Jen Emmert

Jen Emmert writes at PriorFatGirl, candidly documenting her journey of losing 100 pounds through all of life's dramatic moments including new jobs, the death of her mom, wedding planning and, most recently, tornadoes. Jen's story has been seen in SHAPE Magazine, AOL.com, Woman's Day Magazine and many local news outlets. Follow her journey as she continues to fight for healthiness in an unhealthy world.

A farmers market kind of day.

Posted by: Jen Emmert under Health Updated: September 18, 2011 - 9:07 PM

As I stepped out of my car this past Sunday, a familiar aroma swirled around me and wrapped around me, comforting me. Even from across the street in the parking lot under the highway, I could smell coffee brewing, frosted cinnamon rolls, brats, corn on the cob and all the fresh produce. It was 10:30am and unlike other weekends, the crowd was somewhat manageable probably because so many others were still cozied up at home.

Not me. A cold, dreary morning was perfect farmers market weather and the Minneapolis Farmers Market is about 10 minutes from my house. I had gone grocery shopping the day before but there's something special about being at the farmers market. It isn't just about produce and local products but a morning of adventure, learning and being surrounded by ideas.

I love going to the Minneapolis Farmers Market because I end up walking around just wanting to be there with the hustle and bustle. I typically avoid crowds but there is something about the atmosphere at the farmers market that makes it different. Maybe it is the freshness-saturated air, maybe it is so many people who are so passionate about produce and local foods.

 

 

We walked up and down the isles, getting lost in the possibilities. Picking items up and observing. Pointing out things we'd never seen before. Admiring the varieties.

 

 

 

 

 

We got lost discussing what we could buy, trying to refrain from buying everything. The freshness taunted us - there were more smells coming from foods I'd often seen but rarely smelled at the grocery store.

 


 

Every once in awhile, there'd be a fresh flowers vendor in between all the produce with amazing flowers that would catch my eye and draw my attention away.

 


 

Aside from the large selection of produce & flowers available at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, you can also get a lot of other staple foods such as:

  • Meats
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Cheeses
  • Breads
  • Nuts
  • Jellies
  • Rice
  • Fish
  • Honey
  • Cider & Tea

What's more, beyond just the amazing food there is plenty of other things to do! The day I was there, there was a Seafood Throw down between two local chefs.

 

 

There is also a lot of gifts, clothes, garden items and other non-food vendors who share their passion with guests. Unique items you won't find in any big box chain stores.

I know what your thinking, a trip to the Minneapolis Farmers Market could turn into a few hours worth of entertainment. Not to worry, there are a lot of samples and even a few food vendors to tide you over until you get get home to cook your fresh produce.

The man of my dreams eating the brat of my dreams.

 

 

(Oh yes, I made him share that brat!)

Our loot - $15 worth of deliciousness.

 

 

 

Tomatoes, red onions, watermelon, acorn squash,
middle eastern zucchini, red beets & local-made hummus.

Often times we think being healthy is so expensive and while it is true, sometimes it is, it doesn't always have to be. In fact, if we look outside the grocery store and buy what is in season from local farmers, being healthy can be financially manageable. (Click here to see a list of what is in season, when.) The Minneapolis Farmers Market is open May-December, 7 days a week (see website for location, hours and additional details).

While I spent my morning at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, don't feel like you have to go there to take advantage of local grown produce. The St. Paul Farmers Market is open thru November (see website for specifics) as well as many smaller farmers markets throughout the Twin Cities.

So what are you waiting for? Time to hit up your local farmers market and get creative in the kitchen!

A Nice Ride to change my mind

Posted by: Jen Emmert under Health Updated: September 18, 2011 - 7:07 PM

I am a runner. An ellipticaller. A stair stepper. An any-other-cardio-than-biking kind of girl. But there has been something on my list of healthiness activities to share with you that crossed my comfort zone. I put it off for an entire month however September has started which means the weather is going to start getting cold. I haven't rode a real bike since I was a little girl. The only thing close to it I've come is the stationary bike at the gym which, as I recently learned, is NOT the same.

On Saturday, September 3rd, some friends and I decided to give Nice Ride a try. Have you heard of this? Surely you've seen people rockin' green bikes all over the Twin Cities? Let me be candid here and share that if it weren't for wanting to share with all some fun new things to do, I probably wouldn't have tried this... and would have missed out.

 

 

 From the site, here is how it works:

Nice Ride is a non-profit organization, and anyone can become a subscriber. Simply take a bike when you need one, and return it to any station in the system when you arrive at your destination. It's quick, easy and affordable.

Quick, easy and affordable = YES! You walk up to the Nice Ride pay station and slide your card in, much like you would at an ATM machine. With a few quick touches on the screen, a little slip of paper prints out a 5-digit code and your receipt. Next to each bike is a keypad where you punch in your 5 digit code. A green light appears and the bike unlocks. In less than 5 minutes, you have a bike!

The only downside to Nice Ride is that your bike does not come with a helmet so if you have one, you should bring your own. I did not have one but luckily, one of my friends had an extra.

 

 

With almost 100 locations to select from in the Twin Cities, I checked out the Nice Ride online map to find one most convenient for our group. We met at the Lake Street & Humboldt Station in Uptown because it was close to the Midtown Greenway path that cuts through Minneapolis and goes all the way to Minnehaha park.

I hopped on my bike and it was just like riding a bike! I wobbled a bit, grabbed a fence near by to catch my balance but then, all my bike riding skills came flowing back and I let go of the fence. My face lit up and I grinned from ear to ear, I was riding a bike! We rode about 2 blocks north and came up on the Midtown Greenway -- I'd driven past it before but never really paid attention to what it is. I've been missing out!

 

The Midtown Greenway is very flat, smooth and paved path on a former railroad corridor. I felt like I was on a secret path deep within the city but that only certain people knew about. We rode for awhile and all of a sudden found ourselves by the Midtown Global Exchange building - I couldn't believe we had rode that far already! There was a cute little coffee shop that had been built into the side of the wall which would be a perfect place to stop and have some coffee but since we had just started, we decided to keep going.

 

 

There were beautiful little stopping points all along the Midtown Greenway. Some had benches, others had signs with information about the immediate area and even others had been planted with beautiful elaborate gardens.

 

 

We rode the Midtown Greenway for 5 miles and eventually hit Minnehaha Park where we decided to turn around. Had we decided to keep riding, we could have crossed the street and jumped on the paths at Minnihaha Park. I never realized how interconnected everything was in Minneapolis & St. Paul - I'm pretty sure I could get lost in my own world within the paths!

The girls and I ended up making our way back to where we started and completed what turned out to be an 75 minute bike ride. It was a peaceful, simple bike ride with one bridge in the middle going over Hiawatha Avenue that gave us all a little extra umph in our peddling.

For the adventurer in you, instead of biking down the Midtown Greenway, you could instead do one of the already mapped out tours Nice Ride has published! Select from tours such as:

The cost for my 75 minute bike ride was less than $10 dollars. You can rent on-the-go, like I did, or you can also purchase longer subscriptions if you plan on using Nice Ride often.

 

 

(Source - subject to change without notice)

I wore my Polar heart rate monitor to see what kind of activity I got and while it was a fairly causal "workout" for me, it was still a great way to get up and moving without having to be at the gym or running. 

 

 

And my favorite part about it was that I got to spend the morning with friends, having conversation, observing the city we live in and discovering new things I'd never known before.

 

 

 Jen H (yellow), Kelly (pink), Mel (dark blue), Ann (lime green) and myself in light blue.

I learned a lesson during my bike ride. Originally, I had told myself I'd just ride once and be done with it. Just ride long enough to be able to write an post here, share my experiences and move on. Instead, I found myself wanting to stay on the bike. I wanted to find new paths, continue exploring and experiencing the Twin Cities like I had never done before. I never thought I'd enjoy being on a bicycle, but a Nice Ride changed my mind.

 

 

 

The great Minnesota Eat-Together

Posted by: Jen Emmert under Health, State fair Updated: August 30, 2011 - 7:46 AM

An annual event for many, the Minnesota State Fair tends to be a day full of walking, people watching and eating foods deep fried on a stick. Throughout my journey of losing 100lbs and trying to find a healthy balance in an unbalanced world, I've made it a habit not to "deny" myself anything. I never wanted to "ban" myself from ever going anywhere because being healthy meant living life, and I needed to figure out how to be healthy no matter where I was.

I was determined this year to enjoy the Minnesota State Fair but balance my healthiness journey at the same time.

A plan of action:

Before I leave for a long road trip, I spend some time online looking up the roads I'll be taking to make sure I know where I'm going. When I'm making something for dinner I've never made before, I have the recipe out in front of me. Any good business person makes a business plan or strategy plan before launching a new product or idea.

So in my effort to enjoy the Minnesota State Fair this year while making somewhat healthier decisions compared to years past, I decided I needed a plan of action. It may sound silly but I actually found myself more relieved at the fair knowing I had a plan instead of feeling overwhelmed by seeing temptation every where.

Research:

Every good plan has some research. A quick look around the Minnesota State Fair's website will give you everything you ever need and more! By the time I was ready to go to the fair, I had put together a list of foods I was planning on eating and even a map of where everything was located. The map helped because without, I could have become frustrated trying to find the vendors I planned to go to and gave up only to jump in line at the nearest food vendor!

 

 

Being prepared like I was gave me a comforting feeling while being surrounded by temptation. I found myself standing at the State Fair surrounded by amazingly tempting flavors floating through the air but because I had my plan with me, I felt strong enough to stick to what I decided I was going to do.

Decide on your healthier options:

Picking out 4-5 healthy options to eat while you're at the Minnesota State Fair will do a couple things. First, it will satisfies your subconscious need to eat when everyone else around you is eating. Second, it helps fill you up on healthier options instead of eating fried after fried after fried. While there are some vendors that sell healthier options as their main item, pay attention to other vendor menus see what else they'll offer. For example, when we were in line for our sauteed alligator (see below), I noticed the same vendor also sold frozen grapes.

Carlos and I had the below healthier options:

Salad on a Stick (Giggles Campfire Grill, Cooper St. & Lee Ave)

 
Frozen Grapes  (Bayou Bob's - southeast corner of Nelson and Dan Patch)

Dole Whip (fat-free non-dairy dessert, 20 calories per ounce, South side of Carnes between Underwood and Nelson)

Other healthier choices could include:

  • Grilled Shrimp on-a-stick (Fish & Chips Seafood Shoppe in food building)
  • Frozen fruit on-a-stick (Veggie Pie in food building)
  • Energy Mix (Simply Nuts & More, in Lee & Rose Warner Coliseu)
  • $1 all you can drink milk (North side of Judson between Clough and Nelson)

Select your splurge options:

For most, we wait all year for certain foods at the Minnesota State Fair. It's important not to deny yourself anything but instead, make decisions on the foods you will have before hand and stick to your items. It's ideal to pick 2 or 3 items you know you really really want and then split them with one or two others. By splitting them with someone else, you are having the foods that you want but not eating the entire thing.

For our splurge items, Carlos and I shared:

Cheese curds (multiple locations)


A foot long hotdog (multiple locations)
 
Sauteed alligator (Bayou Bob's - southeast corner of Nelson and Dan Patch)
 
Other splurge items could include:
  • Breakfast lollipop (Axels, southeast corner of the Food Building off Cooper)
  • Deep fried cookie (Dough Sonny’s Spiral Spuds, Located in the Food Building)
  • Chocolate covered jalapeno peppers(Andre’s Watermelon, near Ye Old Mil)
  • Sweet Martha's cookies (multiple locations)
  • Chocolate covered fried bacon (Famous Dave's, West Dan Patch Ave. & Chambers St)

Be careful when you purchase your splurge foods and pay attention to when you can stop eating. For some foods, you may not need to finish the whole thing. Carlos and I each had a few pieces each of the cheese curds but ended up discarding the last 1/3 of the container because we were both done. Food is fairly expensive at the State Fair so discarding foods isn't a good habit however in my mind, it is better to discard the food than to force yourself to eat it.

Also, think outside foods you always get and try new things for your splurge items. Looking for idea's? Click HERE for a list of the new food items for 2011.

Take the focus away from food:

This is actually the most important part of my plan - take the focus and priority away from eating at the fair and instead, submerge yourself in everything non-food related the fair has to offer! While it is fun to try new foods, both splurge items and healthier items, it is important to recognize that the food is really a small portion of what the State Fair has to offer.

During the three hours Carlos and I were at the fair, we racked up 2.5 miles worth of walking. Also, for the first time ever, I wandered into the Health Fair 11 and was beyond excited at all the tests you could have done! Did you know you can have:

  • Glucose checks
  • Retina scans
  • Bone density screens
  • Body compositions measured (mine was 22.2% = normal, wahoo!)
  • Flu shots
  • Blood pressure checks (mine was 103/77 = normal)
  • Heart rate screen (mine was 61 bpm = normal)

  Here I am getting my blood pressure & heart rate tested:

Carlos and I also wandered around the Agriculture/Horticulture building where we found a plethora of Minnesota wines, local honeys, plants, flowers and, my favorite, all the Minnesota apples! Who knew we had so many famous apples?!

Lastly, Carlos and I wandered around some of the animal barns. The Minnesota State Fair has quite a large population of sheep, poultry, horses, swine and cattle. It is amazing to see so many different species all hanging out under one roof.

Other non-food related things to do at the Minnesota State Fair include:

  • 2pm daily parade (info HERE)
  • Eco experience including sampling local health foods (info HERE)
  • Multiple events at the free stage entertainment (info HERE)
  • Giant sing-a-long (info HERE)
  • Minnesota community pride showcase (info HERE)
  • Talent contests (info HERE)
  • Thank a farmer magic show (info HERE)

The possibilities are almost endless! For even more things to do, visit the Minnesota State Fair website. You can also find dates and hours HERE.

 So there you have it - my action plan for a healthier Minnesota State Fair. Any other tips you can add? 

 

Eating with the Blackbird.

Posted by: Jen Emmert under Health, Health maintenance, Healthy eating, Health & nutrition Updated: August 21, 2011 - 3:43 PM

One thing you'll learn about me is I believe we each must determine what healthy is for our own individual journey. Healthy may be one thing to me but for someone who is managing their diabetes or Celiac disease, what I do may not be the right choice. Our own journey is as individual as our finger prints. Sure there is probably a common theme of "move more, eat less" but how we do that is individual based on multiple variables. The hard part about being healthy is in the end we each are responsible for figuring out what healthy means to ourselves. That's my opinion - yours may differ. While I don't boast clean or non-processed eating 100% of the time, I do love when I can find opportunities to eat food not scientifically created in a lab.

Enter Blackbird Restaurant:

Situated on a bustling corner in South Minneapolis, you'll find Blackbird Cafe. While new to me, Blackbird Cafe has been around for awhile although not in its current location. Reopening a little over a year and a half ago after a fire ripped to shreds its insides, Blackbird Cafe confirmed a fire can't stop 'em now. Blackbird Cafe takes pride in a menu cooked from scratch. From their website:

Blackbird is a casual restaurant, serving lunch and dinner, plus breakfast on the weekends. Our menu items are prepared from scratch in our tiny kitchen. No frozen fries, no pre-fab desserts.

We use high quality ingredients and transform them into our versions of homespun classics. Our menu changes occasionally to showcase the best ingredients in their seasons, and to accommodate the fickleness of Mother Nature. But, we also like to keep your well-loved faves on the menu too!

My fiance, Carlos and I walked into Blackbird Cafe on an evening earlier this week, both starving and desperately needing to relax. Free yoga was a great escape but I also needed some quality one-on-one time with Carlos. We were shown to a tiny two person booth toward the back of the restaurant. As we walked toward our booth, I couldn't help but find my eyes darting around the mismatched decor consuming the walls. Every section of the wall seemed to have its own theme which didn't connect but seemed to somehow match its neighboring decorations. The hodgepodge of decor worked in a way I'm pretty sure would look tacky and unorganized if recreated in my house. I was impressed and a little jealous.

I sat down with a heavy sigh as if I was letting stress escape from within the sigh itself. I opened the menu and found familiar thoughts racing through my head. There is often an internal struggle in my mind when I look at menus because I want one of everything. I'm the type of person who eats because food tastes good, because I love the textures of food and because I crave the sensations dancing on my taste buds. I envy those who eat to live and work every day at trying to force a much needed paradigm shift but often get distracted by dreams of what I'm having for dinner. {Note to self: talk to therapist about eating to live and not living to eat.}

As we scanned the menu at our delicious main meal options, we ordered the crusty baguette with chickpea spread and whipped honey butter. I know some who can resist bread but that isn't me. The chickpea spread was a play off a popular hummus flavor but twice as good. It boasted a bold flavor but lightly complimented the crusty bread. The whipped honey butter was good enough to be eaten with a spoon however I resisted and thinly spread it on the second half of my crusty baguette.

While the menu had a lot of really creative dishes, making a decision was not difficult for me. Blackbird Cafe had a dish on their menu that sang melodies to my heart. Spicy peanut noodles: udon noodles, sauteed veggies, fried egg & spicy peanut sauce... add chicken.

In my world, an egg makes everything better. Carlos and I had conversations while a light murmur of conversations floated through the air around us. It was an August evening fit for a paragraph introduction in a book.

Portion sizes are a struggle when eating out because most places give us what we scream for - more for less. Blackbird Cafe challenges that request and instead strives to plate meals that are closer to appropriate portions. Over the past few years, I've allowed myself to adjust to leaving satisfied from dinner, not stuffed beyond comfort.

My spicy peanut noodles with chicken and egg were better than the high expectations I had set. I tasted every unique flavor choreographed together. Each bite made the world turn a little easier. How can a girl eat to live when made from scratch promises to emphasize this kind of live to eat mentality! I finished my egg and half the noodles & chicken. I paused and made a conscious decision not to eat everything on my plate.

Our server came by just enough to let us know he was still there but not to bombard us with intrusions. When he noticed we were slowing down on our meals, he asked the tempting question surrounding the subject dessert. Would we or wouldn't we? I entertained the thought. I even went so far as to ask for descriptions of heavenly creations and begin the process of elimination deciding which one I wanted in my stomach.

As I looked up at the server, I noticed a monster-sized antique looking door on the wall behind him. A symbol, I'm sure of it. The door represented all I'd hope for, fought for and dreamed of. This door was colorful as if alluding to the promises met on the other side. It also appeared to be a heavy door of which one would need to use all the fight they had to push open. It looked simple yet screamed of strength and power.

The server was calmly waiting to fulfill my dessert dreams but my thought process revolving the door helped me realize my stomach was truly satisfied. I had bread and chickpea spread and honey butter. I had udon noodles with a spicy peanut sauce and chicken and an egg. I was satisfied and did not need dessert. {Trust me, I'll talk plenty in the future of dinners when I decide dessert is the perfect end to an evening.} As the server walked away, I looked up as if my decision had been influenced from above. A wall full of mismatched framed mirrors looked down at me.

I smiled and snapped a photo. Doors and mirrors. An entrance to possibilities and a reminder of responsibility. Out in the real world, healthiness exists. We just have to slow down and take a breath long enough for it to make its presence known to us. Blackbird Cafe gives us the space we need to take a breath long enough for us to slow down in a fast paced world. It is a reminder we can be healthy by looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves making responsible decisions.

Have a healthy week, my friends!

A complimentary escape.

Posted by: Jen Emmert under Health, Health maintenance Updated: August 14, 2011 - 10:07 PM

When a tornado rips through your life, your world gets turned upside down beyond what you ever thought imaginable.

 

 

A tree fell on my "normal" and windows came crashing in exposing my internal character and making me more vulnerable than I'd been in recent years. My insides were on display for everyone driving by. Contractors have been at our house the past two weeks completely demolishing the inside of the house, repairing every ceiling on both the first and second levels as well as an entire bedroom on the south side of the house where they found rotting wood.

On my continued quest to be healthy, I decided I needed to find an outlet for the mental stress. Balance in an unbalanced world. I need to find more ways to calm down and relax. Carlos, my fiance, would agree, I'm confident. 

This past Saturday, I decided to look for my balance at the Mall of America. No credit cards needed. The Lululemon Athletica store offers complimentary yoga every Saturday morning at 8:30am.

I woke up on Saturday and before I even got out bed, my mind started to dart back and forth trying to remember where I put my yoga mat. It had been over a year since I last used it. The time I went on a "I'm going to be a yogi" kick which lasted about three weeks. I enjoyed those three weeks last year but never really turned into a yogi. Yogi - it is a real word,  I Googled it:

yo·gi/ˈyōgē/

Noun: A person who is proficient in yoga.

(source)

Yogi I was not. Runner, yes. Weight lifter, yes. Yogi, no. I sat up in bed and let my feet hit the carpet. Iggy, our 2 year old fluffy white dog opened one eye and shut it when he realized how early it was. I quietly made my way into the loft area where our dresser had been displaced to and grabbed my "pretend to be a yogi" attire made up of a bright pink fitted t-shirt and black capris.

I walked downstairs and opened the door to the room which held all of our life's possessions. The day before the contractors came, we shoved our life into the room. I had remembered my yoga mat was in the closet tucked behind all of our materialistic things piled high.

Yoga step number one: climb over mountains of household goods to get to closet.

 

 

Yoga mat in hand, I made the 15 minute drive to the Mall of America. Parking was amazing - but who would have thought it would be anything other than a breeze at 8:00am on a Saturday. I walked into the mall and was greeted by silence. Off in the distance were two mall walkers. You know the ones. They wake up on Saturdays and speed walk the insides of the mall getting their distance in before most brush our teeth.

I found my way to the Lululemon Athletica store and walked in to find the store contents had been pushed to one side leaving a large open space in the middle, already filled with a few mats. The silence in the store created an ambiance setting the stage for what was coming.

 

 

I found a section of the store floor that had been unclaimed and unrolled my mat. I took a couple deep breaths and tried to calm down the voice inside me screaming "what are you doing here? You will make a fool out of yourself. Run while you still can!"   Yoga, I've decided, is one of the most intimidating "workout" activities for me because it challenges my body to move in ways I typically don't. Which also means the rolls of excess love handles also moves in weird ways. I was nervous the instructor would have us in some pretzel-like move and my stomach rolls would be forced to twist and hang while I would be feverishly trying to hold the position as I attempt to not fall over onto the nice woman who had set up mat next to me.

I spread my feet out and took deep breaths.

 

 

Our instructor introduced herself as Terry and welcomed us. Terry started some music which instantly catapulted the aura in the store to that of an official yoga studio. Terri had us start standing at the top of the mat with our arms extended in the air. We were told to lower our arms down and fold over at the waist while exhaling. It would have been appropriate for me to think calming thoughts but my mind ventured into the to-do list I had waiting for me.

Terry interrupted my thoughts as she told the class she was going to guide us through our first flow. We stood back up with our hands in the air and as if we had all been practicing a choreographed routine, all swan-dived into a folded over position. A few seconds of rest and then we stepped back with our feet leaving our hands at the top of the mat, entering into down-dog.

Over the next hour of yoga, my body was challenged to move in ways that seemed almost natural if it weren't for the resistance I felt from my muscles as they were being asked to move in ways that should be possible but hadn't been tried in a long time. Something magical happens in yoga. At some point in the class, your surroundings disappear as if you are alone. Alone with your thoughts. A calmness sweeps over you while you work to figure out each pose as if it is the most difficult thing you have going on in life at that moment. All external and environmental struggles fade away as your mind is absorbed in thought of poses. Nothing else seems to matter. It is as if for that moment in time, it is just you and yoga.

60 minutes passed quicker than I thought - the music ran out and I realized we were all lying on our backs. Terri called it the corpse pose. We laid there for about three minutes in absolute silence. It was the end of an hour in the morning where balance was found. I realized I would now have to go back out into the mall, back into the real world. 

September is National Yoga month - complimentary yoga can be found all over the Twin Cities with most studios offering your first week free. I dare you to think outside the mat and get your yogi on. Try it. Break through the intimidation barrier and let yourself be challenged. Let  your mind be balanced, if only for a moment in time. 

 

 

And if you are too uncomfortable to go alone for your first time, send me an email and let's do it together.

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