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?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Calorie Creep

Sometimes you can look at a food, particularly any baked goods, and just know it's going to buckle the table legs because it has to be so heavy with calories. Anything slathered in cream cheese icing falls into this category. But there are some baked items that look so benign you think surely there's no way it could be that bad. I mean, cakes with no icing have to be lower in calories than those that have layers filled with sugary goodness, don't they? Well, no.
Over the weekend, I attended a small gathering of friends where a scrumptious cake was served. It looked so innocent! A Bundt cake, no icing, a few nuts, that was it. It was particularly moist though, and it had a heavenly aroma and flavor of coconut. Because it was so good, we all asked the cook for the recipe which she immediately made available. One nice surprise is that the recipe has less than half a dozen ingredients. So easy to make, another thing I like! But because I wanted to know how many calories were in it, I decided to figure them up. Oh my. I was stunned. Even cutting the cake into 16 slices, a very narrow piece for a Bundt cake, each serving was 400 calories. Four hundred calories! Oh my gosh! And there wasn't even any frosting! No, not on the outside of the cake. The recipe actually called for a whole can of coconut pecan frosting in the batter. There was also 3/4 C of oil and a whole cup of pecans. All these hidden calories add up and therefore creep up on us when we're least suspecting.

It's something to be aware of when deciding how much you're going to have of a home baked item that someone else has made. When in doubt, and it's not a bad idea to always be in doubt, stay on the safe side and have only a small amount. I should have followed that rule myself. I feel certain the piece of cake I had, because it looked so harmless, was probably double the amount I would have had if I'd known! Well, perhaps. I mean it was awfully good! I'm going to admit, there are times that I think it's OK to indulge. There are days you simply don't want to deal, those are the hard ones. And I think it's OK to break the rules sometimes. The difficulty is in making sure food doesn't become the way we deal with things.
So, will I bake this particular cake? Absolutely! It's a wonderful recipe. But I'll keep it for special occasions.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Low Carb Low Cal Snack

Because it can be so easy to slip into a food rut, I'm always looking for a new idea for an afternoon snack. It's also important that it be easy to put together, satisfying, and not too many calories. I discovered one the other day that I thought I would share. The thing about snacking is there are so many prefabbed things on the market now, that it's easy to mindlessly grab a box of crackers or bag of chips and be done with it when you're hitting that low point about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. But that kind of snack often isn't filling enough for me, and I find myself still wanting something 'else' which can lead to some unnecessary binging just in the hunting for something.

A few weeks ago while shopping my local grocer, I noticed a new line, well new to me, of low carb flour tortillas. I like tortillas and anything that's low carb I thought might also be low calorie so I checked the nutrition label. Yes, they were anywhere from 50 to 80 calories each, depending on the manufacturer, as opposed to the 'normal' calorie count of around 140 to 160 each. The first brand I discovered happened to be Mission flour tortillas but I've since come across others, many of them whole wheat.
Along with the tortillas, I bought a couple packages of deli pre-sliced cheeses: in this case, provolone and pepper jack. Now when it comes to cheese, I prefer the real deal. The lowest fat content of cheese I ever want to have is 2%. Anything lower, as in no-fat cheese, tastes more like the plastic it's wrapped in than anything that comes from a cow. And at 60-to-80 calories per slice for real cheese, well those numbers are agreeable to me, too.

Here's the snack. On one low carb tortilla I place a slice of cheese. Then I pop it into the microwave for about 15 seconds, until the edges of the cheese begin to melt and bubble a bit. Out of the oven I simply roll the tortilla up into a tube, the melting cheese makes it hold its shape. That's it. Now you can dip that in a couple tablespoons of salsa for another 15 calories or a dollop of low fat sour cream for about 20, or just have it plain. If you can 'afford' the calories, have two! I find them very satisfying and the protein and carb, (even low), combination seems to hold me until dinner. You could even get fancy by adding a lettuce slice in the roll-up after it's heated, for crunch.
If you have an idea for a good low calorie snack, add your suggestion in the comment box or send me an email. I think it's important to share encouraging words. We have different likes and dislikes, so undoubtedly something that works for one person might not be that good to another. But the more choices you have when 'searching' for low calorie ideas, the more likely you'll be to stay on track and reach your goal! Hang in there and don't get discouraged. You can do this!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Motivation in Menopause

If you haven't gone through menopause yet, you're in luck. I hesitate to use the word 'easy' in talking about weight loss, but it's going to be easier for you to lose those 20-pounds now, then later. When we go through menopause, our bodies experience a number of changes. Besides the hot flashes and thinning hair, another major change, as if we didn't have enough, is that our metabolism slows down. The slower the metabolism, the fewer calories it takes to maintain our desired weight.

You can see how health experts even predict the need for fewer calories as we age, by going to the Calorie Control Council website,, and clicking on the weight maintenance calculator. Adjust the number in the 'age' box to see how your daily calorie needs change. The older the filled in age number, the lower the result for the calculated number of calories. It's disappointing, to be sure. It's just not fair that as we get older and have accomplished so much of 'life' at this point, that we don't get to enjoy a second helping of dessert! But there it is. No reward. Not in more food, anyway.

The good news is that if you haven't gone through that next stage of life yet, you have time to lose the weight now, getting slightly ahead of the game. If you've already gone through menopause, trying to lose that 20-30 pounds now is going to be very difficult. Doable, but difficult. Don't you deserve to look your best right now? Don't wait until 'one of these days' or 'next year' or '...after the kids graduate from high school or college.' Taking control of your life 'tomorrow' may never come. But without fail, our bodies will change whether we want them to or not. Let us be the ones to have a say in how much.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Don't Cheat Yourself

Calorie counting is critical but be sure you are in fact getting the amount of food you're charging yourself for. When food has played such an important part of your life, and you decide you're going to limit how much of it you have, you don't want to cheat yourself out of even one morsel!

That's why it's important to have a good kitchen scale and weigh portions, particularly if it's food coming from cans. On the nutrition label, the manufacturer will not only give the size of the serving of say, green beans, but it will also give how many of those servings you can expect to get from said can. If you portion out those servings by simply eyeballing it, you may find that the information of, "about 3 1/2 servings," written on the nutrition label seems extremely generous when the food is actually separated that way. In most instances, I have rarely come across a can of just about anything that actually contained the amount the label claimed. Don't ask me how the manufacturers get away with it, but they do and some major brands are actually worse about it than others. Do your own test. Not only are you getting cheated out of the amount of food you think you're eating, but it's especially annoying when you're trying to feed a family on a budget and you aren't getting the value you think you are.

If you take a moment to weigh your servings, (it's really not that big a hassle if you keep your scale easily accessible - mine sits on my kitchen counter all the time), you may well find that out of a 15.5 ounce can of most any vegetable, you'll end up with just a little more than 2 servings, and yes, I'm even including the packing water in those measurements.

When it comes to accurate calorie counting, portion control is critical. Just be certain you're getting what you think you are.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday Solution?

As I've mentioned here before, Sundays, well weekends in general, but Sundays are particularly difficult for me food-wise. It's because the meal times are off my usual schedule and my body wants to eat at times I know I shouldn't.

My husband and I go to an early morning church service on Sundays. Because I don't want to sit there with my stomach growling, I have coffee and a nutrition bar while getting ready to go. Once the service is over, it's mid-morning and a weekly ritual for us is to go out to breakfast. We go to a special little diner that we enjoy as much for the people who run the place, as the fare they offer. I do usually eat sensibly: 1 egg scrambled, 2 slices of bacon, an English muffin, and coffee. And yes, of course, I would rather fall face down in a short stack of buttermilk pancakes smothered in Maple syrup! Who wouldn't?? But I know it's best to save that kind of meal for a very special occassion. [I think part of our problem these days is that in our self-indulgent I-want-it-now society, we've saved nothing for special occassions. But that's a topic for another day.]

Even though I eat that fairly sensible breakfast, it still means that by noon, I've had as many calories as I've usually had by 4 o'clock in the afternoon on any other day of the week. I was already thinking I would need to do something to keep myself out of the pantry mid-afternoon looking for a snack, when my husband suggested we go to a movie. Great idea. And since I'm never really tempted to eat theater food, (I find it overdone in size and price), I knew I'd be OK. The feature we wanted to see started at 1:30p. By the time we got home it was after 4p and I had a cup of tea to tide me over until I started working on dinner. We eat no later than 6p most evenings because we don't want to eat too late. All in all, the day went well and I got through it under my daily caloric total.

Now I'm not advocating you go to a movie every time you want to keep out of the pantry or refrigerator, but the idea of spending your time elsewhere to take your mind off food is a good one. The thing is, I wasn't starving when we got home from the movie. My body had forgot about eating because my mind was otherwise engaged. Often eating isn't about hunger, it's about boredom or mindless eating out of habit. Break the habit, break the boredom and you'll have a better chance of winning the battle and in the end, winning the war.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fall Fashions

I know, it's 140 degrees outside so who wants to think about wearing suits and sweaters? But the fact is, we are approaching that time of year. It will happen. In my part of the country, we're even getting a break from the heat today, waking up to rain and cool temperatures in the 60s, woo hoo! Plus, the catalogues and sale circulars with cold weather in mind are already arriving in the mailbox and the morning paper. So, taking advantage of today's weather change, and the positive attitude that brings, let's talk about what you'll be wearing on your new slimmer body this Fall!

Because you've worked so hard to lose every half pound, why add more weight by wearing bulky clothing? Sure you want to stay warm, but there are ways to do it that are more flattering than others. Shopping will be a lot more fun as you lose those extra pounds. Make your wardrobe reflect how hard you've worked!
Keeping the cooler weather in mind, go through your closet and jettison anything that will add bulk to you. That includes double-breasted suit jackets, thick cable knit or nubby-knit sweaters, anything with horizontal stripes, big plaids, big florals, and please get rid of cuffed slacks. The problem with these styles? They add bulk to your body. They give the illusion of more weight. I don't care if it's in your favorite color, or that your best friend gave it to you, (what friend would do that to you??), if it's not flattering, toss it!

That goes for jewelry, too. The trend right now is big jewelry. That's great, but instead of donning a collar of huge heavy stones around your neck, adding pounds to your face, choose one large piece on a chain or cord. That will add great style without making you look heavy.

Look at these two examples: The woman on the left is wearing a lovely single-breasted, Chanel jacket, (without lapels), in a small design.
The layered chain necklace gives her style without bulk. She looks put together. The woman on the right, is wearing a double-breasted, (adding bulk), nubby knit short jacket (which thickens her torso), with a thick fur collar, eliminating her neck! Nothing about this outfit flatters her. The only positive thing is the collar can be removed so she doesn't walk around with a thick neck all day, that's why I like scarves. But I don't think in this case, that's going to help.

When we want to feel slimmer, we sometimes tend to wear our clothes too tight. This only makes our futile attempts obvious to everyone else and it just doesn't work. A fitted nipped-in yet casual jacket over a pair of jeans or slacks works better to hide flaws and yet suggest slimness.

If you've been a few pounds overweight for awhile, as in years, you've probably been used to hiding in bulky shapeless clothing. The problem is that it has only made your figure look worse. You are important enough to lose the weight, and that means you're also important enough to pick out a few new pieces this season that will flatter your new shape and size. Take it slow. Visit websites like for tips on what to wear on your new shrinking frame! Wearing the right clothing can take 10 pounds off your figure without omitting one calorie! When you shop, look for flattering style in a slimming fabric first, then a good color. Do yourself that favor. You deserve it!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Making A Move

How much you can eat, the number of calories in your day, depends on how much you move. If you go to the website and go to the 'more calculators' category, using the maintenance calculator to help determine your daily calorie needs, you'll find the answer depends on your height, age, gender, and activity level. The only one of those you can do anything about is your activity level.

I haven't mentioned exercise on this site before because, well, I haven't wanted to encourage you to do something I'm not doing! It's hard for me. I don't like it. In fact, I dislike exercise so much that even though I will have bursts of genuine attempts, my efforts fade in just a few weeks. Like losing weight, exercise is a choice. If I really really wanted to do it, I would. It's not like I'm sitting on the couch all day eating bon bons instead. I am moving, just not in an organized fashion. My excuse? What there is of it: It takes time to do it, for one thing. There is always something else I think I should be using that hour for: office paperwork, writing/blogging, house cleaning. The exercise, the me time, if you will, is more easily set aside when something or someone else needs my attention. I do enjoy walking, but outside right now we're battling triple-degree heat and I don't have a treadmill. Still, I know in my brain that it would be better for me if I got up off my butt and moved in some steady repetitive and productive way besides taking out the trash.

Not only is exercise better for us because it gets our metabolism running, which burns more calories in the long run, (did you know if your metabolism increases you even burn more calories when you're sitting on said couch?), it increases our muscle and bone health overall. As we age, that becomes more critical. People who are active in their younger years, have a longer active life. I recently spoke with an elderly friend, he's in his 90s, who used to be quite the avid golfer. I asked if he still played. He said all the friends he used to play with are now dead! But he is still doing remarkably well, and when he does have health issues, he seems to recover more quickly from them. I have no doubt much of his good health is due to his life-long level of activity.

So, if you're like me and can't abide the actual hour a day for focused physical activity, you might consider starting small. Don't circle the parking lot over and over looking for that space nearest the building entrance, park farther out so you can burn a few extra calories walking to the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator at the mall. Spend 10 minutes of your lunch hour walking the halls (and stairways), of the building. In the evenings while watching television, don't speed through the commercials with Tivo, instead use those breaks to get up and do something, move around. And if you are of a mind to go to the gym or simply don the tennis shoes and head down the sidewalk for a brisk walk, more power to you! Get up and move! It will undoubtedly help your weight loss and your level of health. I promise, I too plan to get around to doing that again, one of these days, soon, maybe, if I don't have a load of laundry or some filing to do.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Loss Is A Loss, Celebrate!

Nutritionists and other health experts, when talking about how much weight one should expect to lose in a week while dieting, usually say 1 to 2 pounds is normal. So when your scale shows you've only lost a 1/2 pound from the previous week, it can be very disconcerting and frustrating when you expected so much more.
Remember that everyone's body is different. And all sorts of things impact our weight loss, even when we're doing absolutely everything 'right:' eating fewer calories, eating healthier, not eating past 7pm, etc. Don't get discouraged! Focus on the fact that even at a half pound, it's still a loss! The trend is downward. That's what matters.
You might consider a couple of ways to see your progress at a glance, helping you note your shrinking body for a little more visual encouragement. I keep a calendar in my bathroom, one with the date squares large enough for me to write in. It's my health calendar and I keep all sorts of details about what's going on with my body, in particular, my weight. By writing down the number every day, I can see at a glance, not only how my weight compares today with yesterday's but also how it compares to a week or three weeks ago.

Another possibility is creating a graph. You can easily do it on the computer, or you can do it the 'old fashioned' way with actual graph paper taped to the door of your closet or somewhere you'll see it every day. Physically creating those little graph squares each day with your weight number, will help you see how you are progressing. If the trend is downward, celebrate. If it's on the same line for weeks, hang in there. If you're eating fewer calories, you will drop the weight. If the graph line goes up, try a little harder. It's just another helpful tool to keep it all in perspective.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Friends, Saboteurs, and Dessert

As you begin to lose weight and feel good about yourself, don't be surprised to find some friends and family practicing subtle sabotage. They can come in the forms of husbands, mothers, and best friends, and the closeness of their relationship to you makes your resistance that much harder. I'm talking about the spouse or partner who takes you out for a 'big meal' to celebrate a promotion at the office or even celebrate your weight loss! The partner who brings you a box of chocolates, your mother you visit who always has your favorite pie or fresh baked cookies for you to take home to the 'kids' knowing you'll be eating it, too. Or the best friend at lunch who always gets dessert, and encourages you to, also, so they won't be the 'only one.' These best friends and close family members in our lives might not be aware of what they're doing, but the damage is just as effective.

How you react is up to you: you can get angry, accusing the person of sabotaging your efforts to win the battle against weight gain, or you can give in to their offerings and suggestions deciding you'll deal with making a better choice later, or you can politely accept these items, if they're food gifts, and then later dump them in the trash, unopened. In the case of lunch with the girlfriend, have a cup of coffee or cup of tea while she digs in. Or if you just can't resist the temptation, agree to get one dessert and split it, giving her the bigger half. And the loved-one taking you out for the big meal? Thank him or her for their kindness, get the leanest item on the menu and if he or she insists on dessert, get two forks and insist they join you.

Again, it's about taking back your power and having that power over food and yes, those people who are perhaps going through their own subtle struggles with your looking and feeling better about yourself. Sometimes a spouse or partner or best friend are afraid of your looking better if they are also struggling with weight. Sometimes a mother has her identity wrapped up in nurturing her family with food, (think of Raymond's mother from "Everybody Loves Raymond"), and feels personally rejected if you refuse her home-baked goods. Don't fall prey to these well-meaning and yes, sometimes subtle saboteurs in your life. And don't expect others, (except me and others like me), to help you with your weight loss. This is about you and your decision, your choice to improve your life. In the end, only you are going to be responsible for the shape you are in.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Fast Food Nutrition Menus

The good thing about all this talk these days about America's obesity levels, healthy vs. non-healthy foods, and calorie counting, is that a great number of chain restaurants and fast food places now have their nutrition information easily available. On a recent trip to Chili's, my husband wanted to know the calorie count of a certain menu item that wasn't among their Guiltless Grill choices. The manager was very accomodating, took only a few minutes, and after apparently being on the computer to their home office, came back with the calories, fat grams, and carbs of the entree he was curious about along with the sides that went with it. Lovely!

But a sit-down meal isn't always possible when you have hungry kids in the car, perhaps headed to or from a soccer game or swim meet, and you need to pull in to grab something fast. It's even tougher when those kids will only eat 3 items from one particular place and refuse to consider anything else. What do you do then? Combine your efforts.

If you know your children will only eat at a one or two places, provided they're chains, you can go on line to those websites ahead of time, find the restaurants' menu and nutrition listings and print those off to have with you in the car or in your purse all the time. Or, you can just take a look at the list and make a mental note as to which items are lower in calories so when you do have to swing through the drive-thru, you'll know ahead of time what to select for yourself.
Yes, calorie counting takes some planning. It takes some effort. You might argue that you don't want to have to think that much about what you eat. But not thinking about it is what got you to this point, isn't it? Not thinking enough about it? And you are worth that extra effort, aren't you?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Word About Eating Out

Bowing to outside pressure as there is more concern about America's growing girth, many more restaurant chains these days are starting to include healthier choices on their menus. It's a welcome change, but don't assume that just because an item is listed as "healthy" or "smart," it's going to be lower in calories. For example, a recent check of the popular baked goods chain, Dunkin' Donuts, shows they have a line of items dubbed "DDSmart." These are items that are billed as "Better For You Choices That Keep You Running." That may well be, but take it upon yourself to do a little investigation.

Listed under their bakery items, Dunkin' Donuts has a Reduced Fat Blueberry Muffin. That sounds good. But the muffin is listed at 400 calories, 45 of those from fat. Right below the muffin is listed a Cheese Danish. I would think it would be much higher in calories but instead, it's only 340. However, it gets 200 of those calories from fat. Certainly the muffin would be considered healthier because it contains less fat, but note that it is higher in calories. Listed under bagels, the "DDSmart" item is the Multigrain Bagel at 380 calories, 50 of those are from fat. Multi grains are great, but the Plain Bagel listed contains 320 calories, 25 of those from fat.

This is why it's important to actually have the nutrition information on items and not simply rely on those little menu logos that mark items as healthy or low fat or heart healthy. And for those restaurant chains that don't bother to give nutrition information, you can't assume you can just look at something and tell, or assume that since similar items you might eat at home aren't that high in calories, the ones in the restaurant chains aren't going to be either. Be responsible for what's important to you. If you need to eat low fat, fine. But if you're assuming things that are listed as low fat are also low calorie, think again.

Afternoon Snack Idea

I think it's important not to get in a rut when it comes to snacks and foods in general, although I admittedly eat quite a few nutrition bars. They're healthy, I like them, and until I can't stand them anymore, I'll continue to fill in meals with them because they're easy. But I digress. As I've said before, calorie counting should not be about deprivation but instead it's about control: getting control of our eating, control of our portions. The challenge is to be creative with foods that taste really good but don't "rob" your calorie bank for the day.

If you're looking for something hot for an afternoon nosh instead of cold cheese and crackers or a cup of yogurt, you might consider an English muffin pizza. It's not high in calories, not the way I do it. And I find it very satisfying in flavor.

I had some leftover pasta sauce from the previous night's dinner and we always keep English muffins and cheese on hand so it was quite easy to throw together in a matter of minutes. I'm going to give you the name brands of the products I used because it makes a difference in calories, but you can use any you like, just check out the nutrition label for your numbers. Here's what I did:
I first toasted a Thomas Original English muffin. They're 120 calories. (Thomas also now offers lite English muffins at 100 calories each, but I've not tried them.) The leftover pasta sauce I had was Classico's Fire Roasted Tomato and Garlic Sauce at 50 calories for a 1/2 cup serving. I didn't need but 2 tablespoons, one for each side of the muffin, so that brought the calorie count down to 12.5 which I rounded up to 13. (Always round up, just in case!) The third element was the cheese. I like those little Babybel originals. They are 70 calories each.
Once the muffin was toasted, I spread 1 tablespoon of the pasta sauce onto each side, then topped it with the cheese which I grated. It's a semi-soft cheese, but if you work quickly, you can grate it fairly easily. I popped the whole thing into the microwave for 30 seconds and it was perfect. I could have also put the 'pizza' in a 350 oven for 5-10 minutes, but I didn't feel like waiting. Toasting the muffin first, gave it the sufficient crispness I wanted. In the end, my calorie total was 203. Very doable and much more tasty than some of the cardboard-consistency frozen pizza for one creations I've come across. Plus, this way, I got to control what was on my pizza. If you wanted to add sliced olives or a couple of little rounds of pepperoni sausage, you could do that, just be careful because those food items add up quickly. But that's it! Quick, tasty, and lite.
Be creative, don't get in a rut, venture out with tasty ideas that are satisfying but not high in calories. Yes, it takes a little thought and effort, but you can do it. Don't let someone else determine whether you can get into those smaller sized jeans you've been eying! It's up to you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Calorie Counting Cookbook

I'm always on the lookout for new cookbooks. I have quite a number lining my kitchen shelves, cabinets, drawers, you get the idea. But my favorites have two things in common, colorful photographs of the recipes, (how am I supposed to know what I've fixed looks the way it's supposed to if there are no pictures?), and the nutrition information.

A new cookbook written by Duncanville, TX cooking teacher, Karel Anne Tieszen, has both. It's called "In Your Own Kitchen" and it's her first venture into writing down what she's been doing in the form of her adult cooking classes for years. On her website, it states that the classes "emphasize realistic food preparation for 'regular' people..." And that appears to be the approach of her cookbook, too.
She came up with the more than 150 recipes for the cookbook after years of seeing which ones her students favored. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Tieszen said, "If you know the reality of what the calorie count is going to be, you know how to accommodate it into your day." Amen to that! It's nice when a cookbook author realizes the importance and benefit of providing it for you. The cookbook is offered through Amazon but is currently sold out and there's a waiting list. It can, however, still be purchased directly from Tieszen's website,

Another bit of good news: On a quick shopping stop at a Super Target yesterday, I was encouraged to see that many of their packaged baked goods, the ones from their own bakery, now include nutrition labels complete with calorie count! In the past, I was tempted to buy some of their specialty breads but resisted since I had no idea how to figure them into my day. Another store I like to frequent, Texas-based Central Market, has a large heavenly aromatic bread-baking section which I still avoid for that same reason. As people become more mindful of their calorie intake, hopefully, such stores will eventually 'get' how important that factor is to many of their customers.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Are You Hungry?

What does hunger feel like? And how do you keep it from ruining your day?
First, the feeling of hunger: Do we really know what that is? Are you truly aware of what it feels like to have that grinding tugging feeling in your stomach? Many of us have forgotten what hunger feels like because we’ve got used to reaching for food anytime we’re bored or need a little comfort or we’re celebrating something wonderful. We reach for food so often we never really get a chance to ‘need’ food because we eat whenever we ‘want’ it.

There are some health experts that believe when we think we’re hungry our bodies are often simply in need of water. Drink a glass of water and your urge to eat may actually go away. When calorie counting, you have accepted that you are no longer going to reach for just any food in any amount at any time you want. You have agreed to be in better control of those mindless wants. But that also means, especially at the beginning, that there will be times when you feel actual hunger pains because for the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, you’re denying yourself a little bit. Don’t panic. You’re not starving. We need a reminder of what real hunger feels like. I’m not saying you should make yourself double-over in a quivering blood sugar low. I’m simply saying that by calorie counting, limiting your portions, and limiting the times when you take in those portions, you are allowing your body to need food before you feed it. If we waited until we actually needed food instead of grabbing something just because we’re too bored to do anything else, we wouldn’t be in the shape we’re in now. We are a society of instant gratification. Everywhere we turn, we’re bombarded with TV commercials, billboards, fast food signs, all implying that if we love ourselves, we'll treat ourselves to a mouth-watering this or that because we deserve it. Well, I say just as you discipline a child out of love in order to mold them into a better person, we should discipline ourselves out of love, too. Aren't we worth it?

But how do we keep hunger from ruining our day? Well, here's something you might find interesting. A recent study published in the July issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests that hunger actually makes us feel happy. Apparently when we're hungry a hormone called ghrelin increases, but what scientists now believe is that the hormone may also reduce stress, increases motivation, and may make us more social; at least that's what it did for lab rats. So be a little hungry and be happy.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Weekend Party Challenge

Parties can be a particular challenge when you're trying to be responsible about what and how much you eat. Go to a party out of town, requiring an overnight stay, and you're also dealing potentially with meals on the road, etc. It can mean eating food that someone else has prepared and you have no idea about calorie count. Thus was my test this weekend.
I was invited to a friend's surprise 50th birthday party Saturday night at a Mexican restaurant in East Texas. As I've said here before, Mexican is among my favorite foods, and of course, among the most calorie laden.

To give myself a choice during my stay, I packed a few nutrition bars so I wouldn't feel forced to eat out if I didn't want to. When making a long drive, I think it can be tempting to use the excuse that since it's a special trip, it's OK to splurge a bit: have that Hostess sugar-coated fried cherry pie at the convenience store where you stopped to stretch your legs. I can struggle with that kind of temptation. But, like a horse wearing blinders, I kept my focus on just getting there, promising myself I would have a snack at the hotel when I could really sit and relax.
Once I arrived and got settled into my room, it was around 3 o'clock. I got a cup of coffee, and instead of having one of my nutrition bars, got a pack of peanut butter crackers from the vending machine. The nutrition label on the side of the crackers let me know exactly how many calories I was having. I thought, "So far, so good." The only hurdle I really had to worry about clearing was the restaurant.

In the banquet room, round tables were filled with lovely decorations in my friend's honor. She would be so surprised to see us all! As we waited for her arrival, party-goers ate chips and salsa from the baskets scattered on all the tables. Knowing how quickly those calories can add up, I sipped water and tea and chatted with my tablemates. I didn't point out to anyone that I wasn't yet eating, I simply focused on them. In spite of it being past the typical dinner hour, I wasn't overly hungry.
Shortly after my friend arrived and was suitably surprised, it was time to go through the buffet serving line. I had no intention of eating like a bird, but neither did I want to go crazy with it. I got a scoop of Spanish rice, one cheese enchilada, one beef tamale, and a taco. I ate slowly, choosing to savor the good conversation with old friends more than the food in front of me. In the end, I left a bite of everything on my plate. It takes a lot of will power for me to do that, especially with foods I love so much. I was pleased, and shall I say even a bit relieved, when the waiter came around to clear the table.
Then it was time for the biggest challenge of all, the cake! Yes, I planned on having some. Nothing can ruin the tone of a celebration more than someone refusing to participate. But we were each served cake at our table, and the slices were enormous! It was, admittedly, wonderful tasting cake. Four layers, filled with icing, and covered in fondant and more icing. For a "sugarholic" like me, it was heaven with every bite. But in spite of that, I'm happy to say, I left quite a bit of it on the plate.
As people left the party, they were handed boxes of extra cake slices to take home. I politely refused and then a friend who had earlier complimented my weight, jokingly accused me of not eating cake in years! Ha. Of course I had, but her point was that I didn't look like it. It was a very nice compliment. Once back at the hotel, I was proud of myself for not overeating. I had no regrets and I could sleep comfortably.
This morning, instead of going downstairs for the hotel's free breakfast, which can include tempting sweet rolls and muffins, I had a nutrition bar in my room with a couple of cups of coffee, and yes, I do take cream. I left early enough to get home before lunch time, so I wouldn't be tempted to stop and get a burger or some other fast food on the way home. In the end, I had fun, saw old friends, and I didn't use the excuse of a special event to overindulge. All in all, it was a very successful weekend.
Bottom line? Your weight is your own private battle. Don't bore friends with talk of dieting, or saying you wish you could eat what they're having, etc., and don't deny yourself the pleasure of good friends and celebrations out of fear you'll go overboard. Even if I had lost myself in the moment, I wouldn't beat myself up today. I would simply start anew. Every day is a new one when it comes to gaining power over food. You can do it!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Why Bother?

When in the midst of trying to lose weight, there comes a time when we're not seeing the scale move, when we feel hungry, when we're angry because we can't have the size slice of cake we want to have, that we are tempted to throw up our arms in disgust and ask, "Why bother?" We look at our overweight friends and family and use them as an excuse to say to ourselves, "They aren't doing anything about their weight and they don't look like they're doing too badly." The truth is, we don't know the inner thoughts of our friends and family, we don't know what motivates them, what is truly important to them, what their will power is like, or whether they even have the will power. Besides, wouldn't you like to show your friends and family that you do have the will power to make positive changes in your life? That you can succeed? And maybe your success will motivate them?

Still, here is one of the most important reasons I know to "bother" with losing weight: our children. Our children are learning from us how to live. We teach them through our examples. And right now, their weight gain and their battles with adult forms of conditions and disease like diabetes and high cholesterol at ages that they shouldn't even know how to spell such words, is showing we're not doing a very good job. The rate of childhood obesity in this country is staggering. With half or more adult Americans now overweight, America's children are following suit by making poor nutritional choices resulting in more than 30% of them in the overweight or obese category. When I was in elementary school, nearly 40-years ago, I can remember only one child in our class who was overweight. One!

It's not enough to tell our children they shouldn't eat junk food when we're holding a bag of Oreos in our hands. Your lifestyle changes: making better low-calorie choices, being mindful of food portions, and healthier snacking, will allow your children and even grandchildren to see not only that it can be done, but that they are important enough, and valuable enough, to make similar changes in their own lives. Hopefully, they won't grow up fighting the same food battles we have. Let's help them see and solve this problem now by showing them we can do it!