Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Countdown: 10 Tips for a Healthy Holiday, Part 2

Continued from Part 1...

6)      Wait 10 minutes before going back for seconds… and then…
7)      Go back for second helpings of veggies & fruits. Studies have shown it takes your stomach 20 minutes to realize that it is full. Waiting a little bit after your first plateful gives your stomach time to realize if it really wants more food or not. If you do find you (and your stomach) want to go back to the serving line, head for the vegetables and fruit.
8)      Every calorie counts. Be wary of snacking. A half cup of nuts can pack 300- 400 calories; 5 oz of chocolate covered pretzels can be upward of 500-600 calories. Calories consumed from snacking can often be equal to those of a hearty lunch or dinner. If you're trying to lose or maintain your weight, you'll need to make sure you count those snacking calories as part of your daily totals.
9)      You may not have a fitness center nearby, but you can improvise! If   
         traveling takes you away from your fitness center or home gym, plan ahead. Choose a hotel/motel with a fitness center. If staying with friends/family, ask if they have any gym equipment you can use. Or plan a 30-45 minute walk/jog in the neighborhood or around a park.
10)    Set realistic goals/expectations, and be kind to yourself. Relapses and not-so-good judgment when it comes to holiday eating are normal occurrences. If planning ahead and good intentions falter, know that it’s ok and resolve to pick up where you left off as soon as the holiday ends.

 And three more tips, just for the heck of it…
·   Never leave for a holiday gathering with an empty stomach. Otherwise, you’ll be easily swayed from your weight-maintenance/weight-loss goals by the variety of treats offered. Instead, have a piece of fruit, cup of soup, or half a sandwich on your way out the door. You’ll be better able to resist the temptation to overeat. 
·   At a party or gathering, focus more on your fellow guests and less on the food. Parties are really about having fun and enjoying family and friends, not eating. If you feel naked without something in your hand while at a party, make it a glass of water or diet drink. 
·   If you’ve received more than your fill of food gifts, donate some to soup kitchens or neighborhood shelters.

Best of luck to you as you conquer holiday parties and feasts. Have a happy & healthy
holiday season.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Holiday Countdown: 10 Tips for a Healthy Holiday, Part 1

♪ ♫ Jiggle rolls, jiggle rolls, jiggle all the way. Ate too much turkey and pumpkin pie and now I can’t fit in my sleigh, ay!  ♪ ♫

There are numerous reasons why we might gain a few pounds over the holidays… we’re more likely to be stressed, our normal workout routines may get bumped in order to accomplish holiday shopping or attend special events, and holiday parties with food excesses suddenly fill our date books. There are ways to survive the 6 week (Thanksgiving-New Year’s) obstacle course without packing on extra pounds or letting your healthy habits fall to the wayside. Here is part one of a two-part article on tips for a healthy holiday.  (Stay tuned for part two.)
1)  Portion control! Some food only comes around once or twice a year… we don’t have to deprive ourselves of it, we just need to consume it in moderation. That means just one modest helping of the sweet potato casserole, not three.  

2)  Lay off the booze. Every glass of wine, beer, or spirit has about 100 calories, while mixed drinks have about 200 calories or more. Alcohol also weakens your willpower and can reinforce your cravings for fatty, salty snacks. If you just can’t make it through the holidays without a drink, stick to just one or two per event, or cut your drinks with sparkling water/diet soda.

3)  Bake smart! Use egg beaters, Splenda, low fat margarine, applesauce in lieu of oil, low fat sour cream, low/non fat cool whip. If you are attending a party or meal, offer to bring something that YOU know will be healthy because you prepared it that way. Simple substitutions in the recipe are easy to make and most don’t noticeably affect the taste. (Check out this low calorie/low fat pumpkin pie recipe.)

4)  Make your plate colorful! Nutrition experts recommend that your plate be vividly colorful, which means choosing a variety of foods to fill your plate. For example, a plate with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing looks pretty monotonous. A healthier option would be to reduce the serving size of the potatoes and stuffing (you don’t have to get rid of them completely), but add in some fruit salad, green beans, sweet potatoes, and even some cranberry sauce. A brownish/white plate suddenly becomes brown/white/green/orange/red.

5)  Walk, walk, and then walk some more. When we consume more calories at holiday parties or festive meals, we will need to expend more calories through activity in order to prevent weight gain. (Read this for more information on calories in and calories out.) Look for ways to increase your calorie expenditure each day. Some ideas: park the car farther from the entrance to the store; walk the perimeter of the mall (or Walmart/Target store) before you hit the store/section you are interested in, take the stairs instead of the elevator; walk the dog an extra 15 minutes each day; play with the kids with their new toys; do jumping jacks, crunches, and pushups while you watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; throw the football with your significant other during commercial breaks in the big game.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Holiday Countdown: "Healthier" Pumpkin Pie

It's two weeks until Turkey Day. Our mouths are already watering in anticipation of turkey, stuffing, gravy, and pumpkin pie. And our waistbands are already preparing to expand a little to accommodate the additional 5 pounds the average American gains between Thanksgiving and New Year's. With some planning, you don't have to be among that statistic.

No one is asking you to give up pumpkin pie! You can use some easy substitutions to make it healthier.  A 4-oz slice of traditional pumpkin pie brings in approximately 240 calories, 13 grams fat, and 28 grams carbohydrates. (Let's note that pumpkin pie is among THE healthiest popular dessert for Thanksgiving... having less than half the calories of it's pecan pie counterpart.)  Check out the recipe below for a version of pumpkin pie that tastes just as good, with less calories and fat!  Your waistline and your arteries will thank you. And your guests will never know the difference!

Fabulous Low Cal/Low Fat Pumpkin Pie – approx. 150 calories per slice (8 slices to pie)

¾ cup Splenda*                      1 can (15oz) Libby’s Pure Pumpkin
½ tsp. Salt                               1 can (12 fl. Oz) of evaporated milk (non fat or low fat)
1 tsp. Ground cinnamon          1 unbaked 9 inch deep dish pie shell
½ tsp. Ground ginger
½ cup Egg Beaters (or other egg substitute)

Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, egg beaters/substitute in small bowl. Stir in the pumpkin and then gradually stir in the evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell. Bake in preheated 425 F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350, bake 40-50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours.  Use low fat/no fat or sugar free cool whip to top!

*  Note: you MUST use Splenda as the sugar substitute. Sweet N Low will not provide the same effect... I learned the hard way.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Favorite "Suck It Up" Move for Lower Body: Lunges

More than any other resistance exercise, lunges make me use four letter words.  Anyone passing by when I am doing lunges probably thinks I just got out of the Navy. But I force myself to do them because they get results, hence their inclusion in this series of blog posts.
Lunges work the largest muscles in your lower body: quadriceps (front of thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), and gluteals (rear end).  In other words, they work the anxiety producing trifecta over which so many women obsess. (Sorry guys, you just don’t seem to worry about your buns as much as we females do, but this is still a great exercise for you.)
As with any exercise, it is imperative that you have correct form when performing a lunge. Because you change your base of support and line of gravity when you shift a leg forward, lunges also provide bonus fitness points by helping with balance and core stabilization.  As you move into a lunge position, take the time to make sure you are stable and not tipping over to one side.  Contract your abs to help keep your upper body from swaying to one side.  Also make sure that your forward knee aligns over your ankle… keeping your knee at a 90 degree angle ensures you are causing the appropriate muscles to fire and helps protect against injury.
You’ll see many a fitness pro engage in a deep lunge, where their back leg is parallel to the floor, almost to the point where it's kissing the ground. If you’re new to lunges, don’t be intimidated by that… you’ll get there one day too!  In the meantime, go as deep into the lunge as you can. With time and practice, you’ll be able to get deeper and finally achieve the parallel line.
If you’re already a lunge pro, try some variations such as side lunges, lunges with elbow instep, or lunges with arm drivers. You can also do walking lunges, where you lunge across the room or down the sidewalk, lunging one leg forward after the other.
Since lunges work the lower body powerhouse muscles all in one fell swoop, they are a great exercise to do if you're short on time. They're also great if you're looking to gain lower body strength and tone/define that region of your body. Happy Lunging!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Favorite "Suck It Up" Move for Core: Plank Position

Plank Position... it's really not the most flattering name, is it? I mean, it conjures up images of some poor seafarer in the late 1800s, walking the plank to their demise in choppy waters off the coast of Africa. And the first few times you engage in Plank Position, you may feel pretty similar to that poor dude stepping off the edge of the ship to the deep blue below.

The truth is, though, that plank position is a GREAT total body exercise. We primarily think of it as a great core strengthener, which it is. But it also works your upper body (deltoids and pectoral muscles) and lower body (gluteals and quadriceps). In layperson's terms, it fires up your abs, back, chest, shoulders, rear end, and thighs.

Another important trait of the Plank is that it helps us work on our core stability. Remember from the paragraph above, your core consists of your abdominal muscles and your back. That region of our body is the key to all movement. If we lack stability there, we won't have proper mobility anywhere else. It's crucial for everyone to include core stabilization exercises in their workout routines, if for no other reason than to help us with the activities of daily life (like lifting your kid out of the grocery cart, doing chores that involve reaching and bending, and effectively pillow fighting with your significant other)!

If you are new to Plank, start out holding the pose for short durations (eg. 5-10 seconds). Try to do 3 sets, 5-10 seconds each, 2-3 days a week. You can scatter them throughout your workout if you can't do them back to back. Gradually lengthen the time to 15 seconds, then 30, 45 and finally challenge yourself to hold Plank for 60 seconds. It may take you a month or two to reach that full minute, depending on your current strength levels. Remember, if you start losing form (like letting your stomach sag to the ground), you should stop, regroup, and begin again. Always make sure you're contracting your abs, pulling your navel up toward your spine and keep your head in line with your back.

If holding Plank for 60 seconds is already a breeze for you, add some variations. Try Side Plank, Extended Plank (same as Plank but using arms extended from the floor as in push-up position), or Plank with a wide leg stance lifting up one leg an inch or two off of the ground.

After a week or so of engaging in Plank position, you'll start to feel stronger in your core. And given that it is a popular yoga pose, you might find yourself breathing deeply, meditating, and reaching a new level of consciousness when you do it. Or, if you're like me, you'll find yourself saying 4-letter words and cursing the person that introduced you to the exercise. Happy Plank-ing!