Thursday, December 07, 2006

Surviving Celebrations

Ever notice how every holiday and national sporting event has come to revolve around eating? Birthdays mean cake and ice cream. Valentine’s Day is synonymous with candy. The Super Bowl is an overgrown tailgate party. Thanksgiving—please. No need to go there. It’s hard to be “good” when you’re surrounded by so many temptations. But it’s not impossible. Here are a few strategies:

If you can, eat before you go to the party. Have a high protein meal or snack—a protein shake or bar is a good choice if you’re short on time—so you won’t be tempted to overdo it when you find yourself face to face with mounds of artery-clogging fried chicken, fat-laden spinach dip, and chocolate-flavored sugar bombs meant to express our affection for one another. Even if you have to partake, you are likely to eat less. No food should be off limits. Just enjoy it in moderation.

Can’t eat before you go? Fill your plate with healthier choices—vegetables (without the full fat dip), fruit salad, lean cold cuts, white cheeses instead of yellow, a single slice of French bread—and down as much water as you can to help fill your stomach. Leave just enough room on your plate for a small taste of your favorites. A spoonful of that loaded baked potato salad or a sliver of death by chocolate cake can go a long way.

If you’re having a hard time staying focused—eyes off that dessert tray!—think about the workout you’ll have to do the next day to burn it all off. Is it really worth it? That piece of cake might be 900 calories. You’d probably spend a few hours on the treadmill before you came close to burning it off. But one bite won’t put you over the edge, so enjoy it.

Substitute whenever possible. Chips and guacamole are tasty, but if you make them yourself, you’ll save a lot of fat and calories. You can make your own guilt-free tortilla chips by slicing tortillas and baking them in the oven. Some argue that although avocadoes have a lot of fat, it’s a healthy fat. And some diets count avocadoes as a fat rather than a fruit. Enjoy them in moderation. Or switch to salsa. Pure vegetables, no fat, and about 30 calories a serving. As an added bonus, tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. (It’s also found in watermelon.)

Finally, focus on the reason you’re celebrating, not the menu, and you’ll have an easier time setting limits and saying no to foods that can set you back.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Healthy alternatives and substitutions for cooking

It can be hard to give up our favorite foods. We are so used to the taste, but often it is easy to find a reasonable, healthier alternative that can be just as satisfying. You just need to take a few minutes to read labels. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Instead of … Maple pancake syrup (¼ C = 200 calories, 53 g sugar)
¼ C = 4 TBSP
Try … Strawberry Preserves (2 TBSP = 50 calories, 9 g sugar), OR Apple Butter (2 TBSP = 35 calories, 8 g sugar)

Instead of … White Rice (1 C = 242 calories, .5 g fiber)
Try … Brown rice (1 C = 218 calories, 3.5 g fiber)

Instead of … Browning meat in vegetable oil (1 TBSP = 119 calories, 13.5 g fat)
Try … Browning meat in low-sodium chicken broth (1 C = 10 calories, 0 g fat)

Instead of … Regular mayonnaise (1 TBSP = 57 calories, 5 g fat)
Try … Best Foods Reduced Fat Mayonnaise (1 TBSP = 25 calories, 2 g fat)

Instead of … Dean’s Guacamole Dip (2 TBSP = 90 calories, 9 g fat)
Try … Salsa (2 TBSP = 10 calories, 0 g fat)
Taco sauce has similar numbers.

Instead of … Regular cottage cheese (1/2 C = 117 calories, 5 g fat)
Try … Nonfat cottage cheese (1/2 C = 80 calories, 0 g fat)

Instead of … Microwave Butter popcorn (5 C = 200 calories, 12 g fat, 4 g fiber)
Try … Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop Butter microwave popcorn (1 C = 15 calories, 2 g fat, 6 g fiber)

Instead of … Yoplait Original Strawberry Yogurt (6 oz. = 170 calories, 1.5 g fat, 27 g sugar)
Try … Fred Meyer Lite Strawberry Yogurt (8 oz. = 100 calories, 0 g fat, 12 g sugar), OR Dannon Light & Fit with Fiber Strawberry Yogurt (4 oz. = 70 calories, 8 g sugar, 3 g fiber)

Instead of … Eyeballing it
Try … Always measure your fats (this includes cheese!) and sugars in any recipe, and see if you can taste the difference with a little bit less than what it calls for

Tracking Your Progress to Stay Focused

You're eating right and working out but you haven't lost any weight. Don’t be a slave to your scale! That’s only part of the equation. Take your measurements and invest in a scale that measures body fat percentage. The higher end scales are fairly accurate, and it will at least give you a ballpark figure. Record these numbers at regular intervals. You could gain muscle faster than you lose pounds. Saggy jeans mean you’ve lost inches, even if your weight stays the same. When you hit a plateau, focus on what you’re doing right. Don’t beat yourself up if you splurge or skip a workout. This is a lifelong commitment. You didn’t get this way overnight and you won’t achieve your goal overnight either. Celebrate small victories without food-based rewards. Dropped a dress size or increased reps in your workout? Buy that new book you’ve been wanting. Don’t focus on the big goal—dropping X number of pounds. Instead, break that down into smaller goals, say 5 or 10 pounds at a time, so you can stay focused. If you feel your workout is getting easy, switch it up. Add more weight to your strength training routine to build more muscle. Add more reps for better definition without bulk. Add five more minutes to your treadmill routine to build endurance. You will get there!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Healthy Snack Alternatives

Rule number one when making over your family’s snack habits is really simple: DON’T BUY JUNK FOOD. They can’t eat something if it’s not there. Invest a little time in the grocery store to find healthier alternatives, and build a routine to make your own. Not as fast as ripping open a bag of chips when you’re starving, but it is time well-spent, and through your example, your kids will learn patience.

Between meals, feel fuller longer by choosing protein mixed with carbs, especially heart-healthy whole grains. Try sliced apples and whole wheat crackers; a few handfuls of peanuts and raisins or other dried fruits; graham crackers with applesauce; fat free microwave popcorn with lowfat mozzarella cheese sticks; veggie sticks with a little peanut butter or lowfat dressing. Wash it down with a glass of water or light seltzer and you’re good to go. Making this part of your routine is a big step forward.

People often say to me, "My family could never give up convenience food! I'll never hear the end of it if I don't buy their favorites!" Well, the truth is, it's not as hard as you think. First of all, talk to your family about their choices. Review the nutrition labels and let them see for themselves why it's necessary to make this change. And then stick to your guns. Accept that it will be difficult in the beginning. But remember that you're doing this for a very good reason and it will pay off in the end. Remember how much of a challenge it was to get your kids to sleep in their own beds or use the toilet? It wasn't easy, but everyone survived, right? This is the same kind of thing. Don't give up if they don't endorse you on the first day, or the second, or the third ... Habits don't change overnight.

Set a good example for your family and they will follow. If your kids see you eating something, they usually ask to have their own, or at least want to know what it is, where you got it, and if they can have a bite. Make yourself a healthy snack and they will want to "share." Who knows, you might just get them hooked on healthy food.

Lay down the law. When all else fails, give them the choice. "I know you're hungry after school. You can have a cheese stick and some apple slices, or carrots and dip, or you can have nothing." Eventually, they will come around. Don't feel guilty for enforcing the rules! You are doing this for their own good. Yes, they may be disappointed at first that they can't have endless bags of gummy snacks and cans of soda, but they will get over it. Always remember why you are making this lifestyle change and it will be much easier to put your foot down.

10 Ways to Improve Your Family's Fitness

Increasing family fitness doesn’t require a lot of time or money. The most effective way to make progress is by making numerous small changes over a long period of time. You didn’t get out of shape overnight and you’re not going to get into shape overnight. It’s about making lifestyle changes you can live with. Concentrate on making smart, healthy choices and you will continue to make forward progress.

Get up and go for a walk. Lace up those shoes and get everyone out the door! You don't have to go at a brisk pace if you don't want to. In fact, if you have little kids, you know you’re not going to go very fast. The important thing is to get out and get moving. Show your kids what it means to be active.

Purge your pantry. Start with your pre-packaged, processed foods. Sure, they're convenient, but what are you really gaining in the long run? Excess calories, sugar, sodium and fat, all of which are counterproductive to a healthy lifestyle.

Plan a healthy menu for tomorrow. It only takes a few minutes! Sit down and figure out what to make without relying on fast food, fried choices and oversized portions.

Start up a game. Head outside for family friendly soccer, basketball, football, baseball or softball. Or how about Frisbee, badminton, or just an old-fashioned game of tag?

Talk to your kids about their choices. Do your kids know the difference between a "sometimes" food and an "every day" food? Help them look at the options from their school lunch menu or their favorite restaurant so they can see the difference. A treat once in a while is fine, but be sure they understand what that means.

Read nutrition labels. Teach your kids how to read the Nutrition Facts and the ingredients on their favorite foods. Compare cereals and see if you can agree on which choice is the healthiest. Or taste test healthy salad dressings and snack options so they can give their input.

Take a break and stretch. Even if yoga is not your thing, it only takes a few minutes to get a healthy stretch. Get the whole family involved in this one for a fun before bedtime or first thing in the morning ritual.

Make the parking lot your gym. Don't automatically go for the closest space to the store. Park a little farther away and you'll burn more calories walking back and forth, and pushing that cart of healthy groceries! Just running an errand? Walk or ride your bike if you can.

Turn off the TV, computer and video games. Sitting on the couch is not getting you anywhere. Instead of going your separate ways after dinner, have a family chat. Talk about your new choices, your challenges, and how you feel about the changes.

Substitute healthier choices. Replace one soda with water each day, swap a dessert for a piece of fruit, exchange chips for veggie sticks. Small changes over a length of time add up to a new, healthier lifestyle.

Support Can Be Beautiful!

One of the biggest obstacles families trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle face is a lack of support. There will always be children to watch, meals to cook, housework, homework and chores to be done. If we had an extra two hours in the day, we’d probably all be fit, right? At one point do we give ourselves permission to put responsibilities aside and make time for a workout? Each family must discover what works best for them, but as a general rule of thumb, you’re more likely to succeed if you plan your workout, set some guidelines AND plan alternative activities for everyone.

For example, I like to hit the treadmill first thing in the morning. Doing so starts my day with an accomplishment, and I can shower without interrupting the rest of the day. I can do strength and flexibility training at night, but if I do cardio before bed, I’m too wired to sleep. However, my husband works nights and takes morning classes on his off days, and my kids often wake up early. And as a former competitive athlete, I tend to get into “The Zone” when I work out, and I can’t handle distractions. So if I’m going to get a workout in, I need to finish, or nearly finish, before the kids come padding down the stairs.

In the past, this meant dragging myself out of bed and barely hitting the start key before being interrupted. This was incredibly frustrating and on more than one occasion I cut my workout short because I just couldn’t concentrate. Have you been there? Here you are, trying to do something healthy and positive for yourself, and you spend your time breathlessly telling the kids you don’t know what’s for breakfast yet, they need to go back upstairs and get ready for school, no you can’t fix that broken toy right now, stop chasing the cat, you don’t know where they left their library book but they could look for it themselves, leave your brother alone, etc., etc. Sure, it gets the heart rate up, but not the way you were hoping for!

To make things run more smoothly, sit down with your family and set some boundaries. Fortunately, my kids are old enough that they can take care of themselves when they wake up. Something that helps is letting them pick a book or quiet activity to do if they hear me on the treadmill. You might enlist the help of an older sibling to look after your youngest. Give the kids a list of chores—like making their beds, straightening up their room and getting ready for school—which they must finish before they leave their room. This works for people who like to work out later in the day as well. Just change the list to suit your family’s needs and abilities. Maybe this is a good time to have the kids gathering up their dirty laundry or emptying the wastebaskets. And there’s always homework. Even if your kids are not old enough to have homework, a few coloring and activity books from the dollar store or puzzles can be very handy. If you still need help, see if a neighbor is willing to swap babysitting duties with you and you can each get a workout while the other watches the kids.

Also make sure that you are talking to your family about why you need the time to work out. Try to avoid saying, “Mommy wants to fit into a certain size,” or “Dad needs to lose 50 pounds.” Those statements might be true, but when you say that to your kids, you are emphasizing appearance over health, and that is setting them up for poor body image issues down the road. Instead, tell your kids you want to work out so you can improve your health and fitness level. They usually understand the concept of practicing skills in order to improve. They do it with their spelling words, on their sports fields, in their music lessons, etc. So let them think of your workouts as “practice” toward better health and they’ll get it. We all need to understand that good health and fitness should be part of our daily lives, not just something you think about once in a while. Adopt this attitude yourself and it will rub off on your children. And once they understand that, it will be much easier to enlist their support.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Welcome to Family Fitness Files

Welcome to Family Fitness Files. It is our goal to provide you with ideas and resources for helping your family get fit and stay fit, together.

It's not a big secret that American families are growing unhealthier every year in record numbers. Look at the average American lifestyle: high stress and jam-packed schedules often lead us to drive-thru windows and overly processed convenience foods loaded with sugar and fat, all adding up to lowered standards in terms of health and nutrition.

Many of us know that we are not eating or exercising properly, but we give up because we think that healthy living requires an all or nothing approach. Even worse, we pass on our unhealthy habits to our kids, setting them up for all sorts of health challenges later in life. But it doesn't have to be that way!

The good news is that any family can become healthy and fit. It takes less effort than you might think. And there's no need to spend lots of money on fancy exericse equipment or gym memberships. Those things can help, but they aren't a requirement of a healthy lifestyle. All it really takes is a simple commitment on your part to set an example by making better choices.
At Family Fitness Files, it is our mission to help you see how simple it can be to change bad habits into good habits, to cultivate a healthier lifestyle for you and your family, and above all, to make fitness fun.

Here is a chance to get fit and stay healthy for each other. Your family deserves it!