Thursday, February 23, 2012

Winter Weight Loss Weapon

In my last blog entry I talked about how winter creates the perfect storm for weight gain.  One large factor helping to create that storm is our increased desire for “comfort foods” during the cooler months.  The moment I feel a slight chill in the air I start having overwhelming cravings for soul-warming meals that could leave me with an expanded waistline by the time spring rolls around.  Luckily, I found a secret weapon that curbs my desire for classic comfort foods and doesn’t lead to an expanded waistline. Soup.

I truly believe that soup is the perfect winter comfort food.  A nice big pot of soup bubbling on the stove makes for a warm and delicious smelling house, and nothing warms the soul more than a hearty bowl of homemade soup.  Perhaps most importantly, when made correctly, soup can be an excellent low calorie source of vitamins, lean protein and fiber.  When searching for recipes, look for ones that contain a lot of vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

Here are some of my favorites:

When making soup (even the recipes I have provided above) remember to use the techniques listed in my post on low calorie cooking.  Not all soups are low calorie and one must use good judgement when selecting a recipe.  Soup recipes with cheese, cream and coconut milk should be avoided.  One needs to use even more caution when ordering soup at a restaurant because restaurant soups can be shockingly high in calories.  When in doubt, avoid words like chowder, bisque, cheesy and creamy.

When eating soup, whether it is at a restaurant or at home, we need to weigh our choices for toppings and sides just as heavily as the soup itself.  A healthy, low calorie soup can be changed into a diet disaster with the simple addition of a few high calorie toppings.  Here are a few suggestions and things to avoid:

Sides/Toppings to Avoid:

Bread bowl (680 calories at Quiznos, 590 calories at Panera)
Corn muffin (270 calories at Cracker Barrel)
Biscuit (~200 calories/biscuit)
Sour cream (~60 calories/2 tablespoons)
Cheddar cheese (~100 calories/ounce)
Tortilla chips (~140 calories/ounce)

Suggested Sides/Toppings:

Plain nonfat yogurt (~15 calories/2 tablespoons)
Wasa crackers (~20 calories/ounce)
Green onions (~3 calories/stalk)
Corn tortillas (~55 calories/tortilla)
Saltine crackers (~13 calories/cracker)
Hot Sauce (~5 calories/tablespoon)

How much of a difference can these toppings/sides make?

1 cup Black Bean-Tomato Soup in a bread bowl with cheese and sour cream ~890 calories

1 cup Black Bean-Tomato Soup with cheese, sour cream and a corn muffin ~490 calories

1 cup Black Bean-Tomato Soup with green onions, yogurt and a corn tortilla ~173 calories

As you can see, changing what you use for toppings/sides can be an effective way to limit calorie intake. Topping selection is a relatively easy habit to alter and you may actually find that yummy homemade soups don't need toppings at all.
As with everything, I recommend making soups from scratch at home (using dried beans instead of canned).  Canned soups may be convenient, but they are loaded with sodium (which leads to water retention and stomach bloating) and preservatives.  Soups are really easy to make at home and usually only require one pot!  The best thing is that they are easy to make in large batches, which allows for extras to be portioned out for lunches or frozen for future use.
I’m always looking for new soups to fill my freezer.  Do you have any family favorite soup recipes that you would like to share?  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Avoiding the Urge to Hibernate

If I were to create a recipe for weight gain, it would look a lot like winter.  The shorter days, cooler weather, calorie rich comfort foods and plethora of holiday indulgences seem to equal the perfect storm for weight gain.  At first look it appears that seasonal weight gain is unavoidable, I mean heck, even my aerobics instructor was giving out chocolate kisses for Valentine’s Day.  Thankfully, I am living proof that winter does not have to equal weight gain, in fact, it can even be a time for weight loss.

Over the years I have become so aware of the weight gain risks associated with winter, that I always manage to lose more weight during winter than any other season.  No, this doesn’t mean that I spend all of Christmas Day on the treadmill and I certainly eat my share of Christmas cookies.  So what is the key?  The key is not using winter (and all that goes with it) as a means to justify a little weight gain. Instead, be aware of the risks and work around them.

One of the most important things to remind yourself to do in the winter is to STAY ACTIVE!  As much as you may want to curl up on the couch and spend the winter watching movies, I assure you this is not going to help you with your weight loss goal.  

Here are a few things you can do to avoid hibernation:

-Maintain your regular schedule at the gym.  Do not put off your gym time because it is raining/snowing/cold/dark outside.

-Strap on some crampons and go for a winter hike
-Go out to a movie instead of watching from home (this will at least keep you off the couch and away from your fridge)
-Cook dinner instead of ordering take-out
-Read your local events calendar and attend some concerts, festivals and lectures
-Rent some snowshoes and play in the mountains
-Find your inner child and go ice skating or sledding
-If you really can’t leave the house, try a workout DVD
-Downhill or cross country ski
-Join an indoor boot camp class
-Do not save your cleaning/organizing for spring, start now

Hopefully you will find that staying active this winter not only helps you to lose weight, but also helps fight the winter blues!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

For the Love of Health

I have heard a lot of discussion at the gym recently involving Valentine’s Day.  Most of the talk involves women complaining about their husbands buying them boxes of rich truffles every year when they are trying so hard to diet.  One woman told me that she is trying to lose 1.5 pounds per week except, “of course”, during Valentine’s Day week.  I can understand where all of this association with calories and Valentine’s Day comes from (considering that as I was writing this I got a Valentine’s Day e-mail from a cupcake company), but I assure you that the association can easily be broken.

I LOVE Valentine’s Day and I am not going to ruin it by telling you that the only way to celebrate is by eating steamed vegetables. I am, however, going to suggest that you consider making a few modifications to your Valentine’s Day routine.  My past routine involved going out for a multi-course meal of incredibly rich food, a lot of wine, and an equally rich dessert. As good as this sounds, a four course meal does not make anyone feel particularly sexy, and going out to dinner is not much of a bonding Valentine’s Day adventure.

Now I try to think of fun, unique and healthy ways to celebrate with the one I love!  So skip the rich dinner and opt for one of these suggestions:

-Get a couples massage.  Many spas will be offering special packages/discounts throughout the month.

-If you live on a coast, go shellfishing.  Oysters are one of those quintessential Valentine’s Day treats, so why not go on an adventure with your sweetie and catch them yourselves.  End the day by cooking up your bounty.

-Go snowshoeing.  What could be more romantic than being alone in the woods with the one you love.

-Cook up these Individual Chocolate Souffle Cakes.  They taste super indulgent, but only have 152 calories!

-Buy a small bar of good quality dark chocolate(70%+ cocoa)when you are together at the store before Valentine’s Day.  Put it away to share on Valentine’s Day.  This might keep him from buying you that box of rich chocolate truffles.

-Many cities host Valentine’s Day 5k running events (i.e. the Valentine’s Day Dash in Seattle and San Francisco).  Enter one of these events as a team.

-Plan a romantic ski weekend.

-Have a sushi rolling party for two.  If you don’t know how to make sushi, take a class together at a local specialty foods store.

-Skip the chocolate martini (~350 calories) and opt for a glass of champagne (~100 calories)

Hopefully this gives you some ideas, enjoy your day!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Healthy (and Delicious!) Super Bowl Food Options

One of the worst parts of dieting is feeling like you cannot participate in certain celebrations.  Celebrating is synonymous with overeating and drinking, and neither of those things mix well with weight loss.  I remember feeling very isolated when I was first trying to lose weight.  I would constantly turn down invitations for events because I was afraid I would completely blow my diet.  I knew this isolation was extremely unhealthy, both mentally and physically, so I worked towards finding a balance between celebrating and healthy living.

A prime example of an event that used to cause my “diet anxiety” was the Super Bowl.  They say that Americans eat more on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day besides Thanksgiving.  Not only do Americans eat a lot on that day, we eat REALLY unhealthy foods. I have found that the best way to avoid killing your diet on Super Bowl Sunday is to host the event yourself, or to bring a few healthy options to an event that you are attending. When all else fails, sit as FAR away from the snack table as possible!

Here are some numbers for your consideration:

Traditional Super Bowl Feast: 1,930 calories

Potato Chips, 2 oz ~300 calories
Onion Dip, ¼ C ~120 calories
Chicken wings, 3 pieces ~300 calories
Large pepperoni pizza, 2 slices ~600 calories
Oreo cookies, 3 ~160 calories
Domestic Lager, 3 bottles ~450 calories

My Super Bowl Feast: 920 calories

Mediterranean platter- roasted red peppers, peperoncinis, baby carrots,
Trader Joe’s eggplant
hummus, Wasa and flat bread crackers (~250

Warm apple crisp (~200 calories)
2 bottles of light beer (~220 calories)

Planning your own Super Bowl party can be really fun!  I have put together a few suggestions to help you plan the perfect menu:

Dips: Dips made with cheese and/or mayonnaise have a surprising number of calories.  Vegetables dipped in ranch dressing may sound healthy, but ranch has about 140 calories in just 2 tablespoons!  Avocados may have health benefits, but at over 300 calories in one medium avocado, it may be time to reconsider that game time guacamole.

Homemade black or white bean dips
Trader Joe’s eggplant hummus 
Tzatziki sauce
Baba ghanoush
Roasted red pepper spread

Chips: Standard potato and tortilla chips have around 150 calories per ounce.  The varieties that are marketed as healthy (i.e. baked, whole grain, pita chips) are usually not much lower in calories and can sometimes be very unsatisfying.  I suggest forgoing chips all together, and accompanying your dips with a low calorie alternative.

Ak-mak or Wasa crackers
Trader Joe’s flat bread crackers
Rice crackers
Raw vegetables (baby carrots, broccoli, snap peas)
Kale chips
Mini rice cakes

Entrees: It was a sad day for me when I found out that the average chicken wing has about 100 calories. Seriously, 100 calories PER chicken wing!  After an appetizer of wings, who doesn’t love partaking in delivery pizza (~200-300 calories/slice).  I suppose there is a good reason for the increase in antacid sales the day after the big game.

Homemade chili
Barbecued chicken breasts
Homemade thin crust pizza
Salmon Burgers

Dessert: If you make a dessert that sits out on the table like cookies or brownies you are more likely to eat more than one. Instead, make a dish that you serve up in the kitchen in small portions.

Pellegrino with a scoop of orange sherbet

Beverages: Limiting alcohol intake is very important for a healthy diet, but not drinking on days like New Years Eve and the Super Bowl might be too unrealistic.  If you can’t completely eliminate alcohol on these days, avoid mixed drinks (300+ calories) and limit yourself to just a few drinks (alternate with sparkling water).  

1-2 glasses of wine or champagne
1-2 bottles of a low calorie beer
1 bottle of a full-bodied beer
Sparkling water with lime
Wine spritzer (wine mixed with sparkling water)
Dry Soda

These menu ideas are sure to taste delicious, impress your guests, and leave you feeling healthy the next day!