Forming Healthy Habits…Part One

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How often in life do we try to do too many things at once? I am completely guilty of this.  I will start multiple projects, decide to change multiple aspects of my life at once, and end up throwing in the towel way too early.  Then I end up getting frustrated with myself rather than acknowledging what I have done to succeed, regardless of how small that success.

Here’s my point:  Too often, (we as women especially), tend to try and tackle diet and exercise simultaneously.  How often do you start a new diet and exercise program cold turkey on a Monday morning, convinced that you are going to make some SERIOUS changes? For some people, this approach will work.  However, I have never had success with this approach.  I will inevitably stop working out, or get lax on my diet, and end up feeling like a failure.

As many people are told, diet is the majority of the battle with forming a new, healthy lifestyle.  Exercise is great, because it can help increase lung capacity, decrease resting heart rate, make you have more energy, etc.  But if you are eating garbage, and not changing your eating habits, you will never be successful with long-term, sustainable weight loss and overall health.

As someone who suffers from an autoimmune disease, it is important for me to alleviate my symptoms through diet.  I have cut out all grains, but continue to eat dairy and nuts. My personal goal for the next few months is to adopt the Autoimmune Protocol, or AIP diet, to see what my body is not responding well to in terms of food.  Once I have completed a 30 day AIP diet (completely eliminate dairy, nightshades, grain), I will slowly start to incorporate those foods (except for grains) back into my diet to see if I truly have a food allergy or sensitivity to something I wasn’t aware.  After doing this before with grains, and then trying to reintroduce grains into my diet, I had some TERRIBLE repercussions (nausea, stomach cramps, stomach bloat, fatique, lethargy, migraines, etc.)

While I begin a new overhaul of my diet, I will continue to do light exercise, but I first need to focus on healing my body from the inside out.  Once I begin to feel better, I will start to incorporate more intense workouts.

So now you’re probably wondering, “What is the right diet for me?” First off, let me start by saying you should consult with a doctor before beginning any weight loss program.  Get regular blood work to see what your baseline numbers are.  Then, start slow!!! No one has ever had a negative reaction from eliminating grain in their diet, so that’s a good place to start!

For me, the easiest thing to do when I wanted to change my diet was to cut out all grains. This includes bread, pasta, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, spelt, corn, rice, etc.  Give yourself two weeks following this way of eating before throwing in the towel.  I promise you will look and feel better. You can find so many recipes on Pinterest that cater to a grain-free lifestyle.

Drink more water.  I know it’s easy to say, hard to do.  You need to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day (if you weigh 150 pounds, you need to drink 75 ounces of water per day).  One of the techniques that helped me drink more water was to purchase a 30 oz Yeti tumbler.  I know they are expensive, but you just need to find ANY bottle or glass that is visually appealing, keeps your water nice and cold, and encourages you to drink more.

Increase your intake of healthy fats (avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, olives), protein, and vegetables.  Limit the amount of carbohydrates that you consume per day (aim for 45 grams or less per day).  Berries are great in moderation (no more than 1 cup per day).

Here’s an idea of what a perfect day of eating for me looks like (keep in mind, everyone’s caloric needs are different.  I strive to get between 1400 and 1600 a day to maintain my weight):

  • Breakfast: Two eggs, cooked in butter, with two pieces of bacon.  Hot sauce for flavor. Coffee blended with a tbsp of unsalted butter and a tbsp of coconut oil, with a dash of cinnamon on top (it’s like a latte, honest to God!!!)
  • Lunch: Typically, leftovers from the night before. OR, I will do a can of tuna fish or other serving of protein, vegetables cooked in coconut oil or butter, and a cup of iced tea (no sugar)
  • Snack: Handful of raw nuts OR a handful of Whisps (parmesan cheese crackers) OR a yogurt
  • Dinner: Meat of choice and vegetable of choice (always cooked in a healthy fat or butter) –LOAD UP on the veggies! Fill your entire plate if you want to.  Especially dark leafy greens like sauteed kale, spinach or swiss chard.
  • Snack: Small serving of berries and a cup of decaf tea

What are your goals for gaining a healthy lifestyle? How are you going to take the first step? Is there a particular diet you are going to try, vitamins/supplements you want to incorporate, an exercise regimen that you know you can stick with?

Please comment and let me know! Let’s go on this journey together!

XOXO,

Kristen

 

From Survivor to Patient…You Can Do This

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” -Bob Marley

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Dear friend,

I want you to know, above all, that you are loved and you will get through this difficult time. I remember sitting in your chair just two short years ago, scared to death of the unknown and wondering,

“Am I ever going to get through this?”

“What is my life going to be like while I’m going through treatments and how will I remain committed to my faith in God?”

I know you are probably asking yourself these very questions, and I’m here to tell you that you will get through this, and you will be able to walk away as a stronger, more thankful and patient person.

I have a few tips for you on how to stay positive throughout this journey, because being positive will truly affect your recovery and your overall wellbeing. That being said, you WILL have a few rough days. Your hair may fall out. When it does, you will cry, and quite honestly, you should! Don’t be afraid to let your emotions show. Don’t be afraid to lean on your loved ones, your family and your friends, to say, “I’m struggling right now, and I need you to hug me and just be here to listen to me.” You may have a week where you are supposed to get treatment and you find out that day, that your platelets are low and you are ineligible for treatment that week. You will cry, and you should! It’s frustrating to be set back a week, because it’s one week further away from being done. But you will get done. The day I finished my last treatment was an emotional day. I never thought that I would get to this point, and when I did, I felt the whole weight of the world lifted from my shoulders and I gained the knowledge that life was now just beginning for me. I was reborn. I fought cancer and I came out a survivor. Just like you will.

I won’t say this is going to be an easy process, because there are definitely up’s and down’s, high’s and low’s, and times where you question your faith and you just want to give up. But I can tell you with great certainty that your attitude and your positive outlook will keep you from the darkest suffering.

Find a hobby that you enjoy, keep working when you feel up to it, and find positive distractions. Talk to friends and family and keep the conversations light and happy. Watch funny movies, eat ice cream, bake cookies at 2 a.m., travel…whatever it takes to let you know that life is beautiful and you are going to have a long, beautiful life. This is just a temporary setback. Don’t ever let the sadness and frustration about going through the toughest battle of your life dull your sparkle and rob you of your happiness.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s B-Cell Lymphoma on May 16, 2014. I’m was 27 years old, married, no children. I started treatment on June 8th and I completed my treatments on October 1st. I lost huge clumps of my hair 14 days after my very first treatment and my husband shaved my head. I became an expert at wearing scarves and found that I was more beautiful than ever before, because I wore my strength for the whole world to see. Don’t be afraid of losing your hair, getting sick, being tired…everyone has different side effects.

Yes, I lost my hair, but I never got sick. I did lose my appetite, and lost a few pounds, but some people find they are hungry all the time and gain a few pounds. Listen to your body and give it the nourishment that it needs. Eat healthy! I can’t stress this enough. Eat lots of dark green vegetables, lean protein and fruit. You will feel a million times better. Drink LOTS of water. A gallon a day! Get those chemo toxins out of your body. If you have a picc line or a port (I had a picc line), take it easy with lifting heavy objects. But do yoga or stretching when you feel like you can. If you have a dog, go for a nice walk. Breathe fresh air and let the sunshine on your skin for a few minutes every day. It will make you feel so much better.

I never wanted this letter to be anonymous because I want you to reach out if you feel like you need a friend or just to talk to someone who has gone through what you are about to start and can be a shoulder to cry on or just someone to talk. Or more importantly, to listen with the knowledge of being in your shoes.  If you need help learning to tie a scarf, give me a call or email me. Text me at 3 a.m. if you can’t sleep and you are nervous or sad. You are not alone.

“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, help you, uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

 

XOXO,

Kristen

814-592-7494

kplotner@livingthesunnylife.com

 

 

 

 

Building An Oasis

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The finished oasis

It’s a cool, sunny Sunday morning here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, so I took the opportunity to have my coffee outside on our deck and enjoy the sunshine.  Our back deck has not always been the most comfortable place to sit and relax.  Let me give you some background…

When Jason and I bought our home in August of 2014, we were immediately in awe over the expansive back deck and the hot tub nestled into the deck floor.  “How cool! Our own hot tub! I bet we are going to use this every day.”

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Before picture of the deck with the built-in hot tub

Wrong.  In the two years that we have lived in our house, I can count on two hands the amount of times we actually used the hot tub.  Here’s the problem: In the wintertime, it is way too cold to sit in a hot tub.  You get into your swimsuit (or nothing at all) and make a mad dash from the door to the hot tub.  Once you are in, your body is nice and warm, but your face is freezing cold because the cold wind is blowing or else it is snowing on your head.  When it is time to get out, you contemplate just living in the hot tub forever, because the thought of getting out and having the cold wind hit your wet skin immediately gives you anxiety.  But you do it, and you spend the rest of the night with a body temperature that just can’t seem to regulate itself.  You are either perpetually hot or cold…there is no in between.  In the summer, it is way too hot to sit in a 100 degree hot tub.  Even at night.  So it went unused, and the only activity that is saw was when we added chemicals or cleaned it out.

This past summer, we decided to remove the hot tub and create an outdoor oasis on our back deck, one that would actually be comfortable and enjoyable.  A place to truly kick back and relax with our dogs and friends.

The hot tub was built into the deck and cemented to a concrete slab underneath the deck. There was no way without the assistance of a crane that we were going to get it out in one piece.  Therefore, we decided to cut it out in pieces using a reciprocating saw.  This went surprisingly fast.  All of the hot tub pieces were then taken to the local landfill. This cost us about $120.

Once the hot tub was out, we were left with a hole about 8 feet by 8 feet.  We removed all of the decking boards from around the hot tub location, and put down fresh 16 foot decking boards.  Obviously the color wasn’t going to match right away (you can’t stain new wood until it has time to season) but we figured we would put our new oasis over most of the color disparity and hide it from being such a huge focal point.  With the wood and the screws, this part cost us less than $160.

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Hot tub removed and new decking boards installed

The first thing we did was buy a gazebo.  I wanted a lot of shade on the back deck, and something that I could seal during the evenings when the bugs were in full force.  We found a great deal at Value City on a gazebo with metal posts and screened sides for $200.

Next, we started shopping around online and in stores for patio furniture.  I wanted a large sectional couch and a chair.  We already have a table with four chairs and an umbrella on the back porch that we purchased when we moved in.   The best deal we found was at Ikea. We were able to pick the individual pieces that would look best and ended up with a four cushion sectional couch for less than $500.

The coffee table, the separate chair, and all of the cushions came from At Home.  We also purchased the fountain there. If you have never been to an At Home store…I recommend finding one in your local area immediately and spending a copious amount of money there.  It’s not hard to do, that place is incredible.

The rug, the ball light that we strung from the center of the gazebo and the serving tray came from Pier One.  Sign up for their email list to get coupons and you will be amazed at the good deals you can find.  I refuse to pay full price for anything at Pier One because at the end of the season it gets marked down so much.  Just buy all you need for next year at the end of the season and it will be like Christmas when you open a box and find all of your forgotten purchases.  All tolled, the price for our oasis was around $1300.

There are obviously a million different ideas for how to set up an outdoor oasis.  We added planters full of fresh herbs and bought two large palm trees to add to the decor.  The fountain and our wind chime gave it a relaxing, almost tropical feel.

Most of our nights now in the summer revolve around sitting in the gazebo, shutting all of the screens and snugging on the couch to read or watch movies with our dogs.  It has truly become an oasis from the daily grind, and we have enjoyed our deck more this summer than ever before.

 

XOXO,

Kristen

 

Ride or Die

The phrase “Ride or Die Bitches” gets thrown around a lot these days.  My problem with the phrase is the utter lack of understanding of what it truly means.  For some, it is a simple sentiment to use for your close friends and acquaintances, the people in your life that you couldn’t see yourself living without, but could survive if you had to.  It means you would do anything, be anything, and be unwavering to those people, as long as the situation was convenient for you and not too much trouble. It’s casualness is similar to how you would describe a “beautiful” day or a “nice” car.  There is no actual meaning.

When I first started my job working in the mortgage industry, I never thought that I would find my friend soul mates.  I mean honestly, it’s a tough job, one fraught with stress, sleepless nights, rude customers and quotas. You feel very much alone in the job, because all of the responsibility lies on your shoulders. I started to develop close relationships with some of my fellow loan officers, and we would spend lunch hours commiserating about our shitty jobs, our rude customers, the long hours, etc.  Yet those friendships started to form into more than friendly work chatter.  We soon began taking lunch together on a routine basis, texting each other even on the weekends, and sharing with each other life’s triumphs and heartaches.  These girls became a part of my family.  We formed a trust, and a team.

Throughout the past year, each one of us has experienced heartache and joy.  We watched Jodi celebrate her pregnancy with her second daughter, a daughter named Hazel who would become the final piece of the puzzle in our crazy group.  We wept with Johnna as she lost her cousin in a tragic accident, and rejoiced when she found her love, Anthony.  We cried again (this time in happiness) when we watched Beth walk down the aisle to marry her soulmate, and celebrated when she closed on her new house.  They wept and held each other without me when I was in the hospital, worried sick that they were losing their friend.  We have experienced more life experiences than most, and we’ve done it without ever leaving each other’s sides.

Today, we are closer together than ever before.  We struggle right along with Jodi as she raises her girls and gets prepared to move into a new house.  We scheme how we are going to unpack her house in three days (HA!) and have a blast doing it. We anxiously await the next big moment in our joined lives, whether it be good or bad.  Hopefully good, we have all been through enough.

But that’s life.  We will once again have to weather a storm that we weren’t prepared for…and I take great comfort in the fact that we won’t let it beat us.  We’ll get through just fine.  We always do.  “Ride or Die” has so much more meaning to us now.  We couldn’t imagine life without each other.  And although we have our own friends, our own lives, our own experiences without the group…we always seem to lean on each other and anxiously await the next time we can all be together.

To Jodi, Johnna and Bethany…thank you for being my sisters.

XOXO,

Kristen

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On The Menu…Sauerkraut and Sausage Casserole

Right, so I know today in PA it is humid and hot, so I should probably refrain from turning on the oven, but I have been DYING to make one of my all-time favorite recipes…sauerkraut and sausage casserole. Typically during this time of year, we do a lot of outdoor grilling and eating cold salads. However, I’m willing to risk having a hot oven and an even hotter house for this delicious (and easy!) dinner.

First off, I have to introduce my cooking assistant for the day, Atticus Finch.  He’s such a beast!

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Sauerkraut has always been an important part of my health journey. I love to eat raw, fermented sauerkraut as a snack.  Sauerkraut contains good bacteria that helps with gut flora, and it has a lot of vitamins and nutrients.  Plus, it is low in calories and low in carbohydrates.  Talk about a win-win! I particularly enjoy the sauerkraut from Trader Joe’s for my “snacking” sauerkraut.  For recipes, it is always Silver Floss! For some reason, whether it comes from a jar or from a bag, it seems to have the best flavor and texture.

The sausage that I prefer for this recipe is also from Trader Joe’s (see a pattern here?).  The smoked Apple and Chardonnay chicken sausage works beautifully with the sauerkraut.  The flavors make you feel like you are enjoying this meal on a crisp, fall day in Pennsylvania, surrounded by falling leaves.  (Instead, today it makes me feel like I am in an inferno LOL).

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The flavor compliments the sauerkraut perfectly!


Let’s get started!

The first thing I do is prep all of my peppers and onions.  Cut them into 1/4 inch slices and set aside.

Next, you will want to cut your sausages into coins.  This will allow for even cooking and a “no knives required” meal.

Preheat your oven to 375 degree F.  Take a large baking dish (really just one that will fit all of this goodness) and spray with a non-stick coconut oil cooking spray.

I like to add my sausage first, then the peppers and onions, and the sauerkraut last. Drain the sauerkraut slightly before adding as it has a LOT of liquid. Season each layer liberally with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. You can also choose to add a fun spice blend.  I get most of my spices from Penzey’s.  In this recipe, I like to add a dash of Ozark seasoning.  (For a more authentic German flavor, add a tsp of ground coriander and a tsp of ground cardamom to the sauerkraut).

Cover your baking dish in foil and place in the oven.  Cook for 45 minutes to an hour.  You really just want to ensure everything is cooked through.  Serve with a green salad or a side of veggies.  Or just eat it as is!

This recipe is grain, soy and dairy-free.

Enjoy!

XOXO,

Kristen

Recipe for Sauerkraut and Sausage Casserole

Serves 4 big helpings (or 2 big helpings and lunches the next day)

  • 2 packages (approx. 8 links) of Apple Chardonnay Chicken Sausages (or sausage of choice), cut into coin-sized pieces
  • 4 mixed color bell peppers, seeds removed and cut into 1/4 slices
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4 slices
  • 1- 32 oz jar of sauerkraut (can also use bagged sauerkraut), some liquid drained off
  • 1/2 tbsp of garlic powder
  • 1/2 tbsp of onion powder
  • 1 tsp of ground coriander (optional)
  • 1 tsp of ground cardamom (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp of Ozark Seasoning (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Spray a large casserole dish with non-stick spray.
  3. Layer the sausage, peppers and onions, and sauerkraut in the casserole dish, adding salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and (optional) seasoning between each layer.
  4. Cover with foil.
  5. Cook in the oven for approximately one hour.
  6. Serve with side salad or vegetables, or eat plain.

Variations to try!

  • Can add a layer of shredded mozzarella, white cheddar or yellow cheddar on top of the sauerkraut for a dairy version.
  • Don’t like sauerkraut? (First off, why?) You can always omit the sauerkraut and just do the sausage and peppers.  You may want to add a handful of raw cashews after cooking to give it some texture
  • Go nuts! Raw cashews or walnuts would be delicious if added on top after cooking.  Just be careful, as raw cashews have a lot of carbs.  However all nuts help deliver a healthy dose of fat to a meal.
  • Cook on the stove or on the grill.  There are a millions ways to experiment with this recipe.  Use it as your base and go to town!

 

 

Why I Began This Health Journey…

Good afternoon, friends!

I wanted to share a little bit about my recent past to hopefully motivate you into taking the next steps in eating healthier and living a more natural life in general!

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My weight loss journey started around 2009.  I was following a strict vegetarian diet that left me feeling sick and fatigued.  Prior to my wedding in September 2009, I had gone from weighing over 180 pounds to 137 pounds! To my surprise, it was because I was suffering from mono (the wonderful “kissing” virus).  However, a few short months later, I was experiencing back pain like never before, and had difficulty breathing.

Fast forward to 2011, when I had an open lung biopsy done at Hamot Hospital in Erie, Pa. They discovered I had a life-threatening lung disease called PVOD (pulmonary veno-occlusive disease).  It is a form of idiopathic hemosiderosis and pulmonary fibrosis.  The damage was irreversible.  HOWEVER…I was not willing to let myself be a victim.  So I started to get really serious about my health! I knew that I couldn’t reverse the damage, but I could prevent it from getting worse.

I started out slow by incorporating dance videos and light weight lifting.  Then, I overhauled my diet to eliminate wheat products. I instantly started to drop the little bit of weight that I had gained in 2011/2012. I had ballooned up to 150 from my previous 137.

In 2014, my husband and I had a lot of life changing events happening! We had moved from Warren, PA to Triadelphia, WV for Jason’s job.  I quit my job where I had been working for four years and took some time to myself.  I worked out every day, ate a clean diet and took our dogs on nice, long walks.  I was killing it in the health department!

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Looking hot! 117 pounds of lean muscle

However in May of that year, I was diagnosed after a lumpectomy on my leg with stage 3 Hodgkin’s B-Cell Lymphoma.  Talk about a shock! I had been working out, eating right, and living a very healthy lifestyle.  I was angry for what was happening to me, but knew that I couldn’t lose focus.  I did six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, had one long hospital stay due to getting an upper respiratory infection, and was deemed in remission in October. YAY! My lowest weight before getting sick was 117 pounds. During chemo, I dropped down to a scary 110 pounds.

Regardless of all that had happened, I was still dedicated to living a healthy life.  I ate my grain-free diet (more to come in the next post) and worked out 2-4 times per week.

In March of this past year, I developed a severe staph infection in my lungs and went into respiratory distress (a.k.a. I wasn’t breathing and my body was quickly deteriorating).  I was air-lifted to the Cleveland Clinic where I spent two long weeks in the ICU, and for five of those days was put into a medically-induced coma.

After three longs months of recovery, I am finally starting to get back to my old self.  The one thing that was always constant for me was the love from my husband, family and friends.  Their support was what kept me going and made me want to get out of that hospital even faster! I also maintained my healthy eating habits and slowly started incorporating exercise back into my life.  I am maintaining my weight at around 123 pounds.

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Feeling normal again!

So there it is!  I’m excited to share all of my healthy eating, exercise, and general well-being with all of you.  If I can do it, you can do it! I promise 🙂

XOXO,

Kristen