Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Double your weight loss!

Yesterday, I had no sooner posted about journaling for health, when an email from eDiets arrived that was just too enticing: Double your weight loss.

And how do you do that: By writing down everything you eat. There seems to be a theme going on here. Yesterday, it was all about the American Heart Association’s Better U program, which encourages journaling to get healthier.

Now, there is a recently released study – what eDiets terms the largest and longest-running weight-loss trial – that proves the secret to doubling your weight loss is journaling.

eDiets quoted the study’s lead author Jack Hollis, PhD: “The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost. Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.”

When you write everything you down, it forces you to see where your calories are coming from. It gets you thinking about what you eat, and that leads to accountability. But you have to be honest: Every piece of candy or cookie that passes your lips gets noted.

I’ve never liked journaling. But I started religiously journaling on August 1, and I have to admit it has made me make better food choices. I am my worst critic, so if I have to admit I ate a piece of cheesecake – even if I admit it to myself – it hurts. I would rather pass it up than have to write it down.

OK – I admit it’s a tad weird, but it’s the way my mind works.

“Journaling your food intake isn’t just about what you eat but also how much you eat,” Registered Dietitian Nicole Bengtson told eDiets. “You may not realize that the bag of chips you just ate had two servings in it, meaning what you thought was 140 calories was actually 280 calories.”

And one more tip: Don’t wait to the end of the day to journal your foods because you will forget. As soon as a food is consumed, add it to your list. If possible, write the time of day and your mood, which can help you ID when and why you lose control.

Can it really be this easy?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Heart heath

Journaling is one of those things we can do that will definitely help us reach out goals. What do I get every week at Weight Watchers? A journal, to write down every morsel that passes my lips.

Now there's a new way to track, but this time it's all about heart health. The American Heart Association's Better U -- www.goredforwomen.org/BetterU/index.aspx -- is a 12-week online program geared to making women change their bodies from the inside out. Each week the focus is on heart health, and making small changes that will get you healthier -- and maybe even drop a few pounds.

Of course I joined. But what I love about this journal is that not only do you pick your goal for the week, you identify the barriers you see that could keep you from reaching your goal AND come up with a plan for conquering the barriers.

I knew that Saturday night was going to be a hard night for me. Homemade pizza and lots of wine was on the menu at a friend's house. Writing down a plan to meeting the challenge meant I was in control. I brought a bottle of seltzer with me, finished it before I had my first glass of wine, and paid more attention to the conversation than the food. And guess what: I didn't overeat, not did I drink too much wine.

Ultimately, through Better U, all women will learn their personal risk of heart disease and stroke, while hopefully incorporating small changes to help them live stronger and longer. Better U asks you to set aside 30 to 60 minutes a week -- mere minutes each day -- to log on to the Web site and concentrate on heart health. I don't know about you, but I think my health is worth a whole lot more than 10 minutes a day.

Spread the word. It just might help someone you love live a longer, healthier life. And that someone could be you.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I'm going half full!

The older I get, the less patience I have with toxic people. And no, I am not Pollyanna; I complain like everyone else. But I am making an effort to complain less, or at least when I start to complain, try to stop myself.

Toxic people zap my energy with their need. We all know the type: It's always about them, and if you try to interject a thought, it is quickly dismissed and the topic returns back to their issues and problems. I am not talking about people in need -- those who are sick or ailing. I'm talking about the ego-centrics among us.

This past year, the one thing I have learned about eating healthy and exercising is that I have to look out for No. 1. If I fail, and start to put myself second (which toxic people love you to do), I find myself making poor food choices.

I do some freelancing, and last week's assignment was to have an at-home meal with a chef. I chose Sarah and Bernard Bouissou, both chefs, and owners of two restaurants in Ridgefield, CT, Bernard's and Sarah's Wine Bar. Their night off is really a busman's holiday, a chance for them to reconnect with themselves, their four daughters, extended family, and friends. As I sat at the large outdoor table that night, feasting on glorious food while taking in the sounds of animated French and English conversation, one thing kept popping into my head: These people really know how to live life. There was no tension, no arugments, no one-upsmanship. People talked. People listened. It was obvious that they cared about each other.

I have friends and family just like this. And I know, that if I truly want to reach my goal weight, these are the people I want around me. Instead of a glass half-empty life, mine is going to be half-full. Always.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Water -- yet again

I am always amazed by the amount of money spent doing studies -- and many of these studies are done over and over and over again. The latest to catch my eye was reported Tuesday on the CBS Early Show by Dr. Jennifer Ashton, which found that those older than 55 who drank two 8-ounce glasses of water before each meal lost 30 percent more weight than the group who did not drink the water.

Duh! Love Harry Smith, who commented that he thinks he's heard this before. Not missing a beat, Dr. Ashton agreed, but added: "everything that is old is new again." Come on! Was it that slow a news day? If it's not new, why report it? Guess the promo before the spot and on the web site -- newest tool to lose weight -- kept some viewers glued to the tube and dieters logging on the web site. I obviously fell for it myself.

I do drink this much water before every meal. Most days, I drink more than that. And I don't drink during meals -- except for wine -- because I read once that drinking water when you eat slows digestion -- or something like that. I kind of forget the reason.

But when I watch a segment like this one by Dr. Ashton, I can't help but get a bit angry. People are unemployed in this country, have no insurance, are losing their houses, and someone funded this story. And then I think what a silly nation we've become. Is this news? Certainly not. But do we crave these sort of stories? Absolutely.

And why? Because we eat and drink too much. This is not rocket science.

And now I am angry at myself for talking about this topic. But I must admit it feels good to expel it from my mind. Now I can move on....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

If it floats, toss it out!

The egg recall because of Salmonella poisoning is massive -- more than half a billion eggs affected -- and scary, especially with the FDA telling us to avoid mopping up your runny yolks with your toast.

Scrambled, omelets or frittatas are in the future for me.

Is there any doubt that when it comes to our food, it's buyer beware. And when it comes to eggs, we all need to be more vigilant about learning where our eggs come from, and to make sure we are eating the freshest eggs available. I only buy organic eggs from chickens not fed antibiotics -- and so far so good. But I do admit that sometimes I keep my eggs in the fridge past the expiration date.

Today, I offer a tip I learned from my mom, who always tested our eggs for freshness before she cooked them. This won't help the Salmonella issue, but at least you'll know the eggs are still prime.

Place an egg in the bottom of a glass. (We always used a large Pyrex measuring cup.) What mom called lazy eggs -- those reclining on their sides on the bottom of the glass -- are fine. If they point up but are still anchored on the bottom of the glass, eat them immediately. They are what mom called seniors, sweet but on the verge of extinction. If the egg floats, out it goes.

I did some research, first because I wanted to know if mom was right, and second, I'm curious about why old eggs float. Mom, of course, was correct. Egg shells are very porous, and as they age, the shells absorb air, forcing moisture out, which dries out the egg. Not as bad as Salmonella, but dry eggs are not very appetizing.

And one more tip, this one from my new fave book, "Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat" by Nancy L. Snyderman, MD. She cites a study in the International Journal of Obesity that reported eating two eggs for breakfast as part of a reduced-calorie diet can help you lose weight. The study found that those who ate this breakfast had more energy than those who eat a bagel containing an equal amount of calories. In addition, cholesterol levels were not adversely impacted. Dr. Snyderman says it's OK to eat eggs several times a week, as long as you limit cholesterol from other sources -- and skip the frying.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blasts from my past

Since I’ve been eating healthier, I’ve been cooking more. I’ve also been scouring my recipe files looking for some old favorites to resurrect.
The first recipe was one my mom cooked every now and then, because my dad and I favored her brown lentil soup with kielbasa. This was the soup she made for herself, a lunch treat that over the years I came to love. I found it in her files, long forgotten, but as soon as I saw the name, it brought back memories of my mom and me, devouring our big bowls of soup with some crusty French bread.
The second recipe has been my favorite was to cook chicken – or turkey – since I stopped stuffing the bird about a decade ago. I love how the citrus and onions flavor the poultry, adding a freshness and moistness I find lacking in far too many birds. And yes, it has butter in the recipe, an ingredient I favor over any of the chemicals spreads most of America devours. I also used to use all butter, but now half the amount with extra-virgin olive oil. Everything in moderation.
And the third recipe is from Dr. Andrew Weil, and makes a terrific lunch -- although be sure to have a toothbrush handy. It is pretty garlicky! It would also be wonderful served as a side to the lentil soup.

1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup red split lentils (masoor dal)
7 cups water
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 Tblsp. fresh peeled and minced ginger
2 Tblsp. curry powder
2 Tblsp. coconut or olive oil
8 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14-oz. can coconut milk
2 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 small handful cilantro, chopped

Place peas and lentils in a large strainer and rinse well.
Place in large soup pot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the carrot and 1 quarter of the ginger. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.
In a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until you begin to smell its fragrance. Be warned: the curry will burn easily if not watched carefully.Set aside.
Place oil in a pan over medium heat, add half the scallions, the rest of the ginger, and raisins. Saute for two minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the tomato paste and saute for another minute.
Add the toasted curry powder to the tomato paste mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until it reaches the consistency you want. If you want it thick, cook a bit more; thinner, add a bit more water, a little at a time.
Sprinkle the soup with cilantro and remaining scallions just before serving. Makes 6 servings.

1 roasting chicken, about 4-6 pounds
1 orange
1 lemon
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 Tblsp. finely chopped parsley
1 Tblsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
1 Tblsp. softened butter
1 Tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tblsp. honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse and dry the chicken; remove the giblets.
Grate the orange and lemon rinds into a bowl.
Halve the fruit and squeeze the orange to extract the juice; add more if necessary to make the 1/2 cup. Squeeze the lemon to make the 2 tablespoons of juice. Mix the orange and lemon juices together and set aside.
Place the fruit inside the cavity of the chicken.
To the bowl of citrus peels, add the onion, celery, parsley, ginger, butter, olive oil and honey. Mix the ingredients until well blended. Rub onto all sides of the chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast for 15 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Roast another 15 minutes. Pour the reserved juices over the chicken and roast another 15 minutes. Turn chicken breast side up. Continue to roast, basting occasionally, for another 45-60 minutes or until fully cooked (a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 160 degrees. Remove the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serve with the pan juices. Makes 6 servings.

1 lb. fresh spinach, washed, stems removed
2 fresh tomatoes, sliced
6 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
5 Tblsp. plain nonfat yogurt
2 Tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and black pepper to taste

Dry the spinach, tear it into large pieces, and combine it with the tomatoes and scallions in a bowl.
Combine the yogurt, olive oil, minced garlic, and thyme, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Add the yogurt mixture to the vegetables and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 118 calories; 8g total fat (1g sat); 1mg cholesterol; 10g carbohydrate; 5g protein; 4g fiber; 150mg sodium

Monday, August 23, 2010

Those "calling" foods

This past weekend, I faced three instances in which foods were calling my name -- very loudly in fact -- and I ignored all three calls.

The first challenge came Saturday night, when we were eating at an adorable French restaurant, Cafe Lola, in Fairfield. My favorite French comfort foods were all there -- including escargot. The menu read: "Sizzling snails in garlic butter with parsley and a splash of Pernod." Oh how tempting it sounded, and I had made up my mind that it was worth the extra calories. But at the last moment, when the waitress took my order, instead of saying escargot I said salad.

My immediate thought: "Where did that come from?" I honestly had -- and still have -- no idea. But something inside me must have been nudging my brain to realize that right now, snails dripping in butter might derail even my best intentions.

Round two came Sunday morning, when I got my after-walk Starbucks. There was a new offering in the pastry case: cheese danish. I haven't had a cheese danish in decades, because honestly, I really cannot eat just one. And Starbucks' version had a big glob of cheese right in the middle of the danish. Oh how that danish was screaming my name. But I took a good look at it, and mentally told it that although I know how amazing it would taste, it belonged in the danish case not in -- or eventually on -- my stomach. I had oatmeal instead.

And then there was the Sunday afternoon movie, and although all I could smell as I entered the theater was popcorn, I ignored the snack bar, heading right for my seat.

Three big challenges, all met because I faced them head-on. I would say that's progress.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I feel terrific, and have for a few weeks now. I have more energy than I've had in years, I am cooking some amazing meals, and I am finding time for work, exercise and play.

Not sure why my life is finally clicking, but if I credit anything, it's exercise. I cannot express how much I love yoga, and what I find so incredible is that each class is different, depending on the teacher. Last night's was filled with positions my carpal-tunnel ridden wrists would not allow me to do, but I worked around those, doing my own stretches, and no one chastised me for not following the leader.

And that is probably what I love most about yoga. It is as calming, powerful or athletic as you want it to be. It's a personal journey, and like my diet journey, takes time -- years and years -- to master.

Wednesday night one of my friends joined me in gentle yoga. She was frustrated because she had a hard time letting go of the thoughts circulating in her brain. A writer, she said she was writing story leads in her mind.

She wanted to be perfect in yoga immediately. That's impossible. Just like eating healthy does not happen overnight. But you have to begin somewhere. I'm just glad I took those first steps.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pleasant dreams

Thanks Metro Journalist for your comment about the relationship between lack of sleep and weight gain -- perfect timing since I just read all about it in "Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat" by NBC News Chief Medical Editor Nancy L. Snyderman, MD. If you haven't read this book, I recommend it highly, because it tackles all the old wives' tales, diet truths and diet myths we've been hearing about for years.

According to Dr. Snyderman, weight gain is one of the "disturbing consquences" of lack of sleep, since it disrupts the hormones that control appetite and hunger. The really bad news is that to lose weight, you need to sleep seven to eight hours a night. If you get only six hours, according to some recent studies, you will put on 11 pounds over six years.

So consider those 11 pounds tacked on every six years (about 20 pounds each decade), added to the ones we naturally gain and the ones that are all jelly beans and chocolate cake and you quickly understand why we're all muffin tops and thunder thighs the older we get.

Is there a mother in this world that sleeps six hours a night? Personally, until a few months ago, if I averaged five hours I thought that was terrific. Insomnia ruled my life.

I found yoga, and on the days that I take a class, I sleep like a baby, which is why I've been increasing the number of classes I take weekly. I also bought Dr. Andrew Weil's "Breathing" CD -- and breathe my way into sleep each night. If I do wake up in the middle of the night -- which is quickly becoming a thing of the past -- I breathe my way back to sleep. That's my cure. Here's Dr. Snyderman's:
* Stay away from stimulants: sugar, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bedtime. (Does this mean my glass of wine has to be my morning eye-opener? Kidding!)
* Avoid sitmulation like computer work or exercise for at least three hours before going to bed. (I would have to add that my yoga classes, which I usually take at night, have the exact opposite effect on me.)
* Exercising early in the day can improve your sleep at night.
* Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. (Love this: For Dr. Snyderman, it is reading a medical journal in bed. Yup: That would do it for me.)
* Go to bed at the same time each night.

Easy to write down. So very hard to put into practice. Before I found yoga, I tried bubble baths, meditation, reading, journaling -- a smorgasbord of cure du jours. Thank goodness that buffet has been replaced. Metro Journalist, I hope you find your cure.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Filling foods

I have issues with weight. And no, I haven't joined Overeaters Anonymous, I'm just facing reality. And with those issues have come sessions of uncontrollable eating -- when nothing I eat seems satisfying. A few hours later I am ravenous, because I ate junk, which might have tasted terrific but lacks any staying power.

Last night's Weight Watchers discussion was about filling foods -- the foods that will keep you satisfied for hours. Filling foods are great sources of protein, or they are packed with water, fiber and sometimes air. Here's the list:
* Whole-grain pasta, brown rice, potatoes and grains;
* Fruits and vegetables;
* Whole-grain cereals, without added sugar, nuts or dried fruit;
* Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes and meat substitutes;
* Fat-free dairy and dairy substitutes;
* Soups made with filing foods.

To demonstrate, my ever-resourceful WW leader, Karen, -- who loves props -- held up a 2-inch brownie, which is equal to 5 WW POINTS. (Each member is allowed so many POINTS a day, determined by weight, age and activity level.) For most people, 5 POINTS takes quite a chunk out of their daily POINTS total.

Then she held up a basket of fruit: a banana, two apples and an orange, all equal to 5 POINTS. And yes, Karen recognized that sometimes our brain needs that brownie to keep us on track with our diet, but most days, if we choose the basket of fruit, we will fill full, in control, and stay on the eating plan.

I also learned one interesting fact, which WW calls "Energy Density." We tend to eat the same volume of food each day, and by filling our stomachs with this amount of food, we avoid feeling hungry.

Bottom line: Weight loss is all about paying attention. To feel satisfied, eat foods that are high in volume, and oh by the way, you'll lose weight since you are automatically cutting calories.

I shared my favorite snack with the group last night, the one I have on my hour trip home from work. I spread celery ribs with 3 wedges of low-fat Laughing Cow cheese, which keeps me sated for hours. And now I understand why: You can never eat enough celery, the ultimate filling food since it's so low in calories, that just using your jaw to pulverize the strings burns up those calories. And 3 wedges of Laughing Cow light cheese are only 2 POINTS, which fits into my eating plan perfectly.

The following recipe is from Weight Watchers, and one I've been using for years, except I substitute lemon juice for the lime juice. For me, it just perks it up a tad more. Either way, it is satisfying. Serve it with a whole-grain pita for a filling lunch or snack. Or, spread it on a celery rib. OK, I love celery, but this combo really tastes terrific.

1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
2 Tblsp. red onion, chopped
2 Tblsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tblsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1/4 tsp. salt, or more to taste

* Put avocado in a medium bowl and mash with a fork until almost smooth.
* Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined.
* Cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to one day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scentsational stir-fry!

There is something extraordinary about the smell of ginger and garlic sauteing in a wok. The scent permeates the house, and within moments of inhaling the vapors, your nose has signaled your tummy that it's in for a treat.

This quick stir-fry is a perfect example of how fresh ginger and garlic can work magic on fresh vegetables and shrimp. The recipe uses little oil and lots of the good-for-you foods that are so important to a healthy eating plan. Often, I have substituted chicken or tofu for the shrimp -- depending on my mood and what's in the fridge -- with excellent results each time.

A stir-fry is a wonderful technique for using vegetables before they become dry and shrivelled unrecognizable somethings. One stir-fry and one frittata are mainstays of my weeknight meals. They are quick, flavorful, healthy when done correctly, economical, and because I never know what is going to be in the refrigerator each week, always different. For me, variety is key for staying on a good eating track. I always serve this recipe with brown rice.

And the key for a successful stir-fry: Prepare all ingredients before you start cooking. A stir-fry will fail if you prepare as you cook.

2 tsp. dark sesame oil
2 tsp. canola oil, divided
2 Tblsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce or tamari, divided
Juice of half a lime
3 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil cooking spray
1 1/2 lbs. medium peeled and deveined shrimp, thawed if frozen
2 Tblsp. minced fresh ginger
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, quartered
4 scallions, green tops included, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large bell pepper, cut into thin strips
8 oz. snow peas, strings removed
1 cup broccoli florets
1/4 tsp. red-pepper flakes

* Whisk together dark sesame oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce, lime juice and garlic in a large bowl; add shrimp and toss to coat.
* Lightly coat a large skillet or wok with cooking spray and heat over high heat.
* Add shrimp and cook until pink, 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
* Heat canola oil in the same skillet over high heat.
* Add ginger and cook 30 seconds.
* Add mushrooms, scallions, bell pepper, snow peas and red-pepper flakes. Cook about 4 minutes, until vegetables are crisp-tender.
* Stir in shrimp and remaining soy sauce and toss to combine. Serve hot over brown rice.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Goal setting

When I started this blog, I thought I would include a health tip of the day on the home page, because, overall, I think it gives good advice. But last Friday's tip -- "Set a target weight for a specific occasion such as a vacation or family reunion" -- got me thinking about goals and dieting challenges I have had for too many years.

I have always lost weight for an event, rather than my health. And that is wrong, especially for people with weight issues, because as soon as the event happens, I breathe a deep sigh of relief and begin eating. And here is what I tell myself as I am stuffing my face:
1. I deserve to eat what I want because I have been so good for so long.
2. One day of eating will not make a difference.
3. I'll wake up tomorrow more determined than ever to start dieting again.

Ha. Tomorrow comes and I am off the diet for good -- or at least until I cannot stand myself anymore and start another diet.

I have a big family party coming up, and I would love to shed some pounds before that event. So I have expanded that diet tip, and since the party is more than a month away, I have set a goal of 10 pounds, about 2 pounds a week. But most importantly, I am keeping that 10-pound number in my mind, and reminding myself as many times during the day that I yes, want to lose 10 pounds, BUT this a quarter of the pounds I need to lose to reach my goal. It's the second part of this statement I think is so very important.

The party is at Daniel in NYC, a lavish event guarnteed to be a food extravanganza. I do not want to deprive myself of any of the rich, glorious food we will be eating. But I will also be talking with my family and friends, and dancing the night away, so although I will be eating like royalty, I plan on having a wonderful social time.

And before we leave for the party, I will plan my breakfast the next day, and be sure it is healthy and filling. The next day I plan on geting up and eating what I planned, which will put me back on track, ready to attack the rest of the weight I need to shed. I will also plan the type of exercise I will do, and then make sure I get off the couch.

Friday, August 13, 2010

TGIF and two recipes!

It's Friday: My favorite day of the week. This is also my day to asses the past week, and give myself a grade as to how I dealt with life -- and my diet -- which are totally interchangeable.

This week: I give myself an A for three reasons:
1. And this is the most important one of all: For the first time in years, I feel really in control.
2. I exercised daily.
3. I made terrific food choices.

Although I have divided the reasons into three separate categories, I know my feeling of control comes from the fact that I ate well and exercised. Without Nos. 2 and 3, No. 1 cannot be my reality. The main problem here is that I have done this in the past, but without consistency, I backtracked and slid into my old life very easily. This time, I am taking precautions not to let this happen.

A huge accomplishment was signing the exercise contract with my friend Ann. Since we both signed our commitment to walk at least 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week, we have both not missed a day of exercise. In addition, I found yoga, and try to make three or four classes each week. And once a week, I give up all artificial or natural sugars, not because I have to, but because of the discipline.

I also took Andrew Weil's "Eight Weeks to Optimum Health" to heart, and ate salmon not once, but twice this week, and broccoli twice. Can't wait to read Week 2 to find out what nutritious foods I'll be adding next week.

I've also tried some new recipes -- both really yummy -- just to keep things interesting.

The result: I slept great each night, have lots of energy, and my clothes are fitting better. I am thinking long term here, knowing that this time next year, I will have reached my goal and will be much healthier, but only if I stay the course.

I really am not about to backtrack. And anyhow, if I do, I know Ann will be there to nicely scold and get me back on track. I really do have a new attitude.

The first new recipe I tried was from "Clean Eating" magazine, a pleasing mix of sweet (cherries) with hot (jalapenos), for a taste that explodes in your mouth. The second is from the good doctor Weil, and will become a mainstay.

1 cup fresh or frozen pitted red cherries (if frozen, no need to thaw)
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, cut in half and seeded
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and quartered
4 tsp. raw honey
24 large shrimp, shells and tails removed
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tblsp. olive oil
8 whole-grain corn soft taco shells
1 small head radicchio, thinly sliced
4 large carrots, peeled and grated
Cilantro leaves for garnish

• Place cherries, jalapeno, ginger and honey in a mini chopper or blender along with ¼ cup water. Blend until smooth (there may be small bits of cherry).
• Season shrimp with salt.
• Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add oil and shrimp and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning occasionally, until shrimp are pink on the outside but not cooked through.
• Reduce heat to medium and carefully add cherry mixture. Simmer for about 2 minutes, until sauce is slightly reduced and shrimp are cooked through.
• Preheat oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees and warm taco shells for 2 minutes. Spoon 3 shrimp and 1 tablespoon cherry sauce into each taco and top with 2 tablespoons each radicchio and carrots. Garnish with cilantro. Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 348 calories; 11g fat; 39g carbs; 5g fiber 14g sugars; 528mg sodium; 172mg cholesterol.

1 cup sake
½ cup natural soy sauce or tamari
½ cup grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 Tblsp. dark-brown sugar
Salmon fillets, 6 ounces per person
Lemon wedges for serving

• Mix sake, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and dark-brown sugar.
• Rinse salmon under cold running water, place in a glass or ceramic dish, and cover with marinade. Cover dish and place in the refrigerator 1 to 3 hours, spooning the liquid over exposed fish parts one to two times.
• Prepare grill of preheat broiler to high.
• Drain fish. Place on foil on grill or rack in oven. Cook until desired doneness, but do not overcook. Serve at one with lemon wedges.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Silent salmonella

This week, I decided I was giving up all artificial sweeteners, which meant a large garbage bag and a careful scrutiny of what was lurking in my fridge and pantry. And while I was at it, I also looked at expiration dates. I tossed lots of unrecognizable objects in my fridge, once food, now science experiments, and some canned food that moved with us seven years ago.

And while I was tossing, I thought of the ongoing food recalls because of salmonella, and was wondering if any of my toss-outs could have caused some health issues. No one wants to get salmonella, and I’m sure that over the years I’ve had my case of it quite a few times.

Salmonella typically causes diarrhea, fever and tummy cramping, affects about 4 million people annually, and is usually flushed from your system before it causes major problem. Although I desperately want to lose weight, this is not my diet of choice. I speak from experience: Once, I landed in the hospital because of dehydration I’m sure was caused by a restaurant meal, but an IV and some antibiotics were all I needed to be feeling terrific in a few days. Unfortunately, some cases are so severe – some even fatal – that each of us should be as careful as possible at home to avoid poisoning ourselves, family and friends.

Some tips from the Centers for Disease Control, combined with the best practices I have learned over the years:
• To avoid cross-contamination, designate a cutting board for meat, poultry and fish, and one for fruits and veggies. Be sure to wash cutting boards well with antibacterial soap, or even better, wash with soap then wash in the dishwasher.
• Do not leave uncooked meat, poultry, shellfish, and milk products at room temperature for extended periods of time.
• Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly, and reheat leftovers well.
• Never baste or sauce your food with the marinade used for flavoring. If you want to use the marinade for basting or as a sauce, make a double batch: one for the marinade, the other for the baste or sauce.
• Wash raw fruits and vegetables with antibacterial soap and warm water before consuming — or use one of the special veggie washes.
• Wash your hands and all cooking utensils well with antibacterial soap and warm water after handling raw meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, and vegetables.
• Choose pasteurized dairy products and fruit juices, since pasteurization kills salmonella.
• Bacteria love to grow in raw or undercooked foods left at room temperature, so after eating or a trip to the market, cover and refrigerate foods promptly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How silly

July 21 was National Junk Food Day, a day I heard about from my friend Ronnie Fein, but one I chose to ignore until now.

I know that when you are trying to shed pounds, eliminating all the foods you love just sets you up for disaster. But a day to honor the foods that none of us should really be eating, the ones that are high in saturated fats and low in any nutritonal value, seems a tad ridiculous to me. These are the foods that contain the almighty trinity of ingredients that any great chef knows people love: fat, sugar and salt.

And the purpose of the day: to give everyone permission to eat exactly what they want. That can't be good.

If I have learned anything on this diet journey, it is this: Giving myself permission to eat ANYTHING I want is a recipe for disaster. It is something I can never do, because if I did that, the next day, I would continue eating. When I really eat horrid one day, so horrid by the time I get to sleep I feel as if there is a bowling ball in my tummy, the next morning I wake up ravenous. And although I went to bed repeating over and over, "Tomorrow I will diet," the next morning I wake up hungry, dreaming about the foods that will stick to my waist, and the cycle begins all over again.

Last Saturday night, when I decided to have a treat -- homemade biscotti -- it was a conscious decision and one I took without making myself a promise to eat healthy on Sunday. I gave myself permission to eat the biscotti. Could it be that I am finally thinking like a thin person, although I certainly do not look like one. A thin person would never eat a sweet on the condition that the next day they would eat well. For them, eating well is what they do. And if they can fit a treat in without gaining weight, then it is working for them.

If I keep thinking like this, maybe this time next year I will be thin.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Happy Monday!

Today really is a happy day because I stayed on my diet and exercised each day.

Most Mondays, besides the usual sorrow at the weekend gone and the start of the work week (READ: Getting up at 5 a.m.), I am miserable because I blew my diet, eating things I shouldn't because, well, it was the weekend.

But this weekend was different for two reasons: commitment and determination. I have finally made up my mind that my main priority is losing weight and feeling great, and with that as my focus, everything else just fell into place. We even had dinner with friends Saturday night, and I ate Madeline's mom's famous cinnamon biscotti because I had planned to use all 35 extra Weight Watchers POINTS Saturday night. I worked those biscotti into my POINTS, really enjoyed each bite, and felt not one shred of guilt. And when Madeline offered to send some home with us, I declined.

This weekend, instead of silently telling myself that I wanted to lose weight while drinking a few glasses of wine and eating way too much fattening, fatty foods, I dusted off my copy of Andrew Weil's "8 Weeks to Optimal Health" and dug right in. I read the introduction and the first week, and Sunday morning, after my walk with my friend, Ann, I headed to Whole Foods to read labels. I came away $250 poorer, but my pantry is now stocked with healthy foods guaranteed to help me on my journey.

I followed Weil's suggestions, buying this week's diet additions: Vitamin C, wild salmon and some organic broccoli. Weil is all about holistic healing, so I have also been doing the daily five-minute deep breathing exercise. He also wants you to walk 10 minutes a day, which I have covered.

And the best part: He suggests bringing some fresh flowers into your home. I used to buy flowers every week, but got out of the habit a few years ago. A bunch of lovely brightly colored summer flowers is now sitting on my kitchen counter, and Dr. Weil is correct: Looking at them makes me feel happy and at peace. They also keep me focused in the one room in the house I need all the help I can get.

I pray this feeling continues. I know I have said and written that line before, but this time, it feels different.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pork tenderloin: A kitchen mainstay

I cannot remember when I discovered pork tenderloins, but from the day I first brought one home, they have become a staple in my freezer -- always at the ready for a quick thawing out and easy weeknight dinner.

My absolutely favorite way to cook one is to marinate it in an Asian-inspired mixture -- which changes depending on what is in my pantry and fridge, and can include any or all of the following ingredients: dark sesame oil (a little goes a long way), lime juice, some rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and freshly grated ginger. Easy and fast, this marinade works well year-round and really is brainless cooking.

Recently, I have been trying other recipes, just to mix things up a bit. I know some say that when you are dieting, sticking to the same meals over and over again works. I can do that for breakfast and lunch. But come dinner, I really want something different.

The first recipe is from Weight Watchers, and is really yummy. A tad more complicated than my Asian marinade, but absolutely a snap to get on the table.

½ Tblsp. Dijon mustard, coarse-grain
1 lb. lean pork tenderloin, trimmed of all visible fat
½ tsp. olive oil
6 oz. frozen pearl onions
Q clove garlic, minced
½ cup reduced fat chicken broth
½ Tblsp, balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. thyme leaves
1 tsp. packed brown sugar
Spray the broiler rack with nonstick spray; preheat the broiler.
Rub the mustard over the pork to coat; place on the broiler rack.
Broil the pork 5 inches from the heat until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees, about 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the pork to a plate, wrap it in foil, and let it stand 10 minutes before thinly slicing.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, then stir in the broth, vinegar, thyme, and brown sugar; bring to a boil and boil until the liquid is reduced by one-third and thickens into a sauce, 3-4 minutes. Spoon over the pork.
Makes 4 servings. 4 POINTS per serving.
Note: The pork can also be roasted in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes.

The next two recipes are from Cooking Light, one a bit sweet, the other a tad spicy. Try either – depending on your mood!

Here, a pork tenderloin is cut into 16 medallions, an ideal shape and size for sautéing. Butter is whisked into the red wine mixture at the end, creating a velvety and rich sauce. Serve with plain or garlic-flavored couscous.
1 cup ruby port or other sweet red wine
1/3 cup dried sweet cherries
4 tsp. seedless raspberry jam
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tblsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs. pork tenderloin, trimmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 Tblsp. butter
Fresh parsley springs (optional)
Combine first 4 ingredients.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat for 2 minutes.
Cut the pork crosswise into 16 pieces. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper.
Place pork in pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove pork from pan. Stir in wine mixture, scraping to loosen browned bits. Increase heat to high; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in butter with a whisk. Serve sauce over pork. Garnish with parsley, if desired.
Makes 4 servings: 4 tenderloins and 2 tablespoons sauce: 269 calories; 8g fat; 79mg cholesterol; 13g carbohydrates; 295mg sodium; 24g protein; .7g fiber.

This fiery barbecue was invented by runaway slaves as a means of preserving meats without refrigeration. Here, we butterfly the pork tenderloin to increase the surface area for the Scotch bonnet pepper marinade to penetrate.

2 cups coarsely chopped green onions
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 Tblsp. white vinegar
1 Tblsp. soy sauce
1 Tblsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. fresh thyme
2 tsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 to 4 Scotch bonnet or habanera peppers, seeded and chopped
1 to 1½ lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed
Cooking spray
Place first 15 ingredients in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth.
Slice pork lengthwise, cutting to, but not through, other side. Open halves, laying each side flat.
Combine pork and green onion mixture in a dish or large zip-top plastic bag. Cover or seal; marinate in refrigerator 3 to 24 hours. Remove pork from dish or bag; discard remaining marinade.
Prepare grill.
Place pork on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 8 minutes on each side or until meat thermometer registers 160° (slightly pink).Makes 4 to 6 3-ounce servings, depending on size of pork. Per 3-ounce serving: 248 calories; 8g fat; 111mg cholesterol; 7g carbohydrates; 1126mg sodium; 1.5g fiber.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Whatever it takes

A simple piece of paper has changed my life.

The sheet of paper is a contract with my friend Ann. We have been walking every Saturday and Sunday for years, and although we have been diligent about making our walks, our schedules have often caused either one of us cancel. And if I wasn’t walking with Ann, chances are I wouldn’t be walking.

Not anymore: We have a year contract that states we will each walk at least five days a week, for at least 30 minutes a day. We are also giving up one treat one day each week -- for Ann, that's chocolate; for me, sugar, both natural and artificial. And every day, we have to check in with each other to say what we did for exercise. It's all about accountability -- both with each other -- but just as important, with ourselves.

We also left space for a reward at year's end: In my case, it will be a trip to Kripalu in Massachusetts, for a weekend of yoga and meditation. Ann loves pins, and she's already begun to shop for the one that will be her reward.

I admit that signing a contract with a friend might seem a bit weird, but both of us, typical Type A personalities and a tad competitive, have both somehow managed to find at least 30 minutes each day to exercise since we signed and dated our contracts.

For me, that means getting up really early in the morning. In the past, I would always set my alarm, but that can be reset in seconds and I was back in dreamland. Not anymore. If I'm not walking with Ann, then it's with Leslie Sansone's Walk Away the Pounds.

And on the days I take a yoga class -- which is now four -- I still manage to fit in a walk, although the yoga would more than cover the 30-minute requirement. Why? I'm beginning to really love the way exercising early in the day makes me feel. I have more energy, I handle stress so much better, and I am sleeping better at night.

Our contract states we have to exercise five days a week, but unless I am sick, I plan on getting in as much exercise as is possible daily. For the first time in years -- maybe even decades -- I can honestly say I am in control. In the past, I would either go on a diet and not exercise, or exercise and then eat more than my fill of food. The past few weeks, the stars have been in perfect alignment for me.

This is working for me. And to really lose weight AND keep it off, you have to find the road that works for you.

In my case, competition really is a good thing.