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6 Ways Eating Out Causes Overeating (And How To Stop It)

by | Apr 22, 2013

Photo by Sebastian Fritzon

Among my health conscious friends, we unanimously agree that eating out is the biggest barrier to weight loss.

San Francisco residents are fortunate that local, high-quality ingredients are the standard in almost every dining establishment (same is true for NYC, LA and other US foodie cities). We have gastropubs serving up grass-fed beef burgers, street carts offering sustainable fish tacos and small neighborhood spots dishing up heirloom vegetables and artisan ingredients.

I know, we’re spoiled rotten. But there’s a downside to all these wonderful options.

Ironically, the problem is that everything tastes amazing and is relatively healthy. Also, the menus tend to change regularly (often daily) depending on what is in season. So there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever be able to enjoy a particular dish more than once.

These things make it really easy to justify overeating.

There are many factors that cause us to overeat when we’re out. Here are the most common, and what to do about them.
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10 Tasty Carbs That Won’t Make You Fat

by | Mar 20, 2013

Photo by Denna Jones

We all know the story. Eating carbohydrates causes a spike in blood sugar, which results in a surge of insulin. Insulin shuttles all that extra sugar into your fat cells and you become obese. Over time, your poor helpless organs become resistant to insulin and you develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, thereby shortening your life by 7 years.

All of that is true.

The story is more complicated, however, because all carbs are not created equal.

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How I Cured My Chronic Insomnia

by | Feb 20, 2013
Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

I don’t use the term chronic insomnia lightly. Have you ever heard of a kid who fakes naps during preschool just to placate the teacher? That was me.

Despite my parents letting me stay up to 9-10pm when I was 8-years old—way later than most of my peers (thank you Dad, you rock!)—I inevitably drove them crazy by waking up at the crack of dawn (literally) on weekends ready to kick off the day.

In high school I averaged maybe 5 hours of sleep a night. Even today I rely on the occasional Ambien to make sure I sleep through a flight or get enough rest the night before an important event.

My insomnia is multifaceted. I have trouble falling asleep because I am very sensitive to light (sometimes I joke that I have invisible eyelids). I’m also very sensitive to sounds and have difficulty getting comfortable.

Once I’m asleep, it’s also way too easy to wake me up. And once I wake up, falling back asleep in less than two hours is nearly impossible. I wake up at any hint of light entering the room, or any abnormal noise.

I’ve tried melatonin, tryptophan, St. John’s wort, camomile, kava kava and antihistamines. Most of them just make me extra miserable because I get groggy and drowsy, but still can’t fall asleep. Ambien has been the only prescription sleep aid that works for me without major side effects, but it is not for everyone and I certainly did not want to rely on it for my day-to-day sleep hygiene.

But with a combination of these techniques, I’ve been able to control my insomniac tendencies and boost my sleep to a solid seven hours a night.

9 Tips To Cure Insomnia

1. Get on a consistent sleeping schedule

This one is probably the most important. The circadian rhythms that control your sleep-wake cycle originate in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus (specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus, for you neuroscience geeks).

These neurons are sensitive to light and work to sync your biological clock to regular light-dark hours. The more consistent these are, the stronger your body will respond to natural circadian rhythms and the easier it will be to fall asleep when you’re supposed to.

2. No interactive screen time 1 hour before bed

As mentioned above, bright light can impact your circadian rhythms and staring into a computer screen late into the night can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Working and other mental activity can also keep your mind alert and prevent it from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to unplug when you’re a workaholic, but a good night’s sleep does more for my productivity than I could ever achieve in the 12th or 14th hour of my workday, so I’ve learned to disengage well before bedtime.

Though I haven’t had any problems from watching TV or a movie, it’s best to stay away from any devices that require input from you for the last hour before bed. This means you should turn off the computers, smart phones, video games and tablets, no matter how badly you want to level up. Instead, try to quiet your mind by taking a bath, reading a book, having some herbal tea, cleaning up the house, listening to music or practicing meditation.

3. Don’t eat too late

Eating close to bed time, particularly a high-calorie, heavy meal, is associated with poorer sleep quality. I’ve also noticed this in myself, and when I avoid late night eating I get better, more consistent sleep. If you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water and going to bed on an empty stomach instead. You certainly won’t starve to death.

4. Exercise daily

The best sleep I ever got was when I was marathon training at 5am every weekday before school. I fell asleep like clockwork at 10:30pm every night. It was glorious.

Heavy exercise is certainly a great way to invoke sound sleep, but even moderate activity like walking 10,000 steps each day can make a big difference in sleep quality. If you aren’t sure how much activity you’re getting, a Fitbit pedometer might be a good investment.

5. No caffeine after 1pm

This one was hard for me to believe. I’d been a heavy coffee drinker from a young age, and never thought it affected my sleep one way or another. If I was really tired during finals, coffee never seemed to help much and there were a few times when I fell asleep not too long after having a double espresso.

I’m not sure if I changed or if my sleep cycle was just so messed up that I couldn’t detect relevant differences, but now that I’ve switched to drinking mainly tea I’ve noticed that if I drink any caffeine too late in the day it is harder to fall asleep. I try not to drink coffee after 12pm, but 1pm is sometimes more realistic.

6. Use a white noise machine

My old apartment was just two doors down from a bustling freeway off ramp, and as you can imagine the traffic noise was constant. As someone who is very sensitive to noise, this posed a tremendous problem.

I’ve tried sleeping with ear plugs, but I have small ears and find them very uncomfortable. The solution that works best for me to control noise disturbances is the Sleepmate, a white noise machine that is quiet enough to ignore but drowns out most other ambient noise. This thing is a lifesaver if you’re stuck in a noisy neighborhood.

7. Black out shades or sleep mask

I realized early on that I’m sensitive to even the slightest amount of light in a room, even small ones like a laptop charging light.

If you’ve taken care of all the light sources inside your bedroom but are still bothered by light that sneaks in under the door or through the window, consider getting some black out shades or a sleep mask. The shades work great but can be expensive and kind of ugly. If you go with a mask, I find that the cheaper, less cushy ones are the most comfortable. Mine looks a lot like this one for under $2.

8. Don’t drink too much alcohol

Though a small nightcap can often help me relax and fall asleep faster, too much alcohol is proven to disturb sleep and can cause you to wake up early. If you like to party, keep in mind that it may be impacting your life in more negative ways than you think.

9 . Practice mindfulness

Though light, noise and bad habits all play a role in my sleep problems, I’m convinced that at the root of it all is a wandering mind. These other factors just add levels of distraction to my already overstimulated brain.

In our plugged in world, constant interruptions are making it progressively difficult to keep your attention on a single task long enough to get it done. For me, the nightly task that eludes me is sleep.

Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis (e.g. spending a few seconds a day focusing on my breathing or taking the time to eat a bite of food slowly with my eyes closed) gives me the power to truly relax my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep rather than letting it drift to all the things I need to get done the following day.

Mindfulness isn’t easy, but the only way to get better is through practice. Whenever you’re waiting for an elevator, standing in line, walking up stairs, taking a bite of food, take a few seconds to reflect on where you are and how your body feels. Focus on a few breaths, in and out, and get accustomed to letting go of your worries. The longer you can sustain this practice the easier it will be to let go of your problems and get a good night’s sleep.

What helps you sleep better?

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How To Break A Sugar Addiction

by | Feb 18, 2013
Photo by joe.oconnell

Photo by joe.oconnell

“I eat way too much sugar and have constant cravings for it that make me feel like I am addicted … do you have any suggestions for cutting back?”

There is still a debate over whether or not sugar is an addictive substance. From the data I’ve seen and people I’ve talked to, I’d guess it probably is.

But whatever the answer, the important question for most of us is how to kill the cravings that have us eating so much sugar in the first place.

Cravings exist in both the body and the mind, and you will have the best luck overcoming them if you address both simultaneously.

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10 Tips To Save Money While Eating Healthy

by | Feb 4, 2013

Collards, Carrots and Lentils Recipe (click for recipe)

Most people consider it common knowledge that healthy food is expensive and unhealthy food is cheap—that’s why we’re all so fat, right?

But for most people it does not need to be this way. Since I upgraded my healthstyle not only have I lost weight and become healthier, I have also managed to save more money.


In a nut shell, I started cooking more at home.

It is a sad reflection on our culture that so many people rely on fast food for their daily sustenance, and my heart goes out to those who truly cannot afford better. But I contend that many of the bad decisions we make about food each day are more an issue of (perceived) convenience than price.

Last I checked burritos in San Francisco averaged over $5. And if you have properly set up your kitchen you will find it actually takes less time to cook a healthy meal than it does to place and fill your order at El Farolito.

Every penny counts in this brutal economy. Here are a few tricks you can use to save a buck and get a little healthier too.

10 Tips For Eating Healthy On A Budget

  • Cook at home The most important change I made to save money was to turn cooking at home into my default option rather than rely on neighborhood eateries as my go-to cop out. Eating out is expensive, no matter which way you cut it.
  • Shop on weekends If you already have fresh food in the fridge you will be more motivated to cook for yourself instead of going out and spending money. Make the habit of buying food ahead of time and you won’t be as tempted to waste money going out.
  • Shop seasonally When choosing what to eat, taste trumps health 90% of the time. (That’s why you rolled your eyes when I suggested you eat fewer burritos.) If you really want to start eating healthy you must want to eat vegetables, and that will only happen if the ones you buy taste delicious. Seasonal, farm fresh produce can completely change how you feel about vegetables and fruits—it also tends to be the best deal in the produce section.
  • Shop at the farmers market In my experience the best tasting produce in a chain grocery store is at Whole Foods. But if you have ever been shopping there you know what a dent it can put in your wallet (this does not apply to their non-fresh items, which are competitively priced and often cheaper than other stores). Rather than handing over your Whole Paycheck or settling for less than inspiring options at Safeway, do your weekly produce shopping at your local farmers market. If you shop intelligently (see below) you can get 2 meals for the cost of one burrito.
  • Focus on leafy greens Leafy greens like kale, chard, collards, spinach and broccoli are some of the most nutritious, least expensive things you can buy. And this is true at any grocery store, not just the farmers market. Frequently, half a bunch of kale with some beans, grains and herbs is my entire dinner and costs around $1.50. It also takes less than 15 minutes to prepare. Can you beat that?
  • Buy in bulk Canned beans are fine, but dried beans taste better and are way cheaper. Grains from the bulk bins at your local health food store are only pennies per serving. Cook these staples in large batches and save them in your freezer for cheap, quick and nutritious food anytime. This is also true of lentils. Just add some greens and you’re good to go.
  • Eat less meat This is probably the easiest way to save money. Whether at the grocery store or at restaurants meat is always the most expensive thing on the menu. I do not advocate a vegetarian diet, but limiting meat to once or twice a week is an easy way to cut back on both calories and expenses. If you are worried about protein (you needn’t be) you can eat beans, eggs and lentils instead.
  • Use fish from cans Fish is an important part of a healthy diet, but fresh fish can be expensive (especially the wild sustainable kinds). Canned salmon, sardines (boneless, skinless), smoked mackerel and anchovies are inexpensive alternatives for protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Make fruit dessert If you think the farmers market is expensive my bet is you spend most of your money on fruits. I am the first to admit that fruit can be very expensive, especially summertime berries and stone fruits. While I do recommend you invest in some high-quality farmers market fruit, it will be easier on your wallet if you consider fruit a treat.
  • Think long term I am not arguing that buying every single food item at the farmers market is the cheapest way to shop, but it is almost certainly the healthiest. Our hedonistic tendencies may incline us toward cheap, greasy foods but you should consider what you are really paying for in the long run. Poor diet can be attributed to most cases of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and a generally difficult, painful life. And I probably don’t need to convince you that a farm fresh salad costs less than a hospital trip and a lifetime of medication. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive, but unhealthy eating can cost you your life.

What are your favorite money saving tips for healthy eating?

This post was originally published on May 20, 2009.

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How To Eat Healthy Without Being A Buzzkill

by | Jan 30, 2013

Photo by Monster Pete

Everyone knows we should all be eating healthier, working out more and generally making better life decisions. Problem is, once you actually start doing those things, nobody wants to hear about it.

As ridiculous as it sounds, people don’t like to know when other people are taking the initiative to do things they know they should be doing themselves but haven’t had the discipline to start. If you aren’t careful about it your best efforts can earn you enemies or worse, lose you friends.

No one likes to be reminded about their own failings, so how do you maintain your healthy habits without offending the people around you who don’t appreciate your efforts?

Over the past several years I’ve used a handful of different tactics to deflect the worst intentions of naysayers. Here are the one’s I’ve found to work best.

How To Eat Healthy Without Being A Buzzkill

1. Don’t get defensive

The worst thing you can do when some criticizes you for ordering a salad is to get defensive and start preaching your nutritional superiority. I’ve seen this done, and it doesn’t end well. Whatever you do, keep an upbeat tone and maintain perspective. Not everyone understands the importance of their daily food decisions, and it’s not your job to educate them.

Instead of:

“At least I’m not going to have diabetes by the time I’m 40!”


“Actually the salad here is tasty as hell, have you tried it?”

2. Use humor

Without getting defensive, you can still jab back a bit so long as it is clear you’re being playful and joking. If someone asks why you aren’t eating from the giant Costco tub of brownie bites, cracking a joke about how it isn’t your vice of choice today can break the ice and get the attention off your healthy decision.

Instead of:

“Eeeewwwww. Haven’t you ever eaten a REAL brownie?”


“Thanks, but I’m saving my heart attack for the weekend.”

3. Creative ordering

No one will make fun of you for making healthier decisions if they don’t notice. Ordering a burger and dissecting apart the meat from the bun is certain to draw attention, but there are plenty of things you can order that won’t attract a second thought.

Instead of:

“Do your meatballs have breadcrumbs? Ok, I’ll have the spaghetti and meatballs without the sauce and without the spaghetti, and with extra meatballs. Oh, and a side of steamed broccoli please.”


“I’ll have the steak and spinach salad with a glass of your best California cab please. And can I get some blue cheese with that as well?”

4. Happy honesty

It’s hard to say bad things about someone who is clearly happy and at peace with their decisions, especially if it’s clear you aren’t being motivated by your ego.

Instead of:

“I’m choosing salad because I’d really like to lose 10 lbs this year so I don’t end up looking like you.”


“I’m just trying to eat a little healthier these days to see how it makes me feel.”

5. Harmless lies

Honesty is always the best policy, except when you’re trying to get your jerk friends off your back so you can enjoy your lunch.

Instead of:

“I’m eating a smaller lunch today so I can hit the gym later.”


“I had a really big breakfast, I’m just not that hungry.”

6. Share alike

If you know in advance you’re going to be bringing your own food, you have the advantage of having a meal that looks, smells and tastes much better than anything your friends will find at the corner sandwich shop. Show off your amazing new flavors by bringing enough of something delicious to share.

Instead of:

“Yuck, I can’t believe you’re eating that disgusting excuse for a calzone.”


“Have you tried the mandarins from the farmers market this season? They’re freaking amazing! Here, I have an extra one.”

7. Accept and nibble

Friends can be very crafty and sometimes try and force you into eating unhealthy food by offering it to you point blank. Cheap office birthday cakes are particularly offensive. Politely turning down the objectionable substance is one strategy, but can easily backfire. Just gratefully accept the food and pretend to eat it.

Instead of:

“Just a small piece for me please.”



Take one bite, then keep smiling and continue the conversation while leaving the food nonchalantly on the table. When everyone else if finishing up, subtly drop it in the trash without making a fuss (trust me, nothing is going to waste). By that time, no one will care what you’re doing. If someone does say something, just blame it on how big the piece was.

8. Don’t offer unsolicited advice

No matter how tempting it is, don’t be the reverse jerk. Only offer nutrition advice to friends if they explicitly ask you for it, otherwise keep your trap shut. The best thing you can do to help your friends is show them what good healthy food looks and tastes like by setting a good example, then let them watch for themselves as you lose weight and get in shape.

Instead of:

“You know, that Lean Cuisine isn’t going to help you get rid of those thunder thighs.”


“Wow, I have lost weight! Thanks for noticing! Yeah, I’ve been reading this site called Summer Tomato. It’s great, you should check it out.”

How do you deal with friends who don’t want you to eat healthy?

Originally published January 26, 2011.

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“Natural” Sugar Substitutes and Artificial Sweeteners: For Better Or For Worse?

by | Jan 21, 2013

Photo by Steve Snodgrass

It’s no secret that I don’t like sugar. But something funny happens every time I recommend people eat less of it: I get bombarded with questions about whether this or that sugar substitute is a good choice.

Sometimes people ask about more natural or “less processed” sweeteners like honey, agave or molasses. Other folks want to know about calorie-free sweeteners like stevia and sucralose (Splenda). But the gist of the question is always the same: what should I eat if I want to have something sweet?

My answer, to many people’s surprise, is to pick whichever one tastes best with what you’re eating (even if it’s plain old cane sugar) and don’t worry about it.

The thing about sugar is no matter what form it comes in, it’s still sugar and is not good for you. Moreover, foods that require sweetening (e.g. pastries) usually have enough other unhealthy ingredients that swapping out the sugar isn’t going to make a huge difference. Sure maybe molasses has a little more vitamin D, or agave ranks a little lower on the glycemic index (because it has more fructose, similar to high-fructose corn syrup), but that doesn’t change the fact that these are still highly concentrated sources of sweetness and should never be eaten in large quantities.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them at all. There’s room for small amounts of sugar in a healthy diet, and it doesn’t matter much where it comes from. Don’t forget to keep everything you eat in perspective. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow, then how virtuous would you feel for ruining your grandmother’s famous apple pie recipe by swapping out sugar for Splenda? We all know pie isn’t the healthiest thing in the world, but some experiences have more value than nutrition alone. As long as you don’t choose experiences over health every single day, those occasional indulgences are not going to kill you.

Artificial sweeteners have other problems as well. Despite their lack of calories, evidence shows that people who use non-caloric sweeteners do not weigh any less than people who don’t use them, and there is no evidence that they help with weight loss. People tend to think they are being virtuous if they choose lower-calorie foods over higher-calorie foods. But without an obvious benefit, what is the point exactly?

Lack of effectiveness is not my only issue with artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested that consuming calorie-free sweeteners enhances a person’s appetite and cravings for sweet foods, and this has been proposed as one of the reasons they are not effective at helping people lose weight.

The safety of several of the most popular sugar substitutes has been questioned as well. Though I’ve never found any of the arguments about the dangers of saccharin (Sweet’N Low) or aspartame (Equal) particularly convincing (the original studies were flawed and currently both are officially considered safe for human consumption), they are relatively recent additions to the human diet and the long-term consequences for you as an individual remain unknown. So if you really want to cut back on sugar enough to suffer through the taste of these of these impostors, keep in mind that you are essentially volunteering yourself for a long-term human health experiment that may or may not work out in your favor.

In my opinion still the strongest reason to avoid artificial sweeteners is taste. To me there is something innately unsatisfying about the taste of no-calorie sweeteners, and bad tasting desserts are a paradox of the worst kind. But the assault on your taste buds doesn’t stop there. Artificial sweeteners keep your palate accustomed to overly sweet foods (most are hundreds of times more sweet than table sugar), making it more difficult to re-acclimate to the taste of real food. So not only do artificial sweeteners ruin your dessert experience, they also ruin your healthy eating experience. Awesome, right?

I make one notable exception with these recommendations. Diabetics have a medical condition that prevents them from eating sweet foods that impact blood sugar. This includes cane sugar, honey, agave, molasses, and most other forms of natural sweeteners. The only exception is the stevia plant, which is a natural calorie-free sweetener that has been used therapeutically for hundreds of years. Stevia has been shown in some cases to reduce hyperglycemia and hypertension in patients with pre-existing conditions, and is probably the best option for those who cannot tolerate any kind of caloric sweetener. Because the benefits do not exist for non-diabetic patients and, like other calorie-free sweeteners, stevia is still hundreds of times sweeter than sucrose, I do not recommend it except in these specific clinical conditions.

What’s your sweetness of choice?

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9 Surefire Ways To Sabotage Your Weight Loss

by | Jan 16, 2013

Photo by Tomas Sobek

There are thousands of ways to fail at meeting your health and weight loss goals, but some are so reliable you may as well give up before you start.

If your plan includes any of the following strategies, you may want to reevaluate your tactics.

9 Surefire Ways To Sabotage Your Weight Loss

1. Rely on willpower

Even if you’re one of those people with an iron will, no one can hold out forever. Willpower is notoriously unreliable, and if you’re ever sleepy, hungry, tipsy, grumpy, sad, happy, lazy or all of the above, your weakness will eventually win.

2. Forget the difference between temporary and permanent

Is your goal to fit into a size 4? Almost anyone can get there if they follow a strict enough diet and workout regimen for a set amount of time—the question is, how long do you want to stay there? If your goals are intended to be permanent, your dietary and fitness modifications need to be as well.

3. Start a really hard workout regimen

Having someone kick your ass in boot camp may sound like what you need to get in shape, but how long do you really think you will subject yourself to pain and suffering before you give up on exercise completely? Most people don’t last 2 months.

4. Never learn to eat mindfully

One of the biggest differences between the US and less obese cultures (e.g. France) is our complete and utter lack of food culture. In healthier cultures, meal time is an important event of people gathering to share good food and stories from the day. And with these habits come standards for portion sizes, eating speed and nutritional balance.

Sadly, it’s unlikely the US will suddenly establish a healthy food culture in time to help the majority of the population. But you can get a lot of the benefits yourself by learning to eat mindfully. Mindful eating helps you slow down, savor your food and appreciate each bite. For these reasons it is incredibly effective at helping with portion control–but without any feelings of deprivation.

In our culture, mindful eating is very difficult and takes some practice. It’s hard to slow down when your friends are wolfing down food by the handful. But it is possible. Practice when you’re alone and it will be easier when you’re with friends.

5. Ignore how much you miss your favorite foods

Love ice cream? Can you go your entire life without it? What about 6 months? Or do you just plan to hold out as long as you can before the next inevitable binge? Cold turkey isn’t necessary if you develop a healthy relationship with your favorite treats.

6. Assume that what worked for someone else will work for you

Have a friend who lost a ton of weight on the Atkins diet? Me too. I also have friends who lost weight doing the master cleanse or going vegan. Typically only the ones who make permanent habit changes can maintain it, so a plan that works for someone else will only work for you if you enjoy it and can incorporate it into your life. Everyone is different.

7. Dramatically restrict your eating

Starving is not fun. Nor are cravings. Nor is malnutrition. Limiting your calories to unrealistic lows is a great way to begin the cycle of yo-yo dieting that we all know and love. Enjoy!

8. Don’t find deeper purpose in what and why you eat

This one may sound a bit esoteric, but bear with me. If your goals are to build healthy habits (which they should be), the people who have the most success are those that want to achieve more than a change in their appearance. Vegans believe so deeply that harming animals is wrong that they never stray from their diets. Locavores want to know and trace the source of all their foods. For some people, being told you will die if you do not change your habits is enough.

For myself, it’s good to know that my habits are healthy and effective, but I’ve come to understand that how I eat is a way of life that has deeper political, philosophical and environmental impact than I ever imagined. It’s also super tasty. For inspiration, check out the film Food, Inc. or read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. You won’t regret it.

9. Pick a diet that is super inconvenient

We all have our limits on how far we’ll go to stick to an eating plan. Be sure to know yours. If you’re too busy (or have too many taste buds) to eat a specific combination of foods every 3 hours–I know I couldn’t–then don’t pretend like you can. Pick dietary changes you can handle, the little things do add up if you can maintain them for the long haul.

Have you lost weight and kept it off for years? Tell us how.

Originally published January 19, 2011.

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Healthy Snacking 101

by | Jan 14, 2013

Photo by zlakfoto

Americans love to snack. We snack at work, at parties, at the movies, in the car… pretty much anywhere we can get a few fingers free to grab a bite of food. As a nation we’ve elevated snacking to an art form, and on the surface it seems like it has no boundaries.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with snacking. Having a small bite to eat between meals is a great way to give your metabolism a little kick and keep you from becoming ravenously hungry later, which can lead to overeating. Snacking is also fun, and can be a great way to socialize and connect with others.

But there is a difference between snacking and compulsive, emotional or hormonal eating. There is also a difference between snacking and bingeing.

The Purpose of Snacking

Snacking always has a purpose. If we were less emotional beings, it would almost always serve to prevent hunger. But since our motivations for eating tend to be complex, identifying all the reasons we snack is important in helping us decide how to approach it.

1. Regain attention

Being hungry is exceptionally uncomfortable. Knowing it will still be awhile before the next meal, a small snack is a great way to buy a few hours of focus and attention, allowing us to be more productive without disrupting our schedule.

2. Curb overeating

As mentioned above, snacking can also be important in preventing overeating. When you’re starving, your eyes can easily become larger than your stomach. And since it takes at least 20 minutes for your satisfied stomach to communicate to your brain via your bloodstream that you are no longer starving, that time can be the difference between a sensible meal and a binge. It’s best to avoid becoming deliriously hungry in the first place by having a small snack in the interim.

3. Socializing

Between meal eating can be initiated for less utilitarian purposes as well. For instance, snacking is a fabulous epicenter for a social event. As many awesome organizations have discovered, food is a great leveler and platform for fostering interaction and collaboration, a value far greater than the price of a cheese plate.

4. Tasty taste

Sometimes the best reason for a snack is that food just tastes good. Maybe you didn’t anticipate your officemate bringing in samples of her mom’s famous baklava, but some foods are just worth making a little extra room for. This kind of snacking may bring in some extra calories, but it isn’t the end of the world so long as you adjust for it later (a slightly smaller dinner or longer workout).

5. Cravings

Food cravings are the least awesome reason for snacking. They can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, mental disquietude, and can seem to come out of nowhere. Though giving into cravings sounds like a bad idea, attempting to ignore them can be distracting and often pointless. (How many of you can actually ignore your cravings if the food you want is available? Yeah, I didn’t think so.) So it is better to have a strategy for dealing with cravings rather than waste your time and energy putting off the inevitable.

Goals of Snacking

No matter what your reason for snacking, the goal should always be satiation. If you are hungry, you want to eat enough to regain your attention and avoid later overeating, and that’s it. If you’re snacking at a social event and aren’t hungry, a few bites should be enough to get you chatting. If a mid-day hors d’oeuvre tastes amazing, a bite or two should satisfy your curiosity. If you’re craving something, you want to stop the craving as quickly and effectively as possible.

Snacking should be a clearly defined occurrence, not something that drags out over the course of hours. It helps if your snacks come in defined quantities to prevent mindless eating. Choose foods that are dense and slowly digesting so you feel like you’ve eaten enough and aren’t tempted to return for round two.

Thinking about foods in terms of their macronutrients is rarely useful, but as a rule of thumb the most filling foods tend to have:

  • protein
  • fat
  • fiber
  • water

Or some combination of these. Foods that have a lot of sugar or refined carbohydrates tend to do the opposite, and encourage continuous eating.

When eating for hunger, it is also a good idea to find snacks that are on the healthier side–nutrient dense, whole and unprocessed foods.

Snacking should be enjoyable and mentally satisfying as well. You should love the food that you eat as much as the clothes you wear and books you read. Eating is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Cravings are a different beast, and can often be alleviated without the specific food you think you need. For cravings, healthy options should be your first resort. Low-calorie beverages such as sparkling water or herbal tea can also be effective.

Healthy Snack Ideas

Here are some snack ideas to get you started, but don’t feel limited by this list. Start with foods you enjoy and work from there.


  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Melon
  • Grapefruit
  • Orange


  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Trailmix
  • Nut butters

Preserved meats (highly processed meats aren’t healthy, but small quantities can be useful for curbing your appetite)

  • Smoked salmon
  • Jerky
  • Charcuterie
  • Sardines


  • String cheese
  • Fancy cheeses


  • Kale chips
  • Carrots
  • Avocado
  • Celery
  • Bell pepper
  • Zucchini

Beans/other protein

  • Hummus
  • Edamame
  • Lentils
  • Boiled eggs


  • Sparkling water
  • Tea
  • Tisane (herbal tea)

Sweet tooth

  • Dark chocolate
  • Dried fruit
  • Mint/herbal tea
  • Juice spritzer (mixed with sparkling water)
  • Fruits
  • Fruit/nut bars (e.g. KIND)

What are your favorite healthy snacks?

Originally published December 1, 2010.

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How To Start Working Out When You Don’t Like To Exercise

by | Jan 9, 2013

Photo by kirainet

You know who you are. As hard as you’ve tried, you’ve never liked going to the gym. Maybe you’ve even hired a personal trainer a few times, hoping the added expense and accountability would be enough motivation to turn you into a regular gym rat.

But it didn’t work.

Every time you’ve started an ambitious workout program with the goal of getting in shape, something–you’re not even sure what–cuts you short before you’ve reached your goal.

Deep down though, you know what the problem is: you don’t like working out. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, it’s sweaty and the weight room has a weird smell. You don’t like how you look in those stupid clothes, and who even has time for that sorta thing anyway?

But still you wonder about those people who are in the gym all the time. What’s their secret? How do they stay motivated day after day and year after year? Are they a different species? Or is there something they know that you don’t?

Few people on this earth were born with an innate love of the gym. But what generally separates people who like working out from those who don’t is pretty simple: fitness.

Working out sucks when you aren’t in shape. But the good news is that you don’t need to become a complete meathead to get to a place where exercise is no longer a pain. Just like learning to cook, once you reach a minimum proficiency level–in this case fitness level–exercise stops feeling bad and starts feeling good. And just like with cooking, the only way to get there is to Just Do It*.

If you’re just starting a workout program your goal shouldn’t be to get buff or lose weight. The first step is getting to a fitness level where you no longer hate to exercise. And for that all you need is consistency.

When you first start your program don’t force yourself to do anything too hard or unpleasant, just make sure that you stick with it and never quit. I hated running my entire life, so the first time I went jogging after years without any cardio training I told myself I would just run until I got tired. I literally made it about 4 blocks and went home. After a week or two I was up to 8 blocks. That was over 10 years ago and I’ve since completed three marathons. Running is no longer my go-to sport, but I’m now the fit person I’ve always wanted to be.

There’s no reason to torture yourself at the gym. Once you’re in better shape you will enjoy pushing yourself a little harder every now and then. But until you get there, just make yourself do something. Anything. Just do it regularly and don’t make excuses.

The key to being consistent is making your workout so easy/convenient/fun/awesome that not doing it just feels stupid. Here are a few tips to set you up for a lifetime of fitness.

10 Tips For Starting & Sticking With Exercise

1. Commit to consistency

This is worth repeating. Make a commitment to sticking with your plan. If you find yourself not able to meet your goals, change them so they’re easier.

2. Take baby steps

I jogged around the block for years before I got lost one day, accidentally ran 8 miles and decided marathon training no longer seemed so ridiculous. Don’t expect to turn into Superman overnight. For now just try to stop being Hedonism Bot.

3. Pick an exercise that’s fun

Not all exercise happens in the gym. Like to climb rocks? Shoot hoops? Swing the bat? Start with the fun stuff and work your way up.

4. Bring a friend, make it competitive

Having a workout partner is one of the most effective ways to be accountable and make your workout fun. Making it a competition is also great for motivation.

5. Join a sports team

Even better than one friend is a group of friends. Intramural sports teams are a fantastic way to get a few weekly workouts.

6. Get into music, podcasts and audiobooks

If your schedule isn’t conducive to group activities, your iPod still got your back. Put together an inspiring workout mix, download some of your favorite podcasts and audiobooks and whistle while you work.

7. Get a dog

You know what takes a lot of energy? Puppies! If you can’t motivate to exercise for yourself, at least do it for Fluff Fluff.

8. Caffeine charge

Sometimes a long day can make an evening workout seem impossibly difficult. At times like these, caffeine is your friend. After about half an hour you’ll need to workout to burn off that extra energy.

9. Get some nice workout clothes, shoes and mp3 player

New toys are fun. Sometimes it’s the little things that help the most.

10. Reward yourself

Doing something consistently is an accomplishment, even if your actual task seems small and insignificant. If you’ve been exercising regularly, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for many jobs well done.

*Dear Nike, please don’t sue me.

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Originally published Jan 3, 2011.

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