Train Your Mind to Trim Your Body

On January 1st, many of us are geared up to get healthy and fit. But, by mid-February, our diets are faltering and our fitness routines start getting stale. Falling out of a resolution can be a fast downward spiral. If you’re someone who thrives on novelty, how can you make sure that your New Year’s goals last longer than those tempting leftover holiday cookies? There are a few sneaky forces at work when unhealthy behavior spirals out of control, but you can stop that spiral and maximize your momentum using strategies from the field of behavior science.

Behavioral Momentum
Imagine yourself navigating the calorie minefield at a big holiday party: You start out innocently munching veggies and dip, migrate to more hefty hors d’oeuvres (they’re tiny!), and slowly make your way to the buffet table. Before you know it, by the end of the night you’ve sidled up to a giant slice of pie, inhibitions thrown out the window. In behavior science, we have a name for this seemingly inescapable inertia: behavioral momentum. Each small slip-up we make paves the way for us to continue making similar mistakes in succession.

While behavioral momentum can work against us (think an obsessive, mindless feeding frenzy), it can also drive us to achieve difficult or challenging feats (like spending Saturday afternoon cleaning out the entire garage when you only went in to stash a box of holiday decorations).

You can let behavioral momentum drag you down, or you can use it to push you toward any healthy goal. At first glance, a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, eat better or exercise more can seem daunting and overwhelming. But, by breaking down your goal and using behavioral momentum, you can make steady progress through the weeks and months ahead. In the beginning, set a small goal (say three laps in the pool per workout or two home-cooked meals per week). Once you’ve mastered your initial goal, add a little more “oomph” to it each week (five laps in the pool, start packing your lunch, too). Soon, you’ll find that it will become easier to stay on track and that formerly rare behaviors are turning into habits.

Incentive Systems
Let’s face it, as much as we all know how important it is to practice healthy habits, the benefits of a balanced lifestyle aren’t as powerful or as immediate as the payoff of unhealthy behaviors. Sure, healthy people stay mobile longer, are less likely to develop degenerative diseases and generally live longer, more fulfilling lives—you already know that. But when you’re struggling to keep up with daily diet and exercise, there aren’t many instant, tangible incentives for your healthy choices that can compare with the instant (albeit fleeting) gratification you get from indulging in a double chocolate brownie.

Because the inherent benefits of nutritious eating and exercise aren’t always noticeable to the naked eye, it helps to program in external incentives for acting in healthy ways. Hold off on seeing that blockbuster movie, buying that new song for your iPod or having that fancy dinner out: You can use those favorite items and activities as incentives for working on your wellness throughout the week. That is why reward systems work so well when creating health, fitness or weight-loss goals.

Look at your resolutions and set a simple, specific goal each week (eat 5 veggies a day, drink 8 cups of water daily, walk 3 times a week, etc.). When you meet your goal, reward yourself! Building incentives into your efforts will help keep you motivated until your healthy actions become habits.

If self-managed rewards don’t work for you, enlist your friends and family members to help. Pay them each $5-$20 (or more depending on your budget) and allow them to purchase a surprise gift for you with the money. The clincher is: You only get the reward when you reach your specific daily, weekly or medium-term goal.

The Premack Principle
The Premack principle (named after well-known psychology professor Dr. David Premack) is the strategy of using a fun activity as a carrot for accomplishing a less preferred behavior. A good analogy for this strategy is something my brother and I often experienced at the dinner table as little children. When the meal was almost over and the smells of freshly-baked apple crumble wafted from the kitchen counter, we’d push aside our half-full plates to accept a helping of the sweet treat. Then, as if on cue, we’d hear my mother’s familiar refrain: “Not until you eat all your veggies!” Way back when, mom was using the Premack principle to make sure we ate a serving of healthy foods before we indulged in tasty desserts.

If you feel your enthusiasm for your New Year’s resolutions starting to wane, you can use the same strategy to incentivize your own healthy habits. Get your Saturday bike ride out of the way before you hit the mall to check out the post-holiday deals. Load up on fresh fruits and veggies at the beginning of your meals and save the salty, starchy sides or portion-controlled dessert for last. Get tomorrow’s lunch prepped early in the evening and then allow yourself time for a favorite TV show. With the Premack principle, you get your least favorite (or more challenging) tasks out of the way before allowing yourself to engage in more preferred (or easier) activities. This way, you’re more likely to stick to your goals and create healthy routines out of your resolutions.

These behavioral psychology tricks are proven strategies that have been used to tackle everything from writer’s block to learning a new language to marathon training. The key to keeping up momentum is to point your efforts in a healthy direction—and to celebrate each step along the path. Choose something to build (a solid running base, a pantry full of healthy food, a daily meditation routine) and then pat yourself on the back for each step forward. You’ll be surprised how quickly the year goes by as you accomplish goals that once seemed out of reach!

Make a Healthy Diet Your Beauty Secret

 

Make a promise to your skin today to keep it nourished and rejuvenated from the inside out! Having healthy skin year-round begins with the foods you eat and drink. To get skin that you will be confident to show off every season of the year, devote some time each day to getting the necessary nutrients to stay hydrated and fight the signs of aging.

  • Drink plenty of water. While the exact amount you should drink each day varies, no one can dispute the role of good hydration in keeping your skin looking healthy, young, and radiant. Experts agree that when the hydration comes from pure, clean water—NOT soda and fruit drinks—the skin cells rejoice! Aim for six to eight glasses every day.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Sip green tea daily. This beverage contains polyphenols, which have anti-inflammatory properties that protect and benefit the skin’s overall health. Enjoy one or two cups per day.
  • Avoid simple carbohydrates.  Foods such as cookies, pies, cakes, candies, and pastries can increase acne breakouts due to insulin spikes.
  • Nourish your skin. Eating healthy foods can protect, repair, and slow the aging process. Check out the chart below for the top ten nutrients that provide beauty benefits.
Nutrient Beauty Benefits Food Sources
Vitamin A Keeps skin soft and supple.
Repairs skin cells and tissue.
May help with acne control.
yellow vegetables and fruits, apricots, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, cantaloupe, milk, yogurt, cheese
Vitamin C Helps counter the effects of sun damage, smoking exposure, and pollution.

Assists in collagen production, giving skin strength and elasticity.

broccoli, bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, cabbage, pineapple, tomatoes, dark-green leafy vegetables
Vitamin E Helps counter the effects of sun damage, smoking exposure, and pollution.

Improves skin texture and helps prevent wrinkles.

almonds, avocadoes, peanuts, nuts, seeds, olives, asparagus,wheat germ, soybean and corn oils, dark-green leafy vegetables
Biotin Helps produce nails, skin, and hair cells.

Deficiency can cause dermatitis and hair loss.

cooked eggs, rice bran, nuts, wheat germ, meats, oatmeal
Niacin Smoothes dry, flaky skin. meats, pork, poultry, fish, legumes
Selenium May help prevent skin cancer.
Helps counter the effects of sun damage, smoking exposure and pollution.

 

Produces healthy skin cells.

whole-grain products, seafood, meats, eggs
Copper Forms elastic fibers that support the skin structure. meats, nuts, seafood, dried beans and peas
Zinc Can help control oil production and reduce acne lesions.
A deficiency can bring on acne.
wheat germ, meat, poultry, legumes, fish and seafood, whole grains, eggs
Essential Fatty Acids Helps produce the skin’s healthy, natural oil barrier.
Lubricates skin.
A deficiency can result in white heads and inflammation.
cold water fish, salmon, sardines,mackerel, flaxseed oil, safflower oil, canola oil, olive oil, walnuts
Antioxidants Anti-inflammatory properties protect the membranes of skin cells. green tea, blueberries,blackberries, strawberries

 
The real secret to beauty is no secret at all.  Eating these healthy foods will provide the nourishment your skin needs daily, from the inside out.  It is the first step to soft, supple skin and a glowing, radiant you!

Often people will ask me to share the best exercises for weight loss. They want to know what kind of cardio activity is going to help them lose weight faster than anything else. Even if they don’t enjoy it, they are willing to try whatever is going to help them reach their goals more quickly. My response is always the same. So are you ready to hear what the magic exercise is? What’s going to help you lose weight keep it off long-term, and get fit?

The answer is simple: Find the activities you enjoy doing and stick with them. It’s true that some activities burn more calories than others. You’ll burn more in 45 minutes of running than you will in 45 minutes of walking. But if you hate to run, chances are that you’re not going to be able to keep it up forever. Exercise becomes a chore, something you dread instead of something that brings enjoyment to your life. I always cringe when I see people post things like this on my message Boards: “I hate running and have no interest in doing it. But I feel like I have to run if I’m going to lose weight, so can you give me some tips for how to enjoy it?” My response is usually to try it if you haven’t before, but don’t be afraid to do something else instead of it’s just not working for you. I’ve tried swimming before. It was a great workout, very challenging, but not something I enjoyed at all. So I decided that swimming just wasn’t for me and moved on to other activities instead.

We all have those days when we don’t want to exercise. Although I love running, I don’t jump out of bed every single morning, full of energy and ready to go. There are some days when I’d much rather stay in bed. But for the most part, I’ve found something I enjoy doing, so it’s easier to stick with it. And to keep things interesting, I like to train for different races, incorporate different kinds of runs and different routes into my routine. That way my body is continually challenged and I don’t get bored.

Putting personal preferences aside, if you look strictly at what exercises are considered “best”, you’ll get a wide variety of professional opinions. Exercise Physiologists will give answers based on what exercises burn the most calories, which ones provide the most strength benefits, which ones increase power or flexibility. It just depends on your goals and your body. Every body responds differently to different exercises, and everyone has different opinions about what activities we should be doing.

Regardless of the activity, the fact that you are exercising at all is most important. You don’t have to train for marathons and spend hours at the gym to be healthy. “A recent meta-analysis of studies about exercise and mortality showed that, in general, a sedentary person’s risk of dying prematurely from any cause plummeted by nearly 20 percent if he or she began brisk walking (or the equivalent) for 30 minutes five times a week. If he or she tripled that amount, for instance, to 90 minutes of exercise four or five times a week, his or her risk of premature death dropped by only another 4 percent.”

We’re (finally!) at the home stretch of the holidays. I hope you’ve created and plan on sticking with goals to keep you motivated throughout the month of January.   If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking about your goals for 2014. Whether or not you believe in New Year’s resolutions you can’t deny that January is a prime time to kick your routine up a notch after a few months of heavy eating, drinking and general merry-making. And what with the dreary weather and the warmth of the holidays behind us, a little extra boost of motivation after the first of the year can’t hurt! That’s why I am introducing a brand new challenge for 2014.

I am encouraging you to pick a goal of your choice for the month of January. The purpose of the resolution  is to kick off a healthy goal that you can stick with all year long. No extreme crash diets or ultra-intense exercise regimes here; pick something that’s doable for you that you can build upon into 2014! Every day in January, I will be posting daily tips and motivation on Facebook, Twitter, Google+  LinkedIn and our website.
Here are four ways to participate (don’t worry–you only have to pick one!):

1) Post to FacebookTwitter, or Google+  to let us know what your goal is and how your progress is going. Then, we’ll serve up tips and encouragement to keep you headed in the right direction!

2) Comment on our posts, or post your own personal goal-related images.

3) Every day, post an image specific to your goals on your facbook.

4) Finally, if you don’t use social media, Start a blog and update your status or blog every day to keep yourself accountable!

So, who’s in for succeeding this year? Let’s start 2014 off right!
Not sure where to start with your goals? Here are some guidelines for creating successful resolutions:

  • Rather than imposing restrictions on yourself like “stop eating sugar” or “quit watching TV,” try resolving to add positive things to your life. For example, by committing to eat more fruit instead of banning sugar from your diet, you’ll probably start replacing some of the sugar you’re currently eating with the healthy fruit. It will also seem more fun since you’re not actively denying yourself of anything—you’re just adding a healthy choice to your life.
  • The more detailed you can be about your goals, the easier it will be to stick to them! Your goal should be able to answer WHO, WHAT, WHEN and HOW. For example, instead of saying “I will lose weight this year,” try ”I resolve to lose 30 pounds by next Thanksgiving. I will accomplish this by exercising four days a week while staying within my given calorie range.” See the difference?
  • Make a system for tracking your goals. Whether you’re resolving to count calories, exercise a certain amount per week, or drink a set amount of water per day, tracking can really help you adhere to your larger goals in bite-sized steps. I have some great ones to choose from.  Trackers are a great way to do this!
  • Plan! In order to reach big milestones, you will have to shuffle around your life a little (or a lot!) to accommodate for new changes. This might mean making some tough decisions, like forgoing your favorite TV show to go for a run, or cooking a healthy meal instead of swinging by the drive-through. When setting your new goal, make sure that you are 100% willing to make it a priority in your busy life—and then plan ahead of time to achieve it.

Need more tips? Check out our past blogs that help you stay on track!

Psst! Don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on LinkedIN, Twitter, and  Google+ for daily tips and encouragement!

Is Weight Loss Stressing You Out?

Posted: February 26, 2013 in Fitness

Take the Weight Loss Expectations Quiz

There’s no doubt about it: trying to lose weight can be a stressful thing! There’s nothing like trying to stick to a “simple” weight loss plan for bringing you face-to-face with the frustrating complexities of human nature and the limits of our rationality and will power. And even when we do manage to do what we know we should, often our bodies seem to operate according to a different kind of math—where a 3,500-calorie deficit doesn’t always equal one pound of weight lost.

The unfortunate part is that this constant stress can make losing weight more difficult than it needs to be. Research shows that chronic stress can affect your metabolism, promoting fat storage, and increasing cravings for sugary, high-fat “comfort foods.

There are lots of things you can do to manage this stress, ranging from yoga and meditation to a hot bath or a pleasant walk in the park. In this article, however, we’ll focus on how certain (very common) expectations about weight loss can cause stress, and how you can adjust your expectations so that you’re not stressing out about your own weight loss (or lack thereof).

To find out whether your expectations about weight loss may be increasing your stress levels, take the following brief quiz. Indicate whether you think the following statements are true or false. To benefit from this exercise, your answer should reflect how you honestly feel most of the time, NOT what you think the “correct” response might be.

  1. I have taken a careful look at my eating and exercise habits, and I have a good idea of what I need to change and how I want to do it.
  2. I have accepted the idea that I need to make permanent changes in my lifestyle to lose weight and keep it off permanently.
  3. I will feel successful only if reach my weight loss goal.
  4. I know that it took time to gain weight, and I believe it is best to try to lose the weight slowly.
  5. I am working on weight loss now because I really want to, not because someone else thinks I should.
  6. If I can manage to lose the weight, I think many other problems in my life will be solved.
  7. I am willing and able to do a significant amount of physical activity on a daily basis, including planned exercise.
  8. I can lose weight successfully with no slip-ups.
  9. I am ready, willing, and able to spend enough time each day planning and tracking my food intake and exercise activities.
  10. If my weight loss slows down or stalls out, I usually lose my motivation and stop my program.<
  11. When I am having problems sticking to my plan, I usually get on the message boards or the phone and talk about it with other people.
  12. I have many stressful situations in my life right now, but I’m determined to be successful at weight loss.

Scoring the Quiz
Look at your answers to questions 1,2,4,5,7, 9 and 11, and give yourself 1 point for every True answer, and 0 for every False. For questions 3,6,8,10 and 12, give yourself 1 point for every False answer, and 0 for every True. Add your total points up to get your score.

A high score (7-12 points) shows that your expectations about weight loss are more realistic, and you are more likely to reach your goal.

Each question you scored a zero for represents a misconception or unrealistic expectation that might be adding unnecessary stress to your weight loss efforts.

For example, a zero on Question 11 (you don’t talk to others when you have trouble sticking to your plan) may indicate that you tend to keep problems to yourself, which can add even more stress to the difficulties you are already having.

Scoring zero on Question 8 (believing you can lose weight successfully without slipping up) may mean that you are unrealistically expecting perfection. Slip-ups are inevitable, but they also help you learn from your experience. Expecting to be perfect creates more stress when things don’t turn out as desired. Plus, you will learn less about what does and does not work for you in different circumstances.

Likewise, a zero on Question 12 (determination for weight loss despite high stress in other areas of your life) may indicate that you don’t fully appreciate the difficulties of trying to lose weight, or the importance of modifying your weight loss expectations when other aspects of life become difficult. Sometimes, just holding your own and not gaining (or regaining) weight is a very significant accomplishment!

Finally, the most important concept—if you scored a 0 on Question 6 (believing that weight loss will solve many other problems in your life), you may be expecting more than weight loss can deliver, setting yourself up for problems both now and after you reach your goal.

At least two negative things can happen when you start looking at weight loss as the “magic” solution to everything. First, this puts an awful lot of pressure on the daily ups and downs of your weight loss journey. Every slip-up or bad day, every weight plateau, becomes magnified in importance because, in your head, it is linked to so many other important things. You can imagine how much extra stress you generate if going over your calorie budget or skipping an exercise session has come to mean that the career or the relationship you want is that much further away.

Second, the belief that you have to lose weight before you can start living the life you want only keeps you from creating that life right now.

When healthy eating and exercise are just a small part of what you do to care for yourself, you’ll likely decrease stress and progress towards your weight loss goal. A big part of making a successful lifestyle change is putting your weight in meaningful perspective—and you can start doing that right now!

Why Weight Loss is Harder for Some People than for Others

     You’ve been sticking faithfully to your calorie range and exercise plans for awhile now, but you’re not seeing the results you want on your scale. Meanwhile, your weight -loss buddy is happily watching the pounds melt away week after week. Not fair!

Or maybe you’re losing weight but not from the areas where you really want to shed some fat. (Skinny feet are nice, but not so much when your muffin top is still as big as ever.) And then you have that other friend who can eat anything and everything without gaining a pound, while just watching him or her eat seems to make you gain weight.

What’s going on here? Why don’t your efforts seem to be paying off while weight loss seems so easy for other people? Is there anything you can do to get better results?

Sometimes there is a simple, general reason why one person loses weight faster than another. For example, men tend to lose weight more quickly than women, mainly because most men naturally have more lean muscle mass (thanks to their higher testosterone levels), and more muscle translates into a faster metabolism. Men and women also tend to store excess weight in different places—men in the abdominal area (“apple” body type), which is usually easier to lose; women in the hips and thighs (“pear” body type), which is usually harder to take off.

People who have more weight to lose may also drop the pounds more quickly in the beginning of a weight-loss program. This is because the more you weigh, the more calories you burn during any given activity. (Walking with an extra 50 pounds on your frame is harder than walking with 20 extra pounds of weight.) A person who weighs more can also cut more calories from his or her diet without jeopardizing the body’s ability to function efficiently. If you weigh 300 pounds, you may need 3,500 calories per day or more to maintain that weight; cutting 1,000 calories from your diet (down to 2,500/day) will let you safely lose 2 pounds per week. But if you weigh 150 pounds, you may only need 1,800 calories to maintain your weight, and if you try to cut the 1,000 calories from your diet (down to 800/day), your body won’t have enough fuel and your metabolism will slow down drastically, making fat loss harder, not easier. Therefore a person with less weight to lose needs to aim for a smaller calorie deficit, which will translate to a slower rate of weight loss.

Likewise, factors like age and body type can affect how fast you can shed extra pounds. Older people, for example, often lose weight more slowly, perhaps because of hormonal changes and/or because they have less muscle mass or may be less physically active.

So, if you’re comparing your weight loss to someone else’s, make sure you’re not comparing apples to oranges (or pears)—that’s just going to be frustrating and won’t tell you anything useful about your own efforts.

Sometimes, though, people who seem to share a lot of these factors—similar body size, weight, age and activity levels—just don’t get the same results, even when they do the same things. A lot of individual factors, including your individual genetics and quite a few medical conditions (like hypothyroidism, PCOS,and insomnia) and medications (like corticosteroids, or antidepressants), can make weight loss difficult. If you’re in this boat, you may need to work closely with your health professional to find an individualized approach that will maximize your weight loss results without jeopardizing your health.

But more often, slow or non-existent weight loss can be traced to very common problems that can be identified and overcome with the right kinds of changes in diet, exercise, or daily activity patterns. That’s what we’ll be looking at below.

The No. 1 Problem: Your numbers aren’t right.

In a healthy, “normally” functioning body, weight loss occurs when you use (burn) more energy (calories) than you take in from food. This calorie deficit forces your body to take fat out of storage and turn it into fuel that your cells can use to maintain necessary body functions. A pound of fat represents about 3,500 calories of stored energy, so you can predict that a calorie deficit of 3,500 will translate into one lost pound, give or take a little.

By far the most common reason why weight loss seems to be going slower than people expect is that their calorie deficit is not as large as they think it is. Either they’re not burning as many calories as they think they are, or they’re eating more than they think they are, or a combination of both.

The formulas used to estimate how many calories people need to maintain their current weight aren’t accurate for everyone—they can be off by as much as 30-40%, especially if your body fat percentage is pretty high, your physical activity level is significantly higher or lower than average, or you’re counting almost everything you do (e.g., light housework, grocery shopping, walking up one flight of stairs) as “exercise” even though it doesn’t actually meet the parameters of what counts as fitness (a high enough intensity to elevate your heart rate to an aerobic range; a duration of at least 10 continuous minutes for the activity; the moving of large muscle groups in a rhythmic way).

You can have the same problem on the other end of the energy equation: calorie intake. It’s very common to underestimate how much you’re actually eating, even when you’re tracking your food consistently. If you just eyeball your portion sizes instead of measuring them, or if you tend to forget the little “extras” you eat during the day (like licking peanut butter off the knife while making your sandwich, or tasting your pasta sauce while you’re cooking it), you can easily add a few hundred uncounted calories to your daily total.

To fix this problem, make sure your calorie numbers are as accurate as you can get them. Track your calorie intake carefully and diligently, until you can recognize portion sizes of the foods you eat often without measuring. And don’t count the regular activities of daily life you’ve always done as part of your “exercise.”

Remember that fitness trackers and cardio machines only estimate how many calories you truly burn, and these trackers and machines tend to overestimate how much you’re really burning. For a more accurate reading, you could invest in a good heart rate monitor that better estimates your calorie burn based on how hard you are actually working during exercise.

The Second Most Common Problem: Excess muscle loss

We’d like to think that every pound lost is a pound of fat, but in reality, all weight loss involves some combination of fat loss and muscle loss. To get the best results from your weight-loss efforts, you want to maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss. The best way to do that is to include adequate strength training in your exercise routine. Without strength training, a substantial amount of the weight you lose could be muscle (lean tissue), which can reduce your fitness and lower your calorie burning capacity. To avoid these problems (and make it much easier to keep the lost weight off), be sure to include at least two full-body strength training workouts in your weekly routine. You can get plenty of strength-training ideas from workouts and plans that we put together.

The Final Problem: WHAT you eat may matter almost as much as HOW MUCH you eat.

How your body handles the food you eat is governed by a very complex set of biochemical interactions that determine when and where any excess calories are stored, and how easily this energy can be retrieved for later use. For some people with certain genetic predispositions, a diet high in fast-digesting carbohydrates like refined sugar and refined grains can make it easier for their bodies to store excess calories as fat and harder to get that energy back out of fat cells later on when it’s needed. It can also lead to increased appetite and more cravings for high-sugar foods. There aren’t yet any easily available tests that can identify people with this problem, but if you’ve been significantly overweight for a long time and you struggle with appetite, carbohydrate cravings, and slow weight loss, it may be worth your while to experiment with a diet higher in protein and healthy fats, and lower in refined carbohydrates and sugar. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor first, especially if you have any medical conditions/medications that can be affected by your diet.

Weight loss seems so simple on the surface: Eat less than you burn and your body will drop pounds. But for many people, there’s more to the equation than counting calories in and calories out. We are all an experiment of one; you cannot compare your results to someone else’s, just as you can’t expect to have the same results as another person, no matter how similar you may seem to be. Think of your weight loss as a continuous journey. There will be bumps in the road, along with times when the sailing is smooth, but no matter what, you’ll just have to pay attention to the route and be open to making changes in your approach or direction along the way. When you follow those guidelines, weight loss will become that much easier!

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen? No Such Thing!

 

We all know how important it is to prepare nutritious food for our children. But did you know it’s equally as important that we teach our children how to prepare nutritious food for themselves?

Think about it.

When children grow into adulthood, they eventually have to rely on themselves for everything, including feeding. Without cooking skills, I bet you can take a wild guess at where they tend to end up when they’re hungry! (Hint: Grease-stained brown paper bags.)

Knowing how to cook wholesome food is a great way to combat obesity, lifestyle diseases and unhealthy habits. Start bringing the kids into the kitchen at a young age, and they learn early on that food is supposed to be healthful–and made at home.

That’s easier said than done.

Children and kitchens seem to be as good of a match as oil and water, but the only way they’ll learn to cook is by joining you in the kitchen, moms.

It will test your patience. It will be messy. And you will want to send them to watch TV while you finish making dinner.

The good news is that the younger you bring them in the kitchen, the better they’ll get, or at least the more practice you’ll get in the fine art of patience.

Between the spills, the 20,000 questions, and the bickering about who gets to crack the egg, it seems like cooking with little chefs can take hours. However, taking time to work with your kids, even with your busy schedule, can help ensure they live the healthiest lives possible.

Studies have shown that kids who help cook are more likely to try new foods–usually healthier ones. Letting children be in control of a part of the meal, even by allowing them to choose whether you eat carrots or peas for dinner, can help reduce squabbles over eating healthful foods.

Making small changes in your cooking routine and trying kid-friendly recipes helps you work little ones into your dinner prep. Before diving into the tips and tricks of the trade, brush up on your kitchen safety.

  • Always wash hands before cooking and after handling raw meat, eggs, or poultry. This is a great time to teach your kids about food safety! Never use the same knife, plate or utensil on raw and cooked food, and use one cutting board for meat and another for vegetables. Use a clean spoon or fork each time you taste a dish, and never stick your fingers in food you’ll be serving to others.
  • When cooking on the stove top, turn all pot and pan handles toward the back of the stove to help prevent a child’s arm or head from knocking it over.
  • Wear aprons, roll up sleeves and tie hair back to reduce messes, spills and the risk of fire.
  • Teaching proper cutting skills is important. Begin with a plastic knife and show kids how to cut away from their bodies.
  • Keep a sturdy stool nearby so your child can easy reach counters.
  • Keep oven mitts or hot pads handy at all times. A handle that feels lukewarm to you may be too hot for a youngster.
  • If somebody does get burned, run it under cold water immediately. Do not place butter or oil on a burn.Consult a doctor if you are uncertain about the severity of the injury.
  • Don’t assume your children know how to operate kitchen appliances and utensils. When they’re first learning to use can openers, vegetable peelers, and eventually blenders or mixers, make sure to walk through safe tool use step-by-step.

Now that your kitchen is safe, call in the kid and get to the fun stuff! It’s best to set up an area that your children can call their own. If you’re in a hurry, this tactic contains the mess, and it also makes them feel special while cooking.

Perfect tasks for young children (about 2-3 years old) include washing fruits and vegetables, pouring pre-measured ingredients into a bowl or pan, mixing ingredients or tearing lettuce. When letting a child stir, it’s better to make sure all dry ingredients (flour, sugar, etc.) are sufficiently moist before handing the bowl over. This will prevent “powder poof” messes.

Older children (4-5 year olds) with more muscle control and coordination can begin to take part in more challenging tasks. Squeezing lemons and limes, cracking eggs, cutting soft foods like mushrooms or cheese with a plastic knife, or mashing soft fruits and veggies with a fork. Teach them how to use a potato masher, a grater or a whisk. Short, simple tasks are great for kids. Their short attention span will be kept while performing their assignments, and you’ll be able to compile more difficult portions of the meal while they work.

Make sure your little chef knows that a cook’s job isn’t done when the timer dings. Cleanup is just as important as cooking. Have your kids wipe counters, pile dishes, toss waste or put away ingredients after you’re done assembling your meal or snack.

Below is a list of fun recipes you and your wee ones can create together.

Crunchy Healthy Nuggets 
(Serves 4)
1 egg
2 T low fat milk
3 1/2 c whole-grain flake cereal
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Little and big chefs: Put the corn flakes in a large freezer bag and crunch, crunch, crunch!

Parent: Cube chicken on a clean cutting board. (Let elementary-school age kids use a knife only under your supervision.)

Little and big chefs: Whisk egg and milk together in a small bowl.

All chefs: Dip chicken chunks in egg mixture, then place in bag with crunched flakes. (Remind kids not to touch their mouths after touching the raw chicken and egg.) Spread coated nuggets on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Serve with your choice of dipping sauce.

Pita Pizza Party 
(Serves 4)
4 whole wheat pitas
4 T alfredo sauce
4 oz. turkey pepperoni
1/2 c part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 c frozen spinach, thawed, drained (hint: squeeze spinach with old, clean towel to remove most of the moisture!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

All chefs: Lay pitas on a baking pan and coat with alfredo sauce.

All chefs: Add spinach to the top, then sprinkle with cheese.

Parent: Bake for about 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and browned.

Enjoy! You can try any type of sauce, vegetable, cheese or meat on this fun dish! Little chefs can almost complete this whole meal assembly by themselves with a little guidance.

Nested Eggs 
(Serves 2)
2 slices whole wheat bread
2 eggs
1 t margarine
2 low-fat cheese slices
salt and pepper to taste

Parent: Heat a skillet on the stove top.

Little chefs: Use a glass or a cookie cutter to cut a hole in the center of each piece of bread.

Parent: Brown the pieces of bread on one side. Then, melt half the margarine in the center of each hole.

Big chefs: Once melted, older kids can break an egg into the center of each piece of bread.

Parent: Cover pan and cook until egg is firm.

Big chefs: Cover each egg with a cheese slice. (Let little chefs unwrap the cheese.)

Parent: Once cheese melts, remove from heat and serve.

Yogurt and Fruit Parfaits 
(Serves 4)
12 oz low fat yogurt (vanilla works great)
1 c low-fat granola or other cereal
1 c mixed berries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 c dried fruits
1/2 c canned crushed pineapple
1/4 c sunflower seeds
1/4 c chocolate chips

Your little chefs will love assembling these treats.

Parent: Place yogurt plus any combo of the above ingredients into separate bowls, and give each chef a small cup.

All chefs: Spoon layers of goodies into their cups and voila–a parfait!

(They may need a little help spooning the food and hitting the target. Be prepared for a bit of cleanup with this recipe!)

Crunchy Turkey Sticks 
(Serves 4)
4 slices of deli turkey
1 stalk celery
4 t mustard
4 t mayonnaise

Little chefs: Stir mustard and mayo together in a bowl.

Parent or big chefs: Cut the celery in half length-wise, then widthwise to make 4 pieces.

(Celery cuts well with a plastic knife, if your child has developed some hand-eye coordination.)

All chefs: Next, lay the turkey slices flat, and spread sauce on each piece.

All chefs: Place the celery stick at one end, and roll it up!

Also, try carrots or cucumber sticks instead of celery. Or, try ham or chicken instead of turkey.

Strawberry Skyscrapers
(Serves 3 or more)
1 tub low-fat strawberry cream cheese, soft
9 sheets low fat graham crackers, broken in half (to equal 18 crackers)
1 c fresh strawberries
1 c fresh banana (1 medium)

Big chefs: Slice the strawberries with a paring knife.

Little chefs: Slice the banana with a plastic knife.

Big chefs: Place the cream cheese in a bowl and stir until smooth.

All chefs: Frost all 18 graham crackers halves with the cream cheese. Top six graham crackers with strawberries, and six graham crackers with bananas.

All chefs: Stack the banana-topped crackers on top of strawberry-topped crackers, then finish them off with the rest of the frosted grahams, cream cheese side down.

Enjoy! You’ll need to eat over a napkin for this yummy, messy snack.

How to Start Eating Healthier

Posted: January 7, 2013 in Nutrition

15 Simple Ways to Eat Better Today

 

Most people are creatures of habit. We go to the grocery store on the same day every week and fill our carts with the same stuff. If it’s Monday, chicken’s for dinner and Wednesday always means spaghetti. We are comforted with knowing what to expect—even if our meals aren’t that exciting, we know what we’re going to eat.

That’s what makes eating healthier so scary sometimes. We are so used to eating a certain way that we rarely think about what we’re actually putting into our bodies. So to eat a healthier diet means actually waking up and paying attention to what’s on your plate.

Make Healthy Eating a Habit
Eating healthier doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you want to adopt healthy habits that will last, then the easiest way to do it is by making small, gradual changes. Don’t expect too much from yourself too soon—it takes about a month for any new action to become habit.

Before you start making any changes to your diet, take a week or two to observe your current eating habits. Track everything that goes in your mouth, including drinks and treats, no matter how small. Keeping a food journal will really open your eyes—realizing that you ate 10 cookies over the course of the week might make you think twice before reaching into the cookie jar again tonight, for example. You might not realize how bad your present eating habits are until you see an unhealthy pattern right there in black and white. Once you see that some changes are in order, then you’re ready to take the next steps.

Small Changes Mean Big Rewards
If you can’t stand the taste of broccoli, then vowing to eat it more often is pretty unrealistic. But if increasing the number of vegetables you eat each day is one of your goals, start by finding a few different ones that you can painlessly work into your diet. Make sure you select a variety of colors (dark green, red, orange, etc.) to get the most nutrients per bite. Add some shredded carrots to your muffin batter or top your pizza with fresh tomatoes, for example.

If you know you need to eat more fruit, start by adding some sliced bananas to your cereal in the morning or bake an apple with a bit of brown sugar for a yummy, low-cal dessert. Fresh berries and yogurt make a nice, light breakfast or snack too.

As you adopt this new style of eating, you will find that your food preferences will gradually change—when you cut out high-sugar, high-fat goodies, your cravings will actually go away in time. Your body wants healthy food!

One of the biggest challenges to eating healthier is finding substitutions for existing foods in your diet. Here are some tips to make the transition easier:

  • Use mustard instead of mayo on your sandwiches. You’ll get lots of flavor with much fewer calories and fat.
  • Select whole wheat bread over white bread. Be sure to read the label to ensure you’re getting whole grains, not just colored white bread.
  • Eat the white meat of turkey or chicken, which is lower in fat than dark meat, red meat and pork. Animal fat is the number one dietary source of unhealthy saturated fat.
  • Start using lean ground beef, pork tenderloin or fish instead of high-fat cuts of meat.
  • Change your cooking methods. Bake, grill or broil your meals instead of frying. Use non-stick sprays—or better yet, non-stick pans—instead of oil.
  • Drink more water. Slowly reduce the amount of soda you drink and replace it with herbal tea or water. Aim for eight cups of pure water each day.
  • Don’t drink your calories. Eat a whole orange instead of drinking a glass of juice, for example. Real food is usually more filling and more nutritious than juices, fruit drinks, and other high-calorie beverages.
  • Serve sauces and dressings on the side. Dip your fork into the sauce, then dip your fork into the food. You’ll still have the flavor but with fewer calories.
  • Gradually switch to skim milk. Milk commonly comes in four varieties: whole (4% fat), 2%, 1% and skim (0% fat). Gradually wean yourself from the higher-fat varieties to the lower fat milk every two weeks. For example: continue drinking your normal 2% milk for two weeks, then move to 1% for two weeks, and then your palate will be ready for the consistency of skim milk.
  • Switch from full-fat cheeses to reduced-fat or fat-free cheeses the same way you would with milk (see tip above).
  • Order vegetables on the side instead of fries. Flavor them with lemon juice or herbs instead of butter.
  • Snack on fruit and nuts instead of sugary treats. The fiber, protein and healthy fats in this combo will sustain you to your next meal and you won’t have the energy slump that comes after eating candy.
  • Reduce your portion size. Most people will eat whatever amount of food is in front of them, so start putting your meals on smaller plates. You will be just as satisfied because your mind “sees” that you’re eating a full plate of food.

Eating a healthier diet doesn’t have to mean deprivation. You don’t have to cut out your favorite foods completely—you just have to make a few changes. Treat yourself to a mini chocolate bar instead of a full-sized one, for example. By trying to eat the most nutritious foods possible, you are creating a healthy lifestyle that will help you reach your best weight. You deserve the very best!

Start Strong by Starting with the Right Goals

 

     As December comes to a close, people all over the globe are preparing for New Year’s festivities and chatting with friends about their goals and dreams for the coming year. I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. While a commitment to a change can be a great way to jump-start your healthy lifestyle, sometimes people are so brazen about boasting their goals that detailed plans and effective strategies for reaching them can get glossed over.

Below is a list of the most common New Year’s resolutions that are almost destined to be dumped by early February. Are you guilty of setting vague and ineffective resolutions like these? Don’t worry: We’ll show you how to create goals that will motivate you to succeed long after the confetti has fallen.
 
Resolution #1:  I will completely cut out [insert unhealthy vice here]!
     After a holiday season of excessive indulgence, many people decide to quit smoking cold turkey, swear off alcohol altogether, or ban all sweets forever. How many times have you said, “If I never see another Christmas cookie/hot toddy/pumpkin pie, it will be too soon”? While it can initially feel empowering to “just say no” to unhealthy habits, parting ways with a longtime vice is likely to leave you feeling deprived and desperate in the long run. Some research shows that swearing off certain foods actually makes you think about them more and feel powerless in their presence!
 

Resolution Revamp:  Forget about nixing your caffeine, nicotine or sugar fix for good. Instead, set a goal to add something healthy to your daily routine. When you’re trying to boost wellness, behavior science has proven that it is much easier to increase a healthy new behavior than to get rid of an old one. So a better goal than banning soda might be to focus on drinking eight cups of water every day. Or, if you feel powerless around sugar, rather than focusing on avoiding the office candy jar, you could plan to add an extra serving of fresh fruit to your lunch box. Adding healthy habits will give you a reason to pat yourself on the back (instead of punishing yourself for those guilty pleasures). And once you start to meet your new targets and build momentum, you’ll be surprised how quickly those unhealthy behaviors will start to fall away.

 
Resolution #2:  I will reach my goal weight by this summer!
     Maybe you didn’t overindulge this season, but you’re still struggling with some unhappy thoughts about your current weight, dress size or body shape. Losing weight is the number one New Year’s resolution. But, if you go about setting your weight loss goals the wrong way, you’re likely to quit or—even worse—gain it all back and then some! The problem with a resolution to simply “lose weight” is that the results are too far off to keep you motivated.
 

Resolution Revamp: Instead of setting a goal to shed pounds, set more specific goals that account for all of the other small, measurable achievements you’ll reach along the way. Skip the scale and find measures besides body weight and clothing size to track your progress. Whether you count salad lunches per week, pull-ups per minute, time on the stationary bike, or heart rate on your morning hike, monitoring other metrics can help you realize that losing weight isn’t the only benefit for your focus on nutrition and exercise. And because your stats for muscular strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness tend to improve more quickly than the number on the scale, you’ll be able to boast about your results in no time (and losing weight will be a bonus by-product for your efforts).

 
Resolution #3:  I will join a [gym, health club, exercise class]!
     Joining a gym or club can be a great way to reset a rusty fitness routine—but only after you actually go on a consistent basis. Beware those flashy first-of-the-year television ads and deep discounts! Many of those who purchase a gym membership in January bail on their workouts within the first six months. When newcomers are turned off by the extra drive time, the surplus of lycra-clad lads and ladies, the loud music or the crowded, sweat-drenched exercise stations, the apparent perks of the gym atmosphere may not outweigh the pitfalls. If your resolution this year is to get fit, then be sure to assess your wants and needs before signing that health club contract.
 

Resolution Revamp: The first step to fitting more fitness into your life is picking a program that works for you. Start by writing down what you want from your workouts: Musical motivation or a stoic, silent sweat? Crowded classes or personal space? Climate control or outdoor elements? Don’t forget to factor in the commute, child-care options, shower space and more. Scope out contenders and ask for a complimentary day pass to explore at your own pace. If you don’t find a gym that stacks up to your expectations, then strike out on your own! There’s a bounty of online exercise videos and DVDs at your local library, not to mention cheap, simple equipment that will get you fit without breaking the bank. You may find that designing an at-home workout program or enlisting a neighbor as your running buddy is the most economical and empowering way to spark a sustainable fitness habit.

 
Resolution #4:  I will spend more quality time with my [friends, spouse, family]!
     When the gatherings are over and the decorations are put away, post-party January blues can have you pining for a full house and swinging social schedule. Spending more quality time with loved ones is a popular resolution and it is important to your health to come together for happy occasions and celebrations throughout the year. But focusing too much on fitting in elaborate activities with friends, family and children can leave you stressed out and stretched too thin.
 

Resolution Revamp: Take a look at your upcoming events and notice all the time you’re already devoting to helping and visiting family and friends: school plays, dentist appointments, birthday parties, science fairs, etc. Instead of adding to the festivities, pencil in a few hours a week just for you. Get a massage, read a new book, watch the game, take a walk in the park. Feel guilty about taking time out? Tell yourself that taking time to recharge can help you enjoy your engagements even more. Once you’ve gotten into the swing of giving yourself some quality “me” time, then you can add in appointments for phone calls with friends, date night with your spouse, and other group activities. Creating your calendar from the inside out will help you set the perfect pace in the coming year.

 
Resolution #5:  I will max out my savings account this year!
     Everyone’s wallet feels a little lighter after the holiday season, so January is often a time when people consider changing their spending habits. There’s no doubt that financial fitness is good for your mental and physical health. (Think about that downward spiral that happens when you feel like you can’t afford the basics, let alone healthy foods or your favorite yoga class!) But socking money away can also cause stress and tension, especially if you’re lacking a specific goal or the support to make it happen.
 

Resolution Revamp: If your resolution is to accumulate more and spend wisely, involve everyone in your household in the decision to save. Will you break open your piggy bank for a family vacation, a family health club membership, a new car, a kitchen renovation, or a year of college for your eldest child? Choose a goal that’s important to everyone in your home and know how much you need to reach it. Then break down that big number into a per-paycheck amount and, if the overall goal is too far in the future, sprinkle in small rewards for meeting benchmarks – these strategies will help you to stay motivated on the path to savings success. Pinching pennies the right way can strengthen your spirit and lead to long-term mental, fiscal and physical wellness.

 
So, at your upcoming New Year’s party, don’t just follow the crowd and spout simple, undeveloped resolutions. You’ve now got the knowledge to create a personalized plan of action that will help you to start the year off right: with a renewed sense of excitement about your journey toward total health and wellness. Regardless of the specific goals you’re trying to tackle this year, the best and most effective resolutions are always:

  • Small and easy to achieve without much extra effort. For example, start by adding just 10 more minutes of exercise per week (as opposed to the lofty goal of an extra hour, five days per week!).
     
  • Specific and behavior-focused. “Eat 3 servings of veggies each day” is a specific behavior that you can observe and measure while “eat healthier” is not easy to define.
     
  • Designed with a reward in mind. Hold off on purchasing that new jacket, gadget or smart phone app until meet your goal of exercising five days per week or completing your first 5K this spring.
     
  • Taken on one at a time. Overhauling your entire lifestyle at once can be too intense. Don’t be afraid to focus on the exercise first, and start to eat healthier foods later (or vice versa).
     
  • Reviewed and revised often. Revisit your goals at the end of each week to see how well they’re working for you. Don’t wait for the entire year to pass before you evaluate your progress or add in a new challenge.

The Time to Commit to Losing Weight is Now

     It’s easy to say that you want to lose weight. It’s also easy to find the motivation to hit the gym regularly and choose the right foods in the beginning. After a few weeks, our motivation seems to wane and those old, unhealthy habits of yours start to creep back in. What seemed so easy at first is now difficult. You have cravings. You’re tired. You miss those social dinners with your friends and doughnuts at the office. That 6 a.m. aerobics class doesn’t seem as fun, and getting up without hitting the snooze button seems impossible.

Sound familiar? So many of us have fallen into this yo-yo diet and exercise trap over the years. You decide you want to lose weight, start a program, and even start to see some results and then…life gets in the way. Before you know it, you’re off your healthy living plan again. While Get Fit with Joe has the tools and resources that make weight loss fun and uplifting—a true lifestyle change—you still need to commit to using them. You have to commit now and, well, forever. You have to choose to change your life, both when life is breezy and when things aren’t going your way. Whether you have 5 pounds or 150 pounds to lose, you have to get serious if you’re ever going to reach your goals.

So how do you know if it’s time to get real? How do you know if you’re committed to your weight-loss efforts this time around? If any of the five signs below sound like you, then you aren’t 100% committed to getting healthy. (Don’t worry; we’ll help you get there!)

5 Signs It’s Time to Get Real about Weight Loss

Sign #1: You keep waiting to start.
If you really want or need to lose weight but keep putting it off until tomorrow, next week, or even later in the future, you’re not serious about weight loss. There is no perfect time to lose weight; you’ll always have to deal with stress and work and LIFE, and there’s no better way to get started than to jump right in today. Don’t put off getting healthy for another day. Get healthy now. Why waste another day? Right this second you can start improving your health by doing something as simple as going for a short walk, choosing the stairs over the elevator or even looking up the online menu of the restaurant you’re going to tonight and ordering a healthy dish. There’s no time like the present. Your life starts now!

Stop putting it off: Tell a loved one that you’re committed to changing your life and losing weight the right way. Then write down three simple things that you can do TODAY to be healthier, such as drinking a glass of water, walking around the block once or eating two fewer bites than you normally would. By sharing your goals, you’ll stay accountable and by starting small, you’ll build momentum to make more changes. 

Sign #2: You can’t do the things you want to do. 
Did you once love to travel, but now have problems fitting in the airplane seat? Can you no longer play tag or run around with your kids? Does dancing with your friends or walking up a flight of stairs leave you winded? If you can no longer do what you need to do (walk without discomfort, take the stairs) or want to do (visit an amusement park, buy new clothes off the rack), it’s time to get serious. With regular exercise and some simple food swaps, you can be back to your usual self and live your dreams.

Focus on functionality: For motivation, make a list of the things you want to do but can’t do comfortably (or at all) right now. Weight loss isn’t just about wearing smaller pants size; it will help you live the life you want. Your motivation can come from the list you made—all of your goals and dreams, both big and small. Then, with your doctor’s blessing, begin a functional fitness program today. Go for regular walks to improve your cardiovascular fitness, and try these exercises to help make your everyday activities easier to do. Before you know it, the pounds will drop, but more importantly, you’ll be able to do all the things you love to do. 

Sign #3: You’re facing chronic health issues. 
Being overweight or obese puts a huge strain on your body and increases your risk for many chronic health problems, including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, metabolic syndrome, certain types of cancers, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, fatty liver disease, pregnancy complications and premature death. Many of these conditions don’t exhibit any symptoms, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t started developing them just because a doctor hasn’t made a diagnosis yet. If any of these conditions run in your family or you know that you’re at risk due to your weight or lifestyle, see a doctor right away. You can no longer treat weight-loss as an option. It’s a necessity for you to save your own life.

Live longer and healthier: If you haven’t had a physical in the last year, schedule one with your doctor today. If you do have any health issues, seek treatment and ask the doctor what types of physical activity you can do and if there are any dietary restrictions. Once your doctor has given the OK, get started with  beginner’s exercise safety tips and start making healthier food choices to get on the road to a healthier you. 

Sign #4: You give up easily. 
Do you throw in the weight-loss towel after you eat a cookie or miss a single workout? Then you need to get real and learn to forgive yourself. Health and weight issues don’t result from one small mistake during a 24-hour period; it’s what you do day after day, time after time that really counts. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be consistent. So stop beating yourself up for every mistake. We all make them! It’s what you do next that matters. Commit to making healthy choices most of the time, and you will reach your goals!

Get back on track: Promise that you’ll be kind to yourself when you do slip up, and create a get-back-on-track plan. If you’re not sure where to start, try one of these tips! 

Sign #5: You’re envious of others who have lost weight. 
If you feel self-conscious about your body and size around others or feel extremely jealous of other people who have lost weight, then it’s time for you to focus your energies on your own self-improvement. These feelings may signal something deeper that needs your attention. As you might guess, weight-loss isn’t just about choosing to eat right and exercise. Many times, it’s also about having the self-worth to make a change and believing that you deserve to do something positive for yourself!

Make yourself a priority: Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone’s journey and circumstances are different. So instead of wondering why you weren’t blessed with a faster metabolism like your co-worker was, focus on what you love about yourself. The next time you become envious or self-conscious, remind yourself that you deserve good things in life, too, so commit to make healthy choices. Weight loss isn’t a weakness, a desire to conform, or a sign that you’re not awesome just the way you are. Every person is worthy of love, respect and self-care—and maintaining a healthy weight is part of that. 

Losing weight is hard work, but the change begins with you and it starts right now. If any of these signs describe you, it’s time to stop talking about weight loss and commit to it. A great way to begin is by simply calling today 239-896-0590 for a free consultation.