Wednesday, September 29

Recipe for Success: Commit

Weight loss (or any big life changes in general) isn’t for the indecisive.  You’ve got to make a commitment.  And I’m not just talking a commitment to eat healthy or get to the gym every other day.  I mean a commitment to change: life-long change.
When you make commitments to lose weight, all you’re doing is setting a goal.  That’s not a commitment.  When you make a commitment to eat healthy or go to the gym regularly, those are also only a couple behaviors out of many behaviors and habits in your life that have lead to your weight gain.  You need to commit to an overhaul of all behaviors—emotional, physical and dietary—that are interfering with your weight loss.
I find that visualization works particularly well for me when making big commitments.  In August 2009, I considered what it would be like to be involved in the 20/20 Lifestyles program, what my life would be like afterward, and all the changes that my decisions would entail.  I imagined what it would be like to change the way I ate, cooked and grocery shopped; the changes it would have on my husband’s life; the way those changes would affect how I spent my time and how I prioritized my values.
Think about a time that you were able to commit to serious life change: going to college, having children, buying a house, etc.  Would you say that you went into your last diet with the same mindset that you went into the above situations?  Probably not if you’re still looking for a way to lose weight.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to gauge your commitment:
  • How would I feel if my daily routine completely changed?  What do I like about my routine?  What do I want to change about my routine?
  • How do you deal with change in your life?  Are you able to anticipate and plan for your own reactions?
  • How do you feel about new benefits resulting from changes?  How about sacrifices?  Are both benefits and sacrifices going to be worth the changes?

Monday, September 27

Recipe for Success: Eat Right, Get Active


I just love fat pictures!  Last month was the one year anniversary to the beginning of my weight loss journey.  From August 2009 to February 2010, I steadily lost over 95 pounds.  I’ve had several occasions since beginning my weight maintenance journey in March to consider the attitudes and choices that made me so successful.

While I was losing my weight, many people would ask, “So what are you doing?”  I could see the excitement, the expectation in their eyes.  And I knew it would die as soon as I gave them my answer: “Well, I’m really just learning how to eat healthy and exercising my butt off.”  Most people would look disappointed, congratulate me, and move on.  Only a few would push for more on what I was doing.
Don’t hear what I’m not saying.  There are plenty of diets out there—diet foods, diet programs, different dieting philosophies—that do work well for some people.  But, for most people, all that is needed is food education and a kick in the butt.  Most of us want to eat well; we just have no idea how!
When it comes to food, the most important part is to find healthy, low-calorie foods that you enjoy.  In completely revamping my daily diet, I remembered how much I loved fruits and vegetables.  Honestly, a dinner feels incredibly satisfying to me when I get to finish it up with a cup of fresh mango (mangoes are so stinkin’ good that they totally count as dessert).  And I often have to cut myself off because I love fresh zucchini so much that I could eat a pound of it every night for dinner.  When you build in plenty of healthy foods that you genuinely enjoy, you’ll find yourself easily motivated to stick to your diet.
In addition to enjoying healthy foods, you’ve got to get up off your butt!  I know, I know—you hate exercise.  But being active doesn’t need to be strict exercise.  Take a walk to relax.  Go wrestle with your kids.  Help a friend move.  It’s extremely important to build activity into your regularly life, not just to weight loss but also your general health.  You’ll begin to find that it feels like you have more energy to spend when you spend more energy (that’s me channeling Mr. Miyagi for the day).  I feel so sluggish on days that I don’t get to the gym.  But days that I run around none stop and still get to the gym, I feel like I could keep going for hours!
What kind of changes to diet and activity have you found that work well for you?  Were they easy or hard to incorporate into your life?  Do they keep you motivated?

Friday, September 24

I Make Great Sammiches!

I was chatting with a friend (and faithful reader) who mentioned that she loved my post on snack suggestions.  I was telling her about how I’ve discovered two fantastic sandwich combinations that have been my lunch obsession for weeks now (my nutritionist says I get on food kicks just like a 5-year-old).  But they’re both fantastic and fantastically easy to make!
The first is a Toasted Roast Beef Sandwich.  On the weekend, I’ll get a beef round roast and make it for dinner on Monday (stick it in the crock pot for 10 hours in the morning and you have dinner waiting for you when you get home).  Now you have leftover roast beef:
2 slices of low-calorie/high-fiber bread
10 grams of dijon mustard
3 ounces roast beef (reheated)
1 ounces reduced fat blue cheese (or gorgonzola)
My second is a Toasted Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich.  Again, on the weekend I’ll grill up a bunch of chicken breasts to use throughout the week.
2 slices of low-calorie/high-fiber bread
10 grams of dijon mustard
2 ounces chicken breast (reheated)
2 ounces lean deli ham
1 ounce slice of reduced fat swiss cheese
Just toast the bread and layer on your ingredients.  You can even spice things up with a couple slices of tomato or some fresh basil leaves.  Both sandwiches are between 300 and 350 calories.  The secret ingredient is Sara Lee Delight White bread—each slice is 45 calories, and I’m pretty sure they make the stuff with fairy dust because it’s delicious.  Pair them with a handful of carrots and half an apple and you have a perfectly balanced lunch!

Wednesday, September 22

Back on Track

It’s Wednesday and I’ve already had it up to my eyebrows this week.  I have made the conscious decision to eat my stress.  Even after all the planning, I’ll still get pizza for dinner or go out for lunch.  It’s been one of those weeks.
Since I’m already working through in my head what I’m going to do to get back on track, I figured I’d let you follow along.
#1 Meal Tracking – For me, tracking everything I eat is extremely important to my weight maintenance.  For some people, it helps them stay aware of how many calories they’ve eaten.  I mostly use my meal tracker to help me plan out my day.  On days other than today, I’ll sit down in the morning and plan out my breakfast, snacks and lunch.  Then I have a good idea of what to start thinking about for dinner.
#2 The Gym – Generally, even when I make bad food choices, I still don’t have trouble getting to the gym.  I love my gym!  This week, though, motivation has been low.  I need to spend some time thinking about my favorite classes, exercises, and why I like them.  I often find that listening to some of my favorite dance and workout music helps get me in the mood to work out, too.
#3 Focus on How I Feel – I’ve probably eaten around 1500 calories already today (with plans to go out to dinner), and I feel crappy.  When I eat like this, it never—and I mean never—makes me feel good!  Sure, I get that sugar-rush when I first eat these kinds of foods (remember opioids people?), but in an hour I feel sleepy and sluggish and tired.  Not to even mention a little sick to my stomach.  And I think I’m getting a headache.  Have I mentioned that I feel crappy?
#4 Just Do It – At some point, probably Saturday because I have plans to go out to dinner on Friday (I know, I’m just unbelievable, right?), I’ll get up out of bed and kick myself in the butt.  My inner dialog often goes like this: “What are you thinking?  Look at you.  You’re ridiculous.  You know what you’re doing, so stop it.  You know what to do, so do it!”  And then I’ll drag myself off to my 10am Body Step class and feel so good that I did!
Can anyone relate?  What do you do to get back on track?

Monday, September 20

Is It a Fruit or Not?

Everyone knows that fruit is a fantastic way to get healthy, complex carbohydrates into your diet.  As long as you’re not over doing it (yes, you can over-do fruit), fruit can be an important component to regulating your blood sugar, keeping your energy up, and even keeping your sweet tooth satisfied.  Most people should be getting about 2 to 4 servings of fruit each day (a serving is a half cup, which is never as big as you think it is).
But then there is dried fruit—is dried fruit still fruit?
Dried fruit is a tricky thing, and you don’t want to treat dried fruit the same way you treat regular fruit.  The first difference is quantity.  Since dried fruit is so much smaller and lighter than its un-dried (or hydrated) counterpart, a serving size is much, much smaller.  Case and point: one cup of grapes is about 70 calories, and one cup of raisins is over 400 calories.  A serving size of dried fruit is generally about a quarter cup, but even that quarter cup is not equivalent to one serving of regular fruit.
The second big difference is that dried fruit often has added sugar.  I have a couple different salad recipes that call for dried cranberries:
40 grams of Dried Cranberries: 138 calories and 29 grams of sugar
40 grams of Cranberries: 18 calories 1 gram of sugar
The dried cranberries have 15 percent more sugar than the regular cranberries.  Although dried cranberries tend to get more added sugar than most fruits (because they’re so tart), make sure you’re checking the ingredients and nutritional info so you have a good idea of how much added sugar you’re getting.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of the water naturally in fruit.  I have a weakness for dried mango—I find it hard to stop eating.  But when I eat regular mango, I can eat a small bowl (about 6 ounces) and then feel full and satisfied.   The water in fruits helps to fill you up so that you begin to feel full before you’ve eaten more calories than you actually need.  Since dried fruits remove that water, it’s best to make sure you’re drinking water while you snack to help you not overeat.
I’ll post in the comments my favorite salad recipe using dried cranberries.  Please post any of your own recipes for other good dried fruit uses.  I’m looking a great trail mix combination!

Friday, September 17

USDA Still Doesn’t Get It


Did you know that there is a new Food Pyramid from the USDA?  I had no idea the USDA finally woke up and adjusted their recommendations.  As it turns out, the New pyramid is definitely leaps and bounds better than the Old, but still completely unbalanced in how they prioritize their food groups.
You’ll notice Grains still have the top most emphasis.  The only change from Old to New is that now the USDA is emphasizing whole grains.  This pyramid is obviously still more concerned with our agriculture industry rather than our waist lines.
It’s great that Vegetables have a large portion of the pyramid, but the USDA is pretty undiscriminating when it comes to starchy or high-carbohydrate vegetables.  If you were trying to lose weight, decided to load up on veggies, but then only ate peas and legumes, then you would be fighting a losing battle.
I’m not surprised to see Fruits next on the pyramid.  Fruits are good to have in your diet, but you want to be careful with natural sugars like fruit.  Sugar, is sugar, is sugar.  You can have too much fruit in your diet just as much as you can have too much candy in your diet.
I’m fascinated that we’ve reached Oils already without encountering Meats yet.  The USDA definitely got one right with their recommendation of fats, but their priorities could use some adjusting.
Ah, Milk.  I guess dairy farmers lost the fight on this one finally that they get bumped to the second to last priority.  They still emphasize milk in American diets way more than any of us should be consuming, but they got it right with the low-fat recommendation.
And that brings us to Meat & Beans.  Poor protein.  If we follow the New pyramid, we are going to be some hungry, munchy individuals.  The USDA has some good recommendations under here with a preference for lean, non-fried meats.  But without a significant amount of protein in your day, you are going to want to eat constantly.
All in all, I wouldn’t recommend using the New food pyramid as a guide to healthy eating.  The http://www.mypyramid.gov/ site does, however, have some other great resources (like calorie counts and nutritional information).

Wednesday, September 15

Amaze Yourself!

I think one of the greatest thrills in life is when you amaze yourself.  I’ll tell you—I amazed me yesterday.
I rode my bike to work yesterday.  I really wanted to put that line in bold, but you don’t understand yet why it deserves bold type.  You’re thinking to yourself, “So what?  You rode your bike to work.”  Let me set it up for you: I live 9.6 miles away from my office.  The real kicker is the elevation difference of over 300 feet between my home and my office.  It took me one hour and 15 minutes to get to my office, but—dang it—I didn’t once get off my bike and push it up a hill.  I pedaled that sucker up over 300 feet!  There was a time in my life when a flat bike ride of 20 yards would have winded me.
So let’s try that again: I rode my bike to work yesterday!
I will admit that the longest inclines are on the way home, so I decided to ride the bus home in the evening.  Amazing myself is quite the thrill, but each day only needs so many thrills.
I had determined that biking to work was something I wanted to try (even if I determine that I don’t want to try it again).  I gave it a shot on Saturday last weekend, thinking a non-work day would be the best time to see how long it would take me.  But I only got to the top of the first hill before I chickened out and thought of a lot of good reasons to turn around.  So Monday night, I decided I was just going to do it.  Sometimes, you can’t give yourself planning time, because planning time often just turns into you deciding why you shouldn’t do it.  Sometimes you just have to surprise yourself with the decision.
When was the last time you tried something you’ve never done before?  How did it go?  Would you do it again?  How did it make you feel?

Monday, September 13

A Cereal Story

Did you know that some cereals are literally almost half sugar?  With what I’ve learned, I want to write in big red marker “This is 50% sugar” on a post-it and stick on cereal boxes in the store.
People used to eat pork, beef, eggs or sausage for breakfast.  But this was back before cereals even existed.  The late 1800s saw a vegetarian movement (And you thought vegetarians are a little ridiculous now?  You try telling a cowboy he needs to eat more ruffage.), out of which came cereals we have today like Grape Nuts, Wheaties and Kix.  But up until 1937, the three cereals I just named were it.  Could you imagine walking into your grocery store and only finding three cereals to choose from?
In the 1950s, cereal manufacturers discovered a new set of customers: children.  Add sugar, a theme song, cartoon mascot and prize in the box.  Only a few years later and cereal has its own aisle!  It’s incredible the amount of cereal that Americans eat (obesity epidemic anyone?).
Take Froot Loops: if a serving size is 29 grams and there are 12 grams of sugar in that serving, then that means over 40% of each serving is sugar.  If you pour yourself (or your kids) a bowl of cereal, just imagine half of that being straight sugar.  I wouldn’t want to be their school teacher.  Or your boss.  Either way, 10am is going roll around and your blood sugar is going to crash.  You are going to run to Starbucks like you always do, but your kids are stuck in class and hungry until lunch.
Even Life, which is one of the lower sugar breakfast cereals, still has 6 grams of sugar in a serving of 32 grams.  That’s almost 19% sugar, and definitely not enough protein or fiber to keep you going all morning.  Many women eat Special K like it was a magic weight loss cereal, but even Special K is about 13% sugar.  For the same calories as one serving of Special K, I can have one Morning Star Breakfast Sausage and a 4 oz peach—a small fraction of the sugar and I’m good until 11am.
Adding milk to your cereal helps a bit, but most of us don’t add enough milk to make up for the lack of protein or the effects of the overwhelming amount of sugar.  The best solution is to reduce the amount of cereal you’re eating and add protein and heart-healthy fats to your breakfast.  Have a breakfast sausage and a half a cup of cereal.  Or have some greek yogurt and quarter cup of cereal on top.

Friday, September 10

Oh NEAT!

Today we’ll be talking about how neat NEAT is!  NEAT is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.  Now you can see why they made it into an acronym.  That mouthful of words refers basically to the movement we make in our day that is not specifically exercise.
As I sit at work I can see a pair of people talking—one gesturing wildly as she talks.  I see a woman bouncing her leg as she sits and types.  My boss (who is seven months pregnant) has made about a dozen trips to the bathroom in the last hour.  I watch a man stand at the printer tapping his hand impatiently on his thigh.
There are three components of energy expenditure or how our bodies spend energy:
1) Basal Metabolic Rate – I had previously defined BMR (or your Resting Metabolic Rate) and provided a way to calculate (click here to read the post).  Your BMR is the calories your body spends just keeping you alive: pumping your heart, running your brain, breathing, etc.
2) Thermic Effect of Food – Your TEF is the calories your body spends processing the food you eat: chewing, swallowing, digesting, etc.
3) Activity Thermogenesis – Your AT is any calories your body uses when you move, whether exercise or spontaneous activity.
Most people focus on the exercise portion of their AT.  Meaning, most people spend their entire day in a sedentary fashion and then make a trip to the gym after work to make up for it.  But NEAT can contribute significantly to our overall energy expenditure.  Studies have found that NEAT can make up as little as 15% to as much as 50% of a person’s energy expenditure.
Much of our NEAT is influenced by our environment.  At work, I choose to send anything I need to print to the machine furthest from my desk.  I own a townhouse with three floors, so stairs are an inevitable component of my home life.  But some of our NEAT is biological as well.  Obviously, young people have more natural NEAT and elderly can lose NEAT that may have been more natural.  Or, think about how you feel after you’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner—you’re not usually in a mood to bounce around the house.
Have you noticed NEAT in your own life?  How do you think it impacts your weight maintenance, loss or gain?

Wednesday, September 8

Incredible Weight Loss Drink!

You’re not going to believe it, but I’ve found a weight loss beverage that has 0 calories and no caffeine (or other iffy ingredients).  It’s pretty darn cheap, and it actually tastes good!   I’d like to introduce you to: Water.
If you actually fell for that, you haven’t been reading long (this blog definitely does not offer any silver bullets or quick fixes).  But I guarantee you that water can have a huge impact on your weight loss and maintenance!
Studies show that drinking water before a meal will result in you eating about 75 to 100 calories less than you would normally.  Avoiding those calories alone, you could lose 5 pounds over several months.  One study actually showed that drinking water increased the rate at which subject burned calories (their metabolism) by 30 percent!
Another reason to drink water is that it keeps you from drinking other sugary or fattening drinks.  Many studies have proven that your body tends to compensate it’s caloric intake when you eat high-calorie foods.  However, our bodies do not compensate for extra calories from beverages!  Meaning, if you sneak a handful of M&Ms before lunch, you’re likely to eat a few less calories at lunch.  But if you have a large Coke with lunch, you’re still going to eat the same amount of food.
What’s the best way to drink enough water?  Keep it with you!  I have this nifty plastic cup with a lid and straw that I keep at my desk at work—super convenient.  There are a lot of great water bottles out there, too.  Are there any tricks you use to drink lots of water throughout your day?

Monday, September 6

Highly Palatable – Part III

We’ve been talking about highly palatable foods—those high fat, high salt, high sugar foods that we can’t resist.  Studies are finding that these foods are conditioning our brains to compel us to overeat these foods.  I am learning fascinating things in David Kessler’s The End of Overeating!  The gist is that people no longer eat to satisfy hunger, but eat to stimulate their brains.
In order to conquer the conditioning that leaves us feeling powerless over food, we need to change our thinking.  It’s not easy.  I have a lot of conditioned eating in my life that I have yet to take complete control over.  But it’s crucial to our health that we begin to take control.
We first need to be aware: with awareness, I can recognize that a cue is going to trigger a conditioned response in me.  For example, my husband and I stop by the grocery store on our way home from church to grab sandwich fixings for lunch.  When I’m aware of my cues (passing the bakery section on my way to the deli), I can stop the cycle before it even begins (I can head to the produce section and send my husband alone to the deli so I’m never even near the bakery).  We may be unaware of habits in our lives; becoming aware of our cues and triggers may take some practice and determination.
We can also create competing habits and thinking that will help to replace our old ones.  Competing habits look like taking a different route to work in the morning to avoid coffee shops or changing your routine in the evening to avoid the kitchen pantry.  Habits that help to completely avoid beginning that cycle of conditioned overeating.  Competing thoughts will help to change your perspective on trigger foods.  Instead of thinking about how you could justify having just one M&M (which we all know will lead to twenty), you could think of specific ways you can take control of the situation (like leaving the room) or of how good you’ll feel if you don’t give in.
But the most important piece is support.  I have many different levels of support in my own life: close friends aware of my struggles, teachers at my gym who encourage me, a personal trainer for when I need a kick in the butt, a counselor when I really need to dig in to a problem, and my blog to help keep my accountable.  I can’t stress enough how important having a support system in place is to your ability to lose the weight an keep it off.

Friday, September 3

If you’re going to do it, do it right!

On principle, I try never to rant on my blog.  It’s a struggle!  Ask my husband; I’m extremely prone to ranting.  However, today I’m going to give in and then I promise we’ll get back to some fascinating solutions on how to deal with highly palatable foods.
I can’t count the number of times I walk through my gym and see someone walking on the treadmill.  You might think, “What’s the big deal?  Walking is great exercise!”  I agree: walking is fantastic exercise.  However, some people realize that walking up a hill is even better exercise.  And it is!  When you add an incline to your normal walk, it’s surprising how quickly you’re panting and sweating.
However, when you get on a treadmill, crank the incline up to the maximum, and then hang onto the hand bar in front of you for dear life so you don’t fall off the treadmill, you’re not getting any of that benefit from the incline!  Let go of the hand bar and trudge up that incline on your own, for heaven’s sake!
When you hold onto the hand bar, your legs and feet are still perpendicular to the actual treadmill belt despite the incline.  The only difference between using a treadmill like that and using it normally is that you’re putting all your weight into your arms and shoulders (which, I probably don’t need to spell out for you, isn’t super nice to your arms and shoulders).  You lose all the benefit from using your thigh and calf muscles to propel your weight up the incline.
And you look ridiculous.

Wednesday, September 1

Highly Palatable – Part II

Our last discussion explained how we condition ourselves to seek out and overeat food—based on our brain’s reaction to highly palatable foods we hear, see, smell and taste. I’m sure you can identify with a time this conditioning kicks in. For me, I don’t even have to be hungry, but I can see a Lays Sour Cream and Cheddar potato chip bag and my mouth starts watering. My brain hits high gear and I can’t even think straight until I’ve had some.
So how do we change this conditioning when we’re surrounded with brand names and images of food? Most of us can find these highly palatable foods anywhere—our work, the gym, home, we even have easy access to food in our cars! In our culture, how do we recondition our brains?
Most of us, our first reaction is a diet. “If I only quit eating these foods altogether, I’ll be able to ________!” But the kicker is that completely abstaining from these foods only heightens the conditioned reaction our brains have. You know how you’ll diet, and—inevitably—you give into a temptation. When you finally give in, doesn’t that food taste so much better than you even remembered?
So deprivation works against you. But you can’t recondition your brain while you’re still eating those foods that trigger your conditioning. What you need is a shift in thinking.
What does a shift in thinking look like? Like a woman who finds out she’s pregnant and quits smoking that day. Like a man who refuses to buy a vehicle brand he’s always purchased because it’s no longer made in America. Like a young couple purchasing their first home and pinching every penny.
Here’s a few a little closer to home: Like a mother who herself has no problem eating processed foods, but only lets her toddler eat organic foods. Like a man who discovers he’s diabetic and quits sugary sweets for good. Like a teen who makes the connection between meat and fuzzy animals and chooses to become a vegetarian.
We need to change the way that we see and respond to food, so our next discussion will hopefully offer some practical solutions on how to begin!

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