When they get sick, instead of looking at the problem and saying, “Huh, maybe we shouldn’t feed them corn,” we say, “Maybe if we pumped them full of antibiotics that would fix it.” So now we have cows getting too fat too quickly on food they’re not designed to eat, and they’re pumped full of antibiotics to keep them healthy. None of that spells good things for the people who consume the meat of those cows, because unhealthy, too fat meat leads to unhealthy, too fat people.

Then of course, there is the other problem with having all of those cows in one place: manure. Gallons upon gallons of manure that we can’t do anything with because it has too much nitrogen and chemicals to use on our crops, which is what we used to do with it. So instead it sits in rank pools, a now-toxic hazard that we have no way to dispose of.

And then there’s the oil problem. Because we can’t put the manure on the crops, we have to create artificial fertilizers, which come, in part, from oil. And because the cows are no longer on the farms, we have to use oil in the form of gasoline to get the corn to the feed lots. And because we no longer eat what can be grown locally, we use oil in the form of gasoline to get the food from the slaughterhouses to our grocery stores.

I just want to take the whole complex, back-assward system and shake it and say “Keep it simple, stupid!!” What used to be a self-contained, ecologically friendly cycle drawing on the infinite resources of the sun is now a broken-down, messy, ecologically unfriendly cycle drawing on the finite resources of fossil fuels.

Cows evolved to eat grass, which gets its nutrients from the sun. When cows eat grass they grown more slowly (which means their meat is more expensive), but they are healthier. When they eat grass they don’t have to be pumped full of antibiotics and other chemicals and hormones, which means that their manure can be used to fertilize the farmland on which our crops are grown. When we use manure to fertilize our crops, we don’t have to use artificial fertilizers, which therefore don’t pollute the surrounding environment.

It seems to me that if we went back to grazing cattle on grass instead of stuffing them with corn, almost all of the problems associated with the massive corn farms and feed lots would be solved. We would have to convert some land back to grassland, so we wouldn’t have as much corn, which would cut down on the excess. We would have healthier, if more expensive meat, but there are studies that show that we shouldn’t eat as much meat as we do in the first place, so that’s not a bad thing. The consequences would be further reaching than I can adequately describe in the space of this blog post, but even though there would be short-term inconvenience associated with the transfer of cattle back to grassland, the long-term benefits would far outweigh them.

And that’s just cattle. You can make the same argument for chickens and pigs. That’s what they’re doing at a farm in Virginia called Polyface Farm. They’ve been around since the early sixties, and are very successful.

This is the story of Polyface Farms:

In 1961, William and Lucille Salatin moved their young family to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, purchasing the most worn-out, eroded, abused farm in the area near Staunton. Using nature as a pattern, they and their children began the healing and innovation that now supports three generations.

Disregarding conventional wisdom, the Salatins planted trees, built huge compost piles, dug ponds, moved cows daily with portable electric fencing, and invented portable sheltering systems to produce all their animals on perennial prairie polycultures.

Today the farm arguably represents America’s premier non-industrial food production oasis. Believing that the Creator’s design is still the best pattern for the biological world, the Salatin family invites like-minded folks to join in the farm’s mission: to develop emotionally, economically, environmentally enhancing agricultural enterprises and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.

The moral is this:

Put the animals back on the farm. Re-establish the balanced ecosystem of the small farm that has been refined over the last several hundred years. No, you wouldn’t be able to farm 900 acres with just a few men and a tractor, but we’re coming out of an economic recession, and people need jobs. Why not take a step back from the cutting edge of technology, not because we have to, but because we choose to. I’m not saying we should disregard technological advancements, I’m just saying that we should make an active choice, instead of just doing the newfangled thing “because we can.”

I don’t know what it would take, exactly, to feed the nation, or the world, on what we can grow on small family farms like Polyface. I don’t know if we could produce enough food to feed ourselves if we took all of the fields that are devoted to corn and soybeans, most of which humans never eat in that form, and transformed the land back into the type of farm that existed at the turn of the 20th century. But I think it would be worth-while to explore the option. I think it would be healthier for us, for our environment, and for our country, not least because it would mean one less tie to oil, and therefore one less reason to send our troops to the Middle East to die, and one less reason to risk polluting our planet with the next oil spill.

Curve balls and Life…

May 25, 2010

My husband and I have been planning to move to Colorado for more than a year. We almost did move last August, but there was no job for Ben out there at that time, and we weren’t ready anyway.

Since August 2009, we have been waiting on word from his job that they could transfer him out there, which they said would be not a problem, but couldn’t say when. For a while we weren’t even sure that it was going to happen this year, and then Ben’s Regional Manager said it would definitely happen by fall, maybe as early as August, and maybe as late as October.

Okay, three month range. Great. :-\

Then someone (who didn’t really have the power to make the decision, but was higher up in the company) said it could be as soon as July, which was a crazy, thought but exciting. Now the time frame ranged from July to October, and I didn’t even know how to think about that. My cousin, wise woman that she is, suggested that I have a plan ready for any eventuality — from moving in two weeks, to moving in four months.

I didn’t quite go to that extreme, because the likelihood of them transferring us out there before August just seemed so remote. What I did do is get everything ready to make the final preparations.

I had figured out a plan once before, last June and July before we realized that moving was never going to happen that August, but I needed to update it. I re-established what stores he might be transfered to out there. I re-found apartments in the area that fit our price range, space requirements, and distance from family and his potential place of employment. I got another quote from the moving company we were thinking of using. I confirmed the route that we might use to get there, and what stops we might make along the way. I started funneling more money toward our steadily growing Moving Fund, which I had diligently been putting half our extra cash toward since August last year (the other half of the cash had been going toward paying down debt).

The stage was set, as much as it could be without a specific date. We had a slowly growing pile of money, places we might live, a moving company… we were as ready as ready could be.

Or so I thought.

Ben got a call yesterday from the Regional Manager out in Colorado. This Regional Manager informed him that there was an opening for him at one of two stores, and they’d really loved to see him out there June 7th or 14th. June 7th or 14th. As in 13 days from today, potentially. As in three weeks from today, alternately.

*Woosh* Holy shit, where’d that curve ball come from?!

So now what? Do we take it? Do we say “Thanks, but is there a possible move in July or August” instead?

There are so many things we were going to do this summer before we left, when we thought we had a few months in stead of a few weeks. We were planning to spend more time with his sisters and brother, not to mention his parents. We were planning to go see some of the majors sites in Michigan before we left. I was planning to be more established in my self-employed job before we left, so we had more guaranteed income when we got there.

And if we do take the offer, do we have enough money? Can we find a place to live in two-three weeks? Can I find a job quickly enough to help pay our increased bills? What exactly is it going to cost to get out there?

Yikes. I have no doubt that we’ll figure it out, one way or another. I really am pretty prepared, even though it would have been nice to have more than two weeks. This was going to happen sooner than later, and it’s possible that we never would have been more ready than we are now, with the exception of financially. I just don’t know.

This is exciting, and terrifying. Wish us luck.

Backsliding And What To Do About It…

May 24, 2010

Backsliding is frustrating, but it’s something we all fall prey to. When changing behavior patterns, in my case building willpower, a little backsliding is expected. Almost inevitable. Usually, for me, it means I’ve taken on too much too fast.

Two weeks ago, just about everything I’d been making progress on stopped.

  • I was posting on this blog 3x / week. I stopped.
  • I was going to bed at 11 pm and getting up at 7 am. That stopped. (The earliest I got to bed was midnight, and the earliest I got up was 8:30 am.)
  • I was working diligently toward the creation of a new website. That stopped, too.

The only personal thing that I kept doing was working out every morning. I did not, however, keep walking in the afternoons. I wanted to. I just didn’t.

Fortunately, when it came to my clients and other people for whom I was working, my willpower hardly flagged. But my workload almost doubled last week, which was the cause of the backsliding on the personal side. It’s all about balance, and as a new business person finding balance is the hardest part. Something had to give, and I wasn’t about to let it be the work I was doing for my clients, so something else had to.

So, once we’ve backslid, what happens next? What can we do? Well, the way I see it, there are two choices:

  1. We can give up and stop trying. Accept that we won’t be able to accomplish the thing that we want to accomplish, and doing something less challenging.
  2. We can get back on the proverbial horse.

The first choice usually isn’t made consciously, it often happens slowly, and is distressingly easy to fall prey to. As we all learned from Newton, “An object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force.” Friction is the most common “outside force” for physical objects in the world, but for personal challenges — like building willpower, or exercising, or losing weight — the Resistance (a concept I found in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art) is the primary “outside force” that steals our momentum. Except that it’s actually internal, but that’s neither here nor there.

The first choice of the two above is the easiest choice, but it’s rarely the right choice. Since it’s rarely a conscious choice, we need to actively guard against it. (Like getting on a scale once a week to make sure that, even if you’re not making noticeable progress toward your goal weight, you’re at least not sliding backward.) Getting back on that proverbial horse is much harder, but is the more rewarding choice in the long run. Even if it’s been two days, or a week, or a month, or even a year since you last did the thing you wanted to do, get up, get “back on that horse,” and get your momentum back.

That’s what I did. I was in bed by 11 pm last night. I didn’t fall asleep until midnight, because I’d gotten back into the habit of being awake later, but I didn’t read, and I had the light off. I woke up at 7 am this morning, despite my body’s protests. I didn’t get up until 7:30, but small steps forward still count. Obviously, since you’re reading this, I posted on my blog.

The other thing that slipped that I will need to get back to is working toward that new website I mentioned. Here is where I’m going to encounter the most Resistance, because it’s something exciting and scary that I really want to do. Wish me luck, and I wish you the best of luck in continuing to do the things you want to do, even if they’re hard, or scary, or you feel the Resistance trying to slow you down.

It’s official, I’ve opened the virtual doors…

May 17, 2010

So, things have been a little quite on my blog here, primarily because I’ve been busy putting together my website:

I’ve been working as a VA (Virtual Assistant) for several people over the last few months, and I decided to go for it and offer my unique services to anyone who might need or want them. Basically, I do everything I can to make my clients’ lives simpler, and to help them get more done each day.

I’m really excited about it, and hope that I’ll be able to help a lot of people, and that I’ll be able to support my family. is my first website, and my first business, so I know there’s a possibility that it won’t succeed. Most entrepreneurs have many more failures than successes, especially at first, because it takes time and perseverance to make it work. But, there’s also the possibility that it’ll be wildly successful, which would be amazing. All I can do is try, right?

And, if this particular business doesn’t work, I’ll just have to try my hand at something else. I’m just excited to be self-employed and on my way to being a successful entrepreneur.

Wish me luck, and if you know anyone who could use a helping hand, point ’em my way.

Reading The War of Art and my Anti-Resume Experiment

May 3, 2010

On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up a book I’d been meaning to read for several months, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

For those of you who don’t know, the Resistance is that little voice in the back of our mind that tells us not to step out of line, not to do anything that might make us look foolish, not to take the risk. I first heard of it in Seth Godin’s Linchpin, where he also refers to it as the Lizard Brain.

I got about six pages in, with him talking about “The Resistance’s Greatest Hits” and I had to get up and write this post. Already this is turning out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read.

This is a post about my Anti-Resume Experiment, the third section of which was supposed to have gone up on Friday at 10 am. I stalled out because I got half-way through creating the Anti-Resume, and got stuck. Being stuck and not knowing how to move forward (the definition of “stuck”), I stopped. I did other things.

On Saturday, the day after my self-imposed deadline, I thought, “I could always post my anti-resume on Monday, or even today, and get people’s feedback on it.” My cousin, a wonderful sounding board, even agreed that it was a brilliant idea and I should do it.

I converted the anti-resume to PDF, started the blog post, and then got stuck. And stopped. And did other things.

… I’m sensing a pattern here. Something doesn’t want me to post this anti-resume, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that it’s my Resistance.

So, I’m posting today. At 4:30 pm. Which is six hours later than I normally try to do my tri-weekly posts. But I didn’t post anything this morning, so we’ll just call today an off day and run with it.

Here is their job description:

Title: Store Manager
Job Specifications: We are now hiring and training the Managers who will become our Stores Managers and District Managers in the near future. Just as we offer our customers the widest range of quality housewares and home furnishings, we offer energetic and ambitious individuals a wide range of outstanding opportunities, an incredible sense of loyalty, and the ability to grow with a proven leader. We offer competitive salaries and a comprehensive benefit package.
Job Requirements: Successful candidates with retail management experience – Department Manager, Store Manager, District Manager or any level in between – will be given the opportunity for unlimited advancement via our “promote from within” program.

Thing 1: I don’t have retail management experience. I have project management experience, and people management experience, and retail experience, but no retail management experience. Hmmm….

Thing 2: This is a job posting for a Store Manager. Not a Department Manager. I don’t really care, I’m still going to send in the anti-resume, but it will be interesting to see how / if they respond because of that.

Here is the file of what I have so far: Bed, Bath, and Beyond Anti-Resume

Keep in mind that this is an Anti-Resume. I purposely broke several of the “rules” for a resume. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to keep / change yet, but I’d love any input that anyone might have. Ideally, I’d like to have the anti-resume in the mail by Friday, May 7.

Here are some aspects of being a manager that my cousin shared with me (she would know, since she is one):

  1. the ability to balance multiple priorities, knowing which to work on and which to drop, if necessary;
  2. the ability to work with people of many different talents/backgrounds/abilities/communication types, etc.;
  3. the ability to get people to do things while still being respected/liked by those people;

I’m trying to figure out how to explain the qualities that I have that would make me a good manager.

Number 1: I know I can handle multiple priorities, as well as knowing what to work on and what to drop, partially because of my current exploits as an entrepreneur, but also because of my last few jobs.

While I was working at the theatre, I was in charge of figuring out what we had to work on, when it had to be done, and how important each thing was relative to everything else.

When I was working in the financial advisor’s office, I learned how many things I can juggle and stay sane (four-six, so long as they don’t all have to happen at the same time), but I don’t know if that’s a good reference to use because I ultimately was given ten or twelve things to juggle at the same time (all of them with the same urgency, apparently, which was completely unrealistic), and therefore crashed and burned. But I learned that I can handle multiple priorities, just not more than that. ^_^

Number 2: I have always excelled at working with people of many different backgrounds, abilities, and communication types. I am fascinated by what makes people different, and can usually pretty easily gauge people’s strengths and weaknesses, and see how they would fit together as a team. The last time I did that in such a way that I have concrete proof, however, was in college.

I did similar things like this when I was working at the fabric store I worked at, but never “officially.” So how do I prove that I have those qualities?

Number 3: I struggle the most with getting people to do what I need them to while having them still like me. The problem is not them liking me, the problem is that I’m not always firm enough in my requests. Often being wishy-washy (“It would be really great if you could…” instead of “Please do…”) is more detrimental than just bossing people around. I would need to work on this one, but I know that it’s not my strongest suit, and I have made a conscious effort to improve myself in this area.

But again, the question arises, how do I exhibit that in the form of an anti-resume?

I will have to continue to think on these things. Again, if you have any thoughts, I’m open to suggestions.