Personal Encouragement

Weight loss: Motivation, habits, and counting calories

Answering some of your questions from this post:

I must start walking today! What do you do to motivate yourself just to get out the door?

I have found that I function best in an all-or-nothing sort of way. It's probably mostly personality-related, but if I am able to get out (even for just a short walk around the block!) every single day, I have more motivation not to miss any days.

Another thing I do is tell myself that the walk/exercise doesn't need to be any certain length of time. Usually once I'm started, I don't want to stop! :)

I also know how much my boys like walking to the park or just being outside. The fact that they get so excited about going for a walk with me helps motivate me! :)

And to get out the door... I have to leave my work. I tell myself that I can wash dishes after the sun goes down, but I can't walk to the park with my children when it's bed time! :) Trying to get "everything" done before exercising would mean that I would NEVER exercise. :P

Having someone else for support helps too -- either a walking/running partner or a spouse who is willing to play with the children for 30 minutes while you exercise. I don't always or even usually have Joshua watch the children for me in order to get my exercise, but it's nice to know that he's willing to help me stay healthy! :)

I wondered if you could tell me how to find the calorie amounts. Did you find a calorie chart online, or purchase a book?

I found this calorie-counting site through Google and I'm sure there are others. :) That one shows the nutrition facts labels for tons of foods!

How do you keep track of calories when you are not eating very many packaged foods? I've wanted to track mine more carefully, but I'm not sure how to track my own cooking unless it happens to be a recipe that has the nutrition information.

Figuring out the calories for my homemade food involves a lot of math. For things like casseroles, I figure out the calorie count for each ingredient (the amount I used), add the totals all together, and then divide that total by the number of pieces/servings we are cutting.

For example, my homemade 16-inch pizza:

16 ounces of mozzarella at 80 calories per ounce = 1280 calories
1 cup pizza sauce = ~100 calories (I just use the calorie count from Hunt's since I figure it's probably similar)
diced onions and peppers = minimal (I might add 20 calories for this or just skip it since it's veggies)
8 ounces chicken breast chunks (grilled) at 120 calories per 4 ounces = 240 calories
Crust: flour (2c all-purpose at 400 per cup and 1c whole wheat at 450 per cup = ~1250 calories), salt (0), water (0), and yeast (0).

So the calorie count for the entire pizza is 2890 and we cut it into 16 pieces so each piece has about 180 calories.

We've done this for some of our muffin recipes... waffles... pancakes... a 1/2 cup of oil (960 calories) in a recipe for a dozen muffins really kinda destroys the idea of eating 6 in one sitting, you know? ;)

Our calorie counts aren't always exact... like for bread, I just use the calorie count from a slice of whole wheat bread from the store.

I think calorie counting in general has just helped us be more aware of where our calories are coming from and how much of something we should eat. Since we're not on strict diets, having a super-precise count isn't important to me... like bananas -- I just count a banana as being 100 calories even though I'm sure a large banana has a few more than that and a small one has a few less. :)

Also, I have realised that eating too much at one meal makes it difficult to not overdo for the day's calories. I try to have about 400 calories for breakfast, ~1,000 calories for lunch, and about 600 calories at dinner. If I am under those amounts, I can snack on bananas or apples or something healthy! :)

For me, the turning point came when I stopped beating myself up and just decided to do better from now on.

Getting motivated and actually STARTING is so difficult! The thought of losing 30 pounds seemed (and seems) overwhelming to me, yet I would look back a few months later and think "I really should have started back then, because I'd be half way there by now!"

In my previous post, I forgot to mention another tip that helped me: replacing the habit of comfort eating with something else.

I knew I was tempted to snack or overeat and that I needed to focus that energy and desire elsewhere. I made a list of some things I could do when I wanted to eat but wasn't hungry:

Drink tea
Get busy on my chores for the day
Drink water
Talk on the phone
Chew xylitol gum

That really helped! And it's amazing how much faster my chores were getting done and how much longer that batch of cookies lasted...

Weighing in: Practicing moderation in eating

Knowledge is powerful, but only when we are strong.

I love to read labels, and can recite the calories, protein, fiber, and sugar contents of many foods, along with the recommended serving size. I've spent time telling you about moderation when it comes to portion sizes.

I know the recommended lengths and intensities of exercise, and how many calories I burn walking for 30 minutes pushing a stroller. I've even blogged about the importance of exercise.

I know how many calories I should be eating each day.

I even know the recommended weight for my frame and height. And unfortunately, I wasn't in it. Wait -- why did I say "unfortunately"? After all, I get to choose what I eat.

Oh, yeah... the missing component: self control. Discipline. What, you mean reading about weight loss won't take the pounds off? I have to cut back on my... food intake?

Okay, time for a little background. :)

I had never really had much concern about my weight for the first 20 years of my life. I wasn't raised on health food and rarely exercised as a child, but being homeschooled and living on a farm provided room to move around, hard work to do, and lots of fresh garden food.

I got married when I was 20, and we lived in a small (<700 sq.ft.) apartment. While I definitely kept busy as a homemaker, most of my work was indoor activities... and I was still adjusting to cooking for 2 (not 8+!).

I was also more "on my own" than ever before, meaning that I had a lot of freedom when it came to eating. If I wanted to make a bag of microwave popcorn and eat it, I could. Any time of day. We had a microwave back then, and no little children to ask "Mommy, what are you doing?! Hey, I want some too!!"

On our wedding day, I was a normal weight for my body/height. When we finally purchased a bathroom scale 12 months later, I had gained 20 pounds. No wonder my clothes was tight and I felt chubby!

Seeing such a high number on the scales was a depressing shock, and I immediately started eating better. I eliminated all desserts, all fast food, and started walking every day. I lost those 20 pounds in a matter of several months, and felt great!

And almost right away, we found out that we were expecting our first child. They say that women tend to keep 10 pounds of baby weight with each child they have? Well, that was me. I gained 37 pounds when I was pregnant, and kept 10.

Nursing made me hungry, and I took advantage of the fact that I could eat a lot of food without gaining weight. I also told myself that nursing moms needed a lot of calories, and that I could lose those last 10 pounds after Yehoshua was weaned. After all, I knew exactly what to do to lose weight because I'd done it before!

Before Yehoshua was weaned, I was pregnant again. Since I started out 10 pounds heavier than the first time around, I only gained 27 pounds. (I actually don't try to limit my weight gain during pregnancy. Pregnancy is about the only time in recent years that I have felt as though I was pretty and not fat -- because pregnant women are supposed to be heavier! Smile Just one of the things I love about pregnancy... the extra sense of self-worth.)

Anyway, I ended up keeping an extra 10 pounds after having my second baby. I used every excuse imaginable to not exercise regularly and to not watch portion sizes. I didn't like being 20 pounds over my ideal weight, but I also didn't (and don't) enjoy denying my flesh.

Then, relief: I was pregnant again! I instantly went from feeling "fat" to feeling "cute and pregnant"! Hmmm. :)

After Ruth was born, I got within 7 pounds of my pre-3rd-pregnancy weight. Then the weight stopped coming off... but I kept eating. I started actually gaining weight (while exclusively breastfeeding -- so you can imagine how much food I was consuming!!!).

I didn't want to step on the scale because it was too depressing. I weighed as much as I did when I was 9 months pregnant with Yehoshua! I was okay with the idea of being a chubby mommy, and besides -- everyone looked at Ruth, not at me. I could just hold her in my arms and become invisible...

However, none of my clothes fit me very well. Most of the excess weight was in my stomach, which is very unhealthy - besides making me look 3-4 months pregnant. I would look in the mirror and think, "Next time I get pregnant, I'll be able to take pregnancy pictures the first month!" Embarassed I was no longer at the top of the"healthy weight" scale -- I was considered overweight.

Thankfully, my husband helped pull me out of "feeling depressed and ignoring my weight while eating more to help me feel better" and in early July, I started making some changes.

Since that time (about 3 months now), I've lost more than 15 pounds through watching what I eat and exercising. I still have about 15 pounds to go, but I already feel much better than I did before. I think I've lost at least 6 inches around my waist (like I said, the weight was all collecting there!) and a lot of my clothes that was too tight is now fitting me. Yay! :)

So here's what I did to get started.

1. I used an online calculator to determine how many calories I needed to consume each day. Since I'm breastfeeding, I added 300-500 calories to that number.

2. Each day, I keep track of how many calories I am consuming. This sounded tedious to me, but I was determined to know how much I was eating in order to lose weight while eating healthfully.

Counting calories is actually easier than I expected and really opened my eyes to the huge portions I had been eating! It's also helpful when I have consumed the full amount of calories for the day but am still hungry before bed -- to tell myself that I don't NEED to eat more.

It's also nice because even when the scales sometimes jumps up a number or two, I know I couldn't possibly have actually gained weight because I wasn't over-eating.

3. Once a week, I weigh myself and write that number down on a list. It's encouraging to see how far I've come! At the beginning, the thought of losing a pound a week for 30 weeks is just overwhelming! I did sort of set an initial goal of 20 pounds and a secondary goal of 10 pounds.

Also, the first week I lost 4 pounds (for some reason, that seems to happen the first week... probably all that undigested food that was constantly sitting inside me!) which was an incredible motivator!

4. Since I had been having difficulty with self-control (the reason I needed to lose 30 pounds!), the best thing for me was to avoid desserts and junk food. I know it's okay to have a bite or two, but for me, "a bite or two" almost always turned into a whole lot more than that. So for now, I'm pretty much cutting out the desserts and junk food. I've made a few exceptions, but in general this is what works the best for me!

5. Since I now have a calorie "budget", spending my calories wisely is really important. If I want to feel satisfied and healthy, then I need to use my calories on good food. Some of the things we like:

Bananas -- a quick, filling, 100-calorie snack
Other fruit -- whatever's on sale or in season
Lots of veggies -- I've been making at least 2 with each meal
Less of the main dish -- double the fruits and veggies!
Soup -- healthy veggie-based soups are great!
Water (I always have drank lots) and caffeine-free teas
Anything with lots of protein and fiber -- whole wheat bread, scrambled eggs, a cheese stick, etc...

6. I also exercise at least several times a week. Often, I walk with the children to a nearby park (about 15 minutes away) and while that's not aerobic exercise, it's still exercise and we're all getting some! :)

Other times, I ride our recumbent bike while watching a DVD -- though this requires Joshua or someone else to babysit while I'm exercising. (My children wake up early!! I'd need to get up before 5am to exercise while they're asleep, but I can't get to bed early enough for that...)

7. I always eat breakfast, but I try to skip the evening snacks. If I really must snack, I try to eat a banana or something similar. If I'm a little hungry at bedtime, I try to just go to bed.

By the way, I think it is pretty sad that so many people are literally starving in this world and yet it takes so much effort on my part not to over-indulge. I feel very spoiled and selfish writing about this topic! Yet, I know there are others who have similar struggles, so I hope that my ramblings are motivating and encouraging.

8. While we haven't changed what we eat for meals (aside from mothing too sweet or junky!), I've re-arranged my portions so that I'm eating twice as many veggies as usual, but only half of what I would normally take of the main dish. And if I'm feeling full half-way through my huge plate of food, I simply stop and save the rest for a few hours later when I'm actually feeling hungry again!

Before starting this diet/lifestyle change, I had difficulties with low blood sugar. Frequently, a couple hours after eating, I would start to feel weak (not really tummy-growling hungry, just weak) from low blood sugar. Initially I was concerned that eating fewer calories would exacerbate the issue, but it's actually dramatically improved. Hmmm.

So, that's where I'm at! I've pretty much adjusted to consuming about 2,000 calories a day instead of the 3500 I had been eating. It's still difficult at times to maintain self-control, but I'm encouraged when I get dressed or look in the mirror, because I'm on my way back to feeling great again! Actually, I already do feel great! :)

I've hinted about my weight loss endeavors, but was reluctant to write about it until I had actually made my plans a reality -- since I am known to make great plans and never follow through. Tongue out

Oh, one more thing -- lots of people recommend Spark People, a free fitness website. I did sign up there (actually, at their pregnant/breastfeeding companion website where they directed me as I was applying), but really am not able to use the computer to keep track of everything. It's easier for me to note things on paper! But the website had some great checklists for keeping track of calories, glasses of water, etc... so if you're into that sort of thing, check it out! :)

I'd love to hear your weight loss stories and tips! Are any of you on this journey with me right now? :)

When healthy eating gets out of control

A few days ago, I came across this article from ABC News about a newly classified eating disorder called "orthorexia".

Orthorexia, they say, is when someone has an uncommon fear of consuming anything "unhealthy" -- to the extent that it overwhelms their lives and they feel they can't eat so many things due to health risks that eventually there isn't much of anything left TO eat... and they become very unhealthy, both mentally and physically.

I didn't really care for the tone of the article. The reporter seemed to be poking fun at those who desired to eat healthy foods and he showed obvious disdain for their choices, even suggesting that someone on a raw food diet is "dumb".

The main examples in the article are obviously extreme cases of "healthy eating" that is definitely not bringing health to the person.

But I think the problem lies not in eating healthy foods or in consuming only raw foods, but rather in letting healthy eating get out of control and consume a person's life.

I'd love some feedback on this topic! I know many of you seek to eat as nutritiously as possible. :) How do you maintain a good balance? What is a good balance for you? Has the desire to eat healthfully ever caused conflict in your life or gone too far?

For me, I think our nutrition is a balance of keeping within our budget constraints and making foods that my husband likes.

We budget enough money towards food so that we are able to afford high-quality and nutritious foods... although long-time readers will know that I try to do that as affordably as possible. ;) For me, that just means buying 50# bags of grain, or growing our own tomatoes, or eating whatever is generously given to us from others' gardens. :) And the "other" stuff, well, I just shop at Aldi's. :) So... it's a balance, like I said. :)

As far as cooking to please my husband, again, this is a balancing act and we're worked through lots of things to arrive at foods that are healthy but still absolutely delicious!

One example is our homemade bread. Joshua never wanted me to pack sandwiches made from homemade bread unless the bread had been made that same day and was still soft. So for a long time, we bought bread at Aldi's.

Then Joshua oh-so-skillfully and oh-so-scientifically altered our bread recipe to include some natural dough conditioners, making the homemade loaves turn out beautiful and soft... and stay that way for a week or longer! (Not that bread ever lasts that long around here... Wink)

So, while it didn't happen overnight, eventually we did arrive at a healthy, homemade, and even frugal conclusion that we both love! Of course, I'm not soaking my grains. And bread certainly isn't raw... ;)

Xylitol: Promoting dental health naturally and frugally

I've learned so much about xylitol over the past 4 months! It's strange to think that not so long ago, I barely knew what xylitol was and was completely oblivious to its great dental benefits.

Thankfully, I stumbled across a blog by a dentist and spent many hours reading her archives. If you're at all interested in trying a different approach to your dental health, Dr. Ellie's blog is a great place to start. And along with all of her helpful answers and advice, she's a very kind person who gives of her time and resources to help others have healthy teeth.

My first experience with xylitol was when we got some granulated xylitol through a local co-op. At $6.20 a pound, it was not going to replace our sugar consumption, that's for sure. But the great part is that it only takes a small amount of xylitol to help teeth stay clean and healthy.

Joshua and I, along with our boys (ages 4 and 2) have been consuming xylitol for several months now, and we all love it!!

I hadn't had issues with plaque, but eating a little xylitol (along with using our WaterPik, which I very highly recommend because it gets my teeth so clean!!) makes my teeth feel squeaky clean. I'm also using Dr. Ellie's "system" and plan to continue on it for 12 months and then get a second opinion from a local dentist -- though I have been very pleased with the results thus far.

Yehoshua (4 1/2) especially had plaque build-up on his teeth, even though I brushed them twice a day. Giving him a small bite of xylitol before naps and bedtime, as well as after meals, has resulted in less plaque and fresher breath! (I now allow him to brush after lunch time, and before bed I brush and floss his teeth.)

Dr. Ellie stresses how important it is to protect our teeth while we sleep (less saliva = more tooth decay) and so I've been very diligent to make sure that the boys always brush and eat xylitol before sleeping. Dr. Ellie's blog is always an encouragement to me to keep on taking great care of our family's teeth!

Okay, okay... so I'm passionate about oral health. Let's get down to the point of this post: how to reap the benefits of xylitol frugally! :)

What is xylitol?

Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol (click on that link to read more).

Granulated xylitol looks and tastes similar to sucrose (table sugar).

Xylitol is also made into mints or candies (xylitol + flavoring), or used in chewing gum.

Why should I use xylitol?

It works. (Use Google to locate studies and statistics!) Fewer dental caries means less invasive dental procedures like fillings, which are not natural and are definitely expensive!

Where can I get xylitol?

Xylitol can be purchased at health food stores, bulk food stores (be sure to ask, since sometimes they carry products that aren't on the shelf!), through co-ops, or online.

We have tried mints and gums from Zellies and from Emerald Forest. Zellies has the best service -- free shipping and the order gets here FAST. Emerald Forest is cheaper, and orders have arrived about a week after placement.

Xylitol gum is convenient for when we're away from home for a meal and can't clean our teeth as well as we could at home. Chewing gum helps clean the teeth. The mints are convenient, and taste just like normal breath mints.

But the mints and gums are expensive!

I know. Xylitol isn't as cheap as sucrose, that's for sure. :) So here is how we consume xylitol without breaking the bank:

Mints and gums: Joshua has a small container of these in his lunch box for while he is at work. (He gets 10 minutes to eat lunch, so there's no hope of doing anything more than popping in a mint or piece of gum!)

Granulated xylitol: This is what the children and I consume. Per ounce, plain granulated xylitol is far cheaper than even the cheapest mints or gums.

The recommended amount of xylitol to consume in one day (for maximum dental benefits) is 6.5-10 grams (1-2 teaspoons, I believe). We buy the xylitol in 5-pound bags, and one bag lasts a long time.

Granulated xylitol is good (I mean, who doesn't love being able to eat sugar?!) but it's not as exciting as flavored mints or candies.

But... I figured out how to flavor my own! Into a small container of xylitol, I put 2-3 drops of pure orange oil (essential oil, not extract), stirred it together, and now we have what tastes like orange slice candy! It's very yummy!!

I did the same with peppermint oil in another container!

Now, the flavored granulated xylitol isn't as convenient as the ready-made mints or candies, because we have to use a spoon to eat it. But it works for around the house... and it's so much cheaper than buying mints/candies!


I just recently placed an order with Emerald Forest, and used a 10% off coupon code they had given me. When my order came, they had included another coupon -- but I won't be ordering again for quite some time. If anyone is interested in using the 10% off code, contact me and I'll send you the code. :) Edited to add: Coupon has been taken!


Have you ever used xylitol? I'd love to hear about your experiences with it! Where do you purchase yours, and what is the best price you've found? What's your favorite brand of mints or gum?


I recently signed up as an affiliate at This just means that if someone wants to order something from and they use my search box to get there, I will receive a percentage of what they spend. More details here! I just signed up a few weeks ago, and already earned $7! It's not a ton of money, but it's a start, right? :) 

And while I'm making public service announcements, I want to say thank you to all of you for being so kind, friendly, and helpful.

I am indebted to you all for your input on readers' questions, advice about my cooking disasters, and just the sweet comments about our children or whatever! You guys are such an encouragement to me... sometimes a comment will come just when I needed it most. Other times, you challenge me to re-think something... or remind me that everyone is different... in a good way. :)

I feel very undeserving of the readership you all give! Thanks for sharing in our lives. :)

Catching up

I guess I'll be doing some dishes tonight.

And folding laundry.

Anyone want to keep me company on the phone tonight (~9-11pm EST) while I work? Email me with your number. :)

Edited to add:

Clean kitchen!!!!!!

This morning -- the sunlight shining in on my clean kitchen as cream of wheat cooks on the stovetop. :) Even better? I hardly remember the stacks of dirty dishes because I was having a lovely conversation with a long-time blog reader Lyn. Thanks, Lyn! :)

I'll be back

In the spirit of this post...

My messy kitchen

I'll be back in a couple of hours with a kitchen tip for Tuesday. And it won't be about how to stay on top of the dishes. I may need to re-think my once-a-day dishes plan. It hasn't been working as well as it used to...

A quiet house, some good music, and work to be done -- work symbolizing purpose, direction, and blessings. :)

Outside of "blog land"

I love blogging, but the really good part is taking things into "real life".

A hundred recipes on a website don't really do any good if my family is eating PBJ for dinner. A motivating post about homemaking is useless if I spend all my time and energy staring at a computer screen thinking about doing things instead of actually doing them.

And while I love sharing bits of our life here in my blog, it's even more exciting to sit down and actually spend time with folks... in "real life". :)

Crockpot Pizza, Creamed Asparagus, and some veggies

About 6 months ago, I was blessed to meet a local blog reader. Living in a somewhat rural area in NW Ohio, in a (relatively) small town, I think we were both shocked to discover that we lived in the same town! :) We've made good use of living in close proximity, with lots of visits and meals between our families. :)

It's fun to have a local friend who's passionate about many of the same things as I am. :) I'm passing along my love for receiving blanket diapers and homemade cloth wipes, and she's introducing my boys to goats and chickens. Oh, and I swapped some of my excess asparagus for some farm-fresh eggs. I know, I know... I got the good end of that deal! :)

This morning, she and I headed out to some garage sales in a nearby town. Have my regular readers caught on to my budding garage sale addiction this year? It's Joshua's fault for encouraging it, along with the fact that my children keep outgrowing their clothes... ;)

When we got home, it was lunch time. I had some crock pot pizza ready, and warmed up leftover creamed asparagus over pasta, along with some veggies.

Yes, I serve leftovers to guests. Sometimes. Let's just say that the focus was on garage sales, not food. ;) Or, starve your guests and when you finally feed them, they'll rave about anything. Something like that. ;)

Tired little Ruth...

Here's what Ruth thought about it all. By the time lunch was over, she was exhausted. :) She's sucking her thumb in this picture -- something she's really fond of doing. She must take after her mommy (I sucked my thumb until 3rd grade).

Enjoying the sunshine

Butterfly dress on the clothesline

Our attempt at garage saleing on Friday morning ended in a downpour and an over-heated car after the second sale, but we managed to make it back home safely. It was dark and rainy all day and I was so ready for a break from the week's work that I collapsed into bed at 7:45pm.

Thankfully, the rain has let up and today is sunny. My clothesline is filled, and as the wind lifts the fabrics in the breeze, my spirits lift too.

We skipped naps today, so the boys will be ready for an early bedtime. I think I'll leave the the bright computer screen and get some chores finished up before it's my bedtime, too!

Just a snapshot of life

Dirty dishes!

Life. It's a whole lot bigger than what fits into my blogging time. :)

Why is it that a messy kitchen looks so much less messy in a picture?! :)

The kitchen table's full, too. It's 11:20pm and I am completely unmotivated to do all these dishes. So I'm using my blog to motivate me! Is that allowed? ;)

I'll be back with an "after" photo soon! :)


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