March 14: Roasted tomato bisque with butternut squash

Last night I prepared the tomato and butternut squash soup to have for dinner this week. Since the soup is higher in sodium than the baked chicken and peppers I had as leftovers, I was only able to taste the soup along the way. While I was in Walmart to buy a baby shower gift, and apparently $50 worth of other stuff I had no intention of buying but “needed” for one reason or another, so I bought a package of steamable butternut squash. The vegetable was already peeled and diced. It was $2.18 for four cups. With no sodium listed on the nutrition label, I threw it in the cart to add a different flavor to the tomato bisque.

I followed the same procedure as in the original recipe only adding butternut squash and diced red onions instead of carrots and sweet white onions and substituting chicken broth for some of the tomato juice (I drank most of it *smile*). I also added some roma tomatoes along with vine ripened red tomatoes. I found the roma tomatoes more difficult to peel than the vine-ripened cousins, but they provide a different flavor and texture to the soup. The soup was also darker and thicker with the change in ingredients. I was very pleased with the taste; the butternut squash added a really nice nutty flavor to the soup. Next time I add squash, I might also add canned pumpkin and Indian spices like cinnamon and cardamom to give it a nice kick. Oh the joys of creative cooking!

Since the low sodium chicken broth and tomato juice had a lot of sodium, I had to calculate how much soup I could reasonably eat and not have to sacrifice too much with other meals. This recipe yielded about 2.5 L, which converts to about 10.5 cups. So each cup will have 301 mg of sodium. I pretty much have to eat a salad with the soup instead of a grilled cheese like I normally do or give up adding a quarter teaspoon of salt to my large batch of oatmeal I make for breakfast.

Sorry for no pictures; my camera battery died! But you can view what my roasted tomato bisque looked like here.

March 13: Training for 10K revisited

Using the “Create a walking path” feature on the American Heart Association website, I planned my 5 miles Sunday morning run. From my front step and back, I ran 5.18 miles along a moderately difficult path. There were hills, but one in particular was a beast. More on that in a minute.

Earlier in the week, I ran a mile indoors in 8:53, which is a personal best as far back as I can remember. I went ovaries to the wall for the eighth and final lap hoping to come in at 9 minutes. Sprinting is more my speed because it comes more naturally for me. Besides, sucking it up for 30 seconds is psychologically more appealing than enduring for 30 minutes.

The time change messed me up a bit, so there were more cars in town than I would have liked when I began my run. I ventured to parts of town I had not yet seen, so it was good to enjoy new sights. My breathing remained a D for most of the run. In the last mile, my upper back began to feel tight so I shadow boxed to loosen the muscles. I don’t know what happened because then my fingers and forearms felt numb after that.

As I made the turn on the street with the hellacious hill, I started the pep talk. I channeled Jillian Michaels as she speaks to the Biggest Loser contestants who don’t think they can do whatever she has asked. “You’re not going to die,” I said aloud in between breaths. “You’re not going to have an asthma attack.” And as I began the ascent: “Whatever you do, do not stop on this hill. And please don’t stop after you get to the top!”

I wasn’t ready for that hill. I haven’t walked up that hill since I first moved here; and that was one time. I did run down the hill last week, though. It was steeper than I remembered it being. I’ve never given birth, but from what I see on Discovery Health, I was breathing like I was in labor. I couldn’t suck air fast enough. I wanted to stop about 20 feet from the top, and honestly, I would have if I weren’t afraid that I probably couldn’t walk up the hill at that point.

I persevered. The run home was pretty much down hill from there so I was able to get some wind back in my sails. I had enough left to sprint the last quarter mile home. Stretching after that run never felt so good! My pace is slowing down with each mile I add, but to finish five miles in 54 minutes is a huge accomplishment. I don’t know that I’ve continuously run for that distance or that time in my life! At the rate I’m going, I’m actually toying around with the idea of continuing my training and run a half-marathon. Yes, I think Hellacious Hill changed me o_O

March 11: Pringles Lightly Salted Original

It’s been a few days since the beginning of Lent. Since I gave up excess sodium (i.e, >1500 mg), I have had to be much more diligent about watching what I put into my mouth. I’ve pretty much abandoned looking at any line on the nutrition label except for sodium. When I went to Kroger Thursday, I made sure that nothing I placed into my cart had more than 400 mg of sodium per serving. The choice basically relegated me to fresh meats and produce, which is fine. My blood pressure has paid the price for overindulgence in convenience (i.e., pre-packaged overly processed food and fast food).

Since I planned to make peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches for lunch, I ventured down the potato chip aisle to see if I could find some affordable, low sodium potato chips. And wouldn’t you know it: Pringles Lightly Salted, withc 50% less salt than their original chips were on sale 4 for $5. Each serving, which is a gracious 16 crisps, has only 75 mg of sodium! I bought two super stacks.

I had them for lunch for the first time yesterday. The texture is the same as other Pringles. If you’ve never had Pringles, then Baked Lays would be another brand with a similar texture. With the original flavor, the chips are kind of bland. I would prefer a flavored low sodium chip, but I still find the flavor enjoyable. Besides, it’s the flavor that usually drives up sodium content. I’m just happy potato chip manufacturers are getting with the program and offering low sodium options as well as reduced fat choices. As I said earlier, I haven’t paid much attention to the other nutrition values but they weren’t alarming. Often with reduced anything (e.g., fat, sodium, sugar), another line item takes a bump to compensate for flavor. Unfortunately, this particular brand of Pringles is not listed on their website but the nutrition information is here. At least I couldn’t find it after 5 minutes of browsing and a deliberate search. But if you like chips and need a lower sodium option, Pringles Lightly Salted in the original flavor is a good choice.

An added bonus for my Lenten sacrifice is that I’ve lost 3.4 pounds since Wednesday! The only thing I have changed is that I’ve limited my sodium intake to 1500 mg or less. I attribute the weight loss to the fact that my body no longer has excess sodium to retain unnecessary water weight. It’s just the first week of Lent, so we’ll see what I’m talking about a few weeks from now, particularly as I travel for a conference and for a vacation. I imagine it will become exponentially more difficult to keep my sodium intake low when other people are preparing my foods.

March 9: Limiting stress and sodium intake

Lent begins today. I have celebrated Lent consistently for the last 10 years. Almost always I give up something during the 40 days and nights during this holy time. This year is no exception. I knew that I wanted to do something to help lower my blood pressure back around 120/80. I have been pessimistic lately with regards to American politics and the economy. I have pedestrian rage, which is like road rage only I walk instead of drive. I have a high sodium diet even when I exclude daily Lean Cuisine entrees for lunch.

So, for Lent I have decided that I’m going to limit my daily sodium intake to 1500 mg or less and make a concerted effort to better manage my stress. I think making it through the next 40 days will be more challenging than when I gave up chocolate. That’s saying a lot. My primary motivation for lowering my sodium intake and finding better ways to manage my stress is of course physical health. What I really want to say 40 days from now is that I developed and honed life-long skills of eating healthier meals and coping with stressful situations that are way beyond my control.

March 6: Training for 10K revisited

Sundays are my “long” run days. It’s easier to cross streets when traffic is light. Running more than 2 miles on the indoor track is nearly impossible for me because it’s hard to keep track of laps. And it’s not that serious to buy some contraption to help me.

So, in my winter running gear, I went to face the 32 °F weather. It actually wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t also windy. Last Sunday I barely made it 3.5 miles. I walked two hills because matters of the body overcame my mind. I added on to my route for this week’s long run. To monitor my rate of perceived exertion, I begin to say the alphabet. When I just start a run, I can make it all the way to G on one breath. I like to stay at either a D or E during a run, though going up hills usually means I don’t make it past C hahaha.

I must have improved my running form since last week because I didn’t have any pain in my arches, shins or calves as I usually do. I ran every single step of 4.11 miles this week. I averaged a 5.87 mph pace for the 42 minutes I ran, which is rather impressive for me. If I can improve my endurance during the next 7 weeks of training, I may very well be able to complete the 10K in close to an hour! Not too shabby for a former high school varsity sprinter *smile*

March 2: Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)

I’ve attended yoga pilates or vinyasa flow yoga classes at least once a week since mid-January. The instructor who teaches most of the classes I attend likes to include a shoulder stand or head stand in the sequence of poses, usually towards the end because the pose is pretty intense. Normally, when the instructor cues for a shoulder stand, I keep it simple with the modified bridge pose. I find it quite therapeutic to prop my lower back on a block. Last night, I thought I would at least try and complete a shoulder stand.

Vinyasa yoga is all about using moving with the flow of your breath. Inhale into one position and exhale into a different position, where position can be within the same pose (e.g., cat pose) or between two poses (warrior I and warrior III). So, Monica, our vinyasa flow 2 instructor, had us flow into the shoulder stand. I was able to use my core to push my hips above my shoulders but I was not strong enough to transition my legs vertically. As such, instead of looking like a candle, I was bent at the hips. It was still a perfectly acceptable variation of the yoga pose *smile*.

I was absolutely exhilarated that I was able to try a more advanced pose. It’s small steps like that which keeps me motivated to stay on track with my fitness goals. Knowing that eight weeks ago I would not have had the physical strength to safely do such a pose really encourages me. I may not be able to see my hard work, thanks to a little extra cushioning around the mid-section, but I’m strong enough to do so many more exercises. I can’t wait to see what I’m able to do eight weeks from now!