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!