Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep-it’s super important for physical and emotional well-being. People who are well-rested are more energetic, productive, and alert. And I must say, waking up after an amazing sleep is an awesome feeling!

Interestingly, sleep regulates the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) and full (leptin). When you get less sleep than recommended, your ghrelin goes up and leptin goes down, which is why you feel hungrier after getting little sleep than when you’re well-rested.

So how much sleep do you need?

  • Teenagers (14-17):  8-10 hours
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range  remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours
http://time.com/3691992/sleep-hours-recommendations/

Unfortunately, most people struggle with falling asleep. A study done by Consumer Reports says that 68% of Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week. That’s approximately 164 million people.

 

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So, here are my tips for getting a good night’s sleep!

  • I find that dimming my bedroom lights an hour before sleeping by only turning on my lamp helps tremendously in helping me fall asleep. It prepares my body for sleep by creating a peaceful environment.
  • Make your bed before sleeping. I find that slipping into a nicely made bed is one of the most comforting feelings! If you’re looking for a new bed or some new sheets, I would check out this new bed from Leesa!
  • Have a bedtime ritual. Mine’s is showering right before I go to sleep. The steam feels so refreshing and having a ritual every night signals to my body that it is time to sleep 🙂

Ok, writing about getting ready to sleep makes me feel sleepy! Happy resting!

Love,

Serena

 

Making My Own Kombucha

Kombucha. You’ve probably heard about this fizzy, probiotic drink from plenty of food and wellness bloggers. Kombucha is the product of fermenting sweetened tea using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). Kombucha has been lauded for its ability to

  • Improve Digestion
  • Weight Loss
  • Increase Energy
  • Detox
  • Support Immune System
  • Reduce Joint Pain
  • Prevent Cancer

But, kombucha typically sells for $3-6 at supermarkets, which can really add up overtime! I decided to brew my own kombucha to see if it actually lives up to its health claims.

I started brewing my kombucha in February and I used a recipe by The Kitchn; it’s super detailed and explains everything step-by-step.

Just as a helpful note:

Batch Size: To increase or decrease the amount of kombucha you make, maintain the basic ratio of 1 cup of sugar, 8 bags of tea, and 2 cups starter tea per gallon batch. One scoby will ferment any size batch, though larger batches may take longer. (The Kitchn)

One of my friends’ sister was brewing kombucha as well, and I used a piece of her SCOBY.

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The scoby looked a little something like this! (Improving-SCOBY-Health.jpg)

I kept the kombucha in a dark area and let it sit and brew. Every couple weeks, I would give it a taste test to  make sure it wasn’t too sweet, but it also wasn’t too sour and vinegar-like. Finally, at the end of April, I decided it was ready!

 

 

 

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Look at that scoby!

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So, you can see that the scoby grew to be huge and super thick. The kombucha tasted sweet and vinegary, with just the right amount of carbonation. I drank 1/2 cup of kombucha a couple times every week, so here are my observations:

  • Claims to improve digestion –> From my experience, I was actually more gassy than before!
  • Increases energy –> I guess the vinegary kick from the kombucha did give me more energy…but the drink is super sugary, and the longer it was left in the fridge, the sweeter it got (something to do with the fermentation process…), and for me personally, the kombucha was too sweet.

In conclusion, I don’t really think kombucha is worth the hype based on how it made me feel. I must admit that I do feel very healthy sipping that ice-cold kombucha, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it is worth the money, or effort and time to make it.

What do you think about kombucha?

Love,

Serena

 

Easter Brunch: What I Ate Wednesday! 

For many people, Easter is a day for celebration, complete with lots of scrumptious food.  Here’s a rundown of everything I ate and did on Easter Sunday!

In the morning, I got up early for a 7:30am sunrise service at my church. Following the service, we had a large Chinese breakfast, with four different types of congee (beef, pork, pumpkin, and century egg) with fried crullers, tea-braised hard boiled eggs, steam pork buns, man tou (plain buns), and my favorite, red bean sticky rice cake.

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  Pumpkin Congee
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Tea-braised Eggs

 

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Red Bean Sticky Rice Cake- my favorite!!
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Mantou (plain buns)

 

After church, I went out to practice golf, because the weather was 80 degrees and gorgeous. Around 1 or 2, I came home to have a late lunch. I was sweaty and starving at this point, so I quickly grabbed all the fruit in the fridge, and had a feast of papaya, mango, and jack fruit. The fruit was perfect after a couple hours in the sun. I then had two slices of avocado toast, and finished my meal with some dairy-free ice cream!

  

Almond milk So Delicious ice cream with pistachios

So much good food on Easter, it was seriously #foodgoals!

 

Love,

Serena

Banana Cinnamon Coffee Overnight Oats

I love my overnight oats. Sometimes I think I wake up because my oats are calling my name. You might think I’m a bit overly obsessed but let me tell you they are the perfect breakfast to have in the mornings when you don’t have time to/don’t feel like making anything, but don’t want to sacrifice your health. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you better feed your body right, from the start.

I have so many overnight oat recipes that I’ve created, and I’ll share more of them later. But for now, allow me to introduce my go to, BANANA CINNAMON COFFEE overnight oats. As with many of my recipes, each of the ingredients are selected for a purpose, so that the ingredients list doesn’t contain any unnecessary bells and whistles.

Here it is:

Servings: 1

Time: 5 minutes active (yes, actually 5 minutes I timed it :)), 7-8 hours fridge overnight

Ingredients:

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 tbsp. chia seeds (or sub flax seeds)

1/2 banana

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp instant coffee powder (equivalent to about 1/2 cup coffee worth of caffeine)

1/2 cup + a little bit more almond milk (or milk of choice)

honey to taste

optional toppings: almond slivers, dark chocolate chips, etc.

Instructions:

1.) In a mason jar or some resealable jar, mash the banana. Add oats, chia seeds, cinnamon, coffee powder, honey, and milk.

2.) Screw on the lid and shake until well combined (or you could be fancy and mix with a spoon).

3.) Pop it in the fridge, and enjoy right out of the jar the next morning! (ideally 7-8 hours in the fridge, but the timing is flexible)

Yeah, that’s it. Just a throw everything in a jar and shake kind of recipe. You DO NOT have to have any kind of cooking skill to make this oatmeal, and it turns out creamy and satisfying every time!! You can heat it up in the morning as well, but I find cold/room temp oats to be just fine. I even have overnight oats for snack sometimes 😛

Let me know if you try out this recipe and your thoughts! Happy oatmeal eating 🙂

Love,

Serena

 

 

Living with the “healthy” curse

Sorry for being a bit MIA over on the blog this week. I’ve been thinking about this topic for awhile and while I haven’t really refined or polished it, I thought I would at least share what I have so far.

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A preview of what I’m going to talk about …

So around 2014, I ate relatively “normal.” That meaning I didn’t really obsess over what I was eating. Food never was a problem or concern in my life. But in spring of 2015, I was tempted to go on the dangerous path of restrictive eating and dieting. And at this point, I started obsessing in what I was eating. That became spinach, avocado, and other vegetables, but very little or if not at all on carbs and junk food. I have much to be grateful for as this is where I fell in love with nutrition. I learned that a calorie is not a calorie and that I’m much better off nourishing myself with nutrient dense foods.

Without rambling on too much, I slowly became obsessed with eating healthy. Eating not only the right amount but the right quality. But I quickly four out that this made me sad and lonely as I stopped going to social events and that I was constantly tired and cranky. In other words, I wasn’t mentally healthy even though I probably was physically healthy.

So I started indulging a bit. I started eating things in moderation. And I really tried to redefine what healthy meant for me. And I’ve been lucky and blessed enough to share part of this journey on the blog. (Like this one for example). But sadly enough, I’ve been receiving unwelcome and heartbreaking reactions from my friends.

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Who says I can’t eat a lemon bar?

As I got a few French fries from my school’s dining hall, I passed one of my friends who wasn’t close but knew me pretty well. She knew from last year that I was the one getting lunch and dinner from the salad bar. She knew me as the one who didn’t eat any cake, sweets, any processed or fatty foods. And she was right. I was that person last year.

But as much as it was hard for me to mentally change my outlook on food, it’s been hard for me to deal with the reactions I’ve been getting from my friends.

Whenever I get something a bit unhealthy, my friends gasp and almost scold me. And as much as I appreciate their concern and attention to me, I wish they would realize how hard it was for me to overcome that mental block I had before of “I shouldn’t eat this because it’s unhealthy.” Because you know what? I redefine my definition of healthy. Its to be mentally and physically sane and happy and to practice sustainable things.

But it’s definitely hard to do so when your friends only see you as that health nut. It’s hard to change their perception of you and consequently, it’s hard to change yourself because you’re almost beholden to their thinking.

So yeah that’s pretty much what I have so far. Just like what I said in the beginning of this post, I don’t have this figured out at all. It’s something I’ve been grappling with this past week and I’m sure the many more weeks to come. But I thought I might share here because I know there are so many wise and caring people out here on the blogging world.

 

With that said, how do you deal with your friends perceptions of your eating habits?

xoxo,

Stephanie

Asparagus for Any Day

I’ve always loved asparagus because of how fun it is to eat! Asparagus isn’t like spinach or lettuce where I feel like a cow eating it with stems and leaves sticking stubbornly out of my mouth. Instead, asparagus is crunchy and texturally satisfying. Also, fun fact, 1 cup of asparagus has 100% of the daily value of Vitamin K for blood clotting and bone support.

If you follow our Avolicious Instagram, you’ll know that I was sick this past week. I had a fever and I still have a sore throat, but I made this delicious asparagus dish that was both healthy and satisfying. My recipe was based off of my spiced fried rice recipe in that I used similar super healthy spices.

Here’s the simple recipe and I hope you give it a try!


Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 pound Asparagus (duh)

1 tbsp Minced garlic/garlic powder

1/2 tsp Turmeric

1/2 tsp Black Pepper

(That’s it!! only 4 ingredients!!)

Process:

1.) Wash asparagus and chop into 1.5 inch pieces.

2.) Heat 1 tbsp. water in a pan and add minced garlic if using

3.) Once water is hot, add asparagus and cook for 2 minutes

4.) Add turmeric and black pepper

Yay!! All done. This recipe is easy easy you really don’t need to have many cooking skills for it! Plus, the turmeric is amazing for fighting inflammation, and black pepper helps the body absorb the nutrients from the turmeric.

Enjoy!

-Serena 

How I Stay Healthy When Eating Out

You’re stuck in a restaurant that you didn’t want to go to in the first place. One look at the menu and you know this will be a major cheat meal-fried chicken, ribs, steak and potatoes, with not a mention of a vegetable in sight!

I’ve experienced this little scenario many times before, I visit my relatives from New York about once a month, and whenever we eat out, they always choose to go to either a chain steakhouse or a Chinese restaurant.

So, over the years, I’ve developed some techniques to staying healthy when eating out. I think these tips can be applied to many different scenarios, like if your friends all decide to order takeout from a restaurant that you know does not have healthy food, or if you are at a fast food restaurant because you have no time to sit down and eat a slow meal.

Also, I just want to note that I am pescatarian, but these tips can definitely apply to vegetarians, vegans, or just health-conscious individuals.

1.) Look at the salad options. Maybe this is a no-brainer, but the salad might be your best bet to eating a plant-based meal. If the salad has an element that you would prefer not to have, just ask for it to be removed or replaced. Since you are still paying for that element of the dish, you could just give it to the people dining with you.

2.) Sides are your best friend. I’ve been to steakhouses that offer no vegetable dish at all. Even the salads contain some kind of meat, whether that be chicken or steak. However, I can guarantee you that you’ll find at least one plant based option among the sides. Take this menu from Outback Steakhouse for example. All of the sides are plant based (with the exception of theFullSizeRender mac and cheese). You can also usually make potatoes healthier by asking for no toppings (getting rid of fatty sour cream) and just add salt and pepper to your taste. You could also ask for condiments on the side, so instead of the Sweet Potato with Cinnamon Sugar and Butter that is on the menu, you could add these two ingredients to your liking.

If none of the main dishes are speaking to you, you can order solely sides, or a combination of appetizers and sides.

 

 

 

3.) Your waiter is your best friend. As I’ve stated before, you can always ask for an ingredient to be removed, replaced, or put on the side. Your waiter or the cashier is your go-to person for making these requests. One time, I went to TGI Friday’s with my family because it was the only restaurant open at the time we wanted dinner. With the exception of a garden salad, there was not a single non-meat item on the menu. I didn’t really want to have the garden salad because it was just lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. So instead, I ordered the mac and cheese with broccoli and chicken, and asked for all of the chicken to be replaced with broccoli.

4.) When eating a family-style meal, take charge of ordering food. When you are eating with a large group of people (like my extended family, with 13 people) it’s easy to engage in side conversations while the ordering is occurring. There have been many times where other people have ordered, and as a result, I may only have one dish that I can eat as a pescatarian, or as a healthy person in general! So, if you are in charge of ordering the food, you can order what you want to eat because anyways, it will benefit the group to have at least one or two healthy dishes on the table.

So I hope these tips will help you when ordering food! Fast food doesn’t have to mean unhealthy, and steakhouses don’t always have to mean steak. Happy eating 🙂

Love,

Serena

 

My Exercise Journey

My exercise journey has been completely shaped by parent’s, especially my mom’s, passion for exercise. To put this in perspective, my parents actually met at an outdoors organization. Go figure.

Throughout my life, my parents have always stressed the importance of experiencing the outdoors. Our definition of a family vacation included driving until we were practically outside of civilization, hiking rugged trails that extended for miles, gazing out at scenic landscapes, and staying in funny-smelling, sketchy motels in the middle of nowhere. Every year, for as long as I can remember, we’ve visited at least one National Park. Last year, we crossed off an item from my bucket list by traveling to Washington and Oregon, and visiting Crater Lake, Olympic National Park, and others. So, hiking as a form of exercise has been with me forever. I can definitely relate to Stephanie’s post about a Walker’s High!

But for the majority of the year, when we were at home, my mom enrolled me in a variety of different sports, in hopes that I would find a passion. I was involved with swimming classes, a soccer team, gymnastics, golf, and ice skating.

Swimming eventually became a major part of my life, as I would take classes every weekend, and I joined a swim team. I remember one meet in particular, waiting anxiously beside the pool for my heat to start, as rain was pouring down, my small body was blanketed in goose bumps, and my heart was pounding out of my chest.

However, I ended up giving up swimming for the sport that had resonated the most with me–golf.

I think it was the similarities to hiking that got me hooked. I loved how I could just walk, while engaging in competition! To boil it down, golf is just that, walking, swinging a club every once in a while, and that’s it. But as I immersed myself deeper into golf, I realized that the biggest reason I loved golf so much was that feeling of euphoria after hitting an amazing shot. We golfers call it “pin-seeking” or “throwing darts” when we hit the ball close to the cup. It truly is an indescribable feeling.

I spent countless nights on the driving range, hitting balls until I was the only one left because it was too dark to see the ball. After the driving range, I would walk over to practice on the putting green. And by the time I was done, the entire golf course parking lot was empty except for my parent’s car. On the weekends, I would play in tournaments all over the state, sometimes driving over an hour to get to a golf course. Golf became an integral part of my life, and it was how I exercised.

At the start of middle school, I decided to join the track team, because I knew that running would benefit my golf swing and help me hit the ball farther. Well, let’s just say joining track was a bit of a fail. I was a sprinter, but we were also required to participate in a field event. I tried hurdling, because many of my friends were doing it, but every time I attempted to jump over a hurdle my foot would stubbornly hit the hurdle and I would fall flat. It was one of the most humiliating times of my life, and I remember all of the popular “track stars” laughing at me as I struggled and fell hurdle after hurdle. I also despised the running aspect of track, I hated the hard workouts, and coming in consistently among the lasts did not help. I was so defeated that I quit track the following year. I briefly tried volleyball, which also turned out to be a bust as well.

One day, I decided to go with my mom to her gym, and I went to a yoga class. It was completely love at first attempt. I adored the relaxing-yet challenging poses and flow of yoga. It helped me unwind and get a good workout. As my mom preferred Zumba and playing badminton to yoga that she considered was “too slow,” I frequently went to the yoga classes by myself. I was 12 years old and the only kid in the class, but nevertheless I enjoyed being around supportive adults who loved yoga as much as I did! I diligently practiced headstands in my room at night, and I would film myself to make sure my form was correct.

Right before high school, determined to have one other actual sport aside from golf, I attempted field hockey. I figured that since it seemed similar to golf, it might be easier than the other sports I had tried. Mind you-this was the first time I had run so much since track in 6th grade! I was not ready for the cardio challenge, but I actually thoroughly appreciated the wonderful workout that I would get a couple days a week at practice.

Now, I am still playing field hockey, and doing yoga when I can. But this year, I tried running track again. Judging by the running workouts from field hockey, I knew that my endurance was not bad compared to the other girls, so I tried out for the distance running team. I was mostly motivated by Stephanie’s enthusiasm about running, but also my desire to actually challenge myself, and the fact that running would make me stronger and my golf swing more powerful.

I never expected to make it into track, because 1) the most I had every run was 3 miles, 2) I had failed at 6th grade track, and 3) I didn’t have much willpower. But, God made it happen! During tryouts, I ran an entire minute and a half faster than I had ever run before. I found a sport that was extremely challenging, but it whipped me into shape and I loved the support that everyone gave each other through each meet. Being a part of track made me very proud, because I had never considered myself a very athletic person. –> I think I’ll talk about my thoughts/experience about athleticism in another post. I also think I’ll run track again next year.

I’m definitely looking forward to the golf season, it starts on Tuesday!!!

Oh wow I realize this post is longer than I expected! Congratulations if you made it all the way to the end. I hope you enjoyed my story and maybe took something away from it!

Care to share your exercise journey?

Love,

Serena

Quick and Easy Fried Rice

Sometimes, I’m just too tired to cook. I know, shocking, but after a long afternoon of shopping, all I want to do is lay down. So, on these days, I usually  just take whatever I have in the fridge. throw it all together, and call it a meal. But there are times when these haphazard cooking days actually turn out amazing. One example of this is my spiced fried rice.

I’m not going to lie, there were a lot of ingredients I used (mainly from spices) as this is a spiced Fried Rice. But trust me, it is good. Especially when you’re tired because the heartiness of this dish just warms you right up.

Also, each spice that I use has a plethora of health benefits associated with it. For example, turmeric is strongly anti0inflammatory, has powerful antioxidant effects, and prevents common diseases overall. I use pepper in this recipe because it helps the body absorb the turmeric more effectively.

Servings:2
Ingredients:
-2 eggs
– 2 cloves garlic minced
-1 tsp ginger
-1 carrot chopped
-1 stalk celery chopped
– 2 handfuls dark leafy greens
– 1 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tsp turmeric
– 1/2 tsp pepper
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
-2 tsp olive oil
-1/4 cup broth or water as needed
-1/4 cup cashews
– 2 tbsp sesame seeds
-2 cups brown rice
– optional: any type of meat/meat substitute leftover, I used 2 scallops, chopped up
Note: These ingredients can be substituted for other similar ingredients! This recipe is meant to be a clean-out-the-fridge, whatever-you-have-on-hand type of recipe. For example, you can switch out brown rice for white rice, or the dark leafy greens for broccoli. The possibilities are endless.
Procedure:
1.) Heat half of the olive oil (1tsp) in a pan, and then scramble the two eggs. Remove from pan.
2.) Heat the remaining olive oil on high heat with the minced garlic and ginger
3.) Once the aromatics smell fragrant, add the chopped carrot, celery, and meat leftover and sautée everything for about 2 minutes. The meat should be heated through, and the carrots and celery should be a bit crunchy
4.) Add the leafy greens and sautée until wilted. Meanwhile, add the scrambled eggs, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, and Chinese five spice
5.) Add the rice, and some liquid to help break up any clumps. I used bone broth that I of course had leftover, but you can also use water or another type of broth. Add the soy sauce, cashews, and sesame seeds.
6.) Give everything a good mix and you’re done!
What is your favorite leftover recipe?
Love,
Serena

Gaining Weight and Finding Balance

So about a month ago, I decided to step on a scale. I hadn’t weighed myself for months, and I was curious to see what the result would be.

Well, let’s just say I was shocked. I had gained 7 pounds since the start of the school year, and I don’t gain weight very easily at all! Freshman year, while many students had their “Freshmen 15” due to the buffet-style meals in the dining hall, I remained the same weight throughout the year. I didn’t eat less then anyone else, I just didn’t gain weight very easily. And all this time I had been basking in the gift of a wicked fast metabolism…until recently when I realized that I could no longer take advantage of it.

Stepping on the scale for me was shocking, but it was also the motivation for me to change my eating habits. I called myself a “healthy” person, and even though I was eating mostly plant-based, nutritious meals, I was consuming unhealthy, out-of-control portions. For dinner, I would have 1 full plate of sautéed veggies, a bowl (sometimes two) of carbs and salad, and a bowl of yogurt or cereal. It was way too much food for my body to handle, and as a result, I did not feel so great after. Yet I would still eat more because it had become a sort of addiction. And I knew I was unhealthy and I was gaining weight, but every day, I refused to believe it. Until I stepped on that scale.

It was a wake up call. The shock of my weight gain made me realize that my stomach aches and bloated feeling at night, after eating a humongous dinner (and “midnight snack” afterwards), was not healthy at all. I had to make a change.

So, I started portion controlling-I would still eat mostly the same foods I used to eat, but I would regulate how much I ate.

For breakfast, my usual mason jar of oatmeal (equivalent to 3/4 cup oatmeal with 3/4 cup milk) was cut down to the actual recommended adult serving size-1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup milk. And I mindfully ate my breakfast-meaning I would take 1 minute breaks periodically to assess whether I was still hungry, or whether I was just eating because of the availability of food. A couple times, I found myself not even finishing the oatmeal because I was full already, but staying satisfied for the entire morning! So I realized that the 3/4 cup of oatmeal I used to eat was actually sometimes double the amount that I needed.

My usual lunch used to be a sandwich and salad on the side. But when there was “good” food in the hot bar, I would take that as well. This might include salmon, eggplant parm, roasted veggies, green beans, etc. And I would also take cereal or yogurt for dessert. So this time for lunch, I decided that I would either eat a sandwich and salad, or the hot food and a salad, without any dessert.

The snacks that I used to eat after school (trail mix, KIND bar) I still ate, but I portioned out the trail mix to recommended adult serving sizes of 1/4 cup and kept more fruit around.

Then for dinner, the 1 plate and 3 bowls of food that I used to eat turned into one bowl of salad and sautéed veggies/other hot food. Also, no more dessert, because I knew that I would snack at home anyway.

So after this experiment, in a month, I lost 6 of the 7 pounds that I had gained. But more importantly,

  1. I wasn’t feeling bloated and I didn’t get stomach aches
  2. I rekindled a healthy relationship with food through mindfully eating, not just shoving food down because it was available.
  3. I ate healthier and better quality meals, without all the excess and unnecessary dessert. Before having a buffet-style dining hall, I used to eat fruit for dessert, if anything at all. So, I’ve now attempted to go back to that healthy habit because dessert is truly unneeded. If I crave dessert, then I’ll have something sweet-like a banana with peanut butter, or a very small but full bowl of cereal (smaller full bowls give the illusion of eating more)

The bottom line of this month-long journey has been: eat in moderation! Don’t deprive yourself of the foods that you love-I think that’s my best advice for losing weight, ironically. I didn’t realize how much excess food I was eating until I ate a proper amount. And I hope you learned from this experience that I’ve shared.

Love,

Serena