Resist the Temptation

Is it just me or have the stores had huge bags of Halloween candy for a month now? I feel like October is the beginning of the food frenzy that takes us through to the end of the year.

October is filled not only with candy but other Halloween ‘goodies’ like carmel apples, carmel corn, heavily frosted cookies, and the list goes on!

Along comes November and Thanksgiving. And just like October, even though the actual holiday is at the end of the month, treats and heavy meals are everywhere we turn. Between the caloric laden pumpkin coffee drinks to the pre-holiday parties it’s a wonder any of us are still hungry by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.

By that time we’ve all gained so much momentum we head straight into December surrounded by baked good, holiday parties and let’s not forget the egg nog.

Before we know it, New Years has arrived and as we rise out of the food coma that has taken us over for the past three months we re-commit to healthy living and smart eating habits.

I’d like to challenge you to resist the temptation of mindlessly following down the path of OVERindulgence.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need to allow ourselves the occasional treat. It’s next to impossible to have the willpower to resist every time, however, there are some things we can do to minimize the temptations that surround us.

Look for Healthy Alternatives

I’m not one for creativity or baking so I admire the time and effort that goes into making clever holiday treats. There are plenty of ways to celebrate the holidays with healthy snacks. For instance, check out these 64 Non-Candy Halloween Snack Ideas! They look just as festive as those made with candy but much better for you and those you love.

Evaluate Your Options

When presented with a number of options, I take the time to look over all of my choices. I decide which ones are must-haves and which ones aren’t. For instance, when it comes to Thanksgiving, I choose stuffing over potatoes. Granted, stuffing isn’t a great choice but it’s one of the only times a year that I have it – so it’s a treat for me. And I know that I really don’t need both stuffing and potatoes.

Remember That Liquid Calories Count Too

Between the rich coffee drinks covered in whip cream and the cocktail options at the get-togethers, our consumption of liquid calories tends to increase over the holidays. There are a number of flavored coffees available for both brewing and Keurig machines that are tasty and reduce the sugar and caloric value of your warm beverage. When it comes to get togethers, many people end up gathering in the kitchen area. When you are near the wine or beer it’s very easy to just grab another, whereas if you move away from the options it takes effort to leave a conversation to get a refill. Be mindful of drinking a glass of water for every beverage you consume.

These are just a few ways to be successful in resisting the temptations that surround us during the holidays. Find what works best for you by thinking through your choices and you too can avoid the food coma of the holidays.

The Reality of Calories and Portions

realityLast night I had two women approach me at my Boot Camp Class at Glass Courts asking about what they needed to do for weight loss. Both regularly exercise, but are discouraged by their results.

My first question to anyone interested in losing weight is, “Are you tracking your food?” Now I know I myself have gone back and forth on this issue. There are times that I have become so obsessed with the calories, portions and the breakdown of my nutrients that I’ve had to walk away from tracking. I get how it can become more unhealthy than productive. However, if you’ve never tracked your calories and portions before this can be a very eye opening experience.

I’d like to use my husband as an example of the eye opening experience. I finally convinced him to start using MyFitnessPal with the promise that I would also track my intake. Last night he had several calories still left in the evening (not exactly what I would recommend, since you want to consume your calories early in the day) so he was of course still hungry. It started with salted shelled peanuts, “I can have 14 peanuts.” To which I asked, “Did you ever know before what a portion of shelled peanuts was?” His response, “No, I’d just pour a bowl and eat what was in there.”

Still a little later he was still hungry and made a small plate of cheese, sausage and crackers. As he sat down with me on the sofa he said, “Man, over 400 calories for this little bit.” His eyes are opening to the value of calories for both meals and snacks, as is his awareness of portion sizes.

As someone who does personal training and group fitness, it’s a bit of a professional hazard for me to say this but weight loss and management is 80% about diet and only 20% about your activity levels.

As an example for you, I regularly wear a FitBit Flex. My Boot Camp class was curious how many calories it logged for me while teaching the hour long class which is a combination of exercises with dumbbells, high and low intensity cardio and of course, some abdominal exercises. Last night I checked at the end of the hour long class and it had logged a whopping 282 calories – less than 300 calories for an hour of an intense, sweaty workout! They couldn’t believe it, but I did.

We have to stop believing that an hour in the gym gives us freedom to eat what we want, when we want, with no true regard to portion sizes. Exercise WILL help you build muscle and burn fat, exercise will NOT erase poor choices.

Now I’d like to flip the discussion to those who maybe aren’t necessarily consuming the wrong things, but those who aren’t consuming enough. If you want to lose weight you cannot starve your body of the calories it needs to function. Cutting your caloric intake below your estimated minimum requirements can result in weight loss, however, cutting too many calories may result in your body hoarding all that you eat and storing more fat to prevent ‘starvation.’ Now you know you aren’t starving, but your organs don’t know that and they are designed to do everything they can to keep you alive.

Eating too few calories can be just as damaging to your weight loss goals and metabolism as eating too many.

So what should you do?

  1. Start tracking your intake to get a baseline for where you are. There are tons of free apps and websites, you don’t have to pay money for these tools. Commit to at least a couple weeks to understand your eating habits and caloric consumption.
  2. In tracking your food, check the nutritional breakdown of your overall day. You should be consuming about 50% carbs (these are fruits and veggie carbs – not breads and pastas), 30% healthy fats (avocado, hummus, olive oil, nuts, etc) and 20% protein (lean meats, egg whites).
  3. Start an exercise log. Now I caution, some of the caloric burns that the tracking apps and websites give seem inflated to me. Use these with caution, but again, get a baseline for your true activity levels.
  4. Keep in mind that to lose one pound you must create a deficit of 3,500 calories. That means in a week you need to eat less, burn more or a combination of the two to equate 500 calories a day. Losing 2 pounds a week would mean a 7,000 calorie deficit = 1,000 calories/day!! So stop beating yourself up if you only lose a pound in a week – you’ve done it the right way.

Once you have a sense of where you are, you will have a more realistic idea about how to get to where you want to be. There is no single magic formula that will work for everyone. I personally have found what works for me. But it’s taken some trial and error, I’ve lapsed into bad habits along the way, and I’ve rebounded into healthy eating as well.

Let’s face it, none of us like a reality check, but without one, you could be sabotaging your own efforts for a healthy body.

 

 

My Relationship with Food

I love food, but I’ve come to realize I have an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship with food.

I struggle with cravings.

I struggle with portion sizes.

When it comes to cravings rarely seek out sweets or chips. I crave things like pizza and cheeseburgers, which may have some redeeming nutritional value however tend to be very high in calories and saturated fats. And yes I know there are ways to make these dishes in a more healthy way, and I’ve tried them, but they aren’t the same. There are times that the only thing that will do is a classic slice, or two (or three or…) of pepperoni pizza.

Which brings me to portion sizes. I have a difficult time sticking to the recommended portion sizes. I know one of the best ways to reduce portion sizes is to reduce your plate size, and I do that. But then I go back for seconds, totally defeating the purpose of the smaller plate. (If you are unfamiliar with a standard portion or need a refresher click here to review a slide show on portions.)

So because I suffer from cravings and portion control, I have created a distorted perception of food. Instead of seeing food as fuel for my body there are times I fear having to make food choices and times where I even hate it because I’m unable to ‘control’ my consumption. As a result I see food as what makes me dread stepping on the scale instead of a necessity to help me stay healthy and active.

Granted, I’ve trained myself to think through my choices and not be impulsive so most days my food consumption remains in check. But there are those days where no amount of self-talk can provide the willpower needed to not give into the cravings or extra helpings. For years I’ve beat myself up over those days. I’ve been disappointed in my failure to eat healthy, I’ve chastised myself for seeing the numbers rise on the scale and I’ve looked in the mirror and said some pretty awful things to myself – things I would never say to any other person.

After a really tough conversation with my best friend (my husband) I realized my mirror dialog needed to change. It needed to change not only for me, but it needed to change so that my children would never look in a mirror and think negatively of themselves. 

I recently posted two links on my Personal Training FaceBook page that have helped me greatly in thinking differently about my relationship with food:

  • The first is about a 13 minute video in which neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt uses her personal story to explain how our brains manage our bodies, and the science behind why dieting not only doesn’t work, but is likely to do more harm than good. She suggests ideas for how to live a less diet-obsessed life, intuitively. Do yourself a favor, watch this video.
  • The next is a follow-up blog on the science of willpower written by Kelly McGonigal. Her blog explores why we cannot rely on willpower and is applicable to much more than just dieting and food consumption.

     

I recognize that in order to change my mirror dialog, I have to change my relationship with food. I need to recognize food as the fuel to help me be a loving wife and mom and a successful fitness professional. What is your relationship with food? Is it a healthy one? If not, take some time to think about how you can work on that relationship so that it doesn’t affect the way you talk to yourself.

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Keeping the Fat in Your Diet

As a trainer, I’m not one for stocking unhealthy snacks, baking sweets or making fattening meals. I shop the perimeter of the store and keep our diet as clean as possible. I’ve always been a firm believer that if you stick to the natural products and control your portions there’s no need to go for the ‘fat free’ or ‘sugar free’ options.

GASP, right? Eat fat? Eat sugar? What kind of advice is that coming from a trainer?

Let me explain…

When things like fat or sugar are removed from foods, the flavor changes. So to make those foods more flavorful, artificial ingredients are added. Our bodies are designed to process nutrients in their purest form. While we can digest artificial ingredients, we don’t process them as efficiently as products that exist in their pure form without modifications.

The other thing I have experienced is that when consuming foods that consist of artificial fillers to replace the missing flavors, I’m not as easily satisfied. I tend to eat more for two reasons 1) the craving isn’t satisfied as quickly and 2) it’s fat or sugar free so how bad can it actually be?

So while I don’t approve of snacking on junk, or eating foods prepared with heavy sauces, I do think that eating full fat yogurts and using olive oil are good choices. And so it seems Swedish scientists agree.

On December 6th, Sweden became the first Western nation to reject the low-fat diet dogma, in favor of low-carb, high-fat nutrition. The switch in dietary advice followed the publication of a two-year study by the independent Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment. The committee reviewed 16,000 studies published through May 31, 2013. Click here to read more about their findings.

Here’s what I hope you take away from my blog today:

  • Stick to what is natural and drop the artificial additives
  • Be mindful of your portions – fats are only bad when consumed in excess portions

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Move the Candy Dish

This was the first year that I committed to giving something up for Lent. Once the 40 days were over I began thinking about how I could continue to use 40 day fasts to improve different areas of my life.

Now if you’ve read my past blogs you know that I am not a fan of adopting diet plans that involve complete deprivation. While totally eliminating certain foods can be a contributing factor in achieving positive results, I find more often than not when faced with total deprivation it becomes more of a test of your willpower than learning appropriate portions. That said, a controlled fast may offer you a great opportunity to learn more about your controlling your cravings or managing your time.

Let me share with you my 3 (or 4) step plan for controlled fasts…

Please note that the information included in this blog entry is specifically targeted at modifying a single behavior. If you are interested in doing a complete fast that involves removing entire food groups or food all together there are a number of serious considerations and you should consult with your doctor prior to beginning a fast.

Recognition

The first step is taking some time to acknowledge unhealthy habits. I encourage you to think of this from both angles because modifying behavior isn’t always about removing something.

Make a list of those things you do too frequently and those that you don’t do frequently enough. Here’s two sample lists to give you an idea…

Too Frequently

  • Eating candy
  • Drinking soda
  • Going to bed too late
Not Frequently Enough
  • Reading
  • Praying
  • Drinking water

I discovered that I was developing an unhealthy craving for candy. During the Lenten season jelly beans were abound and what started as 1 or 2 was turning into handfuls at a time. Not good. So the day after Easter began my ‘candy fast.’

Removal

The next step is to remove the temptation. It sounds easy enough but in reality this can be difficult. For me, I have 3 children who had just received Easter baskets filled with candy so locking the house down from candy wasn’t an option.

Since I couldn’t physically remove the temptation I moved the candy dish. I cleaned out a junk drawer in our kitchen and moved all of the candy from its previous home on the counter into that drawer. Did I know it was there? Of course. But without the candy sitting on the counter it was no longer a consistent temptation every time I was in the kitchen.

So find a way to release yourself from the temptation. If you are trying to refrain from Starbucks maybe you will have to adjust your route a little so you aren’t tempted each time you drive by, or maybe you are trying to refrain from watching too much television so put the remote up and away so it’s not as easy to turn it on and surf the channels. There are plenty of ways you can ‘remove’ the temptation so be creative.

Now if it’s a behavior that you don’t do frequently enough find ways to make it part of your daily schedule. Let’s say you want to spend more time reading. Instead of waiting until right before bedtime when you are already exhausted, select a time during the day to sit and read. You may want to only start with a 10-minute commitment and then build on it each week. Or if you find that nighttime is the best for reading make sure you head to bed earlier. This will help you to get in your reading time before your lids get heavy and you have to read the same sentence over and over again.

Replacement

Step three is where willpower comes into play and I’ll be honest with you willpower sometimes just isn’t enough so you need to find a replacement for the behavior you are trying to avoid.

My cravings weren’t necessarily rooted in desire for  ‘candy,’ but more that I wanted something sweet. For me that’s fixed easy enough with a piece of fruit.  But what if you are trying to give up drinking soda and you rely on that caffeine? Try unsweetened tea instead and add only enough sweetener to make it palatable to you.

This approach is also effective when trying to increase the frequency of a behavior. For instance, let’s say you don’t drink enough water. So grab yourself a cool refillable BPA-free water bottle and set it on your desk. Instead of heading to the coffee pot to refill your mug throughout the day drink your water. Or if you are trying to eat more vegetables eat them first off of your plate rather than leaving them for last when you have already filled up on your protein.

Whatever the behavior is you can find a healthy substitute that allows you to either replace the behavior or increase the frequency. After the fast you may actually find you like the substitute better.

Replacement is slightly different when you think about behaviors that require time. Any modification that requires an adjustment in the use of your time will also require you to identify ‘wasted’ pockets of time during your day that can be better used to accomplish the tasks. Just as with the removal of the behavior, scheduling and planning is integral in your ability to replace wasted time with productive habits.

Reintroduction (if appropriate)

Not everything should be reintroduced back into your life. If it is a habit that is harmful to your health like smoking or staying up too late or driving too fast the controlled fasting period should be seen as the first phase of eliminating the behavior all together. You may need to continue to work through the removal and replacement phases for years in order to gain control over the behavior.

But if you have elected to fast from something like candy it may not be necessary for you to give it up for the rest of your life. Believe me, I’m not willing to go my remaining years and never have another jelly bean. However, when I do reintroduce them back into my diet I will need to consider portions as well as my other options.

When you reintroduce something I would suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

  • How bad do I really want it? (scale of 1 to 10)
  • Knowing all of the options I have to choose from do I still need it or can I be satisfied with a better option?
  • Is it really worth it? What is it going to take for me to ‘work it off’?
  • Do I have control over my desire for the item? Will having a little only make me want more?

Certainly there are a number of other questions that you can and should ask yourself. The key is to introduce the item slowly and to truly think about your desire for the item, your ability to control the craving and your continued will to keep your desires in check.

So what’s on your list?

Get Your ZZZs!

How many hours a night do you sleep? Do you really know?

I have to say prior to a couple weeks I wasn’t fully aware of how little sleep I was actually getting. I started using an app on my iphone that tracks my sleep patterns and it gives me stats on my bed and wake time, how restless my sleep was and my average sleep time over the period of using the app.

I’m happy to say after just over two weeks of use I am finally up to an average of 7 hours of sleep per night, which isn’t quite to the average recommended 7.5 hours/night.

We all know the obvious impact of not getting enough sleep: grogginess, moodiness, depleted immune system. But did you know that lack of sleep may also affect your ability to lose weight?

Let’s take a look at a couple ways that being deprived of sleep can negatively impact your intentions for a healthy lifestyle:

Eating habits: If you are staying up late working or just watching TV you are far more likely to choose an unnecessary late night snack. On the flip side, when you wake up in the morning and you’re exhausted, anything that can provide quick energy seems like a good choice. Unfortunately that might include a fattening gourmet coffee and sugary danish – not the best way to start your day. Bottom line is sleepiness works against our willpower and will often result in reaching for comfort food instead of nutrient rich healthy foods.

Metabolism: Believe it or not, your body’s metabolism actually is more efficient when you get sufficient amounts of sleep. The science behind it has to do with two hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells you when to eat, and with sleep deprivation you have increased levels of it. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop and you have lower levels when sleep deprived. So the equation is simple:

More Ghrelin + Slow Metabolism  + Sleep Deprivation = No Weight Loss or Weight Gain

Motivation: Being tired is a great accelerator for finding reasons to skip a workout. Think about it, your body is already tired, are you really up for putting your everything into a workout that is likely to result in body soreness to top it off? In reality, exercise actually releases chemicals that increase your mood, and energy levels, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

So how do you get more sleep?

  • Set your bedtime and stick to it. Whatever you didn’t get done today will certainly be there tomorrow.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day.
  • Avoid eating near bedtime, especially high-fat heavy foods.
  • Turn off the television and computer at least 30 minutes before bedtime, the bright lights and stimulation can make it difficult to shut down.
  • Avoid exercise too close to bed if it makes it difficult to fall asleep (for some exercise prior to bed does not affect sleep).
  • Try and keep a consistent waking time.
  • Keep your room at a comfortable temperature with adequate bedding. Being too hot or too cold can ruin a good night’s sleep.

I encourage you to create a sleep schedule for yourself and stick to it for a couple weeks. I think you will notice a difference in how you feel and maybe even a change in the numbers on the scale.

Reading the Labels

So how many of you actually read the food labels on boxed and canned items? If you’re not taking the time to read what you are putting in your body, chances are very likely you are making some pretty unhealthy choices with food.

Let’s work from top to bottom on a food label and discuss the major areas you should focus on when deciding on a food.

First check the serving size and number of servings in the container. There are a number of products that you may consume every day that have more than one serving in their packaging: Vitamin Water, soda, canned soups, chips, etc. Knowing the serving size is important because it’s possible to consume double or maybe even triple the amount of calories without knowing.

You should also pay attention to the portion of calories that are “from fat.” You certainly want to make sure that the majority of calories are not attributed as fat calories.

It goes without saying that it’s important to keep both saturated and trans fats to a minimum. Both types can clog your arteries and lead to a number of health problems including obesity and heart disease.  I caution you about “fat free.” Just because it is “fat-free” doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want!

You will also notice that the “% Daily Values” column. The numbers in this column are calculated based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. These values are just an estimate but provide you with a good guideline to know how much of the daily allowances you are consuming with a portion of that food.

Another dangerous ingredient often found in pre-packed foods is sodium. Healthy adults should not exceed 2,300 mg of sodium per day and anyone with high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes should try and keep their consumption to around 1,500 mg per day. Take a good look at the listing of sodium on some of your favorite packaged products and I think you might re-think that purchase.

When it comes to sugar a good rule of thumb is the more sugar the more calories. Keep your sugar consumption to a minimum. Many fruits and even vegetables contain natural healthy sugars. What you want to avoid is the white granular sugars and thick syrups that are added to food to preserve the product and enhance taste.

Dietary fiber found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes has a variety of positive health benefits including normalizing bowel movements, lowering blood cholesterol levels and controlling blood sugar levels. Depending on age and gender you should consume 21 – 38 grams of fiber per day.

When it comes to protein many Americans far exceed the recommended daily amount. Depending on your sex, age and gender you need between 40 and 70 grams of protein per day.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are some foods that you can’t avoid buying pre-packaged so tomorrow I’ll give you some advice on the types of ingredients to look for and those to avoid when it comes to purchasing manufactured foods.