Friday, February 25, 2011

Kinda normal

I had a weird thing happen at work Wednesday. First, let me explain that I had been really dedicated this week to eating within my Weight Watchers PointsPlus.

But Wednesday afternoon, my boss came back from lunch with treats for us all: Nestle Crunch Ice Cream Pops. Of course, I could not say no. How could I hurt her feelings?

Besides, I really wanted to eat the pop.

But before I did, I whipped out my handy PP calculator, figured out the pop was only 5 PP, and decided I could easily fit it into my day's total. I ate that pop, little bite by little bite, drawing out the pleasure for at least 15 minutes.

And when I finished the pop, I thought to myself: "So this is what normal feels like."

What a feeling!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Embrace this!

David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., author of “Anticancer, A New Way of Liofe,” recently posted his food rules on the Huffington Post. Because cancer runs rampant in my family, I plan on taking his action plan to heart – and passing it on to my kids. In this fmaily, we need all the help we can get. In a nutshell, Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s rules follow. I especially love the last one, because hey, I’m human!
1. Your main course should be 80 percent vegetables, 20 percent animal protein.
2. Vary the vegetables you eat, or mix them together. For example, broccoli is an effective anticancer food, and is even more effective when combined with tomato sauce, onions or garlic. Make it a habit to add onions, garlic or leeks to all your dishes as you cook.
3. Choose organic foods, but remember it's always better to eat broccoli that's been exposed to pesticides than to not eat broccoli.
4. Cook with turmeric and black pepper. Turmeric is the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent. Also add thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, marjoram, mint – all which can help reduce the growth of cancer cells.
5. Potatoes contain high levels of pesticide residue and raise blood sugar, which can feed inflammation and cancer growth. Skip them.
6. Eat fish two or three times a week - sardines, mackerel, and anchovies have less mercury and PCBs than bigger fish like tuna. Avoid swordfish and shark -- high concentration of contaminants.
7. Choose only omega-3 eggs, or don't eat the yolks. Hens are now fed on mostly corn and soybeans, and their eggs contain 20 times more pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids than cell-growth regulating omega-3s.
8. Use only olive and canola oil in cooking and salad dressings. Throw out your soybean, corn and sunflower oils -- too rich in omega-6 fatty acids.
9. Eat your grains whole and mixed (wheat with oats, barley, spelt, flax, etc.) and choose organic whole grains since pesticides tend to accumulate on whole grains. Avoid refined, white flour, and eat white pasta only al dente.
10. Eat fruits instead of sugary desserts, sodas and fruit juices. Steer clear of products that list any type of sugar (including brown sugar, corn syrup, etc.) in the first three ingredients. Craving something sweet? Try a few squares of dark chocolate containing more than 70% cocoa.
11. Instead of coffee or black tea, drink three cups of green tea per day, decaffeinated green tea if caffeine you too wired.
12. Make room for exceptions. What matters is what you do on a daily basis, not the occasional treat.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Incredible eggs

I have never been one for big breakfasts. But breakfast for dinner: Now you're talking. To me, that's comfort food at its best.

The following recipe from Weight Watchers has become a once-a-week meal in our house this winter. It's easy to throw together as soon as I get home, and the result: Absolutely yummy.

I substitute Trader Joe's habanero lime wraps for the whole wheat wraps in the recipe for a bit of welcome spice. We like things hot, so if you want to tone it down a bit, use whole wheat. Whatever you do, give this a try.

2 sprays cooking spray
2 tsp olive oil
2 medium scallions, chopped
1 small green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic cloves, minced
4 large egg whites
2 large eggs
1/2 cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp cilantro, fresh, chopped
1/4 tps. salt
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
4 medium whole wheat tortillas
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup salsa, medium or hot variety

* Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
* Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add scallions, green pepper, tomato and garlic; sauté 5 minutes.
* Add egg whites and whole eggs; cook until eggs are scrambled, about 3 minutes.
* Remove skillet from heat and stir in cheese, cilantro, salt and black pepper.
* Place a tortilla on a flat surface; spoon 1/4 of egg mixture onto center of tortilla and roll up tortilla. Fill remaining tortillas with remaining egg mixture, then place tortillas side-by-side in prepared baking dish; lightly coat with cooking spray.
* Bake until golden brown and tortilla ends are slightly crisp, about 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream and salsa spooned over top. Per serving: 1 enchilada, 2 tablespoons of sour cream and 2 tablespoons of salsa per serving. 6 PointsPlus.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Let's hear it for fiber!

I am always searching for new ways to add fiber to my diet. Fiber is the wonder substance: it keeps blood sugar levels even and helps in the fight against cancer and heart disease. And when you are dieting, it just might keep your pipes clean, if you get my drift.

I found a post on suggesting some fiber-rich foods we should all be eating. And since I love each one, I think I just might follow the advice.

1. Apple and their skin pack twice as much fiber as other common fruit. With the skin, there is 3.5g of fiber; peeled, there is only 1.7g. Here’s an idea if you don’t want to eat the skin: Eat two.
2. Artichokes contain 10g fiber and more potassium than a banana.
3. Avocado: so many of us avoid these gems because they are high in fat. But it’s monounsaturated fat, which is also found in olive oil and macadamias. It is also high in fiber – 11 to 17g per fruit – half a day’s worth of fiber.
4. Barley is packed with fiber throughout each kernel. A half-cup contains 4g of fiber, helps regulate cholesterol and keeps blood sugar levels even.
5. Beans: A half cup of navy beans packs 10g fiber; baked beans, lentils, black beans, pinto and garbanzo have between 7.5 and 9g.
6. Broccoli: 2g in 1 cup, plus 2g protein, 288 mg of potassium and 43 mg of calcium.
7. Oatmeal and high-fiber cereals have at least 5g fiber per serving. A great way to start the day.
8. Papaya: One cup has only 55 calories and 2.5 grams of fiber, plus nutrients such as potassium, calcium and vitamins C and A, and lots of digestive enzymes.
9. Berries -- especially raspberries – which has 64 calories per cup and 8g fiber. Berries also contain polyphenols and anthocyanins, powerful plant chemicals that help fight cancer, reduce inflammation, and ease the symptoms of arthritis.
10. Pumpkin: It's not only for Halloween. Each cup has only 49 calories and 2.5g fiber, in addition to 565 mg potassium and more than 2,400 mcg of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which help keep your eyes healthy and your vision sharp.

Friday, February 18, 2011

If only...

Yesterday was one of those perfect days. I was totally in control, never once had an urge to eat anything that I shouldn't, and felt so happy and calm throughout the day.

I wrote pages in my journal yesterday, trying to figure out why yesterday was so great, and the day before one of those days I could have eaten a house.

Just before I went to bed, I had a eureka moment: There is absolutely no explanation. Some days you feel great. Other days you want to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed.

It's normal to have good eating days and not-so-good ones. The key: When you have a "bad" day, don't let it start you on a path of nonsense eating. Instead, wake up the next day determined to make it the best day possible. And soon, the good days really will crowd out the not-so-good ones.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mind over matter

Yesterday was a horrid day. If left to my own devices, I would have eaten everything in sight. I didn't. But I could have.

I HATE days like yesterday, when all I do is fight with myself. Good Val yells at bad Val, and then bad Val yells louder ('cause she can), and usually wins out.

On my drive home last night, I almost drove into one market for some Twizzlers. Instead, I decided to try the visualization technique I wrote about yesterday. As I was driving by market No. 1 -- and market No. 2 a mile away -- I was mentally eating my 30 Twizzlers sticks, one by one. At one point, I could almost taste the Twizzlers, probably because I have eaten so many of them in my lifetime the taste is firmly cemented in my mind.

After "eating" my Twizzler snack, I then started to tell myself that as soon as I got home, I would head for my meditation room for some grounding. I almost made a stop at the TV, but instead, headed upstairs and did some yoga and deep breathing. Around 7:30, I had calmed myself enough to eat a terrific dinner.

Yesterday was a success. But it also reinforced to me that I am so not over my demons. I know why they popped up yesterday; somehow, that doesn't make it any easier for me.

But I used two tricks I had learned, and they worked. Mind over matter. I pray today is better.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A miracle!

Right now, I am visualizing eating 30 Twizzlers sticks. Weird huh? But this simple technique could just make me eat less food and stop my craving for Twizzlers. Could this be the magic bullet I need to shed unwanted pounds?

In a recent study at Carnegie Mellon University, published in Science, they divided a group into three:
* Group A visualized eating 30 M&Ms (easy!), and putting 3 quarters into a washing machine.
* Group B visualized eating 3 M&Ms (impossible), and putting 30 quarters into a washing machine.
* Group C imagined inserting 33 quarters into a washing machine (no M&Ms!).

This is the part I love: All study groups were then told to eat as many M&Ms as they wanted. And guess which group ate less M&Ms? Those that visualized eating 30 M&Ms.

Visualization is the key here. The study found that merely thinking about food does nothing. But when you visualize eating the food, you eat less. The researchers call this habituation — a gradual reduction in motivation to eat more of the food. If it works, I call this a miracle.

Joachim Vosgerau, assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon and one of the study leads, explains: "Habituation is one of the fundamental processes that determine how much we consume of a food or a product, when to stop consuming it, and when to switch to consuming another food or product. Our findings show that habituation is not only governed by the sensory inputs of sight, smell, sound and touch, but also by how the consumption experience is mentally represented. To some extent, merely imagining an experience is a substitute for actual experience. The difference between imagining and experiencing may be smaller than previously assumed."

I sort of tried this out. I say sort of, because it's 5 a.m., not the usual time I start craving Twizzlers. But I closed my eyes, imagined myself opening the package, and eating 30 Twizzler sticks -- more than my daily allotment of PointsPlus. I ate each one bite by bite, and I really have no desire to eat any Twizzlers. But again, it's 5 a.m. I can't wait to try this the next time a Twizzlers bag is calling my name.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hello, me!

I am finally beginning to understand some of my eating trigger points. I also finally understand that if I am going to lose weight -- and keep it off -- I have to discover why I eat poorly.

My reasons for over-eating make sense: boredom, fatigue, stress and wine, the latter which causes my defenses to relax. But now that I have identified the causes, it really is so much easier to face -- and fight -- them when they pop up.

My No. 1 defense against over-eating is my journal. What started as a place to write the food I eat and the PointsPlus I consume has become my third eye into ME. My journal keeps me honest because I am writing everything down, including my emotions. Before I head to the store for a bag of Twizzlers, I calmly sit down, take stock of me, and ask myself why Twizzlers are calling my name. If I do eat those Twizzlers, I again make sure I write down how I am feeling.

I also read past entries daily. Each page has a colored check: yellow for great days; blue for the not-so-good days. On days when I need extra help, I turn to the yellow-checked days. When I am having a great day, I read the blue-checked pages to understand myself just a tad more.

My other new line of defense is to keep myself distracted. At the top of my house I have created a meditation room, and on days when I could eat everything in sight, I make a bee-line for my special space. Some days I just breathe, other days I do some yoga, and some days I just sit quietly and meditate. Just divorcing myself from whatever was making me think about food is usually sufficient to get me back on track.

My third key: I am cooking terrific meals, mixing it up daily so I won't get bored.

Have I been perfect? Of course not. But little by little, I am taking the necessary baby steps.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Recipe time!

Just what we all need: Another chicken recipe! But this one, which comes from Hungry Girl, looks too good to pass up. It's perfect for a romantic dinner for two -- or to double or triple for company.

I love chicken rolls for a crowd: Make them in advance, and pop them in the oven when your guests arrive. This recipe uses one of my favorite diet stand-bys, Laughing Cow light cheese wedges, which have kept me on track so many times. When I get really hungry, I spread one or two wedges on celery sticks and eat away. Each wedge has only 35 calories -- and one Weight Watchers PointsPlus -- a real diet bargain.

Now for the recipe. I know what I'm cooking for Valentine's Day.
1 large portobello mushroom cap, sliced
2 5-oz. raw boneless skinless lean chicken breast cutlets, pounded 1/2-inch thick
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
2 wedges Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese
1/3 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained
6 large leaves fresh basil
1/2 cup Amy's Organic Light in Sodium Chunky Tomato Bisque
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1/8 tsp. Italian seasoning

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
* Bring a skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to medium-high heat on the stove. Add mushroom slices and cook until softened, about 6 minutes, flipping slices about halfway through cooking. Remove from heat and set aside.
* Season chicken cutlets with salt, black pepper and garlic powder. Lay cutlets flat with the length running left to right. Spread a cheese wedge over each cutlet and evenly top with red peppers and basil. Place mushroom slices horizontally over the basil.
* Tightly roll each chicken cutlet from the bottom and around the filling; secure with toothpicks. Place chicken rolls in a baking pan sprayed with nonstick spray.
* Cover the pan with foil, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
* Carefully remove foil and return pan to the oven, uncovered, to bake until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
* Meanwhile, to make the sauce, combine tomato bisque, sour cream, and Italian seasoning in a microwave-safe bowl. Mix well.
* Once chicken is fully cooked, microwave sauce for 1 minute, and then stir well. Remove toothpicks from chicken rolls, plate them, and evenly cover with sauce.
* Makes 2 servings. Per serving: 271 calories, 4.5g fat, 720mg sodium, 13.5g carbs, 1g fiber, 8.5g sugars, 37.5g protein, 6 Weight Watchers PointsPlus.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why am I so hungry?

When I think of the past month, the first word that pops into my mind is SNOW, quickly followed by cold, dark and damp.

And I wonder why I am hungry most of the time? Bears know what to do when winter hits. What's wrong with humans? The idea of sleeping the winter away is really attractive.

But I'm not a bear, so last night's Weight Watchers talk was just what I needed: When hunger strikes, what can you do instead of eating? The challenge is to come up with 10 quick fixes that will take you from eating everything in sight to staying in control. It seems like this should be a snap to throw together; take it from me, it's not. Sure, I could have thought of 10 things, but would they really work for me?

Some of the ideas thrown out last night included taking a walk or taking a bath. My bath tub is huge -- I could eat my pantry in the time it would take me to fill the tub. As for the walk: A walk in my icy neighborhood right now would end with a trip to the hospital. Although I will tuck that thought away for when -- and if -- spring ever arrives.

Since I can only come up with three ideas, I'm obviously still working on my list. But I think it's important enough to keep thinking about. After all, I wouldn't go on vacation without a suitcase full of clothes. Isn't it wise to prepare for the worst?

1. STARE: I'll stare at the food I am about to consume in huge amounts. Really stare at it, all the while thinking: It's you or me, baby. Hopefully I will be the stronger than a lifeless object, no matter how yummy it may look.
2. SIP: Grab a bottle of flavored seltzer and sip it until it is at least half done. That alone should take me 20 minutes, the time it takes for my tummy to tell my brain I am full.
3. POP: Have a bag of Jolly Time popcorn -- 3 PointsPlus -- always ready at home or work. That and a bottle of seltzer really should do the trick.

I only need seven more....

Monday, February 7, 2011

Let it go

Last week's Weight Watcher session dealt with forgiving yourself and moving on after a day -- or days -- of bad food choices. This is perhaps one of the most important keys we all have to learn if we're ever going to shed weight permanently.

This is exactly the message that Geneen Roth preaches in her latest bestseller, "Women God and Food." She says it differently, but it all comes down to a few points: Turn off the voices inside your head that love to scream negatives at you, and be kind to yourself. Understand that life is all about ups and downs, and although you might eat horridly one day, wake up the next morning with new resolve, recommit to healthy eating, and get on with life.

So what if it takes you a year to shed all the weight you want? First, we all know a year goes by in a flash. And second, even more importantly, if you spread the journey out, you honestly will have greater success, because along the way, you might just bump into the person you want to become.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Energy to spare

Until three weeks ago, I always drank two cups of coffee a day. And once I finished my coffee, I would move on to tea, drinking about a cup each hour. That stopped a few weeks ago, when I realized I was thinking about what kind of tea I would make myself once I finished my coffee.

Duh! Why was I drinking coffee when I was dreaming abou tea? Another habit gone.

I still get a dose of caffeine, but not in the amount I was getting from the coffee.
I have just as much energy as I did when I was drinking coffee, plus I am sleeping so much better.

Today, I read an article on SparksPeople, about foods that will give you just as much get-up-and-go as a cup of coffee. They list 10 foods with one thing in common: heavy on carbs, which is our body's preferred energy source. The key, they say, is to keep carb levels on an even keel to avoid sugary spiike.

That means eating more frequent,smaller meals, since blood sugar drops four hours after eating. We need to concentrate on low-fat, high-fiber foods and complex carbs, which are broken down slowly and steadily. The result: Energy throughout the day. So what are these 10 super foods:

1. Whole wheat pasta
2. Oatmeal
3. Fruit smoothies made with low-fat yogurt
4. Peanut butter
5. Dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, raisins, figs)
6. Yams
7. Beans
8. Apples
9. Carrots
10. Chickpeas

And some more tips:
* Eat breakfast, which gets your day off to a good start.
* Avoid grease and high-fat dairy foods.
* Focus on whole grains -- good sources of vitamin B, which aids the metabolic production of energy.
* Add some iron, the energy boosting mineral.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow day

Yesterday was my second snow day. Of course, thanks to technology, I was able to work from home, which was kind of nice.

But what I found the last two days is that I was more hungry during the day than I am when I am at work. Both days I grazed -- eating little meals about every three hours. It was relaxing and enjoyable, but I was thankful for Weight Watchers, because without the PointsPlus system, I could have eaten my weight in food.

But around 2 p.m. yesterday, nothing in my fridge or pantry looked appealing, so I whipped up some hummus and spread it on celery.

2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tblsp. tahini
2 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 jarred roasted red pepper, cut in chucks
2 to 4 Tblsp. water

* Drain and rinse the chickpeas; place in food processor and process until they are in small dice.
* Add remaining ingredients, but only 2 tablespoons of water. Puree until mixture is smooth. Hummus should be a thick paste. If you want a thinner consistency, add more water
* Remove from bowl of mixer. Each tablespoon has about 1 PointsPlus.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hello February....

...and good-by January, the month I decided to get serious and stay true to Weight Watchers. Did I eat well? Probably better than I have eaten in years. Was it hard? At times.

I did learn a few things last month that I plan on following -- hopefully forever.
1. I do not bring anything into my house that may cause a binge. When we have company, as soon as they are out the door, I toss any food that might throw me off track.
2. I plan my meals weekly, so I know exactly what we are having for dinner each night. I have no problem eating well during the day. It's always been the hours after 4 p.m. that has been my diet downfall. Not anymore.
3. I have a treat every night.
4. Grocery shopping makes me hungry. It doesn't matter if I just ate a Thanksgiving-like meal, when I hit the market, my stomach starts growling. So now I buy one or two bananas, depending on how hungry I am. As soon as I hit the car, the bananas come out. So much better than the package of Twizzlers that used to accompany me home.
5. Each night I say a prayer of Thanksgiving.
6. Each morning I say a prayer, asking for help.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My new love

Ch, ch, ch CHIA! Those funny terra cotta animals that when watered, grew green hair. I never really thought about what kind of seeds lurked under the surface, but I know now: chia seeds, the newest darlings on the nutritious foods block.

Dr. Oz loves these harvested, unprocessed, nutty-tasting, nutrient-dense whole grain seeds with omega-3 fatty acids. They have among the highest antioxidant activity of any food, and because the seeds are packed with fiber, Dr. Oz says if you ingest 15 grams a day – about 1 tablespoon – you’ll start shedding pounds without even trying.

Dr. Oz is not alone in his love of chia seeds. Dr. Andrew Weil is convinced that we will soon be hearing more about this powerful little food. He says that if you add chia seeds to water and let it sit for 30 minutes, a gel forms. Researchers suggest that this reaction also takes place in the stomach, slowing the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them into sugar.

And one more: The Doctor’s TV show listed chia seeds as one of 52 foods we should eat to achieve a healthier 2011. The docs claim chia seeds slow aging.

In addition to reducing food cravings, making you feel fuller faster, and keeping you young, there is some research that claims chia seeds can benefit diabetes because they slow down the rate our bodies convert carbs into simple sugar, thereby controlling blood sugar. And more claims say they reduce blood pressure. Chia gel can hydrate the body, a boon for athletes.

We might just be discovering this wondrous seed, but they have been around for centuries. In pre-Columbian times they were a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets. It has been written that Aztec warriors lived on one tablespoon of chia seeds a day. The Aztecs also used chia medicinally to stimulate saliva flow and to relieve joint pain and sore skin. It was a major crop in central Mexico between 1500 and 900 B.C., and was still cultivated well into the 16th century, AD, but after the Spanish conquest, authorities banned it because of its close association with Aztec religion.

I first came across chia seeds at Catch a Healthy Habit CafĂ© in Fairfield, a mecca for the raw food movement in Fairfield County. They make a chia pudding that is amazingly yummy. Today, I’m including my favorite recipe, which is ridiculously easy to make. I have a half cup each morning, and cannot believe how it fills me up. An hour after eating chia pudding, I have a bowl of oatmeal, and I am full for hours.

2 Tblsp. Chia seeds
1 cup almond or coconut milk
¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract
14 dried cherries, cut in quarters

* Put chia seeds, almond milk, vanilla and cherries in a glass container with a lid. Tighten the lid and shake well to thoroughly combine. Refrigerate overnight. Makes 4 servings.