Over July 4th weekend, I was reminded of how “easy” it is to lose weight. As the conversation went on, we all know what the problem is. We either eat too much or don’t exercise enough, or both. I was asked what I did to lose weight and everyone already knew what the simple answer would be, “I eat less and workout.” Yup, so easy, so simple, and yet… not! That’s what we all laughed over as we contemplated health, wellness, weight-loss, and weight maintenance. 

In our conversation we realized that knowledge or know how might not be the problem. The problem for some is sticking to the plan. The problem for others is resisting the need for instant gratification. The problem for others is prioritizing exercise. My initial problem actually was expertise, as I wanted to know how much I should eat. I wanted to be accountable for the calories in and calories out. Once I gained that knowledge, came up with a plan, stuck to it mountainsand prioritized my workouts, I lost the weight. Perfection, right? Nope. Now of course, to maintain weight loss, there are other problems, which, as our conversation developed, we realized is likely always going to happen. It’s called “moving mountains” for a reason as it’s not just one mountain. Just as one is moved, another will appear. 

What I’ve learned recently is that once I recognize there is a problem, I don’t have to know why or define it. What I can do is create rituals or good habits to combat those problems. Hearing this made me feel like a lightbulb had gone off. The best example I was given for this behavior involves a person that might be a workaholic and doesn’t spend as much time at home as they’d like. Instead of trying to figure out why this happens, they should create a ritual and stick to it. Be home for dinner at 6pm at least 2 nights a week (to start). They can later change it to more days and over time, the problem is solved. There wasn’t time wasted on trying to figure out why the problem existed or complicated steps to fix the problems. Setting rituals and sticking to them became the new behavior.    

lightbulbA ritual I have created is to always order the small size, even if that means the kids size. I’m getting used to it as sometimes it is hard to remember but I have found the smaller size to be plenty. I now get kid scoops, small or kid size fries, a cup instead of a bowl, etc. It allows me to still eat what I want, get wonderful flavor and food, but without the guilt or as many calories. 

Another ritual I’ve started is to use the small plate, regardless of the food size or amount I think I’m going to get. This is for home, restaurants, the buffet, etc. Sometimes I think the food will not fit but it does. Sometimes I also think I would not get satisfied by what I put on the plate but I do. The truth is, if I had more on the plate, I likely would have eaten it. There is no harm in going back if I’m truly hunger but typically, that doesn’t happen. I don’t know why I sometimes overeat or don’t stop while there is still food on the plate but getting a smaller plate keeps me from caring so much and eating less. 

I plan to add a few rituals in my personal life that have nothing to do with food and exercise as well. I do ponder too much about the why, as opposed to coming up with action items to obliterate the bad behavior. Quite honestly, rituals is not something I think I would have come up with as a solution on my own, so I thought I’d share it as others might find it equally useful.

I do love summer. It’s warm, people always seem friendly and there’s so much to do. With that said, summertime for me sunshinehas its difficulties as related to health, wellness, and my eating regimen. The warmer weather makes me want to go out and do more; however, that’s not necessarily a good thing. I like to sit on patios at various restaurants and watch the passersby. I like to head down the street to grab a bite of ice cream and sit in the park. Sure, I walk to all these events, which add to a healthier me, but eating, drinking and possibly staying out late, those aren’t helping my wellness cause. I try to do a mixture of things to balance my summer fun. 

I love salads. As a cold natured person, I don’t typically eat salads in the winter, as I need food that will warm me up. However, in the summer, I crave salads all the time. This is a good thing as I can have a light dinner salad with a glass of wine (or two), sitting on a patio. This keeps the calories low and helps me soak up some vitamin D through the sun. Since we frequent many establishments in our neighborhood that are in walking distance, I do burn off a few more calories in the summer than usual, so that’s a plus as well. If I walk to get a salad and a couple of glasses of wine, I’ve likely walked off at least one glass of wine. 

sushi rollI also love sushi. For some, sushi in the summer is not desirable as there is the risk that it’ll go bad quite quickly, but again, I’m cold natured so the best time for me to eat it is in the summer. Sushi, at least the sushi I eat, is extremely low in calorie and very good for me. I don’t get sushi with excessive ingredients or with crunchy, fried, or saucy accompaniments. I like most of my sushi au naturel, with wasabi of course. If I get it with rice, I try to get brown rice. I try to mix it up a bit with some nigiri (but typically don’t eat the rice) and a few bites of a sushi roll. Luckily, I finally have my husband into eating sushi so we can get a couple of different small rolls and some nigiri to get the most bang for our buck and save our waistlines. 

 As I stated, I do try to walk more during the summer. Many places that we frequent are within walking distance (less than 2 miles), so regardless of the weather, if I know I’m going to eat and drink, it’s time to walk. If I do eat any excess calories, it’s possible I’ll burn them off. For example, my birthday is next Sunday. On Saturday, we’re doing a 5k event and then hanging out with friends that afternoon, likely bar hopping. I figure the 5k gets us started off with a good calorie burn (this is after I already do my 2-hr normal workout for the day). From there, I’ll be sure to watch what I eat. We’re going to a Mexican place, so I’ll get a couple of tacos with everything on the side so I can control the sour cream and cheese, along with no chips and salsa. When we bar hop, I’ll sip slowly (thus shooting for no more than one beverage per establishment) and make sure I only eat if I’m hungry, and even then, it’ll be low in calorie. In addition, we’re making sure to walk everywhere. This will certainly keep my metabolism in overdrive, as I’ll wake up, workout, do the 5k, and never stop going, thus burning numerous calories.

picnic ants, noWhether or not this plan works next week, we’ll see but as I’ve always said, having a plan is at least a good start. Moreover, knowing my weaknesses and setting boundaries is quite helpful too. Luckily, I do like low-calorie foods such as salad and sushi and I live in a walking neighborhood that helps offset my need to be active when the sun comes. This summer, I hope to continue having plans and ideas to ward off the pounds like Raid against ants at a picnic; I’m going to squash all these summer temptations like a bug.

happy easterWell, it’s almost Easter. On Sunday, I can fall off the wagon, as I gave up alcohol for Lent. I’ll admit, this wasn’t the hardest thing to do but it wasn’t easy. In the past, I’ve given up coffee, chocolate, and dessert, foods I consume every day. While I don’t drink every day and most times, not even every week, partaking in a sip of wine with dinner or a de-stressor bourbon after a hard day at work or a hot-toddy nightcap is something I’m able to do when I want. On those occasions, when I was unable to have my beverage of choice, I did manage to muddle through and as always, learned a few things about myself.

The challenges this Lenten season were an adult birthday party, St. Patrick’s Day and a happy hour for my husband’s new job. For the birthday party, I was fine in the beginning, as this wasn’t too long after we’d returned home from Mardi Gras. I did enough drinking on that trip to last a few weeks. However, as that evening progressed and everyone around me enjoyed a cocktail, I started wanting one. That’s when I spotted someone “drinking” that I knew didn’t drink. My husband asked her what she was drinking and she said, “A Shirley Temple,” made with Sprite, grenadine, and a squirt of lemon. I’d forgotten all about those things. Since I hardly ever drink soda pop, I figured this would be something drink with cherrydifferent and I could trick my body, at least for this event. Viola, success. I had two diet Shirley Temples with cherries and made it through the evening just fine, with calories to spare.

Then came St. Patrick’s Day, on a weekend no less. This is usually a day I go all out, with Pub Crawls, green beer, etc. (and keep in mind, I don’t even like beer). Wow, talk about struggling. I curled up on the couch the Saturday of that weekend and felt bewildered. Oh, I just wanted the pain to go away. My wonderful loving husband again came to the rescue. He Googled non-alcoholic drinks, went out to get some Vernor’s ginger ale and whipped up a virgin concoction of something that was wonderful. I have always enjoyed the soothing flavor of ginger. Ahhh, again I’d made it through tough times. There was an unconventional solution to keeping me on track and we found it. This reminded me of how I felt when I first started eating better and losing weight. There’s always a healthier alternative that will work. It’s just a matter of finding it.

The final test was last week at the happy hour to wish my husband luck at his new position. We celebrated with both old and new co-workers. The drinks were flowing and after a while, the sting from the dark roasted black coffee just didn’t work. Even the full strength Shirley Temple (as they didn’t have diet) didn’t work. I was miserable and before I knew it… the night was over. O-V-E-R!!! I’d made it. I knew if I could make it through a happy hour, 5 weeks after being stone-cold sober and just one week away from Easter’s arrival, I’d be fine and sure enough, now, I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m counting the hours until I drink my extra spicy bloody Mary at Easter brunch, but at least I bloody Maryknow I persevered. Oddly enough, the thing I noticed most is that I had no food cravings while on the wagon. I didn’t want to drown myself in pizza or cookies or eat half a cake. This is progress. On the down side, I wondered if the reason I didn’t crave these things is because I wasn’t consuming alcohol. Could it be that alcohol brings on these feelings? Maybe these foods wouldn’t taste as good to me without alcohol, thus I didn’t crave them. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough, but at least I’ve done the research and am now aware. I have found that knowing is half the battle and once I identify a problem, I can tackle it. I’ve already figured out my strategy for brunch and how to make it through Easter day without overdoing it. Additionally, I’ve planned the following days to carefully add my favorite beverages back to my diet, in slow rotation, so that I don’t swill everything in sight. As I frequently say to those that ask, moderation is key and I’ll be sure to intently exercise that over the next few weeks, as I raise my glass to toast you all – Happy Easter!

happy holidays, smallerThis is always such a joyous time of year. Well, let me honestly rephrase that- joyous and stressful. I love being around family and friends, taking some time off, and the general beauty of the season (i.e., decorations, music, smell of cinnamon, etc.). Moreover, I can’t forget the food. On the other hand, the many holiday parties, the traffic jams, and long lines in the store can be quite stressful. Adding the two together, the joy of the season plus the stress, could equal unwanted pounds. Below is my quick guide to survival so that you don’t find yourself with an item you can’t return the day of Christmas… excess weight. 

carrot and celery sticksIf you’re going to a holiday gathering, eat first and stay away from the calorie laden food that awaits. If you must eat something while there, stick to healthy appetizers like fruit, veggie sticks, and a few pieces of shrimp. For a sit down meal, stay away from the appetizers and eat only small portions of the food provided. 

winebullet, smallerDecide before you arrive how many glasses of wine or other beverage will fit into your calorie count for that day and stick to it. Go back and further between that beverage and water, sipping slowly. 

Do not eat because you are stressed or because the food is there. Eat because you’re hungry and stop once you are swingssatisfied (note: not full, but satisfied as full means you’ve overeaten). If you are stressed, find something productive to keep you busy like putting together the swing set purchased for your kids (or the neighbors kids, or some other needs to be assembled gift), or wrap more gifts, or take a walk to see the lights in the neighborhood; anything that will keep your hands off food. 

chesspiece bulletFor those days that involve hopping from one event to another, plan your day accordingly. Know which houses you will eat at and what you intend to eat. Go into that day with a strategy. Map  out what to eat where and who has what favorite dishes. Know what time you might need a snack and who would have that snack. Sticking to your plan will help ensure the day ends in success. 

In general, be smart and eat smart. Maybe you see something you must have a bite of that you hadn’t intended to eat. Or santas belly, no tmmaybe you are so stressed that you had to have one more glass of red wine. Or maybe you’re just human and Christmas comes but once a year, so on Christmas day, you completely blow your calorie budget (just that one day). These things might happen, however, if you keep your wits about you for the most part and plan ahead, no one will mistake you for Santa Claus later. Wishing everyone a Happy, Safe and HUJ Holiday!

As we’ve entered football season, one of my favorite times of the year, it seems fitting I repost a previous blog. It’s still quite relevant, and I referred to it myself prior to attending my first tailgate of the season. After reading this, I settled on a gyro during tailgating (along with my alcohol) and a Honey Nut Cheerios bar during the game. After the game, I had a Lean Gourmet, Michelina Salisbury Steak for dinner and a Fiber One brownie with cottage cheese as a snack. Pretty good for my first game of the season.

A friend of mine asked me about eating at sporting events. She wanted to know what I eat when I support our local football team at home games, as the “Concession stand food is so tempting.” I was of no help for her. The last game I went to I had a hot Italian sausage with a couple of Jack Daniels and some cookies. The game before that I had pizza, some Jack, and some M&Ms. As you know, I do not believe in food restrictions or limiting the types of food I eat. I might not eat as much as I used to or eat it as often, but I still eat the foods I love. For the sporting events, the key for me is to build those foods and meals into my daily calorie intake. I told her I’d write a blog about trying to eat healthy at these events, or at least how not to “break the calorie bank.” 

The easiest way to eat at these events is to go with a plan. Decide what you want to eat, make sure it fits within your calories for the day and eat only that. For example, our sporting events and corresponding tailgates last almost all day. I eat about 300 calories of a filling breakfast (oatmeal, banana, whole-wheat English muffin), and plan for a 200-300 calorie dinner, like sushi, soup with a Vitatop, or a Lean Cuisine meal. This leaves me about 2000 calories for tailgating and the game. I eat a couple hundred more calories on these days due to the miles of walking, dancing and stair climbing involved. Even with the Jack Daniels beverages, which I drink straight (don’t need soda factoring into my calories), there is plenty of room for food calories. I decide what I want to eat prior to going and stick to it. 

For those of you trying to eat healthier than my game-day meals, I say look for wraps, salads, or grilled chicken as a starting point. Maybe it’s not called a wrap but comes disguised as a Gyro. You’re looking for lettuce, tomatoes, and other fresh vegetables that are portable. Maybe even a taco stand. This might be something you have to put together. If a grill station has grilled chicken sandwiches and the Gyro or fresh market salad person has salad ingredients, purchase them both, get a plate and have a grilled chicken salad with a splash of mustard dressing. Many places now do offer things like fruit salad, vegetable salads and other vegetarian/healthy foods. You might have to look hard for them but they are usually there. Also, pizza (regular pizza, not double cheese, thick crust) is good for you. Get a veggie piece of pizza or just plain cheese. Other options that have healthy attributes are nachos (without the cheese and toppings, just a bit of lettuce, tomato and salsa), popcorn without butter, and a handful of peanuts (and I don’t mean M&Ms with peanuts). 

The final option is to eat before you go, but who wants to do that? You can however eat low-calorie filling food prior to leaving and only save dessert for the game. If it’s hotdogs you want, save room for one of those. Hotdogs are generally a safer food to eat because they are not usually as calorie laden as other foods (unless you get a ½-pound Coney-dog with cheese and all the fixins). Don’t go on dime-a-dog or buck-a-bone night and eat 10 hotdogs or the equivalence of an entire chicken. Figure out what one food item you must have and construct your calories around that food. You don’t have to have an appetizer, greasy entrée, fried side item, dessert and salty snack just because they are there. Sporting events do not mean eat as if filling your stomach is the sport. Remember, you eat normal and control your calories at other meals, so this is not an exception. 

Think of the sporting event (or other type of similar entertainment) as just that, an event. The main event is not the food, the smells, or the people; it is the sport, show or concert you are there to watch or hear. Just like any meal you eat every day, you can eat at these events but plan and count accordingly. There might be a concession item that you must-have, so eat it as intended. Savor that one food and don’t wreck your “diet” because other food is there. Food will always be there. Be sure to take gum with you to chew when the cravings kick it or the intensity of the game makes you want to eat. If you absolutely must and want to eat healthy, either eat before you arrive (find a Panera) or go in search of better options with your thinking cap on. No one usually serves a burger without lettuce and tomato, so there’s a start.

My new favorite in cooking is packet recipes. I’m sure there is some sort of technical cooking term, like steaming or oven poaching but I call them packets. These are recipes where the meat and vegetables cook together in either parchment paper or foil for a specified amount of time. Usually, little work is required. You might have to clean and cut the veggies and meat, mix together 2-3 ingredients for a sauce or spice, but that’s it. Everything is wrapped in foil and then put in the oven. There’s very little to clean and very little labor involved. Most weeks, we typically have one dish on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and switch with another dish for Monday and Wednesday. For those days where I only have 1-2 hours to cook, clean, prep etc. for the entire weeks food, I always make one of those meals a packet meal. I use foil, so I can get the packet meal ready in mere minutes, toss it in the oven and that’s one rotation of meals done. For the other, I throw a few veggies on the stove for steaming or sautéing and then spend the rest of my time on the other meat. Since the packet entrée is foiled, there aren’t any dishes or mess from it either. Below is one of my favorite finds from Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, Aug 2011- ENJOY!

Grilled Salmon and Vegetable Packets

Today I had a “good for me” moment. I went to a breakfast lecture for some professional development on how to create effective and high performing teams. The breakfast portion started at 7:15, with the lecture to follow at 7:45. Since I had plans for later in the day, I worked out this morning as well. I had my normal protein bar prior to the workout and got my Grande, skinny, sugar-free caramel latte on the way to the lecture. I told myself before going that I wasn’t there for breakfast. I was there for the lecture. I try to keep my eating on a regimen, especially during the weekdays. I have coffee by 7:45, breakfast at 9ish, a mid-morning snack about 11:30, lunch at 1:30, a mid-afternoon snack at 3:30, and dinner by 6pm. If I’m hunger I might add another snack or have to move an eating time up, but that is only if I’m hunger. Therefore, a 7ish breakfast lecture does not fit into my eating schedule. 

As you’ve likely guessed, the “good for me” moment was when I walked out of there not having eaten a thing. Moreover, I didn’t feel awkward at any moment while there. I purposely arrived within 10 minutes of the lecture to give myself time to check-in to the event, find a seat, meet and greet the people at my table, pour some water, and prepare myself for the lecture. This time frame also meant that most people who had arrived with the intention of consuming breakfast were almost done, so it didn’t seem odd that I didn’t have a plate. I had my coffee and water to keep me company and gnaw on, so I was happy with that. 

In hindsight, I sat with a table full of women. I didn’t purposely pick this table for that reason but I realize the advantage this added. The women at my table were all fairly young, approximately 30-50 in age, professional, in good shape, not overly overweight but not skinny either, and they didn’t stack food on their plate. Of the ladies that ate at my table, a couple had plates of fruit, one had yogurt with some granola, another couple were done when I got there and two others, just like me, only drank coffee or water. As I said, I realized this in hindsight, but in the future, I’m likely to look for the table of people that aren’t piling on the food from the free buffet, as it likely keeps me from temptation. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention earlier that the buffet and this lecture were free. Sure, you had to register and they only do a first-come-first served up to 250 people to attend, but free is free. 

The buffet had all things breakfast, like eggs, bacon, sausage, muffins, Danishes, fruit, and surprisingly yogurt and granola, something I actually eat for breakfast on occasion. They also had all sorts of juices, milk, coffee, and tea for beverages. The reason I had a “good for me” moment is because the old me would have chowwed down on that breakfast. I would have arrived precisely at 7:10 to allow enough time for check-in, eating breakfast, maybe even getting seconds and then preparing for the lecture. Free food used to be hard to pass up, especially good free food and since I’ve eaten there before, I’m sure the food was good. After all, I did do a hard workout this morning, it was breakfast time and I did walk there from my office, so I deserved it, right? At least that’s what I would have been telling myself. 

I am elated that I could go with a plan, successfully execute, and stick to my eating routine for the day. Instead of stuffing myself with free food, I decided to remain free of those calories. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend last week about the free donuts, bagels, and snacks that are in her staff lounge/kitchen every Friday morning. She said she used to eat those items without thought and now that she is paying more attention to what she is eating, she passes them up every week. She is amazed at how easy it was to eat food, loading on the calories, even when not hungry or if the food isn’t really something you crave. On the flip side, that same ease makes it easy to give up those bad habits when you only eat what you really want; you just have to be cognizant of everything you put in your mouth and decide, do I really want that? Am I really hungry? Many times the answer is likely no and those calories for the day can be saved for something better. Now, I am hungry and it is outside of my usual eating time, so I think I’ll celebrate my moment with a 100-calorie bag of popcorn. After all, I am a bit hungry, I really would love some popcorn, and I did walk an extra mile today to attend this lecture. Woot-woot!