Thursday, January 26, 2012

Running Promotes a Healthy Lifestyle

When I first started my weight loss mission I had absolutely no idea where to begin.  My health and fitness knowledge was pretty slim, which is probably why I gained the weight in the first place.  In order to find a starting point, I began observing people whom I believed to be fit and healthy.  I watched what they did and tried to adopt their habits (this is something that I still do today).  One thing I noticed right away was that many of the people whom I was observing were runners.  

I have to admit that running sounded about as good to me as getting hit in the head, but I was willing to try anything in order to lose weight.  So I strapped on my running shoes that I hadn’t used since high school gym class, and went for my first run. I think I only made it a few blocks, but it was something, and that counted.  I found that running fit with my busy lifestyle because I could do it anytime and anywhere.  So, I started going on miniature runs whenever I could.  

After about five years, I can now say that I actually like running.  More than anything though, I can say that it is one of the exercises that gives me the most “bang for my buck”.  When I want to lose a few pounds quickly, I add running into my routine. A few months before my wedding I began running with my fiance. Sure enough, I dropped the extra weight in a few weeks.

Currently, I am in the routine of running for an hour two times per week.  I mix this in with other cardio exercises and strength training. It took me a long time before I was able to run for an hour. I started with 10 minute runs and then moved up in five minute time blocks. At around 30 minutes I realized I could probably go further than I thought,and jumped up to about 45 minutes.  Training will be different for everyone, make sure to listen to your body!

Here are some of the reasons I think running is a great habit to get into:

  • I burn about 600 calories/hour (find out how much you can burn here)
  • It is something that you can do almost anywhere (even on vacation)
  • It is a good activity to do with friends
  • It is a quick, easy way to get in a workout (just walk out your front door)
  • It is a good way to explore new neighborhoods/trails
  • Running promotes healthy eating (you can’t run with a cheeseburger in your stomach)
  • There are so many ways to change it up
    • Indoor vs outdoor
    • Interval training (best for calorie burning)
    • Hills vs flat
    • Trails vs street
  • It can be addictive (which makes it a great activity for maintaining weight loss)
  • It boasts your energy
  • It is easy to see and track your progress (which can be fun and motivating)
  • Community running events are plentiful and fun
If you are new to running, it will be very hard at first.  Do not give up, I promise that the rewards will be worth it! Schedule running into your weekly routine, and make sure you are running regularly.  

Hopefully, after a while, you will find that you enjoy running as much as I do!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tricks for Controlling Portion Size

If I were to single out one factor that played the greatest role in my initial weight gain, I would say that it was my lack of portion control. I can trace this problem all the way back to the end of high school when I started dating a high school football player.  We all know that if you spend a lot of time with someone, you begin to pick up their habits. Unfortunately, the habit I picked up was eating portions of food larger than my head (In the diet world they say a portion is supposed to be the size of ones fist!).

I wish I could tell you that I’ve been reborn and that now I am completely satisfied by a side salad, but alas, this is not the case. If you put a large pizza in front of me, I’m still going to eat as much of it as physically possible.  So what do I do?  

In order to help me control my portions, I have come up with a few simple rules:

At home:

  • Eat at the table, not in front of the TV or computer
  • Dish up food in the kitchen and avoid bringing extra food out to the table
  • Eat meals off of salad plates instead of large dinner plates
  • Weigh and measure out portions so that you know exactly how much you are eating
  • Portion out leftovers in to meal sized portions
  • Have a low calorie side dish to fill most of the plate (roasted vegetables)
  • Drink a lot of water with meals
  • Eat slowly
  • Take the time to really determine if a second portion is needed
  • When taking seconds, stick to the lower calorie options
  • Never eat food straight out of the container, always put it into a dish

In a Restaurant:

  • Opt to split an entree with your dinner companion
  • Avoid over ordering (do you really need an appetizer, soup, side and/or dessert?)
  • Order off of the small plate, bar or appetizer menu
  • Tell your waiter that you do not need any bread/chips before your meal
  • Ask about portion sizes and order half portions if offered
  • Never go to a restaurant starving (eat a small apple first)
  • Give your leftovers to your dinner companion
  • Eat slowly
  • Drink a lot of water with your meal

Bad habits die hard, so don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself in front of the tv with an empty pizza box on your lap.

Try incorporating just a few of these rules at a time, with less change happening all at once you are more likely to succeed!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Low Calorie Cooking at Home

One of the first steps that I took in my weight loss initiative was to limit the amount of times I went out to eat.  Five years later this is still the first thing I do when I start to see the pounds creeping back on to the scale.  Let’s face it, the only way we truly know what we are eating is if we make it ourselves.

A Men’s Health online article from a few years ago stated that “The U.S. food industry has declared war on your waistline”. They proceeded to defend that statement by listing some horrifying calorie counts for dishes at popular U.S. restaurants. Everyone can guess that a fried onion appetizer from Chili’s is bad for you (2,710 calories), but here are some of the more surprising numbers:

  1. Macaroni Grill Spaghetti and Meatballs with Meat Sauce: 2,430 calories, 128 grams of fat
  2. P.F. Chang’s Pork Lo Mein: 1,820 calories, 127 grams of fat
  3. Quizno’s Classic Italian Sandwich: 1,370 calories, 86 grams of fat
  4. On the Border Grande Taco Salad with Beef: 1,450 calories, 102 grams of fat
  5. Uno Chicago Grill Classic Deep Dish Pizza (personal size): 2,310 calories, 162 grams of fat
Some people think that as long as they stay clear of restaurant chains they will be safe, but I assure you that your local restaurants are adding their fair share of butter, cream, sugar and bacon grease to “enhance” the flavors in your meal.  Last week I was eating at an Indian restaurant and I watched the cook walk over to the buffet and pour at least a cup of melted butter into a dish to decrease its viscosity.  I also once witnessed my own mother put an entire stick of butter into a dish of sweet potatoes.  Like I said before, the only way we truly know what we are eating is if we cook it ourselves.

I try to limit the amount of times I eat out to 1-2 times per week.  Things like eating lunch in the cafeteria, going to a dinner party (think of my mom’s sweet potatoes) and picking up breakfast at a coffee shop, all count as eating out.  Limiting these behaviors will be hard at first, but eventually cooking will become part of your routine.  The best part is, you can burn 100+ calories while cooking your evening meal.

Eventually I will have a recipes section on this blog, but for now I suggest that you take a look at  I get a lot of cooking tips and recipes from that site.  Here are a few low calorie cooking techniques to get you started:

  1. Use cooking spray instead of fat (oil, butter) to prevent sticking
  2. Choose lower calorie cuts of meat
      1. Poultry
        1. Skinless breasts
      2. Beef (grass-fed)
        1. Round roast/steak
        2. Sirloin steak
        3. 95% lean ground beef
      3. Pork
        1. Tenderloin
      4. Seafood
        1. White fish (cod, halibut)
        2. Shrimp
        3. Scallops
        4. Crab
        5. Clams
  3. Add flavor to dishes by using citrus, vinegar, hot sauce, garlic, broths, fresh herbs and spices. These are good low calorie alternatives to cream, butter, oil and sugar.
  4. Add extra vegetables to your recipes
  5. Use non or low-fat dairy products instead of full fat
  6. Roast vegetables to bring out their natural sugars
  7. Grill or broil meats that have a higher fat content
  8. Minimize the use of cheese
  9. Try baking instead of frying
  10. Substitute non-fat Greek yogurt for mayo and/or sour cream
  11. Replace potatoes with rutabagas, parsnips, turnips and/or winter squash
  12. Replace some (or all) of the meat in a dish with vegetables, beans, whole grains or tofu

Bon App

Thursday, January 12, 2012

All-American Road Trip

If you were playing Pictionary and you got the word “road trip”, what would you draw?  My drawing would involve a car filled with fast food wrappers, musical notes, an empty Dairy Queen Blizzard container, and a big gulp.  Oh yes, the quintessential American road trip.  Nothing quite says diet derail like sitting on your rump and eating unhealthy snacks for 8 hours.

Considering I live in Seattle, and my family lives in Montana, I do my fair share of traveling by car.  I used to look forward to the gas station snacks, Dairy Queen treats and the occasional hamburger. Then one trip I realized what bad habits I had developed and how absolutely terrible I would feel after a trip. I analyzed my routine and modified it, so that my bad habits were turned into good ones, without taking the fun away from the trip.

Here are some of my favorite road trip rules:

1.) My favorite part of a road trip is picking up snacks. Instead of picking out some overpriced junk food at a gas station along the way, I started to go to Trader Joe’s on the way out of town to buy stuff for my goody bag.  If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s, just go to a store that you love and buy some of the treats listed in my Snacks post. Some of my favorite Trader Joe's road snacks include:

Eggplant hummus (this is the lowest calorie hummus
Baby carrots
sugar snap peas
Rosemary Wisecrackers
Flatbread crackers
Brown rice sushi
Luna Bars (peanut butter cookie is my favorite)
2.) Air-popped popcorn also makes a great road snack.  I pop some before I leave and put it in a large ziploc bag.  Make sure to let it cool before you put it in the bag, or the kernels may melt through.

3.) I avoid fast food at all cost, but if I have no other option, I make sure to evaluate my choices wisely.  All fast food chains list nutritional information on their websites.  I look up the information on my phone before I make a decision.  Subway is usually a safe bet, load up on veggies and skip the mayo and cheese.  Mustard is a good alternative to mayo because it provides moisture, but has 80-90 less calories/tablespoon than mayo.

4.) I always ate a DQ Blizzard around the halfway point of my trip.  Then I realized that a medium Blizzard can have over 1,000 calories. Yikes! I try to skip the treats, but if I need one I usually get a light Frappuccino from Starbucks.  They are only 100-150 calories and are very tasty.  If DQ is a must, a small vanilla cone is 230 calories...not as bad as that cookie dough Blizzard.

5.) Being tired makes us want to eat because our bodies are craving energy.  To avoid this, I try to get lots of sleep the night before a trip. If extra sleep is impossible, I have a little extra coffee.

6.) I highly recommend getting in some exercise before you get in the car for the day.  Even if it is just a short burst, it will make you feel better during your trip.  I usually hit up the morning boot camp class as my gym, but a simple run around the neighborhood would work perfectly.  

Safe travels!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Snacks? Yes, please.

It is three o’clock in the afternoon, I’m tired and I need a snack.  This was true when I was six years old and it is true today at 28.  So what do I do about it?
Snacking is one of those things that gets a bad rap.  Probably because we think a snack is a bag of M&Ms from the vending machine, a cookie from the coffee shop or a few mini Snickers from the secret office stash.  Snacking, when done correctly, can be key to maintaining a healthy weight.  Snacks can provide us extra energy to keep moving throughout the day, rev up our workouts, and can keep us from overeating later in the day.  One tip I read in a magazine was to eat an apple before you go to a dinner party because the fiber in the apple will make you feel full, making you less likely to binge.  
Here are some snacks that I am in the habit of eating:
Air-popped popcorn- Popcorn is my favorite snack for the late night munchies.  It is very low in calories (30 calories/cup), so you can eat a lot of it without overdoing it on calories.  It is also high in fiber, so it makes you feel full.  DO NOT cover it in butter.  If you need to dress it up with something, try a small amount of: Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray, parmesan cheese, fresh ground pepper and sea salt, seasoning mix or ground flax seed. This is the air popper we use at home: Presto 114316 04820 PopLite Hot Air Corn Popper
Small/Medium Apple (5.5 oz)-  I’ve found apples to be a great mid-day snack for many reasons.  They have lots of fiber, so they make you feel full and the natural sugars in them satisfies my sweet tooth. Due to the high sugar content they can be high in calories, so make sure you eat a small or medium apple (80 calories). As an added bonus, think about all that vitamin C you are getting!
Baby Carrots-  When I was in grad school I got in the habit of eating baby carrots when I was studying.  I eat when I am bored, and I found that baby carrots were a good alternative to a bag of M&Ms.  There are only 30 calories in ~14 of these babies, so you can munch away without too much worry.  The natural sugars in these help to satisfy my cravings for candy.  Plus, they are cheap.  I used to buy giant bags at Costco for $5.
Yogurt/Milk/Cottage Cheese-  Nonfat dairy products can be a great source of lean protein.  Make sure to read the labels before you buy because some yogurt can be full of fat and sugar/calories.  I am a true believer in nonfat plain yogurt, I eat it everyday (more on that in a future entry).
Here are a few other low calorie snacks that I eat from time to time:
Mini luna bars, rice cakes, V8, beef jerky, raw veggies, hummus, kale chips, whole grain toast, light pudding, hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, pickles, laughing cow light cheese, edamame, bran flakes and watermelon.

*Make sure to read labels, as not all products are created equal.  Slices of whole grain bread can range from 80 calories to 200 calories*

There are a lot of snacks out there that are often considered healthy snacks, but they pack a lot of calories.  You should pay extra attention to portion control of things like: peanut butter, smoothies, protein bars, granola, dried fruit, cheese, juice, salad dressing, avocados, crackers, nuts and trail mix.

Do you have any low calorie snacks that you love to munch on?  
I’d love it if you would share.