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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Top 5 Tips for Handling the Holidays

Christmas is almost here, and New Year's Eve is fast approaching! As we head into these final weeks of the year, losing -- or even maintaining -- weight can be a real challenge. So, let's take a look at...

Donna's Top Five Tips for Handling the Holidays

1. Stay active. This is not the time of year to worry over whether you're logging enough time in the gym, or getting enough steps on your pedometer. All that matters in these last two weeks of December is whether you are moving around as often as you can. Organize a family walk, have a dance party, go caroling, or start a tennis or bowling championship with friends and family using your gaming system. If all you can manage is a ten-minute walk, don't sweat it. Get up and get walking!

2. Plan ahead for balance. There's no better time than the holidays to think about what really matters, and make sure your actions are in line with your beliefs. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to do everything perfectly, attend every party, or drink eggnog and eat fruitcake. You do have to set limits, though, so you can actually enjoy the activities that matter most to you.

3. Manage stress. The holidays, for all their joy and wonder, can also be a difficult time. The general hustle and bustle, societal expectations, loneliness and loss, financial worries, and many other concerns can ramp up in December. Break out your assertive communication skills. Take time for yourself. Ask for help when you need it.

4. Up your water intake. It's one of the simplest things you can do during the holiday season, but it's often overlooked. Staying hydrated is good for your mood, helps you avoid headaches, and does wonders for dry skin. Drinking water also gives you something to do with your hands, instead of eating or drinking at get-togethers. In addition, all that extra water gives you an excuse to head to the restroom, where you can take a short sanity break!

5. Write it down. Whether we're talking about a food record, physical activity, or any other aspect of weight management, you'll find it easier to focus on -- and reach -- your goals if you keep track. Write down your goals, and keep them where you'll see them throughout the day. Keep track of how it goes as the day progresses. Don't worry about being perfect. Learn from what happens, and build on your successes.

 Regardless of what holidays you may be celebrating this time of year, I wish you and yours all the best, and hope you enjoy a happy, healthy December! :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Focus on Maintaining, Not Losing

For many people, December isn't just the holiday season. It's also a time when weight loss is a real challenge. Chances are, you're busier than usual, which makes physical activity and adequate rest less likely. You'll probably face both more frequent and higher-calorie temptations, food-wise. And the holidays tend to bring a mix of both positive and negative stresses, on top of the ordinary stress and anxiety we face every day. Many people find that, despite their best intentions to lose weight in December, they weigh more in January than they did in November.

When I first began working in weight maintenance, the doctor I was working with expressed complete confidence that our clients would gain weight in December, undoing all the hard work they'd put in for the past few months. I just smiled and said, "We'll see." To his surprise, not a single one of our clients gained weight. Most maintained, and a few even lost weight!

How did we do it? It was surprisingly easy! Instead of coaching my clients to continue with weight loss, we worked out a plan for maintaining, instead of losing, weight in December.

Why? Let's be honest: The challenges of the holiday season make maintaining weight a more realistic goal, even if you're enjoying success with weight loss. Maintaining weight does mean you'll need to keep doing what you're doing, of course. But, just as with weight loss, you don't need to do weight maintenance perfectly to do it well!

With maintenance, you have a little more leeway than you do with weight loss. It's okay to stay up late a few nights, enjoy a half-cup or two of eggnog, have a few candy canes, and cut back on your workouts a little (or even skip a few). You won't lose weight, because you're not keeping up with the behaviors that lead to weight loss. But as long as you don't get too carried away, you won't gain weight, either.

That said, I want to point out that the holidays tend to encourage getting carried away, whether the topic is shopping for gifts, partying, or food choices. And, of course, that's why so many people gain weight during the holiday season.

So, this holiday season, I encourage you to consider how you can change what you're doing a little bit. Not a lot, just a little -- just enough to give you some leeway to enjoy the holiday season, without crossing the line to abandon. It's crucial to give it some thought now, and to plan ahead for the challenges you're likely to face. That way, you can relax, enjoy the holiday season, and maintain your weight. So, when January arrives, you're ready to get back on track with your weight loss behaviors that will keep you on the path to health and happiness.

If you're already maintaining your weight, then spending some time thinking about how you'll maintain is even more important. Whatever you're doing on a regular basis is just enough to keep you where you are, so any indulgences you enjoy put you at risk for weight gain. That means it's especially important to think ahead to how you'll create a balance between the things you do that allow you to maintain your weight, and the things you'll do differently during the holiday season.

We'll continue talking about handling the holidays next week. Until then, post and let us know what challenge you face this holiday season, and how you plan to tackle it. See you next Tuesday! :)