Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and the Top 3 Percent

It's almost impossible to go a day interacting with the world and not encounter information on weight loss, isn't it? Whether you're reading magazine headlines at the grocery store, enjoying a little water cooler chat at work, or watching TV, you'll hear all about how to lose weight.

But what about weight maintenance? When was the last time you read an article, had a conversation, or saw a TV show that focused on keeping the weight off? The unspoken assumption seems to be that once you reach the magical state of being thin, you'll magically stay thin.

Most of us know that's anything but true. For many people, losing weight is actually easier than keeping it off. I've worked with hundreds of people who have lost and gained the same 25, 50, or even 100 pounds, over and over again.

I believe this happens, in part, because we focus exclusively on weight loss. Research has found that a mere 3% of Americans eat healthy and exercise daily, maintain their weight, and don't smoke. That statistic amazes me, as healthy eating and daily physical activity are the cornerstones of successful weight maintenance -- and they create healthy weight loss, too. Instead of focusing on get-thin-quick schemes, I think it makes more sense to focus on gradual changes you can actually maintain, because that's the only way to keep the weight off.

There's one other take-away from this statistic, this one for those of us who are already at our desired weight. My husband likes to say, "It's lonely at the top!" and this certainly applies to weight maintenance. To put that 3% statistic into perspective, imagine you're one of one hundred people at a social gathering. Assuming you eat healthy, exercise daily, maintain your weight, and don't smoke, there will be just two others in the group who share your lifestyle.

Rather than focusing on how lonely it can be to live a healthy lifestyle, I prefer to say, "Knowledge is power!" When we know there are few people who have made the commitment to a lifetime of good health and happiness, it's easier to navigate a world filled with conversations about weight loss. We know ahead of time we'll hear all about the latest diets, and who's losing and who's gaining...So, we can plan ahead for how we'll respond assertively to those who question our decision to focus on slow-but-steady weight loss. We can think out our replies to those who question our decision to focus on our happiness, rather than chasing a so-called ideal weight. In short, we can be prepared...and we can stay on track with what really works!

Are you part of the 3%? If so, how do you handle the chronic conversations about get-thin-quick schemes? Let us know below! :)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nighttime Noshing...No More!

One of the most common questions I'm asked is, "Why do I do so well with eating all day, and then after dinner, I start snacking and I can't stop?" Let's take a look at some of the most common reasons...and what you can do instead!

The Reason: You're hungry. Depending on how much time there is between your supper and your bedtime, it's possible to be genuinely hungry before it's time for your bedtime routine. It's hard to avoid nighttime noshing when your stomach's growling!

The Fix: Consider upping the amount of protein or fat in your supper. Explore eating more non-starchy veggies, either with supper or as a snack later in the evening. Try drinking more water, or enjoy a non-alcoholic, decaffeinated beverage.

The Reason: You're up past your bedtime. If you aren't waking up refreshed most mornings, chances are good you're not getting enough rest. If your cravings lean toward sugary or carbohydrate-laden snacks like ice cream, chips, or candy, you may be snacking because you're tired.

The Fix: Get to bed earlier, or take care of morning business so you can sleep in later. Plan ahead to lie down and rest for at least 15-20 minutes when you first come home from work, so you're refreshed for the evening. Develop a nurturing bedtime routine, have a bedtime, and stick to it.

The Reason: You're stressed or anxious, or you don't nurture yourself throughout the day. Many people struggle to follow a restrictive diet that leaves them hungry for hours at a time throughout the day. Others have stress or anxiety that they keep at bay by staying busy all day. Some people give to others all day, without regard for themselves. Regardless of the motivation, the underlying thinking is, 'I deserve to have this treat, because I'm so stressed...my life is so hard...no one cares...I haven't gotten my way all day...I deserve this!"

The Fix: Take care of stress or anxiety. Either eliminate stressors, or use tools that help you cope. Pay attention to your self-talk, and make sure the things you say to yourself are both true and helpful. Find ways to nurture yourself throughout the day, beginning with spending a few minutes every hour connecting with your feelings. Double-check your self-talk; is eating more calories than your body needs really what you need?

The Reason: It's a bad habit. A surprising number of people nosh at night because...that's what they do. They're not especially hungry; they're not especially tired; they're not especially stressed or anxious. In particular, many people associate watching TV with eating, but many people associate "I've just come home from work" with "It's time to hit the refrigerator and eat."

The Fix: Don't just eliminate the bad habit; create a healthy new habit. Consider hopping on your exercise bike or treadmill, stretching, or doing a little light weightlifting while you're watching TV. Enjoy a handcraft like sewing, crochet, or needlepoint. Plan ahead to enjoy a platter of fresh fruit or veggies instead of the usual high-calorie snacks. If you eat because you've arrived home, consider a new habit, like sitting down and listening to favorite music, going for a walk, or playing with the cats.

Is there a reason for nighttime noshing that we haven't explored? Let us know below! :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Recipe: Updated Oven-Fried Chicken

To my husband's consternation, I'm constantly tinkering with my recipes. Sometimes I tweak them for nutritional reasons. For instance, I updated my Tofu Key Lime Pie to make it lower in carbohydrates, so it's easier on my husband's blood sugar levels. Other times, I experiment with recipes to improve their flavor.

Today's recipe is an example of both the former and the latter. Oven-Fried Chicken is one of the most popular recipes in "Luscious," my online cooking class, but I wanted to experiment with making the flavor a bit more like what you'd expect from a fast-food restaurant. I also wanted to replace the Old Bay seasoning to make the breading sodium-free.

Naturally, I won't say this is my final take on this recipe. :) However, if you've prepared Oven-Fried Chicken from "Luscious," you'll definitely notice the difference, and I think you'll be pleased. If you get a chance to try this version of the breading, let me know what you think of it!

Updated Oven-Fried Chicken


Cooking spray (or oil in a mister)
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup cornflakes, finely crushed
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 tablespoon dried basil flakes
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
5 dashes ground cayenne
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground peppercorn mix
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup nonfat sour cream, Greek yogurt, or plain nonfat yogurt
Spray butter (or oil in a mister)


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly coat a dark non-stick cooking sheet with cooking spray.

Combine cornflakes, cornmeal, parsley, basil, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary, cayenne, and peppercorn mix in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place sour cream in a medium bowl. Set aside.

To prepare chicken, place chicken to the left of your workspace (reverse directions if you're left-handed). Place sour cream to the right of chicken. Place cornmeal mixture to the right of the sour cream. Place cooking sheet to the right of the cornmeal mixture.

Using your left hand, pick up a piece of chicken and place in sour cream. Still using only your left hand, carefully dredge the chicken, ensuring that it is well-covered in sour cream. Place the chicken in the cornmeal.

Using your right hand, carefully press the chicken into the cornmeal mixture, then turn chicken and press the other side into the cornmeal mixture. When the chicken is covered in cornmeal, use your right hand to place the chicken on the cooking sheet. Repeat until chicken breasts are battered.

Lightly spray chicken with spray butter. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on size of chicken breasts.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

'Tis Nobler to Eat with Awareness...

Last week, we took a look at some statistics that suggest a table for one is at least a daily occurrence, and for some people, it’s the norm at most meals. Unfortunately, for many people this translates into the so-called “working meal” – that is, a meal eaten while reading, watching TV, working on paperwork, surfing the Internet, and so on.

That’s a shame, as eating alone is a terrific opportunity to practice mindful eating. While definitions of mindful eating vary, to me mindful eating means an awareness of the food itself (its colors, shapes, sizes, textures, temperatures, mouthfeel, and flavors) and an awareness of eating behavior (what, when, why, and how much you’re eating).

I’d also add that eating awareness includes a connection to one’s emotions. As we explore in “Lose Weight,” food is one of the first ways in which our parents nurture us as infants. There’s an undeniable interrelationship between our eating habits and our thoughts and feelings. Eating alone gives us a chance to unearth those thoughts and feelings – and more importantly, change them for the better.

So, the question begs itself: How can you use eating alone as a way to improve your eating awareness skills? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Enjoy a well-appointed table: Break out the cloth tablecloth and napkins, enjoy fresh flowers, and use the good china. Turn off the TV and put your work away. Play soft music. I like to choose music representative of the cuisine (i.e., Indian music with Indian food), but that's just me. Regardless of how you set the table, create a dining environment that makes it clear you matter.
  • Know your anatomy: Did you know taste buds are hard-wired to register the same flavors just two or three times in a row? This is the reason many cuisines combine textures, flavors, and tastes in the same dish to help pique appetite. So, choose interesting entrees, and side dishes that complement them, to keep your meals interesting. Take a bite or two, then switch to something else on your plate, or take a sip of your beverage. Speaking of which...
  • Put your flatware down. Take a bite, then put down your fork or spoon. You'll find you eat more slowly, and you'll need this skill for the next tip, which is...
  • Be an artist (or a scientist). I find more similarities than differences between art and science; both fields interest themselves with describing how things are. So, how's your meal? Really taste it and describe it. Is it sweet, salty, savory, or sour? Hot or cold? Crisp, smooth, or crunchy? Compare one bite to the next. Are they really the same, or can you sense a difference between the edges and the middle? Describe each bite as an artist would, or be a scientist and evaluate your meal as you enjoy it.
  • Check in with your thoughts. One of the initial challenges of eating alone is the mental aspect. It's common for people eating alone to be harsh and judgmental: "Everyone else in the world is sitting around the table with their families, while I eat alone." Not true -- and not everyone sitting around a table eating with their family is enjoying the experience. Pay attention to your thoughts. Are they really true? If they are true, are they helpful? Write down your false, unhelpful thoughts, and change them up to make them true and helpful. Keep them near the table so you can refer to them when negative, harmful thoughts arise.
Mealtime is, of course, a time when we eat to nourish our bodies. Because we're not just our bodies, though, I believe it's necessary to nurture our minds and our souls as we nourish our bodies...and I hope these tips help you do just that! What do you think? Do you have a tip for eating alone and enjoying every bite? Let us know below! :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

To Cook, or Not to Cook?

A student in one of my online classes recently asked my opinion of frozen dinners, noting that she'd read an article that touted their benefits. According to the article, frozen dinners offered a variety of weight management benefits: Their single-serving size means you eat just enough, not too much; they can be stored for months in the freezer; and they're quick and easy to prepare. 

Her timing was impeccable, as I had just read an article that quoted The NPD Group stating that more than half of all meals and snacks are eaten away from home. A few days after I answered her question, I saw another article on the same topic, but with a slightly lower percentage (47% of meals and snacks), this time quoting June Jo Lee of Hartman Group.

Obviously, a table for one is the norm, or at least a daily occurrence, for many of us. So, the question begs itself: Are frozen dinners a good replacement for heading to the kitchen to prepare a home-cooked meal?

There is, of course, the convenience and ease of a frozen dinner, especially if you're cooking for one. It's true that, for some people, eating pre-portioned meals can change their perception of what a serving should look like -- although that isn't the case for everyone, and some people may end up overeating at a restaurant or buffet, just because they can.

For others, the single-serving dinner can be a disadvantage. After eating a 300-calorie meal, it's easy to feel hungry in a few hours, and justify nighttime noshing with, "My dinner was so low in calories...I really am a little bit hungry...I'll just have a handful of chips..." Especially for people with a previous habit of nighttime noshing, it can spiral out of control all-too-easily.

So, aside from their convenience, ease, and speed, I'd have to say no to frozen dinners. There's the obvious disadvantage of freezing, which doesn't improve the flavor, texture, or appearance of foods. Many frozen dinners are indeed lower in fat and calories, but high in sugars or salt, or contain additives or preservatives. Few frozen dinners contain the MyPlate recommendation for 1/4 of the plate from protein, 1/4 from carbohydrate, and 1/2 fruits or veggies.

There are less obvious advantages, too. I read an article many decades ago, in which the author compared cooking to alchemy. I love the analogy, and I think there's something to be said for how empowering it is to turn unappetizing raw materials into a feast that nurtures the body, as well as the mind and soul. Cooking is the only activity I'm aware of that relies on all five senses simultaneously. It's no wonder research has found that cooking helps stave off dementia.

When I was single, I prepared dinner most nights of the week. I used beautiful tableware, cloth napkins and tablecloths, enjoyed fresh flowers and candles, and played music with my meals. I firmly believe(d) I was worthy of a beautiful, delicious, home-cooked meal -- whether or not I had a companion at my table. I haven't seen any research to back me up, but I suspect that there's some psychology involved when you compare eating a frozen dinner from a tray, versus enjoying a home-cooked meal at a well-appointed table.

That said, given the research on how many people are eating alone, I'm guessing there will be a bigger push for single-meal frozen dinners...but personally, I'll stick with cooking. What do you think? Let us know below! :)