Monday, May 5, 2014

Recipe! Balsamic Strawberry Pizza

Over the weekend I went grocery shopping to stock up for week 2 of Tone It Up's Bikini Series (which you can read more about here) and while I had a ton of food, I had NO clue what I wanted to eat for lunch. I have been having a random craving for caramelized onions lately, so I knew I wanted to incorporate that, butttt how?!

Pizza. The answer is always pizza.

The next challenge was what else to put on it?! Balsamic glaze? Yes.  How do you even make a balsamic glaze?

Finally.. toppings?! I had eaten a balsamic fig flatbread type of pizza from my work that was AMAZING, but I didn't have any figs. Butttt I had strawberries. Why not, let's try it.

Put it all together..... *drumroll please*.....
Slightly time consuming, more so than I generally prefer, but worth it.

I ate a piece before I took the pic hehe

So here it is, my recipe for Balsamic Strawberry Pizza:

Caramelized onions
Side note: honestly. mine didn't turn out that well, I had JUST enough for the two mini pizzas I made after weeding out the severely burned ones, so feel free to google whatever recipe you think will turn out the best for you.

For the balsamic glaze:
1 Cup Balsamic vinegar
1/4 Cup brown sugar
(You'll end up with leftovers, so I poured the remainder into a small mason jar and stuck it in the fridge for the next time I make this because there definitely will be a next time.)

For the pizza:
2 whole wheat pitas, but next time I will make a bigger version and use Trader Joe's pre-made pizza crust (it's vegan)
1 Cup Trader Joe's Vegan Mozzarella Shreds (or adjust to your liking)
2 Large Strawberries sliced into several pieces
Big handful of arugula
1 Tbsp Olive oil

Directions: Start with caramelizing your onions, those take the longest. The balsamic glaze was super easy, in a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar and stir until the brown sugar is dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350. One the balsamic glaze is done, get your pitas and lightly coat them on both sides with olive oil. Get about 1 Tbsp (or more!) of the glaze and spread it on the pitas. Then layer the cheese, caramelized onions, and strawberries. Put both pitas on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes. Cheese should be bubbly and edges should be lightly browned. Once out of the oven, cut into 4 slices, throw a big handful of arugula on top and nom on those bad boys because you'll definitely eat both of them, even though one was supposed to be for your boyfriend.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bikini Series 2014!!!

Good morning and happy Monday! Today is no ordinary Monday though, it is the first day of Tone It Up's annual Bikini Series!
I've talked about Tone It Up in the past, and how their nutrition plan has helped me shed over 20 pounds over the last several months. The Bikini Series comes around once a year, and is an 8 week health and fitness challenge to get you into shape come summer! The best part is that it is open to everyone, you don't have to purchase their Nutrition Plan to participate (although, I HIGHLY recommend it). Last year I joined Tone It Up right in the middle of the Bikini Series, and although I didn't participate, it looked amazing! I knew this was something I wanted to be apart of in the future, so I'm so happy to dive in head first this year. 
I wanted to share my goals for the Bikini Series to help keep me accountable, and to have a place to look back and motivate myself if need be!

Goals for the Bikini Series 2014:
  • Lose at least 10 more pounds
  • Complete 100 By Summer (or more!)
  • Follow Tone It Up's eating guidelines
  • Morning workouts (aka Booty Calls) 3x a week AT LEAST!
  • Stay on track through my vacation in Texas
  • Limit my processed sugar intake
  • Do more yoga
My biggest downfall when it comes to living an active and healthy lifestyle would be consistency. I'm great at starting out, but as time goes by I find myself getting more lenient about what I eat and when I work out.  I'm also notorious for hitting the snooze button one too many times. I want to break this habit and get up in the morning to get in that workout! I know how great I feel when I do, despite the actual process of waking up so early.

How I'm going to improve on these bad habits:
  • Plan out a weekly schedule that is relevant to me specifically.
  • Reward myself at the end of each week for sticking to all of my planned workouts with a healthy treat or small gift.
  • Meal prep! I'm more successful when there is less I have to do in the mornings.
  • Sleep in my workout clothes before my Booty Call workouts! This always gets me more excited about hitting the gym in the wee hours of the morning when I'm already dressed for it. 
  • Keep my phone  a good distance away. Like I said, notorious snoozer. My boyfriend hates it. So I'm going to keep my phone out of arms reach so that I HAVE to get up to turn it off, and if I'm up, might as well work out!
5 Things I Have Already Accomplished (so far!)

  • Lost 20 pounds
  • Completed my first cleanse
  • Stuck to a vegan diet for 5 months
  • Ran 1 mile in under 10 minutes
  • Got a raise at work
Listing out my accomplishments actually makes me realize how far I have come and the great things I can do when I set my mind to them. I want to really push myself over the next 8 weeks to complete all of the goals I set, and look fabulous come summertime! They don't call it the BIKINI Series for no good reason!

Today I'll be taking my "before" pictures, weight, and measurements so that I can compare my results at the end of the challenge. 

It is not too late to join me and the thousands of women across the world participating in this challenge. What is stopping you from looking your best this summer?! It is free and they offer so many chances to win amazing prizes. Plus, you'll never find a more loving, supportive, encouraging group of women anywhere else. This is where you want to be! Sign up here: BIKINI SERIES

I'll be doing daily check-ins on Instagram to document my journey. Follow me @plantbasedmelissa

Friday, April 18, 2014

Going Vegan: Resources That Helped Me Transition My Diet

In light of a few close friends and family members of mine deciding to give veganism a go, I thought I would compile some resources for them to have to ease their transition to this amazing lifestyle!
I was absolutely that person that said phrases like "I could never give up bacon!" "But I love cheese soooo much!" I never thought that one day out of the blue I would make the decision to stop eating animal based foods. My biggest reason for eliminating all of those foods was my health. I've read countless articles a few books that all determine eating a plant based diet is one of the healthiest things you could do for your body. There is no cholesterol to worry about, you will lose weight, ward of diseases, lower blood pressure, plus so much more. But for those who worry that it may not come so easy to them, here is some extra resources to help ease your transition to a plant based diet.

First and foremost, I would recommend doing your research. I'm not the kind of person who jumps in to things blindly, I like having my facts straight and being able to weigh the pros and cons of any decision. Also, as a disclaimer, if you have any major health concerns, always a good idea to consult with your doctor before making any major changes!

Here are several things that I have found useful as a new vegan :) 

Forks Over Knives
Food, Inc.

All of these documentaries primarily focus on the health aspects of veganism, but they do include graphic images regarding the nature of how our food is acquired. If that is part of your concern, I would also suggest watching Earthlings. I couldn't finish it because of how violent it was. I don't need more than a couple of minutes of watching that to know I made the right decision for myself.

Main Street Vegan

 I loved this book because it appealed to your every day person. The author approaches veganism in a way that anyone could relate to, vegan or otherwise.

I have also just started reading "Living Among Meat Eaters: A Vegetarian Survival Guide"

  I thought the title was silly, but it is actually very relevant. I won't lie, sometimes the social aspect of being a vegan can be difficult. Friends start apologizing for eating meat in front of you, family thinks you're totally bananas, people get defensive for no reason because they think you're going to lecture or judge them for their dietary choices. All of this comes along with the territory, unfortunately, so you need to find the best way to answer politely and not become "that vegan".
Here is the description provided by the author's website. 

"An invisible meat eater/vegetarian dynamic exists. Left unacknowledged it traps both groups in social interactions that can be painful and upsetting: conversations that become arguments; interactions that become confrontations; meals that exclude vegetarians; friends who sabotage them; nonvegetarian lovers who alienate them. Living Among Meat Eaters guides vegetarians through these sticky situations with friends, relatives, co-workers, waitstaff, and partners. Whereas meat eaters may be surprised that such a book is necessary, vegetarians will understand immediately. Nothing prepares us for the reactions our vegetarianism prompts from the larger meat-eating culture. Nothing, that is, until now."

However radical they are, have some great resources on their website for your viewing pleasure.

Vegan food and lifestyle bloggers save my life every day when it comes to finding delicious recipes to make that are totally vegan as well as providing other kinds of information and useful tools!
Oh She Glows
The Blonde Vegan 
Logical Harmony

NxtNutrio - Bar code scanner that you can customize to your dietary preferences, and will alert you if the product you scan contains any of the restricted ingredients you choose.

Is It Vegan?  - Similar to NxtNutrio, but not as extensive

VeganFinder - Locates vegan or vegan friendly restaurants near you! (SO handy!)

Cruelty-Free - Extensive list of companies who are cruelty-free 

 Looking at this list, I can see how it could be easy to get overwhelmed with the copious amounts of information your brain needs to process, but my best advice is to take it one day at a time. If you slip up at first, don't beat yourself up! You're learning a completely different lifestyle than one you have led your entire life. Do not get discouraged.

Do not let others influence your decision on way or the other. You're doing this for YOU and only you. However, DO be open and honest with those closest to you about your new adventure, and let them how much their support means to you and your success.

Know that you have OPTIONS! There are TONS of vegan alternatives to everything you love and hold dear. There are vegan alternatives to: cheese, chorizo, chicken, beef, milk, chocolate, cupcakes, cookies, ice cream, doughnuts, muffins, pastas, pizzas, and the list goes on forever. That doesn't mean you should eat all of this all the time obviously, though. Focus on eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans.

Finally, if someone offers you a bite of their steak, or your boss brings in doughnuts for the office, just smile and politely say "no, thank you :) "

For my fellow vegans, what helped you make the transition? I'd love to hear about it!

Friday, April 11, 2014

10K Training Plan

Back in December last year I ran my first 10K. I was in no way prepared for it because I lacked the discipline to train consistently. I paid for it dearly afterward because I was in so much pain! I decided that I'm ready to give it another go and I signed up for the Mermaid Series 10K scheduled for May 10th.

 I have almost exactly 4 weeks to prepare myself! Thankfully, I haven't totally been slacking since December and have been doing other races and jogging in my free time. It's time to kick myself into gear though and get ready for this upcoming challenge! (PR anyone?!)
Here is my schedule for the next 4 weeks, and I will be posting updates to keep myself accountable.
(Adopted from
Week 1:
Day 1: 30 min cross-train
Day 2: 2 miles easy run
Day 3: rest
Day 4: 2 miles easy run
Day 5: 30 cross-train or rest
Day 6: 3 miles long run
Day 7: 2 miles brisk walk or rest

Week 2:
Day 1: 30 min cross-train
Day 2: 2.5 miles easy run
Day 3: 30 min cross-train or rest
Day 4: 2.5 miles easy run
Day 5: rest
Day 6: 4 miles long run
Day 7: 2 miles brisk walk or rest

Week 3:
Day 1: 30 min cross-train or rest
Day 2: 3 miles easy run
Day 3: 30 min cross-train or rest
Day 4: 3 miles easy run
Day 5: Rest
Day 6: 5 miles long run
Day 7: 2 miles brisk walk or rest

Week 4:
Day 1: 3 miles easy run
Day 2: 30 min cross-train or rest
Day 3: 3 miles easy run
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: 2 miles easy run
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Race day!

What is the best way you have found to prepare for a race? Let me know! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chocolate! Do I Need to Say More?

Hello Blog Universe!

It has been a pretty intense past couple of weeks. Between working two jobs, moving, running a 5K, and unpacking/shopping for the new place I have just been so overwhelmed! Finally we are getting settled and work has calmed down a bit. Last night was my first real night of being able to relax! I made myself and my best friend the Spicy BBQ Chickpea Burgers from Oh She Glows, and we chatted over some wine for a couple of hours. I feel lucky to have so much going on, but it really makes me appreciate what little down time I get! It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of your life, so it is extra important to find a balance and make sure you're taking care of yourself.

One of the ways that I look forward to treating myself with is, of course, chocolate! Not just regular ol' Hershey's milk chocolate either (yuck!) I'm talking about the wonders of cacao: chocolate's purer, healthier relative.  I have always had a major sweet tooth growing up, and throughout my whole journey of getting healthy and weight loss, I never lost it. When I found out that chocolate could be beneficial to your health (in moderation, of course), you know I jumped right on that train. I was able to find healthier ways to satiate my chocolatey cravings with the use of cacao. You can find it at any health food store in a variety of different forms.  By (one) definition cacao is: the dried seeds of a tropical tree that are used to make cocoa and chocolate. In the simplest terms, it is the raw base of what we all refer to as chocolate, before the sweeteners and preservatives are added.

In this form and in the minimally processed forms like certain dark chocolates, cacao provides a number of health benefits. I found this great little chart that explains it pretty well!

Now you're absolutely craving some yummy chocolatey goodness, aren't you?! I honestly add cacao nibs to a ton of things like as a topping on a smoothie, sprinkled on top of my waffle in the morning, mixed in with yogurt, the list goes on. Luckily for you, I've also found and tested some pretty amazing (and healthy!) recipes to curb my craving and provide me with all of these wonderful benefits.

Chocolate Chia Seed Superfood Pudding - Gluten-free and Vegan
serves 2 from Free People Blog
1 1/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (like almond or coconut)
1/4 cup chia seeds
3 tablespoons raw cacao powder
Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt
1 tablespoon organic maple syrup or raw honey
Dark Chocolate shavings for garnish

Add all of the ingredients to a large glass jar with a lid, give it a quick stir, then put the lid on. Shake it like crazy to mix it all up. Refrigerate until very thick and pudding-like, at least 4 hours or overnight, shaking or stirring occasionally. Serve the pudding chilled with whatever topping you’d like.

100% Raw, Clean, Guilt-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
recipe courtesy of The Blonde Vegan 
Serves 9-12 (depending on how big you make them)
Peanut Butter Portion:
-       ½ cup natural peanut butter
-       ½ cup natural almond butter (you can also do 1 cup of one or the other)
-       1 tbsp organic agave syrup (may substitute with maple syrup or honey)
-       2 tbsp organic coconut oil (melted)
Chocolate Portion:
-       ½ cup cacao powder
-       1 tbsp organic agave syrup
-       1/3 cup coconut oil (melted)
-       ¼ cup organic vegan chocolate chips
  1. Whip out your trusty muffin trays, and if you don’t have them, buy them, because they come in handy for just about every yummy treat.
  2. Combine the nut butters, coconut oil and agave syrup in a bowl and stir until the ingredients are well mixed.
  3. Place a spoonful of the mixture into each muffin cup until you have used it all.
  4. Place in the freezer until hardened. Now time to start on the chocolate portion!
  5. Combine the cacao powder, coconut oil, agave and chocolate chips in a bowl and stir until well mixed.
  6. Place a spoonful of the chocolate mixture over the hardened peanut butter mixture.
  7. Pop them back into the freezer and harden. Now comes the hard part – wait until they are hard so you can nom on those puppies!

Both of those recipes are certified delicious, and boyfriend approved. Just try typing in "cacao" on Pinterest, and you'll see how diverse this amazing superfood can be!

What recipes using cacao have you tried and loved?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Then and Now: My Journey Thus Far :)

Every once in a while, it's a beautiful thing to look back and see how far you've come from the person you were only a few short years ago.
My 21st birthday was a time of great joy and excitement. I had my own apartment, a great job, my amazing boyfriend, and a supportive family; life was really just beginning for me.  I was a point in my where I was just comfortable with everything around me and I let life take it's toll. Enter: alcohol calories, bar food, greasy hangover breakfasts, you get the idea. The weight slowly crept on and before I knew it, I was the heaviest I have ever been.

I'm not proud of the decisions I made back then regarding my health, but I am proud of the one decision I made that changed my entire life: Get healthy. I started a program in May 2012 that was a strict low-carb, nearly no carb diet. I avoided bread, rice, and pasta, and consumed only small portions of fruit and vegetables. My main caloric intake came from protein. Lots of lean chicken breast, turkey, salmon, cheese, and yogurt. In 6 months I had dropped 40 pounds simply from changing the way I ate. I went on the occasional walk during this time, but did little to no other form of exercise. As soon as I ended this program and began eating normally again, the weight began to come right back. Although this diet provided me with drastic results, I've come to realize that this is not a sustainable way to eat or live as a healthy individual. I spent the next several months trying to balance a social life, a full-time job, school, and everything else in between. I found myself stuck and unable to commit to eating right or working out.

Fast forward a few months later to May of 2013, when I found Tone It Up through Lauren Conrad's website. The founders of Tone It Up, Karena and Katrina, two beautiful, fit women had created an online community across the world of women who inspired each other to become the healthy and happy individuals I have grown to admire and draw strength from every day. After trying some of their workouts and recipes, I immediately purchased the Nutrition Plan and dove head first into one of their "Slim Downs". The wealth of information about health and nutrition they provide in the plan really gave me a strong base to start eating healthy again - the right way.  I learned to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats - even a few sweet treats as well! I discovered that being healthy is a daily commitment, and  you have to constantly work at it. Through Tone It Up, I have connected with like-minded women in my area who have become great friends, and an amazing source of motivation for those days when I just don't feel up to the task.

   2011                                           Today!
Since starting Tone It Up, I have not only began eating healthy again, (and going vegan!) I also started incorporating different types of work outs. I didn't want to just lose weight, I wanted to be strong and fit.  I began boxing at a local gym, jogging (yikes!), and strength training. I now have four 5k races, and a 10k under my belt, and this Saturday I'm doing a 5k obstacle course/mud run with a few girlfriends. In the coming months, I have another 10k lined up, and I also plan to sign up for a half marathon by the end of the year. Health and fitness has not only just become a daily part of my life, it is now one of my greatest sources of happiness. I've grown a lot over the past few years, and I've learned to fall in love with my body for the amazing things it has shown me I can do. I've managed to drop the 20 pounds I gained back last year and then some; plus now I've got some baby muscles!!

The past couple years have been a roller coaster, but I'm glad to say that I've found my stride. I've not yet reached my goals, but I'm a lot closer to them then I have ever been. Even when I do get there, I'll just be ready with some new, more challenging goals!  I've already come this far, and I can't wait to share the rest of my journey with you :)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Literally The Best Quesadilla, Ever.

I'm a huge fan of Mexican cuisine. Luckily for me, it is super easy to "veganize" many popular Mexican dishes. I was browsing Pinterest the other day and came across this super delicious looking quesadilla (sans the cheese) that I wanted to try immediately. The recipe is from Love My Vegan Life and she had it right; it really is the best vegan quesadilla!! The best quesadilla in general, for that matter. The hummus really gives it a creaminess so you don't even miss the cheese. You can definitely put all the vegan cheese you want on there, but I preferred it without :)
Anyway, I'll get right to it, here's the recipe:

The Best Vegan Quesadillas
 recipe and photo courtesy of  Love My Vegan Life 

What you'll need:
1 medium red onion, chopped,
10 scallions (green and white parts) chopped,
small bunch of cilantro (depends on your personal taste preferences) chopped
(I just threw all of this into my little ninja chopper so it mixed it all up and chopped it finely, you'll have leftovers of this to use on other recipes! )
Flour tortillas (I used Sonoma Traditional Organic Tortillas)
1 can of rinsed organic black beans (or other beans of your choice)
1 package of chipotle hummus (from Trader Joes, if you don’t have it, just add a ½ tsp of taco seasoning to a small container of roasted red pepper hummus) <-- That is what I did, I couldn't find chipotle hummus at Whole Foods.
1 tomato, diced (or fresh tomato salsa)
Onion/scallion/cilantro mix
Taco seasoning
Avocado (or guacamole)
Pre-heat a nonstick skillet with a tiny drop of olive oil. Take 2 tortillas, and spread a decent amount of hummus on each of them. Take one and gently placed on heated skillet hummus side up. Start loading – black beans first, tomatoes, onion/scallion/cilantro mix, and be generous with all the ingredients, you want this to be a hearty dinner! Sprinkle some taco seasoning and cover with the other tortilla, hummus side down. Let it sit on the skillet (on a medium low) for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden and warmed up inside.

I topped my quesadilla with fresh avocado and some vegan sour cream. It was so delicious, and I want another one so bad as I'm typing this. I especially loved that this took such a minimal amount of effort to make. If I see more than like 10 ingredients, or a long and tedious list of directions, I just kind of chuckle to myself because that is probably never going to happen. The best part about this recipe though is that it got the boyfriend stamp of approval :) He enjoyed it just as much as I did, and I'm honestly probably going to make it again tonight.

Let me know if you try it!
and I want to know, what other recipes have you successfully veganized?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Recipe: Homemade Chana Masala (Chole)

Last night I had an intense craving for Indian food, specifically, chana masala (or chole). I had some vegan samosas from Whole Foods that were calling my name, and felt nothing would go better with them than chana masala. The problem:  I was much too lazy to go and pick some up. So my only option was to make some. I've never made Indian food at home before and was kind of afraid to. Many of the recipes I looked up called for things I didn't have (coriander seeds, garam masala, etc) but I decided to wing it, and it actually came out pretty well! The best part was I had all of this at home, and  it didn't require me to go to the specialty section of Whole Foods and spend money; plus it was super easy :)  Most of it I just kind of threw in the pan so these are only estimates, do what tastes good to you! For the tomato base I used paste, but next time I would probably use canned peeled tomatoes or something like that. (or fresh)

Homemade Chana Masala (Easy!)
1 can chickpeas
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp Grape seed Oil (or vegetable oil)
1 Tbsp Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1/2 small can of tomato paste or 1 can of diced tomatoes w/ liquid.
1 and 1/2 Tbsp Curry powder
1 clove garlic - minced
1 medium red onion - chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Black pepper to taste
Dash of cayenne powder
Dash of cumin powder
Dash of turmeric powder
Water, as needed

Heat vegetable oil over medium heat and saute onions until lightly browned. Then, add in the chickpeas, tomato paste or diced tomatoes, curry, garlic, salt, cayenne, cumin, turmeric, and black pepper. Add in the Earth Balance and stir until melted. Lastly, throw in the cilantro and let everything simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the chickpeas are nice and soft. (I noticed my mixture was a little thick, so I threw in some water to thin it out a bit, per my preferences)  Serve with rice, naan, samosas, pizza, whatever your heart desires!

I really enjoyed making this recipe. It was super simple and proves I don't totally suck at making food when I don't have a recipe to follow!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

True Life: I'm Addicted to French Fries

As I sit here eating my delicious Vegan Chocolate Cupcake, I am reminded that tomorrow marks the first day of Lent. I have struggled over the past few days with feelings of guilt about what kind of food I eat on a regular basis. I realize that while I do my best to be healthy (like still drinking one green juice a day!), I could definitely make some better decisions when it comes to food. Yes, it may be vegan, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily good. So, for Lent I've decided to give up my most recent vice: french fries. I don't know what has gotten into me, but I'm finding one way or another to get myself some french fries on a much too often basis. Like, almost daily. Its bad. My stomach hates me for it. My skin hates me for it. Generally, I feel pretty shitty about it, but I can't stop myself! I brought lunch to the office today; a healthy and savory eggplant tomato stew. But what did I do instead? I went to get myself a falafel pita and a side of fries... At least it was the "small" size, right?! I swear I could feel my eggplant stew silently judging me from the fridge, uneaten. Anyway, it's clear I have a problem. So I'm making it my mission to avoid the fried sticks of deliciousness for the next six weeks.
I'm pretty competitive by nature, so I feel like this will be an excellent way to challenge myself and start making better choices. Even if that choice is simply not to eat the damn fries.

What will you be giving up for Lent this year? What other ways are you encouraged to say adios the not-so-healthy foods?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Making Progress!

Good morning!

I'm enjoying this rainy Friday morning curled up in my bed with a hot bowl of oatmeal. This will be the last Friday morning I can do this for a while because I've accepted a job back at my previous office starting Monday! I surprised myself by accepting the job, but I think round two will be much better :) I like to stay busy, and with the extra income Jeff and I can manage an apartment together which will be a VERY welcome change from living with the parental unit, as I'm sure many of you can relate.

Anyway, I have some super exciting news!!! I weighed myself this morning and I am OFFICIALLY under 200 lbs!! I weighed in at 199. I still have about 30 pounds I want to lose, but I can't even recall for the life of me the last time I weighed under 200. High school? I'm grateful that I'm tall and have an athletic build because my weight is distributed pretty evenly, however, I'm still technically overweight. My journey to getting healthy is paying off every day; and even though it has been a long, emotional ride, it is so worth it!

I've started incorporating more strength training over the past couple of weeks in addition to all the cardio I've been doing and I'm definitely noticing a difference. I try to do an every other day type of schedule. So strength training one day, next day cardio, next day strength, and so on. Combined with a lean, healthy diet, strength training is one of the most effective ways to burn fat and build muscle. When I first started trying to lose weight a few years back, I was so concerned with getting "beefy" that I hardly ever incorporated weights or strength training.  I know now that was a huge mistake! And it was probably why I hit so many plateaus. Your body requires more energy to maintain muscle, so you end up burning more calories throughout the day (AKA it raises your Resting Metabolic Rate). I was so concerned back then with being "skinny" I never even considered the benefits of strength training. If this blog is any indication, I obviously never got skinny! (haha) I know now that what is important is being healthy. I don't want to be a skinny girl anymore. I want to be fit  ...and look awesome naked. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

SoulCycle Class and Hiking Mission Peak :)

This week has been full of pushing limits and stepping out of comfort zones. Thursday night Lauren of Lauren Lives Healthy and I drove to Palo Alto to try out SoulCycle. I had done it one other time and was itching to get back on the bike and have another great experience. Between the friendliness of the staff, and the intense, motivating workout you get in the 45 minute class, it is well worth the drive. Lauren and I got there just in time for class to start, and even though it was challenging, we came out feeling more energized (and SWEATY!) than we had before we went in. It is really unlike any cycling class I have been to in the past, and I would highly recommend it for beginners and more experienced cyclers.

As if I didn't get enough of a leg workout the day before, two of my amazing girl friends and I drove over to Fremont to do the popular, very challenging Mission Peak hike on Friday. I love hiking and unfortunately don't do it enough, so this was definitely a treat.  The weather was absolutely beautiful! After a minor detour while trying to navigate our way to the entrance to the trail, we began our hike in high spirits. It was much harder than I was anticipating. I didn't quite know what to expect, and there were times it looked like we would never get to the top, but we made it!!

 Our view was breathtaking; not only because of how hard we just worked to get there! Clear blue sky, city below us, and a perfect view of exactly how far we had come in just 90 minutes. The way down was full of laughs, good talks, and a feeling of accomplishment all around. I would absolutely recommend this trail for an intense workout and beautiful scenery. Each way is around 4 miles, and it took us beginners 2 hours and 45 minutes from start to finish.  When my legs recover I am definitely looking forward to tackling this trail again!

Hope you all have a great start to your week! :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recipe: Vegan Black Bean Tacos

Ahhh! I knew I was putting off a blog post, but I didn't realize how much time had passed. I'm adjusting to a whole new schedule and it has definitely thrown me off my game.
I wanted to share a super simple recipe for a quick weeknight dinner!
I've definitely been in the mood for Mexican food lately, as I've had some variation of it several times within the last week. I got the original idea for tacos from Pinterest, and put my own spin on things :)

Vegan Black Bean Tacos (serves 2)

What you'll need:

4 corn tortillas (I used gluten free tortillas from Whole Foods)
1 can of organic low sodium black beans
1 tomato
1/4 of an onion
1/2 an avocado
Vegan cheese of your choice - I used Daiya cheddar shreds
Optional: add salsa, jalapenos, lime, or vegan sour cream for extra flavors

Rinse and drain can of black beans. In small pot, heat the beans on low. While you're warming the beans up, dice your tomato and onion and slice up your avocado. Warm tortillas in a pan or skillet until nice and hot. Layer beans and then toppings of your choosing and enjoy!

This recipe was so stinkin' easy, filling, and delicious! I'm the laziest cook on the planet, especially when it comes to dinner. The faster I can make it without sacrificing health benefits or flavor, the better. I absolutely enjoyed this dish to the fullest, as did the boyfriend.  I will definitely be making these tacos again in the near future :)

What are your favorite quick go-to dinners? I'd love to hear more ideas!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A juice a day...

As many of you know, I was able to make the trip to Connecticut over the weekend to say goodbye to my Grandma as well as meet most of my Dad's side of the family. I knew that my Grandma had been living with diabetes for quite some time, but I had no idea how prominent it was within the rest of the family as well. Come to find out, several other family members are also living with Type 2 Diabetes.  Not only that, my Mother's side of the family also has a history of diabetes.
Finding out this information brought me back to when I was in elementary school. I can't recall exactly how old I was, but I remember this one particular doctor's visit well. I was in for a routine check up, and it was no secret that I was overweight. I could hear the doctor telling my mom that I was on the borderline for developing diabetes. The weight of that statement did not have the effect on me then as it would today. Shortly after, we met with a dietician who gave us guidelines as to what I should be eating on a daily basis. I can remember logging everything I ate for the next couple of weeks to show my doctor on my next visit. Apparently, after a while of doing this I was in the clear because nothing ever came of it even though I was still overweight.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2012. At 22 years old I was at my heaviest, weighing 243 lbs. I noticed my left foot had become swollen, and I developed a dull ache in my entire leg up to my thigh. I hadn't injured myself so I was completely baffled as to why this was happening. The internet was my worst enemy because when I Googled my symptoms, it pointed to terrifying outcomes like a blood clot, or I'm sure you can guess it, diabetes. After a few doctor's visits and an ultrasound in my leg, I was diagnosed with a peripheral venous insufficiency.

What that means is:
"Your arteries carry blood from your heart out to the rest of your body. Your veins carry blood back to the heart, and valves in the veins stop the blood from flowing back. When your veins have trouble sending blood from your limbs back to the heart, it is called venous insufficiency (VI). In this condition, blood does not flow back properly to the heart, causing blood to pool in your legs."

The pooling of blood in my leg is what was causing the swelling and pain. I was told my options were to lose weight which would help the symptoms, or surgically block off that vein. This was my rock bottom. I knew right then and there things had to change. I started a diet program and successfully lost 40lbs. When I found Tone It Up in May of 2013, I was inspired to not only lose the rest of my weight, but to do it in the most healthy way I can.

This weekend was a huge reminder to me of one of the most important reasons that I need to stay healthy. I absolutely have no plans for developing diabetes, and I am going to do everything in my power to avoid it. I decided I want to challenge myself by drinking one green juice every day. Juicing is such a fantastic and delicious way to deliver a megadose of vitamins and minerals to your body. It combats illness and is a great way to facilitate weight loss as well. However, juicing isn't a quick fix-all solution to any problem. I fully believe that juicing combined with a plant-based diet and regular exercise will provide me with the health benefits that I seek.

What is your story? What kinds of ailments have you been able to overcome, or are on your way to overcoming with a healthy diet?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Breaking My Orbit

It is not even halfway through the first month of the new year, but change is already upon me!

Many of you who know me personally, know that I have been in the corporate life for a few years now. Instead of going to a four year school and getting a degree, I chose the route of worker bee due to my finances not allowing me to do otherwise. I was weighed down by financial pressures and felt I had no other option but to work full-time, sometimes two jobs. And I'm barely 23! You can imagine how stressful this can be, but I am very happy to say that is no longer an issue. With this new found freedom, and the support of my parents and boyfriend, I have decided to step down from my office job and go back to school full-time. Not finishing school has plagued me for some time now, and I'm absolutely thrilled to finally be able to have the opportunity to do so. I have never had one single passion that I knew I would pursue as a career someday, but I feel with health and fitness, I have really found my stride. I have discovered a love for encouraging other women, and sharing my experience with it all in order to help them succeed as best they can with their journey. I don't know where that will take me, or what opportunities lie ahead, but I know that I cannot continue any further without a formal degree.
It's terrifying because I'm basically tossing out all sense of security on the chance that I find something more suited to me. But I can't sit here at my desk and be proud of myself for staying safe. No one ever achieved their dreams by being comfortable. I posted something on Instagram a while back to the tune of "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable" and I didn't realize how much that applied to me until now.
I am confident that 2014 is going to be an amazing year for me. It has already brought forth so many opportunities that I would have never imagined, and for that I am very grateful. I'm excited to see what else is waiting :)

“We all want to break our orbits, float like a satellite gone wild in space, run the risk of disintegration. We all want to take our lives in our own hands and hurl them out among the stars.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Product Review: Lush Cosmetics

The last time I went on vacation I misplaced my facial moisturizer from Estee Lauder. I bought the jar several months back, and was devastated that I no longer had it.  Layering on the cool, fresh smelling lotion had become my favorite part of my skin care routine. Not only did it smell great and feel amazing on my skin, it was non-acnegenic, so it never made me break out. It was like the holy grail of facial moisturizers as far as I was concerned. I knew I immediately had to replace it, but felt that it was time for me to step away from Estee Lauder, and purchase a product that coincided with my new lifestyle and beliefs. AKA, I wanted it to be vegan. With the amount of cruelty free and vegan products available, it was hard to decide which one would be right for me. My initial trip to the beauty section of Whole Foods proved to be terribly overwhelming, and I left empty handed. I decided it would be best to conduct some more research on the products and return when I had a more solid idea of what I wanted.
Thanks to a great recommendation from a friend, I visited the website of Lush Handmade Cosmetics. They have products that are both vegan and non-vegan, so I made sure to use their filter on the menu to select only vegan items. I came across the moisturizer called "Imperialis" and the description basically summed up everything I was looking for: "If you’re not sure which moisturizer is for you, we recommend starting here. Imperialis is a finely crafted moisturizer that works with most skin types to ease and soothe irritations. Made with lavender infusion to balance the skin's sebum production, the lavender encourages dry skin to produce more natural oils and discourages oily skin from overdoing it. Orange blossom water brightens up dull looking areas and leaves you smelling gorgeous all day long."  Bingo! 

I took the first opportunity I had to go to the mall to try it out and get some more information from the employees. I told her I had oily skin with dry patches, and was also acne prone. Immediately she recommended the Imperialis moisturizer, stating that it also was beneficial for keeping the acne at bay.  At $24.95 it was definitely cheaper than the $48 I spent on the Estee Lauder moisturizer. I also ended up purchasing their 9 to 5 Cleansing Lotion, and Herbalism Cleanser to replace my salicylic acid cleanser from the drugstore. I like having two different cleansers, one for the morning, and one in the evening for removing makeup. 
I was so excited to use the products I bought the next day, and I was very pleased with all of them. The moisturizer was light, smelled great, and gave me that extra hydration without making my skin feel too heavy. It has been a few days now, and my skin honestly has never looked better. I'm sure it has something to do with the 5-day cleanse as well, but my skin texture has evened out tremendously. I haven't noticed any dry patches or flaking, which was a daily problem before, and I feel like I finally have that healthy glow. The best part of all? No breakouts! I'm relieved to have found a product I can feel great about not only because it works so well for me, but because it is totally vegan as well. 

Have you used Lush products before? What is working for your skin right now? Let me know!

The Blonde Vegan 5-Day Cleanse: Final Recap

The Blonde Vegan 5-Day Cleanse was a completely plant based, vegan cleanse developed by blogger The Blonde Vegan. I'm incredibly grateful to her for putting forth so much effort to make this cleanse possible, and provide all the cleansers with motivation and tools for success. I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend Jeff, and my good friend Lauren of Lauren Lives Healthy participating in the cleanse with me. We were all involved in a group email thread and got to speak with the other cleansers about their experience with the program. It was really interesting to read other people's reactions, setbacks and successes they had with the cleanse. I definitely felt a sense of community, and it was great to have that extra support from people going through the exact same thing I was experiencing.

I wanted to do a cleanse, especially after the holidays, because it seemed like the perfect thing to do to get rid of the holiday bloat and give our bodies and digestive systems a healthy reboot. We chose this cleanse above all the others out there because neither of us have done a cleanse before, and this one in particular involved solid foods instead of only liquids. (Plus, I'm a huge fan of The Blonde Vegan!)  I am a very new vegan myself, and I'm still getting used to incorporating fresh vegetables into my diet. This cleanse had PLENTY of vegetables, some I had never tried before, so it was a great way for me to get introduced to different ways of cooking veggies that I could enjoy on a regular basis. I tend to get weighed down by food because I overeat at times, or I don't eat the right things for my body. This cleanse had perfect portions (for me, anyway, Jeff disagrees)  and I was consistently satisfied with the food. Jeff recommended that for a bigger guy interested in doing the cleanse, he should consider upping the portion sizes a bit, or incorporating nuts and berries as a snack between meals to help hold him over. There were a couple of recipes we substituted with recipes from other days due to preference, but we both still felt we got the results we were looking for.

The hardest part was all of the prep work involved. Each night after I made dinner, Jeff and I chopped, blended, juiced and prepared all of our meals for the next day. This is very time consuming. By the time  we were done, it was close to bed time and I went straight to sleep. Now that I know what to expect,  next time I do the cleanse I will spend the Sunday before doing the preparation for all 5 days. This way, the only thing I need to do in the evenings is juice or blend everything together and be done.

The results were better than I was expecting! Even though the purpose for doing this wasn't about weight loss, I still weighed myself on the morning of Day 1, and again the day after the cleanse ended.  I lost about 4 lbs and noticed all of my bloat was gone.  Jeff said he was back to his pre-holiday weight, and felt his clothes were fitting better. Both of us felt amazing and energized!

Now that I have one cleanse under my belt, I am definitely open to trying others to compare. If you've done a cleanse before, or have any advice, let me know in the comments below!

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Blonde Vegan Cleanse: Day 5

We made it!!!!

5 straight days of a totally raw plant based diet. No caffeine, alcohol, meat, eggs, dairy, unnatural sugar, grains, corn, or beans. It was  a lot harder than I was anticipating, but I'm happy to say both Jeff  and I made it through successfully without cheating! ....Even though it was very tempting, especially yesterday!
Today's meals:
Breakfast smoothie was "Strawberry Fields" which was actually more of a green smoothie with strawberries. It didn't look very appetizing, but it tasted very good!
First juice of the day "Ginger Snap" it was a really simple and refreshing blend of carrot and orange juice.
Lunch was supposed to be fire roasted tomatoes and broccoli, but since I had to make everything beforehand and bring it to work I decided to make the "Figgy Berry-licious Salad" from day 1 again. Just as good as the first time :)
Juice #2 was "Green Elixir". Another take on a traditional green juice.
The dinner for day 5 was supposed to be a sweet potato kale saute, but seeing as I don't like kale, we decided to bake the sweet potato and roast Brussels sprouts and carrots again. We love sweet potatoes so this dish was a definite favorite.
I'm grateful there was some wiggle room regarding the meals. We were permitted to swap around meals from other days if that suited us better, which in our case, it did. I think that made us much more successful than we might have otherwise been. Especially if I had to eat raw kale soup!

Today I felt the best out of all the other days. I had a lot of energy, felt very light, and was simply in a fabulous mood. I'm sure some of that had to do with the premature excitement of what I'm going to eat tomorrow! I'm going to go to bed early tonight and in the morning I will share my thoughts on the cleanse as a whole, and let you know how I feel after the fact.

Hope everyone has a great Friday night :)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Blonde Vegan Cleanse: Day 4

Day 4 of the cleanse is done!
Today's meals:
Breakfast smoothie was the "Green Deluxe".  It had walnuts in it, which I've never had before in a smoothie. Both of us actually really liked it despite our morning struggle with temptation. (explained below)
The first juice was "Peachy Punch". Peaches aren't in season, so we substituted with pears; it was very fruity, and just sweet enough. 
Lunch was "The Original Garden Salad". Your basic greens with carrots, cucumbers, tomato and avocado. Honestly I knew I wasn't going to like this one too much because I'm not a fan of raw carrots, cucumbers, or tomatoes. I ate maybe half of it and then finished up lunch with a banana and almond butter. That definitely hit the spot!
Juice #2 for the day we accidentally messed up on. It calls for blueberries, but didn't realize we were supposed to add in the blueberries after the rest was juiced as a topping. The juice came out very tart and tangy, and was pretty rough to drink. 
Dinner was supposed to be a raw kale and avocado soup, but seeing as how I don't like kale at all, and our first experience with raw soup was terrible, we decided to make the "Veggie Party Bowl" from Day 2 again instead. I think this was my favorite meal of the whole cleanse so far and both of us chowed down on our veggies.
In summary, today was easier in some ways, but much harder in others.  I had a ton of energy all day and felt pretty great in every way, which was a welcome improvement from yesterday.  Work, however, was a challenge because my coworkers made a fresh batch of popcorn in the popcorn maker, and it smelled heavenly. It took everything in me to not sneak a couple of kernels.  Jeff said at home, my grandma had made bacon, eggs, and pancakes for breakfast. He could smell it all as he drank his breakfast smoothie.  (So proud of him!) On top of all that, come dinnertime I had lost all resolve and nearly threw in the towel. It is mine and Jeff's 5 year anniversary today, and we longed to have a nice dinner out somewhere. I even asked him if he wanted to just be done with the cleanse so we can go eat out tonight and have a normal day tomorrow. He was definitely tempted, but brought me back to why we decided to do the cleanse to begin with. Plus, we still have groceries we have to use! I am obviously glad I decided to stick with it, but trust me, it was not the easiest decision to make. Not today, junk food!! We ended up having a delicious dinner together and got everything ready for the last day of the cleanse.  We got done at a decent time too, a definite plus! Now we are relaxing watching Misfits on Netflix, and making anniversary plans for this weekend :)

I'll post the final update and thoughts on the cleanse tomorrow night! 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Blonde Vegan Cleanse: Day 3

Evening all,

Not going to lie, this whole cleansing business is pretty exhausting. I work a full-time job Monday through Friday, so when I get home its make dinner, prep smoothie, juices, and lunch, eat dinner, and by the time I'm done it's 9 and I'm ready to crawl into bed. Maybe that is why we get such a good night sleep! We are so exhausted that we just pass out :)  On that note, we actually have been sleeping really well which is a bonus.

Today's breakfast smoothie was "Creamy Carrot Bliss" which had carrots and almond butter in it. I thought that combination sounded weird, but we were pleasantly surprised at how tasty it was.
The first juice was "Green It Out", your basic green juice. I put half the amount of celery it calls for and  I thought it was delicious and refreshing.
Lunch was actually not a salad today, it was butternut squash apple soup! The recipe calls for nutmeg but of course I forgot to buy some, so instead I put a bit of cinnamon and I thought it was very good. Probably not something I would make regularly though. After lunch I felt very drowsy. I could have easily laid my head on my desk and took a power nap, but alas, I have a big kid job where you just can't do things like that without consequence. (What job would allow that anyway?! Sign me up! Haha)
Juice #2 "Beet City" I couldn't stomach. It had a lot of celery taste, plus the earthiness of the beets was not a combination I could enjoy and I ended up not finishing the whole thing.
Dinner was better though, we got to roast Brussels sprouts, carrots, and enjoy it with a baked sweet potato. Very simple, but filling and delicious!  We also ended the night with a banana and some almond butter for dessert.
I mentioned I would get Jeff's thoughts on the cleanse in the last post, so here is what he has to say:
"To be honest I haven't felt any big changes, but I do feel "cleaner". I don't feel like I have any more energy than usual, however I haven't felt tired either."  He says he has felt pretty hungry throughout the day, and would increase the portions a bit to compensate for the weight difference between us if he were to do it again. So ladies, maybe if your man is going to do it with you, make sure his portions are slightly more and tell him to pack extra nuts for snacking on in case he is hungry? From the outside, he doesn't seem like he's having the best time, but we both know how beneficial this is for our bodies! I'll let you know how he feels about everything post-cleanse :)

I'm super ready for bed now, so good night !

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Blonde Vegan Cleanse: Day 2

Finally, a minute to relax!

I just completed Day 2 of The Blonde Vegan 5-Day Cleanse.
Other than a little tired from working all day and prepping again I feel pretty spectacular. My tummy is happy and so am I :)

Last night was the worst so far. The raw green vegetable soup for dinner did not satisfy me or Jeff. We could hardly choke it down and barely made a dent in our bowls. We ate as much as we possibly could, and then opted for a banana with some almond butter to help satiate us. I was pretty cranky last night also. I don't think the cleanse is entirely to blame because there are always outside factors involved. (In my case, my computer took a crap and I still have yet to solve the problem)

Today has been much better. I woke up without hitting the snooze button which is a miracle in and of itself. I had a lot of energy and I felt amazing! I was able to get in a HIIT workout before I juiced and blended my meals for the day, and even had some time to spare before I left for work.

On to the meals....
The morning smoothie,  "The Naked Smoothie", is one I have made several times and am very familiar with so I enjoyed that. Juice #1, "True Blood Elixir" was actually my first experience with beets in a juice and I was a bit wary of it,  but the other flavors complemented it nicely and it was pretty tasty. Lunch was another salad, very similar to yesterday's with a slight modification in the fruit variety. Still, it was equally as delicious as the first and I scarfed the entire thing. Juice #2 "Sunshine in a Glass" was just that. Citrus-y deliciousness. I remained satisfied until dinnertime when I started to prepare the "Veggie Party in a Bowl" as my last meal of the day. I have never been one to eat JUST vegetables. They have always been that really great supporting role to the rest of my meal, so tonight's dinner was different than anything I've ever had; thankfully it was in a good way! The combination of butternut squash (which I actually have never had before) with cauliflower, Brussels, and broccoli truly was a party. A delicious party for my taste buds!

I've already blended the smoothie and prepared our juices for tomorrow, so that way I have the bulk of the work done (and so I don't make so much noise, oops!) Jeff has been at school all day and won't be home until after I'm asleep tonight, so I'll get his thoughts on today's meals in the morning. I'm looking forward to the new recipes and will keep you updated on everything!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Blonde Vegan 5-Day Cleanse: Day 1


Today is the first day of The Blonde Vegan's 5-Day Cleanse program! (check it out here: ) The cleanse is entirely vegan and raw, consisting of one smoothie, two juices, a salad, and an entrĂ©e using only fruits and vegetables. This is actually the first cleanse I have ever done, so I'm excited to see what kind of results I will see by the end of it. I'm also super grateful that my carnivorous boyfriend will be participating on the cleanse with me! Just one more way he is showing his support for this lifestyle change :)
Yesterday I spent the majority of the day shopping at Whole Foods and Sprouts for all of the ingredients I needed. Thankfully, the cleanse comes with a shopping list which makes that task a whole lot easier. For the both of us I spent around $150, which is right in line with her numbers as well. (She said it would be around $70 per person) Then I washed and cut all of my fruits and veggies for the smoothie and juice and sealed them in a plastic bag so that this morning I could throw them in the blender and the juicer and save some time. I have an 8-5 job so I definitely needed to have these prepped and ready to take with me this morning for work!

Right now I'm on my second juice of the day, and I have nothing but good things to say so far.
My first smoothie today set the tone for the rest of the meals in my opinion: delicious! It contained strawberries, bananas, mint, and kale; the mint gave it an excellent flavor.
Next was the green juice. I typically have to choke down green juices (I think its the celery, yuck!), but the added ginger and lemon in this one really balanced the celery out and gave it a pleasant flavor. I won't say that I love it, but it was MUCH better than green juices I have encountered in the past.
Lunch was the most delicious salad I think I have ever had in my entire life. The mixture of greens, fruits, and nuts was so complementary, and I wish I had more of it!
My last juice today is really simple; just water, lemon juice and cayenne. I wasn't too sure how I would feel about it, but it is actually really refreshing and light.
Dinner tonight will be a raw vegetable soup. I am nervous for this as I have never eaten such a thing in my whole life, so it will be interesting to see how the boyfriend and I like it. He has enjoyed the juices and smoothies from today so far as well.

I will update tomorrow about how the rest of the night goes, but for right now I feel great! My energy has been consistent all day, and I haven't felt starved or unsatisfied at all. Tonight I plan to wash and cut all of the ingredients for my juices and smoothies for tomorrow so I can easily prepare them like I did for this morning's recipes.