It’s okay to indulge — sometimes

If you can stick to your healthy eating plan consistently throughout the week, then having an indulgence once a week is perfectly fine.  

I do not have a perfect diet nor do I want to.  Perfection does not allow for holidays, birthdays, monumental celebrations or simply a normal Wednesday gone awry. A flawless diet does not exist because something is going to be sacrificed such as your social life, travel schedule or pure sanity. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a life without some of our favorite foods be it pizza, donuts, ice cream or my Aunt’s prized apple pie. While, this is not a promotion to make these foods a part of your weekly grocery list, rest assure that you can still achieve your health goals and still have a some fun along the way.

If you can stick to your healthy eating plan consistently throughout the week, then having an indulgence once a week is perfectly fine. Remember you are what you repeatedly do, not what you occasionally do. One indulgence won’t ruin your diet just the same that eating one salad won’t improve it. Studies have shown that being “too healthy” can bring its share of consequences. So personally, I welcome opportunities, when appropriate, to enjoy fun foods that I normally don’t consume on a regular basis (see chart above 🙂 ).  Here are some additional tips to help guide your indulgent behaviors.

Don’t write off your favorite treats. Making certain foods forbidden can have nasty consequences— both mentally and behaviorally. Sometimes telling yourself “no” does nothing but intensify those thoughts and cravings. Think of it in terms of a pressure relief valve.  The occasional indulgence can help relieve built-up pressure of cravings and bring you back to a happy equilibrium.

Make it count. Indulging can be defined by the act of pampering or spoiling oneself. It should be a real indulgence and not a pale substitute. While some substitutes may taste quite authentic, most will leave you lingering for the real deal and will not fully satisfy those specific cravings. On the other end, if something doesn’t hit the spot stop eating it! There is nothing worse than the feeling that you just wasted your special treat on something you did not truly enjoy. Be confident that there will be plenty of future opportunities to treat yourself.

Define when you will indulge. You have heard me preach before how strongly I dislike the phrase “everything in moderation”. This message is simply too vague and most walk away with the thought that it’s okay to eat something less nutritious on a frequent basis as long as it’s a small serving size. For example having a daily small portions of dessert is not practicing moderation, it is your habit. Reserve indulgences to special occasions and celebrations such as weddings, holidays, annual festivals, etc. Sorry, but making it through a Monday is not necessarily a good reason to treat yourself.

Plan ahead, when possible. Let’s say your indulgence is spending $$$ on a vacation. Leading up to and even after your trip, you are probably going to be a little more conservative with your wallet. This approach can also be applied to your eating habits. If you know of your potential indulgence ahead of time, try to make sure you have high quality meals and snacks all week. No need to decrease calories, but make the calories you do consume as nutrient-dense as possible.  

8 Habits of Happy People

We are all looking for more, chasing something, wanting something—a promotion, a new car, a bigger house or relationship. This drive lends to the beliefs that “When I get a promotion, then my life will be better. When I get a significant other, then I will be happy.” It is true that these things will make us happy at first— but that happiness is fleeting.

Genuinely happy people have positive ways of navigating through life’s difficulties. Try some of the habits of happy people and see how they work for you.

There is a mistaken notion that major life events dictate your happiness or sadness. This is very common and referred to as impact bias. Impact bias is our tendency to overestimate our emotional response to future events. This is in essence the “whenthen” that people are stuck in that prevents them from being truly happy in the present.

Happiness that lasts is honed through habits. Genuinely happy people have positive ways of navigating through life’s difficulties. Try some of the habits of happy people and see how they work for you.

  1. Appreciate the small things.

Practicing gratitude for what we have is key to being happy. We get daily reminders of how wonderful life can be and paying attention to those can change how you view things dramatically. A good meal, the warm sunshine, a laughing baby, the smell of coffee in the morning and the love from a pet are all things that we can enjoy. Appreciating these little things can really help put into perspective what we really need to be happy.

  1. Surround yourself with happy people

Happiness is contagious. Being around happy people can stimulate your creativity, build confidence, and just put you in a better mood. Being around negative people has the opposite effect. Do you want to surround yourself with people that are having pity parties? Remember that misery loves company and negative people will only bring you down with them.

  1. Stay Positive

Bad things happen to everyone— including happy people. Happy people do not dwell on the negative; instead, they find a silver lining, create meaning, learn a lesson, grow from the experience and find some gratitude.
Examples:
You have to work the weekend. At least you will get overtime and can pay off some debt.
Your daughter totaled the car. Be grateful that she is safe and you have insurance.

  1. Practice kindness and help others

Taking time to help other people not only helps other, but also helps you too. In a Harvard study, employees who helped others were 10x more likely to be focused at work and 40% more likely to get a promotion. The same study showed that people who consistently provided social support were the most likely to be happy during times of high stress. Small random acts of kindness can make a big difference. Saying “thank you” to the cashier, opening the door, returning a grocery cart for someone, smiling, offering a compliment are all ways to practice kindness.

  1. Avoid gossip

Happy people know that happiness and substance go hand in hand. They have deep conversations and avoid gossip, small talk and judging others. They focus on meaningful interactions and engage people on a deeper level to build emotional connections.

  1. Make an effort to be happy

Not everyone wakes up feeling cheerful and blessed every day, and happy people are no different. They make a concerted effort to adjust their moods. They work at being happy despite some of the pitfalls in life that happen. Happy people are evaluating what they can do to make themselves feel better emotionally instead of getting in the “poor me” rut when things do not go as planned.

  1. Have growth in mind

People that have growth in mind believe that they can improve with effort, learn from past mistakes, embrace and make changes. People that do not have growth in mind feel that you are whom you are and cannot be changed— can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Happy people believe in learning new things about themselves and are able to utilize that to solve problems.

  1. Prioritizing

Happy people know how to prioritize what is important in life. People sometimes get so caught up in making a living that they forget to have a life. Happy people make time for what makes them happy such as family, friends, self-care, vacation, sleep, etc. In the quest for success, it is important to know and be aware of what can make us achieve true happiness.

Author Annie Dillard stated, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Happiness is not something that we stumble upon or find; it is something that we manifest. It is an internal reward and we can tap into it anytime that we want. It is not something external that we can pursue, not if we want it to last. Happiness can be achieved with the right habits and even investing in just a few of them can make a big difference in your mood and outlook.

6 Steps to Bathing Suit Confidence

Summer is just around the corner and that means weekends will soon fill up with beach trips, pool days and afternoons in the sun. As a dietitian, I often get asked on what are some slimming secrets and increasing confidence tricks for being in a bathing suit all day. Consider some of these tips the next time you are packing up your sunblock and beach towels and heading outdoors!

Consider some of these slimming secrets for bathing suit confidence next time you are packing up your sunblock and beach towels for some fun in the sun!

1. Don’t Skip Breakfast/Meals.

Nothing good will come from this action so please do not consider it. Skipping meals or going long durations without eating signals your body to prepare for starvation and will slow down your metabolism. Just like your computer, your metabolism will go into “sleep mode” when not being stimulated for an extended period of time. This causes your body to aggressively store calories and will also offset your body’s hunger hormone levels. Basically, you will find yourself extra famished by the end of the day and will be more likely to overeat.

2. Avoid carbonated beverages and salty snacks.

Both carbonated beverages (even sugar-free ones) and salty snacks such as crackers, pretzels, Chex mix and the like can cause water retention and extra bloating. This is definitely not the recipe one wants for feeling svelte and confident all day in a swimsuit.

3. Do pack lean protein sources.

Foods that are high in protein will help you stay fuller longer. This will allow you to spend more time splashing and playing in the water and less time breaking to eat. Protein go-to’s can include eggs, lean meats, protein bars/shakes, low sugar Greek yogurts, unsalted nuts, white cheese varieties. Another perk to frequent protein intake is that it can also help ward off sugar cravings.

4. Focus on water for hydration.

Believe me, I know nothing sounds better than ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day but fueling your body with liquid sugar isn’t the best recipe for staying fit and trim. Confession: I’ll be the first to admit that plain water isn’t the most exciting thing in the world to drink. Take advantage of fresh produce this summer and create natural flavor enhancers by putting fresh cut fruit, herbs or vegetables in your water.

5. Fresh fruit and vegetables make great hydrating snacks.

Fresh produce is naturally high in water, fiber and antioxidants. Choosing fruit and vegetables as snacks help boost your nutrient intake. Natural foods do not have any added chemicals or junk in them, which can often be the culprit for bloated, upset stomachs.  Save yourself some time preparing fruits and vegetables and purchase pre-cut bags and containers from the grocery store to be beach-ready in a snap.

6. Above all- kick back and have fun.

Despite the season of being more active, I understand summer can amplify body image issues with wearing a swimsuit. With constant reminders of magazine covers touting to have the perfect bikini body, even the most confident of women can become over critical of themselves. Try not to let worrying thoughts about how you look overpower the fun you could be having with your friends, family and kids. Summer always comes and goes too fast anyways, so grab your shades, sunblock and let out a big “cowabunga”!

5 Hidden Sources of Sugar

Cutting back on one’s sugar intake is always one of the best first steps to take towards healthier eating habits. However, sugar can be found lurking in every aisle of the grocery store. You know to limit sweets, soda and candy but watch out for some of these hidden sources of sugar that could be sabotaging your health.

Salad Dressing

You’ve heard the phrase that a perfectly good salad can be ruined by its dressing. This is especially true when that salad dressing is nothing but a spoonful of sugar. Believe it or not, a serving of salad dressing can have more added sugars than a candy bar. Beware of fat-free salad dressings as these are usually the ones with the highest amounts of added sugars. Classic ranch, Italian and unsweetened vinaigrettes are good low-sugar choices.

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has become America’s excuse to eat ice cream for breakfast. You read that right. Most Greek yogurt options contain more sugar than ice cream. I know what you’re thinking. “But Amanda, I thought Greek yogurt was supposed to be healthy for me”. You’re right, it was when it originally debuted on store shelves a decade ago. However, most people couldn’t get past the thick, tart taste of natural Greek yogurt, so to boost sales and increase palatability, manufacturers began adding more and more sugar to their products.

Nutella

Nutella just sounds fancy and sometimes fancy-sounding foods are mistakenly taken as healthier options. There is nothing fancy about the amount of sugar found in Nutella. In fact, it’s nearly all sugar; it’s even the very first ingredient listed on the nutrition label. Putting Nutella on toast is no different than covering your toast in maple syrup. You’re much better off with toppings that provide protein and/or healthy fat like peanut/almond butter, mashed avocado or my favorite, an egg!

Granola/Granola Bars

Granola bars gained popularity decades ago because they were the perfect low calorie/low fat snack. Remember low-fat usually translates to high-sugar. Food manufacturers have known this for a long time. If you can’t flavor something with fat, you need to enhance taste with sugar. Even organic, whole-food bars fall victim to being high in sugar. Swap your granola bars for a low-sugar protein bar. Your insulin levels and waistline will thank you. 

“Energy” anything

In the world of food marketing, the word “energy” is code for sugar. Fancy labeling and flashy packaging may make items like energy drinks and energy bars look enticing (especially for athletes), they are simply expensive versions of soda and candy bars. Save yourself the $$ and blood sugar crashes and choose items that naturally provide sustainable energy such as lean proteins and healthy fats. Combine cottage cheese, cheese, nuts or hard boiled eggs with fresh fruit for well-balanced food choices.

 

What is mindfulness and how can it help me?

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD., the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health, Care, and Society, defined it as “paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” The Center believes that Mindfulness is “consciously and systematically working with your own pain, stress, illness, and the challenges of everyday life.”

So, what does all of that really mean? When you are being mindful, you are not letting your life pass you by, you are living in the present, allowing your thoughts and feelings to come to you, but not judging them as either good or bad.

How can Mindfulness help me?

Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the MIND:

  • Lower levels of psychological distress, including less anxiety, less depression, anger, and worry
  • Reduced ruminative thinking
  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Feeling less stressed, more joyful, inspired, grateful, hopeful, content, vital, and satisfied with life

Research on mindful meditation’s effect of the BRAIN:

  • Helps to influence areas of the brain involved in regulating attention, awareness, and emotion
  • Significantly improved the efficiency of executive attention during a computerized attention test (good news for ADHD)
  • Increased grey matter density in the hippocampus which is important for learning and memory
  • Decreased grey matter density in the amygdala which plays a role in anxiety and stress; activated regions of the brain that are associated with positive feelings towards others

Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the BODY:

  • There is scientific evidence to support the therapeutic effect off mindfulness meditation training on stress-related medical conditions including- psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, and chronic low back pain
  • Reduces symptoms of stress and negative mood states and increases emotional well-being and quality of life, among persons with chronic illness

Research on mindful meditation on BEHAVIOR:

  • Better ability to quit smoking, decrease in binge eating, improved sleeping quality, and reduced alcohol and illicit substance use.

How do I do Mindfulness?

Here are some examples to get you started:

Mindfulness Meditation

Find a place where you can sit quietly and undisturbed for a few moments. To begin, you might want to set a timer for about 10 minutes, but after some experience you should not be too concerned about the length of time you spend meditating.

Begin by bringing your attention to the present moment by noticing your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and then leaves your body. Notice the cool air that enters, and the hot air that exits. Before long, your mind will begin to wander, pulling you out of the present moment. That’s ok. Notice your thoughts and feelings as

if you are an outside observer watching what’s happening in your brain. Take note, and allow yourself to return to your breathing. Sometimes you might feel frustrated or bored. That’s fine–these are just a few more feelings to notice. Your mind might start to plan an upcoming weekend, or worry about a responsibility. Notice where your thoughts are going, and accept what’s happening. When you realize your mind wandering, return your concentration to your breathing. Continue this process until your timer rings.

Five Senses

The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses.

What are 5 things you can see? Look around you and notice 5 things you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe a pattern on a wall, light reflecting from a surface, or a knick-knack in the corner of a room.

What are 4 things you can feel? Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture.

What are 3 things you can hear? Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as an air-conditioning, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street.

What are 2 things you can smell? Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn’t have to be a nice smell either: maybe there’s an overflowing trashcan or sewer.

What is 1 thing you can taste? Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. “Taste” the air to see how it feels on your tongue.

The numbers for each sense are only a guideline. Feel free to do more or less of each. Also, try this exercise while doing an activity like washing dishes, listening to music, or going for a walk.

 

Practicing Environmental Control: Work & Home

You must have healthy foods available in order to eat them. Bringing foods into your environment that have the lowest calorie “price tags” is a great starting point. By doing this, you are essentially making healthier food choices earlier than you might normally because you are being proactive in your environment instead of reactive.

So let’s begin this environmental control for your home and work by asking yourself…

  • Do you have foods/snacks that don’t provide a lot of food for the calories?
  • What is something you ate at home or work that gave you a lot of food for the calories?
  • Identify a specific time(s) of day or situation when you more likely to eat higher calorie foods.

Learning to anticipate your challenges and then reducing your caloric intake by the choices you make can help to reduce your calories for the whole day. Without structure, there’s’ almost no ceiling as to how high the calories can go.

Try bringing these healthier foods into your home and work environment…

  • Place a bowl of mixed fruit on the counter, on your desk or eye level in your fridge
  • Buy several bags of frozen fruit to mix into different foods
  • Stock your car and desk drawer with ‘hand fruit’ – apples, bananas, plums, grapes, etc.
  • Prepare a large bowl of cut up fresh, frozen or canned fruit salad
  • Purchase several bags of frozen vegetables
  • Purchase ‘pop top’ canned fruit
  • Peal and cup up fruit and put in ready to go containers.
  • At work, bring the fruit and vegetables with you daily. I encourage you to strive to bring a minimum of 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables to work daily.

The more supportive foods you have on the counter at home, in the fridge, on your desk at work, in your car…essentially, anywhere you are, the more likely you’ll be able to prevent the higher calorie/higher fat foods from sneaking in your diet. Removing temptation/triggering foods and replacing them with some suggestions above, will have you feeling more in control of your environment and diet.