Back to School and Back to You: Recommit to Taking Care of Yourself

It’s that time of year again.  The kids are back in school, the holidays are right around the corner and it’s time to recommit to taking care of yourself.  The difficult part always begs the question, where do I begin? 

One of the first things that I ask my clients seeking weight management is why it’s important for them to manage their weight and what does it mean to them personally.  At first glance, this seems like a simple question but actually the answers are very unique for everyone.  We each have personal reasons for wanting to make lifestyle changes.  Some may be based on health issues, others on physical appearance and confidence.  Whatever the reason, it’s important to have a clear picture as to what motivates you and if possible to get those thoughts down on paper.  

One place to start would be with creating a simple “Top 10 List” that highlights a few of the most important reasons why you would like to lose weight.  This is your personal list and doesn’t need to be shared with anyone so it’s best to be specific and candid.  It’s amazing how different we view our thoughts and feelings when they come out of our head and put onto paper.  This simple process not only legitimizes our efforts, but also helps us sort through our priorities. You’ll know that you’ve created a meaningful list if upon re-glancing at it in the future, it takes you back to the feelings you had the day you created it.

Another strategy I use to help clients begin their journey is through a simple tool that I created called the Commitment Worksheet.  This worksheet acts as a self-contract by outlining your short term goals, exploring potential roadblocks and setting a plan for rewarding your accomplishments.  

These items are not just an exercise in listing your thoughts and goals, but tools used to help keep you on track when your motivation begins to wane.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, goes through cycles of highs and lows in their motivation.  Much of the variance is related to your individual stress level and pressures of daily living.  Simple everyday distractions always seem to threaten our best efforts to stay on track.  Take control of your life by ensuring your goals are personally meaningful and visibly available; especially when you need a little extra help committing to taking better care of yourself.

Advertisements

Food Safety: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

A foodborne illness (more commonly called food poisoning) can occur when we eat contaminated food that contains pathogenic bacteria, viruses or actual parasites.  The statistics of occurrence are overwhelming.  According to the FDA, foodborne pathogens are responsible for 76 million gastrointestinal illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5000 deaths each year in the United States.  Summertime picnics and family gatherings are common this time of year so it’s important that we understand the basics of food safety and how we can protect ourselves.

When we hear the word “bacteria” it often conjures up negative images.  But not all bacteria are pathogenic or have the ability to cause illness.  For instance, yogurt is little more than flavored milk with bacteria added.  This kind of bacteria is known as probiotic meaning that it’s introduced intentionally to the body as a means of bringing good bacteria into the gut.  This so called “good bacteria” helps keep the bad (or pathogenic) bacteria in check by using up some of the bad bacteria’s resources they need to stay alive.

In general, ideal growing conditions for bacteria are moist environments with temperatures between 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit.   Food safety experts call this the “Danger Zone” meaning that if you hold foods for periods of time between those temperatures, you are more likely to propagate the growth of bacterial colonies.  Think about your recent 4th of July barbeque feast.  Moist foods such as potato and pasta salads are particularly susceptible to bacterial growth because they are either left out on the table for long periods of time at room temperature as people serve themselves, subjected to insects, or become contaminated through serving utensils and handling.  Here’s another example- have you ever thawed a piece of frozen chicken in warm water?  As that chicken sits there in a comfy warm water bath (well within danger zone temperatures), millions of bacteria have the opportunity to begin emerging which could potentially make us sick.  And if you think cooking it immediately will kill off all the germs, you’d be wrong.    

Because bacteria can be introduced into food from hands, soiled utensils, or via insects such as flies, the best defense is to wash your hands frequently-especially before handling food.  It’s a simple concept that we’ve all heard time and time again that can’t be stressed enough.  We also want to ensure that food is protected from insects by covering the dish when not in use.  Likewise, serving utensils should not be handled in the area that comes in contact with the food.  At the end of a meal, it’s best to cool your foods quickly in shallow pans in order to decrease the amount of time in those danger zone temperatures.

The symptoms of food poisoning vary greatly depending on the pathogen.  Some have a quick onset meaning you’ll begin to notice symptoms such as nausea and/or vomiting within 30 minutes after eating, while others may take as long as 2 days to emerge.  Some will produce fever and chills while others only cause gastric distress.  Foodborne illness is not only very serious but can leave a person vulnerable to dehydration which can have deadly consequences.  So if you suspect food poisoning, seek medical attention immediately. However, an easier answer is to decrease your chances of contracting it in the first place by taking the right steps to protect your food this summer and throughout the year.

Weight Loss is a Journey, Not a Destination

Over 70 million people in the United States attempt to lose weight each year and spend more than $30 billion in the process.  Many will be successful at losing the initial weight; however sadly most will be unable to keep it off for very long.   Why is this the case?

I believe part of the problem lies within the fact that most people who set out to lose weight do so without anticipating (or perhaps wanting to anticipate) that their weight issues will continue beyond the point of their initial weight loss phase.  We have a sort of euphoric belief that somehow anything and everything will be better once we lose weight- and the issues and/or behaviors throughout our life that brought us to our heaviest weight will kindly go away.  Sounds great doesn’t it? Then sooner or later, the nasty truth begins to emerge, “You mean I have to watch what I eat for the rest of my life if I want to keep it off?”

If you are beginning to grapple with this harsh reality, congratulations!  You are among the minority of people who have discovered that weight management is a journey, not a destination.  People who are successful at losing and keeping off the weight forgo the so-called crash diets mostly because they realize that the faster they lose it, the faster they gain it back.  A healthy rate of weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week.  If you are losing more than that, chances are you are losing more than fat-you’re probably losing muscle as well.  This drop in muscle mass is what contributes in part to the rapid regaining of weight during the maintenance phase, and it’s your muscle mass that is largely responsible for increasing your metabolic rate. 

But the real benefit to losing weight at a slower, healthier rate is something entirely different which has more to do with taking in the sights along the way.  You’ll discover your likes, dislikes, behaviors and habits, that may have contributed in some way to your weight gain in the first place and have an opportunity to address each in a way you wouldn’t normally had you plowed through the weight loss phase of your journey at 100 miles per hour. 

We all want to lose weight quickly.  But if you want this time to be the last time, you have to take the time.  Remember, it’s not about the speed of losing the weight, but about the journey.

Grillin’ Up Some Color

When we think of summer, we usually think backyard barbeques.  What a better way to gather friends and family to share up some good eats.  This year why not try grilling up more than just the standard fare of burgers and dogs-lets grill up some color.  Brightly colored fruits and veggies can be grilled up and turned into fantastic side dishes (or main dishes) which can add a beautiful touch to your backyard feast.  Here are a couple of my favorites:

Grilled Fruit Kabobs

Alternate sliced fresh peaches, strawberries and canned chunk pineapple on skewers that have been soaked in water for at least 15 minutes.  Lightly grill while brushing with a simple balsamic honey glaze.

Grilled Fruit Kabob Glaze

(makes enough for 8 kabobs)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon of honey

______________________________________________________________________________

Firecracker Veggies

Alternate quartered onions, 1 inch slices of yellow squash and zucchini, as well as red and yellow bell pepper along the soaked skewers as above.  While grilling, brush with this tangy sweet sauce that packs a little peppery kick.

Firecracker Sauce

(makes enough for 8 kabobs)

1/4 cup(s) fresh lime juice

1/4 cup(s) honey

2 tablespoon(s) ketchup

2 tablespoon(s) olive oil

2 tablespoon(s) soy sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon(s) crushed red-pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

These are just a few suggestions, get creative!  Try other vegetables such as mushrooms, potatoes, and asparagus which are all delicious when grilled.  Think outside the box and color up your meals this summer.

Move Over Food Pyramid: It’s Time To “Plate Up” Some New Education Tools.

 

Over the last 20 years, the food pyramid has served as a major nutritional icon.  On June 2, 2011, First Lady, Michelle Obama along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled in a press release the latest tool to aid in the battle of obesity, MyPlate (ChooseMyPlate.gov). 

MyPlate, the new symbol of appropriately balanced meals, will replace the iconic Food Pyramid.  The new graphics are designed to be consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released in January this year.

The basic messages contained in the new guidelines are as follows:

Balance Calories

• Enjoy your food, but in smaller amounts

• Avoid oversized meals

Foods to Increase

• Aim for half your plate fruits and vegetables.

• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) dairy products.

• Make at least half your grains the whole variety

Foods to Reduce

• Note the sodium (salt) in various foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and  choose those with lower numbers.

• Aim for drinking water as opposed to sugary beverages.

The idea of using a plate to help educate individuals on appropriate portion sizes is not a new concept.  The truth is that dietitians and nutritionists have been using education tools very similar to these new graphics for years with many of their clients.  The reason being is that a plate is something that everyone can relate to as it’s considerably less abstract than the food pyramids of the past.  It’s also quite adaptable so that no matter what kind of diet a person follows, the graphic can be utilized to illustrate portions in relation to the various food groups.

A major downfall of this new graphic has to do with the fact that it lacks the incorporation of exercise represented in the former Food Pyramid icon.  The figure climbing the side of the pyramid symbolized the need for physical activity as a part of a healthy lifestyle.

 

Just as the new icon shows the importance of balance in your meals, we also need to balance a healthy lifestyle with the incorporation of physical activity. 

It’s my hope that as this new campaign rolls out over the next several months, the importance of physical activity for weight management, improved health and ultimately disease prevention will be emphasized either through the initiatives set forth in the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign or through additional education tools that support the new MyPlate program.

Lighten Up! Your Meals That Is…

Summer is here and like it or not, it’s time to start thinking about warm weather clothes, getting back into that old bathing suit and possibly shedding a few pounds that seemed to have cropped up out of nowhere.  Whether weight loss is a goal or not, this time of year marks a need for fast, easy to prepare meals, that are light and nutritious with preferably no stove or oven required.

Time is of the Essence

If you find yourself short on time, salads can offer a great way to get you in and out of the kitchen in no time.  It’s now easier than ever to prepare tasty salads at home with the help of convenient offerings in the produce department at your local grocery store.  Salads can easily be prepared using pre-washed salad greens in various varieties and pre-cut items such as carrots, celery, or even jicama sticks.  Additional ingredients that are always helpful to have on hand are pre-shredded cheeses, dried fruit such as cranberries, apricots, or raisins, and packaged nuts such as slivered toasted almonds or walnuts.  Adding meat to your salad can be a snap.  Pre-grilled chicken strips in the package or imitation crab meat are simple ways of getting in a protein punch. 

Leftover Surprise

For a unique twist on the plain old green salad, try adding that something extra with leftovers.  Yes, I said leftovers.  Now, before anyone crinkles up their nose in disgust, think about it.  Leftover beef or chicken can be easily sliced up and portioned into zip top bags before storing after a meal thereby making it readily available to add to the top of any salad at a later time. 

We eat a lot of stir-fry meals at our home for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, they are easy.  Who’s kidding who here…stir-fry is the original one pot meal!  They are quick, tasty and you have the opportunity of introducing a variety of veggies for plenty of color which equals plenty of nutrients.  Best of all, stir-fry meals can be very light in the calorie department which is always a plus!     And in case you were wondering, stir-fry leftovers on a salad? – Why not.  Been there, done it and it’s fabulous!

Ever hear the expression – Cook once, eat twice?  I live by those words.  Who has time to cook full meals every single day-I know I don’t.  I get out of cooking any way I can by planning all meals out at the beginning of the week.  This not only keeps my diet in check but also helps me map out strategies for precooking certain foods while the kitchen is still in an uproar and I’m still in cooking mode.

Variety is the Spice of Life

A sure fire way to lose momentum in a good eating plan is to become monotonous in your food selections.  Eating the same types of foods too often leads to boredom thereby making it more likely that we will abandon our healthy intentions.  Be open to trying out new foods.  Experiment with different or unusual spices that add new flavors as well as textures to your meals.  Remember that a good diet is one that can be followed for many years to come in order to maintain a desirable body weight and optimal health.  Eating is one of life’s pleasures and who wants to eat the same boring things over and over for the rest of their life?

Baby Steps To Reach Your Weight Goals

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most basic things we can do to improve our health and lower our risk of chronic disease.  Yet so many of us who try to lose weight find that the high motivation at the beginning of their new regime soon gives rise to despair and disappointment when their weight loss goals fall short of expectations.  One of the most significant things to understand about weight loss is that we reach our ultimate weight through a series of small steps.  Each “baby step” brings us closer to our ultimate weight goals.  An analogy can be made when we travel to a desired destination.  Depending on our mode of transportation, we must proceed through a series of steps via turns, stop signs, and the like to bring us to our destination. 

People often fail to reach their weight goals not because they lack willpower, but because they may be unable to learn and recognize the steps necessary to reach their destination.  An example of this phenomenon can be seen in what is commonly known as Yo-Yo dieters; those individuals who lose weight at an extremely rapid rate and conversely gain it all back (and then some) throughout the course of their life.  Here are a few things to consider as you move toward your weight loss goals.

Lay Groundwork for Gradual Change – No one puts on the weight overnight, so you need to plan to be successful. Begin your journey by setting realistic expectations.  A healthy rate of weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week.  This is the ideal rate at which we are able lose actual fat tissue. Weight loss exceeding 2 pounds per week is usually indicative of a loss of more than just fat tissue but muscle as well. 

Prepare Your Social Climate – Ask those closest to you to support your efforts.  Few people eat alone or in isolation; so those around them and the environment in which we eat is as critical as what we eat.  Families, friends, and acquaintances can influence what we eat and how much.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support in your goals.

Choose Healthy Options Each Day – What we eat is as important as how much we eat.  People sitting down to a meal decide what they want to eat first, and if they even want to eat everything on their plate.  Start with the foods that will fill you up early in the meal – vegetables and proteins. You can still enjoy the breads and desserts later, but in smaller portions as you fill up on healthier foods first.

Reaching your weight goals involves getting through the twists and turns of the journey. Succeeding in the smaller steps can lead to reaching the final milestone.   Sticking to the right path of your journey is not only important in your success of losing weight but keeping it off for a lifetime.