Friday, December 7, 2012

Minimizing Holiday Stress

Christmas 2009
My mother has always been one of those holiday superwomen. She is the type with the perfectly wrapped packages, the fancy holiday tableware, and the beautifully iced sugar cookies.  I always know Christmas is around the corner when I open up my mother’s fridge and see a stack of butter, five pounds high, for cookie baking. This used to make me giddy with excitement, but now I can’t help visualizing that five pounds on my thighs.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the holiday season.  It just seems like the older I get, the more stress I feel this time of year. As an adult, I suddenly have things like overcrowded grocery stores, credit card statements, airport delays, and extra calories swimming in my “cup of cheer”.  

Stress is a common trigger for weight gain.   This makes the holiday season a particularly difficult time for those of us struggling with weight issues.  To minimize stress during the holidays, I try to keep the following things in mind:

1. Do NOT pay attention to all of the random advice about how to “stay slim during the holidays”.  I used to eat this stuff up.  I would read every article on “avoiding holiday weight gain” that I could get my hands on.  Then I realized that the more I focused on the issue, the more stressed out I would get, and the more weight I would end up gaining.  The worst advice I ever heard was on a popular morning talk show.  The segment was showing “simple” ways to cut calories during the holidays.  One of the techniques was to just eat the filling from a slice of pie and to leave all the crust.  Seriously!  That kind of deprivation is just plain mean, and is certain to backfire.  I know from personal experience that if I forgo ice cream on my holiday pie, I end up spooning it straight out of the container, alone, at midnight.

2. Do not fear holiday weight gain.  Similar to #1 above, the more energy you spend thinking about holiday weight gain, the more stressed you will be.  I read an article in the Washington Post that said people think that they gain four times more than they actually do during the holidays.  It is a mental game.  The fitness and diet industries want you to think that you will gain a ton of weight during the holidays so that you will buy their weight loss products.  If you just stick with what has been working for you all year, and don’t try any crazy new methods or crash diets, you will most likely be just fine.

3. Stay active.  I have found that the best way to combat stress is by exercising.  Yes, yes I know, there isn’t any time.  The truth is, you need to be a little selfish, and find the time. The last three years I have purchased a one-week pass to use at the local gym when I go home for the holidays.  It provides an escape for me, and makes me feel more in control.  I was in charge of Christmas Eve dinner last year.  I prepped in the morning, went to the gym and ran off my frustrations, and then I came home and put everything together. It felt great!

4. Admit that nobody (including you) is perfect.  There is so much pressure to have everything perfectly “together” during the holidays.  The truth of the matter is, everyone feels overwhelmed at some point.  If we pretend everything is ok, when it isn’t, we will eventually explode (and eat an entire tray full of cookies). It is healthiest to acknowledge whatever emotions we are feeling, and deal with them from the get go.  

It is hard sometimes, with all of the pressure, to just sit back and be thankful.  But I am thankful. I am thankful that I am not the same unhealthy person that I was six Christmases ago, and I am thankful that I get to share my stories with you :). Now let's go enjoy this beautiful season!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

As a child, one of my favorite post-holiday traditions was when my mother would make split pea soup with the leftover ham and ham bone.  I loved the smoky, salty flavor that the ham would bring to the soup. Since ham is not something that I often cook for my small family of two, I was afraid I would never get the chance to relive my childhood memories in my own kitchen.  Then I came across a ham-free recipe for “Split Pea Soup with Rosemary” on  The recipe used soy sauce and tomato paste to bring the umami quality to the soup that is traditionally brought by the ham bone.  I added smoked paprika to bring about the smoky flavor that I loved so much in my mother’s soup.  This healthier version of the traditional split pea soup is surprisingly full of flavor, and hearty enough to serve as a winter meal.

Serves 4 

1 1/2 cups green split peas
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
1 cup diced baby carrots
1 large bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch dried rosemary
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 1/2 - 4 cups water
2 cups vegetable stock or broth
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt

Sort and rinse peas; set aside.

Heat Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pot.  Once oil is heated, add onion. Sauté until onions begin to brown slightly.  Add carrots and bay leaf, sauté an additional 3 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary, stir for 30 seconds.  Add tomato paste, stir for an additional 30 seconds.  Add soy sauce; cook until liquid evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.

Add smoked paprika, pepper, peas, 3 1/2 cups water, vegetable stock, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer 1 hour, stirring often.  Add additional water to thin soup to desired consistency.  Remove bay leaf.  Add additional salt to taste.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Exercising with Conviction

At one point during my weight loss journey I felt like I had figured it all out.  I had removed my bad habits and replaced them with healthy ones. I exercised regularly, and was the queen of healthy eating.  My motivation level was high. I loved seeing the steady decline of the numbers on the scale, and enjoyed the compliments others would give me on my weight.   I was confident, perhaps too confident.  

I started to take the weight loss for granted.  Like it was guaranteed.  I continued to eat healthy and exercise, but my efforts became somewhat apathetic.  I, of course, stopped losing weight.

After some much needed self reflection, I found that exercising had become such a habit for me, so automatic, that I was not really putting any effort into it.  I was still attending my step aerobics classes, but I was just going through the motions.  I did not have the same “spring in my step” as I did in the past. I started observing others at the gym, and realized I was not the only one who had become an apathetic exerciser.  

The average person would get on the treadmill, dial in their standard settings, and then watch the news.  It seemed like the majority of people were using their daily exercise as their “space out” time. I think the unfortunate truth is that a lot of us are guilty of putting very little attention into our exercise program.  I know that I personally was putting in about $5 worth of work and expecting $20 in rewards.

When not prompted to do otherwise, our bodies will always travel in the path of least resistance.  It is our job, when exercising, to move away from that path.  When performing a bicep curl one’s arm is naturally not going to want to perform the full range of motion, because it is difficult.  That “difficult” part is the part of the exercise that is working our bodies the most.  What we need to do is to bring awareness to the exercise, and make sure that we are doing the exercise to the fullest extent.

This concept applies to all forms of exercise.  There is a difference between simply doing a jumping jack, and really doing a jumping jack with heart.  Seriously, try it.  Even if you are just on a walk, you can walk with more conviction.

When I brought awareness back into my exercise routine, I not only resumed my weight loss, but I became stronger and more fit overall.  As a side benefit, I found that exercise was actually more enjoyable when I was putting more into it.  Apparently the old cliche is true, you really do “get out as much as you put in”.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fighting Fall Fatigue

Every October, without fail, I manage to put on a few extra pounds.  Despite the fact that it happens every year, I never realize that it’s happening, and I am never prepared for it.  I am just shocked every year by the appearance of the same couple of pounds.  Along with the shock comes a long rant about how “there is no reason why I should be gaining weight”.  I truly feel for my husband. He has to watch this whole thing play out.  I’m sure I put on quite a performance.

From what I have seen on other weight loss blogs, and overheard in line at the grocery store, I am not the only person who suffers from this “mysterious” October weight gain.  The most common rational I have heard is that the weight gain can be attributed to the increase in seasonal sweets appearing on the market.  While I understand this viewpoint, I’m just not convinced this is the only reason for the weight gain.  Every season has it’s fair share of indulgences, and I am pretty certain that Halloween candy has no more calories than the stuff that fills our Easter baskets in the Spring.

So if it isn’t the pie that is making me look like a pumpkin, what is it?  I have come to the conclusion that with October, comes a lack of drive.  The dark, cool days just do not promote the same level of activity as those long, sunny summer days. When the sun goes down and the cold sets in (which can happen as early as 5:30 pm), it is easy to slip on an oversized-sweater (which hides a belly bulge a lot better than a summertime bikini) and settle in on the couch.

In order to keep the belly bulge at bay, I have put together a list of a few things to keep you (and I) motivated this Fall:

  • Look into starting some group exercise classes.  Group fitness instructors are trained to be motivating, which can be helpful when we are lacking internal motivation. If you don’t have a gym membership, there are some great (free) classes online. I have posted a few of my favorites on my Pinterest boards.
  • Plan a few evening activities into your week to keep you moving.  Go for a walk before the sun sets, or schedule in an evening yoga practice.
  • Learn some new healthy recipes and cooking techniques. Cooking will keep you active during the evenings, and prevent you from ordering too much Chinese take-out.  
  • When it stays dark later in the morning, it is easy to stay in bed an extra half an hour.  Unfortunately, an extra 30 minutes a day in bed adds up to an extra 3.5 hours/week of complete inactivity. To help get you going in the morning: use motivating music as your alarm, turn on the light next to your bed, and/or concentrate on all of the things you want to get accomplished.
  • I have noticed that when the weather cools, I tend to choose easier workouts.  When my drive is waning, I am not as likely to create workouts that will push me.  In order to combat this, try creating your weekly workout schedule in advance.  Incorporate a few harder workouts like boot camp classes, long runs, indoor cycling and interval workouts.  Include as much detail as you can in your workout schedule (amount of time, distance, reps) to keep you from taking the easy route.
  • Resist the urge to always wear your comfy clothing. Spending as much time as possible in sweat pants may sound appealing, but it will only work to further decrease your motivation.  
  • If you really can’t seem to get moving, you may need to add a bit of extra caffeine into your diet during the cooler months.  If you are not a coffee drinker, green tea makes for a great afternoon pick-me-up.  If you can’t tolerate caffeine, I have found that peppermint gives me a little boost(try tea, mints or gum).

Once November rolls around, I usually find that I am back to my motivated self.  By this point I have recognized the upward movement of the scale, have been through my whole rant and realize that it is time to kick back into gear.  In all reality, just thinking about Christmas cookies is typically enough to light a fire under me.  If winter is tougher on you than Fall, it might help to take a look at my post on avoiding hibernation.

Happy Halloween Everyone :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mexican Vegetable Soup with Avocado

Like so many other children, I grew up on Campbell’s soup.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it was just due to good marketing on the part of Campbell’s.  Whatever the reason, we all seemed to learn that a grilled-cheese sandwich was not complete without an accompanying bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup.  In addition to tomato, I loved the vegetable soup. It's kind of funny, because I don’t remember liking anything else with the word “vegetable” in it.  As an adult, I have learned to love vegetables, but ironically I don’t often find a vegetable soup that satisfies me.  They are usually too bland and watery. To solve this dilemma, I created this recipe for a hearty vegetable soup with bold southwestern flavors.  I find that it is the perfect thing to warm and comfort me on a crisp evening.

Serves 4-6 people

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 carrots, diced
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice from half a lime
1 teaspoon chipotle chilies in adoba sauce, minced
1 29-oz can white hominy
4 cups of low-sodium chicken broth (vegetable would work too)
water (up to 2 cups)

1 avocado, peeled and sliced
nonfat plain Greek yogurt, for topping
cilantro leaves, for garnish

Warm the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add onion and bell pepper.  Saute until vegetables begin to brown.  Add carrots, garlic and oregano; saute for 2-3 minutes.

Add tomatoes, salt and chipotle chilies. Saute until tomatoes soften and give off their juices.
Add hominy and broth, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. If amount of liquid is insufficient, add water (amount of liquid will vary depending on juiciness of tomatoes).

After 20 minutes, add lime and adjust seasoning with additional salt.

Top with nonfat plain Greek yogurt, avocado and cilantro.  Serve with warm corn tortillas.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Butternut Stew with Hominy

Butternut squash is my go-to vegetable for fall.  Not only is it delicious, it is packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  This butternut squash stew recipe was adapted from one featured in the November 1997 issue of Cooking Light Magazine. In my version, I roast the squash to increase its flavor profile and bring out the natural sugars.  Roasting the squash takes a bit of time, but this can be done in advance, or while chopping other ingredients for the stew. I like to make a double batch of this dish on Sundays. That way I have leftovers for quick dinners during the week.  It is good on its own, or served over rice. If you prefer a vegetarian version, vegetable base substitutes well for the chicken base.

Serves 4-5 people

1.5 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
3.5 cups water
1.5 tablespoons Better than Bouillon low sodium chicken base
1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional, depending on sweetness of squash)
2.5 lb butternut squash, roasted and cubed
1 29-ounce can hominy, drained

~1/4 teaspoon salt (depends on saltiness of hominy)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (optional)

Toast cumin seeds in a large saucepan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.  Remove seeds from pan.

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add onion and bell pepper; sauté until onion is lightly browned. Add garlic and continue to sauté for 1 minute.  Stir in flour, cumin seeds and chili powder. Add roasted squash, water, hominy, sugar and chicken base; bring to a boil. 

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer an additional 30 minutes, occasionally stirring and smashing chunks of squash against pot to thicken. Once thickened, stir in cilantro.  Serve alone, or over rice.

Tips for Roasting Butternut Squash:

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F and line a cookie sheet with tin foil. Carefully cut squash in half and scrape out innards. Prick the flesh with a fork. Spray all surfaces lightly with cooking spray and place face-down on cookie sheet.  Roast for 40-50 minutes, or until tender and golden. Cool, peel off the skin, and cube.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Starting a Fitness Program

I have read a lot of articles recently on “exercise motivation”. I find it interesting to sort through the different theories as to why people do, or (mostly) don’t, get enough exercise. It is widely understood that exercise and proper eating are the key ingredients for health.  If we all know this, then why are the majority of us not getting enough exercise?  

Most of the articles I have read have a pie chart that depicts the reasons people give for not exercising. The results are always the same. The overwhelming majority of people say that they “don’t have enough time”. I think that perhaps time is not the real answer.  In my experience, not having "enough time”, is just the excuse we give ourselves so that we don’t have to face the real reason we don’t exercise. For me, and probably many others as well, that was intimidation.

There are many things that lead to exercise intimidation: having no idea where to begin, being unfamiliar with the equipment, exercise programs with crazy names like “Insanity”, and all of the beautiful bodies at the gym.  There is also the concern that you are not going to be an immediate fitness success story. As humans we seek success and praise, and we try our very hardest to avoid failure.  For a beginning exerciser, who is already critical of their body, subpar exercise performance may just seem like an additional failure.

Let me show you what I mean:

Pretend you have started a new journey towards healthy living, and you are trying to incorporate exercise into your life.  You know a lot of healthy people who run, and you decide to give it a try. You grab your running shoes from the back of the closet, find some sort of clothing that resembles gym clothes, and successfully make it out of the door.  Once outside a feeling of pride sweeps over your body, causing you to smile knowingly at what you are about to accomplish.  You take a deep breath and begin running.  You feel great at first, asking yourself,  “why don’t I do this more often?”.  Then, before you even get to the second song on your iPod, your body answers that question.  You feel a sharp pain in your side, and your lungs begin to burn. You can’t get any air. Finally you are forced to stop to prevent your heart from beating right out of your chest.  Then the real pain starts, as you walk the two blocks back to your starting place, feeling nothing short of defeated.

That is how I felt over and over again as I tried to get my feet wet in the unfamiliar world of exercise.  Thankfully, I figured out a way to stop beating myself up, and to successfully start an exercise program.  Here are some of the techniques that I used:

  • In the beginning, exercise does not necessarily need to look like exercise.  Being more active is the key.  I lost a lot of my initial weight just by walking.  I walked to the store, with friends, and even while talking on my cellphone.  I walked everywhere.
  • I went on a lot of moderate hikes with friends.  I found that having someone to converse with helped me to forget that I was going uphill.  Once I got used to it, I enjoyed going by myself as well.  The nice thing about hiking is that you can do it at any pace that feels comfortable to you.
  • I took yoga classes several times a week.  I found that yoga was a gentle way to begin strengthening my muscles.  The strength base that I gained in yoga helped to make other exercises seem easier (especially the development of a stronger core). Pilates would be great for this too, but I did not know about it at the time.
  • I fell in love with group exercise programs.  I learned a lot about fitness just from watching and listening to the instructors.  The good thing about group exercise is that there are often participants of all levels, so you never feel alone, and you have a trained instructor to tell you if you are doing things incorrectly.  I took a lot of step aerobics, toning and water aerobics classes.
  • I changed my attitude about failure, and started accepting the fact that I could only run short distances.  I knew that running fit with my busy lifestyle, I could do it anytime and anywhere, and I needed to embrace it.  I started going on 10 minutes runs (walking when I needed to), then 15, then 20, and so on.  The more weight I lost, the easier it was to run, and the easier it was to see that I was not a failure.
  • I avoided all of the commercial fitness programs.  I knew that if I had someone telling me what to do, and what level I should be at, I would get frustrated.  I needed to feel in control.
These are the things that worked for me. That doesn't mean you need to follow the exact same path.  The most important message I am trying to portray is that your dreams are possible.  

Previously, I was unable to run around the block, and now I run six miles several times per week.  My greatest suggestion is to start out with the things that you enjoy most, and that will help you stay active.  Remember, we are trying to create sustainable habits. If you push too hard at first, and set your standards too high, you may not even finish the race.  Trust me, there will be plenty of opportunities to push yourself later on!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Healthy Living Resource

I need to apologize to you.  Between our move to California in July, and the general craziness of summer, I have not been posting healthy recipes to my blog as promised.  It isn’t that I haven’t been cooking.  You know that I believe cooking is fundamental in weight loss and maintenance.  It is just that I forget to do things like take photos, pay attention to how much of a spice I am adding, and/or note precise baking times.  It is my mission this Fall to improve upon these things, and get some recipes posted!

For now, I have started a Habitual Weight Loss pinboard on If you are not familiar with Pinterest, it is a website that allows you to organize and share interesting things that you find on the web.  I find it especially useful for finding and indexing healthy recipes.  On the Habitual Weight Loss pinboard, I will be adding links to healthy recipes that are in my regular recipe rotation.  I rarely make recipes exactly as written, but these will give you a good idea as to what I am eating at home.

In addition to recipes, I will be including links to fitness resources. Since moving to San Diego, I have yet to join a gym. Instead, I have been running a lot, as well as doing workouts in my home.  I spend a great deal of time researching and performing different exercise routines, and I think Pinterest will be a good way for me to share some of those with you.

If you are already a member of Pinterest, you can “follow” me at:  If you are not a member, I really do suggest that you join.  Even if you don’t follow me, it is a great way to organize all of the information you find on the web.  It is easy to sign up, and it’s free!

Let me know what you think of my site, and if there are any particular pinboards you would like me to create.  Also, let me know if you are on Pinterest, so that I can follow you as well :).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fear of Regaining Weight

I have been in two serious car accidents.  Before the accidents I was fearless.  Traffic, snow, speed...none of it scared me. Since my accidents I am much more cautious, and am even afraid to drive in certain conditions.  In a weird way, a similar thing occurred with my weight loss.  When I was overweight, I never thought about what went in my mouth. Cookies, nachos, fast food...none of it scared me.  Whereas immediately after my weight loss, just the word “cookie” was enough to send me into nervous sweats.  It was like weight loss induced some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder, where being overweight was the trauma that kept recurring in my mind.

These symptoms appear to be fairly common among those of us who have experienced large amounts of weight loss.   It is really a sad story: we realize that we need to change, educate ourselves, turn our lives around, feel great, and then suddenly become overwhelmed with the fear that it is all going to disappear.  We think we are going to eat that second cookie and suddenly our bodies are going to start ballooning out like Aunt Marge’s in Harry Potter.

It took me a long time to realize that that just isn’t going to happen.  There will be no ballooning in my future.  Yes, I know that the majority of people that lose weight gain it back, but I did not lose weight in the same way as the majority of people.  I didn’t crash diet, give myself insane restrictions, or develop an unsustainable exercise routine.  Most importantly, I am not the same person that I was 6 years ago.  In my weight loss journey I did not just change my weight, but my lifestyle and outlook on life.

If you follow my blog (or looked at the “Approach to Weight Loss” section), you know that I believe in a type of weight loss that involves making small changes in habits over time.  It is really more of a lifestyle transformation plan that results in weight loss, than a weight loss plan.  For example, I used  to shop in the middle sections of the grocery store that are full of calorie high/nutrient poor foods. Now, I completely skip those sections and buy things like produce which are calorie poor/nutrient rich. I don’t do this consciously, I do it naturally, because over time I have remodeled the way that I eat.

I have developed confidence in myself, but I am not saying that I never feel the fear of weight gain anymore. My former life will always be with me in the back of my mind. But in the end, I know that I have changed, and no cookie is going to take that away from me.  I hope that you will, or already do, feel the same about your own weight loss.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Positive Motivation

When I was in high school I suffered from anxiety attacks. They were awful. So awful that my concerned mother made me pay a visit to our family physician.  The physician, being somewhat unconventional, told me that she was “reluctant to treat my condition because stress and anxiety are the factors that Type A people use to motivate themselves to work harder”.  She knew that I had dreams of going to medical school, and believed that my anxiety would help me to reach my goals.  Being that I was a young, impressionable teenager, her argument seemed reasonable.

In college, my continued issues with stress and anxiety led to chronic headaches, horrible acid reflux, frequent illness and insomnia.  All of these were issues I was willing to deal with because I was doing excellent in all of my classes.  Every time I was plagued with anxiety, I would think of what my doctor had said, and considered it fuel for my academic fire.  

It wasn’t until my second year of medical school that I took a step back, and realized that all of this “using anxiety to push myself” stuff was absolute crap.   What is the point of being a fantastic student, and later a successful physician, if you are a miserable human being?   It was at that point that I put on the brakes, changed my career path, and started using health and happiness as my primary sources of motivation.

Using negative energy for motivation is clearly never a good thing.  We all know this, but for some reason when it comes to weight loss, we seem to forget it.  We do squats because we want to get rid of our “fat thighs”, we exercise to the extreme in January as "punishment" for what we ate in December, and we starve ourselves because our jeans are starting to get “too tight”.

Sound familiar?  Here’s the thing, if you look in those giant mirrors at the gym and concentrate on your “jiggly arms”, you will always see flab when you look in the mirror.  Even if you do lose weight, you will be so stuck on the skin hanging down from your arm that you will be completely unaware of the fact that you have developed some really rockin’ triceps.  

During my weight loss journey I went through stages where I would use negative motivation to try to push myself.  Over and over again, I discovered that this method does not work for sustainable weight loss.  Why?  I’ll give you the two biggest reasons.

1.  You have to actually ENJOY being healthy.  Eating well and exercising are things that need to be thought of as privileges, not punishments.  You can only sustain something you hate for so long, therefore finding the joy in being healthy is very important.  As corny as it sounds, it is necessary to say things like “I want to go for a run this morning” instead of “I HAVE to go for a run”.  The mind is a powerful thing.

2.  Thinking negatively about your body may cause temporary motivation for change, but over time it just leads to depression, and a serious lack of confidence.   Confidence is one of the most important things in weight loss.  If you concentrate on the positive changes that are taking place in your body, instead of the things that still need work, you will feel more motivated in the long haul.  

The best way to stay positive is to remember that this is a journey, and that a journey takes time.  If you start to feel guilty and push yourself too hard, you will never make it to the finish line.  Slow and steady really does win the race, I promise.  Don’t forget to take note of the little changes taking place in your body and relish them.  

Be proud of yourself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Light Summer Beverages

It has been a long time since I have experienced a “real” summer. In Seattle it was rarely hot, and I truly forgot what it was like to live in the heat.  Here in our new California home, I have already made a few missteps.  The worst of which being when I turned on the oven to 425 degrees when it was 85 degrees outside. Yikes.

One of the other things I had forgotten about summer is the constant need to hydrate.  I have been craving cool beverages more than anything else these days.  I carry a water bottle with me everywhere, but unfortunately water doesn’t always satisfy me.  There is something about summer that screams lemonade, milkshakes, iced coffee and slushies.  When I was less health conscious, my summers were filled with the above options, and I was unknowingly consuming large amounts of calories (and sugar!).

I never used to think about drinking calories, I always just thought calories came from eating.  In reality, people consume many of their daily calories from beverages, and I was no exception.  We have all heard the media blitzes about how bad soda is for our health, this is certainly the case, but there are also many other unhealthy beverages that are getting less attention (some are even marketed to look like healthy drinks).  

I’ve included some figures for you on drinks to avoid, and also provided some ideas for healthy replacements.  Bottoms up!

Sugary Summer Beverages:
(For your reference, 1 tsp of sugar is equal to 4 grams)

16 oz Snapple Lemonade 190 calories 46 grams of sugar
16 oz Lipton Green Tea with Citrus 140 calories 36 grams of sugar
16 oz 7-11 Vanilla Iced Coffee 280 calories 50 grams of sugar
16 oz (grande) Mocha Frappuccino 400 calories 60 grams of sugar
20 oz Defense Vitamin Water 120 calories 32 grams of sugar
Medium DQ Chocolate Malt 790 calories 111 grams of sugar
Medium DQ Lemonade Chiller 380 calories 84 grams of sugar
Original Pineapple Jamba Juice 410 calories 91 grams of sugar
20 oz Sonic Caramel Java Chiller 910 calories 99 grams of sugar
20 oz Sonic Cherry Slush 290 calories 77 grams of sugar
Large A&W Root Beer 440 calories 116 grams of sugar

calorie information obtained directly from product websites

Light & Refreshing Summer Beverages:

Homemade flavor-Infused water (try: cucumber, berry, citrus)
Sun tea (try: green, peppermint, licorice)
Unsweetened Aqua Fresca (try: mango, watermelon, cantaloupe)
Sparkling water with lemon

Sometimes we just can’t fight our cravings.  If you end up in line at Starbucks, just remember to ask for your drink unsweetened (the default is sweetened), and without additions like whip cream.  Also of note for you DQ lovers, a cone is always lower in calories than a milkshake, and milkshakes are slightly lower than malts.  Of course, a nice cold glass of cucumber water is calorie free, and super refreshing...try it...even my husband has been enjoying it this summer :).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Healthy Approach to Continental Breakfast

I have exciting news to share. My husband and I just moved to sunny San Diego! It all happened rather quickly. My husband was offered a job with another company, and they wanted him to start less than three weeks from the offer date. Needless to say, the past month has been a blur, and I apologize for falling behind on my blog. Trust me, I did not forget about you all.

In terms of testing my commitment to healthy living, July was a challenging month for me. I had a week long vacation, a five day visit from my parents and a move across three states going against me. But, all things considered, I did very well. In order to manage my stress (and my waistline), I worked hard to get in some sort of exercise daily and have figured out how to exercise in virtually any condition. For me, the exercise was the easy part, it was the eating healthy that presented more of a challenge.

After spending 17 nights in a hotel last month, I was reminded of how easy it can be to put on a few pounds. When food is free, like at a hotel's continental breakfast, it is easy to feel like you have a free pass to eat whatever you want. For example, I witnessed a woman pouring half & half over a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats, and a man pouring sausage gravy over a cheese omelet. Trust me, I am not judging, I've been there too.

So how do you fight the urge to pour maple syrup on a plate full of free bacon? Always keep in mind that even though the food is free, the calories are not. If you wouldn't eat it at home, you probably shouldn't eat it at the hotel. If you know that you have a tendency to overdo it when it comes to a buffet of free food, skip the continental breakfast and keep your own breakfast items ready for you in your hotel room. My husband and I traveled around Europe with a box of French All-Bran and local low fat yogurt (don't worry, we did splurge on the occational croissant).

If you do decide to partake in the hotel breakfast, which I did most of the time this past month, there are a few tricks to making sure you stay healthy. Here are a few of the tricks I use:

  • Most hotels will have small packages of oatmeal. This makes for a good, fiber rich option. Just make sure that you choose the “plain” variety, as the flavored options are loaded with sugar. To sweeten it up naturally, add some slices of banana.

  • My hotel cereal staple is raisin bran. It is usually the only cereal option with any nutritional value. My trick is to remove about half of the raisins before I pour on the milk. The raisins are full of sugar, and provide the bulk of the calories in the cereal.

  • It is always important to watch the type of milk you are using at a continental breakfast. To my amazement, most places seem to have whole milk as the default. You can usually find an alternative if you look around. Sometimes there will be a separate pitcher, or refrigerator with containers of low fat dairy. The last hotel I stayed at had whole milk by the cereal and a carafe of skim milk by the coffee. Go figure.

  • The “whole wheat” bread that most hotels stock probably isn't as nutrient rich as the kind we would buy at home, but it is still going to have more protein and fiber than white bread. Try toasting up some wheat bread, and topping it with about a tablespoon of peanut butter or cream cheese. This will at least provide a little bit of protein (something that is very much lacking in the standard continental breakfast fare).

  • If you are interested in having yogurt for breakfast (you all know I am a fan of this option), make sure to read the label first. Some yogurts can be loaded with added sugar, and therefore calories. At one of the hotels we stayed at they had “Trix” yogurt that was neon pink and yellow. Upon looking at the label I discovered it had twice the amount of calories as the nonfat yogurt I eat at home (18 grams of sugar in just 4 oz).

  • Although I am not personally a fan, hard boiled eggs are a good option for lean protein. They are high in cholesterol though, so avoid the yolk if you have any personal or family history of heart disease.

Those are a few of the options that I find most nutrient rich and calorie poor. Some of the popular items that tend to lean in the opposite direction are:
  • Cheese Danishes (400 calories in Entenmann's)
  • Bagels (270 calories in Thomas')
  • Cinnamon rolls (410 calories in Holiday Inn Express)
  • Sausage patties (170 calories in Holiday Inn Express)

*calorie info from

If you are on vacation, you are going to want to indulge. Indulging is part of vacation, it can't (and perhaps shouldn't) be completely avoided. But indulging at every meal will probably not lead to a very fun vacation (severe bloating comes to mind), and I know that I would rather spend my “extra vacation calories” on dinner at a special restaurant than on breakfast at the Holiday Inn.

In the end, it is most important to remember that just because food is free, doesn't mean you have to eat it!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Southwestern Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad made with bulgur (a whole grain).  This “Southwest” version was adapted from a recipe featured in the July 2010 issue of Cooking Light magazine.  You will note that I do not cook the bulgur in this recipe.  I believe that cooking the bulgur leads to a watery salad.  If you allow the salad to rest for a few hours, the bulgur will absorb the juices from the vegetables and soften.  If you want to serve the salad right away, and do not like the crunch of the bulgur, you may pre-cook it with a 1:2 bulgur to water ratio.  This salad makes a great side dish, or it can be used as an entree with the addition of black beans or shredded chicken.

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1  teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup uncooked bulgur
1 medium bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 ear corn on the cob, cooked and kernels removed
½ seeded jalapeño pepper, minced


Mix first seven ingredients in a large bowl.  Add bulgur, toss to combine.  While bulgur softens, chop vegetables.   Add chopped vegetables and herbs to bulgur mixture, mix well.  Allow salad to rest for at least an hour to develop flavors (longer resting will yield softer bulgur and more complex flavor).  Serve at room temperature.

From my calculations on, I came up with an estimate of 700 calories, 10 grams of fat, 36 grams of fiber and 24 grams of protein in the entire dish. The dish serves approximately 2-3 people as an entree, and 3-4 people as a side.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Keeping Summer Foods Light

A few weeks ago we talked about how summer fun can lead to overindulgence (ice cream anyone?), and how important it is to take advantage of the nice weather by staying active.  This week, I want to talk about those overindulgences a little more, and see if we can’t make them a little less...indulgent.

I absolutely adore summer.  I look forward to picnics in the park and backyard BBQs almost as much as I look forward to Christmas. From the beginning of my weight loss journey I knew that no diet plan was going to keep me from enjoying a good meal, in the sunshine, among friends.  Since this was a tradition I was not going to give up, I had to figure out ways to make common summer cook-out foods a little more diet friendly.

Here are some of the ideas I have come up with for healthy summer swap-outs:

Instead of beef burgers on the grill...
try: salmon, mahi mahi, or portabella burgers

Instead of BBQ ribs on the grill...
try: grilled tri-tip roast, lemon-pepper chicken breasts or salmon

Instead of potato salad (~400 calories/cup in Reser’s*)...
try: tabbouleh, light broccoli salad, lentil/bean salad, grilled squash or couscous

Instead of coleslaw (~200 calories/cup in Publix*)...
try: asian slaw, cucumber salad, fruit salad or grilled vegetable salad

Instead of baked beans (~240 calories/cup in Bush’s Best*)...
try: bean salad or gazpacho

Instead of adding mayo or sour cream...
try nonfat yogurt

Instead of a hard lemonade (~220 calories/bottle in Mike’s*)...
try a wine spritzer (wine w/sparkling water)

Instead of lemonade (~120 calories/cup in Simply Lemonade*)...
try: unsweetened iced-tea or sparkling water with lemon juice

Instead of a Dairy Queen Blizzard (up to 1,500 calories*)...
try: a fudge bar, Dilly bar, small strawberry sundae or vanilla orange bar

During the coming months I will be posting some recipes I have developed for healthy summer foods.  I hope they will provide you with some new ideas for healthy dishes to bring to your family picnics.  Stay tuned!

*Calories info was obtained from

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Making Healthy Decisions (for Breakfast)

Everyday we face hundreds of decisions that affect our weight. We ask ourselves, should I: have another slice of pizza, take the stairs or the elevator, order take-out, ride my bike or drive, buy skim or 2% milk?  A lot of the time when we make decisions like these, we are not conscious of the fact that we are making decisions that affect our health.  We simply buy the 2% milk because that is what we always buy, or take the elevator because that is what everyone else is doing.  We don’t think about the fact that skim milk has 40 less calories/cup, and that if we poured 1 cup of skim milk vs. 2% milk in our cereal everyday we would save ourselves 14,600 calories (~4 lbs) a year.

On my weight loss journey I learned to become more conscious of the decisions I was making throughout the day.  I started by taking a look at what I was choosing to eat for breakfast. Since companies do such a great job making all breakfast items look like health food, I was truly amazed what I discovered when I took a magnifying glass to my breakfast plate.

In college I ate Lucky Charms with 2% milk every morning for breakfast.  Since there is virtually no protein in this cereal, I ate large portions to try to hold me over until lunch.  I was starting each day with 350-400 calories that were virtually ”empty”, and because of this, I was usually hungry just a few hours after breakfast.  Eventually I switched over to Kashi GoLean Crunch because it appears to be so healthy (it even says “lean” in the title).  Upon further examination, I found that the GoLean Crunch actually had 50 more calories per serving and 2 grams more sugar than my Lucky Charms.  I guess at least I was getting some protein and fiber out of my Go”Lean”.

At this point I really got serious.  I wasn’t going to fall for any more advertising traps.  What I wanted to find was something that had a lot of lean protein to keep my hunger in check, but didn’t contain a lot of calories or added sugars.  That is when I discovered nonfat plain yogurt.  Nonfat plain yogurt has 120 calories and 12 grams of protein per cup.  I found that the lean protein in yogurt filled me up a lot longer than the typical high-carb breakfast.  I started out eating just one cup of plain yogurt every morning, but now I eat a half cup of yogurt with a small serving of high fiber cereal (I like Trader Joe’s High Fiber Cereal, which is similar to All Bran).  The high fiber cereal helps to curb my cravings for carbs, and the fiber helps keep me full until lunch.

I love weekend brunch, and although I don’t go regularly, I knew that I couldn’t give it up altogether.  My celebration brunch is blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup, bacon, some breakfast potatoes and a cup of orange juice.  Unfortunately, I discovered that the sides on that meal alone amount to about 800 calories (including the maple syrup and the pat of butter on top of the pancakes).  That isn’t even counting the main dish!  The other downside of this meal is that it makes me really full, so my activity level tends to be low the rest of the day.  

Now that I am more breakfast conscious, I no longer order the sides. Instead, I go right for my favorite part, the blueberry pancakes.  I also remove the pat of butter from the cakes and use only half of the provided syrup portion (these two things alone save me at least 200 calories).  I still enjoy my breakfast, and my husband doesn’t have to roll me home afterwards :).

I used breakfast choices as an example, but you can apply the same concept to any aspect of your life.  All it takes is a little bit of honest reflection on your current habits, and some research into healthier alternatives
.  Weight loss involves understanding and accepting the differences between what we are doing, and what we should be doing.