Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fat Pants

When you are overweight, or have been overweight, there are certain things that you view differently than you did prior to the weight gain.  For me, one of those things is shopping.  When I was younger, I loved to go to the mall and try on new clothes. Then I gained 50 pounds, and fitting rooms became associated with the discovery that I had, yet again, gone up a pant size.  

My worst encounter with a fitting room was in college.  A friend of mine told me that all she wore was Abercrombie and Fitch jeans because they “fit so perfectly”.  The next time I was at the mall I decided to try on a few pairs. I was horrified to discover that I could not get even the largest size in the store to fit over my thighs.  I was shopping with my boyfriend, and was completely humiliated when he asked why I didn’t buy anything.

After the A&F disaster I started shopping at Old Navy because their clothes had a more “relaxed” fit.  I will never forget how I felt when I tried on a pair of size 12 pants, only to find that they no longer felt “relaxed”.  I bought them, and I promised myself that not only would those pants fit, but that soon they would be too big for me.

As I began to lose weight, I found that I was developing a large collection of  “fat pants” (aka pants that had grown too big for me).  I didn’t know if I should keep them, or give them away. What I decided to do was to put them a box in the back of my closet.  Every four months or so, I would take the box out and try on the clothes.  It was very rewarding and motivating for me to get a visual reminder of what I had accomplished up to that point.  Trying on the clothes gave me more confidence in myself and helped push me to keep going.

Once I reached my weight loss goal, I took out the box for the last time.  I carefully looked over each pair of jeans, pondered the journey I had just been on, and felt prouder than I knew it was possible to feel.  I pulled out one nice outfit that I had bought around the same time as my token Old Navy “fat pants” and placed it in the storage closet.  The rest of the clothes I gave away.  

I kept the single outfit as a reminder of who I was before, and how much I am capable of accomplishing.  I gave the rest away because I truly wanted to start a new life.  I didn’t want the clothes remaining in my closet to become a crutch that I could lean on if I gained a little weight.  If my pants started to feel a little snug, I didn’t want to have a bigger size as a back up in the closet.  

Four years later I am still wearing a 0-2 pant size.  I gained a few pounds one fall, and I noticed that my pants were a little snug.  I used the fact that my pants were uncomfortable as motivation to step up my workouts and lose the extra pounds.  I have managed to maintain my weight loss by sticking to the philosophy that I never want to buy a larger pair of pants again.

Never in my life did I think I would be discouraged when size 0 pants felt snug.  It just goes to show that everything is relative.  

No matter what your pant size, or your goal size, please remember that anything is possible!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Portioning Meals & Snacks

When I first decided that I wanted to lose weight, I knew absolutely nothing about being healthy.  I fell for the trap that a lot of consumers fall for when they begin a diet plan.  I started buying foods labeled as “low fat” and “light” thinking that as long as I ate those items, in no matter what quantity, I would lose weight.  Needless to say I did not lose a pound, and I may actually have gained a few!  It turns out that a serving of “light” ice cream has around 110 calories, which is great, except for a serving is defined as only ½ cup.  I don’t know about you, but I can fit a lot more than ½ cup in my ice cream dishes.

After failing in my first attempt at weight loss, I decided I needed to start paying more attention to nutrition labels and serving sizes.  What I discovered was that the serving sizes listed on nutrition labels are much smaller than the serving sizes most people are actually eating.  For example, I thought that with only 120 calories listed on the nutrition label, my “light” granola was a good low calorie breakfast.  Upon further evaluation, I realized that I was pouring one cup of granola into my cereal bowl, and the serving size was listed as only 1/4 cup. At 480+ calories I might as well have been eating a couple of Snickers bars for breakfast.

This granola incident had me looking more closely at my eating habits, and what I found was that I was never really mindful of how much I was eating.  When allowed to dish up my own portions, I always took more than I thought I was taking or than I truly needed.  The sad reality was that I was treating life like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

In order to become more mindful of the quantities of food I was eating, I bought a kitchen scale (Cuisinart KS-55 Weight Mate Digital Kitchen Scale). I used that, and a set of measuring cups, to start portioning out my meals.  I also used the same method to start making my own “100 calorie snack packs”. I did not truly count calories for the first year of my weight loss, I just read labels and kept my portion sizes reasonable.  I knew how many calories I should be consuming and I had a good idea as to how many I was actually consuming.  By measuring and portioning I could keep my consumption within a reasonable range.  

One of the areas I found this method to be exceptionally helpful was with snacking.  It is so easy to get out of the reasonable portion range when it comes to snacks.  Can you think of an activity more mindless than sticking your hand in a big bag of chips?  My solution for this was to fill sandwich bags with pre-portioned healthy snacks and put them in places (refrigerator, cupboards, backpack, purse, car) where they would be easily accessible if I needed an afternoon pick-me up.

Here are some ideas for making your own “snack packs”:

-baby carrots (~30 calories/14 carrots)
-air-popped popcorn (~30 calories/cup)
-unfrosted mini-wheats (~95 calories/15 biscuits)
-almonds (~100 calories/14 almonds)
-sugar snap peas (~35 calories/ 2/3 cup)

Feel free to choose any of your favorite snacks for your "snack packs", just remember to read the nutrition labels closely, and always portion accordingly!

For more information on portion control, please read my blog entry "Tricks for Controlling Portion Size".

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hidden Restaurant Calories

I am a seasoned veteran when it comes to healthy eating, and I am very aware of the unhealthy, calorie-rich dishes that come out of restaurant kitchens.  Restaurants use butter, cream, oil, cheese, salt and bacon grease to add flavor to their dishes, and they use FAR greater quantities than we would ever use at home. Does this mean I avoid restaurant eating all together? No, because I am also a wife who needs date nights, a friend who lunches and a lover of the culinary scene.  What I do instead is to meet myself halfway.  I make sure I don’t order the most unhealthy thing on the menu and I limit myself to 1-2 meals out per week (this includes things like eating lunch in the cafeteria, going to a dinner party and picking up breakfast at a coffee shop).  

When I first started trying to lose weight, restaurant eating was somewhat of a mental game for me.  I knew it was bad, but I knew I wanted it, and I had no idea how to approach it.  I alternated among some of the classic bad approaches:  I dieted all day and then started binging as soon as the waiter set down the bread basket, I made up excuses to miss social outings because I did not want to face a restaurant menu and I tried ordering salads that left me unsatisfied.  Eventually, I realized that this was an unpleasant and unhealthy way to live.  That is when I developed my current approach to restaurant dining.

I consider eating outside of my home to be a treat, something special that I do not get to do every day.  I keep health in mind, but I do not obsess over it.  When choosing a restaurant I generally avoid things like Mexican and French establishments because I know they lend themselves to higher calorie fare. Chain restaurants also tend to be more unhealthy than local establishments, especially when it comes to things like quantities of sodium and extreme portion sizes.  Once I have picked a restaurant, and have the menu in hand, I do not sit and fester over how many calories each dish potentially contains. That is a good way to ruin a nice dining experience.  Instead, I keep a mental list of words that can indicate high calorie dishes, and I avoid dishes containing those words:

Beurre blanc/butter/buttered/Hollandaise
Au gratin
Cream/creamed/creamy/white sauce
Pink sauce (tomato sauce with whole cream)

Curry (usually contains cream, butter or coconut milk)

This may sound hard at first, but what you will discover is that there are so many foods out there that are delicious, and don’t leave you feeling bloated and guilty.  Look for words like:

Rubbed (chicken breast rubbed in Jamaican jerk spices)
Red/tomato sauce (mushroom ravioli in red sauce)
Roasted (roasted asparagus)
Poached (poached salmon with fresh dill)
Broiled (broiled grass-fed sirloin steak)
Seared (seared ahi tuna)
Raw (hummus with raw vegetables for dipping)
Fresh (fresh spring rolls vs fried)
Steamed (steamed manila clams)

Even using this “healthy” list does not guarantee low-calorie restaurant dining, as some restaurants even put large amounts of butter on their steamed vegetables.  Buttered veggies, however, are still better for you than pasta with alfredo sauce.  The goal is simply not to go too overboard with your entree, understand that it is a treat and appreciate it.

Picking out a healthy entree is important when eating out, but it may not be the most important thing as far as hidden calories are concerned. I have heard arguments stating that most restaurant calories are actually consumed in things like appetizers, sides, drinks and dessert.  In order to avoid extra calories, I have added the following guidelines to my approach to eating out:

  • The appetizer menu is usually full of unhealthy, usually fried, choices.  I try to skip appetizers altogether.  The best way to do this is to make sure that you are not starving when you get to the restaurant (have an apple before you go).  On the rare occasion when I need something right away, I use the list of healthy words above to help me choose.  Some of my usual selections include: hummus with raw veggies, steamed edamame, fresh spring rolls, steamed clams/mussels and California rolls.

  • I avoid the complimentary chips/bread, as it is really easy to eat 500 calories in “freebies” before I have even ordered my meal.  If you can’t help yourself, just make sure to keep your portion small and do NOT ask for seconds.  If you put a portion of chips on a plate instead of eating right out of the basket, you can better evaluate how much you are consuming.
  • I never use the side of butter that is given with a meal or placed on the table.  I figure that my pancakes were probably already cooked over a buttered grill, why would I need that extra pat of butter that they have inconveniently placed on top of my pancakes?  I really do not miss the extra butter, but if you need some extra incentive, remember that 1 tablespoon of butter has about 100 calories and 11 grams of fat.
  • I skip the add-on specials.  Most restaurant entrees are large enough that you don’t need a side salad, soup and/or fries.
  • I avoid extra calories from beverages.  I have heard that between the margaritas and the chips and salsa, you can consume 1,000 calories at a Mexican restaurant before your entree even arrives.  Now that is scary!  I avoid calorie bombs like margaritas, and stick with water, unsweetened iced tea and sparkling water.  If I am going to have an alcoholic beverage, I opt for wine, champagne or a lighter beer.
  • I use the tips from this blog post to control my portion size.
  • I try to make smarter choices when it comes to dessert.  Obviously eating dessert is not a diet-friendly idea, but sometimes an occasion calls for it.  I have found that a lot of restaurant desserts are huge and full of calories (over 1,000 in the chocolate molten cake at Chili’s).  If you do opt for dessert at the restaurant, I recommend splitting it with your companion.  I like to skip dessert at the restaurant altogether, and stop at a local bakery or chocolate shop for an after dinner treat.  A dark chocolate truffle is sure to have less calories than that molten cake, and by the time you get out of the restaurant you may realize you don’t even want dessert.  

It won’t take long for eating healthy at restaurants to become a natural and rewarding habit.  I know how awful I feel after I eat a large fried meal, so I naturally don’t even look at that section of the menu anymore.  It feels great to be able to go out to dinner and leave the guilt behind.

Bon App├ętit!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Keeping Exercise Rewarding and Fun

There are several reasons why people stop their exercise routines. Two of the more common reasons are boredom and no longer seeing results.  I have managed to avoid these issues, during the six years that I have been habitually exercising, by incorporating one simple thing, exercise variety.  At first it was unintentional, as I was new to exercising and just wanted to try a lot of different things.  Now, I make a conscious effort to keep my exercises varied because I believe it has so much to do with what has kept me active and kept my weight off.

I have told you in previous posts that a lot of what I have learned over the years has been through observing others.  I have talked to so many people who are frustrated because they work out 5, 6, or even 7 days per week and see no results.  In inquiring further, what I usually find is that they do pretty much the same exercises day after day, week after week.  What is happening is that their bodies have become more efficient in performing the exercises, and therefore need to burn less calories to perform the task.  This may explain why the woman that you see everyday on the same elliptical machine, for the same length of time, going the same speed (and probably reading the same magazine) never seems to lose any weight.  

This scenario on the elliptical machine brings me to the second problem people confront with their exercise routines, boredom.  If we ate the exact same meal for dinner 7 nights a week, or watched the same movie every week, we would get bored.  The same goes for exercise.  The more variety in your exercise routine, the more likely you are to enjoy it and the more likely you are to keep it up.

The good news for those of you who have reached exercise boredom or a weight loss plateau (or both), is that there are tons of exercises that you can add to your routine and plenty of ways to mix up your current routine.  The simplest way for the woman on the elliptical to boost her calorie expenditure would be to add some sprint intervals (pushing hard for thirty seconds and then recovering for 30 seconds) or some hill climbs.  Another option would be to take a few days off of the elliptical machine all together and join a strength training class or go for a hike.

I exercise an average of 6-7 days per week.  It is such a habit for me now that I get pretty cranky if I don’t exercise (my husband can vouch for the truth in this statement).  I do about four different types of exercises per week (cycling classes, running, strength training...), and I change which exercises those are every 3-4 months.  There is no exact schedule that I follow, I just listen to my body and change things up when my routine feels like it is getting easy (or boring).  That last part is key, I cannot stress how important it is for us to keep pushing ourselves.  If I had just stayed with whatever exercises felt comfortable, I can guarantee I would not be where I am today.

Here are some of the exercises I enjoyed when I was first starting to exercise:

Walking, gradual hikes, tennis, short runs, free weight training, step aerobics, core conditioning classes, water aerobics, yoga

In the beginning I did a LOT of walking.  I was living in a small town at the time, and I walked pretty much everywhere I needed to go.  I also took up hiking.  I would go on gradual 5-7 mile hikes with my girlfriends several days a week.  I did yoga at the gym, and also worked out on the elliptical for 30-40 minute intervals.  I dabbled in free weights, but they scared me.  Eventually, once I got up the courage, I started running.

Here are some new exercise activities I have discovered over the years:

Cycling classes, long distance running, bootcamp classes, pilates, personal training, running stairs, biking, snowshoeing, kickboxing, plyometrics, strength training classes

Currently, a typical week for me could look like this:

Sunday:  Cycling class with hill climbs (60 min) + abs (15 min)
Monday: Pilates (60 min)
Tuesday: Cardio kickboxing (60 min)
Wednesday: Strength training class (60 min)
Thurs:  Cycling class with sprints (60 min) + abs (15 min)
Friday:  Strength training class (60 min) or a run (7 miles)
Saturday: Variable (day off, cycling class, outdoor exercise, yoga)

Hopefully this will inspire you to shake things up a little bit in your routine.  Adding variety to your exercise routine will not only make it more fun and rewarding, it will help prevent overtraining and increase your overall fitness!