Thursday, September 30, 2010

Finally fall

For me, the first clue that fall has arrived is my first cup of Pumpkin Spice coffee. I had one yesterday, so for me, autumn is officially here. And that means I start craving foods that blend in perfectly with the trees that are beginning to take on gorgeous shades of golds, oranges, yellows and vibrant reds.

It's time to hit the market and buy my fill of pumpkins -- not to eat, but to use as decorations, interspersed with mums and gourds. I have to admit that if I cook with pumpkin -- and I do -- I use canned.

Also in my basket will be tons of apples, because although I eat them year-round, now is when they are at there best. Squash, pears, sweet potatoes and turnips -- they are all too lovely not to bring home.

One of my favorite fall dinners is spaghetti squash -- my form of pasta 'cause I don't eat wheat. It is so easy to prepare but I do have to admit that the strands have never passed Jack's lips. His loss. I cut the squash in half, rub it lightly with extra-virgin olive oil, bake it at 350 degrees for about an hour, then start scraping each half, forming strands. I add some diced tomatoes (fresh is they are still available), some Parmesan cheese, pepper and salt, and call it dinner.

For dessert, I continue with my "fake" food, this time a mock apple pie. all I do is slice an apple, sprinkle it with cinnamon, and cook it on High in the microwave about 3 minutes, depending on the variety of apple. MacIntosh, loaded with water, take less time; Granny Smith, a harder variety, might take a minute more. OK: Even I admit it's nothing like the real thing, but it's warm and comforting and something a little different to enjoy after a meal. I also love throwing a diced apple into my chicken, spinach and arugula salad for lunch.

Pears are another fruit I love warm -- mock pear pie -- but I sprinkle pears with a bit of nutmeg. Same treatment in the microwave. Anther favorite combo is to spread Laughing Cow wedges on pear slices. It's a great mix of sugar and protein, perfect for that witching hour of 3 p.m. when a box of cookies begins to look really tempting.

1 1/2 lbs. lean pork loin, boneless, trimmed of all visible fat
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp canola oil
2 lbs. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 medium Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tsp. caraway seeds
4 oz. light beer

• Sprinkle the pork with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, turning frequently, until browned, about 6 minutes. 

• Place the sauerkraut, onion, apple, and caraway seeds in a slow cooker; stir to mix. Place the pork on top of the vegetables, then pour the beer over all. Cover and cook until the pork and vegetables are fork-tender, 4–5 hours on high or 8–10 hours on low. 

• Transfer the pork to a platter and cut into 6 slices. Spoon the sauerkraut mixture around the pork. Yields 1 slice pork and 3⁄4 cup sauerkraut mixture per serving. Makes 4 servings. 4 Weight Watchers POINTS per serving.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You gotta have friends

I love my friends. They are my companions, my rocks, the people who tell me when I am on the right track and are not afraid to tell me I am headed for disaster. My mother taught me from a very young age that having friends is just as important as having a wonderful family. Mom was certainly correct.

I recently read an article online citing a bunch of studies about the benefits of friends. And I apologize to the source, because although I forwarded the article to my email, I did not forward the info about where I got the info. Just know that I only surf well-done sites.

So here are some findings from a number of studies:

* Socially engaged adults age more successfully. According to surveys of women older than 60, those who are socially engaged and visit with friends and family throughout the week are happier as they age.
* Friends can help you achieve your weight and fitness goals. Encouragement and just sharing goes a long way to boosting your willpower.
* Happiness is catching. If you have a friend you consider to be happy, you are more likely to be happy and you are able to spread that happiness to the people around you. People tend to cluster into happy or unhappy groups, and happiness appears to spread not just to those immediately inside the social group, but to their contacts as well. Having happy friends who live less than a mile away was an especially powerful predictor of happiness.
* Building a circle of friends makes you happy. People who see themselves as a leader in their social circle are happier than those who see themselves as outsiders — another reason why actively building relationships instead of waiting for the phone to ring is important.
* Friends lessen grief. A series of interviews with parents who lost a baby during pregnancy or immediately after birth showed that those who felt they were receiving social support from friends or family were better able to cope with their grief. The most welcome forms of support were simply being physically present, listening, and offering sympathy, encouragement, and practical help, such as making meals or funeral arrangements. In contrast, feeling socially alone tends to worsen grief.
* Being social boosts your immune system. Being socially engaged leads to more positive emotions, which in turn may actually boost your body’s immune system and reduce the physical signs of stress.

The article went on to explain the importance of being a good friend yourself, providing the benefits of friendship to others. That alone will add to your happiness.

And one more thought from me: The importance of being a friend to yourself, something I am only beginning to understand. For years, I put the wants and needs of others in front of mine, because I thought that is what a good wife and mother needs to do. SO NOT TRUE. I now know that you have to love yourself first, take care of yourself and your needs, because if you don't, you will feel used and put upon.

I am not suggesting you become an ego-centric, who puts themselves first ALWAYS. I am talking about honoring yourself, which in turn, makes you happier, stronger in mind and body, and better able to spread love to your family and friends.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The E word

Exercise makes me feel great, but there are times when my lack of motivation (aka laziness) takes hold. So anytime I find some tips for squeezing esercise into my life, I read them with gusto.

These tipes come from Everyday Health, and some of the advice is so basic, I thought I would pass it on. But first, a recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) for healthy adults: We need to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread out over five days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on each of three days a week. An ideal fitness routine also includes resistance or weight training to improve muscle strength and endurance at least twice a week.

Here are some suggestions:

Be less efficient. For example, bring in the groceries from your car one bag at a time so you have to make several trips. Put the laundry away a few items at a time, rather than carrying it up in a basket.

Shun labor-saving devices. Wash the car by hand rather than taking it to the car wash. Anywhere you go, take the long way. Walk up or down a few flights of stairs each day can be good for your heart. Avoid elevators and escalators. If you ride the bus or subway to work, get off a stop before your office and walk the extra distance. When you go to the mall or the grocery store, park furthest from the entrance, not as close to it as you can, and you'll get a few extra minutes of walking.

Be a morning person. Studies show that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with it. It also sets a positive tone for the day.

Ink the deal. Whether morning, afternoon or evening, pick the time that is most convenient for you to exercise and write it down in your daily planner. Keep your exercise routine as you would keep any appointment.

Watch your step. Investing in a good pedometer can help you stay motivated. Start small and build up to 10,000 steps a day.

Hire the right help. While weight training is important, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you run the risk of injuring yourself or not being effective. It’s best to get instructions from a personal trainer at the gym. You also can buy a weight-training DVD and follow along in your living room.

Keep records. Grab a diary or logbook, and every day that you exercise, write down what you did and for how long. Your records will make it easy for you to see what you’ve accomplished and make you more accountable.

Phone a friend. Find someone who likes the same activity that you do — walking in the neighborhood, riding bikes, playing tennis — and make a date to do it together. You'll keep the date and the time will go by so much faster.

Do what you like. Whatever exercise you choose, be sure it’s one that you enjoy. You’re more likely to stick with it if it’s something you have fun doing rather than something you see as a chore.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What a weekend

This weekend, I surrounded myself with healthy people. And as I looked around the crowds, the division between those in shape and those who wish they could be in shape was striking.

Friday and Saturday was spent in Warwick, RI, at a high school cross country invitational. (My son, Tim, is the Fairfield Warde cross country coach; my husband, Jack, the assistant coach. How's that for role reversal?)

The kids were terrific. They also all made me really feel my age. My poor daughter-in-law, Kim, spent all day Saturday having to humor me, as I pointed out yet another unusual body maneuver a fit high school runner had just performed. For example, there was the boy who, with his two feet planted firmly on the ground, managed to jump at least five feet into the air with absolutely no effort. Or the girl who swung her leg, straight up, until it was parallel to her ear. Truth be told, the kids ran further just warming up and cooling down than I have probably ever ran at one time in my life. Running has never been my thing.

Sunday, Tim, Kim, Jack and I were back at a race, this time the Bigelow Tea Challenge in Fairfield. Again, I was surrounded by fit people, and although I certainly do not have the body of a runner, I finished the race. Since Jack and I are not runners, but we do walk a 5-mile distance regularly, we decided to walk the 5K instead of the 2-mile walk. Throughout the race we followed an adorable 5-year-old boy who was running -- and yes he ran the whole race -- with his mom.

So when we crossed the finish line -- almost dead last -- all eyes were on the little guy and not Jack and me. That was my plan, and it worked seamlessly until the announcer -- after congratulating the boy -- had a special call-out to Jack, the assistant coach of Warde.

A few years ago I would have been mortified. First for crossing the finish line so late, and second, wondering what people would be saying about me. I really don't care anymore. I do what I can do, at my own pace, and if anyone wants to make fun of me, that's their problem not mine.

As the person who checked me in at the race said, after saying my age in a very loud voice: "At least you're not dead."

I'll second that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stretching myself

This summer, I spent every Saturday morning learning Tai Chi on Fairfield's Beach. I came to love those 7 a.m. sessions, so thankful that I live near the beach and that I am healthy enough to erperience and enjoy this wonderful ancient art.

But last night trumped every summer Saturday. Full moon beach yoga, followed by an hour of Kirtan, a call-and-response chanting performed in India's devotional traditions. It was a perfect night: a gently rolling sea, a slight breeze, and a nip of fall in the air, making my hooded Hilton Head sweatshirt the perfect garment for the evening. There was a huge bonfire blazing, and the full moon played peek-a-boo for half the yoga practice, until it finally broke free of the clouds, sending shimmering moonbeans across the water. It was the first practice that I found total peace with my eyes wide open, even during shavasana, the relaxation period at the end of each practice where I usually fight to stay awake. Last night I stared at the stars and the moon, and thought about how lucky I am.

After yoga, we gathered around the bonfire, led in the Kirtan chants by two women with the most magical voices. The wood was fragrant -- almost incense-like -- and the warmth of the fire kept my normally cold hands and toes toasty.

As the participants chanted around me, I stared into the fire, mesmerized by the dancing flames and crackling wood. I was incredibly relaxed, so at peace, and amazingly thankful for my life and where I am right now.

For three hours last night, there was not a second that I thought about my body and how much I want it to change.

I need to do this more often.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Winning the numbers game

According to the South Beach Diet's Dr. Arthur Agatston, there are seven foods that can help lower your cholesterol levels, and I thought I would pass the list along during National Cholesterol Education Month. So eat from this list -- often -- and you might be giving yourself more than great-tasting meals.

Wild Salmon (and other omega-3-rich fish)
Cold-water fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon, herring, mackerel, light tuna, anchovies, and sardines, can help lower bad LDL cholesterol when substituted for saturated and trans fats in the diet. Dr. Agatston recommends eating fish two or three times a week. He also cites studies that show including this type of seafood in a diet can also help reduce blood pressure and inflammation and play a positive role in improving mood and memory loss. One caveat from me: Mercury contamination is high in many fish, and although we eat fish about four times a week, we choose low-mercury fish for two of those meals. I do supplement with Omega 3 fish capsules daily, and make sure I buy ones that go through the process of removing the mercury.

Cruciferous vegetables
I have no problem adding cruciferous veggies to my diet -- broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale -- all packed with antioxidants that can help reduce cholesterol, help lower blood pressure, promote healthy eyesight, and improve gastrointestinal function.

Beans and legumes
All beans and legumes are loaded with filling protein and soluble and insoluble fiber, help lower bad LDL cholesterol, improve digestion, and the fiber helps reduce blood-glucose levels. I add beans to my lunch salad daily -- along with some chicken strips -- to up the protein level. It really makes for a meal that keeps me sated for hours.

Oats and whole grains
All whole grains, including wheat, wild rice, barley, quinoa, oats, millet, and barley, contain soluble fiber, which helps block the body’s absorption of cholesterol. Eating high-fiber whole grains also aids in stabilizing blood sugar and regulating insulin production, helping to lower your risk of diabetes.

Nuts and seeds

Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein, heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. When substituted for saturated fat in your diet, nuts and seeds can help reduce total cholesterol as well as bad LDL cholesterol without affecting levels of good HDL cholesterol. Dr. Agatston recommends limiting daily intake to about 1 ounce (1/4 cup).

Powerful antioxidants -- polyphenols -- found in black, white, green, and oolong tea can help lower bad LDL cholesterol. Studies show that oolong tea increases LDL particle size, helping to prevent it from burrowing into vessel walls.

Red wine
Resveratrol, a plant-based chemical found in red grapes, may help lower LDL cholesterol and appears to protect against coronary artery disease, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Dr. Agatston suggests adding an occasional glass or two of red wine to your diet.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Queen of Excuses

The Queen of Excuses really could be my title.
I can't lose weight because I'm old.
I can't exercise because I'm tired.
There's nothing healthy in my house to eat. (That actually is not an excuse, it is an outright lie, because I always have healthy things to eat.)
I have no time to exercise.
I have no time to cook, and a pizza is so much easier.

And all those came to mind without even thinking. But now that I wrote them down, I feel so much better.

I wrote these -- and a ton more -- in my diet journal, which is actually becoming a friend. I look forward to adding things daily, and have even gone back from time to time to read over what I have written.

In my journal, I wrote down 19 excuses I love to make, explaining why that excuse works for me. But then, and here's the key, I wrote down a way to fight the excuse.

So here goes, with the five excuses I admitted in my blog:
I can't lose weight because I'm old.
Why it works: I am old, and when most of my mom's generation were my age, they had begun to slow down and spend half the year in Florida.
Fight the excuse: If I don't lose weight, I will not get much older. How's that for a dose of reality.

I can't exercise because I'm tired.
Why it works: I work hard, and I deserve that spot on the couch.
Fight the excuse: I'm always tired. If I wait until I am not tired, I will never exercise and then I will not get much older.

There's nothing healthy in my house to eat.
Why it works: That statement alone gets me thinking about unhealthy food choices. I am not thinking cherry tomatoes or pineapple chunks.
Fight the excuse: Are you kidding me? There is always a fruit or veggie, and if for some strange reason there is not, there is always an emergency can of low-calorie/low-fat Progressive soup in the pantry. If I don't choose the fruit, veggie or soup I will not get much older.

I have no time to exercise.
Why it works: It's hard to fit in exercise.
Fight the excuse: If my sister-in-law Daria, who is leading a huge company, can find time to exercise, I can. If I don't find the time, I will not get much older.

I have no time to cook, and a pizza is so much easier.
Why it works: Sending Jack to Vazzy's for pizza is so much easier.
Fight the excuse: No, you are being lazy and do not want to cook. If I keep eating pizza, I will not get much older.

Do you see a pattern here? To negate it all, all I have to repeat, over and over: "Keep doing (fill in the words) and I will not get much older": Food for thought.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dream a little dream

I've written about Charles Stuart Platkin, aka The Diet Detective, before, and today, I'm passing on some of his sage advice once again, from his Web site, It's a mind exercise, one I did a few weeks ago, and one I now cannot get out of my mind. And the image that has taken over my mind is really helping me whenever I feel tempted to eat. So here's his advice, which he calls a Life Preserver, and in my case, it really has become just that.

The first thing he asks you to do is to visualize what your life will be like after you've achieved your weight-loss goals.

Next, develop a scenario, a scene from your future. This is your Life Preserver. Mine took me a second to develop: Going into my closet every morning, facing a closet full of clothes that FIT, not a closet full of clothes in assorted sizes. In my closet of the future, there is enough space so I don't have to put seasonal clothes away.

And here are his suggestions for finding your Life Preserver
* Sit in a comfortable, quiet place.
* Close your eyes and just let yourself dream.
* Think about what losing all of the weight really looks like — are you climbing a mountain, outside playing with your kids, or maybe you just love the way you look and finally feel like yourself again.
* Concentrate on and imagine exactly what you hope to achieve. (Remember, this should be inspiring for you and you alone. This doesn't have to be what other people imagine for you!)
* To make this fantasy a reality, keep this vision in mind when you face roadblocks. Always hold on to your Life Preserver and prepare for unplanned situations by mentally preparing yourself.

Thank you Diet Detective.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I did it!

Last Wednesday I wrote about how I was not exercising Monday and Tuesday, and decided on a plan to get up and moving. I did it, although I didn't follow my directions exactly. Sort of took a little detour.

I vowed to set my alarm for 5 a.m., and instead of hitting the snooze alarm, I would plant my feet on the side of the bed.

The alarm went off, and I didn't hit the snooze alarm. Instead, I reset it for 7. I have been feeling really horrid this weekend, and decided a few extra hours of sleep is what I needed. Five minutes later, guilt-ridden, I turned the alarm off, got on my exercise clothes, and walked 30 minutes with Leslie Sansone and her posse. And yes, I feel better than I would have if I had stayed in bed. Mentally, I am really proud of myself. And tomorrow, when the alarm goes off and I start playing my mental games (because I know I will), I will remember this morning, remind myself that 30 minutes really goes so quickly, and get my belly-fat bloated body out of bed.

'Nough said.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A real breakthrough

Last weekend was party time. A house full of relatives, lots of family meals, all culminating in a wonderful birthday celebration honoring my brother-in-law, Bill, at one of the finest restaurants in New York City.

I had all intentions of writing about it Monday, but a sinus infection and splitting headache got in the way. So today, I'll share some great news.

I gained no weight last weekend. I didn't lose any weight, but the key here is that I gained 0. Nadda. And that is cause for celebration.

And I also ate. But I found time to fit in some yoga classes and did some walking, and the combination kept me in check. But I have to admit that although I was so looking forward to Saturday's party at Daniel, in the back of my mind I was scared stiff. I didn't want to gain 5 pounds, something I can easily pack on after a night of rich eating and drinking. Here's what I did:

I started the day drinking a huge glass of water -- the first of many -- followed by a scrambled egg with some herbs for breakfast, and that kept me going until lunch. Lunch was in a restaurant, but I had a salad, dressing on the side, so the calories were insignificant. A half hour before we left for the party, I had a whey protein shake, made with water, which got me through the cocktail hour. I was saying hello to so many family members and old friends, that I had no problem saying no to ALL the hors d'oeuvres. I did not eat a one.

Dinner I ate: the appetizer of a crab stuffed zucchini blossom, followed by a wild mushroom risotto, and the entree -- chicken done two ways. Each course tasted as glorious as it looked, because after all, this was Daniel. And the wines, a different one to complement each course, were utterly amazing.

But just before dessert, the band really kicked in, and I decided it was time to dance. In fact, my dessert was placed in front of me, I glanced at it, and got up. In the back of my mind I was thinking I would dance a bit and then eat my dessert. Guess I danced a tad too long, because by the time I returned to the table, it was long gone.

And I didn't miss it. I heard about it from my kids, but I didn't eat one bite.

On the party bus on the way home, I passed around a bag of biscotti -- leftovers from Friday night's dinner -- and I had a few, but that was it. They were small, and I knew I only had 1 Weight Watchers POINT. When I got home, the bag and its wonderful contents got tossed in the garbage. I was taking no chances.

So what lesson did I learn? I can have fun, real fun, without stuffing myself. And if I plan events ahead of time, and decide how I am going to tackle each, I can eat like a normal person. I enjoyed every morsel of food, every sip of wine, and I felt not an ounce of guilt.

And the next day, I woke up with a huge smile on my face, because I knew I had accomplished something amazing the night before. Absolutely not rocket science for most people. For me, it seems it is.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hunger or craving: You decide

I've been thinking a lot about hunger recently. When I start thinking about food, the first thing I do now is to drink a large glass of water. If I am still hungry after drinking the water, then I know it's time to eat.

But I found this information on the South Beach Diet web sit -- a definition of hunger vs. craving -- and I think it's too good not to pass on. It actually made real sense to me, especially the part about snacks. A few months back. I decided to take snacks out of my diet, and although I had success for a few weeks, I soon found myself thinking about food -- a lot. It began to overtake other thoughts, and that's when I knew I had to put snacks back into my eating plan -- but only if I was hungry. Most days I am.

Optimum time between meals is four hours. So if I eat breakfast at 6, that means by 10 a.m., 11 a.m. at the latest, I should be eating lunch. Dinner would be at 2 or 3. Of course that's impossible. But at 10 a.m., if I snack on food, I can easily make it until 1 p.m. to eat lunch. A snack about 4, and dinner at 7 completes my eating for the day. It also regulates my blood sugar, which means my cravings are gone. But on the days that I don't follow this schedule, I think about these definitions. They put things into perspective.

When It’s Hunger
Hunger is the feeling you get when you experience a normal and gradual drop in blood sugar about four or five hours after a meal. It's your body's way of telling you that eating is overdue. Hunger signals can come from your stomach (growls, pangs or a hollow feeling), or your brain (which may include feeling headachy or fatigued).

Adequately satisfy your hunger with the right foods, such as lean protein and plenty of vegetables at every meal. Another way to ward off hunger is to enjoy a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Studies show that it takes relatively few calories to prevent cravings but many more to satisfy them once they occur. "The quality of calories in your satisfying meals and snacks, along with a dessert that contains protein, should help keep your hunger at bay," says Dr. Arthur Agatston, creator of the South Beach Diet. "We encourage you to eat until you’re full and snack before you get hungry." South Beach recommends turkey roll-ups, reduced-fat cheese, celery sticks with hummus or fresh fruit. I love Laughing Cow cheese wedges (35 calorie each) spread on celery ribs. Really yummy and filling.

When It’s a Craving

Cravings happen within a couple of hours of your last meal. "Cravings can be caused by exaggerated spikes and dips in blood sugar that occur after you eat highly processed carbohydrates -- white bread, cake or other highly refined baked goods, white rice or white pasta. These foods are digested so quickly that they cause an almost immediate rise in blood sugar followed by a rapid dip soon after," says Dr. Agatston. It's this drop in blood-sugar levels that causes a craving.

In addition, the sight and smell of food can produce cravings. When this happens, the South Beach Diet says to employ the "Three-Bite Rule." Simply take three bites of something you’re craving that you normally wouldn’t allow yourself to indulge in, such as a decadent dessert, and then put it aside for a few minutes. South Beach says that most likely you won’t come back to it, that just a few bites is enough to satisfy.

My problem: If I am really craving something, three bites will never happen. More power to you if you can make limit yourself to three bites.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exercise plan

I am thoroughly enjoying the exercise I am doing -- yoga and walking with my friend, Ann – and although I have been seriously exercising for more than two months, I still do not trust myself. Why? Because when I first started, I was exercising seven days a week. Monday and Tuesday, when I do not take yoga classes or have a walk scheduled, I was getting up early and doing 45 minutes of “Walk Away the Pounds” with Leslie Sansone.

I have not done that for a few weeks now, and when I realized this, it hit me hard. Monday and Tuesday have passed this week, but I have a plan for next Monday. And now I am writing it down, so next Monday, when my daughter-in-law Kim asks me if I got up to exercise, I can honestly say yes.

So here it is:

Sunday and Monday nights
• I will set my alarm for 5 a.m., so I can finish my walk by 6.
• I will lay out my exercise clothes in the bathroom, so I won’t wake up Jack turning on lights and scrounging around in my closet for my clothes.
• Before I fall asleep, I will tell myself as many times as it takes that I am looking forward to getting up early to exercise, that I know I will feel so much better, and that it will set the tone for the rest of the week.

Monday and Tuesday mornings:
• As soon as the alarm goes off, I will plant my feet on the side of the bed.
• After I exercise, I will make myself a nutritious breakfast and a cup of coffee, and then sit down for a few minutes to enjoy my food while watching the news.
• When I go upstairs, I will note the exercise in my journal. If at the end of one month I have exercised daily, I will reward myself with a massage.

Another mind game. Let's see if it works.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Write it down

Want to double your weight loss? According to a recent study by Kaiser Permanente, it's as simple as keeping a food journal. Can this really be the key to losing weight.

My mom always told me that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. At first blush, keeping a food journal sounds so easy, too good to be true. But have you ever tried to keep a food journal? I have. Hundreds of times. Some weeks I am perfect, write everything down, and then one thing happens, and I stop keeping the journal. It's actually easier for me to fall off the journal wagon than to stick to a diet.

But this study was the largest and longest running weight-loss trial ever, which proved once and for all that recording what you eat throughout the day can double your weight loss efforts. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and found that the more detailed the records, the more weight participants lost -- twice as much weight as those who kept no records.

Just writing the foods down helps you consume fewer calories, with participants dropping an average of 13 pounds in six months. It seems that simply writing down everything you eat helps you consume fewer calories.

The 1,700 study participants were following the DASH diet, which is high in fruits and vegetables, attended weekly support groups and exercised at least 30 minutes a day. They also were asked to keep daily food journals. Although the average lost was 13 pounds, the majority of participants lost nine. I'll take that!

Study participants said the food diaries increased accountability and made them realize where their excess calories were coming from. Self awareness is such a powerful thing!

Now where did I put my food diary....

Friday, September 10, 2010

My plan

I decided I need a plan to get me through this weekend. So here it is, summed up in one word: WATER.

I will drink it in huge amounts. Throughout each day. At every social event.

I tried this at the wedding we attended last weekend, and it really did work. When the waiters were passing out sparkling water, wine or champagne before the ceremony, I chose water. Actually three glasses of water. Truth be told: I love champagne. And although I was eyeing it with envy at the wedding, I decided water would be a much better selection. It was.

After the ceremony, my tummy was pretty full from the water, so I nibbled the hors d'oeuvres instead of devouring everything in sight. If I had the champagne, that is exactly what would have happened.

So this weekend: Water, water everywhere. In fact, you won't see me without my water bottle or a glass of H2O in my hand. If this works as well as it did last weekend, I really will have something to toast.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Social events

Last weekend was a weekend of food -- a birthday party with the most amazing catered dinner, followed the next day by a wedding. And now this weekend, we have a party in New York, and surrounding that night, a house full of family with lots of eating going on.

This is not helping my diet. I admit that last weekend I ate so much more than I had been consuming, and it showed on the scale. But not that much, which is really a milestone for me. And I ramped up my exercise a bit last weekend to make up for those extra calories, and I'm sure that helped. So the extra two pounds that were registering on the scale Tuesday morning were gone today.

I am celebrating that. If I can make it through this weekend, perhaps going up a bit but immediately losing the weight, that will be more than a milestone. It will rate -- at least in my book -- among my biggest accomplishments EVER. And I need that right now.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Recipe time

We eat a lot of chicken and fish, and since I am not content to cook the same thing over and over again, I am always looking for interesting ways to cook both. Here are two suggestions, both guaranteed to take make meals a tad more interesting. Both recipes are from Weight Watchers.

1 1/4 LBS. uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 Tblsp. orange juice
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
2 sprays cooking spray
1 large zucchini, cut into 1-inch-thick half-moons
2 small red onions, quartered through the root

Mix the chicken, orange juice, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, salt, garlic powder and pepper in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours.

Off heat, coat grill with cooking spray. Prepare gas grill for direct, high-heat grilling or build a high-heat charcoal bed in the center of the coal grate on a charcoal grill.

Divide the chicken, zucchini and onion among four large skewers, threading the meat and vegetables over the pointy ends and down the skewers.

Set the skewers directly over the heat and grill for 16 minutes, turning about every 4 minutes onto each of the other three sides, so that all four sides are well browned. When turning the skewers, use tongs to gently grasp some of the meat at the center. Do not turn the skewers by their ends — or put your hands down near the heat source. Makes 1 skewer per serving; 4 POINTS each.

1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onions, chopped
2 medium garlic clove(s), chopped
14 1/2 oz. can tomatoes with green chilies, peeled and diced
1/2 cup fat-free chicken broth
10 green olives with pimientos, thinly sliced crosswise
1 1/2 lbs. halibut fillets, or sea bass or scrod
1 Tblsp. slivered almonds, toasted
3 cups broccoli florets, steamed

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Stir tomatoes, broth and olives into onion mixture and heat to simmer. Cut fish into 4 portions and arrange in skillet. Cover and cook until fish flakes with a fork, 8 to 10 minutes.

To serve, remove fish to 4 plates. Spoon tomato and olive mixture over fish and top each serving with a sprinkle of almonds. Serve with broccoli. Makes 4 servings; 5 POINTS each.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reality sucks

We’ve all heard about anorexia and bulimia, but who knew that neither is the most common eating disorder. According to an article in LiveScience, 50 to 60 percent of patients don't meet all the requirements to be diagnosed with either disorder, and instead are diagnosed as having an “eating disorder not otherwise specified" (EDNOS). Treating them becomes more complicated. Added to this is that these patients often have misconceptions about their conditions, thinking they are not so serious.

It’s sort of like that binge drinker who can go a few days without drinking that thinks he or she is not an alcoholic. To clear this up, doctors and psychiatrists are proposing revisions to the 2013 version of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

What I found most interesting is that binge eating actually falls into the EDNOS category. And those of us who have been known to binge, if we are really honest with ourselves, know this is not the normal way most people eat. Unlike bulimics, who binge and purge, I never purged. So although I joked about having an eating disorder, I really did not think I did. Now I know I really do. That hurts. And just think about the millions of other people who have not been given the right diagnosis. Scary.

I haven’t binged in months, partly because of yoga – it really has calmed me down – and partly because of a few words my Weight Watchers’ leader, Karen, strung together that has gotten me out of a binge: stop, drop and stroll. Stop what you are doing; drop what you are about to eat; and stroll away. Better yet: Go take a long walk.

That little ditty, said over and over in my mind, is enough for me to break the cycle and regain my determination to eat healthy. That’s why I’m passing it on. It’s too good to keep a secret.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Love long weekends!

I addeed some extra days to this weekend, so instead of three days off, I have six. That's almost a week, and I am going to savor every minute of it.

I'm also going to cook!

Two weeks ago, I was talking to Donna, my Weight Watchers bud, about grilled mango. It sounded so tempting, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from our meeting and bought two mangoes. And so it began: My new love affair with grilled fruit. The mango was delicious, but I reasoned it the grilling brought out the mango's natural sweetness, what would grilling do to pineapple, peaches, plums, nectarines -- and on and on. Each fruit is glorious as is. But grill it, and each becomes extraordinary. So grilled fruit it is!

I'm also going to make one of my favorite salad -- a crunchy mix of jicama and radishes -- something I once always had ready in the fridge. It is so healthy, and weighs in at practically no Weight Watchers POINTS, which makes it almost as extraordinary as grilled fruit.

1 lb. radishes, thinly sliced
1 lb. jicama, julienned
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 Tblsp. sesame oil
1 Tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tblsp. tamari or soy sauce
Salt to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

* Combine radishes, jicama, and scallions in a large serving bowl.
* Whisk oils, lime and lemon juices, tamari and salt together in a small bowl.
* Pour dressing over vegetables and toss. Add cilantro and toss again. Serve at room temperature.

This whole salad has 6 Weight Wathchers POINTS, so you can eat more than one bite!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Forming a fitness habit

I love the title of this post, because that's how we should all view exercise, not as a chore, but as a fitness habit, something we do because we want to.

I wish I could say I came up with this headline, but the credit goes to Weight Watchers. It was this week's meeting theme, and it got me to really think about my love/hate relationship with exercise.

Weight Watchers makes this point: A long walk or a Zumba class is a good thing, but the real payoff comes with developing an active lifestyle. For years, I have been jealous of my two oldest kids, who make exercise a part of each day. For Caitlin, it's a long walk pushing a stroller with two kids and two Golden Retrievers for miles, up and down the hills of her town. She will also hit the gym at 5 a.m. for intense cardio and weights. For Tim, it's a daily run and time at the gym. Their days are not complete unless they spend a part of it engaged in exercise.

So here are some tips from Weight Watchers to make exercise part of your life. Most importantly: Take it one step at a time.
* Find a workout partner, who can add fun, encouragement and good advice. I did that on August 1, when I signed a contract -- yes, we wrote it out -- with my friend Ann to do at least 30 minutes of exercise five days each week. We meet four of those days and power walk on Fairfield's beach or the Trumbull mall, depending on time constraints and the weather.
* Listen to an MP3 player or watch television while you're exercising if you can.
* Keep your eye on the prize. Focus on how good you feel and how you are helping yourself, body and mind.

But how do you make exercise stick?

According to Weight Watchers, No. 1 is finding something you love to do. For me, that mission has finally been accomplished. Walking with Ann is not like exercise. We gab so much, before we know it, 45 minutes have passed and we've logged three miles. Certainly our pace does not set any records, but it gets our hearts pumping and our faces rosy with color.

I also discovered yoga, and the past few weeks have found the time to fit in five classes -- sometimes six -- each week. Yoga for me is not a chore. It is something I do to still my mind and stretch my body. I really cannot imagine living my life without it.

And the best thing of all: I feel terrific, sleep better, and am so much more focused than I have ever been in the past. I schedule my walks and yoga, and work the rest of my appointments around those times.

And I am no longer jealous of my kids. Thank God: I finally get it!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A really weird diet

I've always been an apple shape, with a middle that makes me look a tad pregnant. So when eDiets promises me that if I ate certain foods my middle will disappear, how tempted do you think I am? And when one of those food groups is wine, I figure how bad can it be?

According to eDiets, it's not the calorie count that's making my middle look like a tire -- it's the foods I'm eating.

“All things being equal, if your daily caloric intake is set at 1,400 calories, a diet of nutrient-rich foods is going to keep you fuller longer, reducing your cravings and giving you more energy, compared to the same number of calories of less nutritious food, which will help you on your road to a better body,” says registered dietitian Tracey Ryan in the eDiet post..

So here goes:

1. Orange Fruits and Veggies: According to a recent review from Copenhagen University Hospital, the best way to whittle down your waist is to replace carbohydrates from sugar and refined grains (like white bread) with carbs from fruits and vegetables. Orange-hued foods were found to be the most effective substitutes.

Fruits and veggies are also high in fiber, so you'll feel full longer. And researches thing the high levels of antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene -- found in orange edibles -- keep off the belly fat. Get a good dose of beta-carotene from carrots, cantaloupe, squash and peaches. You can get your vitamin C from oranges and berries. But eat your fruits and veggies -- do not drink them.

2. Lean Protein: You should be getting about 25 percent of your daily calories from protein, Ryan says, but you should make sure to choose lean sources like poultry, fish, low-fat yogurt, and fat-free milk to keep calories down.

Protein - just like fiber -- keeps you feeling full and boosts your energy. According to research from Skidmore College and Copenhagen University Hospital, eating additional protein is especially helpful for those older than 40 in reducing abdominal fat.

3. Nuts: A recent survey of more than 8,000 Americans found that selenium, a cancer-fighting mineral, seemed to also lower rates of abdominal obesity, reporting that those with lower levels of selenium had larger waistlines.

Several foods contain selenium, so it’s hard to know if you’re getting your recommended 55 mcg per day. The best sources are nuts (especially Brazil nuts), whole grains, poultry, red meat and seafood. Foods rich in vitamin E, such as nuts and seeds, will increase the effectiveness of selenium in the body. But if you eat nuts, eat only a handful since they are so calorie-dense.

4. Wine: Several studies suggest that light drinking, compared to no drinking, protects women from adding bulk around the waist. The National Center for Health Statistics says one 4-ounce glass of wine a day, which means less is more. I don't know about you, but having a few glasses of wine whittles away my willpower not my waist.

5. Mono, poly and omega-#s: “The healthy fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are found in fish, nuts, olive oil and avocado, while the bad fats, like saturated and trans are found in butter, shortening, pre-packaged cakes and cookies,” Ryan says. The first group is what keeps us slim.

A Wake Forest University study found that over a 6-year period, participants whose only source of fat was trans fats gained 30 percent more fat in their abdominal region and had early signs of diabetes.

I feel a change coming on!