Tag Archives: Weight loss

From the Archives: Our Unhealthy Attachment to Volume

This photo has nothing to do with this post, or with food, but it's a good inspiration to get outside and be active!

Maintaining a healthy weight is, for the most part, about what you eat. Yes, working out and being active definitely helps; but, for most people, food is about 80% of weight maintenance. Unfortunately, we’ve developed a really unhealthy relationship, as a country, to food.

From the post I wrote in May, 2011 to kick off my “Back to Basics” nutrition series.

“We’ve been mislead about how to have a healthy relationship with food. For some reason, we’ve been taught to think that “good” or “healthy” eating and nutrition is about getting the largest volume of food into our stomachs with the least amount of calories. I am not sure where this trend started, but it’s definitely perpetuated in our food marketing, media, and a lot of nutrition advice.  Our society’s idea of nutrition has become about how much sheer volume we can pack into ourselves without “exceeding calories.” Read More…


From the Archives: Your Body Isn’t a Game

No matter how hard you try to crunch those numbers, eating a salad doesn’t make that ice cream have less calories.

“So, stop trying to min-max your diet like it’s a character sheet.

I can’t tell you the number of questions I get about random, weird “diet tricks” and nutrition. These things pretty invariably come from people who want to keep eating an unhealthy diet while griping that they can’t lose weight and keep it off.  Truth for those people: you know what you need to do, so stop trying to play the numbers.” Read More…


Vietnamese- Style Fresh Spring Wraps

Rice wraps, or spring wraps, are one of my favorite things to do for summer get-togethers, but I also make them quite a bit at home. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, these rolls aren’t baked or fried, and so retain a fresh, crisp, light feel that is perfect for hot weather.

They’re also fun way to combine ingredients, and to use up little bits of things, too. Often I’ll just whip up one or two with the few handfuls of lettuce, small bit of fruit, or whatever other little leftovers I have on hand. While I often do savory versions with shrimp or shredded chicken, this is a sweeter version that uses mango, roasted red pepper, and my leftover mung bean sprouts. Another note is that the rice wraps themselves have less than 10 calories per sheet, which makes them quite a bit easier for people watching their weight to fit into their diet than bread.

You’ll need:

-Rice wraps. These can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores (even Kroger in this area has them).

-A shallow, flat-bottomed dish filled with cool water. It should be large enough for the rice wraps to lie flat.

-Your fillings.

How to:

1. Get your ingredients ready.

Things should be cut either in long strips that will fit into the wrap (3-4 inches is good) if it’s a  food that can be easily bitten through, or chopped into bite-size bits. You can make as many or as few of these as you want at a time, so measures of ingredients will vary.

To prep for these particular wraps, I peeled and chopped my mango, and roasted, peeled, and sliced the red pepper.

The easiest way I've found to deal with mango is to peel with a vegetable peeler, then slice off the pit and chop.

You can roast peppers on the grill (which imparts a smokey flavor) or in the broiler. Either way, the key to easy peeling and great sweetness is to let it char on each side.

2. Slide one sheet of rice wrap into the water, and let sit until soft and workable. This brand takes about a minute.

Make sure the sheet is submerged completely.

3. Remove sheet from water and lay on flat surface. I like to use a plate. Then, fill with ingredients.

Put colorful ingredients down first, as they're what will show on the top of your wrap once it's folded.

Lettuces, greens, and bean sprouts are excellent ways to really fill out your wrap.

4. Fold the ends of your wrap in, then roll the wrap around them like a burrito.

5. Put your wraps in the refrigerator until the stiffen up a bit. This also gives them time to seal themselves so they don’t fall apart when you’re eating them.

This is probably one of the worst pictures I've put up here, but I was having some camera issues. These are ready to go into the refrigerator to set up.

Serve chilled. I often serve with a sauce, which in this case was a Thai mango basil dipping sauce (which I have to admit to buying, and is actually what inspired these rolls).

You can fill rice wraps with almost anything, though I do recommend the ingredients be cool when you fill them.

A few of my favorite combos:

-Thai peanut shrimp. Lime shrimp with bean sprouts, spinach, chopped peanuts, fresh basil. With a peanut-lime-chili dipping sauce.

-Southwestern steak. Grilled steak in a southwestern marinade, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, green and red pepper, and cheddar jack cheese. Served with a barbecue dipping sauce.

-Tuna Salad. Tuna salad, spinach, red onion, grated carrot, chopped tomato. No dipping sauce.

-Curried Chicken. Curried chicken, mustard greens, fresh grated ginger. Served with a yogurt curry dipping sauce.

There are countless more I’ve done in the past, everything from layered tabouli-like salad wraps to cold pizza wraps, and I don’t think I’ve had a fail yet. Give them a try, and let me know what combos you come up with!


Meal Planning 101

I get a lot of questions about our meal plan, and how I make our menu. Since it’s the New Year and many people have made resolutions to eat healthier or to lose weight, I thought I’d take a few minutes to go over the basics of how I meal plan.

The process will differ for everyone, but the basics are pretty…well, basic.For most people, the planning part will actually come pretty easily with just a small bit of practice. The much harder part is to switch from eating on-the-fly to eating what’s planned. Most people are used to catering to their whims for eating, and often balk at the idea of a regimented eating plan. Unfortunately, the “spontaneous” food thing is part of what has led 2/3 of this country’s adults to be overweight. So, the first part of meal planning is:

Pre-Planning!

1. Commitment. It can take several weeks for a person or family to get on board with eating on a plan. We’ve been there, so we understand. But, once used to it, most people actually find meal planning far preferable to “oh, crap, what am I supposed to make for dinner?” Meal planning takes the stress out of meals, because the ingredients are on-hand, and the planning wasn’t done after a stressful day at work. So, commit to meal planning for at least 8 weeks.

2. Find 10 meals you and/or your family will eat, that you either know how to prepare or that you can find a recipe for easily. Write them down, and keep them handy.

These pre-planning items are things you’ll only need to do once. If you have them, move on to the things you’ll do for each meal plan.

Meal Planning 101

1. Get some paper and a pencil. Don’t do this in your head, it won’t work. Write it down, whether it’s in hard copy or on your computer.

2. Check your schedule. Figure out how much time you have each day/night to cook, or if you need to batch cook on your day off. Keep it realistic. If you’ve only got a half hour on Tuesday to prepare dinner, don’t plan on Duck a l’orange.

3. Start with dinners only. You can move on to breakfasts and lunches in a week or two, but unless you have lots of time on your hands, doing this all at once can be overwhelming.

4. Assign a meal from your “Top 10 list” to each day of the week for which you want dinner. We typically do two weeks at a time, and leave one night each week for leftovers; but, this may not work for you.  You can start by just planning a few nights a week, and working up from there. Again, check the prep times against your schedule to make sure you are being realistic.

5. Keep it simple. Re-check your planned meals. To start, keep them simple recipes that you’re either familiar with, or that require few ingredients. You’re more likely to stick with this if you don’t overwhelm yourself in the beginning.

6. Check for double-use ingredients. Depending on your family size, you may be able to save time by planning meals that require a few ingredients in common. That way, you prep once but use twice. Ground beef, for example, could be browned all at once, but used in both tacos and spaghetti sauce. If you’re chopping onions for one dish, check your list to see if anything else needs chopped onions and just do them all at once.

7. Write it down. List each day for which you’re planning a meal and the meal itself. Below it, make a quick note if there are double-use ingredients you can get out of the way for another meal later in the week, and note if you need to take something out of the freezer for the following day.

8. Make a shopping list. This is where the big money savings comes in, and the calorie savings. Using your meals, write down all the ingredients you need to purchase for the week. Make sure you don’t already have any of these items on-hand, of course.  Stick to your list when shopping.

9. Post your plan. Make it visible to everyone in the house. This keeps you on-track, and keeps you from having to hunt for what’s supposed to be for dinner, or what you need to take out of the freezer. It’s also a way to start re-wiring your brain to thinking about what you’re going to be eating, which will help the household get used to non-spontaneous eating.

10. Follow through. Obviously, this doesn’t work if you’re not going to do it. It’ll be a bit rough at first, as are most things that are worth doing. It’ll get easier, I promise.

There are many tips and tricks for people who’ve been doing this for a while. Some, like taking an inventory of anything in the house that needs to be used and planning meals around it, will usually become obvious after a week or two of planning. Others, like batch cooking on your day off, can take a bit more experience. So, for now, start with the basics and get used to meal planning. Use what works for you, tweak as necessary. And, let me know how it works for your family.


What’s My Magic Diet?

I get asked quite a lot about my diet, and what I eat that keeps me energetic and healthy looking.  The truth is, it’s not any one thing. Heck, it’s not even all about the food. Yes, you read that right. As much as I go on and on about healthy food, just eating healthy alone isn’t really enough to keep someone at the top of their game (though it’s a considerable improvement on eating like crap, of course). It’s about all around lifestyle. Would I look and feel like this if I ate as I do now, but smoked? Or, didn’t exercise? Or, drank excessively? Probably not.

All of these things work together for me. Eating healthy gives me energy, good skin, boosts my immune system, and protects me from many illnesses. It also keeps me at a good weight (most people’s weight is 80-90% about what they eat, and only 10-20% about how active they are: you can’t out-train a bad diet). The energy I have makes being active fun and doable. Being active, in turn, generally keeps me more interested in healthy foods and cuts down on unhealthy cravings, and it keeps my metabolism boosted for calorie burning.

There is no magic bullet, no single thing that works for most people. It’s an over-all lifestyle that creates a cycle where good habits beget other good habits.  I’d love to read some of your thoughts on integral parts of your lifestyle that keep you healthy!


Predicting the Demise of Paleo, and What’s On the Menu

Before we get to what we’re eating this week, I thought I’d take a moment to make a prediction. A lot of people are having really amazing results in a variety of areas eating “Paleo,” which essentially means lots of meat and veggies, no grains and little/no sugars other than those naturally occurring in fruits and veggies.  There are a lot of pluses to this lifestyle, and the science behind the results is also pretty good.  That said, The End of that success is coming, just as it has for most diets that start out so well from Atkins to vegetarian.

Why? Because the thing is, when most of these diets/lifestyles/whatever you want to call them come out, what is most effective about them is that they 1) limit your food choices and 2) get you away from processed foods. Unfortunately, as soon as they catch on, so do manufacturers. Which means that both of those things go away, and more and more people flock to the diet because they can now have anything they want again! Except that it doesn’t work that way.

When I was a vegetarian, it was next to impossible to be a fat vegetarian, because your options were fresh vegetables and grains (and, in my case, eggs and dairy because I was lacto-ovum). Fast forward to today, and you can get vegetarian “meat,” which is so processed and full of crap that almost nothing on the label is recognizable. Today, we have lots of fat, unhealthy vegetarians. Yes, there are also healthy vegetarians who eat whole foods and at one time, that was a default of being vegetarian; but, since it’s caught on, the lifestyle itself no longer takes real thought about health. Anyone can “be a vegetarian,” and just go to the store and replace non-vegetarian crap “food” with vegetarian crap “food.”

This was the same with, say, Atkins. It started out being highly effective because it really limited food choices and took away the vast majority of processed foods.  When people have limited food choices, they tend to eat less. This is true of processed foods, as well, and has the added bonus of getting rid of the fat-packing empty calories and weight-gaining chemicals.  Once manufacturers caught on, they started producing “Atkin’s Friendly” crap, which consumers snatched up like the world was ending. Which is when the diet began to fail, because two of it’s primary components of success were taken away for most people (especially those who decided to switch to the Atkins lifestyle without bothering to read the book).

Paleo is catching on. Whatever you think of it’s ethics, it’s also very effective for weight loss and maintenance, at least in part for the same reasons vegetarianism and Atkins initially were. Which means that, if it hasn’t happened already, we’re going to soon see “Paleo friendly” processed junk hitting the market, mostly stuff that wouldn’t otherwise be on the diet. I betcha a dollar to a donut that if it’s not already out there, we’ll see Paleo bread mass-marketed within the net 12 months. Yes, there will still be the people who do it right, but there’ll be a whole lot more who do it wrong. Again. Because they want to believe in magic.

So, with that out of my ranting way, here’s this week’s On the Menu:

Dinners

Sunday:  Chicken tikka masala over saffron rice. Okay, you have to use local or organic chicken with this, just just do. I admit I used neither, since we had some chicken given to us that wasn’t and it needed to get used. It turned out awful. Well, the sauce was great, but the chicken itself was appalling. Every time this happens, I remember why we don’t eat conventional chicken. Ick.

Monday: Sloppy joes with 3-potato salad and green beans.  Mmmm… grass fed beef with homemade sloppy joe sauce. So good! The potato salad was leftover from our weekend picnic with friends, and fresh green beans.  You’re going to notice that most of our menu this week is geared to limited cooking, and some batch cooking. It’s just too darn hot to do anything else!

Tuesday (tonight): Sliced, cold London Broil over fresh greens, with steamed cauliflower. We grilled the London Broil on Sunday, so no cooking tonight. The broil came out great–the grass fed makes a huge difference.

Wednesday: Chicken & vegetable kabobs over black rice. The kabobs were also done on Sunday. We’ll just reheat them quickly, and I’ll make the rice outside on the deck with my rice cooker.

Thursday: Falafel with mujadara. The heat is supposed to break, so we’re making homemade falafel and flatbread, as well as mujadara (an lentil-parsley-rice salad).  I’ll whip up a tzaziki sauce, and it’ll be served with fresh tomatoes.

Friday: Black bean & banana empanadas. It’s time to make a huge batch of these up again and toss them in the freezer for quick lunches.

Saturday: Leftovers day. Time to clean out the refrigerator!

Breakfasts are kefir, yogurt, fruit, granola, eggs, and homemade toast. Lunches are leftovers and smoothies (I don’t eat much when it’s hot out, so I drink a lot of smoothies).

How are you keeping cool and eating well this week?


Volume Discount. Or, Stop Playing With Your Food!

We’ve been mislead about how to have a healthy relationship with food. For some reason, we’ve been taught to think that “good” or “healthy” eating and nutrition is about getting the largest volume of food into our stomachs with the least amount of calories. I am not sure where this trend started, but it’s definitely perpetuated in our food marketing, media, and a lot of nutrition advice.  Our society’s idea of nutrition has become about how much sheer volume we can pack into ourselves without “exceeding calories.”

This is not a healthy way to eat. It’s not a healthy relationship for our nation to have with food. If it were, we wouldn’t have the skyrocketing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other lifestyle-related disease rates we do today. The answer is simple, but it goes against the unfortunate American value that “bigger is better,” and the more you have the more you’re worth. Ergo, the more you can eat and stay “skinny,” the better you are, the healthier you must be.

There are many reasons that most people who lose weight put it back on, but one of the biggest is this: they have not changed their relationship with food and food culture. We’ve gotten used to feeling “full” all the time, and believing that it is necessary and good to feel this way. That we should be able to eat large amounts of food without gaining weight. That we all “deserve” to be able to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, and that it’s nutritionally reasonable to poke, pull, and tweak foods to fit into what we want them to be instead of what they are.  That we should be able to eat the way we want to eat, instead of the way we need to eat, without consequences. All of this despite demonstrable evidence that it’s a failing formula.

The fix for this is simple, and the more research that is done, the more it’s holding up: eat quality, whole, nutrient-dense foods, and eat them in an appropriate quantity.

A skin-on, bone-in chicken breast has only 50 or so more calories than it does skin off, and only about 2.5g saturated fats.* If you’re watching your weight, the answer isn’t to skin your chicken to save 50 calories, it’s to eat less chicken or do more exercise. In my last series about nutrition rules, you’ll note I said eat more veggies, and stop eating whole cuts of meat as frequently. Why? Because it makes far more sense to eat more vegetables and get the fiber and nutrients, while eating less meat and dairy but still getting the complete and natural fats, than it does to find “work-arounds.”

But what about those FDA “portion” sizes? It’s important to remember those are generalizations (and, frankly, bad ones). For a smaller/shorter person, a reasonable portion is much less. For a taller/larger person, much more.   Yes, as a small person I’ll be able to eat less skin-on chicken or whole milk than my partner, who is extremely tall, will be able to eat. And, that’s okay. It’s okay to eat less food, or less than than an “FDA” portion of a certain food. It’s okay to stock up on green veggies and take a smaller portion of the whole higher-calorie whole food, of which more and more studies are showing that removing nutrients (including fat) has detrimental effects (or, at the very least, removes potential beneficial effects and essential nutrients). Saturated fats are now being shown to help balance HDL and LDL cholesterol, for example. Which doesn’t mean an overabundance of saturated fats are good for you, either. Again, the answer is simply to eat it, just eat less of it.

This isn’t a new or even radical viewpoint on my part. Pretty much this same thing has been said in countless works on the subject, including the best-selling “French Women Don’t Get Fat.”  French cuisine isn’t exactly known for it’s use of skim milk, margarine, or skinned chicken. Yet, despite it being a best-seller and making the talk-show rounds, eating habits in the US have not changed. We still demand larger and larger portions, and try to find ways to make those portions contain less and less calories.

And yet, as a nation we continue to wonder why we’re getting fatter and sicker.

(Author’s note: Any inflammatoy/name-calling/trolling posts or off-topic vegan/paleo/locavore/whatever proselytizing comments will be deleted.)

* Info from Julie Upton, dietician writing in “Eating Light” magazine. I don’t have this online, so you’ll need to find the issue for yourself.


Back to Basics, Nutrition Rule #10

Rule 10: COOK

This is probably the most important rule of nutrition, at least in my opinion. To be clear, my definition of cooking does not include opening a box of Kraft “Dinner.” That’s not cooking. That’s boiling and stirring. Cooking means taking whole ingredients and making them into something edible.

WHY:

-You control what goes into your food. You can choose to leave out the preservatives, use healthier oils and fats, reduce the sodium, or add more vegetables.  You are no longer a “Zombie eater,” which is what I call folks who mindlessly eat whatever they happen to be driving by at the time they decide they’re hungry.

-Almost anything you make at home is healthier than fast food, and even most restaurant food. It’s actually difficult to replicate the number of calories in a McDonald’s sandwich. You actually have to work hard to get that many calories in there, not to mention all the crap you can’t pronounce .  Making a burger with all the fixin’s at home will not only save you potentially hundreds of calories per meal, but the calories you do eat are far more likely to contain something resembling vitamins or minerals.

-You appreciate food more when you cook it yourself. So do children, so have them help in the kitchen. One of the easiest ways to get kids to eat healthy is to have them help select food items and put them together into something edible. It helps build a healthier relationship with food, making it a more integral part of life than just the act of consuming. And, this can lead to healthier choices and food preferences.

HOW

-If you’ve never cooked anything in your life, take a basic cooking class if you can. It’s worth the money, which you’ll save in short order once you stop eating out.

-If you have the basic skills of picking out food (what produce is ripe, what meat is lean, etc.), cutting and chopping, simmering, sauteeing, etc., then invest some time in reading cookbooks (you can get them from the library, and either just photocopy or write down what you want to try–if you like enough of the recipes, buy the book). Or, use quality sites like epicurious.com,  VegetarianTimes.com, or others that fit your lifestyle. Work on a collection of recipes you and your family will eat, and put them in a binder.

-Start small. Cook a few nights a week, and add nights as you find recipes. Start with easy, quicker recipes. As your skill develops, you can add more complicated recipes. Unless you love doing dishes, start with some good one-pot meals or crockpot meals. Start with inexpensive ingredients, like legumes, whole wheat pastas, or in-season vegetables. That way, if you totally muck it up (and we all do sometimes), it won’t be as big a deal. Work your way to more expensive ingredients as you gain confidence in your skills

-Plan for it. Each night, look at what you’re going to eat the next day. See, this is where the Meal Planning rule come  in! Take a moment each evening to get things out of the freezer, set up the crockpot, or anything else that requires a little preparation.

-Just do it. Like most things in life, getting good at cooking requires practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll become at things like determining how long a particular recipe will take to make, or what time you should put the rice on so it is done when your chicken comes out of the oven.

And, that’s the end of the series. There are a lot of smaller “rules,” and there are a lot of paths to a healthier lifestyle. Start simply, and see what works for you. Educate yourself, make your health a priority, and enjoy your food. The rest will follow.


Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #9

Get a hobby!

That’s a bit snarky, I realize, but the sentiment is accurate. Many people eat out of boredom or habit,  rather than hunger. Often, we eat without even realizing it because it’s become such a habit. Having something to do that requires brain and/or physical power can help curb those tendencies.

WHY

-It’s easy to eat when we’re sitting in a chair either watching TV or playing video games. All the food advertising doesn’t make it any easier.

-Hobbies/activities leave less time for munching. Being physically active, in particular, can curb your appetite.  Being mentally engaged takes your mind off hunger.

-It gives a sense of fulfillment that people often look for in food.

HOW

Just find something you like to do, and do it. Scrapbooking, sewing, kickboxing, a book club, yoga, whatever. The point is to occupy your body and mind with something fulfilling.

Come back Monday for the last, and probably the most important, rule!


Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #8

Plan your meals.

This is something to start small with, but it’s a very necessary step for most people who want to eat a healthful diet based on whole foods.

WHY

-Eating spontaneously leads to poor food choices. When we’re hungry, we don’t usually want to fuss with making something that might take a bit of preparation, we just want to eat.

-Meal planning means have all your ingredients to-hand, while eating on the go means more shopping trips, which make it easier to overspend on groceries and make less ideal food choices.

-It gives you a road map for food preparation, so you can plan time to eat healthfully and meet your nutritional goals.

-It relieves a lot of the stress around meals. Once you get used to doing this, meal times become much more fun and easygoing than having to come home from work, figure out what you’re going to make, run to the store, and then try to cook everything in 15 minutes so you’re not eating at 9PM.

HOW

-Start small. Make a list of 10-14 dinners (depending on how your weekends usually go) that you (and your family) will eat. This is your starting point. Some people, such as ourselves, like to decide which meals will go on which nights. We tend to have kind of erratic schedules, so it helps us to plan who is cooking on what night, what meals will best fit our available preparation time, etc. But, some people do just find with having weekly dinners set up and the groceries purchased, and deciding between those meals each night. Find what works for you.

-Once you have this laid out, you can start adding or switching dinners to your lists each week. Use your meal lists to make your grocery lists.

-Each week, look at your list and assess how healthful the dinners are. If they could use some tweaking, try to do one or two meals a week with simple things, like adding a vegetable or switching from white to brown rice. This makes the transitions a bit easier than trying to do it all at once.

-Allow children who are old enough to help with the plan. They’re more likely to eat healthful foods if they help plan and prepare them!

-Once you’ve got the hang of making a dinner plan, try either breakfasts or lunches, whichever makes more sense for you. We plan most of our dinners to give us leftovers for lunches, which works well for us, but it may not work as well for others.

This will take some getting used to. Most of us are used to eating on the fly, and eating “what we’re in the mood for.” Unfortunately, that’s one of the ways we’ve gotten to be such an unhealthy nation, and it needs to change. Make a solid family commitment to meal plan for at least one month of dinners, and by the end of it, you may find yourself thinking “how did I do this any other way?”


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