Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Importance of Snacking

Snacking is really important. It's how we know we're not depriving ourselves, restricting ourselves. If you 'ban' certain foods like sweets or breads, for example, one day you'll find yourself sitting on the kitchen floor with a package of Oreos or a loaf of Mrs. Baird's eating the whole package! Deprivation diets only work for the few weeks you force yourself to be on them. They're not the kind of permanent lifestyle change you want to make. At least they never worked for me or anyone I know. That's why snacking is important. I try to have a mid-afternoon snack every day.

But I've found there are a couple of keys to snacking. One is to pick something that will really satisfy you. If you're looking for a mouth-satisfying salty crunch, then having a banana isn't going to cut it. Think before you dive in. Really consider what you want at that moment and have it. Don't substitute. Healthy snacking is the wisest, but if you have something because you think it's healthy when you really want something else like a handful of cheese puffs, you'll end up eating both and then you'll go through all that kicking yourself because of no discipline, etc., etc.

The second key, of course, is keeping your snack portions under control. Look at the amount of calories you have decided to allow yourself for snacks. Whether it's a healthy handful of nuts or a bunch of M&M's, keeping it all under control is part of having your cake, as they say, and eating it, too. If it's a prepackaged food, look for the nutrition label and find where it gives the serving size. For most chips and crackers it's going to be about 1 ounce or 28 grams. Before you take that first bite, pour up the serving amount. And yes, crackers you eat before you fold the box shut, DO count. Close the box or package and put it away. Then and only then, should you start eating the snack. It's important to take your time and enjoy it. If you wolf it down, it won't feel like you've had anything and your brain will still be in search of... Remember, the battle you're waging here isn't so much with your stomach as it is with your mind. If the snack you've picked is say, an apple, take a quick glance at your calorie counting book for the size or weight of the fruit. If you've decided to allow yourself a maximum of 250 calories for a snack, and say the apple you've chosen is about 100 calories, have an ounce of cheese to balance it out. The snack will last longer that way and be more satisfying.

Above all, write down your snack on your daily food list and add it into your calorie count. As long as you respect your wants and needs, snacking can be an integral and successful part of your lifestyle change.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Soups & Salads For Starters

Because my husband and I have somewhat erratic schedules that may have us at opposite ends of the city, our most balanced meal of the day is dinner. We almost always start the meal with a salad: a lettuce and tomato salad with a light dressing, followed by a 4 ounce entree, usually of beef, chicken, or fish, and a vegetable. Because of the starter salad, by the time we finish the rest of the meal, we're satisfied. A light dessert, (my husband really likes the Weight Watchers Smart Ones ice cream desserts which run anywhere from 160 to 190 calories), finishes it off.

Although I love a good crisp cold green salad with a cucumber ranch dressing on top, I realize that greens are not for everybody. Many people just are not fans of the taste of lettuce. For those of you who can't abide the idea, a very good alternative is soup. A starter soup is a great way to curb your appetite and help fill you up so that you don't overeat or are left still wanting something else at the end of the meal. But all soups are not created equal.
Cream soups, like what most restaurants are going to offer, creamed spinach, baked potato soup, broccoli cheese, these can pack a whopping amount of calories before you even get to the regular meal because of the cream and butter used to make them. Instead, try to stick with soups made with a clear broth base like chicken noodle, some tortilla soups, french onion (without the cheese and croutons). These can be quite filling and won't break your calorie bank. Another word of caution, however. Canned soups which can be low in calories can be very high in sodium. If you're watching your salt intake, check the nutrition label to be sure you're not going overboard with salt milligrams.

One alternative is to make your own soup. I know, it sounds labor intensive, but it doesn't have to be and it's really a great way to control what you're eating. If you get the kids involved, it can be fun. By making your own soup, you control the salt and calorie content. And if you do it on a weekend as a way of exercising your creative side, it can be quite fun and relaxing. Make enough to have several servings. Freeze what you're not going to eat in the next couple of days, in 1-2 serving portions. That way, when you're ready for more, you can easily thaw it out, even sticking it in the refrigerator the night before so it's ready the next day. A good website to find homemade dishes that usually include their calorie count, is Type in "chicken soup" or "low calorie soup" in the search box, and a host of ideas will pop up.

This really isn't a diet you're on. Going "on" a diet, implies that you'll one day go "off" it, and most probably go back to your old habits that got you here in the first place. This is a lifestyle change. A healthy low-calorie way of living that will make you look and feel better about yourself from now on.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Colon Cleansing and Other Quickie Weight Loss Ideas

I heard a radio commercial this morning advertising a way to "quickly lose those remaining 25-30 pounds." One particular line of the ad targeted women saying something to the effect of, "If you're tired of trying to lose those same 10 pounds again and again..." blah, blah, blah. Then it went on to tout some kind of colon cleansing formula. The "basic" one month supply, not including tax and shipping, is about $100. bucks. A hundred bucks! And I feel certain, one month is not all they're going to encourage you to do.

You know, for an amount that probably costs less, (and that your insurance company will pay for because you're getting something healthy out of it), you could go in for a colonoscopy! Ever do one of those? The prep, a fast-acting laxative that absolutely cleans you out, is the best way I know to drop at least 8 pounds, instantly. And yes, I said 8 and not the 25-30 pounds this company is claiming. And believe me, with the colonoscopy prep, there is no chance there's anything left in there when the gastrointerologist gets ready to do his or her probe. Nothing 'clinging' to the walls of the colon like spackle as this ad claims. Sorry, don't mean to be disgusting, but the fact people will hear these pitches and blindly send in their money is also disgusting.

Don't be fooled into buying into these quickie weight loss ideas. If it happens overnight, yeah, your stomach will look flatter the next day or two, but you'll gain it all right back. It's not permanent and the only thing getting permanently lighter is your wallet. I'm not even sure it's that healthy for you to go through something like that on any kind of regular basis. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Eat more calories than you 'spend' in a day, and you're going to gain weight. Use up more than you take in, you're going to lose. And the slower you go about losing the weight, the more of an impression that eating change will make on you, leaving you with a better chance of keeping the weight off longer. Calorie counting puts you in control, no one and nothing else. It's empowering because you decide the outcome.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Boredom Binging

It's the weekend, we're bored and there's nothing else to do, or there's something else we should be doing but don't want to. So. Let's see what's in the pantry to munch on?

Before you know it, we've downed a half box of Triscuits. Now we want something to off-set that salty taste so now we'll just have a little bite of something sweet. By the end of this food search and destroy mission, it's 4:30 in the afternoon and dinner is just around the corner and we're already well on our way to blowing our day's calorie allotment. We just meant to have a little bite of something, but things got carried away. So now what about dinner? Well, we have to eat something, don't we? And we don't want to deny ourselves a hot meal so let's go ahead and have that, too. Write all that down. Add it all up. Wow. Before you know it, we've had about a thousand calories more than we planned , just because we got a little bored and instead of finding something else to do, we ate.

Here's one way I battle this down-hill slip and slide when it starts: I try to remove myself from the situation and/or get my mind on something else. Changing behavior goes a long way to correcting a bad habit like boredom eating. Experts say boredom is one of the 5 top reasons for emotional eating. Instead of hanging out at the pantry door when you're between projects, do something else. If you're at home, leave the room. Seriously, remove yourself from the area so that you're not staring at food. Go rearrange your sock drawer.

Go clean out that drawer of old make-up in your dressing table. Fess up, we all have them. That alone should be good for several hours if it's anything like mine. If you're at the office, take a break and walk outside for a few minutes instead of going to the vending machine. OK, if you're in Texas and it's 103 degrees, maybe you don't want to walk outside. So go explore another part of the building. Boredom eating is often done in an almost hypnotic half-awake state. We're not all that aware we're doing it until it's over and we end up kicking ourselves for losing control. But the truth is, we didn't so much lose control as we just did what we've always done. The idea here is to break that habit. Several years ago the driver-side window on my car quit working. It wouldn't roll down. I lost 5 pounds! All because I couldn't pull into a drive-thru on my way home!

Turn left instead of right. Go up instead of down. Anything to change that routine and interrupt the same old same old. You're trying to do things differently, trying to change your life and make it better. Don't forget this is a 24/7 battle. It can't be stressed enough that if you don't want to hang onto these same 25-30 pounds for the next 10-years, and possibly add on even more, a lifestyle change has to occur and that includes breaking old habits. Do a crossword puzzle, take up cross stitch, painting, ceramics, anything. Remember you're trying to make yourself better, not bigger.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Feeding Our Fashion Sense

I know, this isn’t a fashion blog, but I want to say that what we choose to wear goes a long way to impacting how we feel about ourselves. There are items we can wear that will make us feel and therefore look thinner. V-necks, empire waists, straight-leg jeans, knee-length skirts and dresses, and yes shoes with a heel, (it need not be 3 inches high), are flattering to all but only a few people and therefore can make us feel thinner, pounds before we reach our goal. A lot of it is also about posture and generally how we carry ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we stand a little straighter. Standing straighter can make us look like we’ve instantly lost 10-pounds. When we slouch, our bodies fold in on themselves and we look heavier. There is nothing worse than seeing some of today's young women, (and older ones, too), wearing jeans that are so tight, their bellies flop over the top. They then ‘cover’ that belly with a shirt that’s too short or too tight.

Wearing tight clothes, a size too small if you will, does not make you appear that size. We're not fooling anybody, least of all ourselves. It simply looks like we’re in a size too small! And worse, it actually makes us look heavier.

Take a look through your closet. Try on a few things. How do they fit? I mean really fit. Jeans too tight? Skirt too short? Shirt pulling across the front so the buttons are pulled apart like an accordion, leaving a gap at the bust? I saw a young woman today who looked like she could stand to lose 30 pounds and part of it was because she was wearing the wrong clothes. Her jeans were so tight around the top that her belly fat hung over the edge. How did I know? Because she was wearing a clingy top over her jeans that revealed every bulge of her stomach. Had she instead, been wearing a shirt that draped, gently falling away from the body like the baby-doll style blouses that are so popular right now, she would still be 30 pounds overweight but it wouldn’t be obvious to someone 100 feet away. And I’m sure when she put on that outfit and looked in the mirror before she left the house this morning, she probably stood straighter, sucked in her stomach and thought, yeah, that looks good. Trouble is, we don't keep standing straight and keep sucking in our gut once we leave the house. Wear something flattering that makes you feel good about yourself. Think of it this way. Look at what you're wearing right now. How would you feel about it if your ex-boyfriend saw you in it? Still want to wear it? Still think it makes you look good?

You owe it to yourself to dress better. And by better I don’t mean more expensive. Plenty of discount stores like Marshall’s, Ross, even Sears, have some really cute clothes that are not expensive and look really flattering. Update your wardrobe! And no, don't wait until you've lost those 25 or 30 pounds and reached your goal. You should look good at every level of your weight. Remember, if you like what you see in the mirror, that’s going to motivate you to keep eating less, eating better, and look good doing it. You are worth it!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A 630 Calorie Muffin?? Yep.

Ever wonder how many calories are in those chocolate chip cookies or those moist luscious slices of pound cake in the pastry case at Starbucks? New Yorkers now know, and quite a few of them aren't too happy about it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but in this case, ignorance can add hundreds of calories to your daily diet without your knowing. So, in their efforts to battle the bulge for their citizens, New York city officials passed a law requiring restaurant chains to post the calorie totals for their foods. It has sent some consumers reeling to discover what some might have already suspected.

Even though it's labeled as "fat free" a slice of the banana chocolate chip cake comes in at 390 calories at Starbucks. One popular muffin at Dunkin' Donuts is 630 calories. A muffin! And diners at T.G.I. Friday's are stunned to learn a good number of the meals on the popular chain's menu are well over 1000 calories, even the salads!

We really shouldn't be surprised and we shouldn't condemn them for it. These are restaurants not health food purveyors. They're in the business of selling good tasting food, food that's so good you want to come back again and again. But if you come back too often, you need to know you may well be, in a single meal, eating your entire day's calorie allotment. There is nothing wrong with eating out, but to do it several times a week is probably going to make you put on weight. Starting your day with a calorie and carb loaded muffin and a fancy cup of sweetened milk-rich coffee isn't doing your diet any good, either. If you're trying to lose weight, these meals and snacks will leave you fighting an uphill battle.

We like to fool ourselves sometimes. As long as we don't know the calories, they can't possibly be that bad, can they? Or if we're eating in the car, or standing over the sink, they don't really count, do they? But they do count and much more than many of us realize. New Yorkers are finding that out. Seattle and San Francisco have similar laws going into effect later this year. Such a law might be coming to your city. If it does, don't run, just be aware. Information is power.

Perhaps instead of eating that entire Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse all by yourself, (at more than 2000 calories,) you share it with two or three friends. Managing our weight, means managing our food. It's not a bad thing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Writing It Down Works!

Yes! A recent study by the health folks at Kaiser Permanente reveals that keeping a food diary helps people lose weight. The study, reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, states that of those surveyed, participants keeping a list of what they ate every day lost twice as much weight as those who did not.

It's not enough to just remember what you've eaten all day. It does make a difference to actually see it written down. That way there is no relying on your memory, and there is no 'fudging' on the information. We tend to allow ourselves too much leeway sometimes if we're not looking at it in black and white.

Organizers say two-thirds of the study subjects lost an average of 9 pounds in 6 months. But those who kept up with the food they ate by writing it down every day, lost up to 20 pounds! I know the idea of writing down every morsel we put in our mouths is a turn off. It feels obsessive. And the idea of our friends and families 'finding out' we have to do this in order to lose weight feels somehow weak-willed or something. I understand that. But it's such a simple thing! And it actually gets results. Who cares what others think about your methods if your clothes fit better, you feel better and are, in fact, healthier for it? Why not give it a try?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prepackaged Diet Food....Really?

I have a physician friend who likes to run marathons. In spite of that fact, he has never been particularly 'runner-thin' until recently. Over a period of what seemed only a couple of months, he had become noticeably slimmer, so I asked him about it. He said he and his wife had decided to do one of those prepackaged diet plans. They got a month's worth of food, three meals a day, for $300. I don't know how long they were on the plan but he lost 20 pounds, his wife lost 10. I was impressed. I had always wondered if their particular diet plan actually worked because the company is a major TV advertiser. My friend and his wife are now among the many success stories the plan can claim.

But how was the food, I asked him? He indicated it was just OK. And he said instead of getting an entire meal, you get only the entree which isn't very big, and then you can add things to it, your vegetables, bread, any extras that are OK on the plan. So, apparently in addition to the $300. in prepackaged diet food each month, you still need to add some of your own for it to be satisfying. Hmm.

As health professionals, my friend and his wife are busy people. It's possible they don't cook at home much anyway. And yes, they have lost the weight they wanted. But I can't help but feel they haven't learned very much when it comes to their regular daily diet. Most of these diet plans are based on portion control and calories. So at least my friend has an idea as to what a proper portion looks like sitting on a plate, but once he and his wife are finished with the diet food they won't have a real way to gauge how much their eating unless they know about calories of everyday food. These diet plans do work, but once participants go off the diet, they often easily put back on the weight and then some. The victory is temporary making the feeling of defeat that much greater. The quicker the weight loss, the quicker it can come back on. Slow and steady works best in my book. And for flavor? Well, I'll take smaller portions of real food I fix and know the calorie count of, any day, over something packaged and shelf-stable. And my method doesn't cost any extra.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cooking The Books

So I'm standing there waiting with my cans of cat food and diet Coke at the grocery store check-out when I begin to look over the magazines, particularly the cooking and diet magazines. On the cover of the latest issue of Cooking Light is a gorgeous picture of a slice of cherry pie. Now, my favorite dessert is pie of just about any kind, but among the myriad of choices, my absolute favorite is cherry rivaled only by peach followed by chocolate, lemon,... well, you get the idea.

The thing about cherry pie, or any pie, is that it's usually very high in calories. For the average slice, (that's 1/8th of a 9" pie), you're looking at between 350 and 450 calories. I was curious. How did a slice of cherry pie wind up on the cover of a diet magazine? Imagine my surprise when I looked up the recipe and saw a calorie count of 282 calories per slice. Wow. That's really good. But because I know a little about baking, I had to wonder how they had lightened the calories. The picture certainly didn't look any different from the average full-calorie cherry pie slice. The crust didn't look different, the cherries didn't look like little blocks of tofu or some such, what could they have put in or taken out to get those results? The list of ingredients appeared to be what I typically see in any cherry pie recipe. I was perplexed.

That's when I took another look at the end of the recipe, the part where it says number of servings. That's when my jaw dropped. The folks at Cooking Light hadn't done anything that I could tell to lessen the calories in their cherry pie, they simply sliced it smaller! Instead of getting the typical 8 slices, they think you should get 12! A dozen slices from a 9" pie! Come on! Who are they kidding? I assure you that even the photographer who took the picture for the magazine cover didn't try to do that.

My immediate thought, (after thinking the magazine editors must assume we're all gullible idiots), was why did they bother to stop at twelve? Why not go for 16? Sixteen slices would give you just 211.5 calories using their totals. They could have really impressed some folks if they'd put that figure in a headline. And what was even more disappointing, when I figured their pie recipe at 8 slices, it came to 423 calories a slice! That's actually on the high side for the average cherry pie serving.

You know, it's wonderful that there are a few diet cooking magazines that make the effort to lighten some of our favorite recipes. It can take quite a bit of effort to 'cut down' a recipe, and it's nice when someone can help you figure out a way to do it and still come away with something that tastes good. But I think it's frankly bordering on immoral when a publication sets itself up as a leader in the health and diet industry only to end up cheating the very public it claims to be helping. I can take any recipe and make it appear lower in calories if I cut it into ridiculously tiny servings! I suppose they would argue, 'Hey, at least we were honest, we didn't lie about it.' No, they didn't lie but such a tactic is misleading and therefore dishonest. Do I sound angry? I am. The diet industry in this country is enormous. There is a great deal of money to be made in all kinds of weight loss and health claims. I am appalled and disgusted at any company that takes advantage of the vulnerability of people in search of help and hope.

Don't be tricked. Magazines that do this don't deserve the public trust and respect because they aren't respecting us. They certainly don't deserve our money. I must say this is not the first time I've seen one of Cooking Light's recipes creatively handled this way.
Trust me, there are other magazines like Weight Watchers and Prevention, not to mention numerous websites like and that contain the nutritional information for recipes.
And they don't slice food into portions that would fit on a plate in Barbie's dream kitchen just to get a nice sounding calorie number.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hitting That Plateau

I think we all do it. At some point in a diet, you hit a certain weight and stay there, and stay there, and stay there. It's infuriating when it happens. You get so annoyed with seeing that same number pop up on the scale day after day. You wonder what you're doing wrong. You wonder how you've miscalculated. You wonder if your scale is wrong, or if the cat is readjusting the settings every night! Happily, none of this is true. You aren't doing anything wrong, (that is, if you're sticking to your calories.) I don't know why it happens, I only know that it does and it happened to me, too.

The first month I started calorie counting, the weight really came off. I lost 8-pounds the first 30-days. I was ecstatic! And, by the way, don't let anyone discourage you by saying, "it's only water weight." Yeah, and your point is? I don't care if it's only water weight, it's still weight! Does anyone assume it's water weight when you're putting on the pounds?? If that's the case, someone could simply say, "Well, I weigh 200 pounds but 15 pounds of that is water weight, you know, so I'm really only 185 pounds." Weight is weight and what matters is whether you can button that skirt or favorite pair of jeans. Having said that, my first 8 pounds probably was a good deal of water, and that's why the second month my body completely put on the breaks. I went for the next 3-weeks without losing an ounce. Some mornings, in fact, I even registered a half to a full pound gained! What in the world was going on, I wondered?

I was admittedly, very discouraged. I came close to chucking it all in and believing that apparently I was just never going to lose the weight I wanted. But it didn't make any sense to me. I knew that if I ate fewer calories, it had to be making a difference. So in spite of what I was seeing each morning, I stayed with it. Determined to see it through. It got to be a challenge, a tug of war between me and the bathroom scale. Every morning I would hop on it only to be confronted with that same number glaring up at me. I knew there was no way I should be so stuck but there it was. So I would hop off the scale and say, "Fine. You want to play that game? Let's see who can outlast who!" (Or is it whom?) Anyway... I made a decision that if I never lost another pound, I was going to stick with the calories I had determined were the right number for me. Remember I had been to the calorie counter website and knew what was supposed to be the amount that would have me losing weight. Other websites and books on calorie counting had given me similar numbers. I knew unless something really strange was going on in my body, that eventually something had to give.

Then one morning, like a drain clog that finally breaks free, I was down one whole pound. Eureka! The dam had finally broken. The next week I lost another full pound. I had won the stalemate!

After that, the weight continued dropping off a pound or two a week. I didn't really plateau again but I know that I could have if my body had decided it wanted to. My message here is don't be discouraged if you get stuck on one particular number on the scale for awhile. I was upset because I wasn't aware it could happen. I'm here to tell you that you don't have to be upset if it happens to you because it appears to be a normal way of things. The important thing is to stick with it. Don't let it control you. Want a new you badly enough to fight for it. We fight for other things we really want. Don't give up on yourself. Respect yourself enough to know that you are worth doing what's right and healthy. The benefits are endless.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Snacking Healthy

Do have an afternoon snack. It's important for a couple of reasons. If you don't snack, you're going to feel either deprived and possibly overeat when dinnertime rolls around, or you'll feel entitled to eat more at mealtime since you've not had much of anything "all day," and thus, again, overeat. Remember, calorie counting is not about depriving yourself of anything, other than too many calories. Also, "between meal" snacking, allows your metabolism to keep firing up, burning more calories in the long run.

I would say that if it's possible, you'll be better off making it a healthy snack. There are all kinds of combinations you can come up with for around 200 calories. One of my favorites is a serving of cottage cheese and a serving of Wheat Thins. The total comes in at around 210 and the crackers give me that mouth-feel-crunch that can be so satisfying. An apple and one of those small individually wrapped round cheeses like Babybel come in around 150. A handful, that's 1 ounce, of nuts is anywhere from 170 to 210 calories depending on what kind you're eating. Cashews and pecans can be a little on the high side. A toasted English muffin at 120, coupled with a 1 tablespoon smear of peanut butter, (which melts beautifully on a warm muffin!), is a very tasty 215 calories.

Snack time need not be unhealthy filled with Cheetos and candy bars. I've found that the more unhealthy the snack, the less of it I can have which always leaves me, in the end, most unsatisfied and wanting "something else" to fill that hunger void. Nobody likes feeling hungry and if you'll eat better, you'll find that those pangs and twinges will be more easily satisfied and you'll be doing yourself a favor all the way around.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nutrition Labels & No Fat/Sugar Free

I must admit that I spend a good part of my time at the super market reading nutrition labels, especially on products I'm not familiar with. It's important to know what you're getting into. For one thing, it's interesting to compare the information on No Fat and/or Sugar Free items with their full fat/full sugar counterparts. Usually, you're better off eating the real deal. Why? Because if you compare them, often the No Fat items have actually loaded up on the sugar to compensate for the flavor change. And often the Sugar Free items have increased the salt as well as the fat grams for the same reason. In addition, it's a bit like what happens to me in those moments I decide I should exercise. For me, exercising makes me hungry and gives me the excuse to be nutritionally bad because I figure, "Well, I'll just work it off." The truth is, I usually don't. I can't ever seem to walk enough or lift enough weights to really and truly get rid of that third slice of pizza. And even if I could, I would just be breaking even. I know me. I'm not able to do MORE than I need to do, when it comes to exercise, in order to get rid of the pizza AND lose a pound. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you shouldn't work out, if you can do it and you want to do it, fabulous. I think it's healthy to get up off the couch and get going: walk, play tennis, lift weights, swim. It's just not something I've personally learned to do well.

But as I said, like exercise gives me an excuse to eat more or at least poorly, eating fat free foods can give some people the feeling they can get away with eating twice as much. So, do yourself a favor and read the labels. Know what the company says about those cheese crackers, as in how many (grams or ounces) make up a serving. Not your serving, their serving. Even if you think what they call a serving wouldn't feed a gnat, you need to know that so you can make the important choice: whether to 'spend' that amount of calories on that amount of food.

Knowledge is power, my friends. That little pint of ice cream really is supposed to serve 4.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mexican Food Tonight!

One of my favorite foods is Mexican food, well TexMex. All that cheese, all that salsa, all that great flavor. What's not to like? It's also one of the most 'loaded' meals when it comes to calories, so it's not one of those kinds of meals you want every week.

But tonight, my husband and I will be joining a friend at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. That's where my little calorie counting book from The Calorie King, comes in handy. Even though the book doesn't have any calorie counts for this particular restaurant, I can still look up Mexican food and get a general idea of what I'm going to be facing. For example, it lists the "average enchilada" as 330 calories, an ounce of tortilla chips are listed as 150. (An ounce worth probably being about 17-20 chips.) About a half cup of refried beans are 160. These are all going to be guesses, yes. But it at least these numbers give me an idea, something to go on so that I don't throw caution to the wind and go crazy scarfing down all the chips and salsa before diving into a platter of 3 enchiladas, rice and beans followed by a dessert of flan or sopapillas covered in honey.

This is where portion control also comes in. Have a taste of everything, just don't devour everything. Will I go over my allotted days worth of calories? Perhaps. Will I beat myself up for it? Nope. Will I get right back on the horse tomorrow and start the day fresh with a clean sheet of paper to list my daily foods and calories? Absolutely.

Remember, this isn't so much a diet as it is a way of life. Some days are a little more difficult than others. The important thing is to stick with it, never give up, and be sure that you are the one in control, not the food.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Peer Pressure

There is nothing more annoying than having everyone around you eat cake while you're stuck nibbling on a carrot stick. A friend recently mentioned how hard it is to avoid temptation at the office when coworkers bring in sweet treats for everyone. I used to work in an office where retirement parties, birthdays, and any kind of special meetings that involved a formal report from the boss always seemed to be accompanied with an enormous sheet cake or platters of cookies and donuts, or both! In fact, this is apparently such an issue in some offices that Seinfeld devoted a hysterically funny episode to it with the character of Elaine rebuking her coworkers because of their "any reason to eat cake" attitudes.

If you can deal with eating one small cookie or half a piece of cake, that's great. Good for you! But if you know one bite of cake will lead to three more pieces and send you on a full binge, try to have something really yummy available that you can eat instead. The idea here is to have a treat you already know the calorie count for, so you don't blow your day's allotment with a piece of cake or chocolate chunk cookie that can be anywhere from 200-to-400 calories.

A number of the nutrition bar makers are now coming out with snack bars: smaller, lower calorie versions of their meal supplement bars. They taste pretty good and this can give you the satisfaction of having something sweet and 'snacky.'

Also, those mini versions of candy like Dove, Snickers, and Milky Way bars are great to have around. They're very satisfying and most are less than 45 calories each. A couple of those might go quite a long way to satisfy your craving and keep you from feeling left out of the celebration.

If you keep these items in your purse or in your desk, (away from the greedy little fingers of coworkers who might learn of your stash!), you will always have something on hand that's satisfying and a better choice for you. Remember, it's about taking back your control and taking back your life. Others can tempt you, but no one makes the decision but you. Smile to yourself as you watch your coworkers bend and break to temptation. Decide you will win not only the battle, but the war.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Clothing As Motivator

Most of us have clothes in our closets we can't or shouldn't try to get into anymore. But we can't bring ourselves to throw them out just yet. For years, I had several pieces left over from my 'skinny' days that I refused to get rid of. It wasn't the style I liked, who can stomach those 80s thigh-length "Dynasty" jackets with Joan Crawford shoulder pads? Or those high-waisted stove-piped jeans? No, it was about the mental battle I continued to wage.

Getting rid of those clothes before I could get back into them, made it seem like they had won! As if their presence hanging there had beaten me down. Once I lost the weight and could wear them again, I happily tossed them into the Goodwill bag. I had defeated them! I could freely give them up because it was my choice to do so, not because I couldn't wear them anymore.

It was and is a true victory. The very best feeling! You can have it, too. Keep going.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Making It Through The Holidays

Happy 4th of July weekend! Yes, holiday weekends are difficult. Either you're headed to a party where there will be lots of food, or you're asked to bake a pie or cake to help celebrate, or perhaps you would just like to have a little something special on your own and that means indulging a bit more than usual. All of that is fine. And yes, when you're eating someone else's food, you have no idea what the calorie counts are. So the next best thing is to keep portions under control.

To do that, try to have some healthy food before going to a party. Fill up on fruits or healthy snacks and drink a tall glass of water before going. That will help you not feel famished when you walk in the door and head straight for the buffet.

Also, nothing is more boring to other people than hearing someone talk about dieting all the time. Especially if you're standing around the sweets table at a gathering! Don't do it. Select just a few tasty looking treats, offset them with some carrot sticks and find someone to chat up so you're not left bored and staring at cookies and cake on the table.

Once home, try to remember what you had and write it down on your daily food list. No, you don't know the calorie count. But you don't want to get out of the habit of keeping your food list. It's always good to see in black and white what you are eating even when it's party food.

Good luck and have a wonderful celebration of our nation's independence!