The Atkins Diet: Does It Work?

Brandon and I are engaged, and are doing what most couples do when planning for a wedding: diet.

(Read our engagement story HERE)

Being the meat-eaters that we are, we decided to do the Atkins diet. Let me start by clearing up a common misconception:

You are allowed to eat carbs on the Atkins diet.

In fact, you need to eat carbs. The problem is, most of us just eat too many.

The idea behind the Atkins diet is to start drastic. Shock your body into it. You do this by not just eliminating most carbs, but by eliminating a lot of foods as well. Those first two weeks are a bunch of veggies and protein. Daily net carb intake is around 22 grams. That's not a lot.

As time goes on and you get closer to your weight loss goals, you introduce more carbs. Eventually, you figure out how many carbs you can/should consume daily in order to maintain a healthy weight. It's intended to be a lifestyle change.

The first few days suck.

I mean, really suck. You're basically just starving all day, every day. Which is actually another common myth:

You do not get to eat as much as you want.

Yes, the types of food you can eat are limited, but your portions should really be limited, too. If you eat 2 lbs of cheese every day, you're not going to lose weight.

So the first few days are limited carbs, and small meals. I was hungry, tired and grumpy. That being said, the food you can eat is great!

Brandon actually started getting extremely sore as well. Ordinary activities would leave his muscles very tender. We did a little research and found out that it was being caused by a mineral deficiency because of the change in diet. He supplemented with Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium and he felt instant relief.

I felt better around Day 4.

This is when I started to feel less hungry and get some of my energy back. I learned tricks that worked for me, for example: the later I eat my breakfast, the better I do throughout the day.

The earlier I ate, the earlier I snacked, the earlier I was hungry. I could generally go between 2-3 hours between meals, so eating earlier in the day meant the time between my afternoon snack and dinner was verrryyyyyyy long.

The Meals

As I had mentioned before, most of the food is great.

One of the reasons I really liked the diet was because of the convenience. Atkins makes frozen meals, snacks, protein shakes, even dessert! Being able to just grab a snack I knew fit the diet made it much easier not to cheat. But the prepared meals get old.

Luckily, Atkins has great recipes, and plenty of them on their website. I tried really hard to always make something for dinner, and breakfast when I could. That way we got some decent variety and didn't tire of the frozen meals as quick.

My one complaint about the recipe section of the Atkins website is that it's really not user-friendly. You can search by:
  • Phase (this lets them know how many carbs you can have)
  • Keywords
  • Type of meal (snack, entree, breakfast, etc.)
All of those things are nice, but then I would frequently run into these issues:
  • Recipes calling for Atkins Baking Mix
    • No idea what that was, it's not something you can buy in stores, it's actually another recipe in and of itself.
  • Multiple versions of the same recipe
    • So I would look up the ingredients for a recipe, buy them, look up the recipe again and find that I was missing an ingredient, or bought too many. And then the cooking instructions would be slightly different.
  • Unclear measuring units
    • Instead of cups, tablespoons, etc., some recipes would call for servings or units.
    • One recipe I looked up, in the directions, said it required 2 cups of Atkins baking mix (please see first bullet), but that amount never changed, regardless of how many servings you said you were making. Since this ingredient wasn't actually listed on the list of ingredients, I was very unclear on how much I really needed.
  • Recipes are listed in alphabetical order
    • It sounds convenient, but it's not. When I would browse through the recipes for dinner ideas, there would literally be 17 pages of recipes, but not wanting to click through every single page, I would basically only see the recipes from the first 4 pages.
Since then, I've just started Googling low-carb dinner ideas and gotten some really yummy recipes.

I should also mention two other things I've discovered:
  • Eating healthy is very expensive. Many of the recipes I use call for crazy ingredients I've never heard of (there is an incredible variety of flour out there) and a lot of these ingredients can only be found at specialty stores like Whole Foods.
  • GLUTEN FREE FOOD IS HIGH IN CARBS!!! Sorry, gluten-avoiders! There are SO MANY gluten-free options out there, but the amount of carbs in a lot of those foods is outrageous.

Our Results

We're still going, but results have been good, so far. Brandon, who was already thin to begin with, lost 14 lbs in the first two weeks.

My results have come much slower. I lost about 5 lbs the first two weeks, but have been slowly dropping a pound or two at a time. A month in, I'm about 10lbs down.

Is it Sustainable?

I would say yes...as long as you're flexible.

Life isn't always going to provide you with low-carb options. Brandon and I just went to Mexico and were very hard-pressed to find low-carb options. A lot of the fish was breaded, and tacos are served on....you guessed it...carb-packed tortillas! (We weren't about to go to Mexico and not eat tacos.) So we ate a little less and made sure to spend time at the gym or swimming to work it off a little.

It's a balancing act and a lifestyle choice. Smaller portions, fewer carbs. I would still never turn down a slice of pizza, but I have the discipline to trade my side of french fries for a healthier option. You have to be realistic and make choices that will work for your lifestyle. As another example: it's just not realistic to say that Brandon and I will stop drinking. And alcohol has a lot of carbs! We tried vodka for a while, but that's just plain dangerous! So that's where we know we're getting our fair share of carbs - in our (red) wine and (low-carb) beer. It means a lot of salads for dinner, but it works for us.

And people have gotten so creative these days that there's really not a whole lot you can't have. I just had pancakes for breakfast! They had a bunch of difficult-to-find ingredients, but they were delicious. And you can make just about anything out of cauliflower. It's not always good, but it is what it is.


Do you have any Atkins wisdom you'd like to share? Comment below.

Valentine's Day Lipstick MUST

Valentine's Day is right around the corner.
Caramel Apple Lip Color

Whether you've found a special someone, or you're still on the market, it's a good excuse to look a little more fancy. I don't buy into the whole hating V-Day because it's a commercial holiday thing. OF COURSE it's a commercial holiday, but if it's a silly day we get to spend being sweet to each other, I'm all about it.

That being said, there is one simple thing that can add that extra touch to your special day: some good lipstick.

Here's where it gets complicated...we want to wear our most bold and beautiful lipstick, but there's a lot to consider:

  • Am I going to get it on my teeth during my date?
  • Is it going to smudge when I eat dinner or drink my many glasses of wine?
  • CAN I EVEN KISS MY LOVE?!
Seriously. Since the day we started dating, my fiancé has known that if it's a fancy night out, he doesn't get a kiss because my lipstick will leave a stain. That's not romantic, but sometimes we have to suffer in the name of beauty.

THERE IS A SOLUTION!

LipSense is working for me. It's a little bit different than a traditional lipstick, but it stays on and doesn't smudge all over everything. It doesn't bleed, either, which is wonderful.

Here's how it works:

  • Make sure there is nothing on your lips. A little witch hazel or LipSense Ooops! Remover will do the trick.
  • Apply one layer of Lip Color, without rubbing back and forth and overlapping. Just one swipe does the trick.
  • Let that layer dry for about 3 seconds (keep your mouth wide while it's drying)
  • Repeat swiping a layer and letting it dry for 2 more times, making a total of 3 layers
At this point, your lips are going to feel dry, kind of like they do when you put on any other lip stain. They might even tingle for a second if you're a first-time user. Your next step is:

And that's it, you're done! Keep applying the gloss throughout the day as needed. When it's bed time, apply that Ooops! Remover, rub your lips together and let it sit for a minute, then just wipe it right off.

If you're like me and want a little extra moisture on your lips before bed, you can put on the Moisturizing Gloss, or I prefer the Moisturizing Lip Balm.

Trust me, both you and your V-Day date will be happy with your beautiful, non-smudging lips.

My Recommendation:

If you ORDER NOW, you still have enough time to get your lip color in before Valentine's Day. I'd start with the Lip Collection, which includes 1 Lip Color, 1 Moisturizing Gloss, and 1 Ooops! Remover.

Once you've got that, you can add on as many additional lip colors as you like, since you've already got the gloss and remover.

To place an order, you can go to this webpage.

For more information on my experience, or to see all the lip color options, visit My Makeup Bag.

Kiss, Kiss!

We Are Engaged!

I am so happy to announce that Brandon and I are engaged!


I am not the kind of girl who dreamed of a fairy tail ending or has imagined her wedding since she was a little girl. I've really always prided myself on being a strong, independent woman. And then I met Brandon, who showed me that strong, independent women can also have their fairy tail endings.

Here is the rundown of our relationship:

We met at a bar (the classiest place to meet the love of your life), spent nearly every day together after that, moved in together after 6 months, engaged at a year.

Now let's get to the good stuff, why don't we? The engagement...

Brandon and I had been living together since July. We had met a few days before Christmas the previous year, so this was our first real Christmas together as a couple. I had been planning for weeks, making sure to spoil him rotten. Brandon, meanwhile, wouldn't even let me get a real Christmas tree. Don't worry, he finally settled and bought me a 4-foot tree that we kept on the counter in the kitchen.

His Christmas presents were coming in the mail weekly and while I delighted in wrapping them and putting them under our tiny tree, Brandon would tell me that I was getting coal for Christmas. He's a real romantic, that Brandon!


Christmas Day rolled around and we exchange our presents. I made him go first because I was so excited to see him open his gifts. A custom-fitted shirt, a painted canvas of Coors Field, a custom drawing of his '66 Chevy Nova (the true love of his life), etc.

Then it's my turn! He hands me two small boxes....not ring-size, but like...socks-size. I open the first one and it's.......socks. Fluffy socks. In all seriousness I loved them, so it wasn't a bad gift. No custom drawing of my post prized possession, but it was cute.

I open my next box and it's....socks. Fluffy ones, still! And a book light. A rechargeable LED one, though, which is pretty badass. In my mind I'm thinking, "Sweet Brandon. At least he knows me well and knows I love to cuddle up at night in some cozy socks and read my books."

Fast-forward to later when Brandon randomly said to me, "Hey, look! Santa stopped by!" And from under the tree he pulls out two more boxes, same size and shape as the first two. I open the first one and it's a Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card. Awesome! There is one down the street from us and I spend an unhealthy amount of time shopping there, so Santa did good on that one!

I open up the next one and it's....SOCKS! I'm like, "Man! Santa sure does want to make sure my feet stay warm!" But I notice this weird lump in the bottom of one of the socks and I'm thinking, "reeeeeaaaal funny, Brandon, sticking a lump of coal in there!" (We had spent a lot of time joking about getting each other coal for Christmas). But it wasn't coal. It was a tiny box, which I opened up to find the most beautiful ring.

I literally just stared at it and Brandon asked me, "do you know what that is?"

Dumbfounded, all I could answer was, "No..."

He took the box, got down on one knee and popped the question.

It was like the movies, I swear. I cried like a little baby.

Side note: Why do girls always cry when their boyfriend proposes? It's such a weird reaction...

I said yes, we're getting married in November and we lived happily ever after.

In all seriousness, it was awesome. Being engaged is this incredible feeling where all of a sudden trivial things don't matter anymore. Ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends are meaningless, silly fights seem extra silly.

But I also started to look at things in a different, cooler way. For example, we had been living in Brandon's house, but I no longer thought of it as "Brandon's house." It's ours. We live here. I'm excited to think about the cool renovations we can make if we stay here long-term.

The future is something I think about a lot more, too. And the decisions we make. Like, we've always been really careful about not drinking and driving but neither of us will say no to a beer with a friend after work. Well now that we're getting married and making life plans, drinking a beer before driving home seems like a stupid risk to take. Instead, we just make plans to either take an Uber home, or have the sober one come pick is up after we're done hanging with our friends.

It's crazy, it's fun, and it's not a feeling I would trade for the world. I am OFFICIALLY making forever plans with the love of my life. How lucky am I? To officially be #NearlyNovak

Where I've Been Since My Last Post

Life is crazy.

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post and as much as I missed it, life threw me something more important.


One morning when I was getting ready for work, I followed my usual routine: let the dogs out back to do their business while I brush my teeth, wash my face and put my contacts in. At right about the time I'm done, my male dog gives me a little bark from the back door to let me know they're done.

Background: I have a Miniature Poodle who just turned 10. His name is Boyfriend, otherwise known as Fat Friend or BF the Dog. He is the smartest, most loyal dog. My other dog is Eleanor, a two-year-old Morkie who's personality is way too big for her 3lb. body. She's crazy and I love her.


That morning as I was going through my routine, I noticed that BF hadn't given me his bark yet to let him back in. I went to the backdoor and only saw Eleanor, my little dog. I immediately knew something was wrong, she is never the one to be waiting at the door, especially without BF.

As soon as I opened the door she immediately ran away from me to the top of the steps on the deck. At the bottom of the stairs I saw Boyfriend sitting down, clearly unable to move his back legs. I picked him up and his legs were completely lifeless. No response to touch, no reflexes, nothing. He also just kept looking up like he was uncomfortable and his neck needed to be in that position.

So I panicked. I called my vet, who is wonderful, and she told me to head straight to their office. Their office is about 20 minutes away in no traffic and this was at rush hour, so I insisted that I should take him to an emergency room near me so he could be seen quicker. I was completely hysterical at this point, crying and freaking out. She explained that it would be better for my dog to see them since they already have a relationship with him and know his medical history.

More background: My sweet dog has had some serious health issues the last several years. He developed this weird disease, Panniculitis, which would cause him to form tumors under his skin that would then surface and becomes awful, open wounds. It was horrible and it took ages for the vet (previous vet, not his current one) to figure out what the problem was. They said it was cancer and did surgery to remove the first tumor. He took so long to recover from that surgery, it was really bad. Then they said it was just an infection. It wasn't until he went to a speciality vet that he was diagnosed and treated. He also has a pretty severe heart murmur, and then there are the various cuts and injuries he has sustained. My poor puppy!

I rush to the vet and call my dad to meet me there. At almost 30-years-old, I still need my dad, okay? The vet tech just TAKES HIM and says they'll call me! That definitely didn't help my anxiety. But in less than 15 minutes later, the doctor called me and told me she suspected it to be Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD). Just like it sounds, it's a problem with the disks in the back which can cause many issues, up to paralysis. She said it is pretty common in smaller, older dogs.

The good news was that he wasn't paralyzed. He still had the ability to feel deep pain in his legs. He could stand up, but only for a second or two at a time. She gave him some meds and asked if she could keep him for the day. The alternative was to send him to a Neurologist who could perform a surgery that would definitely cure him, but it's an invasive and very specialized surgery that would cost me upwards of $8,000.

It's not the money that I was most worried about (although I was definitely worried about the money), it was the idea of putting my dog through another surgery. He suffered so bad after the last one that I really didn't think I could put him through that again.


At the end of the day I picked him up and she sent me home with several medications and strict directions to keep him from moving at all times. He could sit with me and go out just long enough to do his business, otherwise he needed to be in his kennel. No running, no jumping, no stairs, no overexertion.

I was glad to have my puppy back, but bringing him home was HORRIBLE. He could barely move and when he did move to go to the bathroom, he just dragged his back legs along. I made sure to stick very closely to his schedule for pain medication, muscle relaxers and steroids, which meant getting up in the middle of the night. His steroids also make him very hungry and thirsty, so he would also have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I didn't care. My sleep could be disrupted for my little dog.

The first several days were very hard. There was little to no progress and it was looking more and more like surgery was the only option. He was still able to go to the bathroom on his own, so that was a good sign. He was also in good spirits. Getting attention 24 hours a day did NOT bother him! Even my brother and dad came by to give him treats and spoil him.


FINALLY I started to see progress and the progress came fast one it started. First he was able to bend his neck better. Then he got a better appetite. Then he could stand for longer without falling. And now he can walk pretty well on his own, but he still stumbles and drags his back legs a little bit.

Needless to say, I didn't have much extra time for blogging. With my pup's improving health, however, I am able to get back to writing. It's good to be back!

Liane Moriarty: Books Beyond Big Little Lies

If you haven't yet heard her name, I am happy to introduce you to Liane Moriarty.

This Australian has made a name for herself in both the writing world and on the screen. She is most recently famous for her novel, turned HBO show, Big Little Lies. This is exactly how I got to know her.

Earlier this year when I was hopped up on painkillers and stuck at home for two weeks after my tonsillectomy (have I mentioned how horrible it was?),  I flipped on my HBO Go to see the beautiful Reese Witherspoon and a handful of other famous actors. "This has got to be good," I thought to myself. I vaguely remembered what happened in the show thanks to my drugged haze, but I remember the show being wonderful.

Fast forward a few months to my recently-acquired Audible addiction. Liane Moriarty's name kept coming up in my suggested reads (well, in this case I guess it would be "listens"), so I decided to give one of her books a go. Several books later and I love here even more! Turns out the woman is also an author of children's books!

Since the likelihood of your first Liane Moriarty experience to be related to Big Little Lies, I am going to recommend you a few other of my favorite novels of hers.

What Alice Forgot

I really loved this one. It made me happy, broke my heart, made me think, you name it. 

The book is about Alice, who suffers a spell of Amnesia after an accident at the gym. She wakes up having completely forgotten the last 10 years of her life, during which a lot happened. The story follows Alice as she looks at her life, relationship with her sister, marriage and friendships from a younger version of herself.

She slowly puts together the pieces from the last decade of her life, but with her new (or old) way of looking at things, it's up to her to decide if this is the life she wanted for herself.



The Husband's Secret

So wildly different than the title leads you to think and even than the teaser had me thinking.

This one intertwines the stories of several different people and I truly don't even know how to describe it without ruining the shock that makes the book so enjoyable.

Let me give you an idea: the book starts out with a woman whose husband is leaving her because he has fallen in love with another woman. Oh, and the woman is her cousin. Cousin who is also her best friend.

Throw in some small town drama, death, lies, love, family. I can say no more. Read it.



The Hypnotist's Love Story

The sweet story of a romance that started online.

A hypnotist with dating trouble finally meets a wonderful man that she found through an online dating site. He's a widower with a wonderful son.

There's just one thing...his ex. Not ex-wife. His ex-girlfriend who is actively stalking him. But the hypnotist is not scared of her, she's fascinated.


So get your Big Little Lies fix in and when you fall in love with Liane Moriarty like I did, check out her other books. They're so worth the read.

What's your favorite Liane Moriarty Novel?

Gameday Solution: HORMEL GATHERINGS Party Trays

*I received free product in exchange for my honest review

I love football season.

Do you know what I don't love? Worrying about food while I watch those football games that I love so much.

In the past I have always gone out to a sports bar to watch games. It's fun! But as of late, the idea of going to a crowded bar only to fight my way to a seat and hope that the game I want to watch is on the TV I'm closest to has lost its appeal. So I've been watching the games at home, there's just one set-back: the food. And more than that, cleaning up the food when I'm done.

Courtesy of Hormel, I tried out one of their HORMEL GATHERINGS Party Trays. Party trays make me a little nervous because they're so hit-or-miss. Either the cheese is disgusting, or there's something else in there I don't like. But I went out and got the HORMEL GATHERINGS party tray with the salami. Here's what I thought:


Pretty tasty

It was pretty good! To be fair, it's not your top-of-the-line party tray, but it's also not priced that way. The cheese is good (obviously, the most important factor for me), the salami was tasty, and the crackers are just normal crackers.

I brought a tray to my family Thanksgiving get-together and it made for the perfect appetizer while the meal was cooking. We worked hard at snacking while watching the Vikings work hard to beat the Lions. The family approved of my appetizer choice.

Easy

Like I said before, the only thing worse than cooking the gameday food is cleaning up the gameday food. Between the party tray, a few paper plates and napkins, all I needed was a trash can (and maybe a vacuum) to clean up. Finger foods are so great in that way. Not to mention the ZERO amount of preparation it took. Easy appetizer.

Variety

As far as meat and cheese trays go, you get a little bit of variety. No matter which tray you choose, you're going to get a couple of options. Here are your choices:

  • Hard salami and pepperoni
  • Honey ham and turkey
  • Supreme (which has meat, cheese, crackers and olives)
Every tray has two different kinds of meat and two different kinds of cheese. Crackers come standard-issue.



All-in, the party trays worked out well for me. I think they're a great, easy solution when you need snacks. Be it a football game, or another get-together, the HORMEL GATHERINGS Party Trays are easy and enjoyable. They're pretty big, though. I'd only recommend getting a tray if you plan on having at least 3-4 guests over, even though the tray can definitely feed more.

Would you like to try one? Email me or leave a comment for a chance to win a free HORMEL GATHERINGS party tray. U.S. only.

Colorado Green Chili Recipe

There is nothing better than a pot of green chili.

Eat it with your eggs, smother your burrito, throw it over your mac and cheese, or just eat it with a couple of tortillas.

I grew up in Colorado and I've been eating green chili my whole life. If you're not from here, let me explain some things: Roasted chile peppers are like gold. Pueblo, Colorado happens to have the perfect conditions to grow a mean green chile and when they are in season, watch out. People stock up on these things like they'll never get the chance to buy them again. I mean, they buy them by the bushel. That's over 20 lbs. of peppers. And then you've got to get them roasted because if they're not roasted...well then what's the point? So before they're out of season, you will find Coloradans from all over the state hoarding their bushels in the freezer so that they've got them all year. New Mexico has also got some great peppers.

Please note: I'm using chili to talk about the stew and chile to talk about the pepper.

The peppers are hard enough to get (the ones in the grocery store aren't the same, you want the right amount of heat, come people like them roasted with garlics, etc. etc. etc.). But if you can get your grimy little hands on some...good luck figuring out how to turn them into a green chili stew. The recipes are like sacred family secrets that NOBODY is willing to share. And after 29 long years, my friends...I've done it. AND I'M NOT SHARING! Just kidding.


I need to give a big shoutout to my friend, Colbyrae, who is from Pueblo, Colorado, and showed me her secret ways.

Colorado Green Chili

...Not to be confused with New Mexico green chili, which is thinner and I don't know what else, but it's NOT THE SAME.
Diced green chiles - a few leftover seeds is okay.

Ingredients

  • 8 ROASTED green chiles...Anaheim if you can get them, otherwise Hatch is fine
    • No, you cannot roast them yourself. Leave that to the professionals, people.
    • Skin them
    • Deseed and dice them
  • Pork (raw)
    • Be like me and buy the kind that's already diced for you!
  • Vegetable oil
    • Apparently canola oil has a weird flavor
  • Flour
  • Chicken stock, a little bit (optional)
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt...lots
  • Garlic salt...a little bit
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes
  • Water

Instructions

Step 2: Add flour.
  1. Put 1.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil on the bottom of a pan on medium-high heat. When it's shiny, throw in the pork and cook until brown. Add some salt to create sweat.
  2. Once the pork starts getting brown, add up to 1/3 cup of flour. The more flour, the thicker the stew. Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add the (roasted, skinned, deseeded and diced) green chiles.
  4. Add the (minced) garlic cloves and the can of tomatoes.
  5. This seems like a good time to add more salt...go for it! And stir it all up for a few more minutes.
  6. Throw in that garlic salt. Got onion salt? A little onion salt never hurt anyone...throw that in, too (optional)!
  7. If you've got about 1/4 cup of chicken stock, now's the time to add that.
  8. Slowly add water and keep stirring until you've reached the desired thickness (I don't know how much that is, sorry). 4 cups maybe? Maybe more? Just add water until it looks right.
  9. Tip: Green chili is best served with margaritas
  10. Let those flavors cook together for a few minutes and then serve it up!
I hope you enjoy! My directions weren't exact, but as I've come to find...good cooks don't measure things. Just do what feels right!