Do’s and Don’ts for Cook Out Season

Summer is officially and finally here (if you live in New England, you know what I mean by “finally” this year) and so is cookout season. This can be a very difficult time for people who are trying to watch their weight or eat healthily because we are surrounded by temptation – from fatty grilled meats to mayonnaise-covered salads to stocked beer coolers – it’s everywhere. It can be really hard to say no to these delicious temptations and even harder to deal with the aftermath, whether it’s weight gain or self-loathing. So, with Independence Day coming up next week, I thought this would be a good time to share my tips on how to get through barbecue season relatively healthy.

Do – Eat before you go

Having a healthful meal or snack before you head off to that cookout will help keep you from overeating once you get there whereas if you arrive hungry or starving you are far more likely to overeat on junk. A combination of lean protein and fiber will leave you feeling full longer, so try having some low-fat cottage cheese on whole grain toast or some grilled chicken and salad or some peanut butter and celery beforehand.

Do – Bring a healthy dish

Instead of making your famous macaroni salad that even you can’t resist, bring some cut veggies and dip or a quinoa salad with a citrus vinaigrette dressing. This will ensure that there is a healthy option for you to eat there. And your friends may appreciate it, too! You could also bring you own options to grill and ask the host to throw them on for you – like boneless, skinless chicken breast or vegetable kebabs.

Don’t – Hang around the snack table

There seems to be some unnamed law of physics that human beings are magnetically drawn to socialize at the snack table, but this pretty much guarantees mindless snacking – every healthy diet’s worst enemy. This doesn’t mean you have to be antisocial. I suggest finding a group away from the snack table to talk to or, if you start talking with someone at the snack table, suggest you move elsewhere by saying “wow, it’s kind of crowded over here, want to move that way so people can get in here?” Or even just be honest and say “if we keep standing here, I’m going to keep eating. Can we move away?” I can almost guarantee your conversation partner was thinking the same thing.

Do – Stay hydrated

When you are walking around talking to people on a hot day and eating salty food like chips and grilled meat, it is very easy to keep drinking alcohol. The problem with that is the more alcohol you drink the more you will crave that salty junk food and overeat. Be mindful of your drinking habits and alternate between your alcoholic drinks and water. This will slow down your alcohol consumption, make you feel fuller, and leave you feeling better the next day. Not to mention it’ll keep you safer.

Do – Get your exercise in

If you don’t have to be at a cookout until the afternoon, there is no reason you can’t get your workout in that morning! This will help you get energized and fire up your metabolism for the rest of the day. It will also leave you feeling more confident and better in your own skin – especially at those pool parties.

Do – Practice portion control

Balance. Balance. Balance. Balance. Did you get that? Balance. As a health coach, I can’t emphasize enough that the key to healthy living is balance. You should be eating healthy most of the time, but, when you want to indulge, you should – just make sure you’re eating reasonable portions and enjoying them mindfully so you feel satisfied with them.

Ideally, you want your plate to be 1/4 lean protein, 1/2 veggies, and 1/4 starchy veggies or whole grain. That is obviously not always possible when eating outside your home, but it’s important to try to get as close to that as you can.

When faced with a smorgasbord of summer foods, it can be easy to load up that plate and then go back for seconds. Instead, pick one or two indulgences you really want and place a small portion of them on your plate and fill the rest with healthy options. And don’t go back for seconds on those “cheat” foods.

Don’t – Beat yourself up

So you didn’t have the self-control you were planning to have and you ate and drank way too much. Guess what? You’re human. It happens to everyone – even health coaches and nutritionists. The worst thing that you can do in this situation is put yourself down for it. You are allowed to indulge occasionally and sometimes it’ll be too much. You need to let yourself have that and then just get back on track. It is so easy to beat yourself up for overindulging and that makes it easier to say “the hell with it – I already messed it all up, so I might as well just keep going because clearly I can’t do this anyway.” Then that thought process becomes your excuse and you end up feeling even more terrible. This is how setbacks become obstacles. The best thing that you can do for your health in this situation both physically and emotionally is be gentle with yourself – say to yourself “well, that wasn’t my best effort, but I’m not giving up on myself” and get right back at it. I’ve seen too many people defeat themselves by allowing one bad day to become a spiral and it’s not fair to yourself.

Some Moo-sings on Milks (see what I did there?)

Twenty years ago, you never would have guessed that milk would be a polarizing issue, but, here we are. The moo milk and the no moo fans are just as vehement that theirs is the right side of the issue and it can lead to some major confusion about which is actually healthier. If you’re in that boat, I’m here to break it down for you.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an almond milk drinker but not because I think it’s healthier than dairy milk or that dairy milk is bad for you. I just have never liked the taste of cow’s milk – in fact, getting me to drink my milk as a kid was a losing battle for my parents at 9/10 family dinners. Cheese, however, is a totally different story.

So let’s talk about the pros and cons of each type of milk.

Nut Milks

If you are lactose intolerant or sensitive to lactose, then nut milks are a great substitute for the moo. However, they are not a bastion of health as some would lead you to believe. Most store-bought nut milks contain both natural and chemical emulsifiers and there are concerns that those emulsifiers may harm our gut health and contribute to obesity.  In terms of nutrition, you’re really not getting much from nut milks. They are not a significant source of protein or fat; however, they do contain more calcium than cow’s milk. You may also find nut milks fortified with vitamins and minerals (such as Silk), but on their own, nut milks do not contain as much Vitamin A and Iron as dairy milks do. If you’re watching your calorie count, nut milks may be a good option for you since they are less calorie-dense than cow’s milk. Obviously, however, if you have a nut allergy you should avoid nut milks.

Soy Milk

Unlike nut milks, soy milk is a significant source of protein with just about the same as dairy milk. However, unlike moo milk and nut milks, soy milk is a good source of folate. One of my primary concerns with soy milk is the fact that most of the soy in the US is genetically modified, so if you are buying soy milk or any soy products, make sure that they are non-GMO certified or organic.

The greatest pitfall that nut and soy milks have is that they come in a number of sweetened flavors and people often buy these thinking they are doing something healthy for themselves. Just one serving of a sweetened vanilla almond milk contains 16 grams of sugar! If you are going to buy non-dairy milks, it is important to make sure that you are buying the plain, unsweetened variety. If it doesn’t say “unsweetened” on the label, then it’s sweetened and, if you’re not sure, check the ingredients list. (Note: sugar will appear in the nutrition facts in dairy milk, but that is the naturally-occurring lactose, not added sugar. You can confirm this by reading the ingredients).

Cow’s Milk

Unless you are lactose intolerant, cow’s milk is a solid option with some caveats. It is important to buy organic milk to avoid ingesting hormones or antibiotics passed on from treated cows. It is also important to select a low or reduced fat variety, particularly for adults, because it is high in saturated fats. Cow’s milk is a good source of calcium (though not the best) and it is high in protein. It also contains Iron and Vitamin A. So cow’s milk is not the unhealthy sludge it’s often made out to be (and to those who say it’s not natural to drink milk because no other animals drink another animal’s milk, I say imagine what society would be like if we based everything on what other animals do!)

So that’s the scoop on milk. As a heath coach, I can say there are pros and cons to each and it really depends on what works for you. Quite frankly, it’s time we stop policing what other people choose to consume so don’t be bullied into a milk you don’t want.

The Scoop on Supplements

If there is one thing that I find myself down the rabbit hole on most often, it’s dietary supplements. Through my training as a certified health coach, working with clients, and mentoring by some of the best nutritionists in New England, I’ve learned that dietary and herbal supplements are one of the most misunderstood aspects of health and wellness.

Some people think you don’t need supplements if you eat well. Some people think that all supplements are created equal and they can just buy whatever generic brand at the store. Some people think the more supplements you take the better. Some people think supplements are only for kids and sick people. None of these are totally accurate.

There are a number of reasons for this lack of clarity. First and foremost, supplements are largely based on a strategy of prevention whereas our health care system is based on treatment. Really, it’s not a health care system, it’s a disease treatment system. With this systemic focus, prevention is not going to get its due diligence because it doesn’t fit the paradigm and is not as profitable (though, it is, indeed, a very profitable market).

Since the system is built for them, drug manufacturers have the money and the power in the market. Using this influence, they can control the flow of information, the research focus, etc. Simply put, they are bigger and more powerful so they get the attention.

The structure of the supplement industry itself is not helpful for disseminating useful information to consumers. It is largely unregulated by the government and rapidly expanding, which means two things:

1. You need to do your due diligence as a consumer to make sure you are purchasing a quality product but that information is going to be very difficult for you to find because there are limited disclosure rules.

2. Supplement manufacturers are not allowed to make claims about what supplements do without substantiated scientific evidence. In an industry where the money is concentrated in the hands of pharmaceutical companies, it’s difficult for supplement makers to fund clinical studies so these supplements makers are left with the ability to only make very vague claims about the support they can offer your body.

On top of that, it seems like there is a new supplement out every week with claims about “amazing weight loss” or “body transformations” or “anti-aging.” The industry is expanding so quickly, it’s almost impossible for someone to keep up with. Because of this, I spend a lot of time researching a new product someone has heard of so I can recommend whether it’s worth trying or not (mostly, it’s not). (Pro tip: if it’s offering a quick fix, it is too good to be true. Likewise, be very wary of before and after photos and overly enthusiastic voice-overs.)

My main concern when it comes to dietary and herbal supplements is making sure that my clients are not only getting a safe product but also one that is what it purports to be. A majority of supplement companies claim the backing of scientific studies, but when you request that information a number of things may happen: said study doesn’t exist, the product itself was not studied but the ingredient it purports to contain was, they’ve paid a third party to conduct the study thereby influencing the findings, or the study was never done on human subjects.

Recently, an investigation by the New York State Attorney General found that just 21% of the supplements they tested from GNC, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target actually contained the ingredients they claimed to contain. Contamination and adulteration are also common issues with dietary supplements. The FDA is supposed to inspect supplement manufacturing facilities, but only gets around to a very small number of them – less than 20%. Given these facts, being able to review the studies that prove the supplements are what they say they are is crucial.

Knowing that doing product research can be a herculean task for people balancing work, family, chores, errands, volunteer responsibilities, and more, I made it a priority of mine to weed through the product claims and find a high-quality supplement company that I trust and can recommend to my clients. After months (literally) of research, I came to Shaklee. They have 20 years of clinical research on their products and you can actually access and read those studies online. They test their raw materials prior to production for purity and identity and they test their final products for purity and effectiveness. They will not put a product out there without science verifying its effectiveness. Furthermore, they have been in business since 1956 and have never issued a recall. Because of this, Shaklee is what I trust for me and my family and what I recommend to my clients as well.

If you want to learn more about dietary supplements – the industry, what to look out for, what to know, should you be taking them – then join me on Thursday, June 22nd for a free online event discussing the what, why, and how of supplements.

Phase 2 Check In

In my last blog post, I was ending Phase 1 and starting Phase 2 and was concerned about what impact having foregone protein for that week would have on my athletic performance so I wanted to give you an update on that.

I deliberately eased back into things last week so I could have been feeding my muscles protein for a bit before pushing them to get right back to it. So I started out easy with some walking and by Thursday I did a pretty intense strength training circuit and then did an hour-long cardio dance class on Friday. So I was able to get back into things fairly quickly. I was definitely sore after the fact, but I don’t think it was much more so than it would have been otherwise.

Since last week, I have done a 4-mile run one day, followed by a 3-mile run the next, plus some arms and abs and yardwork and I’m feeling really good.

So, if you’re concerned about cutting out major protein sources for a week, don’t be. Both physiologically speaking and speaking from my experience, there are no adverse effects from this one week without protein (note: men who participate in Fresh Start can consume certain proteins during the cleanse week).

In terms of food, I am still not craving the things I used to crave. Let me be specific: I haven’t craved pizza once since my cleanse week. I always always always want pizza, so this is a really BFD. Add to that, coffee, wine, bread – all things I love and were always my vices – I don’t crave them! Imagine you’re trying to lose weight or get on a healthier track. Now imagine how much easier it would be if you didn’t crave cake or pizza. How amazing is that?! So you can see how this program is a great way to get you set up for sustained weight loss.

One final food note: I’m only human and I did cheat over the weekend. I had Mexican food and two beers… and MAN did I regret it. My body just isn’t used to beer and corn chips and cheese anymore – and it shouldn’t be! I should say, if I had moderated better, I probably wouldn’t have had that much of a reaction, but the fact is that my body has changed.

In the next couple days I’ll be posting some smoothie recipes on the blog to keep things more exciting for Phase 2, so be sure to check back for those.

 

Phase 2!!!

I am officially DONE with Fresh Start Phase 1! Was it easy? No. But I wouldn’t say it was hard either. Yes, it sucked when I wanted a food I couldn’t have, but really the most challenging part was just making sure I planned ahead. However, if you’re someone who struggles with prepping food ahead of time, this would be a good way to get into the habit.

So after a week of raw fruits and vegetables and water, I am feeling AMAZING. It’s hard to describe exactly what has changed, but I just feel better, like cleaner. I haven’t had headaches like I used to, my skin looks and feels better, I’ve lost a little weight, I’m sleeping better, and my body just feels like it’s doing its job better. Like a whole system reboot. And I think it’s been totally worth cutting out some of my favorite foods for a week.

Phase 2 of the Fresh Start program is health-building. You gradually reintroduce foods, such as dairy and gluten, so it’s similar to an elimination diet in that sense. This allows you to identify foods that your body doesn’t process as well so you can choose to avoid them going forward. So, while it is tempting to jump right in after a week and eat all the cheese, that is not what I’m doing.

Today’s food is something like this:

Breakfast – a Shaklee Life protein shake with kale, berries, and almond milk. For the rest of Phase 2, I will be substituting a shake for one meal per day, but if I were looking for more dramatic weight loss, I would substitute two.

Snacks – healthy options like fruit, a handful of nuts, a hard-boiled egg

Lunch – lean protein and veggies (cooked or raw) and/or fruit. Today I had a salad with some grilled chicken.

Dinner – Half of dinner should be non-starchy vegetables, 1/4 a lean protein, 1/4 a starchy vegetable or whole grain

Essentially, you are eating clean for the next 4 weeks. Water intake continues to be crucial and things like coffee and alcohol should be limited.

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I’m also taking a new supplement this week, the Shaklee Life Strip. This thing is amazing. Seriously, look at it! The dark-colored liquigels are a polyphenol blend to repair and protect DNA; the yellow liquigels are an omega-3 fish oil; the two dark yellow pills are multivitamins; and the last lighter pill is a B and C complex. That is some major nutrition!

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So, how is this different from a diet? Well, the difference is that Fresh Start is not something that you blindly follow until you’ve hit your goal weight and then stop doing and bounce back. The primary goal of this program is not weight loss and you’re not going to lose 100 pounds doing it. Instead, you start out healing your body with food and optimizing your body’s functions. Then you reintroduce foods in a way that teaches you the right way to eat. And you don’t experience the crazy bounce back because you eliminated most if not all cravings during your first week by essentially rebooting your system. Your palette actually starts to change and your body starts craving the food it needs instead of foods that don’t fuel it and make it sick. It’s a great way to jumpstart your new healthy lifestyle and get you on the right track for sustainable weight loss.

This second phase of the Fresh Start lasts 4 weeks. I am excited to see the results at the end of it but so far I am really impressed with this program.

Fresh Start Day 6 – The End is in Sight!

Today is the second to last day of the Phase 1 Fresh Start cleanse and today is the first day where I am really noticing differences. I’ve been feeling really good this entire time and have had plenty of energy, but today is the first time I’m noticing physical differences.

First, I am feeling weight loss for the first time. My stomach feels flatter and my rings are looser. I wish I had done a before and after weigh-in, but I don’t own a scale (more on that in a later entry).

I’m also noticing a difference in my muscles. Yesterday I decided to do a super quick, easy, low-impact cardio workout, less than ten minutes, just to get my heart rate up. I mean SUPER easy and low impact, like less than jogging in place. And this morning I woke up stiff and sore from it. I typically workout 3-4 times a week and they’re intense workout sessions, both cardio and strength, so I’m really not happy about this. I mean, it’s totally to be expected – I haven’t had any significant protein for almost a week – and I knew going into it that I may lose some muscle mass. I am really anxious to get back to my regular workout routine, though, and now I’m concerned about how quickly I will be able to make that happen. Today and tomorrow I will be doing some stretching and I will give myself some time next week after I start eating protein again before I start working out.

I’m off to stretch so that’s all for now!

Fresh Start Day 4

“I was doing really well…until I read the word ‘bagel'”

Yup, I said that today. Not my finest moment. Also, America’s Test Kitchen and Phantom Gourmet are not my friends right now.

I am definitely missing some foods today, mostly carbs and cheese. But I’m finding that it’s only when I’m hungry. As soon as I have something to eat, I’m fine and not missing any foods. I guess that makes sense, but the fact that I’m able to be satisfied without eating the food I’m thinking of is pretty cool. I’m also getting better at getting to the root of these urges. For example, if I’m feeling like I want cheese, something with more heft and texture like avocado or mango satisfies me. It’s more the creaminess I’m after than the food so my body is likely telling me it needs some fat. Notice that I haven’t been using the word “craving” here. A craving is something that gnaws at you so you can only focus on getting the thing you want and that’s not what I’ve been experiencing at all. I think of a food that I would like to have, but I don’t feel like I need it and I can easily let it go. That is pretty amazing and I think really shows how this week helps reshape your body systems.

Speaking of body systems, this is a great week to really take care of your body. In addition to cleansing and slowing down, there are a number of self-care actions you can do that will actually help the cleanse along even more. For example, today I took a long, hot shower and exfoliated with a lavender sugar scrub. Exfoliation and massage are great for your lymphatic system. Getting plenty of sleep is crucial and I’ve been taking care not to eat before bedtime because fasting overnight helps your body focus its energy on detoxifying while you sleep.

One last update, I’m pleased to report that I have not yet experienced any Herxheimer reaction symptoms. As I think I mentioned in a previous post, this is when, in the course of a healing process, you must essentially feel worse before you feel better. Your body is being pushed into detox mode in this cleanse week and it’s common to show side effects, such as a headache, breakout, even flu-like symptoms as your body rids itself of toxins. Typically such symptoms crop up at around this point in the cleanse, so I’m pretty happy I haven’t had any (knock on wood).

So I’m over the halfway mark and still going strong. But, I can’t help but say THREE MORE DAYS!!!

Fresh Start Day 3

Today is Day 3 of Fresh Start and it’s still much easier than I thought it would be.

Yesterday, I woke up with a pretty awful sore throat and was nervous I was getting sick and would have to cut my Fresh Start short, but I took some Nutriferon for my immune system and am feeling 100% better today. So that’s a relief!

During this cleanse week, you’re really not supposed to exercise – 1. because your body is working hard to heal and 2. because you’re not eating any significant sources of protein so it could hurt your muscles. However, walking and stretching are A-OK to do, so I’m going for a walk with my mother today and I’m really looking forward to getting some movement in after spending so much time in the car over the past couple days. I’m used to getting 3-4 intense workouts in a week so holding back this week is challenging me.

Walking will definitely make me hungry so I’m going to be sure to bring some snacks with me: an apple, some carrots and cucumbers, maybe some celery, and, of course lots of water.

Just a quick check-in for today but I will be posting more updates this week!

 

Gratitude

One of the major things that I work with my clients to prioritize is self-care. This goes well beyond just eating right and exercising. Self-care is about making yourself a priority and doing what you need to do to feel good. It means taking time for yourself, it means saying “no” to things, and it means doing something good for yourself.

My major self-care practice lately has been starting off every day by making a list of the things I’m grateful for. I’m going through a very stressful time right now and this has been really helpful to me in keeping my spirits up. I start my day off on a positive note thinking about all the things I have to be grateful for and I can revisit that list throughout the day when I am starting to struggle. I revisit my gratitude list at night before bed and I add anything else to it that came up during the day and I take a few moments to just meditate on those good things. When I do this, I sleep much better and, when I sleep better, I feel better.

Numerous scientific studies have shown the benefits of gratitude – it improves your emotional AND physical health, your self-esteem, your sleep, your relationships, and so much more. Here is an article from Forbes discussing some of the benefits of gratitude if you want to learn more.

The more you make it a point to focus on the things that you’re grateful for, the more your energy will shift. You will feel gratitude more often and you’ll begin to see more and more of those benefits from it. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude will also make it easier for you to reach your health goals because you will find yourself feeling more optimistic and empowered.

So, I really encourage you to start a gratitude practice. Just making a list of the things your grateful for every day will have an effect on you. That list can consist of anything at all – I’m grateful that my partner took out the trash today, I’m grateful for that stranger who returned my wallet, I’m grateful for fluffy blankets – anything that you are grateful for, that made you smile, that made life a little easier for you.

Here is my list so far for today:

I am grateful for slow, quiet mornings. I’m grateful to have a supportive partner. I’m grateful to have access to the right resources when I need help. I’m grateful for a warm, comfortable bed. I’m grateful to have access to all of the fresh produce I’ve been eating. I’m grateful to have friends who believe in me.

I’ll add to it before bed tonight, but those are the things that came to me first thing this morning. What are 5 things you’re grateful for today?

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Fresh Start Day 1

Today is my first full day of the Fresh Start program and, I have to say, with a little planning and creativity, it’s been pretty easy.

As I explained in my previous post, this first week of the program is a cleanse week in which I can only eat fresh fruits and vegetables (or lightly steamed) and drink lots of water. I am also taking several supplements from Shaklee to help the cleanse process along. These supplements are alfalfa, Liver DTX, Herblax, and Optiflora probiotic.

I have spent this whole day consuming nothing but raw fruits, vegetables, and water. I’m actually staying with my “sister-in-law” today and tomorrow and she has done Fresh Start before so it’s been really helpful doing the program with her to start out. Since fruits and vegetables don’t pack nearly as much of the calories as protein or carbs, I am eating a lot more to keep my blood sugar stable and to keep satiated. Basically, we’ve been eating all day long. But we planned ahead for this. Last night, we cut up some carrots, radishes, and red peppers to snack on. We also made a dip for them by blending up some peas and avocado with some cumin, salt, and pepper. And we made some roll-ups using collard leaves stuffed with slivered carrot, pepper, guacamole, and salsa. All of that came with us to her office this morning (I was shadowing her) and we polished most of it off along with some oranges and an apple. We started the day off with a fruit and vegetable smoothie, a banana, and some herbal tea. For dinner tonight we had some cauliflower rice with mushrooms seasoned with cumin and a side salad of kale, greens, carrots, and avocado with some olive oil and vinegar.

So far, the most difficult part isn’t the food – it’s staying hydrated. When you eat a lot of fiber, as we are with so much raw produce, it’s critical to drink a lot of water – even more so when your goal is to flush toxins from your body. I’m at about 78 ounces of water so far and it’s been…inconvenient, if you know what I mean. But I don’t feel like I’m forcing myself to drink more than I want – I’m actually needing this much water.

In preparation for this week, I cut way back on my coffee intake last week because I knew that would be a challenge to give up along with carbs, diary, meat, etc. One thing that I have learned in giving up the coffee is that I really don’t NEED it physically. I’ve been doing fine energy-wise and have gotten only a minimal headache. However, I’ve come to realize that coffee for me is a major comfort source. I like to take my mornings slow, stay warm in my comfy clothes, and the aroma of coffee brewing and enjoying that warm cup is a huge part of my happy morning ritual. So I’ve been finding that I am craving coffee far more on an emotional level than a physical one.

 

Today has really brought to light for me just how much mindless eating I do in a day. I keep catching myself wanting to reach for the open bag of this or that on the counter or wanting to accept whatever food someone is offering a taste of. This week will definitely be an exercise in mindfulness.

I know that as the week goes on, I’m going to have to get more creative with my food to keep myself from getting bored. So I’ve put together some meal options that I can create during the week. Some of those are:

  • Sweet potato noodles with EVOO, sage, and diced apple
  • Beet noodles with balsamic and shredded brussels sprouts
  • Avocado and salsa with peppers instead of chips for dipping
  • Riced cauliflower with corn, carrots, peas, mushrooms, and liquid aminos (similar in flavor to soy sauce)

All in all, Fresh Start has been a piece of kale (see what I did there?) so far. I’m feeling really good today and am looking forward to how I’ll be feeling at the end of the week. Check back here for more updates as the week goes on!