Make Your Meals Special

post_FEB24When it comes to your meals, what do you do to make them special? I’ll bet if I asked you what you ate for lunch two days ago, chances are pretty good that you can’t remember.  Maybe you worked through lunch and ate at your desk, or picked at some leftovers from the refrigerator.  Or you were so caught up in your favorite television show, that you scarcely noticed what was on your plate.  On the other hand, if I asked you to recall a special meal you’ve had lately – not even a holiday or birthday meal, just what you’d call a ‘nice meal’ – you can probably recall that meal in great detail.  And it’s likely that it was more than just the food that made that meal memorable.  It’s the little things, too, that make meals more special – and, more satisfying.

 So, aside from the food, what makes a meal memorable?  Maybe it was your dining companions. Maybe, instead of shoveling it down, you lingered and talked over a meal.  Maybe it was the way the food was presented on the plate, or the shiny silverware, or the slice of lemon in your ice water.  Or it could have been the cool jazz playing, or the candlelight, the crisp linens or the sprig of fresh green basil nestled next to the grilled fish.

 All our senses are involved when we eat.  When a plate of food is appealing to the eye, has a wonderful aroma, and a variety of flavors and textures, we take note.  And we usually rate those meals as not only more pleasant – but more satisfying, too.

 If your eating has become routine – and your meals look the same, day after day  – that could spell trouble.  In an attempt to get more satisfied, you may find yourself eating more, but enjoying it less.

 So why not try making meals little more special?

It doesn’t take much.  Turn off the television and listen to some music.  Throw a tablecloth on the table, grab a cloth napkin and maybe light a candle or two.   Having leftovers?  Try putting them on a plate – rather than eating them out of a plastic container. 

And try a little accessorizing.  A ripe red strawberry on top of a protein shake would brighten anyone’s day; a shower of fresh chopped parsley on top of your grilled chicken or fish takes it from drab to delightful.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

Your Daily Diet: Routine or Rut?

post_march10 I’ll never forget a patient I had many years ago. I was taking a diet history from her, and asked her what she usually ate in the morning. “Oh, just some tea, and bread with jam”. For lunch? “Another cup of tea, and bread with jam.” Same for her afternoon snack. And the same for dinner, too – except she’d add a piece of grilled chicken. She knew how to cook, and she told me that finances weren’t an issue. So why such a limited diet? “Well,” she said, “I just really like bread with jam.”

There are plenty of reasons that people stick to the same diet day after day. Their choices are influenced by what they like, what they can afford, what they know how to prepare, and what’s convenient. Some people tell me that they eat the same thing every day because those are the only foods they trust will keep their weight stable. I’ve met others who are so health-oriented, that they eat the same thing every day just so they can hit their nutritional targets. I had one patient who ate only very precise amounts of what he considered to be ‘superfoods’ every single day – no more, no less.

I meet plenty of people who tend to eat the same foods day in and day out – and they want to know if that’s good or bad. In order to sort it out, I try to help them see the difference between a dietary routine and a dietary rut. There’s a big difference between having a fairly consistent eating pattern (a routine), as opposed to eating the exact same foods every day (a rut).

My pattern, for example, looks like more or less like this:
Breakfast: protein and fruit/veggies
Lunch: protein and veggies
Snack: protein and fruit
Dinner: protein, veggies and a healthy carb

But within that pattern, what I eat every day varies – a lot. And it makes good nutritional sense to do that. Because every food you eat offers a unique blend of nutrients. Strawberries and mangoes are both fruits – and broccoli and asparagus are both vegetables – but each food offers up very different nutrients to your body. Brown rice and sweet potatoes may both be healthy carbs – but, nutritionally speaking, they’re as different as night and day.

If you’re relying on the same foods day after day, make an effort to try a new food once or twice a week. Instead of your usual salad made with romaine lettuce, try raw spinach instead. Cook a vegetable you’ve always wondered about but have never actually eaten. Or try a new variety of something you eat all the time – maybe a deep red ‘blood’ orange instead of the usual navel, or some purple cauliflower instead of the traditional white. One of the quickest ways out of a food rut is to think of each and every eating occasion as an opportunity to ‘mix it up’.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

Exercise and Weight Loss: How to make it work?

blogmarch8-exerciseEven though I’m a dietitian, my clients frequently ask me about exercise as part of their weight loss plan. Since managing weight effectively depends on calorie balance, it makes sense that we talk about not only diet (calories in), but exercise (calories out), too.  Most simply want to know how much…or, sometimes, how little…exercise they need to do in order to lose weight, or to keep off weight that they’ve already lost. So here are some of the key things I tell them about exercise and body weight:

  • Trying to lose weight through increased activity alone is tough to do. To lose a pound in a week’s time – strictly through exercise – you’d need to burn up an extra 500 calories a day, above and beyond your current activity level.  That’s no small task.  You’d need to hike uphill for an hour with a 10-pound backpack or swim laps for 90 minutes – without stopping. Trying to lose weight only through increased activity – or only by cutting your calories – won’t be nearly as effective as a combination of diet and exercise.
  • Cutting calories may cause your metabolic rate to drop somewhat. Your metabolic rate represents the number of calories your body burns just to keep basic processes going  - and is a big part of your ‘calories out’.  But your metabolic rate can dip a little when you cut back on your eating.  So even though your ‘calories in’ may be lower, your ‘calories out’ can drop, too – and leave you more or less in calorie balance.
  • Strength training can help to increase metabolic rate.  When people think ‘exercise’, they usually think aerobic exercise, like biking, swimming or jogging.  But strength training is important, too – in part because it helps to build lean body mass, which can bump up your metabolic rate and help offset the drop in calorie burn that takes place when you cut your calories.
  • It’s easy to make mistakes when counting calories – both in and out. People tend to overestimate the calorie cost of the exercise they do – and underestimate the number of calories they eat.  Which helps explain the frustration many people feel when they’re sure they’re doing ‘everything right’ – but the scale just won’t budge.
  • You need a lot of exercise to lose weight, but you need even more to prevent it from coming back. Once you’ve lost it, regular activity is critical when it comes to keeping weight off.  But it takes more than a leisurely stroll around the block. Members of the National Weight Loss Registry – people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year – burn an average of about 2800 calories a week in exercise.  That’s the equivalent of about 90 minutes of exercise – like a brisk four-mile walk – every day.
  • Exercise is key to good health and anything is better than nothing.  When people hear that they might need an hour or more of exercise a day to keep their weight under control, it can be a little daunting.  But don’t let the numbers discourage you.  Do what you can, do it regularly, and try to go a little farther – or work out a little harder – each time.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

Seven Tips for Eating Right

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 Did your New Year’s resolutions include a vow to “eat right”?  Many of us make that promise to ourselves in January, but by about March we find our old eating habits sneaking back up on us. Maybe you tried to tackle too much – or maybe you hadn’t really thought about what ‘eating right’ really means.  Eating right involves more than just  making the right food choices – it’s also about eating the right foods at the right time.  So here are seven tips to help you to ‘eat right.’

 Eat right when you get up.  You don’t need to eat immediately upon awakening, but it’s really important to eat in the morning.  Those who eat breakfast regularly are better able to control their weight, while breakfast skippers are likely to over-compensate and eat too much at lunch. If you can’t face much in the morning, try a bowl of oatmeal with a bit of protein powder stirred in, some fresh fruit with a scoop of cottage cheese or yogurt, or a protein shake made with protein powder, milk and fruit. 

 Eat right before you grocery shop.  If you do your shopping on an empty stomach, you’ll be like a kid in a candy store – everything will look good to you.  Grab a protein bar, a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts before you go out the door so you’ll be less tempted.  And make a list – and do your best to stick to it.  

 Eat right when it comes to fats.  We need small amounts of fat in the diet, but most of us eat too much.  And, some fats – like the ones naturally present in fish, tree nuts, olives and avocados – are healthier than others. Healthy fats add flavor, so add avocado or nuts to your salad, or a dab of flavorful olive oil to steamed veggies.

 Eat right before you work out.  You need to fuel up before your exercise – especially if you work out first thing in the morning.  If you don’t have much time to eat beforehand, easy-to-digest foods like smoothies, soups or yogurt do the trick.  If you have a few hours to digest before you head out, have a regular meal with plenty of healthy carbs – whole grain breads, brown rice, pasta, fruits and veggies – to keep you going strong.  

 Eat right after you exercise.  After a good workout, your body might be low on fuel, so try to eat something within 30-45 minutes after you finish your exercise.  Your muscles are looking to fruits, vegetables and whole grains to help replenish their stock of carbohydrates – and a shot of protein to help them recover.

 Eat right when you eat out.   We eat so many meals out these days that dining out isn’t the special occasion it used to be.  Resist the urge to splurge when you’re out.  If you’re trying to cut your calories, split an entrée with a friend and order an extra salad.  Or, skip the starchy sides and double up on veggies.  Ask for dressings and sauces on the side so you can control how much you eat. 

 Eat right at night.  A lot of people eat lightly or skip meals during the day, only to eat huge amounts of calories between dinner and bedtime.  But when you do most of your eating at night, your brain and muscles don’t get the fuel they need for your daily physical and mental activities.  Instead, distribute your calories over fairly evenly over your meals and snacks.  If after-dinner snacking is piling on the pounds, try brushing your teeth right after dinner  – it’s one of the best ways to signal that you’re done eating for the day.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

*Herbalife markets products that include protein shakes and snacks, sports and fitness drinks.

Myths About Spot Reduction: Can you target those trouble spots?

Bikini _sept1_modifiedI would bet that it’s rare the person who can stand naked in front of the mirror and not identify a trouble spot or two.  Most of us stand there pinching, prodding and wishing that those extra bits of fat – whether on the belly, the behind or the back – would just disappear.  I thought the myth of spot-reducing had been pretty well busted by now, but I still get asked all the time if there are any special diet or exercise tricks that will target specific pockets of body fat. 

The answer is – in a word – no.  Your body parts don’t ‘own’ the fat that cover them.  When a regular walking regimen leads to weight loss, you lose weight all over – not just in your legs.  Performing hundreds of pushups or situps a day might eventually uncover a toned chest or six-pack abs – but it isn’t because you’ve burned off only the fat on your chest or your belly.  It’s because you’ve increased your calorie burn – and reduced your body fat from nearly top to toe. 

But here’s one reason the myth may still persist.  Everyone has their own unique body fat distribution.  Some might carry it like saddlebags on the side of the hips, or have a stubborn spot on the belly.  When these folks lose weight, it may appear that they’re actually spot reducing – but it’s just that they’re losing from those areas where their fat happens to be.  If you look at how people’s bodies change with weight loss, what really happens is that they pretty much stay the same shape – they just get smaller.

Men and women do have different issues when it comes to their trouble spots. Due to hormonal differences, women – at least before menopause – tend to store their fat in the hips and thighs, while men tend to gain weight around the middle.  And men naturally carry less total fat than women do.  With less fat overall – and most of it around the middle – it’s no wonder that men seem to have an easier time achieving washboard abs than women do.  But spot reduction, it’s not.

In the end, improving the appearance of those trouble spots comes down to diet and exercise.  Strength training helps you build a solid base of muscle, and that can help you look trimmer. But don’t neglect regular aerobic exercise and attention to your calorie intake, too.  Your trouble spots might be less troubling if you build and tone your muscles … but not if they’re hidden under a layer of body fat.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

Can Seafood be Vegetarian?

wakame_Feb2012Whenever I travel, I do my best to spend a little time checking out the local foods. I’ll poke around on the internet and look at menus – and usually find something intriguing. Not long ago, we were far up the California coast, and I found a menu for a vegetarian restaurant serving a six-course “sea vegetable dinner” featuring sea palm, nori, dulse and wakame – all forms of seaweed. I have to confess that we settled for something a bit less adventurous, but it did get me wondering why we don’t see more sea vegetables on menus – at least here on the coast where it’s ‘ripe for the picking’.

Calling them “vegetables” isn’t quite right, though – seaweeds are technically algae, and most aren’t considered plants. But since we eat them as such, their nutritional profile is usually compared to their land-based counterparts – and they stack up incredibly well.

Since the ocean is chock full of minerals, seaweeds absorb a pretty impressive array – calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, iodine and zinc. They’re also one of the few ‘vegetable’ sources of vitamin B12, which is a huge plus for vegetarians who have a tough time getting enough. And, since seaweeds live fairly close to the surface where they’re exposed to potentially damaging ultraviolet light, they produce a lot of protective antioxidants, too.
For many people, they only seaweed they’re familiar with is the dark wrapper on their sushi. But chances are you eat more seaweed-derived products than you think – even if sushi doesn’t figure prominently in your diet. Because of their water-holding properties, some of the natural carbohydrates found in seaweed – like carrageenan, agar or alginate – are used to thicken all sorts of foods. These unusual carbohydrates are added to soy milk, chocolate milk, ice cream, yogurt, soups and salad dressings to give them better texture – but they can also contribute soluble fiber to your diet as well.

If you want to try adding some seaweed to your diet, it’s not something you’re likely to find on the menu at your local diner – Asian restaurants are probably the best place to look. Aside from the familiar sushi wrappers, dried seaweed flakes are used for seasoning in lots of dishes and you might even find some fresh seaweed – usually added to soups or stir-fried with a little soy sauce and sesame oil. If you’ve got an Asian grocery store near you, you’re likely to find the dried variety and, if you’re lucky (and adventurous) you might find some fresh seaweed, too.

I found some dried wakame – a type of kelp – at my local health food store. The directions said not to cook the leaves – just to soak them– so I added a bit to an Asian-style soup I was making. It tasted great, and it thickened the broth a little bit, too. And at the last minute, I added some cooked shrimp – primarily so I could keep my husband from quizzing me about what was in his soup. I told him, in all honesty — “seafood”.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

Four Eating Habits that Sound Healthier Than They Are

Jan30_videomarqueeMost of my clients know the healthy eating drill pretty well – keep your fats down, eat plenty of fruits and veggies, make most of your grains “whole” and focus on low fat protein. But many of them have adopted some eating habits that they truly believe are healthy – and I have to spend some time trying to convince them otherwise. These eating habits sound like they’re healthy – but they really end up being less so when they’re put into practice. Are your eating habits as healthy as you think they are?

Do you skip breakfast thinking it will save you calories? I’m always surprised at how many people believe that skipping breakfast is a healthy habit – and think it’s a sure thing when it comes to calorie control. There are so many good reasons to eat something in the morning. For one thing, studies have shown that those who practice the breakfast habit are more likely to keep their weight under control. And, a well-planned breakfast highlights foods we don’t often get the rest of the day – like high fiber cereals and calcium-rich dairy products. If you can’t face a full meal in the morning, at least aim for a shot of protein from a smoothie or a carton of yogurt.
Do you avoid keeping food in the house because you’re afraid you’ll eat it? Not keeping food around only makes sense if you normally stash stuff you shouldn’t be eating. But a well-stocked freezer, refrigerator and pantry can actually be your best ally when it comes to eating well. When you’ve got foods like shrimp and veggies in the freezer, beans and whole grains in the pantry, and fruits, salad greens and lowfat dairy foods in the fridge, you’re never at a loss for a healthy meal or snack. Not keeping foods around the house can backfire – when hunger strikes, you may wind up grabbing the first thing you can get your hands on from your corner quick market or the drive thru.
Do you only shop at the health food store? It’s a common trap. Many people figure that anything they buy at the health food store is good for them – but it just isn’t so. There are plenty of high sugar, high fat items lurking on the shelves and plenty of ‘healthy’ snack foods that can take a big bite out of your calorie budget. Are organic potato chips or sodas made with ‘all natural’ sweeteners really any better for you than the regular stuff? Don’t let the health halo fool you. Sticking with minimally processed foods is the best way to go – no matter where you shop.
Do you avoid snacking? Plenty of my clients believe that snacking is a bad habit. And for many of them, it probably is – because their snacking habits usually revolve around chips, soda, cookies and ice cream. But healthy, well-planned snacks serve a couple of purposes. When you eat frequently during the day, you’ll avoid getting overly hungry at mealtimes – and reduce the risk of overeating when you do finally sit down. And, when you eat more often, it’s easier to work more healthy foods into your day. When you think snacks, think fruit, a handful of nuts, a protein bar, some lowfat cheese and whole grain crackers or some raw veggies dipped in hummus.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

Yo-Yo Dieting – Why it Happens, and What You Can Do About It

scaleOne of my long-standing patients has lost 150 pounds. Now, before you start thinking, “Wow – that’s a lot of weight” or “Gee – I wonder how she did that?”, let me just say that she didn’t lose it all at once. In fact, she’s lost the same 30 pounds five times now. She’s a classic “yo-yo dieter” – her weight goes up and down, but rarely stays in one place for long. It’s long been recognized that people are more likely to yo-yo when they adopt weight loss regimens that are too strict to stick with over the long haul. Once a dietary slip turns into a fall, old habits resume, weight goes back up and the cycle starts all over again.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and eager to get your weight under control. Having the desire and the drive to meet your goal is half the battle in getting there. But recognize that trying to do too much, too quickly could be your undoing. Be realistic about how much you can change at once, and accept whatever those changes deliver in terms of weight loss.

Keeping track of your progress is a tried-and-true strategy for keeping yourself on course. And finding sources of support is helpful, too. Exercise buddies are great, and some people find a lot of value in the support they get through online communities. Finally, be flexible, and learn from your mistakes. If you try an exercise regimen or a new food that you don’t really enjoy, then try something else. Remember that the goal isn’t to lose as much weight as you can as quickly as you can – you want to establish healthy patterns of eating and exercise that will help you get your weight down and keep it there.

Clearly, a good part of solving the yo-yo dilemma has to do with changing your behavior. We eat smaller, more frequent meals. We make sure to include hunger-fighting protein at each meal and snack. We plan ahead, we keep track, we enlist help. A quick sprint towards the finish line – followed by a jog in the other direction – isn’t going to get you anywhere. When it comes to successful weight loss, slow and steady definitely wins the race.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

Ways to Be Healthy and Save Money

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If you’ve read any reports about how a struggling economy can affect your health, most of them are pretty negative.  What’s usually mentioned is that when money is tight, people spend less on pricier foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, they cancel gym memberships, or they may turn to high calorie comfort foods or drink more alcohol. And if they dine out at all, it’s more likely to be less expensive – and usually less healthy – fast food.  So it got me to thinking, are there some lessons we can learn about how to save money and still be healthy?

  • Walking or biking to save gas – When you have errands to run that are within a reasonable walking distance, why not save the gas money and ‘hoof it’ or take your bike instead?  It’s such an easy way to work some extra activity into your day.  Think of things you routinely do that don’t require your car.  I gave up my gym membership and my newspaper delivery  – and turned my quest for the morning paper into a 45 minute walk that I do every day.
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  • Eating more meals at home with family – There are so many positives that come out of this one.  For one thing, when you prepare meals at home, you have more control over what goes into your food – so you can prepare foods with much less fat and sodium than typical restaurant fare.  It’s also a great way to spend some quality time together. Studies show that children who have regular family meal times eat healthier diets and perform better in school than those who don’t.
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  • Eating more vegetarian meals – Since meat, fish and poultry can take a big bite out of your food budget, consider more vegetarian meals.  Beans, peas or lentils can be the start of a healthy soup or chili, or you can use tofu in place of meat in stir-fries, tacos and even pasta sauce.
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  • Growing food at home – Yes, it takes some time, but if you have a little space in your yard or on your patio, you can save money.  Easy-to-grow leafy greens like lettuce and spinach are great – you can pick the leaves week after week.  Fresh herbs might seem like an expensive luxury to buy,  but you can grow them easily on a sunny windowsill.  Not only do herbs contribute plenty of vitamins and antioxidants, they add a lot of flavor, which means you can cut back on fat and salt.
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  • Spending less on beverages – You can cut a lot of calories by cutting back on sodas and coffee drinks, and you’ll save big bucks, too.  And make it a habit to eat your fruits more often than you drink them.  100% fruit juices are expensive, and they don’t offer the filling fiber that whole fruits do.
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Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.