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.
When it comes to relationships (with people, food and even health habits), we are greatly influenced by those closest to us. In fact, many experts believe that our habits are shaped by the five people we spend the most time with. This illustrates how powerful of an impact social influence and our environment has on our daily decisions. We cannot blame all our poor decisions on others or our work setting, but I completely understand how the influence of others and demands of our jobs can make it difficult to stay on track with healthy eating. Here are some common traps and possible solutions to help get you through your 40-hour workweek, healthy and guilt-free.
Problem: It’s Andy’s Birthday and that means cake, cookies and other Pinterest-inspired sugar villains.
Solution:Learn to confidently say “no thanks”.
Normally I say it’s perfectly fine to indulge on special occasions; however, special occasions such as birthdays, retirements, Fridays happen every week. In fact, we create special occasions such as “national eat chocolate for breakfast day” to justify eating sugar-rich foods. Try to separate work celebrations and personal celebrations and save those yummy treats for your own milestones. Here’s another trick I like to practice. Stand up tall and turn your head all the way to the left, now look all the way to the right and repeat this motion four more times. As silly as it sounds, remember it is perfectly fine to politely turn down sweets brought into the office.
Problem: Lunch meetings.
Solution: Become a savvier diner. It is very common to go out to eat for social or business purposes during the week. You could always stay behind and eat your lunch by yourself, but where’s the fun in that? Learning to spot out the healthier items on a menu or give less-healthy menu items a makeover is a much savvier way to enjoy your lunch break. You can never go wrong with lean proteins and veggies. It’s also a good idea to make sure you do not have multiple starches on your plate. This may mean removing the buns from a chicken sandwich or swapping out fries for an extra serving of seasonal vegetables.
Problem: That 3:00 slump.
Solution: Prepare for the inevitable.
It happens every single day, so why do we repeatedly torture ourselves with blood sugar crashes followed by poor vending machine decisions? Packing a protein-rich afternoon snack will keep your tummy happy, your focus off the clock and get you through to dinner time without a starving metabolism. The downfall of pretzels, crackers, baked chips and granola bars is that they contain very little nutritional value and zero amounts of protein. In fact, it’s difficult to find a protein-rich snack from a vending machine or office snack bar. Always keep nuts or protein bars at work or pack some extra cheese, meat, cottage cheese, low sugar Greek yogurt, eggs or a protein shake in your lunch bag. One ounce of peanuts, 2 ounces of turkey and 1 ounce of cheese together provides almost 30 grams of protein!
Oh, the smell of winter is in the air. The colder temperatures, snow, ice, winter coats, skiing, sledding and root vegetables. Can you tell this is an enjoyable time for me?
No, actually it isn’t. I don’t like cold, I don’t like skiing, and I’m not a big fan of snow. Yeah, yeah I know, I live in Illinois, but I’m still not use to it! However, I do love root vegetables because you can roast these vegetables and they are fabulous to eat. They are like a guilty pleasure, almost too good to be good for you! Plus, it is super, super easy to do.
As we start a new year, we think about setting New Year’s Resolutions and so many of these resolutions focus around “perfecting” ourselves. Well, let me tell you perfection is quite a funny thing because IT DOESN’T EXIST!!! When we try so very hard to reach the unattainable it can wreak havoc on our bodies and cause anxiety, tension, headaches, depression, etc. Thus, causing a destructive relationship around food.
How many times have you tried diet, after diet, after diet? You lose the weight and then gain the weight back, you know the old adage ‘yo-yo dieter’. We try to be perfectionist on the diet, but find we are trying to reach the unattainable and give up after a while because those food rules and deprivation aren’t working. Then the weight comes back on and the anxiety, tension, depression, etc. accelerates because we couldn’t be PERFECT.
So let’s try this year to let go of the perfectionistic thoughts and regain our relationship with food.
Ask yourself why. Why do I want to fill in the blank?
What is the underlying perfectionistic tendency with this question? Is the WHY because of a life transition like children, spouse, marriage, divorce, career/career change, medical diagnosis, friendship, etc.? You can’t always have control over life events, so because of this are you trying to take control somewhere else, such as with food.
2. Embrace your diet imperfections.
I know this is hard, I struggle with it too, but I’m giving you permission this year to not be perfect. It’s okay to fail and give in from time to time allowing foods you desire to bring enjoyment and pleasure to eating. When you do this, your relationship with yourself and food will be that much more joyful.
3. Focus on mindful eating.
By being mindful of your eating, this allows you to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through your food selections. Using your senses can be both satisfying and nourishing. Thus, acknowledging your response to food without judgment and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to help guide your food decisions.
I have quite a few patients asking for a calorie amount to follow, but I rarely give an actual calorie count to a patient. Instead, I teach patients about the different macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) and how to portion meals and snacks so nutrient needs are being met. Although I do not give calorie amounts often, it is important to be aware of calorie content in the grand scheme of things when trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain a healthy weight. 2,000 calories/day has been set as the average need of an adult. However, this number varies greatly depending on sex, activity level, genetics and so on. Let’s say that 2,000 calories per day is accurate for you; do you know what this actually looks like?
A 2014, New York Times’ article, “What 2,000 Calories Looks Like”, provides examples of a 2,000 calorie meals. I’ve selected a few examples of meals from the article that you can find here in restaurants in our area. Click here to view the full article.
This meal combo meal comes in at just under 2,000 calories!
This includes the “Tour of Italy Sampler”, 2 bread sticks, side salad, and a glass of red wine for 2,020 calories!
“Classic Skillet” with orange juice is 2,000 calories.
Many of these meals (or equivalents) are eaten 2-3 times a day, meaning calorie intake can be far in excess of needs! Calories are generally controlled better at home. I use the #plategoals method to educate patients on food groups and portion control. Cooking at home decreases processed food intake, which in turn decreases calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium—all good things to keep in moderation when trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Lastly is an example of a day’s worth of food prepared at home, filled with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein!
Breakfast: Yogurt with fruit and nuts, 1 slice of toast with jam, and coffee. Lunch: beef stir-fry with farro, pretzels, a pear, and diet soda. Dinner: chicken with arugula, Brussels sprouts and squash, 2 small cookies, 1 glass of wine and water. All of this is 2,000 calories!
This is not going to be your average holiday blog on how to make a healthy, low-calorie, festive feast. In fact, I tell my patients it’s perfectly fine to relax and enjoy a cookie or two this holiday season. While many of us are concerned with weight gain this time of year, the holiday meals are usually not the blame for those extra pounds. Weight gain is more related to our daily habits that we have surrounding the holiday festivities. Before you drastically cut calories and miss out on Nana’s famous apple pie, consider some of these unhealthy habits that could be affecting your metabolism.
#1 You’re skipping meals.
Missing a feeding (or going longer than 4 hours without eating) is a sure-fire way to slow down your metabolism. When you don’t feed your body often enough, it begins to feel deprived and starts working against you, rather than for you. I know it’s easy to skip meals for the sake of saving calories later on in the day, but unfortunately, this works at your disadvantage. Your body is more likely to store calories (both good and not-so-good calorie choices) with frequent meal skipping habits. For persons with pre-diabetes and diabetes, meal skipping actually worsens blood sugar control. Planning ahead is the best approach to assure you feed your body often enough. This is easily accomplished by packing your lunch the night before, throwing an extra protein bar in your purse or creating enough time in the morning routine to allow for a well-balanced breakfast. Don’t forget about the importance of eating regularly on the weekends and with traveling in addition to the routine of the workweek.
#2 Your breakfast is too high in carbs.
It’s no secret that America loves her carbs. In fact, when you walk down the “breakfast aisle” at the grocery store, carbohydrates are the only food source available: cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, pancake and waffle mixes, muffins, bagels, pastries, poptarts and granola. We even find ways to eat dessert for breakfast in the form of cinnamon rolls, donuts, coffee cakes, banana breads and believe it or not, most Greek yogurts have the same amount of sugar in them as a scoop of ice cream. Additional sources from carbohydrates in the AM can come from your juice, milk, fruit, syrup and jelly. Carbohydrates are not bad for you; however, consuming them in excessive amounts with your first meal tends to send your blood sugar and insulin levels on a rollercoaster ride for the remainder of the day. When your blood sugar and insulin levels hit a low point, your irritability tends to go up and guess what, you crave the very thing that will help those levels spike again…carbs and sugar.
#3 You drink too much caffeine.
Before you read any further, heed my advice that coffee is not bad for you! However, caffeine is a very powerful stimulant and can dull the body’s natural hunger cues. Suppressing one’s appetite with caffeine can lead to long periods of time without eating or even meal-skipping altogether. Finally, when you sit down to have a good meal in the evening, rather than use your food for fuel, your body is aggressively storing it as fat as a consequence to being deprived of nutrients throughout the day.
#4 Your snacks lack protein.
Some of the most common snack choices include crackers, chips, popcorn, granola bars, pretzels and desserts. While these foods may taste great, they offer little to no nutrient benefit once chewed and swallowed. They are all very poor sources of vitamins, minerals and protein. Their lack of protein specifically, will leave your hunger pains unsatisfied and not to mention, cause a sharp rise in your blood sugar and insulin levels from the excessive carbohydrate content. For more balanced snack choices, incorporate protein-rich foods such as eggs, meats, cheese, cottage cheese, nuts, peanut butters or protein bars/shakes if desired.
#5. You’re skipping the weights at the gym.
Any form of exercise is better than no exercise, but strength-training specifically has the greatest potential for increasing one’s metabolism. Unlike cardio, lifting weights and even doing body weight exercises can stimulate both muscle retention and muscle growth. Your muscle is the wonderful calorie-burning blanket that wraps around your body. The higher your muscle mass percentage is, the more calories your body burns at rest.
Overindulging on food with family and friends on special occasions should not promote weeklong restrictive eating and guilt. It should be a time you look back and cherish with fond memories. I want you to be able to enjoy all the festivities this holiday season has to bring. Be consistent with your healthy habits and don’t be afraid to partake in some of the joyful delights this winter has to bring!