Monday, December 1, 2008

Now Is The Time

It was during this time 7 years ago that I made up my mind to lose my weight. It was, in fact, the day after Thanksgiving, after all that turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, the mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, rolls, pumpkin pie and pecan pie. That's when I got on the scale, (not a good idea for any American, I’m sure), and discovered I was at my top weight. (You can read more about it in my first couple of entries listed here to the left.)

The important thing is that it was the final motivation, the final straw, if you will, that made me finally want to change enough to do something about it. Oh, I had said I wanted to do something many times. And even half-heartedly attempted it. But after about a week, I'd go back to my old ways. But here I was, standing on the scale again, only this time something in my head clicked.

I didn’t like the way things were headed, I was too young to look this matronly, (because that’s how we look when we get overweight, matronly – we’re not only carrying more pounds but the misshapen and boring clothes that designers throw together for the larger gals makes us look like we’re carrying more years,) and I was determined to take back my power.

A dear friend suggested I not try to diet during the Christmas holidays, fearing I might fail with so many temptations around of holiday goodies, many of them my own since I love to bake. But I was so determined that I did it anyway and lost 8-pounds in the first month! That tells me that so much about our weight has to do with what’s going on in our heads. If you set your mind on something strongly enough, you will do it. So, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Holiday Snacking

One thing often leads to another. In the case of holiday shopping, something many of us are no doubt preparing for if we haven’t already begun, it can lead to extra excuses for holiday snacking.

Who doesn’t love the idea of stopping for a steaming hot chocolate in between shopping excursions, or taking a break at the mall with one of those gooey chocolate chip cookies or a huge pretzel dusted with sea salt or a cinnamon sweet roll? It’s the holidays. We’re entitled, right?

Then there is the desire to cram in all those talked about get-togethers with friends we’ve been intending to make time for all year. We simply must see them during the holidays. How do we usually do that? Over lunch or coffee, what else?

My point is that it’s really easy to fall into the food trap this time of year and it has nothing to do with holiday parties. Finding ourselves out and about shopping more, we also find ourselves nearer to snack food kiosks, mall food courts, or fast food places while heading from one store to another. It can wreck months of hard work we’ve done if we’re not careful. I’m not saying don’t do these things, I’m suggesting you be mindful of how much of them you’re doing. There is, after all, a reason many New Year’s resolutions are about food and dieting. You want to be sure that warm-up suit or pretty nightgown and robe set you get for Christmas doesn’t have to be exchanged for a larger size. Go out, enjoy the shopping experience, enjoy meeting friends, but try to make them the focal point, not the food.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Celebrating Tradition

Ah, the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate family, friends, and all the things we are thankful for, including our nation’s bounty. At a time when we’re tightening our belts a little more because of economic woes, ours is still one of the richest nations in the world and our waistlines show it!

Perhaps this is a good time to lessen what we spend and what we eat. Nothing makes us trim our portions so much as realizing we need to get more servings out of a dish. But if you can’t get your head around that idea, then this is a good time, a couple of weeks ahead of the day, to think about lightening some of the traditional recipes to lower your calorie intake.

When slicing the turkey, remember white meat is lower in calories than dark. If you’re family counts on the tried and true green bean casserole, try replacing the mushroom soup called for with the 98% fat free version. If your mashed potatoes recipe calls for sour cream, try the lite version instead of full fat. I’m a big believer in using real butter over margarine because I think in the long run, it’s better for us, but there are a number of very good tasting lite versions, including Land O Lakes own. If you’re baking, make sure the lite butter is OK for that. There are some dishes and creations like pie crust, that you would not want to use a substitute. And when it comes to rolls, Pillsbury’s low fat crescent dinner rolls are excellent. Try using a little less sugar in things like the sweet potato casserole or say Aunt Martha’s ambrosia salad. You’ll be surprised at the negligible difference in sweetness.

Of course, you could go with full fat, full sugar, full calories on everything and simply eat less of it. But at a time when we’re celebrating (and sampling) all that America has to offer, that can be pretty tough to do. Take it from me, lightening up dishes where you can, will be healthier, and I bet your family won’t know the difference!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hard Candy is Hard to Beat!

Sometimes just a little something sweet is all we need to get through an afternoon. Thanks to manufacturers having an economic epiphany several years ago after seeing Halloween candy sales increase with the introduction of miniature confections, there are a number of chewy chocolate candy options available year round these days. There is nothing wrong with having one or two as a little snack, but because chocolate candy can be gobbled so fast, it’s easy to overdo it. Before you know it, you’ve buzzed through half a bag of those delectable little bite-sized squares. That's why hard candy can be such a life saver, no pun intended.

I keep a bowl of Tootsie Pop suckers around, either the blow pops or the roll pops. The idea being that it takes longer to get through one of these, provided you don’t crunch it, a temptation the company’s one-time ad campaign so appropriately pointed out. Time is your friend when it comes to snacking. The longer it takes to get through a snack, the more satisfied you'll feel with less of it. Keeping a sucker in your mouth has a tendency to answer that craving for something sweet; it satisfies your hand-to-mouth habit of putting something in there, and calorie-wise, it’s not bad at all, only about 50-60 calories respectively. You just might want to brush your teeth more often though, as ‘holding’ a sugary piece of candy against the teeth for long periods can create cavities if you’re not careful.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sunday Breakfast

Every Sunday morning after church, my husband and I enjoy going out to breakfast. A particular little diner, complete with the counter and stools, and waitresses who have made long careers of balancing plates along their forearms is a favorite stop. But a couple of weeks ago, some friends mentioned another place ‘up the road’ where we could get what they called an incredible breakfast. They said it’s so good there is always a long line of folks waiting to be seated, something neither my husband nor I wanted to endure. (There is seldom much of a wait at our regular haunt.) However, these friends assured us the line moved quickly and the café boasted they could always seat people within 10 minutes of their arrival. We decided we would try it.

It was good. In fact it was very good. Being extremely familiar, read bored, with the menu from our regular little diner, it was a nice change to read some other choices. I ordered eggs with bacon and biscuits, as I have to admit I’m a buttermilk biscuit fan and wanted to see if they were the ‘real deal’ as in a flaky round of golden topped buttery goodness or these plain crumbly pull-apart squares that look more like weak dinner rolls that many places use as a ‘default’ side. I never order the biscuits at our regular diner for that reason. The 'new' place has the real thing, so it was a treat.

This week we decided to try it again. Being something new it was exciting to have more variety. But we were also feeling we needed to go a bit healthier this time. Checking the menu more closely for something we could order a la carte like a bowl of oatmeal or a 2-egg dish instead three, we came up short. There were no substitutions and no combination that could be considered remotely healthy. My husband, who has recently lost 20-pounds calorie counting said, “I don’t think I can eat like this every week.” “No,” I agreed, “we’ll have to save this for a special occasion.”

And so that’s the lesson here. It’s wonderful to go out and splurge now and then, to do something different, change the weekly rut. But it’s wise to make sure we don’t create any bad habits, somehow feeling entitled to a ‘reward’ that will in the end, cause us to regret those changes. Just going out to Sunday breakfast should be enough of a treat in itself. Eating all our daily allotted calories in a single meal isn’t.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Programmed Overeating

A dear friend confessed that although she’s been watching her weight and cutting calories, a rash of unexpected stressful situations at her job has pushed her right into the arms of her refrigerator. She has thrown any caution she might have had to the wind, eating whatever she wanted for about the last two weeks.

My friend is not alone. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Since childhood, food has been our comforter, our solace, our friend. In a sea of overwhelming obstacles: bad news, frustrating tasks, difficulties with co-workers, it is food that is our life preserver. The one thing we can depend on. At least that’s how most of us have been programmed. Good food makes it all better. Ergo, more food makes it more better!

But like an alcoholic with an eviction notice in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other, the bottle is only going to make things worse. As foodaholics, overeating will only give us more about which to be upset.

Part of what makes us feel overwhelmed sometimes is feeling powerless. We’re not in control of our situation, so we’ll do something we can control, (eat), even if we do too much of it. Ironically, in the end, the food ends up controlling us, and we’re powerless again. At least that's how it feels. In reality, don’t we actually control what we put into our mouths? That’s our hand on the end of our arm that has hold of that fork or Twinkie. We DO have power. Instead of allowing our emotions to control our actions, (because so much of this isn’t about the emptiness in our stomachs), let us acknowledge our hands have the power. Sort of like tying wood splints to our elbows; if we don’t put our hands to our mouths too often, we won’t overeat! Wouldn’t you rather feel good about yourself and what you are able to accomplish, than feeling guilty for what you’re not?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Birthdays and Other Celebrations

Last week was a busy one for me and my husband. First, we celebrated our wedding anniversary. Two days later it was my birthday. Yes, thank you very much. The day after that, we had friends over for dinner. There are a lot of ‘celebratory’ meals in that small space of time.

Special occasions usually call for special meals, and typically a special meal is heavier, bigger, and always ends with dessert. So what did I do about it? Nothing. The experts say part of our fascination, read problem, with food is that practically from birth, we are taught to associate food with happiness and celebration. Birthday cakes, holiday meals, all A’s on our report card, just about any reason to be happy includes a reason to have a cookie or a piece of cake. I’m no different from the next person but I refused to fret and wring my hands over every bite.
I made the dinner for our anniversary: a no-holds-barred dish of lamb chops with herbs and mushrooms in phyllo dough. It was great and although I didn’t eat every bite, I knew it wasn’t low calorie. Dessert was chocolate mousse made from a mix, however, so I ‘lightened’ things a bit since I made it with no-fat milk. A couple of days later, my birthday dinner was at a local French café that I adore. I had a cup of tomato basil soup which I usually avoid since it’s made with cream and is pretty high calorie. I enjoyed every spoonful. And yes, since it was my birthday, I had dessert, a vanilla custard tart. And finally, the dinner with friends? That called for my homemade chili and cornbread with dessert, a key lime pie.

What’s my point? This was a special week. It was a time of celebration with a gathering of friends. It’s important not to go overboard, but it I also believe we are entitled to a little indulgence every now and again. Now that the week is over, and things are getting back to normal, I’m also back on track with my calorie counting. If I’ve put on a pound, or even two after all that, it will take a couple of weeks to get back to my "fightin’ weight" as they say, but I’m motivated. I haven’t ‘given up’ because of my indulging this past week. It’s important to never lose sight of your goal: maintaining a good weight. Just be aware that the times we throw calorie counting to the wind are special occasions and should not be the norm. As long as we keep them infrequent, high calorie days should be no real problem now and then with little consequences.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Holiday Portions

Portion control, that’s what so much of calorie counting is all about. During the next three months, the challenge for many of us will be to keep our portions under control, especially when it comes to those luscious cakes and pies that we or others will be baking and bringing to parties and family gatherings. That’s why I like cupcakes and cookies. When it comes to cutting slices of cake or pie, or even scooping out servings of cobblers and crisps, our eyes are sometimes bigger than our stomachs, as my parents used to say. Of course, it’s not that we can’t eat that much, it’s that we shouldn’t. While a typical layer cake is intended to be sliced into about 12 servings, sometimes we end up cutting larger slices and getting only about 8 or 10 out of it.

If you’ve decided to bake a cake for an upcoming Halloween party, why not make cupcakes instead? The same amount of batter for a 2 layer cake will make 24 cupcakes. Since cupcakes aren’t filled and iced like a layer cake, you save calories on frosting as well. They’re also a lot of fun to decorate, are easier for children to handle, and they can be frozen for later if you have any left and don’t want all of them sitting around. The Betty Crocker website, has Halloween ideas for cupcakes along with the nutrition information for their recipes.

Cookies are also great for keeping portions under control as long as you don’t eat more than a recommended serving amount, usually 1 or 2, and make them all about the same size. This is also wise for getting evenly baked cookies. So if you have a recipe that says you’re supposed to get 24 cookies out of it, try to make sure you do. As you portion out the dough to get that recommended amount, you may also see a much smaller cookie than you had expected. That’s OK. You’ll at least know what to expect from that recipe next time and you’ll know exactly how many calories you’re getting every time you take a bite! Hey, holidays are meant to be enjoyed and food is part of that. But you don't want to associate them with over-indulgence and end up dreading them each year.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The 400+ Calorie Cookie

My computer homepage is a conglomeration of news, health, recipes and humor. Every day the cooking and baking portion of the site, gives several recipe suggestions. Today’s was a link to a wonderful site I already have bookmarked called One reason I appreciate this site so much is because it’s not only recipes that have been submitted by home cooks like myself, but most of the time these recipes include the nutrition information for each recipe.

One of today’s featured recipes is for chocolate chip cookies. They are probably one of my favorite cookies, especially if they’re chewy, which this recipe assures they are. They sounded wonderful! But when I read down to the nutrition information I was startled. The recipe yields one dozen cookies and under 'calories' it said: “411.” Now, I couldn’t imagine that each cookie was 411 calories! But then neither could I imagine that 411 was the total for the whole dozen, either. So I got out my calculator and went to figuring for myself. Well, I was right. The 411 wasn’t correct. No, the actual number was 411.6! And since anything over .5 should be rounded UP we could say each chocolate chip cookie is 412 calories! Oh-my-gosh, for one cookie??

I would expect that of those face-sized cookies you find at bookstore coffee shops, but these? Not having actually mixed them up and divided the dough into the recommended dozen portions, I can only hope that these are huge cookies, too. But if I make them, I’ll have to portion them out to 24 cookies to make them reasonable. But even then, each one will be worth about 206 calories. And who can eat just one chocolate chip cookie when they come hot out of the oven? I have to ask myself, is it really worth it? I’m not so sure. As much as I love homemade cookies, and I DO love to bake, store bought cookies are more controlled calorie-wise, and to be honest, they’re not so good that I can’t close up the package and walk away after giving myself the suggested serving amount.

If you like to bake, do go to the trouble of figuring the calories. This recipe albeit delicious sounding, is made up of the same things any others could be: butter, eggs, flour, sugar, but the proportions of ingredients make all the difference. Don’t assume what you’re eating contains a reasonable or 'average' amount of calories. Figure it up for yourself so you know for sure. You’ll be glad you did.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Changing Up Recipes

It’s important when calorie counting, not to get discouraged because you think you can no longer eat the high fat or high calorie foods you’ve enjoyed in the past. The truth is, if you know much about cooking, you can lighten up just about anything. There are so many low fat, low calorie versions of staples now that it’s easy to substitute a number of items without truly compromising the flavor.

Here’s an example. I just came across a casserole recipe in called “Heavenly Potatoes and Ham.” It looks good and has received rave reviews from cooks who’ve tried it. But it’s more than 500 calories per serving. It contains a good amount of sour cream, butter, and cheese as well as a can of cream of chicken soup. The good news is that almost all of these ingredients can be modified to make this dish less heavy with fat and calories. I try not to go ‘no fat’ on most things because I think a little fat is good for successful cooking not to mention flavor, but there is some very good lite sour cream and lite butter on the market today. Low fat cheddar cheese is quite good and even cream of chicken soup now comes in a healthier low fat version. Making these adjustments should have little effect on the flavor but a large impact on the calorie count of this dish.

This modification can even work with many desserts. I’ve mentioned here earlier how applesauce is a fine substitute for fat in many brownie and cake recipes. With the formulation of sugar substitutes like Splenda, even the sweetness of a dessert is no longer altered when such changes are made. But if you don’t like the idea of anything other than sugar in your desserts, let me suggest that many recipes can do very well with less. I have a recipe for fruit bars that calls for both white and brown sugar. I accidentally left out the brown sugar the first time I made it. To my surprise, the bars were quite sweet enough! I have therefore, never made the bars with the full amount of sugar given in the recipe.

Try some alterations to your favorite dishes. You might find that they are just as good and just as satisfying. And you can feel even better knowing you’ve done something proactive for yourself.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Weekend Struggles

Sometimes it's having a change in our schedule, sometimes it's having too much time on our hands, sometimes it's the chance to gather with friends; all these things can throw off our diets. Whatever your battle ground, weekends are the toughest times of the week for many people. Lack of structured time can lead to boredom and that leads to our spending too much time with the pantry or refrigerator door open looking for something to feed that ennui.

In my case it was a monthly gathering of friends, a small group of fellow writers. We meet to critique one another's writing and encourage each other when it comes to submitting, and getting published. At these get togethers, which always start at noon and sometimes go well into mid to late afternoon, there is dessert with coffee or tea. Not lunch, just dessert; even though we begin at the traditional lunch hour. This of course, also means that unless we've had an early meal before everyone gets together, it's easy to use the dessert to fill that growing void we call hunger. The other danger is that once the meeting is over, knowing we've really not had lunch, per se', we can feel entitled to then eat a 'real meal.' So you can see where this is going.

Even though in my case, it's a noon meeting I'm dealing with, this same scenario can easily play out at any party that begins in the evening, often starting at 6p or 7p, in other words, dinnertime. Here is a thought: Try eating a small meal before the gathering so that you don't let dessert or party food substitute for 'real' food. By eating healthy before hand, you can still have dessert but not overdo it and you won't be looking for something to eat after the meeting or party is over. In the case of the lunch meeting, the dessert can suffice for the calories you would normally have in that middle afternoon to carry you over to dinner. Granted, the timing is going to be a bit off still, but it's better than being so hungry by the time the get together kicks off, that you end up overeating the sweet stuff, ignoring, (and later feeling guilty about), the fact you're using snacks to substitute for a meal.

Proper dieting and healthy eating take a bit of thought and planning. But aren't you worth that extra effort? And aren't you more than a little pleased with the results? It can be challenging, but hang in there. You can do it!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Candy Crush

It’s already begun. Have you noticed? It’s the Halloween candy assault going on now in discount and grocery stores. Those tasty little squares of chocolate and other bite-sized sweet tooth tweakers are all on sale in the name of stocking up in time for Trick-or-Treaters. Thing is, we’re more than a month away. What the candy companies are really counting on is your buying bags on sale now, but by the time the holiday rolls around, they’ll be gone and you’ll need more. And isn’t that just what happens? We buy them now justifying it with, “Oh, well, they’re on sale so now is the time to buy.” But we have no intention of still having that same unopened bag or bags around when the night of ghouls and goblins rolls around! In fact, I suspect some of us might not even have Trick-or-Treaters who come to our door!

We are just beginning the 6-month time frame of incredibly tempting holiday accents, and I don’t mean pumpkins. It begins with Halloween candy, moving through to the pecan and pumpkin pies of Thanksgiving, followed sharply by special once-a-year sweet treats and those family heirloom cookies of Christmas, then before you know it Valentine’s Day chocolates will be here, and finally we’ll wrap it all up with chocolate molded Bunnies and cream-filled Cadbury Eggs of Easter.
If you can buy these sweet treats ahead of time and know that you won’t be parked in the pantry or sitting in front of television mindlessly eating them, go ahead, and more power to you! There’s nothing wrong with having a couple of those for dessert after a meal, or even as a little afternoon snack. I actually keep two bags: Milky Way Midnights and Dove dark chocolates, on my pantry shelf at all times. But the idea is that they're there for that occasional something chocolate I want, not so that I go overboard and eat 72 of them in one sitting. If you have a hard time with willpower, which many of us do, and can’t afford to have a bag or bags of candy lying around for the next month, or heaven forbid already lying in an open bowl, wait to make those purchases until nearer the 31st. The candy will still be on sale, trust me, and you won’t end up pre-filled with guilt going into a challenging holiday season. I don’t believe in deprivation, but I do believe in giving yourself a break where temptation is simply too great. Know yourself. Be honest with yourself. Know what boundaries are right for you.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Business of Eating

Yes, it has been a few days since my last posting. I've been out of town for several days on business. But that brings me to the subject of today's entry. How do you eat when you're living for days out of hotels and restaurants? It isn't easy, but the encouraging thing about it is this: if you are diligent on a daily basis, then you can actually fade the heat when it comes to going a week off your program and unable to do any calorie counting.
The challenging thing I found is that being with a group of business people, it's hard to eat 'lite' or ask for any special compensations of the restaurant chef without drawing attention to yourself and having comments made by your fellow diners; something you really don't want to have happen. So here is what I did. Breakfast, thankfully, was easily taken care of. I packed plenty of nutrition bars to bring along. Most every hotel room has a coffee maker of some kind now, so it was easy for me to have my usual breakfast of coffee and a bar. Lunch meals ran the full spectrum of everything from something grabbed on the road, to an actual sit-down meal in a small town diner where a serving of chicken fried steak or chicken and gravy over homemade biscuits are the norm. For the on the road stops, a Subway Sandwich shop fit the bill. But for the diner stops, the choices were tougher. In those cases, I sometimes opted for a salad with dressing on the side. Instead of pouring all of it over my salad, I dipped my fork in the dressing before each bite, and that gave me the flavor I wanted without having a salad 'swimming' in dressing. Or I would pick a cup of soup with a small sandwich. When I finished, there was still food on the plate.

Dinner was the toughest. When you're eating out with a group of colleagues, particularly men, they tend to lean toward ordering those huge steak dinners complete with wine and dessert. Even in those cases I tried to lean toward the healthy end of things. Most steak places still offer a few fish and chicken dishes. As long as the meat is broiled or baked and not battered and fried, you're probably pretty safe. And forget what Mom said, you never have to clean your plate. In fact, if you do that by today's American restaurant servings, you're probably eating enough for 2 other people.

Side dishes can be loaded with fat and calories. In those cases I opted for a baked potato dry, (as in not loaded with butter, cheese, and sour cream), and got those items "on the side" to add as I saw fit. Frankly, I didn't add them, but they were there if I'd wanted. Other 'healthier' choices available were steamed vegetables, which I also opted for on occasion. I did order steak one night so I got the leaner cut, the filet Mignon over say a fatty prime rib or some such. Wine was easy since as long as your glass is half full, no one knows whether you're drinking it or not. Sipping it slowly as an accompaniment instead of a thirst quencher, allows you to join in with everyone but not go crazy with empty calories. I always have a glass of water next to my wine glass and that's what I end up drinking mostly. One out of 5 nights of straight restaurant meals, I went ahead and selected a dessert. And even then I went for what I thought might be a tad healthier. In this case, Key Lime pie over what I can only call the biggest slab of chocolate cake I've ever seen. (And Americans wonder why we're so fat!) Remember, you also always have the option of sharing a dessert if someone else at the table wants to.

All in all it was not a bad week of eating. When I stood on the scale this morning, even I was surprised to see that the number was the same as it was the day I left. I attribute that all to the fact that I'm careful about what I eat and how much, most of the time. If you're careful, then every now and then when these events come along that are beyond your control, you and your body will do just fine. Afterward, you can get back on your program, which I've already done, and carry on!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lighter Menus

Last night, being Saturday night, my husband suggested we go out to dinner. Never one to turn down such an offer, I readily agreed. But immediately after saying yes, my thoughts turned to where, because where is an important factor when you're calorie counting. Luckily, right down the road is a Chili's Grill & Bar, and since my husband is also calorie counting these days, that was a great choice for us.

Like an increasing number of chain restaurants, Chili's offers a small section of its menu as lighter fare. The "Guiltless Grill" offers four entrees that include chicken, vegetarian, and fish. Granted, four doesn't sound like much, and it isn't, but if you go to Chili's website and click on the menu, at the very bottom there is the link to nutritional information for its entire menu. Everything offered in the restaurant is listed and you can then find what suits your taste and your calorie allowance. I will add that on the selection I made, the Guiltless Grill Chicken Sandwich, the restaurant menu says 490 calories, whereas my favorite calorie counting book, The Calorie King's Calorie Fat & Carbohydrate Counter, lists the same entree at a higher 535 calories. Such discrepancies do happen sometimes. For my money, I'm going with the menu listing, and not just because the number is lower. The booklet I have is 2 years old, there might have been an ingredient change since then that has lowered the calories. It's also possible that it's a typo. And finally, it's my understanding Calorie King gets their information from the restaurant chain, so why not go by the original source? If the menu gave the calorie count as higher than listed in the booklet, I would still go with the menu listing.

Other restaurant chains are beginning to offer lighter fare listed on their in-store menus, too so you can know at a glance and make an informed choice. (If in doubt as to whether the calories listed include everything on the plate as in the sides too, your server should know.) They include: Applebee's, Red Lobster, La Madeleine, Smoothie King, Luby's, and even Carvel ice cream stores. And of course, thanks to Jared, everybody knows about Subway. Restaurants owners are realizing that while there is a part of their customer base that still wants the biggest food serving of what ever they can get because they think it gives them better value, there is a growing number of customers who want lighter more normal servings with the nutrition information posted either right on the menu or at least on the restaurant website. By picking a place that offers lower calorie entrees, or taking the time for just a little research before you go, you can easily find something that fits your daily allowance so you can have just as good of a time as everybody else at the table!

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Slimmer You

Sometimes it takes several pounds before it looks to anyone else like you've lost weight. I had been calorie counting at least two full months and had lost 10-pounds before my husband noticed I'd lost any! Part of that is because our bodies are going to lose where they wish to. Spot reducing, which gyms and spas touted in the 80s, isn't possible. Just because you want to lose weight in your hips and thighs, doesn't mean that's where it's going to happen first. But the illusion of a slimmer you is possible.

I've mentioned here before that simply standing straighter can take 10-pounds off your appearance because your clothes will actually hang better on you, and you will exude more confidence. But standing straighter is only half of what you can do to look better. Try pulling in your stomach. I know it sounds like something you would have heard in a 1950s health film along with seeing women standing on those old vibrating belt machines, but it's true. Try pulling in your stomach for more than a few seconds and see how it feels. If you're not used to it, it will feel like you've finished a mini workout after only a short time. Better yet, see how it looks. Because today's materials stretch and our clothes are not the restrictive attire of our mothers, we have let our bodies relax over the years to the point where our bellies stick out. If you were to watch yourself on a hidden camera, it's very possible you wouldn't like what you saw. You might even think it was someone else! When we dress in the morning, we tend to stand straighter and pull in our stomachs just for those few minutes we're looking in the mirror. The moment we walk out the door, our stomachs poke out and we slump our way to the car or bus. It's not an attractive sight and worse yet, it ages us. We certainly don't want to look any older and heavier than we are, do we?

Here's an idea: while sitting at your desk, try to hold in your stomach for the amount of time you're typing an email, or for the amount of time you're talking on the phone. Try to go as long as you can. What usually happens if you're not used to it, is that 15 minutes later you realize you forgot about it 30-seconds into the exercise! It takes some concentration. Try again. Here's another idea: when you're in the grocery store, see if you can remember to hold in your stomach while walking down one entire aisle of the store as you shop. Relax as you walk down the next aisle, and then pull in that stomach again around the third. If you do this over and over, by the end of the day, you'll feel like you've been doing sit-ups. And that's part of the benefit. You'll not only look good while you're doing it, but the mere action gives your stomach muscles a bit of a workout and you'll actually tighten them over time. Looking better makes you feel better. And feeling better makes you look better. It's a great trade off and it takes no special clothes or equipment. Try it!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Some Days Are Tougher Than Others

So how did you do? Holidays are always tough. Family and friends. They compliment you on your weight loss, say you look amazing, and ask you, 'how did you do it?!" But they don't really want to see or hear about the discipline it takes, and they certainly aren't ready to hear about it if they're not willing to do it themselves. Couple that with all that homemade food staring you in the face at holiday gatherings, especially while everyone else is piling up their plates, and it's hard to turn it down. If you didn't, or if you feel you still overate, even though you tried not to, do NOT beat yourself up. Do not throw up your hands and say, "Oh what's the use." Because you know how important this is. And you can do it!

Remember that no matter what kind of food day you had yesterday, it should have no bearing on how you are going to treat today. Don't give in to the temptation that because you 'blew' it one day, that means you might as well give up. Treat every day as a new food day, get right back on your plan, write down your foods, and write down your calories. Stick to your predetermined total. Don't listen to those old tapes in your head that say you have no discipline or that everybody in your family tends to be heavy so you might as well not fight it. Don't do that to yourself. You can do something about it. You are doing something about it. You are worth doing something about it. Never forget that!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Holiday Food Challenges

Ah yes, the Labor Day holiday weekend. A time to spend with friends and family having fun and food, the really good homemade kind, the kind you can't count when it comes to calories because you have no earthly idea what, or how much of what, Aunt Sue put in her potato salad or Cousin Larry put in his barbecue sauce. And then there is always the 'secret batter' that Grandma Flo uses on her renowned fried chicken that everybody raves about but nobody knows the recipe for because she's never told it! Believe me, I know and understand the dilemma.

At the same time, it's not going to do you or anybody else any good if you sit there having celery sticks and watching wistfully as the rest of the family chows down on all that homemade goodness. So what should the strategy be? Depending on the spread, that is what everybody brought, there are some things you can do, some choices you might be able to make that could help lighten up things just a bit. If the choice of sides falls along the traditional picnic fare of potato salad, cole slaw, and baked beans, know that typically all three run about the same amount calorie-wise, anywhere from 150 to 180 for a 1/2 cup serving. All three can also be very sweet, so if you're watching your sugars, be aware of that. If there is fried chicken, you can lighten the calories considerably by pulling off the skin and just eating the meat. I know, that's where that great crispy crust is, but that's also what carries the most in calories. And remember dark meat chicken has more calories than white. Try to select leaner meats and at least smaller portions of items if everything looks fairly rich. Try not to go crazy with the 'extras' that is: rolls, butter, thick sauces or gravies. And if you can't pass the dessert table without drooling, try to have a very small piece of something really good. The idea is to enjoy without going overboard.

This really is the beginning of the Fall party season challenge. Before you know it, we'll be preparing for Halloween, which has become a party event as much for adults these days, as children. And Halloween is, of course, followed closely by Thanksgiving and then Christmas, not to mention New Year's Eve parties a week later. All those gatherings mean all that food. But what really matters is being with those you love, and not because they brought great brownies! So have a wonderful holiday weekend, continue writing down your daily food intake along with the calories you can count, and know that although this weekend might be a real challenge for you, ultimately you have the power to make better choices. Try to start now. Be diligent. It's up to you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Figuring Recipe Calories

It's very nice when you have a recipe that also gives the calories and nutrition information for the item. But if you substitute anything in the recipe, say 2% milk for whole fat, or an egg white substitute for a whole egg, then it behooves you to figure the recipe on your own, because the total calorie count will change.

A friend asked me how I arrived at the 400 calories per slice of the cake mentioned in my previous blog entry, "Calorie Creep." It takes some effort but once you get used to it, it's really not hard at all. And I like being as certain as I can, how much something is going to 'cost' me in my daily calorie count.

One time, just before popping a new recipe for jam bars into the oven, I realized I had left something out. The recipe called for white and brown sugar. I accidentally left out a 1/2 C of the white sugar! Having made the effort thus far, I baked them anyway and to my surprise, they tasted great. It didn't need that much sugar after all. (I have found that many recipes don't need as much as they often call for.) Because I had already figured the recipe's calories before even considering making it, I was able to easily subtract the white sugar from the total calories.

You can do this, too. Here's how. The Bundt cake my friend brought to last weekend's gathering contains just 5 ingredients: Betty Crocker cake mix, canned frosting, eggs, oil, and chopped pecans. I took the information on the cake mix nutrition label where it tells not only how many calories each serving contains, but also how many servings you should get out of the whole box. Cake mixes also include the calorie count for just the dry mix, before you add the eggs and oil. In this case, the dry mix of Betty Crocker Butter Pecan cake mix was 170 calories per serving at 12 servings. Multiply the 170 by 12 and you get the calories for the entire box of dry cake mix: 2040. I did the same thing with the canned frosting. It was 150 calories per serving at 12 servings. it came to 1800 calories. A large egg, which most recipes call for instead of medium or small, is 70 calories. This recipe calls for 4. Four times 70 is 280. The recipe calls for 3/4 C of oil. There are 12 tablespoons in 3/4 of a cup. One tablespoon of oil equals 120 calories. Yes, it's a lot. That comes to 1440 calories. And finally, a 1/4 C of pecans is about 210 calories. (I got this figure off the nutrition label of a bag of pecans.) The recipe calls for a whole cup for a total of 840 calories.

Now, add all these numbers up and you get a grand total of 6400 calories for the entire cake. Divide that amount by the number of servings you slice the cake in: 10, 12, or 16. (Remember, a serving is one slice.) You'll have the number of calories per slice. At just 10 servings, each one is 640 calories. At it's smallest 16 servings, it's 400.

The good thing about figuring recipes on your own, is that you can then control those numbers a bit by changing some things. For this particular Bundt cake, there is nothing you can do about the cake mix and canned frosting, those are 'fixed' items that need to be there. But you could substitute the oil with unsweetened applesauce, a common substitute for helping make baked items 'lite' these days. The ratio is 1 to 1, that is, if the recipe calls for 3/4 C of oil, use 3/4 C of applesauce. Use unsweetened so you don't add more sugar to the recipe. The oil isn't sweet, neither should be the applesauce. And you save 1359 calories by using applesauce! So at 16 servings, each cake slice is 315 calories instead of 400. Many cooks also use egg white substitute to lighten recipes that call for eggs. I have to admit, I don't think I would bother with that in this recipe, since it wouldn't end up trimming much in the long run, and you might end up sacrificing flavor. I prefer having smaller portions of great tasting food, instead of huge portions of things that taste like cardboard.

By arming ourselves with good information and equipment: calorie counting books that contain the numbers on numerous foods, checking the nutrition labels, having the kitchen scale handy and a proper set of measuring cups and spoons, we take responsibility and most importantly power over what we eat. And isn't that better than blaming manufacturers for what we can actually control?