Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Clare Veronica Walsh was Fearless Too

I was wasting time on Twitter Monday, while my boys finished skiing. Many of the people I follow were tweeting about a Clare Walsh. I’ve never met Clare Walsh but learned that she was a teacher at Soul Cycle, in her early twenties and passed away on Christmas Day.  Details were scant and I’m still not sure why I found myself searching for them. Perhaps it would help to have an explanation for someone young and seemingly healthy dying. One thing was clear this Clare Walsh was special.  Though clearly beautiful, many expressed that her inner beauty was remarkable.

In my weird hunt for information about this beautiful person I had never met, I came across a stirring tribute on a blog called Stilettos on Sullivan. Caitlin described a Clare that was full of energy and adept at motivating others. And then in talking about how Clare lived her life, she called her “fearless” and commented that she wanted to be more fearless like Clare. For those of you who read my blog regularly you’ll recall fearlessness was my friend Jen Goodman Linn's platform. Her website was I made this connection and continued along. In remembering her beloved teacher, Caitlin advises us not to take anything for granted and to “dance your ass off everyday.” I got goose bumps. Whenever I am blue I watch Jen’s Happy To Be 40 video which you must watch if you haven't already.

The fearlessness, the ability to inspire others, the spinning (Jen you’ll recall started Cycle for Survival) and the dancing…you may say coincidence but I think it’s more than that. I think Jen and Clare are dancing together and it’s up to those of us who are here to dance our asses off everyday.
What are you fearful of? How can you envision being more fearless? When is the last time you danced? 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cooler, Scale, Magnifying Mirror- Let's Go.

Insert roof rack for more accurate image

I’m sure a good number of you are away as you read this. If you’re not, take comfort in the fact that you have access to your kitchen, your usual workouts, and your routine. Yes, sure I know some of the “fun” of being away is getting away from all of that but there is a downside. We spend a lot of time in Vermont (where I am right now). Last week, our good friends spent the week before Christmas up here. I received the following text from my friend:
I’m in full on VT mode: fat, hirsute and very bad hair. I have no idea what’s going on in the world and have adjusted to shopping at a 7 eleven. We’ll be up here for New Years; I can’t go out at home given my current state.
My friend was kidding, sort of kidding. The difference from prior years where we all commiserated about the color the well water turns our hair, how forgiving leggings and a giant sweater seem to be and the fact that skiing, when you do it all the time, isn’t really that good of a workout was that I was still in NYC. I had the opportunity to take charge and prevent “VT mode.”

Cooler and then some- I pack a mean cooler for any road trip but for a week in Vermont it was filled to the rim. Sadly, my new pretty stainless steel cooler has no wheels, so my husband had to hoist it from apartment to car and car to house. Ski eating is protein heavy so I packed an array of greens, cauliflower, broccoli, multiple avocados, probiotics and also omega 3 eggs, grass-fed meat and Siggis plain yogurt. Instead of bringing booze and ingredients for festive drinks for our “guests” I kept things to organic red and white wine. As I made balsamic roasted cauliflower and a huge salad last night, I felt as though I was winning the healthy versus heavy battle- round one to Lauren.

Scale- I have never travelled with a scale and sometimes curse hotels when they include them in the bathrooms. The thing is, despite exercise and eating well somehow something happens in this state and I come back feeling resolution-worthy. And lest you think it’s a female or spoiled thing my husband, knowing the “Vermont effect”, supported the precautionary measures. So the scale came in the car and I will get on it daily. I mentioned this on Twitter and received this reply
@Foodtrainers nuts to travel with a scale when you exercise and know what to eat. Slippery slope to a disorder IMO.
IMO (In my opinion) not having the scale is a “slippery slope” to gaining a couple of pounds after a week on the slippery slopes of Vermont despite exercise and eating well. I appreciated this tweeps concern.

Magnifying Mirror- it’s so easy to forego make-up, throw on a hat and go about your day here. You can’t see errant eyebrow hair behind ski goggles but eventually the goggles come off. So, after the hirsute admission from my friend, in the suitcase (only an LL Bean tote, not so big) went the magnifying mirror.

If this sounds extreme, not to worry there will be wine and cheese and I get the “when in Rome” mentality; however, we’re not in Rome. I can have any of these foods any weekend and, for me, getting home feeling good is a “treat”.  I would rather curb the enthusiasm by watching and tweezing that to adopt the ignorance is bliss mentality. I’m all for bringing any part of your routine with you if it makes you feel good.
Have you traveled with any of the items mentioned above? What food or items do you tote to temper the treats? Do you think I’m cautious or crazy? 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Special Teas and Tips

This photo doesn't have that much to do with this post
I am a little bit of a tea freak. Purists swear by loose-leaf tea but more often than not I use tea bags. I have a huge selection of teas at home, in my office and keep a few bags in my purse at all times. I'll even violate my “don’t eat anything offered by an airline” rule for hot water for  tea hough the nasty Styrofoam cup ruins my tea experience. A great article in Slate  “how to make a decent cup of tea”, posted on Facebook by acupuncturist extraordinaire Jill Blakeway, made me think more about the details of my tea preparation.
It suggested:
  • Tea is best in cylindrical cups rather than short, wide-mouthed options.
  • The article also discusses a topic debated by John Lennon and Yoko and sides with tea bag first then water.

Some of my tea tips:
  • Toss tea after six months, not to worry you're not the only one with tea older than your children, as the flavor and antioxidant level decreases significantly
  • Fresh brewed is always best, there are 20 times more antioxidants in brewed versus bottled teas (applies more to iced tea).
  • Preparation is different for different teas. Green teas and white teas need only a couple of minutes, ½ the steeping time of black and herbal teas.

Some of my current favorite teas (click on images for links) are:

Green and oolong tea have mild metabolic boosting effects, white tea is great for immunity and rooibos tea is beneficial for certain skin conditions including eczema. After dinner, a delicious cup of tea and a good book is the perfect ending to the day.
Are you a tea freak? What are your current favorites? Tea or water in the cup first? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pie in the Sky and other Food for Thought

Maybe it’s just the way the cookie crumbles but it seems so many of our food expressions involve unhealthy foods. Cake and pie are popular for idioms; I’ve even been known to use “have your cake and eat it too” in weight loss sessions with clients. Have you ever thought about the origin of these idioms? Maybe you should use your noodle.

I chose some of my favorite foods to focus on:
In a pickle- which means in a quandary always seemed like a strange expression to me.  I love pickles and being inside a pickle doesn't seem like any more of an issue as being in any other food. In a pickle refers to stewed vegetables that are mixed up in order to become pickled. There is also a Shakespearian reference to being in a pickle from the Tempest (trust me I didn’t know this until I looked it up). Alonso says “how camest thou in this pickle.” And then there’s the slang word “pickled”, anyone know what this means?

Salad Days- this expression refers to youth. When I think of my younger years, I would call them Hostess Days, Fluffanutter Days or if I’m being poetic Ravioli Days. If anything, salad days are when you get older and need to watch things more carefully. However, Cleopatra (in Antony and Cleopatra) said “My salad days When I was green in judgment.” Here green, as in inexperienced, refers to green shoots of spring versus something consumed in an effort to be healthy.  

Salt of the earth- I love this expression and its connotations referring to people who are unpretentious, honest and good. There are many who trace this expression to biblical roots. An interesting explanation was that in the Moroccan city of Fez, the Jews, in the Jewish quarter, did much of the salt mining. They were considered very useful to the community and fostered this saying.

Eggs in one basket- Nothing beats a practical tip, I’m also fond of bigger fish to fry but thought I’d stay away from frying in favor of healthier foods. Eggs in one basket refers to when eggs were transported in baskets on wagons, if one basket fell off, presumably all the eggs in it would break. I like the idea of spreading risk but also appreciated Mark Twain’s alternative suggestion to “put all your eggs in one basket and watch the basket.”

Big Cheese/Cheesy- someone referred to as “the big cheese” is the opposite of salt of the earth. The big cheese is similar to what we commonly call “cheesy”. In culinary terms, nothing is more delicious than something cheesy but apart from food cheesy means something cliché’ or unimpressive. Even more unusual is that this term has its roots with the British in India coming from the Urdu word chiz meaning “thing”. So, do we have India to thank for cheese? That’s “bananas”

I hope you’re holidays aren’t “nutty as a fruitcake”, don’t “hit the sauce” and may you “bring home the bacon” in the New Year.
What’s your favorite food expression? Do you know what “pickled” means? Can you name 3 produce-centric idioms?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Is Blunt Better?

I have a friend who has been spinning a lot lately at a local studio.  She told me about a pal of hers who has lost a significant amount of weight; I believe it was 100 pounds. We’ll call my friend B and B’s friend N (I’ll explain reasoning later). Before a recent workout, B reached into her bag and took out a banana. N, as in Nazi, looked at B and said, “if you’re going to eat that you may as well not spin.” B relayed the story to me and asked, “isn’t that the meanest thing you’ve ever heard?” It’s not but before I gave my two cents I asked, “so what do you say or do?” B told me she switched her pre-workout snack to an apple.

So let’s first look at the accuracy of Fruit Nazi’s comment. While the banana is a higher carbohydrate fruit, let’s bear in mind it’s still a fruit. One medium banana is around 105 calories. Forty-five minutes of spinning will burn four to five bananas. So even if ¼ of B’s class was spent burning off her banana she still has over 300 net calories burned, endorphins pumping and a great start to her day. N may have cut bananas out on her road to weight loss, she may work out on an empty stomach but her advice to B wasn’t correct and, as mentioned, B found it hurtful.

Due to my profession, I rarely offer face-to-face unsolicited advice. Even when asked or when I have a strong opinion, I’m usually pretty diplomatic (real life is different than the blog). At the end of the day you don’t want to discourage anyone from trying to get fit or eat better. I feel differently when it comes to food companies and organizations I feel don’t have consumers’ health in mind.  I also have trouble being tactful when it comes to processed food, sweeteners and the “s” word, soda. The interesting tidbit with the banana example is that B, though offended, was impacted enough to make a change.  She switched her pre-workout ritual and I would bet will not eat many bananas going forward.

Sometimes blunt is better and certainly sticks with us. I sat in a lecture on organic food once and the speaker said, “I would never, ever eat a conventional grape.” I don’t think I have knowingly consumed one since. I would bet many of you reading have your own habits you can trace to someone who told you something about food or exercise with such conviction that you followed suit. For the record, I bet that if I were to inspect what Fruit Nazi ate in a typical day we’d find some things tweak-worthy, maybe even sweeteners or soda (blech).
Do you think blunt is better? Any behaviors you recall changing based on directness? Do you eat bananas?  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Much Ado Or What To Do About Apple Juice?

*sorry about the spacing in this post, must be my childhood apple juice causing problems
I have to admit when I first heart the apple juice news, I thought it was sensationalized. I assumed the juice tested was an isolated batch found to be tainted. Then, Carolyn and I were talking to the GMA producers and they asked if we had seen Dr Besser and Dr Oz on that morning. We hadn't but heard Dr Besser retracted his initial statement stating Dr Oz was blowing this situation out of proportion. We knew it was time to look into this. Carolyn did some digging to find the juicy truth.

Apples have a healthy reputation but apple juice has never been known for its nutrition. Once an apple is peeled and juiced, what's left in that convenient little box is essentially sugar. Well, we thought it was just sugar anyway. Thanks to Dr Oz, who we're growing to adore around here, apple juice has been part of a whole lot of drama over the past few weeks.
In September, the Dr Oz show did a private investigation and reported unsafe levels of arsenic in all 50 brands of apple juice they tested. The FDA attacked Dr Oz's report as "irresponsible and misleading" because he didn't distinguish between organic and inorganic arsenic (more on that later). Two weeks ago, Consumer Reports followed up and tested 88 samples of apple and grape juice and found 10% had inorganic arsenic levels over the FDA limit and 25% of samples had higher lead levels than the FDA's drinking water standards. Consumer Reports found that big brands including Mott's, Apple and Eve, Great Value (Wal-Mart's house label) and Welches (grape) all exceeded the 10 pbb limit. CR has also suggested the FDA's acceptable levels for arsenic be decreased; this would render the majority of juices tested unsafe.

Arsenic sounds scary and it is. There are two kinds of the heavy metal: organic (less harmful) and inorganic (more harmful). Organic arsenic occurs in nature and we are constantly exposed to small amounts...but you still wouldn't want to drink it. Inorganic (man-made) aresenic is the more toxic type used in pesticides, herbicides and, best of all, chemical warfare. Chronic exposure to the carcinogen is associated with increased risk of bladder, kidney, lung, liver and colon cancer. Those cute little juice boxes are longing for the days when sugar was there biggest issue.

Does that mean no more apples and walnut butter (my favorite)? No, our American apples should technically be safe because the inorganic arsenic-based pesticides haven't been legal here in years. At least we're doing something right. Sort of, you see some apple juice tested from solely US apples still had elevated levels of arsenic. This is where organic becomes essential. If you're eating organic apples harmful pesticides shouldn't be an issue. The majority of America's apple juice comes from China but manufacturers often mix juice concentrates from multiple countries. Many bottles of apple juice are melting pots making it difficult to tract down its exact origin.

We're not apple juice promoters in general but I spent every day of my childhood lunch sipping Mott's (parents, I forgive you) so I get that kids love it. If you must have apple juice follow Dr Oz's rules to make it organic and from the US. Additionally read ingredient labels as apple juice is used in products you may not suspect. If the FDA thinks sipping chemical warfare compounds is safe, you must take matters into your own hands and make decisions that work for you.

It's easy to feel as though eating is a minefield with dangerous chemicals at every turn. However, there are safe foods to eat. This is just another reason to know the provenance of your food and to purchase organic and domestic when possible. 
Are you concerned about arsenic in apple juice? Have you considered that organic from other countries may not be what it is here? Do you think there's a safe level of poison in food/isn't that a strange concept?

The blog winner of our Hint giveaway was Lisa  from Healthful Sense.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Potty Talk Part Three: Constipation Nation

We talk about our children and our spouses, about work and our weight. We can talk about PMS, pimples and wrinkles but we draw the line. We don’t really talk about our tummy troubles. And we have them, I don’t know what it is but I feel as though constipation is running rampant. I have a theory that constipation is worse in winter. I’m not a researcher but many more clients complain about constipation in colder months.  Could it be a lack of sun and therefore vitamin D? In animal studies rats without vitamin D do develop constipation.

Let’s start with the basics, in order to “go” you need motion and the lotion. By "motion" I mean activity. Aerobic exercise helps muscles in the intestines contract.  If you are not a regular exerciser, make sure you are walking 10-15 minutes at least a couple times a day. Certain yoga poses such as bow pose and plough can also help. Lotion refers to two things necessary to move stool through you fluid and fat.  Dehydration leads to hard stools so be sure to drink 48 to 64 ounces of water a day. Fat phobia can also cause dehydration. Avocado, coconut oil and other good fats do the body (and the bowels) good.

There are also some trusted tummy tools:
  • Chia seeds contain insoluble fiber and fat both helpful when constipated.
  • Magnesium is connected to bowel function. I have mentioned a product before called Natural Calm that can be prepared like a tea in the evening.  Pumpkin seeds and cocoa also have a good amount of magnesium and fiber.

  • Probiotics- your gut flora has a big impact on your bowel movements.  A probiotic supplement containing the culture bifidus helps promote regularity. Also, in case you need another reason to skip the Splenda it kills gut bacteria.
  • Jerusalem Artichokes naturally contain a prebiotic called inulin. Prebiotics help the proliferation of probiotics, you can think of them as fuel for the probiotics. Jerusalem artichokes are a vegetable (you can make latkes out of them for Hanukkah) and there are also pastas made from Jerusalem artichokes.
  • There are 3 A's: acupuncture can be very helpful if you have chronic constipation as can aromatherapy, black pepper oil inhaled or rubbed on your belly has been suggested for constipation. And Aloe vera juice can be a strong “tool”. It can be added to juices or smoothies and as with any of these suggestions, start slowly. When it comes to “going” to much of a good thing isn’t fun either.
Some foods should be avoided if you are dealing with constipation and those are the mainly the whites or foods with white flour or white sugar and too much animal protein. Try keeping meat and poultry to once a day if you are binded. Cow's milk has been connected with constipation particularly in children. Goat's milk is worth a try if you're curious. Also on the skip list are laxatives containing senna as an ingredient as these build dependence. If constipation persists it can indicate a problem with thyroid function and should be taken seriously. As you can see, this is a big topic and there is a lot more I could say but I’ve got to “go” now.
OK let's hear it, are you constipated? If so is it worse in winter? What are your tummy tools? Do you talk to friends or family members about your bowels? 

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Diet Soda a Day if the ADA has Their Way

Did you know the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day? At 16 calories per teaspoon, that is adding 352 calories a day. Over a week, that translates to ingesting an additional 2464 calories.  Did you know a 12-ounce can of sugar-sweetened soda contains about 150 calories and 9 teaspoons of sugar? If you are a soda drinker, substituting just one diet soft drink daily for regular soda can save 4500 calories a month with a potential weight loss of about 1 pound per month. 

Sounds so logical, right? No, of course it doesn’t. Curious about the source of this nonsense? It's none other than the American Dietetic Association in an email promoting their publication “the Truth about Artificial Sweeteners or Sugar Substitutes.” While I applaud their mathematics, there are a few things they omitted:
  • By downing something with the equivalent of five packets of junk, way sweeter than sugar, you w bombard your taste buds with sweetness encouraging sweet in another form (after the carcinogens). Diet sodas do not facilitate weight loss.
  • The substitution they suggested, replacing one chemical concoction for another, has another solution.  Why not substitute water for the sugary drink?
  • Oh and because I can do math too, switching one can of soda to water would lead to over $500 a year in your pocket or over $2190 for a family of four. This money could be used to buy food that has some nutritional value worth promoting.
  • Both regular and diet soda increase your risk of osteoporosis, pancreatic cancer, diabetes and dental problems.

And while the ADA used the word “truth” they really mean the truth according to their corporate sponsors. When you go to the ADA’s sponsorship page they politely list and thank all their best buddies. It’s what you’d expect from our nations bastion of nutrition: Coke (and not to offend Pepsi is there too), Mars, Hershey’s. It's the equivalent of a pro-illiteracy group building a school. I can’t wait for my next email. “The truth about chocolate”. If you replace that banana with a Hershey’s miniature, you’ll save 3000 calories a month. We’ll have cancer, no teeth and be just as fat.

It’s abundantly clear how I feel about soda. I would have understood if the ADA said something to the effect of “though there’s nothing nutritious about diet soda having one occasionally doesn’t pose huge risks.” Instead they pushed the diet cancer. I hope the Coke and Pepsi send them a nice thank you note. The header of the email sent to ADA members reads, “How should artificial sweeteners be used as part of a healthy eating plan.” Um, they shouldn't. We can argue about just how much (or in my opinion little) artificial should consumed but let's not put it in the same sentence as healthy.
What do you think of the ADA's diet soda plug? Do you consume soda or sweeteners? Are you an ADA member? What do you think ADA members should do if they feel similarly?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Four New Foodtrainers' Favorites and Giveaway

Years ago, I remember meeting Kara Goldin in the expo hall at a convention. She had one of the off-to –the-side booths reserved for small companies. I sampled my first Hint water; it was watermelon (or was it pear?). I loved that Hint had no sugar juice, dyes or artificial sweetener. At that time, we couldn’t get Hint in the New York area. Times have changed; this year Fortune magazine named Kara one it’s most promising women entrepreneurs. And there’s a new Hint in town, Hint Fizz.  Depending on how you look at it, Hint Fizz is either an extremely flavorful seltzer or a truly natural soda. I’m a fan of drinking from glass so the Hint Fizz bottles make me happy. Plus, they sort of remind me of the Foodtrainers website (in a good way).

If we’re talking drinks, it makes sense to talk bars (get it? so bad I know). I mentioned some of my favorite bars a while ago and I’m still in love with Zing Bars, Real Bars, Kookie Karma and now Savory Bars.  Recently, I tried Picky Bars

Packaging Points

Picky Bars are gluten free, dairy free and less than 200 calories. They also have enjoyable mini chocolate chips in them. I’m partial to Lauren’s Mega Nut flavor but the Lauren mentioned on the label looks like this:
My running outfit is a little different, so is my pace.
She’s Lauren Fleshman, one of the founders, who just finished the NYC Marathon in 16th place. There’s a great article about her marathon journey from the New York Times and I’ll point out that she eats oatmeal as a prerace meal. For those of you who read the Runners World post, they printed my letter in the January issue with a reply perpetuating fiber phobia for runners. Maybe they should talk to the other Lauren.

For you pro-pumpkin people (you know who you are), Pacific Natural Foods has an organic pumpkin puree. No more canned pumpkin. For the uninitiated, you can use pumpkin in oatmeal, Greek yogurt, smoothies or of course pumpkin pie. Aside from its high fiber and low calorie content, pumpkin is also a decent source of iron.

I know this last “find” didn’t photograph too well. I snapped a quick shot before my friends got their spoons in this. 

What is it? It’s the Borscht with Toasted Hazelnuts and Horseradish Flan from The Modern. I went to see the de Kooning exhibit but seriously couldn’t stop thinking of this soup. If you’re in NYC stop by The Modern’s Bar Room (better than dining room in my opinion) and try this. If you’re not in the area, they tweeted me the link to the recipe.  Would it be rude to tweet back and ask for the recipe in a format other than grams of everything?
Have you tried any of these? Did you enjoy them? Are their other flavored waters or bars you like? Do you pumpkin? How so? And finally, when was the last time you had borscht?
*The Hint people have offered to send a lucky reader some Hint, be sure to comment and if you're a Hint fan, name your favorite flavor.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Healthy Holidays: Tips to Keep you Sane and Slim

Perhaps you think it’s a festive time of year and I get that. There’s the music and the decorations, the parties and the treats. To me though, it seems like a bit of a conspiracy. Even the songs  “Feed the World”, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and for Hanukah “Gather Round the Table and We’ll give you a Treat” all subliminally telling you to do one thing, eat! Then there’s the inflated pound propaganda preparing you for the inevitable five to ten pound weight gain (more on that later).

I loved this graphic from Beth at Weight Maven; I don’t think the terror alert analogy is inappropriate:

Festive Foods are Everywhere

So what’s a well-intentioned healthy person to do short of signing up for a one month retreat

  • Pick an Anchor Behavior. An anchor is something that centers you when things are crazy around you and December is crazy. Pick one behavior: breakfasts on track or gym visits or hydration to stick to for the duration of the season.
  • Run on Empty. A study from the UK followed 3 groups during the holiday season. One group did not work out, another worked out before eating anything and the final group workout out after breakfast. The only group to lose weight was the “running on empty group”. If you have a 10-mile run planned or low blood sugar, eat before. Otherwise try running on empty here and there and eating soon after you’re done.
  • Use Special Days for Special Days. Even if you don’t gorge, celebration abounds this month. In between the events I suggest pulling back a bit. Try, what I call, a Savory Day where you skip anything sweet for one day. Do this once or twice a week.
  • Cook Responsibly. Many sad weight-related tales start with “I baked ________ to bring it __________. You don’t have to bring dessert and if you do it doesn’t have to be handmade.
  • Utilize Your Little Helpers. It’s not just about taking things out of your diet. Both green tea and omega 3’s support you and your diet during the holiday season.
  • Practice Treat Training. My sister makes trifle every year. It’s beautiful and everyone loves it but it’s just not my thing. On the other hand, eggnog is something I dream about.  What are the holiday foods you can’t pass up? Make it a mission to seek out the best version of those one or two foods and call it a day.
  • Try Your Holiday Hotline or TIDEI. If you’re on twitter, I’m here for you. When you’re tempted to get carried away simply use the hash tag #TIDEI which stands for tweet it don’t eat it. Use @Foodtrainers and I’ll tweet you off the food ledge.
Finally, if you want to test your knowledge of food-related holiday songs I loved this quiz from slashfood that I failed miserably (didn’t even know how many maids a milking). And that holiday weight gain of five pounds? The good news is the NEJM found it’s only one or two pounds for most people. The bad news? Those one to two pounds stick around long after the holidays.
What are your favorite holiday foods? Do you tend to overdo it this time of year? Favorite holiday song? And what will your anchor behavior be?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Single Worst Food for Your Weight

It was the summer of ‘93; I had a thrilling job at The Lobster Roll (aka Lunch).  Despite my lovely attire of a uniform t-shirt and khaki shorts, I was seeing someone. He told me he noticed that I was friendly with one of the cooks (approx. weight 425). His theory was that if I was friends with the large guy, I must be nice. Well, I knew it wasn’t the outfit. I was 19 and leaving to go abroad in September. He was 27, an artist, in Montauk for the summer to surf and paint. When surfer met my parents, before we went out one night, I don't even think he said hello. The point of my story is that this was fun but ill fated. Even at 19, when you know nothing, I knew this was a waste. A waste with an old fashioned Chevy Malibu convertible that was fun to ride around in. I was reminded of this when I contemplated one of my favorite foods.

One of my favorite foods isn't something I should eat. Considering I am practical by nature, it doesn't make sense that I dally in it. When we met with Dr Oz last month, he mentioned this food as the single worst food you can eat when it comes to weight. This wasn’t the conclusion of one small study but from the Nurses Health Study and Health Professionals Follow up study. Over 120,000 doctors and nurses, not obese at the start, were monitored every 4 years for 12 to 20 years. So what was the sad news? Fries,  alone contributed to 3-4 pounds every four years and were correlated with the most weight gain for a single food. No small fry.

Knowing something and hearing it from someone else are very different. I had read this study, even blogged about it (a different part of it) but hadn’t heard the word “worst.”  I rarely order fries but they make their way to the table piggybacking with grilled chesses and chicken sandwiches and other foods my children eat. I literally take a silent no French fry vow before the fries arrive to remind myself. For me, it’s easier not to start as one, especially when they’re crispy, can lead to too many. About once a month, I let myself reach over. So fries are still in my life but limited and as an alternative I bake spicy sweet potato fries at home. In relationships, I left silly choices in my teens. In 1998,  the human equivalent of dark chocolate: fun, interesting and good for me.
Are you a fry lover? How often do you eat them? Did you know fries were “the worst”? What’s the worst uniform you’ve had to wear for a job?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Setting the Table For Weight Loss

Which black circle is larger? 
I’ve mentioned my adoration for Brian Wansink before. For those of you who aren’t enthralled with food research he’s the author of Mindless Eating. Much of his research focuses on external cues that affect our eating. Everything from what we’re told about a food to the lighting in a room has an impact on what we ultimately eat. I was interviewed for a GMA segment, that should air today, about the Wansink's most recent research.  This study entitled “Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion’s Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior” looked at food color, plate color and the amount of food we eat.

The main conclusion was that we eat less food when the plate and the food are contrasting colors. Conversely, we eat more when food and plate are more tonal. To GMA’s credit they conducted an informal study at a NYC restaurant to replicate or challenge the study results. Sure enough (and thankfully for the producers' sake) particpants plated significantly less (2 ounces less or almost 30%) pasta pomodoro on white plates than they did on red plates. While I’m not saying pasta pomodoro on white plates is the answer to your weight loss dreams. The plate/food color is something to think about.

So what is the explanation for the color and consumption connection? It’s related to an optical illusion with concentric circles (see top).  When “two circles of identical size have been placed near to each other and one is surrounded by an annulus; the surrounded circle then appears larger than the non-surrounded circle if the annulus is close, while appearing smaller than the non-surrounded circle if the annulus is distant." Thank you Wikipedia for that. For those of you, like me, who didn’t learn annulus when studying for the SATs, it means ring. The contrasting color in the study provides the close annulus and the net net is that the food on the plate will appear larger.

If you have white plates, you don’t need to do much other that eat the way practically all nutritionist’s suggest which is brightly colored food. Should you buy a second set of plates for when you have cauliflower or grilled chicken? Probably not. And I don’t foresee people going to restaurants and BYOP (bringing their own plate) as this crosses into eating idiocy. However, if you’re in the market for plates I would suggest white, small ones. And unlike food and plates, the researchers found table linens should be a similar color to your plate or the illusion is ruined. Coincidentally, my new plates from my favorite place in SF, Health Ceramics, are different colors and shapes. How versatile.
slightly concerned about oatmeal in the beige bowl
Do you pay attention to how external cues (sound, lighting, company) affects your eating? What type of plates do you own? What do you think of the circles above, does the one on the left appear larger?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cooking Homework Update

A month ago, I satisfied my school cravings and assigned myself cooking homework. My goals were to buy and use a slow cooker, to enter the scary world of baking and, for extra credit, make a dish without a recipe. Many of you jumped on the homework bandwagon formulating your own personal cooking goal.  In retrospect, my course load was a little heavy. I was mainly interested in slow cooking but included the baking and recipe-less items for an extra challenge.  Most of you were much smarter and picked a singular goal. Going forward, that’s what I’ll do.

My beautiful new slow cooker (above) arrived shortly after last month’s post. I chose a Breville. I own a Breville juicer and wanted a larger slow cooker. I love that it has an insert so you can brown things before slow cooking.  Because every class needs a textbook, I chose Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’dea. Stephanie has a blog called A Year of Slow Cooking. She vowed to use her slow cooker every day for a year.  I loved that these recipes were simple, that most were gluten free and that a “verdict” is included telling you who liked the recipe in her family and who did not.
There was no question what my first recipe would be. We stop at a place on the way to Vermont that makes the best pulled pork on the planet. When I thought about slow cooking, stewy things came to mind. My book contains a pulled pork recipe but like a true nerd I had to cross-reference. I found that a pork butt roast was the cut to use. After being briefly nauseated I learned this was not in fact the pork “rear” and located an organic roast.  I made the recipe on a Saturday; if you’re an impatient person I wouldn’t suggest slow cooking while you’re hanging around the house. Eight hours later, dinner was done. All four of us loved it.
dark picture, delicious dish
The boys were excited about our new addition to the family and I let them pick my next recipe. They choose an apple crisp.  While this was also delicious, “crisp” is a little misleading. Despite some hanging out under the boiler, there wasn’t anything crispy happening. Nobody objected; we used it as a topping for Greek yogurt.

Finally, on a day I was taking the boys to a birthday party that ended at dinnertime, I decided on Split Pea Soup.  This was as easy as could be and again the aroma was amazing. The only problem was this soup was thick and filling. I could’ve thinned it a little bit but was too excited to dig in.

Cooking Homework Month 1: Grade is B.
For some inspiration, here were some other assignments:

Baking Homework
Justine- to make bread
EA- to make gluten free sourdough bread
Sam- to bake a cake from scratch
Kristen and Andrea- to bake
Jen to bake something from Ruhlman’s book Ratio

Appliance Homework
Gina- to add a slow cooker to her wedding registry
Stephanie – to use her dehydrator
Carolyn- to use her juicer
Pearl to use Le Crueset pot to make stews and braised dishes
Carrie- to make healthy soups and stews
Einat and Claire to use slow cooker

Variety Homework
Erin- to experiment, she said homework would be “easy” for her, wonder if it was
Jenny- 2 new recipes from her cookbooks

Specific Homework
Madeline- to make Korean food with her mother in law
Jess- to make Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
Allison- to cook one new veggie a week
Caron- to cook kasha

This month I’m going to continue slow cookery, I’m going to focus on a chicken dish, an oatmeal something and using The Indian Slow Cooker book I purchased.
Did you do your homework? What grade would you give yourself? What’s your assignment this month? With Christmas, I’ll set our deadline for early January.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Becoming An Optimist

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jen lately.  She and her husband Dave started Cycle for Survival and we have a mega-team, in the early stages, ready to ride in February. And last week, Jen’s parents posted on her You Fearless website and talked about Jen being driven and determined from the get go. In the time I knew Jen and ever since, when I am faced when a challenge I try to strap on my Jen mask of fearlessness and optimism. The problem is, I often feel like an imposter where underneath is the real Lauren. Not all of us can see the bright side as easily.  I came across a book called Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman and purchased it on audiobook. During my runs and a recent family car trip (Marc officially thinks I have lost it) I’ve been listening to passages from this book. To my relief, optimism and pessimism aren’t camps you’re permanently assigned to. There are tools to make you more optimistic.

I heard a lot of Jen while listening to this book. Optimists see bad things as temporary whereas pessimists fear it will last a long time. Optimists are able to put troubles in a box while pessimists give universal explanations. As a result of these patterns of thinking, pessimists are more likely to become depressed, they do worse in school, sports and most jobs than their talents would suggest. They also have rockier relationships. Optimists are said to live longer and though Jen’s passing comes to mind I tend to think she survived sarcoma for 7 years in part because of her optimism.

Midway through Learned Optimism, a hokey “diet” scenario is presented as a teaching tool. We're told of Katie who was two weeks into a diet and succumbed to chicken wings and nachos when out with friends. Katie does a number on her self feeling weak, gluttonous and defeated. A technique called disputation is suggested. Pessimistic thoughts can be disputed as you would likely dispute them if someone else said them. Katie could say, “I’m not a glutton and one slip doesn’t mean my diet is blown. Sure, nachos and wings aren’t healthy foods but one misstep in two weeks isn’t the end of the world.” By disputing the bad thoughts you can change your reactions.

Disputation is one technique another is distraction. It is very easy for negative thoughts to play on repeat in your mind. If you tell yourself not to think about something chances are that will not do much good. If you divert your attention to something else, even as simple as a pencil or other object and study it, your can redirect your attention. You can also plan a time to think about something, for example at 7pm I will give this more thought. Other suggestions were a rubber band around your wrist and to snap it when the destructive thought arises or keeping a card in your wallet with a certain phrase such as “enough” or “stop it.” In order to stop ruminating another suggestion is to write down negative thoughts. These techniques "ventilate" negativity.

There’s also an exercise called externalization of thoughts.  With someone you trust you role play the negative thought. I could say to you "it's all your fault you aren't doing well at work" and you would dispute my accusations. In certain ways- Jen did this with those on "team Jen".  It wasn’t that she was without doubt or the facts but that she was able to turn it around and wasn't shy about seeking out help. Whether it’s work, weight or health related your beliefs are not necessarily gospel and we have the choice to be dejected and depressed or energized and action-oriented. Speaking of actions, we’re just starting to fundraise for Cycle 2012. I am optimistic we’ll surpass our team goal of $10,000. I am fearlessly asking you to click over and help us stomp on cancer.
Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist? Does it give you hope that your beliefs and self-beliefs are subject to change? Have you ever listened to an audiobook? Are you going to donate to Cycle?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving-There Will Be No Unbuttoning

I wouldn't suggest searching for an "unbottoning pants" photo ew.
About a month ago, my mom called me . My sister usually hosts Thanksgiving but my mom worried it was too much this year;  she thought it would be nice to take the pressure off and go out to a restaurant. I wasn’t happy. Out came my inner brat: I told her it wasn’t the same, that part of Thanksgiving was spending time together- not just at a table, I even offered to host and then mid-rant I realized how silly I was being. My Thanksgiving day usually goes something like this: wake up and rush out the office (on the parade route) for the parade, rush home and start chopping Brussels sprouts, parsnips and string beans (I make the sides) until my hand starts cramping and then rush up to my sister’s house in Westchester smelling like shallots and parsley and completely exhausted. I looked at the menu online, this year I’ll be having Artisan Greens and Hudson Valley Apple Salad, Sea Bass, a Poached Pear and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Shush don’t say anything but I’m sort of excited.

As for you, 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 (not this kind),

sweet potatoes (later, marshmallows), and non-bastardized vegetables. The killers – and yes, in large volumes they are killers – include stuffing (so good, yet soooo bad), 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.

To temper Thanksgiving tendencies:
Just Say No To  “Whores”
I recently wrote about Ina Garten. While her recipes are top notch, you may be surprised that I stole one of my favorite weight-related tips from her. A couple years ago, I was watching Ina, on the Food Network, fielding Thanksgiving-related questions. One question was what to serve before sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner. Ina said keep it simple before the meal and advised not serving guests too much. I couldn’t agree more (maybe for different reasons). If you are hosting, shrimp cocktail, crudité and a dip and olives are all nice, lighter choices. If you are a guest, minimize your nibbles; you can easily eat a typical dinner’s worth of calories in hors (d’oeuvres).

Workout Twice
If you’re going to eat a sweet and fatty feast, get moving. Many spin studios and gyms are open on Thanksgiving and many cities have Turkey Trots or similar races. Walk, dance, run, swim, spin, or practice yoga. Exercise is a prerequisite that will help your mindset. Of today, tomorrow and Friday I need two workouts over the three days.

Observe the One Plate Rule. Review the offerings and formulate your strategy.
  • Reserve ¼ of your plate for carbs including sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn, bread or regular potatoes.
  • Then you’ve got ¼ of your plate for turkey or another protein.
  • Half of your plate should include vegetables (the green kind), or salad – even if you have to steal the garnish from something. Eat your vegetables first; this 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.

You’ve Already Had Dessert
So you’ve worked out, eaten your virtuous one plate, and are feeling good. Then the pies, crumbles, tarts, and tortes arrive. I can hear you negotiating (my clients try to negotiate, I’m used to it).   I really believe that you’ve already had your pie before dessert.  Think about it, maybe you’ve had sweet potatoes topped with candy or Jell-O disguised as sauce or sweet soup. If we’re being adults about this – you really don’t need the pie. Now, 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.

Blacklist on Black Friday- Thanksgiving is one day, Thursday, not Thursday until you go back to work on Monday. If you are a leftover person, stick to turkey, veggies and soup. Stuffing is a holiday food and Friday is not a holiday. I have one client who has pretty containers and makes care packages for guests to bring home. I am fine with stuffing your guests, I only care about you.
Now, 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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Before and After Photos

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.  ~Dorothea Lange

When I got home from work last week, a stack of photos sat on the kitchen counter. It’s funny to see real photos now since all images now generally live on our computers and phones. The pictures came from the marathon Marc and I ran in Sept. While that wasn’t the most pleasant race, if there was one part of the it I felt energized it was the finish. Despite the near-death experience, when I felt the finish line near I got that burst of energy. I “finished strong” or so I thought. You see, my father in law bought a disposable camera and snapped a few action shots of each of us finishing. So now I have evidence that there wasn’t even one salvageable moment on that marathon day.

If a picture were worth a thousand words the first five of those words for these photos would be would be ungraceful, pained, awkward, squat and disheveled. I’ve talked about race photos before and I'm not being harsh. Most people dislike race photos. I honestly can’t believe there are companies (ahem Brightroom) that try to profit from the sale of these images.  I think it would be good for my business to advertise on their website. “This is how you really look, not to worry there’s help out there, who ya gonna call Foodtrainers.” It’s just ironic that you train and presumably get in shape for these races…apparently not, at least not according to these images. At least mug shots are only from the shoulders up.

Later that night,  my 7 year old had a homework assignment. He was to find a picture from when he was a year old and write about it. Does the teacher expect him to recall events at 18 months? And if not who does she think is doing this “writing”? Regardless, we sat at the computer and pulled up Picasa. W. clicked on Puerto Rico pictures. As he scanned through photos, I remembered the boys at 1 and 3 wearing water wings and chasing lizards. As I reminisced a photo pops of the boys and me at the edge of the ocean. They’re jumping over the waves and I’m watching. My back is to the camera so basically you see my butt and thighs. I zeroed in ready to pick myself apart and realized something. If this were someone else’s’ body parts I would’ve thought they looked fine. Pale and pasty but passable.  I smiled as we moved on to other photos.

I am not sure if the camera adds 10 pounds, explains “distortions will be introduced any time you try to project a three-dimensional object onto the two-dimensional surface of a photograph. (Just compare globes with maps, which always make things look a little funny.)”  With race photos so universally hated I tend to think there's something up. However, sometimes looking back I feel I looked better than I remember. It’s the same thing as clients telling me in retrospect they “weren’t really overweight”. It’s a pity we can’t appreciate it more in the moment. They say pictures don't like but maybe they do or maybe we lie to ourselves. Hard to tell.
When you look back at photos, do you criticize yourself or think you looked well? What are your favorite pictures of yourself? Why do you think it’s often hard to appreciate our bodies or looks in the moment? And how gross are race photos?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Cure for Afternoon Munchies

Do you know what these are? I didn't...
Twas midafternoon, when all through the workplace
All energy was gone, without a trace; 

The salads had been eaten at lunchtime with care, 

In hopes that weight loss soon would be there; 

Morning motivation now replaced with dread, 

And visions of sugar danced in everyone’s head.

On our new client paperwork, one questions asks “what’s is your worst time of day for overeating?” It’s no surprise that 3:00pm and 4:00pm are the most common answers (and yes, after dinner is a close runner-up). Mid-afternoon our blood sugar drops after lunch and our morning caffeine has almost run its course. The cravings begin. For some it's sweet, others salty and people start to hunt for something to satisfy themselves. What’s going to do the trick? Maybe it’s something without calories or sugar or salt.  Maybe what you really need is a nap.

The sleep/weight connection is a strong one and I’ve talked about electronic curfews and sleep hygiene before. The less sleep you get the greater your appetite and the stronger your carb cravings will be. But it’s not just nighttime, a 20-30 minute  nap can improve alertness, mood and performance (too long can leave you groggy). Napping can also lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke and isn’t reserved for the stroller set or seniors. Our biological clocks or our "circadian rhythms," are actually programmed for long sleep during the night and short sleep during the day. So what we mistake for hunger in the afternoon hours may actually be a need for sleep. According to the sleep foundation nappers are in good company:  John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap. Though I am unsure about Napoleon (short but not sure of weight), none of these men were heavy.

Some studies have shown that just relaxing can help so don’t be discouraged if there’s no bed in sight,  though beds are best. I first learned the value of napping as a new mom; these weren’t planned naps but what is referred to as “emergency napping”.  I now see an afternoon nap as a treat and on the days I have early clients will lie down for 15-20 minutes before I start to write or return emails in the afternoon. I also put my head down on my desk for a few minutes when I’m at work to disconnect and unwind. 

These are nap facts from Sara Mednick assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life Make it quick

  • Set your cell phone alarm for 30 minutes or less if
you don't want to wake up groggy. (I read a tip elsewhere to have some tea or coffee pre nap, it kicks in just at the time your nap is over)
  • Go dark. Nap in a dark room or wear an eye mask. Blocking out light helps you fall asleep faster.
  • Stay warm. Stash a blanket nearby to put over you because your body temperature drops while you snooze.
Here is a list of all the things napping can do for you:
Increase your alertness.
Speed up your motor performance.
Improve your accuracy.
Make better decisions.
Improve your perception.
Improve performance at work.
Preserve your youthful looks.
Improve your sex life.
Lose weight.
 Reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
 Reduce your risk of diabetes.
Improve your stamina.
Elevate your mood.
Boost your creativity.
Reduce stress.
Help your memory.
Reduce dependence on drugs/alcohol.
Alleviate migraines, ulcers, and other problems with psychological components.
Improve the ease and quality of your nocturnal sleep.

And the cookie? It just makes you look like St Nick and…
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

Are you a napper? How long do you usually sleep? Did you guess what was in the photo at the top? (Hint in the poem)