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Chili-Braised Fish with Oregano, Tomatoes and Potatoes

2012 July 11

I told myself I wouldn’t be that blogger who updates her efforts to lose weight/get healthy/become superwoman/etc.. But I’m going to dive into that issue. Here’s a link to the original blabber about my 30th birthday coming (September 5th) and how it has prompted me to get back in regular workout mode, as I used to be, lose 15lbs., perhaps have a makeover and why.

Then I realized I’m an idiot and never shared a post about my past relationship with food and dieting that is hugely important to who I am today. So here it is:

Gather round, children, to hear a little story. (And yes, it is about another one of my experiences I decided to share, more in-depth this time because I swear I’ve mentioned it before.) So if you are here for the recipe alone, scroll right on down. Go ahead. I’m not offended. We’ve all done it.

But for those of you still interested, I’m going to tell you about my issues with food/nutrition and dieting. Because I used to diet. I used to style my hair, dress well and not have dust on me on an almost daily basis (from refinishing furniture). That’s a different story.

When I was a junior in college (2003-2004), I transferred to Purdue University in the fall-the main campus in West Lafayette, Indiana-after a few years at a school I disliked. One close to home so that I could live with my parents, be a full-time student, and basically a full-time worker while making minimum wage.

As a junior and new to the whole seemingly “more real” college experience, (no one brought their kids to class…), I put on weight. The 15lbs. everyone talks about. I remember it being winter; I weighed myself in Greg’s bathroom, the one he and his roommate, a friend from high school, shared with their suitemates. Basically I lived on his side, the guy side of the dorm, because I went for a random roommate and did not hit the roomie jackpot if you catch my drift. He had to escort me off the floor each day if we thought the resident assistant was around which seemed ridiculous because I seriously lived there to avoid the crazy of my roommate and be with Greg more.

I was immediately unhappy with the gain and changed my eating habits. Not that I was going crazy on the calories or portions. I lived in the dorm farthest from campus and there was always walking then more walking. Greg and I were weekend walkers, roaming the town, taking a break from whatever it may be to cross the pedestrian bridge into the “hipper” Lafayette side.

The first two years at the other school didn’t allow me much free time for things like eating so I went without or brought a snack. I lived mostly on diet pop to be honest (still can’t shake that today). I woke up early, drove 45 minutes to the campus, had most of my classes lined up so I didn’t waste my time hanging around and could then drive the 45 minutes back home in the late afternoon, have a 25 minute break there then drive in the opposite direction, 25 minutes away, to go to work for the evening then get back home between 9:30 and 10PM. And that was my life for my first two years of college. Little eating, little time for breaks and focus on coursework. I had a routine where I went to class 3 days a week then worked my days not in class. There were a few 3 hour night classes to help get the required courses out of the way in the town my job was which made for even longer work days.

I was not the food enthusiast you read before you as you can probably tell. In fact, on my 15 minute work breaks, I would sometimes grab a candy bar or run to a fast food place for something more snack-like but with major calories. Always with a diet pop nearby. After work, I’d often stop at Burger King or Taco Bell and devour the meal on the drive home.

I’m not a naturally thin person, I’m short (not quite 5’3”) and not a small petite person either if you know what I’m saying. I’ve got curves and a large bum and I’m all good with that. Any excess weight on my frame is noticeable.

Back to my junior year: so I began to skip a meal or two again and lost 5 lbs., maintained that until my senior year when I decided to try the South Beach Diet program. As a senior I got a small studio right next to the engineering block of campus. My first place alone. I remember picking out things I would need-a couch, brought a treadmill that was my moms, towels, kitchen gadgets (even though I still didn’t really cook). It had a Murphy bed so I was set. I scheduled a time to workout in the afternoons, after my last class, and thought pairing it with the South Beach plan would be great. And it worked with a lot of dedication and self-restraint.

Slim in 6 was a boring but effective dvd routine I chose which required working out 6 days a week for 45 minutes a session. I was very sore and when I switched from one section to the next, it became increasingly difficult as it was supposed to. Greg shared an apartment with his marching band friends not far from me and the stair climbing was a huge pain, going up was worse than coming down. I remember thinking there wasn’t enough cardio and yet, I was drenched in sweat, my metabolism kicked into high gear, my body changed shape and the boring moves really made an impact. Turn on some better music and go was how to get it done.

The South Beach Diet, if you aren’t familiar, has 3 phases, each supposed to last 2 weeks until you can incorporate certain foods back into your diet until you get to a maintenance level which was to last forever. It eliminated most dairy (except low-moisture, park skim cheese…I had a lot of string cheese), sugar, fruit, some veggies, bread, pasta, rice, alcohol…I basically lived on lean meats and a handful of vegetables. Dill pickles and popcorn were big with me. Sugar free fudgesicles were a blessing. I remember there being a ton of individual sized, low sodium V8 drinks for my time on campus along with a ton of planning if we went out-it was like another job to keep a journal, look up calories, see what was allowed and figure out what to eat if we should ever want to eat out. You eat out (cheaply) a lot in college. What was I thinking?

Since I did not want to be working out on the weekend, I decided to do both regimens for 8 weeks in place of 6 until I was sure to be in the maintenance stage where I would keep all of the weight off and feel spectacular the rest of my life. (Hardy har har.)

I lost 22lbs. in 8 weeks. Not exactly what I’d call safe but most of all, not something to be easily maintained unless you wanted to continue the hell you were in following the strict routine. Some do. When I hit a weight loss plateau, when the weight wasn’t coming off, during those 8 weeks, I started doing an extra 30 to 45 minutes on the treadmill after my 45 minute workout. I never let myself off of the first, highly strict dieting phase. Actually I did and noticed the weight coming right back on so I just stayed on the first phase (not recommended). It was insane now that I think about it.

I looked better, felt better but when the part came to incorporate things like milk and fruit, simple things, the weight came on and I panicked. I still worked out, just not the 90 minutes like before and only 3 or 4 times a week. I didn’t go food crazy and eat everything in sight. Eating an apple in those days would cause me to gain a pound or two back. So I would do some of the week on the strict dieting phase and allow myself a piece of fruit on the other days. Ridiculous. I eventually let myself gain 5 lbs. And maintained as best I could. With cabbage soup diets and the like, mostly anything where I subsisted on broth. When I knew I was going out and would probably have a beer and a slice of pizza, I closely watched my diet for the entire week leading to “the special day.” I’d usually sit watching my friends have more than one slice and more than one beer and cry a little inside.

Then after I graduated in 2006, I found a job, a very stressful one in social work to go with my PSY degree. I tried to assist my teenage client’s performance in school while simultaneously helping their families cope better at home-all the clients were dually diagnosed, both emotionally and learning disabled, with parents who were often the same. I didn’t find much time, if any during the day, to eat. I started relying on those “protein shakes” to get by since I could still drive or spend time with a client without taking a break. But that didn’t last long because there was a teenage boy, not a client, whose father didn’t pay his lunch tab and the school would not feed him so I gave him my shake and any snack I packed. I often spent my time after school with clients for hours and would snack on the “reward candy” from the dollar store. I made sure to have all kinds of rewards for them and made sure to give myself something since I was starving by that point. I would arrive home after a 12 or 13 hour day (with another hour or so of daily write-ups to do at home) and eat whatever and however much I wanted. Large, frozen lasagnas were popular with me and red wine. The weight stayed down but I never lost any and my metabolism took a dive big time.

Once I was no longer doing that job and tried to put regular meals in my life, the weight and a little more came back on. By that time, because I tried to use events as goals for weight loss, my sister was planning her wedding and I had 6 months to lose it. It helped tremendously when my family also did the Weight Watchers program with me. I remember eating lunch at Taco Bell or somewhere where we knew the point values and it felt like a treat and it was important that I wasn’t doing it alone. Picking out things for my youngest sister’s wedding was thrill enough.

At my highest those days, I was 140lbs. Still not much of a food enthusiast, it was easier to eat frozen meals or anything lacking flavor to get rid of the nagging feeling of hunger (I can’t do that today-refuse to) and get through each day. I survived on store-bought soup, Lean Cuisines and my occasional treat of brie or wine in the tiniest of doses. For some reason, when I tried to cook and count the calories, my body didn’t seem to take it the same as the pre-made meals and I’d inevitably gain weight which gave me a complex. So I didn’t make anything. I also worked out 4 times a week for about 40 minutes. However, I had to adjust the Weight Watchers points to fit my needs and dipped below what they suggested at 19 or 20 per day on the old system. The new system I doubt would work for me since they allow more points and I would have to adjust it myself once again. (I’ve heard some people are having issues with the new system.) But that’s just me. I was eating around 900 calories and then slightly under to account for the plateau. That’s a no no since 1200 calories is recommended as the lowest someone should have a day…even though I think that sentiment has changed for petite persons. 1200 calories for me these days, when I’m paying attention to that, is like winning the lottery.

After the wedding, we soon moved to Minnesota and I found myself gaining weight while planning our own little wedding. I turned again to Weight Watchers and lost a little, maintained it for a short period of time but have since gained it back. Somewhere in there I decided to refuse to be a slave to dieting-I hate the word. I started eating fresh fruits and vegetables, not omitting sugar, pasta, rice or bread and my cooking has improved along with my notions about food. The problem is that, even with working out, I don’t keep the weight off. I’m happier though. But I’d like that weight off, at least 15lbs. And I refuse to go to those previous lengths.

I guess I’m saying I haven’t quite figured out what works in a natural, non-uptight, annoying way. Nor is my body prone to losing weight just by watching what I eat and getting out for a stroll. It takes hardcore cardio every single day and a major change to my diet to see results. I’m jealous of those foodies who keep it down and talk about this is how I do it which involves carbs of some sort or simple walks once in a while. There are some people who are naturally thin or sit at a healthy weight with a speedy metabolism…like Greg, my husband. At one point, I even had myself running 3 miles without walking (I’m not a runner) while keeping close tabs on what I was putting in my body and you know what? I still gained 4 lbs. so I gave up and tried to find the magic combination that would work for me and haven’t.

I still work out, I still go back to some of the methods used for Weight Watchers and trusted snacks but I am always on the lookout for something new recipe-wise. Today I have a much better outlook on fitness and nutrition. I’m on my 6th week of being back on the regular workout routine. Trying not to overdo anything. I’m only 4lbs. down but I love having the routine in place. Treadmill, working outdoors, and hiking. Slow, not too steady but it’s happening.

I’m eating fish these days. Mucho fish. I have a habit of eating more seafood in the summer. Whatever it is I can’t seem to get enough. It’s not the best quality fish we’re getting here in southern Minnesota (ahem large bag of tilapia from the freezer section) but the cooking methods and fresh produce help. I find that the simpler, fewer ingredient dishes are the most appealing and tasty.

When I first came across this chili-braised fish with tomatoes and potatoes from Real Simple I thought there was no way it could be packed full of flavor and the blandness would leave me disheartened. I was so wrong. Sure the peanut oil in place of olive may have helped and my addition of a little preserved lemon on the side wasn’t too shabby. However, alone, this dish was amazing. If you are interested in making preserved lemons-takes 3 or 4 weeks- visit that link. I love me some preserved lemon.

Chili-Braised Fish with Oregano, Tomatoes and Potatoes

Chili-Braised Fish with Oregano, Tomatoes and Potatoes adapted from a Real Simple recipe
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive or peanut oil (I used peanut)
1 1/2 lbs. new potatoes, cut into small pieces
1 small onion, thinly sliced or chopped
2 poblano peppers, thinly sliced or chopped
salt and pepper
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 pint grape tomatoes (or cherry)
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
4 6-oz. skinless tilapia, cod or striped bass fillets

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, onion, 1 of the poblanos and 1/2 tsp salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes begin to soften, 12 to 14 minutes (reduce the heat to medium if they start to brown too fast). Add the broth, tomatoes, oregano and remaining poblano. Cook for a few minutes, scraping the bottom of the skillet to get the brown bits. Season the fish with 1/4 tsp salt and pepper each. Place the fish on the vegetables, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender and the fish is opaque, 8 to 12 minutes. Serve immediately.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012

    Ah, the never ending battle. I have had such issues with healthy eating and exercise habits. I’m glad that you shared yours…it is a brave and important thing to do. I think all of us struggle with a relationship with food, and I’ve found your site to be a place that reminds me to focus on freshness, thoughtfulness, and flavor. This is a beautiful recipe, my friend, and also a beautiful post. I hope you are doing well. You should come down to Austin and visit whenever you can!

    • July 11, 2012

      You’re so sweet. I would love to make that happen! Hopefully someday it can be a reality.

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