New Year's Will Power Tip
Happy New Year!
If you want to improve your health habits this month, then here is a valuable tip:
Will Power succeeds much better when you focus on what you WILL do, rather than on what you WON'T.
For example, replace "no-no" resolutions like this:
With "to-do" resolutions like this:
The best to-do items are those that actively interfere with your being able to do the unwanted habit. For example, mindless nibbling isn't possible when you're taking a bath, a walk or a yoga class. And, incidentally, if you wanted to justify playing computer games, they've been proven to help people avoid nighttime munching.
It's a seemingly minor shift in focus, but it hugely raises your chances for success: So take some time RIGHT NOW to rephrase any "will not" resolutions into positive "to-do" items.
And have a wonderful new year!
Happier New Year's Resolutions
Happy New Year!
If you are making new year's resolutions about health, here's my advice:
Make the time to make them fun....or at least non-hurried and non-stressful.
If you plan to eat healthier, make time to experiment with new foods, to browse recipes or the produce aisle, or to prepare your meals in a relaxed way, perhaps with music, or with a friend.
If you plan to exercise more, make time for it to be a relaxed or social experience, rather than a mad dash to get in, sweat, shower, and race to your next obligation.
New health initiatives can either feel like going to summer camp (new adventures!) or prison camp (oppression!), and it often comes down to whether you have made time to enjoy the process...or at least to find it interesting.
All my best for a wonderful 2014!
Don't change your Life. Change your Routine.
If you set out to change your whole life--in terms of eating and exercise habits--the odds are stacked against you. A depressing 95% of people fail to reach and maintain their fitness goals because they can't sustain the monumental effort.
But much of life is just daily routines, and those are relatively EASY to change. A better breakfast can change your energy, hunger and cravings all day long. An extra weekly grocery stop can keep you eating cleaner for days. A walk around the block plus green tea can boost your metabolism, energy and mood for hours. A prepared snack can save you from eating junk (and the addiction that goes with it.) A new hobby at night can keep you from mindlessly munching.
And because it only takes 19 calories per day to equal 20 pounds of fat per decade, the small consistent habits are everything.
So forget about grand fitness initiatives until you have done the much more valuable exercise of thinking about what small sustainable changes you could make to your daily routine.
As you plan New Year's Resolutions, make this your mantra: Don't change your life. Change your routine.
Thanksgiving Treats that are Super-Healthy
Thanksgiving is one of the easier holidays to keep healthy, so long as you plan ahead instead of giving in to the normal sugar-laden regulars (canned cranberries, marshmallow yams, pie) and saturated-fat-bombs (regular gravy, stuffing and cream-filled mashed potatoes). Here are some ideas that are festive, delicious AND also healthier:
Toasted pumpkin seeds, eaten plain or sprinkled on a salad, perhaps with pomegranate seeds or sliced pear and lowfat feta cheese
Steamed green beans with garlic, toasted sesame oil, tamari sauce and toasted sesame seeds
Baked yams or sweet potatoes or butternut squash with cinnamon (no sugar needed for those with un-blitzed taste buds)
Mashed faux-tatoes (steamed cauliflower) with herbs, spices, garlic, onion, olive oil or whatever you like
Slow-roasted veggies with herbs, like zucchini, yellow squash, onions, mushrooms, fennel, cauliflower, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, Brussels sprouts
Soup, full of autumn veggies and broth, or made from turkey leftovers
Toasted spiced pecans, perhaps served over berries as a healthy substitute for pecan pie
Pumpkin cream, made with almond milk, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg (if your tastebuds are sensitive, this will be a very sweet treat, even without added sweetener)
AND I know you have lots of great ideas, too. I'd love to hear 'em!
Have a very happy Thanksgiving and please know how thankful I am to be connected with you.
All my best,
The most regretted calories
First of all, Happy Wedding to our devoted Counselor, Catherine! She and her wonderful fiance, Rob, and their unconventional wedding menu, inspire this week's tip.
Our clients have taught us that the biggest source of UN-enjoyed, UN-needed, UN-nutritous calories is dessert in social situations, because declining it might feel rude or socially awkward.
If this happens regularly, the price can be higher than most people think. Research suggests that night-time sugar intake can be associated with:
If these things happen to you, they are a high price to pay for brief moments of politeness.
One solution is to craft a few key phrases for elegantly declining unwanted food. It's not crazy to think of them ahead of time, to practice them, and have them ready to pull out as needed. This one social skill can make a huge difference to your weight and health over time.
Catherine and Rob have saved their wedding guests from this predicament. Catherine knows that her friends and family would likely eat her wedding cake to be polite, but might later regret the nasty sugar-related effects. She opted NOT to serve cake at all, and instead invested in nicer entrees and other wedding fun. I think that's an incredibly thoughtful gift to her loved ones. After all, if any guests are dying for dessert, they can choose to seek out their most-favorite, most-worth-it treat and savor it for pleasure--not politeness.
Happy Wedding, Catherine and Rob! We love you and thank you for reminding us that we don't all need to eat junk to celebrate your day.
Halloween forces the question: Is the occasional sugar indulgence a harmless tradition or a foolish assault on your health?
That may sound overly dramatic--and goodness knows many of us have survived our share of sugar binges--but the latest research on sugar is pretty damning. So here are some ways to minimize sugar's effects:
If you're gonna have sugar
OR, better yet,
Replace candy with healthier edible treats, such as
Consider replacing trick-or-treat candy with
Or, just fill your day with the non-edible delights of Halloween, such as costumes, pumpkin carving, decorating, scary movies and such. No need to have sugar-induced health problems on your list of scary, spooky frights.
Have a good week!
Use Daylight Savings to Lose a Few Pounds
Happy Daylight Savings!
Use part of that extra hour of daylight to do something relaxing, healthy, and great for weight loss:
Walk after dinner.
Even just a 10-minute stroll helps a lot. By blunting a blood sugar rise after dinner, you prevent the insulin release that causes weight gain. What's more, you'll help lower your blood sugar enough to burn fat, and you'll probably sleep better, too!
Want to earn extra credit? While you walk, think of things that happened that day for which you are grateful. That promotes good sleep and healthier eating too!
Have a good week,
Minimally Processed stil too much
The words "minimally processed" are usually a good thing to see on a food label, but take note if you are one of the many people who struggle with portion control on nutritious foods like:
While minimal processing is sure better than heavy processing, keep in mind that any food gets less satisfying and filling when it is chopped, heated, ground up, pressed, juiced or otherwise exposed to some of the work of digestion that your own teeth, stomach or intestines were going to have to do.
Anything ground up is chewed less and swallowed faster. The faster you can eat something, the easier it is to overeat it. The faster it digests, the sooner you will be hungry again.
So if you struggle with overeating the healthy stuff, try this experiment and see how much less food you consume:
For one week, replace any processed foods with the completely unprocessed version, such as:
The unprocessed versions will slow you down, fill you up, boost your metabolism, and you probably will get leaner without even trying.
Have a good week!
How injuries can improve your fitness
Injuries don't have to be a depressing setback to fitness. I'm reminded of this because so many of us find ourselves injured at the end of summer, when the fun of biking, hiking, surfing, waterskiing, softball, etc. has us limping, wincing and wondering if the moments of euphoria were worth it.
"Out of commission" from injury is a depressing place to be, for so many reasons, which makes it even more tempting to take your recovery as sanctioned couch-potatohood.
But unless prescribed by your doctor, prolonged inactivity may be your worst choice. It can raise blood sugar, lower your metabolism, depress your mood, and make you miss out on...
THE UP-SIDE TO INJURIES:
Maybe you can't do anything strenuous or high-impact, or anything that you previously enjoyed, but you can probably do something. And whatever you CAN safely do (even if it's just hobbling around on crutches) has one huge fitness advantage over your previous exercise routine: Novelty!
New muscles will be doing new movements and even a few minutes of novel challenges can be worth hours of your old routine.
Your body has over 600 muscles. I bet there are at least a few you have been neglecting, no matter how much cross-training you've done.
Using these dormant muscles gives you much more fitness "bang for your buck". Re-using already-fit muscles has diminishing returns. You have probably heard the estimate that you burn about 30% fewer calories at any activity that you've been doing regularly for 3 months.
Even if you use old muscles in new ways, there's a huge payoff. Every muscle has multiple ways in which it can be challenged, for different kinds of improvement. For example, sprinting trains your quadriceps to do something very different than slow jogging or quad extensions or a wall sit or jumping. All 5 exercises improve your quads, but in different ways. This means that a novel exercise--even if it feels wimpy compared to your old routine--will give you new benefits.
Any activity is better than none, no matter how minimal. The first few minutes of exercise can give you the most benefits, such as boosting metabolism, lowering blood sugar, stimulating muscles and releasing endorphins. If you are accustomed to exercising for 60 minutes per day, you may think 10 minutes per day is worthless. Quite the contrary...especially if it's an exercise that is novel.
A few very short bouts of activity may be even better than a single long bout...so even if you can only do 2 minutes of something a few times per day, that's still valuable.
In fitness, novelty trumps almost everything else, and most of us don't get enough.
So find the movements you CAN safely do (your doctor and PT can help), and refuse to let your mood, metabolism, blood sugar, and fitness suffer just because your old routine isn't possible. As one hobbling client put it, "It's an injur-tunity."
Have a good and safe week!
Lose the "Happy Weight"...but keep the Happy
I had to laugh last week when I read a research study that confirmed my experience with clients: Happy couples gain more weight together....about 1-2 extra pounds per year.
Romantic fun is a good excuse to gain, in my opinion, and possibly very worth it for a while. But achy joints, inflammation, flab and other consequences eventually catch up with you, so here's a list of ways to have just as much fun losing the extra weight together as you had gaining it:
Hike, bike, garden, walk the dog or take up a sport together. Didn't they teach us in Psych 101 that raising the heart rate together enhances feelings of love and attraction, because we mis-attribute the physiological arousal of the exercise to the other person? Sounds like an opportunity to me!
Replace cocktail hour with a leisurely walk. You'll get the same chance to relax, talk and connect.
Replace some "eat then sit dates" (e.g., dinner and show) with spa visits. More and more of my clients are discovering that they love Friday night massage night together, because they enter the weekend so relaxed. Many spas have a co-ed relaxation room or jacuzzi where you can hang out before or after your treatment. If it's too expensive, you could also just trade massages or foot massages at home.
Cook at home together, with music and candlelight, instead of going to a restaurant. Even if you cook something a little more decadent than usual, it is almost certainly much healthier than anything a restaurant was going to prepare for you.
Go to comedy clubs and order Perrier for your two-drink minimum. Laughter burns calories, strengthens your abs and reduces stress.
Take the advice of Dr. Oz, who claims that consensual naked fun is good for weight loss because it triggers the same rewarding brain chemicals as eating.
I'm sure you can think of more ideas, and once you manage to make losing weight together as fun as gaining it, you're set for life. So make plans RIGHT NOW to have some healthy fun with your sweetie.
Have a good week,
Signs you should slow down your weight loss
Here are some signs that you may be pushing your body or brain too hard to lose weight--and are at risk for sabotaging your long-term results or health. If any of these sounds like you, don't worry. Just slow down. Even losing 1/4 pound of fat per week is a whole stick of butter off your body!
Signs you should slow down:
Here's why: Burning fat inevitably involves lowering blood sugar, but if your blood sugar goes too low for too long, your will power suffers. Research suggests you'll "blow it" and eat back more calories than you suffered to burn in the first place.
Your mood, memory, creativity, sense of humor and general brain function are very sensitive to your blood sugar, which is the brain's main fuel. It can suffer when that fuel gets too low. Getting dizzy is dangerous--especially while driving!--so have a small carbohydrate snack, like a few crackers, if that ever starts to happen.
Injuries, constant soreness or lethargy might mean you are undernourished or undereating. Burning fat (which requires lower blood sugar) while remaining energetic (which requires higher blood sugar) is admittedly tricky, so come talk to us if you are struggling.
Losing too much muscle is bad for health and long-term results because it means losing metabolism, strength, immunity, blood sugar control, and healthy tissue. Muscle is always good weight. Slower weight loss helps preserve it.
Everybody is so very different when it comes to how quickly they can lose weight--without losing their muscle, brain power, or sanity. Even if you are losing weight at the recommended 1/2 to 2 pounds per week, it might still be too fast for YOUR best long-term results. If so, don't get discouraged. It's the turtle and hare story, and you'd rather run the race ONCE slowly than run it repeatedly as a yo-yoing hare.
I know...having patience is hard. But worth it!
Have a good week,
Ways to enjoy more fruit with less sugar
Our clients are increasingly concerned about the sugar in fruit, but don't want to miss out on fruit's great nutrients, fiber and taste. So here are some ways to get more fruit with less sugar:
Choose lower-sugar fruits. Peaches, plums, apples (especially green ones), pears, berries have a lower glycemic load (impact on blood sugar) than melon, pineapple, grapes, bananas, mango and guava.
Don't forget these fruits: Tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, cucumber and avocado. Enjoy these the same way you would any fruit. Heirloom tomatoes, eaten like a juicy peach, are a heavenly low-sugar treat, and red, orange and yellow bell peppers are quite sweet if your taste buds are sensitive.
Maximize the skin, where the most fiber and nutrients live. If you're gonna eat only half an apple, for example, make it the exterior, then throw out the middle. It's a little wasteful, admittedly. You can also buy small fruit, where the ratio of skin to innards is higher. In other words, eating 2 tiny apples gives you more skin than 1 big one.
Squeeze lemon and lime onto and into meals and drinks.
Use temperature. Cold foods don't taste as sweet as warm ones with the same amount of sugar. So just taking your apples or berries out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before you eat them can make them taste sweeter. You could warm berries (or any fruit) a little and see an even bigger difference.
Finally, it doesn't really make sense to worry about the sugar in fresh fruit until you have first worried about denser, more processed sources in your diet, which are much less healthy. Check your cereal, yogurt, bars, condiments, crackers, and other food labels to find any hidden sources.
Have a good week!
Happy Independence (from food tyranny) Day!
This Fourth of July holiday is a good time to reflect on how it's no good living under the tyranny of Kings OR HABITS that do you wrong.
So here is a list of foods proven most likely to make you lose self-control or become outright addicted. You might want to consider doing an experiment of living without them for a couple of weeks, to find out if you eat them out of true enjoyment or just plain addiction.
Foods most likely to enslave you to their addictive powers:
If you find that a food makes you act like an addict, I suggest that you either give it up entirely or else try a slightly less-processed version of the same food. For example, many people who lose self-control around potato chips can be satisfied by a baked potato with olive oil and salt--the same ingredients, but less processed.
Luckily, the Fourth of July is a great time to celebrate delicious unprocessed clean foods, like grilled chicken, salmon, zucchini, corn on the cob and portobello mushrooms, plus fresh berries and watermelon. What a great reminder that there is a plethora of delectable treats that are satisfying rather than addicting.
Have a great holiday!
How to have an "Eat, Pray, Love" Veggie Moment
Remember the asparagus meal in "Eat, Pray, Love"? Elizabeth goes to the local Italian market, then slowly savors a deeply satisfying, magical, delicious and treasured joy....of eating 3 asparagus spears.
OK, I'm not sure we can all have a religious experience over a few vegetables, but you can get closer to it by taking a little extra time to:
But with spring produce and farmers markets returning, it's a chance to rediscover some "magic" in our produce, rather than just choking it down. See if a little extra time and appreciation can win you a beautiful veggie experience.
Have a good week!
Better Judgment's Secret Weapons
Did your better judgement make all your food choices this past week? If not, who (or what) did?
If your better judgement didn't make enough of the food decisions, the solution is easy:
Plan farther ahead and be more prepared.
These things give great strength to better judgement. They are boring and obvious, but still the best tools around...and often forgotten. Any time you are struggling, try planning ahead in extreme detail for the coming week and see if it doesn't work wonders.
Have a good week!
Appetite and Exercise
Many people report a big change in appetite depending on what kind of workout they do. Recent research has studied this--at least with running, swimming and cycling--and suggests that:
Running decreases appetite the most, in proportion to calories expended, maybe because of all that jostling to your gut.
Swimming may increase appetite, maybe because of getting cold, which may explain why swimming is less effective than other sports for weight loss. While this is a major bummer for those of us with bad joints, it suggests we should try warmer pools that don't leave us cold.
Cycling is in the middle, seeming to mildly reduce appetite.
It also appears that the more intense the exercise, the more appetite is suppressed. This makes sense, since tough exercise redirects blood away from the digestive system to go to working muscles. I suspect that appetite may rebound later, however, as many clients report feeling hungry later on in the day of a tough workout. This is a bummer, since muscles absorb the most carbohydrate and protein right after exercise, especially in that first hour, and less so as time passes.
Of course, research only tells us how most people react most of the time, and researchers keep emphasizing that appetite is a very complex thing, not well understood yet. Pay attention to your own exercise-appetite connection and see what works best for you.
Have a good week!
I'm continually surprised by how the minute I let down my guard, I get burned by sneaky ingredients. Examples include:
Greek Yogurt. Plain Greek yogurt contains milk and healthy bacteria cultures...except for one that also contains corn starch and chemicals. Not surprisingly, it's the cheapest and tastiest one.
Ground turkey. Most major brands add "natural flavoring", and it's surprisingly hard to find just plain old turkey unless you are at a health food store.
Some products that are "clean" when sold at Whole Foods (where they have rules about ingredients they will sell) but which are "not-so-clean" when you buy them elsewhere. I've been burned several times, when I thought I found a cheaper version of a Whole Foods item, only to find that while the packaging was nearly identical, some ingredients were different. This has mostly happened to me with soups, bouillons and broths, where MSG and trans fats were in the latter version.
Some dried fruit is "clean" and some is coated in oil and/or sugar...even when the label advertises that it's all fruit.
Some soy milks contain only soybeans and water, but many also contain up to 4 tsp sugar per serving.
Some brands of cottage cheese contain various fillers, gums and carrageenan, while the best ones contain only milk and salt.
Some tortillas contain only corn and lime while others contain loads of hard-to-pronounce ingredients, and one brand even contains amylase, the digestive enzyme in saliva, to make it softer.
It's not necessarily so terrible to eat these things, but if you care about ingredients, don't let down your guard.
Have a good week!
How to absorb fewer calories
The way a food is prepared can change the percentage of calories and nutrients absorbed from it. For example:
Cooking. Cooking breaks down food and makes it more absorbable--both the contained calories and some of the nutrients. This is a bummer for those of us who hoped baked apples and all-fruit jam were as weight-friendly as raw fruit.
Grinding. You absorb more calories from flour than from whole grains and more from peanut butter (or any nut butter) than from eating the whole nut. One study found a 25% difference between nuts and nut butters. Ground meat also offers more absorbable calories than steak.
Juicing. The fiber in fruits and veggies can prevent some calories from getting absorbed when eaten whole. Removing the fiber makes it easier (and faster) to absorb everything else. This is why many experts are fine with vegetable juices--which barely contain any sugar or calories--but warn against consuming too many fruit juices. (Carrots, beets and a few other veggies do have enough sugar that experts suggest eating those more than juicing them.)
Blending. Fruit smoothies generally give you more absorbed calories than chewing your own fresh fruit. Ditto for most other things you might put in the blender, such as beans (for hummus) or blended soups or mashed potatoes.
Heating (or re-heating). Even if a food is already cooked, like a day-old leftover baked potato, there appears to be a difference between eating it cold versus reheated.
In some ways, this feels like the same old "processed foods make you gain weight" information, although it reminds us that just heating or blending healthy whole foods counts as processing them. It suggests that for folks who want to lose weight, it really does make a difference to exchange nut butter for raw nuts, cereal or bread for whole grains like brown rice, fruit roll-ups for fresh fruit, and so on.
Many clients ask how to count absorbed calories versus eaten ones, and I'm stumped on that one. Let me know if you have any ideas.
Have a good week!