Friday, May 15, 2015

Recipe: Navy Bean Soup

When I was a kid, my mom used to make the most delicious navy bean soup. Thanks to some clever changes, my recipe tastes just like hers–but it’s much lower in fat. To lower the fat, I replaced ham hocks with lean ham steak, and use just enough crushed red pepper and four-peppercorn mix to add a bit of heat. I’ve increased the amount of carrots, too–their sweetness provides a wonderful counterbalance to the red pepper and peppercorn mix. The end result is flavorful but mild. You can make this recipe in the slow cooker, or if you're in a hurry, in the pressure cooker.

Navy Bean Soup




6 cups water                                   

1 (16-ounce) package white beans

1 boneless, fully cooked lean ham steak (about 2 cups)

3 carrots (or 10 baby carrots), finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon celery seed

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground four-peppercorn seasoning


Slow Cooker Directions:


Rinse and sort beans. Soak for 12 hours.


Place all ingredients in slow cooker on HIGH for 8 - 10 hours, or until beans are tender. If desired, puree a portion of the soup.


Pressure Cooker Directions:


Increase water to 8 cups. Combine water, beans, and ham steak in pressure cooker, and cook on HIGH pressure for 40 minutes.


Meanwhile, microwave carrots, onions, celery, red pepper, and pepper for about 6 minutes, stirring once, or until onions and carrots are tender. Add onion mixture to pressure cooker after releasing pressure.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Working On Weight Loss SMART Goals? Beware These Traps!

Happy New Year! I hope you're off to a solid start toward your weight management goals, starting with solid SMART goals. We've talked about SMART goals before, but it's worth your time to double-check that your goals are indeed SMART before we move on to two common traps that can trip you up.

So, be sure that your goals are Specific (you know exactly what, when, and how much you expect yourself to do), Measurable (something you can objectively count or measure), Achievable (things that you can actually accomplish), Reasonable (things that you can realistically accomplish, given your lifestyle, health, etc.), and Time-Oriented (your goals should have a reasonable, relatively short time frame -- a day, a week, a month, at which time you re-evaluate and re-set your goals).

Now, let's take a look at two common traps to SMART goal success:

The False-Hope Syndrome

Have you heard the expression, "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst"? When many people develop their SMART weight loss goals, they tend to lean toward hoping for the best. That's reasonable, as feeling full of hope for the future makes it easier to launch new goals. Unfortunately, it also means that it's all-too-easy for new goals to be unrealistic. Then, when those unrealistic goals aren't reached, it's easy to get discouraged and give up, rather than re-evaluate the goals.

Planning Fallacy

Closely related to false-hope syndrome, planning fallacy is when we fail to take into account just how challenging it will be to accomplish a particular task. In the construction industry, it's common to add an additional 30% to any estimate, whether it's materials, labor, or time. If you've ever painted your living room, remodeled the kitchen, or overhauled your backyard, you've probably discovered the truth of this estimate.

There's no guesstimate for how much additional time and effort you'll need to put into weight management goals, but consider some of the common challenges to successful weight management: If you decide to walk the dog every afternoon, how will you handle rain or snow? What will you do if it's snowing or raining or windy? What if your dog is sick or injured, or you're sick or injured? It takes time and energy to work through the challenges that you can predict --- and be prepared to manage the challenges you can't predict right now, too.

So, how can you avoid false-hope syndrome and planning fallacy? First, be certain that your goals are Achievable, and avoid goals like "lose 10 pounds by the end of January," which you may or may not be able to achieve. Although you can influence weight loss, you're not actually in complete control of when or how much weight you can lose, particularly in a specific time frame.

Then, double-check that your goals are Realistic by thinking about the consequences of each of your goals. For example, if you're upping your water intake, you'll need to plan ahead for when and where to get and drink more water, but you'll also need to think about when and where you'll go to the restroom more often.

Finally, be sure you have a Time-Oriented goal -- and your time frame truly works for you. If a particular task is especially challenging for you, then working toward accomplishing it day-by-day, for three days, or perhaps for seven days is appropriate. If you're reasonably skilled at a task, or you're committed to it, then following through for a longer period of time can work. Either way, set aside a day and time to evaluate how things have been going, and re-set your goals.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Recipe: Hoppin' John Soup

This soup is based on ingredients traditionally served in the Southern United States on New Year's Day to ensure a prosperous new year, but my family likes this recipe so much we enjoy it all year long. It takes about 2 hours to make in the pressure cooker, but requires very little hands-on time. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can prepare it on the stove top or slow cooker--just extend the cooking time by several hours.

Hoppin' John Soup


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon bottled minced garlic
¼ teaspoon fresh-ground black peppercorn mix
8 cups water
1 pound black-eyed peas
1 ham steak, diced
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups fresh collard greens, chopped
1 tablespoon Frank’s hot sauce


Heat olive oil in pressure cooker on SAUTE. Add onion, garlic, and pepper, and sauté 5 minutes, or until just tender. Add water, peas, and ham steak, and cook on HIGH pressure for 45 minutes. Allow steam to escape, then add tomatoes, greens, and hot sauce. Cook on SIMMER for at least 5 minutes (soup is improved by simmering for 30 minutes).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dialectics: Awareness, Acceptance and Change

I've been reading about a relatively new behavior theory called dialectics recently. Greatly simplified, dialectics is grounded in radical acceptance; that is, being fully aware and accepting oneself, others, or a situation, without judgment, blame, anger, or justifications. Once we radically accept, we can move along to the heart of dialectics, which is grounded in finding a perfect balance between acceptance and the need for change.

I'll be the first to agree that both radical acceptance and balancing acceptance and change are challenging skills. That said, both are ideas that are essentials in our weight management journey.

How? Being fully aware is at the core of mindfulness--and mindfulness is at the core of healthy eating. Although you can lose weight by following a strict diet instead of being aware of hunger and fullness, it's hard to eat that way indefinitely. In fact, that's a major reason most people end up regaining weight after dieting. When people learn how to eat mindfully -- being fully aware of what, when, why, and how much they are eating -- weight management becomes a comfortable lifestyle, rather than a painful temporary change.

The core of dialectics -- the ability to balance acceptance with change -- is inherent to other elements of successful weight maintenance. The most obvious example is body pride. Many people neglect their body until they become fed up with their appearance, then plunge into a strict diet, as though they deserve to be punished for their appearance. It makes more sense to accept that your body is an amazing and wonderful creation, while simultaneously recognizing that a healthier lifestyle would show respect for that creation -- that is, finding a balance between acceptance and change.

A less obvious connection is the relationship between dialectic thinking and motivation. Simply put, motivation is the answer to the question, "Why bother?" When you're trying to juggle a long workday, an hour-long commute, three kids, a dog, and two cats, squeezing in a workout and a healthy dinner demands some motivation! If we can't find a balance between why we need to change and accepting our body as it is right now, it can be all-too-easy to say, "Why bother? I'm already fat and dumpy. I've always been overweight. It'll always be this way!"

Dialectic thinking allows us to think, "Well, right now I'm fifty pounds heavier than I've ever been, and I accept that. I wasn't eating healthy or physically active for many years. But now, today, I'm taking better care of my body, and one way I'm doing that is by eating more meals at home, and walking the dog with the kids every evening." In other words, dialectic thinking helps us be more patient -- with ourselves, with others, and with the process of weight management.

How can you put dialectic thinking to work for you? Good question! Here are some ideas:
  • Practice mindful eating: Forego distractions (driving, TV, Internet, etc.) while you're eating. Observe what, when, why, and how much you're eating. Enjoy your meal!
  • Look at your body in the mirror, and choose a particular body part or area to focus on (your stomach, thighs, buttocks, etc.). For every negative thought or emotion you notice, come up with a positive thought or emotion about that same body part or area.
  • Take a few minutes to sit down and just breathe. Then, ask yourself what you're feeling, and what you most need. Make a plan to nurture yourself -- without using food (unless you're actually feeling hungry).
There are more ways to put dialectic thinking into play as we make our weight management journey, and we'll explore them next year. For now, I encourage you to experiment with radical acceptance, and with balancing acceptance and change. Next week, we'll take a look at a recipe for New Year's Eve. Until then, I hope you enjoy a happy, healthy holiday season!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Recipe: Hot Spiced Cider

I've prepared this recipe for years, because it's both nearly calorie-free and delicious, making it easy for me to pass on high-calorie drinks that are so popular this time of year. Plus, it's simmered with fruit and spices, which are loaded with phytochemicals that are good for you. I use my slow cooker, so I can make it ahead of time and keep it hot while decorating for the holidays, or when company's visiting. As an extra bonus, it fills the house with a sweet-spicy aroma!

If you prefer, you can use reduced-sugar apple juice, or regular apple juice, but be aware that doing so will add calories. You can also add a splash of brandy or rum (which will not only increase the alcoholic content, but the calories, too!).

Hot Spiced Cider


2 quarts apple-flavored sugar-free beverage (such as Crystal Light) or apple juice
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
3 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
1/2 orange, thickly sliced
1/2 lemon, thickly sliced


Combine all ingredients in slow cooker (or on stove top). Cook on HIGH until boiling, then reduce heat to LOW.