Hey Challengers! How was your weekend? More importantly, how was your cheat meal?! Tell me ALL about it. Seriously, please do, we can all fondly reminisce together.

I wanted to start today's post with a quick word about why I'm doing this challenge. So here it goes:

We all have reasons for being on this challenge and wanting to drop some unwanted pounds. What's my reason? ITALY. Yes, Italy. You see, I lived there for two years - one as a student, another as a tour guide for college students. Sounds terrible, huh? 

Those two years were undoubtedly some of the best in my life. I explored new places, made a ton of new friends, met the love of my life (insert eye roll here), and truly found myself. Unfortunately, I also found about 15 pounds of unwanted weight, thanks to pizza, pasta, gelato, and alcohol. After my time in Italy, I was definitely satisfied with my life, but NOT with my body. It was time for a change.

As soon as I returned to the states, I began circuit training and cut out the majority of gluten and dairy in my diet. I ate mostly natural, unprocessed foods and limited the amount of sugar I took in. Of course, the weight did not fall off immediately, but I saw small achievements every week.  This alone kept me going.

In September 2012, I moved to Washington state with my boyfriend, Greg. The very day I arrived, I jumped out of the car, got changed, and headed to my interview at Element 5 Fitness. I suppose we all can guess how that interview went. 

Working at Element 5 has not only given me a second family, but it has also undoubtedly kept me on track (I mean, who else gets to work out with THE Willie Woods III as a part of their normal work day?!).  Unfortunately, sometimes doing the paperwork takes precedence over doing an actual workout.  The dreariness of winter and the hectic workload of the holidays gave me an immediate excuse to head home right after finishing work, instead of squeezing in a quick sweat session.

That's why, when Make 2013 Your Year came along, it was just the motivation I needed. I'm sure a few of you can relate! I dove head-first into the challenge and I'm so thankful for the fresh breath of air it has given me. I'm happy to be doing this challenge with so many wonderful and motivated people!
Now, on to some delicious Challenge-friendly recipes.
Sundays have become "Food Prep" day for me. I find meal planning is an excellent way to stay on the challenge plan, as well as stick to my budget.  I write down all the ingredients needed and head to the store, determined to walk past the bakery section. I stock up on zucchini, spinach, carrots, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli - you name it. I chop 'em all up when I get home and I'm set for the week. When Sunday evening rolled around, I used some of the veggies for one of my favorite Precision Nutrition side dishes. Here's the recipe:

Sesame Veggies with Feta (Anytime Meal)

1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli or mixed veggies
1/2 cup low-fat Feta cheese
1/4 cup raisins or cranberries
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tbsp sesame oil

1 tsp honey
* salt and pepper to taste

Steam vegetables for 4-5 minutes or until desired tenderness. Remove from pot and transfer to a mixing bowl. Combine all ingredients with the hot vegetables and toss together until combined. Serves 1 large portion (442 cal) or 2 small portions (221 cal).

We were in the mood for something Italian, and we knew pasta was not going to be an option, so we settled for some Sirloin Meatballs instead. I served them with a sauce we simmered for a few hours (pretty simple, garlic, a can of tomato sauce, and a small can of tomato paste).

Sirloin Meatballs (Anytime Meal)

1lb 7 oz Ground Sirloin or Lean Turkey
1/2 tsp Pepper
Olive Oil Cooking Spray
1tbsp Coconut oil or butter
* I would also recommend adding onion, garlic, or chopped pepper if you like them!

Directions: Season beef with salt and pepper and form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Preheat a large non-stick frying pan on medium heat and add 1 tablespoon oil. Saute the meatballs in batches until browned then set aside. Spray pan with oil if needed between batches.

The finished product!
During all this cooking my dog was NOT  happy that he wasn't getting to eat any of the food he was smelling. Although, it might be time to start him on his own diet soon!  

It may not have been a typical Italian meal - but it was good! I hope you guys will give one or both recipes a try! 

That's all for today - my workout is calling! So here's the question I'll leave you with - what made YOU start this challenge? Sounds off in the comments section!

Have a great day!

Jessica Hansen
1/28/2013 09:20:05 am

I did the Fall Back to Fitness Challenge in the fall, which was the first time I have REALLY worked out in years. It was scary, and really hard some days, but everyday got better and I LOVED the way I felt. I have a long way to go, but I want to keep it up, so here I am for this challenge. :) I want to improve my overall health, become fit and drop some weight while I'm at it. I'm here to learn new life habits.

1/30/2013 06:26:35 am

I think we forget how hard it is to start a new exercise routine or even step foot into a gym. It's very intimidating!! I'm so happy you enjoyed the last challenge and that you're doing this one as well!

1/30/2013 09:19:38 am

Back in September, I stumbled on E5 while perusing the Net looking for a different kind of local gym. The videos showed people doing lunges, kettle bells, flipping tires, and exercises using your own body weight instead of machines. I was intrigued. I met with Belton for a free consult. He explained the routines/rituals and tried (valiantly) to sign me up. Unfortunately, for both of us, those pitches have never worked with me. As I was leaving, he said "You'll be back!"

Fast forward to December and my weight has climbed yet again, thanks to the holidays and my emotional eating. I kept telling myself that I had to do something different. But it's much easier to fall back into old familiar routines. And then an email arrived describing the Challenge and I thought "this is the something different" and "if not now, when?"

So here I am! Determined to burn this fat suit away and reveal the fit body/mind that's been hiding within for the past 30 years. Coming up on not quite two weeks and I like the results so far. Plus I have a new family with E5.

2/8/2013 02:31:12 am

Joff, we are SO happy you walked into E5! Your spirit, enthusiasm, and great attitude is what makes everything we do so wonderful! We know you're going to do well on this challenge and even once the challenge is over, you'll keep pushing just as hard! Welcome to the family! Still waiting for your blog post!!! :)

Sandy Harms
2/1/2013 01:43:35 pm

There are many reasons why I've decided to do this challenge. I've decided that I'm more important than all the things that have gotten in my way in the past. No more excuses! :) Just as important, I am going to be working in refugee camps in Uganda for 3 weeks this summer. They do not have sanitary facilities so I want the strongest possible thighs & abs before I have to 'take care of business' for 3 weeks. :)


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