Whenever I meet people, the question I get asked the most is “But… you bake. How do you stay skinny?” I typically laugh and make a lighthearted joke about how I eat brownies and salads. But as I continue to get asked this question time and time again, I figure it’s time to share with you all how I stay in shape as a professional baking blogger.
So first things first. I do not like the word “skinny.” It has a connotation of unhealthiness. “In shape,” on the other hand, means being slim while still enjoying a healthy and active lifestyle. Though to someone else, in shape could mean your “I just lost 20 pounds” self. It could also mean having a BMI in the “normal” range (whatever that is). The point is, these are my definitions, and I understand that being in shape is different for everyone.
Secondly, I do not diet. I just don’t believe in it. The word “diet” itself is awful. It insinuates doing something different than your typical eating routine. For me, the most important thing in being and staying in shape is finding eating and active routines that are long-term and consistently work for you.
Last, I am sharing what I’ve found works for me. This may not work for everyone. But after years of feeling anxious around food, I can finally say with confidence that food no longer feels like a push and pull of indulgence and restriction.
PART 1: CREATING ROUTINE
For me, establishing a daily routine has taken a lot of the guesswork out of my hunger. Instead of walking to the kitchen and snacking on crackers, then 30 minutes later going back for a few slices of cheese and a bite (or five) of leftovers to tide myself over before mealtime, I make sure to give myself larger, filling meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then, I typically snack on something in the afternoon, and almost always eat dessert at night 🙂
In the morning, I make a smoothie. My most recent smoothie was inspired by a farm during my trip to Israel that makes daily smoothies using vegetables from their garden. My version has 3/4 cup frozen mango, 1 cup low-fat greek yogurt, 1 date, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 teaspoon bee pollen, and a big handful of curly parsley. It fills me up until lunchtime, and is loaded with protein and slow-release carbs. The chia provides great fiber, and the parsley is a great way to sneak in 550% of your Vitamin K and 50% of your Vitamin C. Even if I have this smoothie at 8:00am, it keeps me full until until noon.
For lunch, I toast 2 pieces of flaxseed bread, then spread them with low-fat canola mayo, dijon mustard, Whole Foods house-roasted turkey (the rosemary garlic one is amazing), avocado, tomatoes, and cilantro, eating the sandwich open-faced. I also have either an orange, apple, or asian pear, and chips.
I just LOVE chips. They are my vice. I always make sure to grab a full serving, too. By allowing myself a full serving instead of, say, 1/2 serving, I rarely feel a need to go back to the bag for more. Fun fact: my favorite chips are Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion. I’m obsessed.
This is really important in my keeping fit: I always give myself the full serving of chips or cookies or chocolate. I can’t tell you how many times in high school and college I would only cut myself a sliver of brownies, only to go back for 4 more slivers minutes later. When I ate this way, in the end I typically ended up eating more than if I had allowed myself the full brownie. By allowing myself a full serving of indulgent foods, mentally I don’t feel a need to reach for more afterwards.
For dinner, I typically like to make something filling but healthy. A few of my go-to dinners are:
–Skinny Chicken and Refried Bean Enchiladas (seriously these are amazing)
–Thai coconut curry soup (sometimes I’ll do shredded chicken instead of tofu)
–Spicy Peanut Chicken Soba Noodle Salad
–Butternut Squash Lentil Stew
–Spaghetti Squash Alfredo with Chicken + Caramelized Onions
I like having dinners on the healthier side, so that I can save room for dessert. Because I love dessert. And I know myself well enough to say that things like black bean brownies, while delicious, just don’t cut it for me. I need rich, chocolatey Triple Chocolate Fudge Pie or Salted Caramel Scotcheroos. So knowing that I’m going to indulge, I keep things a little lighter for dinner.
Just like at lunch, I make sure to give myself a full serving of dinner. If you’re figured it out by now, my biggest secret to staying healthy is allowing myself full servings of the things I love. And to be truthful, this does mean understanding that when I give myself a full serving of enchiladas or lentil stew with french bread, that is what I get and not more. Of course, if I’m truly feeling hungry after I eat everything on my plate, I will go back for more food. But before doing so, I ask myself whether I’m physically hungry or emotionally hungry. If it’s the latter, I try to wait 15 minutes, then see if it still persists. Usually, it doesn’t.
A few more habits I’ve developed that help with my eating:
-Drink tons of water (I have my water bottle on me at all times)
-Eat your veggies. Lots of them (in the summer, getting a CSA share is a GREAT way to eat fresh produce)
-Find a handful of bloggers that you can consistently rely on for meal inspiration (I love Lexi’s Clean Kitchen, Pinch Of Yum, and Ambitious Kitchen)
-Force yourself to meal plan (Alex and I do this every Sunday) so you know exactly what to get at the grocery store
-Cooking at least 3 meals a week at home (we aim for 4)
PART 2: BAKING
It’s no secret that I bake. A lot. In an average week, our apartment sees a batch of cookies, a cake, a quick bread, and muffins. And more.
So what do I do with it all? Honestly, I give a lot of what I make away. I’ll be the first to admit that eating baked goods all the time is not good for you. It’s a lot of flour, a lot of sugar, and a lot of butter. So I spread the love. I give it to our neighbors. I wrap some up for friends. Alex brings things to the hospital for his colleagues.
But at the same time, I eat everything (yes, everything) I make, just in moderation. Last week, I made the most amazing mocha cake. After photographing it, I sat down, cut myself a small slice, and savored every last bite. It was delicious. I wrapped up the rest of the cake, and accepted that that was my big dessert for the day. While I typically eat dessert after dinner, because I ate it during the afternoon, I opted for a small piece of dark chocolate that evening in order not overdo it on the sugar.
It’s worked out quite well that I bake so often, as my sweet cravings have actually decreased. It’s completely mental— because I know that I’m making ice cream tomorrow and coffee cake the following day, I don’t feel as much of a need to eat the brownie right in front of me. More will be in its place soon. It’s just like the saying “you want what you can’t have”; because I have sweets around me all the time, their appeal is less “omg I need that NOW NOM NOM NOM,” and more “this tastes delicious, I’m going to enjoy it.”
Even if you don’t bake every day, what this has taught me is that so much of our hungers are really cravings. This is especially true for me when it comes to baked goods. Like, my body doesn’t need a brownie. It may want a brownie, but it’s up to my mind to decide if that is the best thing to eat right then. Things I try to take into account before eating dessert:
–Am I really hungry? If not, I try to hold off for 30 minutes.
–Did I already have dessert that day? To be honest, the answer is usually yes, so if that’s the case, I am cautious about my serving size.
–Is this going to satisfy me? As in, is this really what I’m craving.
–If I eat this, will I enjoy it, or will I feel guilty about it afterwards? Am I looking for a quick taste of sugar, or do I really feel like this will round out my eating for the day.
Now I think it’s important to say that I don’t go through this checklist every time I eat dessert. But it’s a good guideline to consider before you dive into that cookie jar or reach for more oreos. There’s this idea that even just allowing your brain to become aware of certain things has the capacity to change your behaviors. So saying these things to yourself before you eat dessert is a good way to become more mindful of your eating practices, even if it doesn’t directly change the amount that you eat at that point in time.
My biggest takeaway with baking is that I make sure that what I’m eating is utterly delicious. One of my good friends always used to joke “ice cream doesn’t have calories.” For her, ice cream was so delicious that its caloric content just didn’t matter. I adopt a similar strategy in eating dessert: as long as I’m sticking to a normal serving, and as long as I am enjoying every bite, eating the brownie is worth it every. damn. time.
PART 3: WORKING OUT
Another important piece of me staying healthy as a baking blogger is working out. I’ve always been relatively active, but it wasn’t until 4 years ago when I tried a high-intensity vinyasa yoga that I got hooked on a long-term workout routine.
In the beginning, I pushed myself to go to yoga at least 3x week. And I could barely get through a class. My triceps shook every time I did a chaturanga, and it felt like my legs would never get strong enough to hold me in airplane pose for more than five seconds. But after about 4 weeks, I started feeling changes in my body. I saw definition in my triceps, and one-leg balancing postures became a breeze.
But after 2 years of going 3-4x week, yoga still wasn’t giving me the overall muscle definition that I wanted. I still found it hard to engage my stomach, and squats and lunges still caused my knees to shake. So I looked to another type of workout: HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, made especially popular by Kayla Itsines’ BBG series. You do it 3x week, and each day’s workout targets specific parts of your body (think arms & abs, legs & cardio, etc). The best part? It’s only four 7-minute sets, totaling 28 minutes of work. BBG is intense, but after just a few weeks I went from doing 7 to 15 pushups (real pushups, not knee pushups!) and saw my ab muscles more clearly than ever before.
Since then, I’ve been doing a mixture of high-intensity yoga and BBG, totaling 3-4 times a week. While all workouts have their strengths and weaknesses, I’ve found that this mixture of cardio and weight training provides the most complete workout for my body. It burns a decent amount of calories, but more importantly works my muscles and heart in a quick and effective way.
For me, working out is not something I do to burn calories. Thinking in that way will only lead to an unhealthy relationship with fitness. Instead, I think of working out is something I do to make my body- and my mind- stronger. The benefits are endless: I feel better about myself, I boost my endorphins and feel-good hormones, I get to binge-watch TV while I workout (heheh), and I’ve learned to be more in touch with my body.
OK now back to food. I always eat after I work out. It’s usually something like energy balls, peanut butter and an apple, or a granola bar. For my body, I’ve found that the best post-workout snack mixes carbs and fat. I honestly can’t tell you why this works for me, but it does. Of course, all bodies are different, so my biggest piece of advice is to really listen to what your body is craving post-workout, and give it something similar (Craving a burger? You may be needing iron. Craving bread? Get yourself some carbs!).
I won’t deny that it’s been a treat to work from home and workout whenever I please. But once upon a time I did have a “real job,” and was able to balance fitness and my work schedule. I found a yoga studio that was two blocks from my job, so that I could easily leave work and go work out.
If you’re struggling with fitting working out into your schedule, I would start by looking for a fitness studio or gym as close by to your work as possible. My sister does something similar- her gym is halfway between her work and her apartment. It makes it easier to get that hour of cardio or weights in after a long day. When you take away excuses, it’s hard to justify not doing something. You are completely in control of your destiny, whatever that may be. When you set yourself up for success, the rest will follow.
Next Sunday I’ll be posting my Go-To Yoga Routine, followed in a few weeks by my Go-To HIIT Routine. I’m so looking forward to sharing with you all my workouts!
PART 4: THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION
I think it’s safe to say that a lot of women have struggled in some way or another around food. I have gone through times in my life where I restricted myself to 600 calories a day (more on that in another post), and times when I relied on the cues of others to define my hunger (She’s eating a snack? Time for me to eat a snack too. He’s heating up nachos? Sure, I’ll have some).
The most important lesson I’ve learned around staying in shape is to let go a little bit. I try not to get upset with myself for eating more fries than I intended, or for eating drunk pizza at 2am, reminding myself that one meal does not define me. I push myself hard when I work out, so that I physically feel the absolute boss that my body can be. And I practice self-love. I give myself the flexibility to be imperfect. One of my favorite quotes is “and now that you don’t have to be perfect you can be good” (John Steinbeck, East Of Eden). It applies to most components of my life, eating included.
For example, I just got back from a week-long food tour of Israel. I’ve never eaten so much in my life. A few years ago I may have stressed out the entire week about the fact that we were eating so much. But before I left, I prepped myself, saying: I am going to be overeating this week by sheer definition of what we’re doing (a food tour. literally going from place to place eating food. so much food.). But it will be OK, and nothing bad is going to happen because of it. Find time to workout, and when you get home, go back to your routine.
When I got home, I did not restrict my food intake. I did not eat salads for the next week. I just went back into my routine, and moved on. And this week, I weighed myself (I do this 1-2x month) and I was the same weight I was before leaving on the trip. The point being, our bodies are capable of way more than we think.
My good friend The Healthy Maven told me something last week. She said that when she writes, she writes for her 15 year old self. For the girl who’s head was in ten different places at once. For the girl who could’ve gained from a little guidance. I hope that something in this post reached the girl or woman in you all, because you are beautiful and you deserve all the happiness in the world. You are a rockstar, and you have everything inside you to conquer the world.
Oh shit now I’m crying. GAH I LOVE YOU GUYS.