I’m A Recovering Food Blogger

**This post is cross-posted on my weight-loss blog, FoodieReset**

Hi, my name is Mara, and I’m a recovering food blogger.

“HI MARA”

This post has been a long time coming, and years in the making.

Over five years ago, I started my food blog, What’s for Dinner? with the hopes of chronicling losing “those last 20 pounds” after a successful stint in Weight Watchers. Friends were always asking me for recipes so I figured “what the hell?” and started writing them down.

The recipes gave way to pictures of the food.

Which then gave way to bringing a camera to every meal out…

…which then gave way to a more expensive camera at every meal out.

I think months went by and I didn’t eat a hot meal because I had to get the photo “just so.” There were eye rolls when the camera came out. People started passing me their plates before they started eating so that I could get a picture. I’m apparently the only one who didn’t find it ridiculous.

Being a food blogger was a huge contributor to my weight gain.

When I say huge, I mean “in the top ten reasons I piled on over 80 pounds in a few short years”.

At first, I was sharing healthy recipes, measuring my portions, and if I remembered to photograph them, great.

Then things changed. I don’t know if it was the advent of Pinterest, the insane competition that started happening between the “bigger bloggers” and the “smaller bloggers” to get as much blog traffic as possible, or whether I used these things as an excuse to make deep-fried appetizers, cheesy pasta-filled main courses, and decadent (I now shudder at this word) desserts. I got a kick out of people loving my food. I also loved my food, way too much and way too often.

When I started my Optifast weight loss journey, I abruptly said goodbye to this way of life. I think in the whole 14 weeks of the intensive program, I took one photo of one shake one morning. ONCE. They just weren’t interesting.

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See? Boring.
I used food blogging to fuel my food addiction, which I wholeheartedly accept and acknowledge as a real thing. The difference, as they say, is that one needs food to live, unlike other addictions which can be 100% cut out of a person’s life. I couldn’t just stop eating. I could, however, take away the parts which made it anything more than a necessity. I stopped cooking. Stopped planning. Stopped shopping. Food became fuel only.
I vowed to myself to only take photos of food for my own accountability. Thai spicy broth for dinner instead of Optifast? Photo. First sashimi dinner after 14 weeks of no real solid food? Photo. I would not, however, break out the good camera and set the plates out just so and make the photos look perfect. I used my phone and some Instagram filters and shared my food with my followers there, and watched my attitude about food continue to be that of fuel and not my primary source of success or pleasure.
I realized during our trip to Barcelona that there is a huge difference between photographing a meal for the memory of it, and photographing a meal “for the blog”. I have dozens of photos of food from that trip, and I also know there was plenty of food consumed that was not photographed. I also realized that the sheer act of feeling like I “had to” photograph a meal can be likened to putting an alcoholic in a bar, or a gambling addict in a casino. I found myself overeating, over-drinking, and under-thinking
One thing that absolutely has not changed is my appreciation for the beautiful. I take a huge amount of pleasure in eating a beautifully prepared meal, and even indulge in the occasional dessert (preferably made by my über-talented sister). Yes, I still take photos of meals occasionally, but only because I feel they are too beautiful to not be recorded, or too delicious not to share.


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Pan con tomate and mussels on the Mediterranean, saved for posterity in my iPhone

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I told you my sister is talented!

While one of the most important things to come from this is my now 97.5 pound weight loss, I truly feel that THE most important thing for me is my change in attitude regarding food. Sure I eat to live. Sometimes, I live to cook. But I truly and honestly feel that I no longer live to eat… and that’s something that took me 33 years and some months to learn, and will take a lifetime to reinforce.


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What does this mean for What’s for Dinner? I’ll still post here when I have new food discoveries, or a truly special meal to share. Gone are the days of the phenomenal photos with cute captions, but all the recipes of yore will stay here for you to enjoy! This is not goodbye…it’s see you soon!

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Eat Well Bingo


Master the Eatwell Plate with Eatwell Bingo

Many of us share a love-hate relationship with food, enjoying its wonderful flavors, yet completely aware of what too much intake can do to us. If the sheer number of specialized diets like the Paleo Diet tell us anything, it’s that more people are pushing to learn more about eating right, and about eating nothing but the most necessary food. Enjoyment is often pushed to the side in favor of nutrition, but the UK’s Food Standards Agency has sought to prove that you can still eat your regular food, as long as you eat in proper proportions.

Promoting the Eatwell Plate, an improvement on the now-defunct Food Pyramid, the UK’s FSA is coming up with some incredibly unique ways of getting their message across. According to the Eatwell Plate, you can have pretty much anything – yes, even sugary drinks like soda – so long as you proportion well. “Eating healthily is about eating the right amount of food for your energy needs. In England, most adults are either overweight or obese,” says the FSA. “This means many of us are eating more than we need, and should eat and drink fewer calories in order to lose weight.”

Because the Eatwell Plate applies to nearly everyone (except children under the age of 2), the FSA has wasted no time in trying to propagate it, even utilizing one of the most popular pastimes in the UK: bingo. The UK’s bingo industry is worth a whopping $557 million annually, prompting even British supermarket chain Iceland Foods to create Iceland Bingo in 2012. The FSA uses a game called Eatwell Bingo, which aims to encourage players to get the balance of their diets right.

All resources for playing Eatwell Bingo – call cards, bingo cards, and information sheets – can be found on their website. The aim of the game is to inform players so that they will be “able to recognise types and proportions of foods that strike a healthy balance, encouraging an interest in healthy food choices”. Playing the game is just like playing regular bingo, except instead of numbers, you draw food items, and then are treated to nutritional information about these items, hitting two birds with one stone.

If you’d like to download the Eatwell Bingo kit, click click here.

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One Year

This post is cross-posted from my weight-loss progress blog, FoodieReset.

A year ago (well, a year ago 2 days ago) I made the decision to flip my life upside down.

After spending the better portion of the previous 3 years doing nothing but planning for, buying, prepping, photographing, and eating (and eating, and eating, and eating) the most delicious food I could imagine, I decided to give it all up.

I walked in to the Alexian Brothers Weight Loss Solutions clinic with zero expectations. What I knew was this (and I’m sharing things I’ve never shared before because, what the heck):

  • I weighed in at 285.1 pounds, wearing a snug size 22 pants (which should’ve been a 24) and a 22/24 top.
  • I couldn’t walk up stairs without getting winded.
  • I had zero space between my real chin, my second chin, and my neck.
  • I wore a size 46 H bra
  • I was always tired. Always. I woke up tired, worked tired, got home tired, and never slept well.
  • Size 2X men’s t-shirts were snug
  • I wore a size 10 wide shoe, and could not stand wearing any sort of heel for longer than an hour or so.
  • I was sick a lot. If a cold or the flu was going around work, I got it and got it bad.
  • I had consistent skin rashes (in fairly bad places) almost constantly. They hurt all the time.
  • My face was always broken out in horrific painful pimples
  • I wore my fitbit band (because just wearing it would help) on the biggest notch, and it irritated my wrist.
  • I had issues keeping myself as clean as I would’ve liked, as cleaning my whole self in the shower was difficult.
  • I had to have my wedding ring set resized twice, which pained me, as it was the last handmade thing I have from my dad. I wore a size 8.5 ring.
  • My stomach almost always hurt, usually from sheer overeating.
  • Every joint in my body hurt, almost all the time. Even my fingers and toes hurt, and my neck, ankles gave out fairly often, causing embarrassing falls.
  • I had a hard time finding glasses that fit my face, causing ridiculous grooves on the side of my face when I took my glasses off. And forget contacts! They caused a weird allergic reaction.

This was me, always with a smile on my face, but always feeling not quite right.

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I was actually wearing those same pants when I walked into that clinic. They were digging into my stomach as I sat in the waiting room, and I noticed that I had splatters of Frappucino from that morning on the knee. Probably from when I used the straw to scrape the last of the whipped cream out of the bottom of the cup.

After talking with the nurse, dietician, doctor, and my mom, I made a decision to jump in head-first. Meal replacements for a minimum of 12 weeks through OptiFast.

I made it 14 weeks. I slowly added food. I traveled. I learned to not loathe exercise. I lost weight successfully for the first time in years.

Today:

  • I weighed in this week at 198.6 pounds, two up from my low of 196, wearing a comfy size 14 pants and dress, and a 14/L top.
  • I can run up my stairs without a second thought.
  • I have one chin, and a definite neck. I had to buy new chains for most of my necklaces that were 2”-3” shorter.
  • I wear a size 36 J bra, which actually needs to be re-fitted soon
  • Ok, I’m still tired a lot, but a big part of that is my job. However, I can sleep now, and have energy more often than not.
  • I wear a Medium or Large men’s t-shirt
  • My walking shoes are a 9 regular, and my dressier shoes are a 9 1/2 regular. I lost weight in my feet.
  • Except for losing my gallbladder, I’ve only been sick a handful of times.
  • The only skin rash I’ve gotten is from a mean mosquito.
  • I can count on my fingers the number of bad pimples I’ve had.
  • I wear my fitbit band on the second to smallest notch.
  • I take much more pride in my appearance and am no longer “the smelly kid.”
  • I have to have my wedding ring set sized back down, and wear a size 6.5 ring.
  • I only get a stomachache on the rare occasion that I eat off-plan.
  • My joints don’t hurt like they used to. My knees hurt after a long walk (more than 5 miles). No more finger or toe pain, shoulders are good, neck is fine.
  • I can wear almost any pair of glasses I try on now, without the embarrassing side of face lines. I can wear contacts too, but I’m out at the moment!

I’ve lost and maintained an 86 pound loss, and I still have a bit to go. I’m in a plateau at the moment, and my doctor assures me it’s “normal” and he would be satisfied if I could just maintain here.

This is my new normal, minus the fancy hair and makeup!

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This was, by far, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s up there with choosing to marry my husband and choosing to work where I work. I’ve never felt better!

Thank you to all of you, my friends, family, readers, and support system for being there every step of the way! I’ll continue to update here, as I learn more about losing, as my old weight watchers leader used to say, “the hard lard.”

One last progress photo, for fun… my school pictures from last year and this year!

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Super-Exciting BIG NEWS!!!!!

Over a month ago, on a whim, I entered the OptiFast “New You” Contest. It’s an annual contest in which people who have had success with the OptiFast plan write an essay and submit before/after photos and throw caution to the wind. I didn’t think I had a chance.

I wrote a super-long essay (1,800 words!) and had to edit it down to 500 for the contest. I submitted pictures, and when I didn’t hear anything by May 31, as it had said on the page, I figured I hadn’t won. No biggie, right?

Then the email came in.

“Congratulations! You’ve been selected as one of three Grand Prize winners in the OPTIFAST New You Contest.  You were selected based on your overall weight loss, the creativity and originality of your essay, and the compelling nature of your story.  The OPTIFAST team is very proud of you and your accomplishment and look forward to meeting you in New York!”

Wait, what?

I freaking WON?!

I’m one of the three winners of the NATIONWIDE OptiFast contest! I get to go to New York with Adam, get a makeover, have a spa day, go on a $500 shopping spree (which I’ve joked will get me one shoe or half a nice purse!) and have a professional photo shoot! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!!!

Without all of your support, I don’t think I could’ve done this… thank you for everything.

In case you want to read my super-long essay, since I don’t LOVE the edited one as much as the unedited, you can do so here.

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Progress Report

**This post is mostly cross-posted from my new, weight-loss centered blog, FoodieReset**

So, remember back when I first started losing weight and every single day was an adventure?

Now? Not so much. I pretty much wake up, do my thing, and go to bed.

The thing that’s different though, is what “doing my thing” entails. Most days, back in the What’s for Dinner? blog hey day, my day was very very different than now. Usually, every day (or almost every day) after school involved a trip to the grocery store for dozens of ingredients for some “fabulous” dinner and sometimes baked goods. Hours would be spent in the evenings prepping, cooking, plating, photographing, and finally eating said meal, and then editing the photos and blogging. Not to mention my afternoons were mostly spent completely and totally exhausted, struggling to stay awake past 7:30 p.m. but forcing myself to stay up until 9. But darn it, the blog looked awesome.

Nowadays, I’ve embraced the “plan ahead” method when it comes to food. Early in the week, I purchase enough food for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and spend a bit of time on Sunday (or Monday if I’m feeling slackish) prepping what I need to. Eggs are hard-boiled. Veggies are chopped. One large amount of protein is cooked. The crock pot, even in this nicer weather, has been a really great friend. One pot of chili or pot roast is enough to last the week since someone I live with doesn’t eat leftovers. These basic proteins are great on salads, in low-carb wraps, or even just on their own with my veggie of choice. I cycle through vegetables too…

I did nothing but eat brussels sprouts for the first few weeks I ate real food, with the occasional cauliflower thrown in. Now, I’m very deeply into grilled asparagus and red peppers. I’m sure that’ll pass in favor of tomatoes soon, but I’m really just excited for Summer produce.

Snacks are simple: Quest bars are my new favorite things. They’re delicious, have LOADS of fiber, only a few accessible carbs, and did I mention DELICIOUS?! I’m talking cookies and cream and cookie dough and strawberry cheesecake, and I really look forward to eating one a day. (Quest hasn’t paid me or anything for this mention, I just really really like them!!) I’m also eating raw almonds (26, no more, no less), string cheese, and 2% cottage cheese. Sometimes these are “meals” and sometimes they’re “snacks”, it all just depends on what time I eat.

Weight loss progress has slowed down a bit, though it’s still headed in the right direction. I’m officially down 82.9 pounds, and am inching my way closer to “Onederland”…that mythical spot where my weight number will start with at “1” instead of a “2”. I honestly cannot believe I’ve come this far. I’m not just talking about the scale, but honestly, the “brain progress” is bigger to me than the weight loss. I’m completely satisfied with a simple meal and good company, and know that eating what I used to consider “normal” will make me feel like utter crap.

Some progress photos:

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With my sister-in-law, Rivian, at her baby shower I threw
Progress
Progress
I treated myself to some new (and probably too expensive) hair color.
I treated myself to some new (and probably too expensive) hair color.
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Crazy difference, huh?
Learning to curl the hairs
Learning to curl the hairs

Now, a question for you all readers… would you be interested in a new, “lighter” and low-carb What’s for Dinner? Let me know what you think!

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