Friday, May 18, 2007

One Hour A Week To Better Health

In order to facilitate healthy eating, you’ve got to do a little prep work. This is the point where most of us give up and cave in to the path of least resistance. We think we don’t have time to wash and chop all that produce, especially when it’s so much easier and cheaper to grab a prepackaged snack and call it good. Or maybe you start out with good intentions and buy a cart full of healthy produce, only to have it turn into a science experiment at the bottom of your crisper.

Precut fruits and vegetables can be expensive, and if this is the only way you think you’ll eat them and can afford to buy them this way, then stick with that plan. But the next time you’re in the grocery store, look at how much you can save if you buy an equal amount of unprepared produce. That five pound bag of regular carrots is usually the same or less than the two pound bag of the peeled baby carrots. Yes, it takes a little longer to process, but all it really takes is one hour each week.

I do my prep on Monday afternoon, but you can do it any day or night of the week that suits your schedule. To get started, I fill a pot with water and put on 8-10 eggs. In warmer months, I’ll also boil water so I can make a pitcher of iced tea. While that’s going, I get out all of my produce, zipper bags or plastic containers, a large stainless steel bowl, a vegetable peeler, a colander, a cutting board and my favorite knife. I might even put on some music to keep me moving. And then I go to work. As the eggs are boiling and my tea is brewing, I rinse anything that needs to be cleaned and let it drain in the colander. Next I peel my carrots and cucumbers, dropping the scraps into my stainless steel bowl. Then I start chopping.

As the hour passes, it is quite a sense of accomplishment to see all those produce bags on the counter transform into a stack of containers full of healthy snacks for the week. This is your fuel, your foolproof arsenal of tools for staying on track. Hungry between meals? No problem. Just look at what you can reach in and grab. On a good week, I’ll have an assortment of carrots sticks, celery sticks, red, yellow and orange bell pepper slices, cucumber slices, cubed watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew, rinsed red or green grapes, sliced strawberries or kiwis, or maybe even a fruit salad. Plus I’ve got a pitcher of iced tea to keep me from reaching for sodas all day long, and a bowl of hard-boiled eggs, which can be used as a quick dose of protein between meals on their own, or chopped and added to tuna salad, etc. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, it’s pretty easy to use only the egg white and not the yolk once they’re hard-boiled.

As an added bonus, you now have a stockpile of healthy foods to add to your kids’ lunches, instead of having to rely on individual bags of unhealthy chips, cookies and crackers loaded with trans fat, and sugary gummy snacks.

A few common sense tips:
* It might be wise to clean out your fridge before you start.
* Chop the messiest foods (like tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, kiwi, etc.) last and you’ll have less of a mess to clean on your cutting board.
* Some people like their carrots or celery stored in water to keep them extra crisp. Some don’t. Do what works best for you.
* Once your produce is prepared, put the containers back in the crisper and you’ll save some room on your refrigerator shelves.
* Don’t have an hour? Do what you can for a half hour while dinner is cooking. You’re already in the kitchen anyway. If you have to chop produce for the meal you’re preparing, it’s no big deal to chop some more for later in the week.

Depending on the size and needs of your family, you may choose to do this process twice a week to ensure freshness of your produce. Again, experiment and see what works best for you. Once you get into a rhythm, you’ll be so glad you took a little time to make such a big impact on the health and nutrition of your family.

Friday, May 04, 2007

How To Set A Goal

What’s a good weight loss goal? Experts say that even losing ten percent of your body weight will dramatically improve your health. So do the math. If that number is still overwhelming, break it down into increments, pound by pound if necessary, until you get there. Create a reward system for every milestone: 10 pounds equals a pedicure, a new book or CD, that shirt you've had your eye on. By focusing on the smaller goal, you're still working toward the larger goal, but without the all or nothing attitude, which often results in failure. Slow and steady wins the race.

A healthy loss is one to two pounds a week. But expect peaks and valleys. The trick to consistent weight loss is to change your routine about every four weeks. Your body naturally adjusts and finds more efficient ways to exercise. (even if you don’ feel it!) Increase the weight/reps in your strength training routine, add time or up the incline on your treadmill. Or throw in something new: a spontaneous jog around the block and run the hills. Soon you will enjoy your reward.

Dress for Success!

Pick out your workout clothes the night before. If you don’t have to dress for work or another occasion, put on your exercise gear first thing in the morning and get to your workout as soon as possible. The Lycra in these clothes makes us more conscious of how our bodies look and feel. Even if you won’t be able to work out for a few hours, you might be more mindful of your exercise plan, which in turn might keep you from making poor nutritional choices.

Conversely, if you need to work out after a day at the office, change into those workout clothes as soon as you get home. Sure, it's tempting to put on those ratty sweats and curl up on the couch with a bowl of ice cream, but isn't that what got you in this shape in the first place? Give yourself a few minutes to make the transition from work life to home life, and then go for the exercise gear.

Still can’t find the time to workout? Life happens. Babies need changing. Groceries run out. Unexpected phone calls keep us busy. Just make the most of the time you have. Since you’re already in your workout gear, take 15 minutes to do some stretches. Keep moving when you talk on the phone—walk at a comfortable pace through the house or yard, do calf raises or squats. Do as many crunches or push-ups as you can on commercial breaks. If you have stairs in your house, try this old standard from my track and field days: Run on the way up and walk on the way down. You can even add a pair of dumbbells to increase the difficulty. Don’t take the closest parking place to the store. Make it your “default” to add extra steps whenever you can. Briskly walk the full route of the store even if you just need a few things—just don’t linger in the snack aisle! Extra points if you return your cart when you’re done unloading.

Crank Up Your Metabolism

Now that you’re exercising regularly, it’s time to start eating like an athlete. Food is fuel for your engine. Would you fill your car with poor quality gas and slack on oil changes before a long trip? Of course not. Treat your body the same way. Your first meal each day starts your metabolism. Skipping breakfast “stalls” you until lunch time. You’ll lose a few hours your body could’ve spent burning fat. Skipping meals slows weight loss, and forces your body into starvation/survival mode, storing more fat. Instead, eat consistently throughout the day, small meals every three hours if possible. Metabolism naturally slows down about eight hours after waking. That’s the perfect time to work out. (Another good time is first thing in the morning, before breakfast. But you might want to have a banana before you hit that elliptical.) By working out when you’re metabolism slows, you burn more stored fat and give it a boost by increasing your metabolic rate for a couple more hours. The result will be increased energy and decreased waist size.

Not sure what to eat? Focus on lean protein at every meal, whole grains, fiber, lowfat dairy, and lots of fruits and vegetables. The idea is to eat slowly, and only eat enough to fill you up. You don’t want to feel full or hungry, just satisfied. This means your metabolism is burning steadily. A piece of string cheese with a slice or two of turkey is great between meals. Or try a handful of unsalted almonds. A protein bar or shake (or half of one) is another good choice. Another option is a piece of fruit with natural peanut butter and a small glass of milk.

Stranded at the Drive-Thru

It happens. Sometimes we find ourselves there whether we like it or not. But you can still make wise choices. Many places offer a nice grilled chicken sandwich. Skip the mayo and lay off the fries. At home, have a juicy apple or pear to finish your meal. A great choice on the run is Subway. Get a six-inch whole wheat roll, choose provolone instead of American (or omit cheese altogether) and load it with veggies. Go for mustard, but pass on oil and mayo. If you get a meal, count out a handful of chips and give the rest to someone else. Pizza? Not many healthy options, so try to minimize the damage by going to a place where you can buy by the slice. Take the time to blot the excess grease off the top with a napkin. Hit the salad bar if they have one—but skip the high-fat dressings. Drink a lot of water.

Most restaurant portions are two to three servings. Fill up on a salad or clear soup before your main course arrives, and then cut your meal in half and push it to the side. Ask for a box. That’s what you’re taking home. Don’t feel the need to clean your plate. Mom’s not there to lay a guilt trip on you about starving kids in China and tell you to clean your plate. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I deserve this treat, so I’ll order the biggest steak and the gooiest, most decadent dessert.” But it’s quality, not quantity, that matters. Have your steak, just don’t have it all at once.

At home, chop up that leftover steak and serve it over a salad or in a whole wheat tortilla for lunch the next day. You won’t have that “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” feeling or have to plan lunch the next day.

Finally, keep a protein bar, a piece of fruit and a water bottle handy for each family member so you don’t have to make those drive-thru stops in the first place. Our kids love getting their little "kit" together for a road trip. We use inexpensive plastic sports bottles that have a removeable core that can go in the freezer to keep beverages cold. Check your local drug store for these, especially as warmer weather approaches. Depending on how long we'll be gone, they might grab a Tiger Milk bar or a Z Bar, or some homemade snack mix with high fiber cereal, dried cranberries, and almonds, all neatly packed in a zipper bag or a small plastic container. It can be risky to eat in the car, so be aware while you are driving, particularly if you have young children who may choke.

Take Heart In Your Diet & Exercise Plan

Risk factors for heart disease include being overweight/obese; having high blood pressure, high triglycerides or low HDL; or a waist circumference larger than 35 inches. Family history is another factor. But knowledge is power. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you can assess your situation.

Like family history, some risk factors can’t be controlled. It’s a fact that heart attacks are more prevalent in men than women. And regardless of gender, everyone’s risk increases with age. However, many risk factors can be changed.

A person’s cholesterol level, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity/being overweight and diabetes can contribute to heart disease, but fortunately all of these things can be controlled or sometimes even reversed. Stress is another factor. Although not a primary cause of heart disease, this contributor is often linked to other risk factors like smoking, overeating and high blood pressure.

Excess fat around your middle—what some call “heart attack fat”—has been linked to increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. Researchers speculate that the link between abdominal fat and these conditions may be related to metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions such as high blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure—which can increase your disease risk. As waist circumference increases, so does the risk of each of those conditions. Researchers also note that excess abdominal fat may be associated with inflammation, believed to contribute to the risk of heart disease and stroke.
[Sources: American Heart Association and MediResource.]

Staying Motivated

We all fall into a rut and lose motivation at times. Even if we are successfully making progress, life can get hectic and our exercise plans can fall by the wayside. To keep yourself on track, here are a few tips to help you stay focused.

Set your routine and stick to it. Put it on your calendar. Cross it off when you’re done. Tell yourself that extra hour of TV is not a worthy substitute for your workout. You owe it to your kids to be here to watch them grow up and be able to pass on healthy habits. A good goal is a blend of strength, cardio and flexibility training each week. Identify your trigger foods and plan for healthy alternatives. Or know how much you’ll have to work out to burn off a serving of that food. Is it worth it?

Feeling weak and unable to resist? Concentrate on what size pants you are wearing right now. Get that number in your head and keep it there. Every time you see your trigger food, focus on that number. Want to cut out of your treadmill session early? What size pants was that again? Didn’t think so.

Remember that you have been through childbirth, grief, heartache, loss, pain and other challenges in the past and you are still here. Ten more minutes on the treadmill and a few push-ups will not do you in. Hang that sexy new outfit or a picture of yourself at a smaller size across from the treadmill so you can keep your focus each time you work out. If you pray at night, give thanks for the ability to stay strong and focused and you will reach your target.

Sometimes we run into a hectic stretch before a deadline or during our kids' sports seasons and it's hard to stick with our exercise program. This is not the end of the world. If you really can't squeeze in your regular workout routine, give yourself some leeway. It's OK to say, "All right, I'm not going to be able to work out this week, BUT, I won't abandon my healthy habits altogether." Resist the urge to cave in to fast food and make an extra effort to eat healthy and you'll be fine. Then as soon as the crisis is over, know that you will be back on track without having lost any momentum.