Friday, December 31, 2010

Doomed Resolutions (and how to improve them)

What are the two most common resolutions? No drumroll needed, weight loss is number 1 and number 2 is to not make any resolutions. Last year I gave you my 2 cents on resolutions in In Defense of Resolutions. I still remain steadfastly pro-resolution.  I rejoice in resolutions and encourage my clients do the same. But there’s a method to resolution-making: You need to make resolutions that are realistic – not revolutionary. Here are my five resolutions not to make, and what to do instead:
(I wrote this piece for Blisstree)
Result Resolutions. An example of these is the classic and clichéd aforementioned, “I will lose X number of pounds.” While it’s perfectly fine to wish for weight loss, this is no road map to get you where you want to go.
Resolution Evolution: Focus instead on the behaviors that may be holding you back. Is your oven being used as alternative storage? Maybe you need to cook more often. Is there only milk for your coffee in your fridge? Focus on food shopping. Are you hitting the vending machine during the afternoon at the office? Bring healthier snacks to work. If you change these behaviors, weight loss (and subsequent maintenance) stands a chance.
Never Say Never. No, Really. We all have our vices and it’s not out of the question to give them up. I have a good friend who started drinking green tea instead of soda (yes!), but you want to set yourself up to succeed and not aim to wipe something out completely.
Resolution Evolution: The key with a goal like this is to avoid using the word “never.” With the soda example, my friend first cut her “habit” down to one a day, then weekends only – and now she’s soda-free.
Flying solo. Let’s face it, whether you’re training for a running race or trying to eat less sugar you are going to stumble. When your internal motivation wanes, there needs to be a back-up plan or safety net. I can tell you when I had doubts while training for the Chicago Marathon, knowing I had blogged about it kept me on track.
Resolution Evolution: Accountability and support can help you stick to your resolutions. If your goal is to start working out, perhaps you can join a running group or select an ongoing yoga class. If you want to work on your eating habits, seek out a nutritionist or email a weekly food journal to a friend.
Putting-All-Your-Eggs-In-One-Basket-Resolutions. You want to make resolutionS, as in more than 1. For starters, there’s probably more than one thing you can benefit from improving, and some are easier to accomplish than others.
Resolution Evolution: At Foodtrainers, our clients make multiple resolutions and use them as a road map for the year ahead. Goals can be as simple as “learn to make soup” or “stretch more.” Rather than falling off the wagon, you’ll find that during different parts of the year you’re doing better with certain goals. You’ll also most likely be successful in a few areas and this will spur you on.
What Resolution? The sad fact is that well before we “spring ahead,” most resolutions have gone by the wayside (or jumped onto our backside). Instead of hanging on for dear life and regularly slipping up, expect inconsistency.
Resolution Evolution: Set a resolution reminder on your computer or phone for the first of every month. Perform a resolution review. If your workouts aren’t happening the way you had hoped, re-group and refine your plan. The act of veering and re-grouping is actually the number one weight loss skill.
For selfish purposes (not one to fly solo) some of my 2011 resolutions:
Run 2 half marathons- I am planning to kick off my 2011 running with the More ½ marathon and I’d love company. I most likely will pick a marathon (or ultra) but haven’t yet.
I’ve coined 2011 the year of the headstand for me. I stuck with yoga and now I want to face some of my flexibility “fears”.
Cycle for Survival is in February, I’m honored to be doing “Cycle” and I’m on team fearless. This is a huge source of inspiration for me, please help support the cause.
1 new recipe a week-I want to be less of a cooking creature of habit and will try at least one new something each week and tell you about it.
 I’m a financial imbecile and want to get on top of things.
And finally and I can’t believe I’m putting this out there. I want to write more. I love blogging and want to write the book I’ve been postponing.
What’s on your evolved resolution list? I’d love to hear and promise to check in with you and keep you honest.  Let’s check back on February 1.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Foodtrainers' Favorite 2010 Posts

Last week I mentioned to a fellow blogger that I didn’t see myself taking a break from posting while away. She said she was, “even if you post, do you think people will be reading?” She had a good point and the truth is I’m not sure. We’re completely snowed in here in Vermont. If I were on a beach vacation, I’m not sure I’d have my laptop handy to read blogs or write posts. I figured a good compromise was to compile a list of my favorite posts of the year. Why not jump on the year in review bandwagon? As I reread posts from this year, aside from the embarrassing typos what struck me most were the pieces I wanted to include in this list. Some were funny or timely but the sentimental posts were the ones that stood out. Thank you so much for reading this year, maybe you missed some of these:

NPO Forever- I wrote this after hearing about Roger Ebert inability to eat or talk. It made me think about what nourishment and mealtime really means.

OTID- I often hear from people who feel they are doing “all the right things” and still not losing weight. OTID is one of those reasonable, every day things that can change your day and your weight.

Not About Cupcakes- this was one of my first non-nutrition posts. I was emotional and chose to share those emotions on the blog. I’m happy I did as a) not everything is food-related and b) I can now look back and smile.

Potty Talk –There’s only so much talk about eating and ingestion one can do without talking digestion (and doody). 

Pre Beach – A client asked what she can do (in 2 weeks) to maximize beach body potential. We’re not talking long term and sane. My secrets for the short run.

In Fatness and in Health- my reaction to an article on marriage and body weight and my husband’s admission that he would not necessarily love me fat.

Les Enfants- I am anti-chicken finger and believe kids should eat what adults eat. On a family trip to France I learned that there’s a middle road.

Pinkberry Drama- we blogged about Pinkberry, they threated to sue us…it was a wake up call in terms of nutrition information, the power of social media and how companies respond when questioned.

Chicago Marathon- my inspiration then and now.

All About Organics- this post attempts to enlist my readers as organic activists on their own turf. Also, stay tuned for an exciting announcement, taking this to the next level, in January.
 Is it presumptuous to ask if you have any favorite Foodtrainers’ blog posts? I’d love to know what struck a chord with you. Or, if you blog, what are your favorite posts you wrote? I have time on my hands to read them. And any topics you’d like covered in 2011?


Friday, December 24, 2010

Sugar and Spice

It’s complicated enough dealing with all our different living family members this time of year. Yet, for me and I’m sure many of you, holiday time and all it’s associated traditions, remind us of those we are missing, those who aren’t with us. It can be a certain food or a trip, the temperature outside or a song and consciously or not we are reminded. I was looking though old photo albums this week. I was trying to find some photos of my husband skiing as a child. I though my kids would love to see these as they now ski each weekend. In the process of looking I found many other photos, like the one above, that I didn’t even know we had taken and that I’m not sure I even remember.

Tonight, on Christmas Eve, we gather with my family.  My dad was Jewish but grew up in Italy. Living in a country where Christmas was everything, their family gathered on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t religious but the tradition stuck. The other tradition was the Christmas cookies. I remember many December days where we would sit at the dining room table with mounds of walnut and hazelnut dough. I would take a piece and fashion it into my version of a crescent and place it on the baking sheet. Periodically my dad would review my “line-up” politely pointing out the ones in need of a makeover. I like these cookies but truth be told I like the memories attached much more. My brother in law is making the cookies for us this year.

Anyone who knew my dad or Guy knows he loved a good laugh. I can picture him, martini in hand, in his armchair by the tree looking dapper and taking in every conversation. If we were here tonight I would share this recent story. Yesterday I was getting ready for work. I pulled a black dress out of the closet I had purchased in November but never worn. You see, after work yesterday we were off to Swedish-Jewish Christmas with Marc’s family. Now you know why my 6 year old raised his hand when asked who celebrated Kwanza (we don’t by the way). He assumed we truly celebrated “everything.” Anyway, back to the dress. As I zipped the dress I remarked to my husband that it was tighter than I recall. For those of you who don’t know Marc he’s a “fixer.” If anything is broken Marc can rig it in a way to get it to work. He has the same approach to people. If I’m sick, it’s rarely “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well.” More likely “what are you taking?” or “did you go to the doctor?”
Marc looked at me and the dress expressionless and said “well you’re not running as much as you had been.” I stormed out of the room.

Marc followed me downstairs “c’mon you look great, you always look great, don’t be silly.” “First, you look great should have replaced that running comment” I said. “And second, nothing you say now matters.” Then, the fixer, said “I’m the same way I haven’t been on my bike as much since it’s cold even I have gained a couple of pounds.” I left for work annoyed but not really annoyed. After running an October marathon I’m running a couple of days a week and doing yoga or skiing on the others. I’m running 10 miles (in a good week) instead of 30. So my size 2 dress is a little snug and will probably me more snug after the Christmas cookie later today although I’m off for a run now.
Are your clothes, despite exercise, a little snug? Has your significant other ever said something while you got ready that made you nuts? 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Foodtrainers' Favorite Daytime Drink

I am a sucker for packaging. I buy wine based on the label and my favorite skincare has a clean modern design. Ultimately though, if it isn’t good wine or there aren’t good ingredients in a food or cosmetic, I will not purchase it but I like pretty things. In full disclosure I will tell you that I received an email last Friday from Paige at Herbal Water. I’ve loved these interestingly flavored water for a while. They have no sweeteners or juice added and instead use natural flavors like lemongrass and cardamom. My only objection to these drinks was the container…plastic. Paige told me they were sending me out some of the new sparkling waters to try.

When I arrived at work on Monday, the packages from Herbal Water were already there. I opened the box of sparkling water and my excitement intensified. They were beautiful frosted, large, GLASS bottles. The labels were in bright colors and the flavors, Ginger Lemon Peel and Cinnamon Orange, were right up my alley. I put them in the refrigerator and then realized I didn’t have much time before my first client arrived. Into the freezer went Ginger Lemon Peel with a little worry that the bubbles would make it explode. It didn’t explode and with the enthusiasm of a 3 year old I poured a glass of my new sparling water. I also left the bottle on my desk to show it off.

It isn’t easy to get giddy about water but this water feels special. They have a lot of flavor (think lemon zest not lemon). They could easily work as a hostess gift. They’re also great for pregnant women who cannot have “real” drinks and just fun for a change of pace. Is it non-nutritionisty that I also wonder how these zero calorie mixers will work in drink drinks?  I hope not.
Do you fall prey to pretty packaging? What are you favorite water variations? Are you sparkling or “flat”?
*Be sure to comment there’s a sampler of Herbal Water we’re giving away to someone who does and here’s a coupon ($12 off) in case you do not win.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Good Manners or Good Health?

On Friday, I was a guest on “Whole Living” on Martha Stewart radio talking healthy holidays. We discussed holiday parties and the holiday mindset and then, my favorite part of the show, we opened up the phone lines to callers. One caller, I believe his name was Brad, said that over the holidays there would be one day where he would be at 4 different homes.  He asked the best strategy for his day. While four family visits in a day sounds like a doozy, many of us will be confronted with some sort of hostess or host dilemmas in the next couple of weeks. So how can you manage good manners and good health?

First, what I find when I’m hosting a party is that I really want people to take whatever is being offered. Whether it’s a welcome cocktail or a passed hors d’ouerve, your radar is up for who accepts and who declines the food and drink. As a guest, remember you can accept without needing to ingest. Politely receive your plate of food or glass of wine and nobody will notice what you actually consume.

Second, I am a fan of strategic eating. If, like Brad, you have a day or week filled with family and food you should have a strategy too. Once you’re at a gathering and the holiday music plays and delicious aromas infuse the air, it’s too late. Pick one “forbidden fruit.” I’m sorry if this doesn’t sound festive but a fruitcake on each butt cheek isn’t the way I want to deck my halls. For one gathering you may say you’re laying off the desserts, at another you may curb the carbs. The nice thing (yes there are nice things) about family is that you generally know what to expect. If Grandma Edna has baked Christmas cookies at EVERY Christmas, chances are there will be a cookie jar. Traditions apply to food and there will be few surprises.

Finally, never underestimate the value of a thoughtful hostess gift.  Grandma Edna above doesn’t want a bottle of Absolut (or maybe she does) and the calorie counter doesn’t want chocolates. A delicious tin of  tea, your favorite sweet treat work well. Some of my favorite gifts have been special vinegar or hone. It is the thought that counts and let’s be honest the bottle of wine in the tin foil wine-store wrapper doesn’t show much thought. If you’re going to pass on the pie (or accept it but not ingest it), better if you brought something special with you. With these tips you’ll fine you can be polite and not portly, well-mannered and well.
Any host or hostess horror stories to share? Do you eat to please at family or holiday gatherings? What are your favorite host or hostess gifts?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Shiver Yourself Skinny

Last week I was on a field trip with my son’s class. We went on a hike and it was freezing out. Toward the end another mom and I were joking about having to hit the restroom and she said, “the cold always makes me have to go to the pee.” I agreed then wondered why this was the case.  I emailed, Foodtrainers’ favorite doctor, and recent NYC marathon superstar, Dr O with my cold weather questions.

So, Dr O  can you explain this need to “go” when the mercury drops, is there a scientific explanation?
We have to pee more when it is cold because to maintain a core temperance, of around 98.7, our very smart bodies make the blood vessels close to the skin constrict to expose as little blood as possible to the cold.  This results in more blood in circulation, being filtered by the kidneys, and so more urine is made.  The opposite happens in the heat.  The kidneys are so smart and so underrated!

And why do our noses run during exercise or out in the cold weather?
Our noses run in cold weather because cold air is normally a lot drier then hot steamy air so our noses produce more (in my case today A LOT more) fluids to keep the nose moist.

What do you see in the ER when it’s cold out?
Hypothermia is a big problem this time of year. We have already admitted someone to the ICU with it (he was homeless and drunk) but people need to know that when exercising, this time of year, to always have their phones and ID with them.  Also, always tell someone that you are going out and what time to expect you back.

And finally (and most importantly, ha!) I heard cold weather can lead to weight loss, any truth to this?
 I think you’re referring to brown fat. Brown fat is a type of fat that burns fat. White fat is the fat your body stores excess calories in. It was thought that only infants have brown fat and that it helps them stay warm. In 2009, scientists found that adults have some of this brown, fat-burning fat.  In studies subjects exposed to colder temperatures, for longer periods of time increased their brown fat. So, in theory, in theory you can shiver your way thin.

Thanks Dr O, that’s exciting. The brown fat shows us  the upside of cold weather, we just don’t want to get carried away in our pursuit of weight loss and end up like the homeless man in the ER with hypothermia! 
Do you have any cold weather questions for Dr O? Do you have any things you feel your body does (or doesn’t do) when cold? And how friggin’ cool is brown fat?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ballet Brouhaha

Since Black Swan came out, there seems to be a bit of chatter about dancer's bodies and anorexia. Do you think the movie may encourage behavior associated with eating disorders? And of course, there is the NYT critic who made the comment that Jennifer Ringer, a dancer in the Nutcracker "ate one two many sugarplums".  So curious about your thoughts on all of this.

I should say that I haven’t seen the movie Black Swan. A lot has been made about the 2 main characters, Natalie Portman being one of them, losing a tremendous amount of weight for their roles as ballet dancers. Natalie Portman’s character has an eating disorder in the film and from what I’m heard looks gaunt, almost sickly in certain scenes. While the story line doesn’t glorify her eating disorder I will tell you, with certainty, that many will sadly emulate both her weight loss and physique.

Even if it’s mentioned that a certain character or celebrity “almost died” due to their restricting, there will be those taking notes on what they feel is a seminar which may as well be entitled “how to restrict (or binge) and purge.” This was the case with Portia de Rossi’s recent press and book. I cringed as I heard her describe eating 85 (not sure the exact number) calories per day as I new that disclosure would be someone else’s goal.

Black Swan has been picked up by “pro-ana” or pro anorexia sites referred to as “thinspiration” and “eating disorder porn.”  On one hand there are those with eating disorders or a proclivity to develop an eating disorder but I think many other people are unknowingly affected. I don’t think we can deny that images of super skinny women play with our perception of normal. Even hearing that an, already slim, actress loses 20 pounds suggests that she had 20 pounds to lose.

As for the NY Times critic, roles have been reversed and he’s been slammed by many. I’ve heard arguments about the need for diverse body types in ballet, Jennifer Ringer’s “past” eating disorder has been mentioned and the ballerina herself called herself “not fat but womanly.”

I’m really uninformed today because I haven’t seen the Nutcracker this year either. I did watch Jennifer Singer’s today show appearance and clips (like the photo above) of her dancing. I see to evidence of over “sugar pluming” or overweight. I don’t. However, I am going to have to side with Alastair Macaulay, the critic, on this one. Whether we’re paid for it or not, we all judge. We look over the bodies of fitness instructors, professional athletes and our peers. The other issue is that certain professions demand that you’re trim. I joke that if I gained 20 pounds I would be out of a job. If someone is judging their fully clothed nutritionist they are certainly picking apart a dancer in a tutu.

Jennifer Ringer is a grown woman, a mother who most likely has been critiqued her whole life. A part of me worries the message this brouhaha sends to young girls but sadly if girls are in ballet or gymnastics they are hearing a lot of this. If nothing else, the movie and Macaulay have provided the subject matter for us all to discuss these issues.
Have you seen Black Swan or NYC Ballet’s Nutcracker? Do you think that the movie or the critic crossed any lines? Are there sugarplums in real life?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Double Chocolate

People often say to me, knowing that I am a nutritionist, “your kids must eat really well.” For the most part, my boys are good eaters. I find the biggest struggle with balance. I make an effort not to present healthy foods as the only foods and not to have treats off limits. Now that my children are a little older, I find they take less policing as they understand why certain foods are less healthy, at least I thought that was the case.

Our family skis most (ok pretty much all) weekends from December through March.  My sons are in a ski program. They are with the same kids and teacher each weekend and really get to know their way around the mountain. Most parents choose to put money on the kids’ lift tickets so that they can purchase snacks when they come in for breaks. Unlike ski school, the kids don’t go to a separate building with specified food. They may take a break at the summit or one of the base lodges, wherever they are they tend to come in mid-morning hungry.

I was thrilled when I found out about this debit card option. It eliminated the worry of either boy losing their money or us forgetting to give them money. Plus, the kids love what they think is a “credit card.” This was the first weekend of their program and they had a few snack questions before drop off. “Can I get candy?” I told them candy wouldn’t fill them up and maybe they should get something else like cereal. “Can we get Gatorade?” I told them it wasn’t the best drink and to stick to water or some hot chocolate (probably as sweet as Gatorade but no coloring, better ingredients).  They had a great first day skiing, chose pretzels and sun chips for snack. Given the less-than-stellar options, it was fine.

Yesterday was rough weather for skiing. It started as snow, progressed into hail then sleet and finally rain. Marc and I went inside after a few (ok 2) runs with zero visibility. Our friends told us most of the groups were upstairs and some parents were pulling kids out. We went to check on them. We located one boy, I’m purposely not telling you which one. This son was wet from the weather and diplomatically, in front of his instructor said, “I’m having fun but I can leave.” Our other son’s instructor told us the other child was downstairs getting something to eat.

I turned to head down the stairs and collided with this rosy-cheeked child of mine. His hands were full of food and drink and he had that guilty/busted look on his face all parents know.  Clutched in one hand was a bottle of water and in the other? A snickers bar AND a brownie. My initial reaction was to laugh, I did and told him to have his snack and meet us downstairs. The more I thought about it though I was a little upset. I do not pack a snack for the boys, do not expect them to choose the apple every day and know my children come by their chocolate love honestly; it’s genetic. My issue was with the volume. Choosing both the chocolate and the brownie seemed like the mouse really playing when the cat was away.

I later asked my son about his snack and he said, “it wasn’t candy or Gatorade.” Technically this was true, I didn’t make too much of it. I told him that one snack is probably sufficient and if he wants a second item try for a fruit. Of course chocolate guy’s brother chimed in “next weekend I am going to get an apple for my snack.” The truth is, all children will go to school or camp and will be left to make their food choices eventually. When I think back, I can think of snacks around the swimming pool or at canteen at camp with fond memories. My realistic hope is that some of this Foodtraining my kids have received will rub off. I hope that they will be able to strike a healthy balance for themselves where chocolate and apples can coexist.

P.S. In full disclosure, I came to these somewhat rational conclusions only after “with all I taught him he chooses this” and other thoughts were cleared.
What do you make of this episode? What were your favorite childhood snacks? Do you think most kids go overboard when parents aren’t present? And finally, snickers or brownie?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gleeful Glutton or Meager Eater?

(This is from a post I wrote for my favorite site Blisstree)
Yesterday I was reading a blog that referred to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas as “The Eating Season.” I hadn’t heard this specific phrase before, but in my line of work, I certainly can’t escape talk of festive foods and highly caloric holiday treats during this time of year. Clients are fearful that they’ll indulge and backslide, and the media is full of strategies and tips (some coming from yours truly) to allegedly improve habits and quell this fear. I say “allegedly,” because I often feel like all this treat-talk and holiday help may be doing more harm than good.
 I would argue that there are multiple “eating seasons.” This month we’re thinking latkes, Christmas cookies, and chocolate Santas, but pretty soon it’s chocolates for Valentine’s Day, macaroons for Passover, candy on Easter, and — before you know it — time for some hot dogs and at least a few margaritas. So there’s actually no one time of year to fear, no Christmas conspiracy, just some holiday foods and parties to navigate just as you do other food-centric celebrations, so take a deep breath.
Pick your Pleasure
When I suggest navigating seasonal selections, I’m met with questions like the one Blisstree’s Christine Egan posited: “Can we discipline ourselves to not succumb to all those holiday food triggers, without feeling like we’re totally depriving ourselves of any and all holiday fun?”
My answer? If this season being an edible minefield is the first eating exaggeration, then the idea that budgeting has to be boring is the second. As adults, most of us are adept at impulse control. If not, I would’ve slept until 10 a.m. this morning (not 5 a.m.), skipped my workout, and grabbed a corn muffin on my way to work in my PJs (if I went to work at all). While my reality couldn’t be more different, I don’t feel deprived. And sure, there are always plenty of holiday food triggers, but availability doesn’t necessarily need to lead to indulgence. If that were true, I would’ve had cheese 20 times on my way to the office in addition to the corn muffin. So pick your pleasure.
I am someone who can live without a latke so with Hanukkah celebrations this past week I was fine to forego lotsa latkes. On Christmas Eve, on the other hand, I would gladly skip dinner or presents or Santa versus eschewing my brother-in-law’s homemade egg nog (spiked, of course). What are the holiday foods and beverages you think you cannot live without? I’ll grant you those, but you need to know the foods (other than fruitcake) that you can pass up. But this isn’t black-and-white situation; you don’t need to join the gleeful gluttons or the meager eaters.
Where there’s celebratory there should be Spartan
Finally, I'd like you to think of December 22 or December 28. These days aren't Hanukkah or Christman or Kwanzaa. You're not likely to attend a holiday party or gathering every single day. There are many days during the "eating season" that are "regular" December days. Keep these days slightly Spartan. Skip the sweets and the carbs and work out for an hour. If you implement a couple of these days per week, you'll balance out that egg nog and won't get mistaken for Santa Claus (okay, maybe make that a 90 minute workout).
What are your favorite holiday foods? What is your method for monitoring them?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Snack of the Week

I suggested Food Should Taste Good to a client with a chip habit. I told her about my 2 love children. First there was  "Lime" and later  "Cheddar".  My client showed up at her next nutrition session visibly annoyed.   She sat down and unloaded "so I'm wondering why you didn't tell me about The Works, this is the best Food Should Taste Good flavor and you didn’t’ mention it. Did you think I couldn’t be trusted with them?” I tried to diffuse her anger and told her I hadn't tried The Works. They were a new flavor and I would never intentionally withhold crucial snack information. My client calmed down and the session ended nicely.

A few days later I was with my family in Vermont at the local Shaws market. I was going up and down the aisles explaining to my kids why we couldn't buy the junky items they requested. Finally, I spotted Food Should Taste Good chips and staring me in the face was "the Works". We opened the bag right there in aisle 4 and they didn't disappoint. It was as though an everything bagel had been transformed into a snack food. We all loved them. My 8 year old said " Mom you have to buy these again." I emailed  my client to tell her about my 3rd child.
What are your favorite snacks? Your favorite Food Should Taste Good flavor? And if you were a bagel what type would you be?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Watching Weight Watchers

I don’t belong to a gym anymore. As much as I like to run outside, I despise what one of my fellow bloggers refers to as the “dreadmill.” When I had a gym membership I saw too many people simply going through the exercise motions. Perhaps they were on the elliptical but concurrently reading or chatting; needless to say I can’t imagine they were getting much out of these “workouts.” We all know there’s a difference between a good sweat and gym activity where you barely need a deodorant  re-apply. There is a difference between quantity and quality. Weight Watchers, the  well-known weight loss program, is attempting to show their members that this difference applies to food.

The original Weight Watchers Points system pretty much allowed people to fit any food into their repertoire provided they did so in the right quantity. I have had clients, Weight Watcher alums, who joked that they could eat pizza every day using the points. Of course this would mean eating little else to allot for the pizza. Though I’m a nutritionist, I can see the appeal of the pizza diet.  However, you don’t need a degree in dietetics to know this isn’t the best way to eat for health, for energy…even for weight loss.

Kudos to Weight Watchers, with 750,000 members enjoying the points system, for overhauling a successful system.  The day the new PointsPlus system was revealed, I was interviewed for a yahoo story on the changes.  I likened the change to going from PC to Mac, a recent transition I had made. Change, especially when it comes to something you use daily or multiple times a day, isn’t easy. We take the leap hoping that in the long run the change will be worthwhile. One has to think that Weight Watchers wouldn’t have risked all of this if the results will not be the same or better. A side note, never in the 9 years of Foodtrainers, have I received more new client inquires as the day the Weight Watchers story ran. Also interesting is the fact that many of the people curious about our services were surprised they had to pay (at all!).

One of the main changes in PointsPlus is that fruit and vegetables are “free” meaning you can technically eat as many as you want to. When I first heard this I was encouraged as this would nudge people to eat  fruits and vegetables they may have previously passed on as a “waste of points".  For weight loss though,  I’m curious to see how people fare with unlimited fruits. I’ve always held that it’s possible to “over fruit” or eat a fair amount of calories from fruit and slow weight loss. We’ll have to see if people end up eating a bunch of bananas a day and how this works out.

Another feature of this new system is that a food hierarchy is presented. Foods with the same calories may have different amounts of points based on their ingredients, fiber and how long they will keep you satiated. Again, this is logical and Weight Watchers is moving away from "a calorie is a calorie" fallacy. While it may sound cynical, I am not sure Weight Watchers members will embrace this concept. In a recent New York Times story on the changes, one woman expressed that she was used to eating anything she wanted and now would feel as though she was on a diet. To that I say, Weight Watchers is a diet and as adults we should realize some foods are superior to others.

I tip my invisible hat to Weight Watchers; to me the PointsPlus plan is sound and has the ability to move hundreds of thousands of people in a better food direction. We’ll have to wait and see if people want to stop reading their magazines while working out and really start eating better.
Have you ever done Weight Watchers? What do you think of the new plan? Do you read while working out?

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Walk In the Park

I always joke that I need my workouts to help me distress. It always seems that “mean mommy” makes an appearance on the days when there isn’t time for a run. I had previously chalked this up to the endorphins from exercise, the power of a good sweat and the boost I get from listening to my favorite music. I may have missed that where I do my workout is just as important as whether or not I do it. I marvel at Central Park when I’m running.  When I look around it seems incredible to have such beauty in the middle of a city.  I snapped the photo above during my run today.  Thinking about this post, I focused more on the scenery and less on my speed.

A study conducted in the UK compared a group walking in a shopping mall to another group walking in the park.  After walking in the park 90% of participants claimed increased self esteem, 88% improved mood and 71% felt less tense, these numbers were under 50% in all criteria for the mall walkers. Other research showed people slides depicting scenes from nature and mood was significantly improved.

Here are some of explanations given as to how outside time is beneficial:
Natural and social connections: watching wildlife, evoking good memories, spiritual feelings
Sensory stimulation: colors and sounds, fresh air, enjoyment, escape from pollution, contrasts with urban life, being exposed to the weather
Activity: using manual skills, physically challenging activities such as digging or cycling
Escape from modern life: time to think and reflect, clear the head, get away from pressures and stress.

In terms of exercise, a 1994 study out of the University of Utah compared the 5K times of runners on treadmills, an indoor track and outside. The fastest times were recorded outdoors, the slowest on the treadmill. Runners on the treadmill perceived their workout to be more strenuous than those who ran at the same intensity outside. In fact running outdoors scored higher than the treadmill in the areas of positive engagement, revitalization, tranquility, course satisfaction and lower in the time to exhaustion.

Again, I have to emphasize that while exercising outdoors can be a major mood booster, as little as 5-10 minutes spent outside, even stationary, can make a difference to your stress level and your outlook. Those 10 minutes a day may keep mean mommy (or mean daddy or mean coworker) away.
How will you spend time outside today? Perhaps snap a photo and send it my way. Do you feel being outside is beneficial/believe in "ecotherapy"?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oprah Oh No

When Oprah talks people listen. They have listened for a quarter of a century. Oprah can make books bestsellers, can create careers for the experts she features and pretty much has the Midas marketing touch. The New York Times recently described people clamoring for the few unbooked spots on her show this season, her final “Farewell Season". I am an Oprah fan; my DVR is crowded with the shows I record daily. Any viewer can sense the ante has been upped this year. Audience members are going to Australia and driving home Volkswagens. Even celebrities seem to be stopping by for one last chance to talk to O and promote their work. Yet in all of this excitement, something we expect from Oprah has been disregarded. It seems Oprah has already said farewell to health.

Over the years, we’re watched Oprah run a marathon, venture into veganism and get into a whole lot oh hot water when she questioned the safety of our beef. Viewers have related to Oprah because despite the chef and the trainer when it came to weight and food, Oprah was one of us. Oprah can go camping on her show but who really thinks she is doing that when the cameras aren’t rolling? And while I loved my first Jetta (and was sad when I crashed it), I don’t think O is driving one.  Weight and food is different, Oprah’s weight fluctuates and so we really feel she means what she’s saying when she talks about it.

Last week Oprah’s favorite things aired. Unfortunately this is product placement at its best. For companies and audience members this was the final and "ultimate" favorite things and the gifts were major. There were diamonds and I pads, cashmere and cruises and there was food…if you would call it that. Oprah, with millions or billions watching, eagerly praised pails of popcorn, she commended croissants and mentioned to moms that this certain mac and cheese was the perfect family dinner on a busy night.  While I am all for the special splurge, I felt I was watching an opportunity pass. Oprah could have thrown in her favorite fruit delivery, post workout snack, she could have said something to the effect of  “we all know you can’t eat mac and cheese every day” nothing.

Everyone is entitled to a mistake; even Oprah isn’t perfect. I kept my DVR taping and continued to loyally watch O’s shows.  Yesterday, Oprah hosted Nicole Kidman and her country music husband Keith Urban. It wasn’t the best show. It was a little bit of a mish mosh as Oprah was really talking up her upcoming Australia visit.  Oprah chatted with Keith about rehab, to Nicole about motherhood (let’s not forget “Nic” has 2 teenage children, she was a mother before Sunday Rose), she gave away one last ticket on the Australia trip and then it happened.

Oprah was talking about the great food in Sydney and she selected the apex of Aussie cuisine none other than... McDonalds. Yes, in an embarrassing nod to one of her Sydney sponsors she presented Australia’s Mc Donalds as different from the United States versions. They then cued waiters to bring her audience McDonalds wraps and smoothies (I wrote about these smoothies in case you’re curious). Plus, there’s more! Every person on the Australia trip got a gift card. God forbid Americans leave their fast food habits at home; they can now eat McDonalds for free down under. Oprah took a bite of her wrap and it was all I could do not to cry on my comforter.

The season isn’t over. I’m holding out hope that Michael Pollan will come back or maybe Dr Weil.  Oprah always seems to have a soft spot for kids perhaps Jamie Oliver will be on pushing parents to cook more. Hey, I’m not too shabby. I can put on a pretty dress and tell Oprah about my favorite food and fitness finds too.  I just hope Oprah doesn’t forget about the other “O” in this country obesity and that she hasn’t said farewell to health.
Did you watch either of these shows? Do you O has missed the boat or am I overreacting? Who would you like to see Oprah have on to redirect this junk food train?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pot of the Week

A couple of weeks ago I was doing I daily blog hopping when a post on Erica Sara’s site caught my attention. I tweeted Erica (as embarrassing as it is we met on Twitter) and asked her if she’d post here and tell my hungry readers about her genius Pot of the Week. I’m thrilled Erica chose split peas for her recipe, they are the perfect cold weather food. I contemplated how split peas split on a 1 degree day in Vermont last winter.

When Lauren asked me to write a guest post for the Foodtrainers blog, I was so honored & excited. I've been reading this blog for quite some time and have always found it to be an incredible source of information and inspiration. I hope that my "Pot of the Week" does just the same for all of you.

So, what is a pot of the week? During the cold NYC months, usually on a Sunday afternoon, I prepare a large pot of soup or stew to have on hand for at least one meal a day for the upcoming week. It needs to be quick and easy to make, full of flavor, and loaded with nutrients to get me through my busy days. When I have something hearty & healthy on call at all times, it takes the guess work out of lunch or dinner and saves me tons of money on eating out. Some of my favorites have been Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili  
and a Pumpkin Chickpea stew. Delicious!

This week's pot is a vegetarian play on the traditional Split Pea Soup. I added cannellini beans and roasted corn to kick up the flavors and for protein so that this can be served as a meal. Tonight, I'll eat this soup served with some home baked crusty french bread and a small side salad. Tomorrow, I'll probably pour it over brown rice for a different type of meal. And on Tuesday, I might eat it next to a veggie burger or piece of steamed fish with a side of veggies. The ideas are endless; just what I love about soup!

Split Pea Soup with Cannellini Beans & Corn
serves 4-6

1 tbsp Olive Oil
2 large Onions, chopped
2 Celery Stalks, chopped
1 large Carrot, chopped
1 tbsp fresh Thyme
2 cups Green Split Peas, picked through & rinsed
6 cups of low-sodium Vegetable Stock
1 can Cannellini beans, rinsed
1 cup Frozen Corn (I used the Roasted Corn from Trader Joe's. It's delicious but regular frozen corn is fabulous as well!)
Salt & Pepper to season
Smoked Paprika (optional)

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions, celery and carrots and cook until they start to soften, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, split peas and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until all the vegetables are soft and the split peas are cooked through, approximately 40-50 minutes. During this time, you may need to add additional liquid so check every 15 minutes and add more vegetable stock  or water as needed. Puree the soup (be sure to allow to cool slightly if using a blender) and then add the beans and corn. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle with a dash of smoked paprika upon serving if you like.
 See? Easy, delicious & healthy! Enjoy.
What are your favorite soups or stews to make? What are your favorite wintry foods? Have you made any friends on Twitter?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Away Game

Thanksgiving is about more than one decadent meal shared with friends and family. This holiday weekend often involves travel and not the cushy variety to a hotel or resort. Thanksgiving means staying with family on their turf.  Typically we stay with my parents but this year we were with my in laws. I must say, (disclaimer) my in- laws are extremely healthy people who exercise a ton and eat well. They also have very different food rules than my family.  While every meal is an event in my family, discussed as much as 24 hours in advance, my in laws are more casual. "Help yourself to anything" is the directive and let's just say I did.

Slayton siblings are dispersed Thursday at various celebrations. We all convene Friday afternoon in Bridgehampton for 3pm “dinner” aka Thanksgiving #2.  I like this schedule as I enjoy eating early and you can’t get much earlier than 3. While the cousins played soccer outside we had chicken, an Ina Garten recipe for cauliflower with pine nuts, Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. This is what I selected there was also corn bread, stuffing and a pasta dish.  We sat around talking and at 6pm it felt like bedtime. The 8 children in the house didn’t seem to agree so we talked some more, munching on clementines and grapes. My food game plan was in tact.

The next morning, the guys went to play tennis. I drove to Shelter Island with my sister in law and mother in law for a hike at a nature preserve. We chose the 6-mile hike and had a great time.  In 90 minutes, over a mini mountain (ok hill) and through the woods, we completed our Thanksgiving "post game" report.  We arrived home around 11:00 and I was starving. I looked in the fridge and found a Fage Greek yogurt. We made some tea and sat down in the kitchen to eat. When I went to throw the yogurt out I spotted a mound of bagels the guys had brought back with them.  I don’t eat a lot of wheat and practically never eat bagels. In the food equivalent of an on side kick, I tore a piece of a soft, warm whole-wheat bagel.  It was delicious. I showered and my husband I went into town for a bit while his parents watched the boys (an away game advantage).

Around 2pm we returned home. My boys were perfectly content but hadn’t had lunch. I made the mistake of encouraging them to tell Farmor (grandma in Swedish) if they were hungry. Now, given the choice between playing and food my boys are choosing sports.  I took their lunch orders and went to prepare it. My older son wanted some of the pasta with peas from the day before. My little guy requested a bagel with turkey (even if it was chicken).  I made myself a plate with some chicken and veggies from the previous day’s crudité plate. I also had some pasta as I was portioning it out and a third of a Russian pumpernickel bagel, my MVP of team bagel, from the rapidly shrinking pile.  Marc’s sister came in and declared “I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I’ve been starving all day.” We commiserated, chalked it up to a good workout outside the stimulated our appetites. My husband later pointed out dinner at 3pm the night before didn’t help things.

The rest of the weekend was fairly similar (though no more bagels after Saturday). I went for a great run Sunday morning.  We were off schedule though, eating at irregular times and at the mercy of what was there to eat. I typically travel with “ammunition” but the cooking for Thanksgiving and knowing my in laws were healthy I slacked off a bit.  We arrived home yesterday afternoon. I slipped out for a manicure. When I went to remove my rings, I couldn’t! I joked to the manicurist “is everyone having this problem today?” She reassured me and said, “yes, this was holiday weekend.”
Did you travel this weekend? How is your eating when on other peoples’ turf? What is the biggest challenge? Are you happy to be home?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving: What I'm Eating

Yesterday, my son told me about a child in his third grade class who “loves vegetables.” When the teachers rewarded the children with Starbursts after completing a writing assignment (hmn), this little girl turned the candy down. My son reported all of this completely flabbergasted. I wouldn’t necessarily have turned down starbursts at 8 years old but I would now. When I think about our family Thanksgiving tomorrow, I will do the adult version of snubbing the starburst. On Monday, I provided you with my top turkey day tips that I wholeheartedly endorse However, when I got to thinking about my personal plan and plate for Thanksgiving it didn’t require special rules.

You might say, “you’re a nutritionist of course you eat well.” The truth is I do not. Always. Often times when I travel, I like to sample the local fare, tastes I feel I haven’t come across and may never again. The same thing happens on restaurant menus when something peaks my interest. For me, and no offense meant to what I’m sure will be a delicious spread at my sister’s home, Thanksgiving foods are mostly things I have had before. Cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and pie are available almost every day.

I fully comprehend the holiday mindset. It’s a holiday, happens once a year and our healthy rules should bend a little. What I am suggesting is that the flexibility works for some but no need to flex if you don’t want to.  My Thanksgiving meal will go something like this. My sister has vegetables, dip and cheeses out when we arrive. I will have some crudité and a glass of wine. My mother will make soup as a first course; I’ll have some. For dinner I’ll have turkey (maybe dark meat, love it), the Brussels sprouts and chestnuts and edamame succotash I am cooking, some sweet potatoes and this cosmopolitan cranberry sauce (with triple sec) my sister is serving. To me, this meal sounds unbelievably delicious. I would choose these items over pumpkin pie and also starbursts any day.
Are you someone who will flex on tomorrow? Do you eat differently on holidays? Do you feel it's being a party pooper not to?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Bright Side: carb of choice

Market Melissa (Foodtrainers' Melissa O'Shea) told you about leeks and Brussels sprouts and last, but certainly not least, in our “bright sides” series is spaghetti squash.

While I have never met a squash I didn’t like, preparing them is another story. I’ll admit, after a few battles with a butternut squash, I often resort to the prepped and cut up variety offered at most stores. Spaghetti squash is not offered this way, but I assure you it is worth the effort to cook one of these up.
Like most varieties of winter squash, you will find loads of potassium, Vitamin C and beta-carotene in spaghetti squash.  When selecting your squash you may spot white and green spaghetti squash, but look for the orange ones which taste a bit sweeter. Spaghetti squash has lower calories and grams of carbohydrates per cup compared to butternut squash, pasta or a sweet potato plus, it looks and can be used like spaghetti. It's a favorite of our clients at Foodtrainers.
1 cup spaghetti squash: 40 calories, 10g carbohydrates
1 cup butternut squash: 80 calories, 21g carbohydrates
1 cup pasta: 212 calories, 42g carbohydrates
1 cup sweet potatoes: 180 calories, 42g carbohydrates

You can bake, broil, roast, steam or even throw it into a crock-pot or slow-cooker.  If you have a crock pot, place the whole squash into the cooker, pierce it with a fork, add water and cook on low for 8-10 hours. The seeds you will find inside can also be roasted, similar to pumpkin seeds.

To bake a spaghetti squash:  Cut the squash in half (place in the microwave for a few minutes to soften the squash to make it easier to cut open), scoop out the seeds and place the halves face down into a baking dish.  Add a little water, just enough to cover the sides of the squash.  Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes on 375 degrees Fahrenheit, until the flesh is tender.  Pull a fork lengthwise through the flesh to separate into long strands that resemble spaghetti, hence the name spaghetti squash. 
You can top the squash with your favorite tomato sauce or try one of the recipes below. Now is the perfect time to look for spaghetti squash at your Farmer’s markets or local stores so what are you waiting for?
Happy Thanksgiving and we hope you all have some bright sides on your table this year.
What sides are you planning for your Thanksgiving meal? Would you consider the sides we’ve featured Leeks, Brussels Sprouts or Spaghetti Squash?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving: food coma avoidable

Thanksgiving pushes many of our food buttons. This week my email will be filled with messages like the following: “What do I do about Thanksgiving?  My happiest day is a giant bowl of mashed potatoes.  I could eat my body weight in mashed potatoes given the opportunity.  I don't really eat many other sides  just potatoes with a side of turkey  Do I splurge for the one day?  I'm very stressed out about it.”
Here is a post I wrote for my favorite site Blisstree 
If I tell you that it’s not actually a requirement to overindulge on Thanksgiving, will you hate me? Wait…I do have some good news: You also don’t need to be the weirdo with two Brussels sprouts and a sad, thin slice of turkey on your dinner plate on Thursday. As a nutritionist, I’ve spent years trying to strike a balance for my clients between strategy and satiety, special and silly.
Many of you already know the “good” items on the Thanksgiving table: White-meat turkey, cranberry sauce (ideally not gelatinous kind), sweet potatoes (later, marshmallows), and non-bastardized vegetables (and not drowned in melted cheese). The killers – and yes, in large volumes they are killers – include stuffing (so good, yet soooo bad), dark meat, turkey skin, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and any creamed vegetables or those given the casserole treatment. What you may not know is that the difference between a good plate and a bad plate can be enormous. A good meal will hover around 400 to 600 calories – including wine and extras. The killer? Multiply that number by three or four.
So what can you do if you cannot fathom a holiday without a serving or two of killer stuffing? First, commit to the One Plate Rule. Observe the offerings and formulate your strategy.
– Reserve ¼ of your plate for carbs including sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn, bread, and regular potatoes.
– Then you’ve got ¼ of your plate for turkey or another protein.
– Half of your plate should include vegetables (ideally the green kind), or salad – even if you have to steal the garnish from something. Eat your vegetables first; this aids digestion and fills you up on fiber.
Savor this plate of Thanksgiving goodness because there are no second helpings at dinner on this plan. Seconds and thirds lead to unbuttoning your pants in inappropriate places – not to mention serious regrets. The One Plate Rule leaves you feeling lighter and self-righteous.
Prior to Thanksgiving dinner, you must exercise. If you’re going to eat a sweet and fatty feast, get moving. Walk, dance, run, swim, spin, or practice yoga. But whatever you do, exercise is a prerequisite that will help your mindset later in the day. When dietary devil attempts to take over, appetite angel can reply: “No, don’t do it, you worked out and feel great – and there will be no unbuttoning at the dinner table!”
So you’ve worked out, eaten your virtuous one plate, and are feeling good. And then the pies, crumbles, tarts, and tortes arrive. I can hear you negotiating. (My clients try to negotiate, but I really believe that you’ve already had your pie before dessert.) You’ve had sweet potatoes topped with candy or  Jell-o disguised as sauce, and if we’re being adults about this – you really don’t need the pie. Now, much like my stuffing example, if you’ll cry or die without pie, then you need to pick your poison/pleasure. Choose mostly “goods” at mealtime, and then you can have your (tiny sliver of) pie and eat it, too.
Aren’t you thankful for Foodtraining?
What are your favorite Thanksgiving day treats? Does the plan above sound reasonable? Anything need negotiating? Let’s hear it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Diamonds and Drinks

I was grumpy yesterday. I even emailed a friend and asked “ever plan an event and just want it over?” She put me at ease and said she often felt that way.  There were the usual moving pieces, people backing out at the last minute and other neglected work I needed to get to.  I think I had a sneaking feeling things weren’t going to turn out as I wanted them to. Why is it these are always the nights that end up perfect?

A few months ago, I was introduced to a jewelry designer named Marissa Alperin. Marissa came to my office, with her jewels, and though I’m not a serious jewelry person I was blown away by collections inspired by the beach, her love of color and texture and a piece she had made for her mother who had survived breast cancer. I fell in love with 2 creations of Marissa’s that I now wear almost every day and wanted to show others her work.

I'll digress to one of the last conversations I had with my dad. We had talked about the soldiers coming home from Iraq. I was in his hospital room, reading the paper and he spotted a photo and said “we can’t forget about these kids coming home without arms and legs, it’s not a life.” In my glass half full mindset and talking to someone who knew first hand what life was life without a limb I said “but they are alive and get to come home.” Up went his eyebrows and slowly he said “it’s a limited life.” Those words stuck with me and continue to give me chills as I type this.

I had the idea to invite friends to see Marissa’s creations and asked Marissa if she’d consider donating a percentage of her profits to Wounded Warrior Project. I also asked what she thought of the idea of having a charm made in honor of my dad. The charm would be a martini. You see, despite his “limited life", martinis persisted. Marissa loved the idea and we got to work planning “Diamonds and Drinks”.

Last night we gathered in my apartment. Marissa turned my dining room into a jewelry shop. My friend John Marsh was busy at work in the kitchen. John will be opening his first NYC restaurant in a few weeks, his wife told me “he is only here for you and for this cause.”  I had kept the guest list small as I didn’t know how things would go.  Steadily, friends arrived from all different parts of my life. While some shopped others sipped and John’s organic bites were passed around the room. We ate beets and feta atop Mary's Gone Crackers, crab avocado wasabi crisps and small demitasse cups of gazpacho.

Did I mention the elderflower martinis? Yes, these martinis are made with Absolut Boston which is elderflower and black tea flavored. The vodka is combined with lemon juice and simple syrup. After about 2 hours I was told we were out of the lemon juice (from 2 dozen lemons!) and the reserve bottled lemon juice.  The martinis and the evening was a hit.  The night was perfect.

What do you think is the key to a successful party? The guests? The food? The drinks?