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Healthy Snacks For After Your Workout

by | Nov 5, 2012
Delicious Nuts

Delicious Nuts

“When I work out at the gym, I am there for a couple of hours and by the end of the first hour, I am still energized but start getting hungry. I read your article on packing food for lunch but wanted to specifically ask if you recommend any specific store bought bars.”

I frequently get questions about different nutrition and energy bars. Generally I think they are a bad idea, since they are usually just processed food with added vitamins and/or other trendy diet ingredients—a hallmark of food from the Matrix.

Energy and meal replacement bars serve only one purpose: convenience. Some may be better than others (check the ingredients to be sure), but don’t fool yourself into thinking these are health foods.

That said, I understand that quick calories can be incredibly useful, particularly when intense workouts are a regular part of your day. If you get hungry and don’t have anything around to eat, the chances of you breaking down and eating something you’ll really regret increase substantially. But I think there are better things to carry around than energy bars.

My quick snack of choice is nuts or trail mix. I always have a small stash of nuts hidden somewhere in my gym bag (which comes with me everywhere). My personal favorites are almonds, pistachios, cashews and macadamia nuts. When I’m feeling ambitious I’ll combine a few different kinds together in a plastic zipper bag along with some dried fruit, just to mix things up.

One of the only drawbacks of snacking on nuts is if you are really hungry it is easy to eat too many and ruin your appetite for dinner. Too many nuts can also be difficult to digest. To avoid this I recommend getting into the habit of counting the nuts you eat, drinking water and waiting 20 minutes before eating more. The protein and fat in nuts can be very satisfying, but it takes awhile for the satiety signals to reach your brain.

For almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts 10 is a good number to start with. For shelled pistachios and peanuts, 15-20 nuts is more realistic. You are aiming for a single serving size of 1/4 cup. After some practice, eating the proper amount will come naturally to you. But at the beginning you should either count the nuts or measure them out in advance so it is easier to make good decisions.

There are a few other easily transportable foods that can serve as good substitutes for energy bars. Fruit is a great option, particularly filling fruits with lots of fiber like apples and oranges. Be careful with soft fruits, however, or you may end up with a gym bag filled with goo. Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

(Read: How to transport soft fruits and vegetables)

Another option that I don’t often use but am not opposed to is jerky. Beef and turkey jerky are generally high in protein and very satisfying. Just be careful about the teriyaki flavor that is often high in added sugar.

As a final thought, I wonder if you are maybe spending too much time in the gym? For weight loss and fat burning, more than an hour is really overkill and may actually work against you. If you are training for a specific athletic event, you’ve gotta do what you gotta do. But for the rest of us mortals one hour in the gym is more than enough to accomplish our goals. Maybe your hunger is a signal to you that it’s time to shower up and head home?

One of the most essential aspects of a great healthstyle is planning for moments of hunger throughout your day, but processed foods are hardly ever the answer, no matter how convenient.

What are your favorite post-workout snacks?

Originally published November 16, 2009.

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9 Tricks To Make Halloween A Treat

by | Oct 22, 2012

Photo by pasukaru76

With extra candy, alcohol and fun everywhere, there is no point in pretending health will be your top priority by the time the weekend rolls around. But that’s a good thing.

Being healthy is important, but if you don’t learn to make room in your life for fun too then what’s the point?

My challenge to you is to use this Halloween weekend as an opportunity to practice rational indulgence. That is, enjoy things you have a reason to enjoy (i.e. foods you like) in quantities that leave you satisfied, but don’t abandon your health or get too obsessive about what you should or should not eat.

This is not the same as practicing “moderation” (an overused word, in my opinion). Instead I’m talking about a head change. Generally the term moderation is used to mean restraint for restraint’s sake. On Halloween this might involve consciously eating only half a cookie or counting out pieces of candy for your allowance.

Boring!

Moderation is fine for daily life, especially when you are just learning to cook and eat healthy foods. But equally important is getting in tune with the real reasons you eat: taste, pleasure and enjoyment, and using this awareness to guide your behavior and create natural boundaries.

Embrace Halloween as a special occasion for you to live and enjoy, while understanding that this is not the first nor will it be the last time you get to eat a cupcake. There is no need to go out of your way to be “good” or “bad.” Just have fun and try not to think in terms of guilt or temptation. It is thoughts like these which lead to too many drinks and eating that entire bowl of peanut butter cups on your friend’s coffee table.

But, of course, for rational indulgence to mean anything it requires a context of healthy eating. If your typical daily food intake isn’t already mostly healthy, then Halloween isn’t really an indulgence so much as an excuse. But that doesn’t mean this advice isn’t applicable to you. No matter what your baseline, it is easier to indulge rationally if you are well-nourished and in the right state of mind.

Strive for the general goal of eating healthy, nourishing and satisfying foods and feel free to add a few Halloween treats along the way.

Here are 9 strategies to help make rational indulgence a little easier.

9 Tricks To Make Halloween A Treat

  1. Leave your guilt at the door. Halloween will probably not be ideal for your health, but if you are going to indulge you may as well enjoy it.
  2. Eat what you want, but not any more than that. Remember that indulgence is not a race. You don’t need to eat everything in sight just because you allow yourself a couple days off. Stop occasionally and ask yourself if you are eating for pleasure or from compulsion.
  3. Do not skip meals. Halloween usually involves late night parties and candy, things that should not interfere too much with your regularly scheduled food program. Trying to eat light during the day to compensate for eating junk food later will probably just cause you to eat even more junk when you find yourself starving at 2am—not a wise strategy.
  4. Have a healthy, satisfying dinner. You would be surprised how easy it is to skip the third mini-Snickers if you are not hungry or are even a little full. Better to be full of stir fry than trans fat and sugar.
  5. Eat protein, vegetables and healthy fats before you go out. The main danger on Halloween is sugar. Too much sugar causes blood sugar to rise and insulin to skyrocket. Ultimately this leads to insulin resistance, weight gain and more hunger. To avoid this, slow down the digestion process by eating healthy foods first.
  6. Easy on the carbs. You will probably be getting more than your fair share of sugars and starches this weekend. Minimize extraneous carbohydrates in your meals by skipping bread and pasta. Limit carbohydrates to vegetables, fruit and legumes.
  7. Keep moving. One easy way to make up ground if you are eating extra calories is to burn them off as you go. If you are out at a party, be sure to keep moving. Walk to your destination, play Halloween Twister and be the last to leave the dance floor.
  8. Brush up. Toothpaste can make candy taste pretty bad, so be sure to brush and rinse with fluoride before you leave your house and as soon as you get home. Sugar is also really bad for your teeth.
  9. Be safe. No matter what you do or do not eat, it is always important to make good decisions when you go out on the town. Be smart and make it home in one piece or none of this advice will do you any good.

How do you practice rational indulgence?

Originally published October 28, 2009.

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5 Things To Consider Before Eating Something Naughty

by | Sep 17, 2012

Photo by Aldo Fonticiella

Sometimes foods are super unhealthy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them.

In my opinion, the purpose of food should be to optimize quality of life. Food is delicious, it makes you healthy and brings you closer to friends and loved ones. At any given meal, I try my best to maximize each of these goals. And if it falls short in one, I try to make it up in another.

Inevitably there are situations where the best option is not particularly obvious. For example, how important is it to eat healthy when you’re on vacation?

Consider dessert. By no stretch of the imagination do you need dessert to live, and if we are being honest with ourselves most of the time we probably shouldn’t eat it. But sometimes (err, often) we want to anyway.

Ideally you should get your healthstyle to a place where you can occasionally go a little wild without it having a significant impact on your health goals. But getting there takes practice and a healthy dose of self awareness.

Here are 5 questions to help you make the right decision before letting loose.

5 Things To Consider Before Eating Something Naughty

1. What else have you eaten today? This week?

To be able to indulge occasionally, you need to understand what “occasionally” really means. Depending on your body size and activity levels, you can get away with maybe one or two treats a week. If you find yourself giving in once or more a day, it may be time to reevaluate your definition of special occasion.

2. Have you been to the gym?

Using the gym to justify a bad diet is a losing battle. But if you do eat a few too many quickly digesting calories, it’s much better that they go to fuel your muscles rather than your waistline. I’ve found that some of my best runs at the gym are on birthday cake days at the office.

3. Will you be drinking later?

Alcohol fuels weight gain in a number of ways. Sugary drinks add hundreds of calories to your day and should be considered an indulgence in their own right. Alcohol also has a way of convincing you to opt for late night burrito runs or greasy morning brunches. If you’re heading out with friends later, you might want to skip the after dinner cheesecake.

4. Are you trying to lose weight?

Believe it or not, asking yourself your health goals before you eat something can really help you make better decisions. I don’t recommend strict diets when you’re finding your healthstyle, but if you still have weight to lose desserts and heavy meals won’t make your life any easier. If you’d still like to drop some pounds, it pays to be picky with your indulgences.

5. Is it worth it? Really?

One of the best things about avoiding diets is you have the freedom to fit your favorite foods into your life. But one of the down sides is that you need to be able to make good choices for yourself, which isn’t always easy. It can be very tempting to consider every cupcake that is brought to the office a special occasion and lose track of the truly valuable indulgences that actually make your life better. Birthdays, anniversaries and great restaurants are things you will remember for your entire life. Junk food at the office is rarely more than an excuse to avoid work for another half hour. Be honest with yourself about the true value of a food before inviting it into your life.

What helps you make quality food choices?

Originally published September 20, 2010.

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Taste Psychology: Learning To Love Foods You Don’t Like

by | Sep 10, 2012
Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chevre (click for recipe)

Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chevre (click for recipe)

Chances are there are foods you love now that you hated as a kid. But how many foods do you still avoid just because you think you don’t like them?

Young palates struggle with things like mustard, onions and asparagus, and instead prefer more bland, less intense flavors. But as adults we sometimes cling to these preferences without ever stopping to question the value or meaning of our opinions.

But in reality, what joy is there in being a picky eater?

While it’s true that taste is subjective, I’ve never heard a convincing argument that it’s better to dislike a food than to like one. It is certainly more fun to like things, and it is often far more convenient. Just try getting a serious chef to make a signature dish without onions. It isn’t easy.

But is it possible to learn to like a food if you don’t like the taste?

It turns out that most of the time we decide what we like before we bother to experience it, and this prejudice clouds our perception of what we actually encounter. This effect of perception bias has been demonstrated repeatedly in psychology experiments where food color and taste have been manipulated. To see this for yourself, use food coloring to alter the appearance of several bowls of lemon Jell-O and have your friends guess what flavors they are tasting. Very few will say they taste lemon unless the color is still yellow.

The psychology of taste is further complicated by our natural aversion to things that are new or different from what we are expecting. Foods with unique textures such as mushrooms and okra often fall victim to this bias. In these cases the unfamiliarity and strangeness of the texture makes us slightly uncomfortable, and we interpret this feeling as a personal dislike. However, this reaction reflects the food’s uniqueness rather than its true character.

Our tendency to dislike and often hate things that extend beyond our perceptual comfort zones is explored in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. He argues that we make snap judgments about everything we encounter based on prior experience. And while this ability can sometimes help us make wise decisions, it can also explain why pilot testing can’t predict the success of new concept T.V. shows like Seinfeld.

In other words, sometimes our first impressions are wrong.

Knowing about this bias can help you overcome aversions to foods you think you don’t like, and even learn to love them. The first step is deciding that there is value in enjoying a food you currently do not enjoy. I’m not saying you should develop an appreciation for frozen pasta, but most fresh, natural whole foods are worth rediscovering for both taste and culture.

The second step is dedicating yourself to keep trying the rejected food until you find it prepared in a way you like. This is not as bad as it sounds, since there is a good chance that the reason you do not like a food in the first place is because what you were served as a child was either canned, frozen or of industrial (low) quality. Since peaches and plums taste completely different when you get them at the farmers market, doesn’t it stand to reason that the same is true for green beans, broccoli and beets? Also, with each venture your taste will become more acclimated to the flavor and your aversion will dissipate.

Fine dining represents another great opportunity to explore foods you haven’t enjoyed in the past. I was finally won over on brussels sprouts after a spectacular meal in San Francisco, and now consider them one of my favorite autumn ingredients.

Even if a certain food doesn’t end up on your favorites list, learning to at least enjoy it in a casual way will enrich your life and help you develop an appreciation for new and unique experiences. The Chinese culture pays particular reverence to textures in food, and this attitude allows them to enjoy a far more diverse and interesting range of ingredients than any Western culture.

The key word here is “enjoy.” Eating vegetables is undeniably healthy, but the best reason to eat broccoli is that you absolutely love it.

What foods do you hate? Are you ready to get over it?

Originally published October 5, 2009.

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10 Reasons To Never Eat Free Food

by | Aug 22, 2012
By D Sharon Pruitt

By D Sharon Pruitt

Most people’s eyes light up if free food is mentioned. But using “free” as an excuse to eat junk food is nothing to be proud of.

We get excited by the concept of free food because at first glance it seems like a great value. But cheap, mass-produced food isn’t worth much in health, taste or even satisfaction.

Thus one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my 12 years of higher education is:

Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

Occasionally someone will offer you high-quality food at no cost, but these chances are few and far between. More often you will find yourself wading through a sea of donuts, pizza, cookies and other junk food.

Your best bet is skipping the empty calories all together when attending meetings, seminars and other public events.

10 reasons to never eat free food

  1. It’s cheap. You might think that free food is a bargain, but if you think about what you’re really getting it won’t seem like such a good deal. Cheap food means low-quality, mass-produced calories made from industrial processes. That’s the stuff we want to avoid.
  2. It’s flavorless. The right combinations of sugar, fat and salt, pretty easily deceive your brain, as these ingredients strongly activate your neural reward pathways. But if you try and focus on the true flavor of food and eat mindfully, you’ll learn to taste the difference between real food and the flavorlessness industrial stuff.
  3. It’s bad for you. Processed foods are responsible for almost all “diseases of civilization” such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. When you wolf down a few of those Costco brownie bites at happy hour, you are directly contributing to your likelihood of developing these chronic diseases. Is that value?
  4. You aren’t saving money. You may tell yourself that this free meal will keep you from eating later, but there’s a good chance you will eat again anyway. Processed foods do not satisfy you, but actually stimulate your appetite and strengthen future cravings. Also, if you factor in your future health care costs, what you save by eating that $2 slice of free pizza starts to seem rather trivial.
  5. You’ll feel gross later. Junk food makes you feel bad, both physically and mentally. If someone offered you a free headache, would you take it?
  6. It screws up your metabolism. Highly refined foods can induce insulin resistance over the next few hours, making your next meal more fattening. If you make a habit of eating cheap abundant food, this condition can become chronic and develop into type 2 diabetes. What a bargain!
  7. You’ll gain weight. With insulin resistance comes weight gain, and with time you will gain more weight eating fewer calories. Unfortunately, people aren’t often giving away free plus-sized jeans.
  8. You’re eating empty calories. When you submit to eating cheap food, you are also choosing not to eat nutritious food. Choosing a diet rich in vitamins and other essential nutrients is necessary for reducing risk for sickness and disease. Foods typically offered as free don’t even fulfill our most basic nutritional (or emotional) needs.
  9. You don’t need it. Chances are you get plenty of calories in your typical day. So why do we feel like we need to eat junk food just because it is free? Healthy food does not have to be very expensive.
  10. It isn’t worth it. The truth is free junk food isn’t really free. Even if processed foods don’t cost you money, they still cost you your health, happiness and sense of well-being. You can do better.

Why do you eat free food? Originally published September 21, 2009.

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Back To School: Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas

by | Aug 20, 2012
by Savannah Grandfather

by Savannah Grandfather

“Over the summer, my family has adopted some new eating habits.  We are avoiding processed foods and sugar.  Trying for a lot more whole foods and I wanted to see if you have some ideas for school lunches.  The new school year is coming up and I don’t want to fall into old habits with sugary yogurts, chips and cookies.”

Habits are the essence of healthstyle. Good ones can make health and weight loss easy, bad ones can derail your most sincere dieting attempts. While habits are hard to break, once they’re formed they’re easy to keep around.

But here’s the thing about building habits:

If the healthy choices aren’t as easy and appetizing as the unhealthy ones, you probably aren’t going to stick with them.

So whatever you try, make sure it’s something you’re willing to continue doing for the entire year.

Though I do not have children and have not spent much time with them, I have been a student for the past 26 years and know a few things about toting lunch around. If you do have kids, feel free to chime in.

Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Fruits and vegetables. Make these as easy and fun to eat as possible. If your kids are resistant to fresh produce, my recommendation is to have them participate in the buying process. Make your weekly farmers market trip a family outing and explain to kids what it means for something to be in season. Show them how sweet and flavorful foods can taste when they’re at their peak and let them pick their favorites. Eating a carrot is much more satisfying when you’ve picked it out yourself. Pro tip: This trick works on adults too.

Here are some ideas for produce that can be cut, bagged and stored until lunch time: carrots, celery, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, sweet red pepper, sugar snap peas, apples, blueberries, grapes and melon.

Homemade granola. Store bought granola is usually more like dessert than a healthy snack, but you can make your own with less sugar and it is still delicious. Don’t worry about using butter if it is called for, especially for growing children. Granola can be made in big batches, is easy to store, easy to transport and is based on intact grains that are both healthy and satisfying. Put a serving into a small zip bag and enjoy.

Hummus. Hummus is a Mediterranean dip made from chickpeas that is delicious and easy to make. A small tupper of hummus is a perfect accompaniment to cut up vegetables, whole grain breads and crackers. It is also convenient because it can be made in huge batches and frozen in smaller containers. Here is my favorite homemade hummus recipe.

Cheese. In reasonable quantities cheese can be a satisfying snack. Some wonderful artisan cheeses can even be bought for reasonable prices. American cheddar is a perfect example. Just stay away from the really processed stuff at the grocery store–check the ingredients label and avoid long, scientific sounding words.

Peanut butter. Like hummus, peanut (or any nut) butter can be a wonderful dip for fruits and veggies. I know that many parents these days are hysterical about nuts, but if the idea doesn’t bother you too much it can be a very healthy snack.

The consistency of natural nut butters can take some getting used to, but I strongly recommend these over the homogenized processed kinds. Natural nut butters that have no added sugar, no added trans fat, are full of healthy fats (this is good) and must be stored in the refrigerator (real foods don’t have preservatives). If you’re new to nut butters, almond butter is a great place to start.

Trail mix. Similar to nut butters trail mix can be scary for parents worried about nut allergies, but if your child can tolerate nuts then trail mix is a fun and nutritious snack. Try different combinations of nuts and dried fruits. I’ve recently discovered the amazing dried Bing cherries at my favorite farmers market. For a special treat you can add a few small chocolate chunks, which is a better indulgence than cookies or chips.

Sandwiches. I’m not a big fan of bread (even “whole grain” bread), but sandwiches are a reasonable option on occasion. When choosing bread, look for artisan brands with few ingredients and no preservatives. This kind of bread is often found in paper bags and costs less than the fake-healthy soft stuff in plastic. You can cut up loaves and store bread in zipper bags in the freezer. To thaw, heat for a few minutes at 325 F or move to the refrigerator the night before.

Healthy sandwich choices include: hummus, avocado, peanut/almond butter, soft fruit, canned Alaskan salmon, cheese, roasted chicken or turkey, egg salad, mixed veggies, etc. Try not to choose deli meats as your standard choice, since they are highly processed and have been tied to all sorts of health problems. Likewise, limit canned tuna to once per month (especially for children) because of the high mercury content. Mercury can damage developing nervous systems and has been tied to lower IQ scores.

Popcorn. For a crunchy, salty alternative to chips you can try popcorn. Though the instant kind can be hit or miss in terms of health, natural popcorn is relatively healthy and can be very easy to make. Explore different spices and flavor toppings such as cheese, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, garlic salt and other spices. You can make this a weekend project and let the kids choose their own flavors, store it in air-tight containers and use it during the week.

Please share your favorite tips in the comments

Updated August 22, 2011.

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10 Simple Substitutions to Make Restaurant Meals Healthier

by | Aug 1, 2012
Photo by basheertome

Photo by basheertome

I pity the fool who puts health over pleasure every time they enter a restaurant, but if you eat out often all those French fries could get the better of you.

When nothing on the menu perfectly fits my preferences (particularly at low to mid-range places more tailored to the Standard American Diet crowd), I don’t hesitate to swap out whatever I don’t want with something better.

Whether it’s to avoid processed foods or simply add vibrance and color to my plate, here are 10 simple swaps to make the most of your restaurant meals.

10 Simple Substitutions to Make Restaurant Meals Healthier

1. Mixed greens instead of ice burg or romaine lettuce

I enjoy cobb salads, but for some reason they’re usually served with boring industrial lettuce. Most places these days carry mixed greens or spinach as well, and are usually happy to make the switch.

2. Fruit instead of toast

I’m not sure why breakfast spots think you need two giant pieces of toast on top of your potatoes, eggs and pancakes, but if you don’t want it they’ll often offer you fruit instead. This is one of the best upgrades you can get away with.

3. Salad instead of potatoes

Speaking of potatoes, while they are real food and have their place in a healthy diet, they’re so often fried in rancid industrial oils that it’s best to skip them. Swapping them out for salad or cooked greens is rarely a problem.

4. Avocado instead of mayo

Real mayonnaise, the kind made from egg yolks and olive oil is perfectly healthy (and delicious). Unfortunately that isn’t what most places are putting on your sandwich. Instead commercial mayos are typically made with soybean or canola oils, AKA hyper-processed industrial oils. It may cost a little extra, but avocado is a fantastic alternative to gooey up your lunch.

5. Cheese plate instead of dessert

One of the things I love about France is that it’s perfectly acceptable to have cheese after dinner instead of sugar. If everyone is ordering crème brûlée and you don’t want to be a party pooper, get the cheese plate instead. Good cheese is healthy.

6. Brown rice instead of white

I don’t mind white rice in small quantities, but if I’m stuck eating somewhere I know the food isn’t very healthy I swap out my white rice for brown (and order as many vegetables as possible) if the option is available.

7. Drink wine instead of cocktails

Dinner often starts with a drink selection. While wine certainly has calories, cocktails usually have hundreds more thanks to the liqueurs and syrups typically used. Mixed drinks have their place, but if you’ll also be eating  a few hundred calories then wine is a better choice.

8. Beans instead of rice

If I see beans or lentils anywhere on the menu I’ll often ask if the kitchen can use them instead of one of the faster digesting starches on my plate. Your waiter may be confused, but he’ll usually do it if you ask.

9. Olive oil and vinegar instead of sugary dressing

At some point in the past 20 years salad dressings started being made with ridiculous amounts of sugar and salt, probably to cover up the completely flavorless vegetables from the industrial food chain. Good ol’ fashioned olive oil and vinegar is a better choice, and most kitchens have them.

10. Anything instead of American cheese

Have you ever looked at the ingredients for American cheese? Besides water, the first ingredient is usually trans fat. The second is cornstarch. All the way at the bottom it says, “Contains: Milk.” Replacing it with real cheddar, gruyere, provolone, or even nothing would be healthier.

What are your favorite restaurant substitution tricks?

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6 Tips For Not Regretting Your 4th of July BBQ

by | Jun 27, 2012
Blueberries & Raspberries

Blueberries & Raspberries

Holidays are for celebrating and are meant to be enjoyed, but you don’t have to sacrifice your health or beach body every time you attend a BBQ. These 6 BBQ survival tips can save you hundreds of calories you won’t even miss, and keep your health and fitness goals on track.

6 Healthy Eating Tips For Your 4th of July BBQ

1. Use small plates

Research clearly shows that people who choose smaller plates and utensils eat less without even noticing it. The difference can be as substantial as 50% fewer calories consumed, yet everyone reports the same level of fullness and satisfaction. Try borrowing a plate from the kids table or the dessert tray.

2. Eat slowly and mindfully

People who eat more slowly eat fewer calories over the course of a meal. BBQs are a perfect opportunity to pace yourself as you mix and mingle with friends and family. The more you’re chatting, the less you’re eating.

3. Eat healthiest foods first

If you are eating slowly and off small plates, you may as well fill up on the healthiest stuff first. Salads are a great place to start because watery vegetables slow digestion and have very few calories. Try to choose something with oil and protein as well, because these will help you feel full sooner.

4. Skip the chips, crackers and bread

Refined carbohydrates are the worst things you can eat because they offer little satisfaction, loads of calories and dangerous insulin spikes. BBQs are filled with wonderful food, so do yourself a favor and save your calories for the really good stuff.

You don’t have to eat your burger without a bun, but pass on the pointless chips and other snacks that lure you when you’re not thinking. If you’re feeling bored, grab a Frisbee instead.

5. Keep dessert small

The difference between a large slice of cake and a smaller slice of cake can literally be hundreds of calories. And to reiterate, sugar and refined carbohydrates are the most dangerous foods. You don’t have to pass on dessert completely, but keep your portion sizes in check for this course.

6. Think before you drink

There is a place for alcohol in a healthy lifestyle, but making smart choices can be the difference between losing or gaining weight (not to mention your self-control). One sugary margarita can have 600-800 calories. That means 3 margaritas is more food than you should be consuming in an entire day. Is that really worth it? Stick with wine or beer, drink plenty of water and remember to pace yourself.

Small tricks can save you hundreds and potentially thousands of wasted calories that you will never notice or miss. Why sacrifice a good time when you can just upgrade your healthstyle?


What are your favorite tips to eat healthy at a BBQ?

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How To Eat Dessert And Still Stay Skinny

by | Jun 20, 2012

Photo by E.Baron

Cutting processed foods and refined sugars out of your diet is arguably the most important dietary change you can make to improve health and lose weight. But will one slice of birthday cake inevitably tighten your pants and cut your life short?

Not necessarily.

Quality of life is hard to measure, but it certainly involves some balance between good health and hedonistic enjoyment of things that might not be perfectly healthy. The question is how we find this balance for ourselves, and how do we make sure our behavior helps us keep that balance?

The answer, of course, will be different for everyone. Competitive athletes have higher physical demands for maintaining ideal health than, say, a scientist. And I’m not a fan of watering down my favorite foods—especially desserts—with “healthier” ingredients. But there are a few general guidelines that can help the majority of us live a little without constantly fighting the battle of the bulge.

9 Tips For Dealing With Dessert

1. Eat dessert once per week or less

As a general rule I try to keep my dessert consumption to once per week or less (it is often less). A larger person may be able to get away with a bit more, but setting a weekly maximum can help you keep tabs on your sugar consumption. If you are actively trying to lose weight, aiming for once every two weeks or less is ideal.

Sugar is problematic for several reasons. Most of you probably realize by now that excess sugar causes rapid blood sugar and insulin spikes that force extra calories to be stored as fat. Over time these spikes will alter your sensitivity to insulin, negatively impacting your metabolism and risk of type 2 diabetes. Extra insulin signaling is also associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and accelerated aging.

The less refined sugar you eat the better, but assuming most of us aren’t willing to give it up completely it is helpful to have a weekly maximum to keep consumption in a reasonable range.

2. Pick your occasions

Once you decide to budget your sugar consumption, it is time to start choosing your priorities.

Is your weekly group meeting at the office (the one where there’s always doughnuts) really a special occasion? In other words, is that stale chocolate doughnut you wolf down while half asleep really worth the extra workout or skipping dessert with your kids this weekend? Probably not.

If you think about it, there’s a good chance you don’t even enjoy that doughnut as much as you assume you do. And we both know you’ll feel horrible after eating it anyway. So why do you believe that you want it?

When you stop and really think about your food choices, you’ll often find that many of them come from conditioning rather than true preference. But just because 12-year old you liked low-quality sweets doesn’t mean the adult you has to continue eating them.

Save desserts for the times that are really worth it, and realize you aren’t missing much by skipping the Costco brownie bites.

3. Don’t eat dessert alone

Special occasions are moments of celebration you share with people you care about. One of the wonderful things about life is these moments happen all the time. Our weeks and months are perpetually marked by birthdays, weddings, promotions, vacations and a million other reasons to celebrate. Use these special times as cues for when to indulge.

On the other hand, there is nothing particularly special about sitting alone on your couch watching TV. Try to get out of the habit of eating dessert alone, especially if this is something you rely on for comfort. If you just want something sweet, try having a piece of fruit or some herbal tea instead.

I recommend not keeping any pre-made desserts in the house at all. Why torture yourself?

4. Know dessert when you see it

If you’re eating dessert several times a day but only think you are eating it once or twice per week, none of these rules are going to help you maintain your health and physique.

I’ve written before about the hidden sugars in common foods such as sandwiches, salads and fruit yogurts. There are clearly benefits to eating a salad, but syrupy dressings contribute to your sugar intake whether there is lettuce around or not. Overly sweet non-dessert foods make it more difficult for you to enjoy real indulgences without consequences.

Be aware of the sugar content in the foods you eat and actively try to minimize it in the bulk of your diet (i.e. choose sandwiches without teriyaki or BBQ sauce, salads with savory (not sweet) dressing, cocktails without juice or syrup, and plain yogurt).

If you’re eating healthy and minimizing sugar 90+% of the time, your waist will hardly notice the occasional birthday cupcake.

5. Little indulgences count

Just as you cannot ignore the 27 grams of sugar in Yoplait yogurt, you can’t grab 2 or 3 pieces of candy every afternoon from the bowl in the office without it adding up.

Be aware of the little cheats you make throughout the week and don’t kid yourself about their impact. If you decide that the work day is just too hard to get through without these, that’s fine. But you aren’t doing yourself any favors by pretending they don’t exist. Remember to count them in your mental dessert tally and keep it in mind when you’re looking lustfully at your grandma’s homemade apple pie and wishing you hadn’t had so much sugar this week.

6. Choose quality over quantity

If your goal is to limit your sweets but you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out, make sure your choices emphasize quality over quantity.

A few bites of good quality dark chocolate is infinitely more satisfying than a handful of Hershey’s kisses. Desserts can rack up 25-50 calories per bite. Get the most bang for your buck by picking foods with actual flavor and not just extra sugar and salt.

Hint: This tip should also help you stick to tips #2 and #5.

7. Go splitsies

Half a dessert is 100% better for you than a whole dessert.

If you really really want to try one of those cookies your co-worker has been bragging about for months but have already had your ice cream this week, try taking only half of one. Better yet, find someone to split it with you so you aren’t tempted to finish it. If it’s that good, a few bites should be plenty satisfying.

8. Resist peer pressure

Some people take a special pleasure in encouraging others to do things they know are bad for them. These people also tend to be good at recruiting others to join in their banter.

Be prepared to get nagged occasionally for not wanting to eat foods that aren’t worth it. But if you have decided in advance to stick to desserts you know taste better than what your friends are pushing, it really isn’t that hard to ignore them.

Who’s really missing out here?

9. Use the gym

Despite our best efforts, we all eat too much dessert every now and then. This isn’t good, but it isn’t the end of the world either.

When this happens to me I use it as an opportunity to amp up my workout routine. By far my best runs are on days when we have birthday cake in lab–I feel like I can run for days with all my extra energy.

Your muscles use sugar as fuel, so use it up while you can and give your metabolism a little boost (having a little extra blood sugar and insulin around when you’re exercising can actually improve your metabolism) and prevent those spare calories from being stored as fat.

You’ll probably feel better after working it off too.

How do you deal with dessert in your healthstyle?

Originally published March 31, 2010
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How To Become A Slow Eater

by | Apr 18, 2012
day211/mom always said not to play with your food. but this is too much fun!

Photo by he half-blood prince

Busy people are experts in efficiency. Everything we do is quick, effective and goal-directed. But when it comes to eating, efficiency is not the highest virtue.

Quick eating almost always results in overeating. This is because your brain is not focused on the eating process, but on the goal of filling your stomach. Unfortunately, a full stomach does not automatically create satiety in the brain.

Satiety is only perceived after a culmination of sensory cues and signals indicate a meal is over. Some of these cues are internal, such as spending time chewing, tasting and swallowing. Others are external, like seeing an empty plate or noticing a restless dining partner.

Only after about 20 minutes will you actually be able to tell if your belly is full or not, but if you’ve been stuffing your face the entire time it is already too late.

You can learn to eat more slowly by focusing on satiety cues rather than on cleaning your plate. Here are 12 tips for learning how to slow down and eat less.

12 Tips For Eating Slowly

  1. Practice Eating quickly is a habit that needs to be broken. Make a point to practice mindful eating by scheduling it into your day. Write it in your calendar, leave notes on your fridge and send yourself reminders before meals until your new habits become automatic. Habits typically take 3-4 weeks to develop, here’s some tips on how to develop mindful eating practices.
  2. Sit at a table Sitting at a table to eat tells your brain you are having a meal. If you eat while running errands or standing at the counter you can quickly lose track of how much you’ve eaten. Even if you eat a lot while standing, you may still feel like you haven’t had a meal and want to eat more later.
  3. Serve small portions A clean plate is an incredibly powerful cue that a meal is finished. For this reason, large portion sizes often lead to overeating simply because of our tendency to eat what is in front of us. Serve yourself smaller portions as a reminder to take your time and savor each bite. Use small plates so your brain doesn’t perceive the portions as skimpy.
  4. Remove distractions If you are reading or watching TV, you are not paying attention to the food you put into your mouth. I know you are busy and want to multitask, but resist the urge for 15 minutes and eat a real meal. I admit I’m bad at this one, but I always eat less if I go offline while I eat.
  5. Chew You might think that you chew your food, but there’s a good chance you are swallowing a lot of it whole. Take smaller bites and chew your food thoroughly. Notice the texture of what you are eating and appreciate what it adds to your meal. This is something I need to remind myself of directly before I eat, so I keep this on my to-do list.
  6. Drink Another way you can force yourself to slow down is to consciously sip your drink throughout your meal. This requires you to put your fork down, chew and swallow before eating more. It also adds liquid to your stomach and can help you feel more full. Water is a perfect choice, but even sipping wine can slow down your meal.
  7. Put down your fork The classic recommendation to put down your fork (or sandwich) between bites has stuck around for one simple reason: it works. When we are not eating mindfully our hands go into shoveling mode, where your fork is primed with another bite almost instantly after popping the last one in your mouth. Putting your fork down forces you to relax a bit and focus on chewing what you already have.
  8. Have a conversation You only have one mouth, and if you are using it to talk it’s really difficult to shove food into it. Eat with friends, have a great conversation and use this as an opportunity to slow down your meal.
  9. Eat with other slow eaters We all have an unconscious tendency to imitate people we are near. If you are dining with a ferocious eater, you might find yourself mimicking their bad habit and eating quickly just to keep up. To train yourself to eat slower, try finding slow eaters to influence you instead.
  10. Don’t eat when you’re starving Nothing makes me more likely to eat quickly than being famished. But sooner or later circumstance will get the better of you and you’ll end up hungrier than you should be. I always carry almonds or other nuts around with me for times like this, and I eat exactly 10 nuts to tide me over for an hour or so. After about 15-20 minutes, my hunger subsides enough for me to regain control of my eating speed.
  11. Dim the lights Environment can have a big impact on our mental state, and you can set your dinner mood by dimming lights or lighting candles. Dim lights induce an inner calmness and make it easier to slow down. On the flip side, be careful when eating under bright, fluorescent lights as they can spur frantic overeating.
  12. Play mellow music Slow, mellow music can also help set an appropriate eating pace. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is one of my favorite dinner albums. However, this trick only works if the music is truly slower than your natural, silent eating pace. If your music is any faster you may experience the opposite effect.

What are your favorite tricks for slowing down your dining?

This article was originally published September 9, 2009.

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