Do your eating habits need a check-up?

Check-Ups. Our bodies need them, our eyes and teeth need them and even our cars need them. You know what else needs a nice check-up from time to time? Your diet.

Check-Ups. Our bodies need them, our eyes and teeth need them and even our cars need them. You know what else needs a nice check-up from time to time? Your diet.

If you are unsure of where to start, keep a food diary for 3 days and include at least one weekend day. Once completed, evaluate what your typical routine looks like and see where improvements can be made. Questions that you can ask yourself can include:

  • Do I eat too much fast food?
  • Do I not cook enough at home?
  • Can I increase how many fruits and vegetables I am eating?
  • Am I skipping breakfast too often?
  • Do I eat too much bread?

Do what works best for you and if you can, incorporate a friend on your challenge so the two of you can continue to motivate each other all month long. Eating healthier never has to be complicated. It can be as simple as choosing to eat something green every day or trying out a new vegetable with every grocery trip. Hopefully, you will come out of your challenge with some new tools to assist with living a healthier lifestyle. You may just surprise yourself how easy eating healthy can be!

For the past several months, my body has been enjoying the benefits of an increased metabolism from being a new mom and breastfeeding. While my overall eating habits have been good, my sugar intake had gone way up. For example, most mornings I would have scrambled eggs with ham, cheese and veggies paired with a delicious Mel-o-Cream donut. With the stress of being a new mom, I found myself also consuming cookies and almond milk literally every night. And I don’t mean 1-2 cookies…I’m talking more like 5-6 cookies at a time. One morning I thought to myself, “Gee it would be really great to just skip the eggs and have two donuts instead.” That’s when I knew my sugar intake was getting out of control and I needed to do something about it.

See, I am also a sugar junkie just like the vast majority of Americans. Sugar is very addicting regardless of the form it comes in such as bread, pasta, cookies, granola bars, pretzels, crackers or chips. When excess carbohydrates are consumed, your body releases large amounts of insulin to shuttle this extra glucose into storage. These large shifts in insulin levels can actually make you crave more carbohydrates and more calories! Additionally, large amounts of carbohydrates (particularly processed forms) can upset your GI system and affect your sleep patterns.

After I finished my last homemade chocolate chip cookie, I knew my eating habits needed a re-boot. I decided to take on a 30-day challenge and of course, incorporated the help of my husband. We have done this in the past and always come out of our month-long food adventure happier and healthier. The purpose of a 30-day challenge is to adopt habits that hopefully will become lifelong behaviors. The first time we took on a challenge, we cut out processed foods by doing the Whole30, and you know what? It forced me to become a cook and now I love making meals for my family every week! Staying away from processed foods for 30 days pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to utilize cooking techniques, vegetables, spices and a variety of proteins we previously had never had before.

My husband and I evaluated our eating habits and each chose an area to work on. My problem was my sugar intake and his was chips and sweets. Let me remind you that the occasional cookie, donut or bag of chips from time to time is perfectly fine! However, my sugar intake had gotten out of control since I was consuming these types of items every single day. I didn’t embark on anything too complicated given the fact that I am breastfeeding and would also have a little extra stress of returning to work. For my challenge, I simply chose to go a whole month without cookies. It was as simple as that! Now, fast forward 30 days.

You’ll be happy to hear that I survived my month without cookies! I swapped my morning donuts for a serving of sweet potatoes and choose protein bars or an apple with peanut butter instead of cookies as a bedtime snack. My goal was not to lose weight but rather help my body wean itself away from daily high-sugar intake. I can say that I feel great, my gut feels amazing and my body is back to craving much more wholesome foods such as fruit, peanut butter, nuts and veggies. It is so refreshing to remind my body how good it feels when it’s not craving processed sugars.


Amanda  Figge



5 Ways to Cure Your Cabin Fever

It’s easy to say “It’s too cold out” and retreat to the couch on winter evenings and weekends. It’s true that the winter months can be difficult to maintain our physical activity routines. If you live in the Midwest or other areas prone to snow, the weather can be an unpredictable hassle. It gets darker outside earlier, and this tends to make us more tired earlier than normal. We also tend to eat more “comfort food” during the cold months of the year. Our bodies can lose muscle mass within weeks of not utilizing them and we can also see changes in metabolism.

With all things considered, physical activity during winter is just as important as during any other season. Here are 5 ways to cure your cabin fever!

With all things considered, physical activity during winter is just as important as during any other season. Here are 5 ways to cure your cabin fever!

  1. Outside is not off limits! Just remember to dress in layers to help insulate your body. Top layers of clothing should be wind and water-resistant, if possible. Outdoor activities include, but are not limited to, sledding, skiing, ice skating (which can also be indoors), snowball fights, shoveling snow, building a snowman or fort, and walking the dog. If none of these are appealing, bundle up and go for a nice walk around the neighborhood!
  1. Use indoor locations as a place to walk. Churches with recreation centers, malls, and other department stores are great options if you don’t want to make a trip to the gym.
  1. Make a “gym” or place to work out in the convenience of your own home! Weights can be purchased inexpensively. Boxes or a step stool can be used as tools for cardio workouts. Jumping jacks and jump ropes count, too!
  1. Whether in your home or at work, use the stairs. We should really use the stairs vs. elevator any time of year, but using the steps during the winter will help increase physical activity that may be hard to fit in otherwise.
  1. Dance! Put on your favorite playlist and have a 30 minute dance session! Dancing burns calories, reduces stress, and is just fun!

Alana Scopel

Holiday Drinks are Contributing to Santa Belly

One of the first things that come to mind during winter is getting cozy with a nice, warm mug of                                                (fill in the blank). Many people don’t realize how many of their daily calories come from beverages, and this is especially true during winter months. Every year, retailers come out with holiday drinks to get us in the holiday spirit. A 16 oz salted caramel hot chocolate made with whip cream from Starbucks has 480 calories, 17 g of fat, and 71 g carbohydrates. McDonald’s white chocolate mocha with whip cream has 320 calories, 11 g of fat, and 47 g of carbohydrates. These calorie amounts would be more ideal for a meal vs. a drink that we sip as we do holiday shopping! 

Many people don’t realize how many of their daily calories come from beverages and this is especially true during winter months.

Here are a few tips on enjoying these drinks in a healthier way:

  1. Skip the whipped cream. As this does add a decorative touch, whipped cream is high in fat and calories. Almost 100 calories can be deducted with this change alone!
  2. Forego any additional toppings such as chocolate shavings or sprinkles.
  3. Many coffee shops have the option of adding “flavor shots.” Unless they are sugar-free and calorie-free, these shots will add just that! Always order the smallest size. Some of the larger drinks can be upwards of 600 calories!

A healthier alternative would be loose leaf tea. Depending on the ingredients, most loose leaf teas are virtually free of calories. These can be flavored with lemon or a drizzle of honey once brewed. If needing an afternoon pick-me-up, choose black coffee. Plain coffee is low in calories and high in antioxidants. Lower calorie, lower sugar lattes can be made using soy or almond milk, with Stevia or Truvia for an added touch of sweetness! You can also download our “Rethink Your Drink” tip sheet for more ideas.

Almond Milk Cold Buster
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  1. 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  2. Pinch of cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, cayenne, pepper, and ginger
  3. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  4. 1 dash Stevia
  1. Heat almond milk in saucepan and add all ingredients. Use a whisk to mix.
Something to Chew

Alana Scopel

“Weight Watchers made me Gain Weight!”

“Weight Watchers made me gain weight!” You would be surprised how many times I have heard this statement. Weight Watchers is a weight loss program that focuses on sensible eating habits to promote slow and steady weight loss. The entire program revolves around “counting points,” and as long as you stay within your recommended daily allotment of points, you should lose weight every week. Points are now calculated using an equation that factors in a food item’s total amount of calories, fat and fiber. Generally, the higher the fiber content and lower the fat content of a product, the lower it will be in points. Fruits and veggies are considered “free points,” so they are unlimited on the meal plan. No food is considered off-limits as long as you count your points for the menu items consumed.

I simply want to inform readers that it is not the right meal plan for everyone and if it didn’t work for you, here’s why..

The program was launched in the 1960s by housewife Jean Nidetch, who had lost weight and recruited the help of her friends to help her keep the weight off. Since then, the methods have observed quite a few changes, but the basic principal of community support and consistent accountability remains solid.

I am not here to bash Weight Watchers. In fact, you can’t ignore the fact that it consistently tops the charts of “best weight loss plans” because many people are quite successful with it. I simply want to inform readers that it is not the right meal plan for everyone and if it didn’t work for you, here’s why:

Calories In vs Calories Out: This is based on the most basic principle of weight loss. In order to lose the pounds, you must reduce the amount of calories you eat and increase your activity level. With Weight Watchers, the total calories you need to consume a day equals your determined amount of points allowed. As you achieve weight loss milestones, your points goal will decrease. I have had several patients state that they are at the lowest level of points, exercise every day and still cannot lose a single pound. Does this sound like you? If so, that’s because more and more we are learning that the type of calories one consumes plays a very important role in metabolism. Another factor may be that you are not getting enough protein or enough fat on the limited amount of points/calories. Plus, it’s never fun (nor a good idea) to starve your metabolism in order to achieve weight loss!

Too High in Processed Food: Since Weight Watchers is such an established corporation, they have their own line of products from cereals to cheese to ice cream novelties. They list the point value on the front of the packages and make it extremely convenient for the on-the-go Weight Watchers participant. Even though these food items are low in calories and perfectly portioned, it still does not negate the fact that they are very processed and contain an astounding amount of chemicals and preservatives in them (just like all of our processed foods)! Sometimes, in order to lose weight, our bodies need to focus on nature’s ingredients and cut out the ingredients that are added in at a factory.

Too High in Carbs: When I have evaluated eating plans that follow the Weight Watchers methods, I often note that it is quite saturated with items like whole wheat bread, low calorie cereals, oatmeal, whole grain pasta, brown rice, beans, 100 calorie portions of popcorn, baked chips and crackers, pretzels, fat free yogurt, skim milk and perfectly portioned sweets. What do all these foods have in common? Carbs! Sometimes, our metabolisms do not respond well when our diets are too high in carbohydrate intake. High carbohydrate food items can cause blood sugar spikes, insulin spikes and leave you hungry and feeling deprived all day long!

Again, I want to reinforce that Weight Watchers is not an all-things-terrible meal plan. It has certainly helped thousands of individuals achieve a healthier lifestyle. I am just reinforcing that it is simply a meal plan. Not all meal plans work for everybody; just like vegetarianism and the vegan lifestyle are not right for everyone. If you have tried Weight Watchers or any other meal plan and feel you were not as successful as you should have been, please consider contacting your Springfield Clinic dietitian. It is our job to find the best meal plan that will work for you and your metabolism!




Grocery Store Gimmicks

Green coffee extract pills, veggie straws, Slimfast shakes, protein bars … the list goes on. This time of year, you’ll find items like these lining entrance ways of grocery stores and displayed on every aisle endcap. To the untrained eye, all of these products look like the keys to successful weight loss. But sadly, most of these products are just promotions that will be wasting your time and money. Remember, your diet is not made healthier by the addition of one single superfood or supplement, rather health is derived from a synergy of nutrients from a variety of sources and food groups. This time of year, I strive to provide helpful reminders of what is actually healthy for you and what is just a big gimmick.

Woman with Shopping Basket

Veggie Straws, Vegetable Thins, Vegetable Crisps. These crunchy substitutions may sound healthier because of the word “vegetable” in their title; but, in reality, they are simply glorified chips and crackers. They are still processed, still contain a bunch of added chemicals and still do not count as a serving of vegetables.

Fat-Free or Sugar-Free Anything. I know it’s incredibly tempting to think that something without fat or added sugar would be a shoe-in health product. The problem is that removing the fat and sugar from a recipe often requires the addition of several fillers, starch modifiers and other chemical substitutes. Basically, you are now consuming a more processed, less-natural food product.

Recently there has been a large movement in health that regards the quality of our food more so than the actual amount of fat, calories or sugar in a product. In fact, America’s obesity trends show that obesity rates began to sky rocket when the low-fat guidelines were implemented back in the 1970s. This stimulates the theory that low-fat or fat-free products are not as healthy as we once thought they were.


Obese Graph

CLICK HERE for graph source

100-calorie packs. While these items are great for their convenience factor and controlling portions, the downfall is that you really are only consuming 100 calories worth of simple carbs and sugars. The lack of protein, healthy fats and other filling nutrients in these items will leave you hungry and dissatisfied. Another point to consider is that these 100-calorie snack packs are the more expensive form of you purchasing the regular-sized version of the food product and separating the package into individual servings yourself.

Pre-Made Super Juices. While I agree that juicing at home is a great way to incorporate extra servings of fruit and veggies into your day, you want to stay away from the commercial, pre-made kinds. Naked Juice and Bolthouse juices seem to be the more popular varieties sold in stores these days. The phrases “100% juice” or “all natural” is quite enticing to most people, but really these sayings do not hold much value. Naked Juice, which is owned by PepsiCo, was sued last year for having “all natural” on their label when in fact, they contained synthetic ingredients. All you are really paying for in these juices is liquid sugar with a squirt of vitamins, not to mention a nice blood sugar spike in persons with pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Weight Loss Supplements. The bottom line is that they are not safe. Every year, dozens are pulled from store shelves due to lawsuits and fraudulent claims; I know this because I worked at Walgreens and would have to do this from time to time. Even though they have a label that looks similar to the nutrition facts label on food products, these items are not regulated by the FDA. This means that the actual amount of the ingredients in each pill could be drastically different than what’s listed on the label. Weight loss pills are often the most dangerous in their side effects, especially when combined with other prescription drugs such as those for blood pressure or heart disease. These supplements may temporarily alter your body’s chemical balance and metabolism which may result in weight loss; however, the results will be short-lived and your body will most likely regain all the weight back once normal eating habits are resumed. Remember, the best recipe for weight loss is the good, old-fashioned habits of eating healthy and exercise.

Weight Loss Wardrobe. Do you remember the Sketchers Shape Ups? I thought that this would be a quick fad, but they keep producing them because people keep buying them! It’s not the shape-ups that help you lose weight; walking and exercise help you get a fitter physique. The same goes for any tight-fitting clothing that gives the promises of burning extra calories during your workout. You may sweat more because your body basically cannot breathe through the material, but keep in mind that sweat loss is not the same as weight loss.

Cleansing Diets. I’ve seen fruit juice cleanses, vegan cleanses and of course the all-star of the group, the lemon water + cayenne pepper and maple syrup cleanse. There is no need to put yourself through the torture of a 10-day “detox cleanse.” Your kidneys and liver do this every day for you. The primary reason you may feel better after participating in one of these cleanses is the fact that you cut the junk out of your diet for the past 10 days. I’ll admit that I have not been eating as clean the past month as I normally do. My skin looks awful, I’m not sleeping well and my energy level is much lower. Do I need a cleanse? No. All I need is more water, less sugar and less processed foods and I’ll be “cleansed” and back to my old self in no time!

Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

One of the most common questions I hear this time of year is “How do I prevent weight gain over the holidays?” The “weight gain season” is typically associated with the time period from Thanksgiving—New Year’s. The answer is rather simple but for many, difficult to achieve. You must better balance the calories you consume with the calories you burn. This misbalance of calories occurs year after year for several reasons.Holiday weight gain

1) During the colder months, people tend to become less active. Weight gain can occur if you are not burning extra calories through exercise yet continue to eat the same amount of calories as before.

2) People also tend to consume more calories, primarily from rich, high-calorie and high-carbohydrate menu items that are associated with the winter months and holidays such as casseroles, spaghetti, mashed potatoes, dressing and sweets.

3) With the holiday season comes increased social interactions and more opportunities for non-homeostatic eating to occur. What this basically means is that we are more likely to eat in the absence of hunger in social settings. Think about the last party you went to and how much grazing on appetizers and desserts occurred while deep in conversation with friends or family.

Year after year, this pattern of decreased activity and increased caloric intake can attribute to weight gain over the lifetime. In fact, many studies have shown that more weight is gained over the holiday season (mid-November through mid-January) over any other time during the year. Researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 52% of annual weight gain occurs over the holiday 6-week period (just 12% of the year).

The next most common question I hear is, “What are some low-fat or low-calorie desserts I can make?” Yes, I completely agree that desserts are a source of unneeded calories, but this is where I side differently than other health professionals in my field. As a sugar-aholic myself, I don’t like my desserts to be messed with; I love them for all their high-sugar, high-calorie glory! Thanksgiving is the one time every year that I get my Aunt’s apple pie. But this is where I understand my habits are different than others; I do have the discipline to turn down some desserts and then allow myself to indulge in others. Plus, I do not believe that replacing more natural ingredients with chemicals (mainly sugar-substitutes) makes a dessert any healthier for you (other than the fact that it may be lower in calories than the original version). This sets the tone of why my holiday eating advice targets balancing calories better rather than finding low-calorie substitutes for holiday favorites.*

  • Don’t skip meals. Many of us will often skip a meal or two in efforts to balance out calories consumed at a holiday meal/social gathering. Skipping meals can trigger your metabolism to slow down and can throw off your hunger/satiety hormones. This can lead to excessive eating and eating beyond the point of actually feeling full.
  • Do choose lower calorie menu items more often. For breakfast on days I know I will be going to a holiday party, I make a big veggie omelet. The protein and fat from the eggs help keep me full between my meals and the veggies help fill me up without adding a ton of calories.
  • Put your appetizers on a plate. Often we converse around the appetizer and dessert displays. When you’re lost in conversation you often mindlessly munch on the food in front of you and may find yourself thinking, “is this my 5th or 9th chocolate covered pretzel I’ve consumed?” Putting your food on a small plate can help you better track how much you have munched on.
  • Make exercise a priority. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we often sacrifice our workouts for shopping and social occasions. If you don’t have a gym membership, purchasing some home equipment is a great investment in your health. If this is out of your budget, then take advantage of walking at the mall or large department stores such as Menards, Lowe’s or even Walmart.
  • Focus on quality. Have you ever consumed a menu item or dessert that really didn’t taste that good but you finished it anyway? To avoid feelings of guilt after eating poor-tasting foods, focus on the flavors of your food. This happens a lot with desserts for me. If after one bite, the flavors just aren’t working out for you, then immediately throw the rest away or cover with a small napkin if you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

*These tips are geared toward the general population. For individuals with specific conditions, it is medically necessary to control sugar and nutrient intake with holiday selections.

For more detailed information on overeating check out this video by Dr. Stephan Guyenet: