Always Learning

Lenny's

Photo from Lennysnyc.com

One of my favorite quotes is one attributed to Socrates, “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.” Even when we think we know it all; there is more to learn. That goes for fitness and nutrition, even for a health coach.

This morning, I was trying to figure out what I wanted for dinner. I have a bootcamp style class at 5:30 and I’m running  to an event at 6:30, so I need something that’s quick, easy, and healthy. I decided I would stop at a Lenny’s (a NYC chain) for a quick salad or sandwich. I looked on their website to see what the choices were and found that they provide a handy nutrition counter so you can try different options and their nutritional value. I looked at the bread choices and immediately went to the whole-wheat wrap. I was surprised to see it was so high in calories! The bigger surprise was that the whole wheat roll was less than half the calories and much less fat.

As I played around with the website a little more, I was surprised to see how much I didn’t really know about the nutrition in bread. Bread is one of those things that I generally avoid; choosing whole grains when I do indulge. Clearly, I never paid close attention.

Learning something new doesn’t mean you weren’t doing well before; it just means you have one more tool in your arsenal to help you make the best choices possible. For me, this is one more lesson that I can give to my clients, one more tip to help them on their weight-loss and fitness journey.

Here’s the link, if you’d like to take a look for yourself. What I love about resources like this is you can use it for other restaurants that don’t do such a great job of posting information.

Have you ever been surprised by the nutrition information in your favorite foods? What’s one small thing you’ve learned that’s made a big impact?

3 Tips to Beat Your Sweet Tooth + 10 Low-Sugar Sweets

sweettooth

SUGAR. One of the biggest challenges to anyone trying to lose weight or just be healthy. Why is it so hard to give up sweets? Whether your cravings tend towards Snickers, brownies, or Sweet Tarts, why is it so hard to say no? Well, there’s actually a reason for it and it isn’t that you lack willpower. According to the ADA, ‘sweet’ is the first taste that humans prefer. Carbohydrates actually stimulate the release of the chemical serotonin which is one of the chemicals responsible for happiness. The catch is that carbs come in many forms like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And while these are much healthier options, it doesn’t change the fact that we crave sugar. So what’s a girl to do?

I’m a little over half-way through with my two-week challenge to cut down on my sugar intake, and it’s been tough. One obstacle I’ve had is that many sweet, low-sugar processed foods are made with sugar substitutes. That means lots of chemicals that I don’t want in my body. Another obstacle is the high sugar content in fruit. A banana has 16 grams of sugar! The truth is, I haven’t hit my 25 gram goal every day, but I have learned some valuable lessons that will help me stay low-sugar even after my challenge is done.

  1. Naturally occurring sugar can be ok. If cutting down on sugar means cutting fruit out of your diet, there’s a problem. Fruits have important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function and it’s much healthier to get these from real foods than a supplement. You still need to keep portion control in mind and not go overboard, but don’t stop eating apples and oranges. Focus on reducing your added sugar.
  1. Find a balance. I try to cut down on my chemical sugar substitutes as much as possible, but I’m not perfect.Therefore, I try to stick with foods that use the plant-based Stevia instead of saccharin and aspartame. The tick here is to limit them (especially the chemicals) and not beat myself up if I indulge every once in a while.
  1. Sugar hides in a lot of unexpected places. When I started paying attention to my sugar intake, I was shocked to see where it was lurking. From soups to yogurts to sauces, even your savory packaged and restaurant foods probably have more added sugar than you realize. Start looking at the sugar content when looking at nutritional information and you’ll be one step closer to making smarter sugar decisions.

So with that, here are 10 snacks that have helped me through my two-week challenge.  Just make sure to read the packaging before buying and make sure you get a version without added sugars!

  1. Cut up pineapple and shredded coconut
  2. Frozen grapes
  3. Trail mix with dark chocolate chips
  4. Oatmeal made with unsweetened vanilla almond milk, cinnamon, and dried fruit
  5. Light yogurt (but make sure you check the sugar count and the ingredients! Not all yogurts are created equal. I suggest Siggi’s if you want a flavored yogurt, but your better off buying plain and flavoring yourself with fresh fruit)
  6. 100% fruit popsicle
  7. Banana ice cream – you just blend a frozen banana until it’s smooth. You can add cocoa powder or peanut butter for a little extra punch
  8. Fat free pudding
  9. Enlightened Ice Cream (this can be found in health food stores)
  10. A spoonful of natural peanut butter. (or on a banana, or apple, or celery, etc)

How do you beat your sugar cravings??

Happy New Year + SMARTer Resolutions

New-Year_Resolutions_list

Happy New Year everyone! Whether you were relaxing at home or out on the town, I hope you had a wonderful New Year and holiday season. I had an amazing vacation with Jared to Vegas and Dallas (two cities that always go together!) We gambled a little, saw Jerry Seinfeld, ate a lot of delicious food, and caught up with friends. It can be hard to get back into the swing of things after a long time off, but I’m so excited to be back on my blog, back at work, and back to my normal workout routine.

With 2015 finally here, it seems like everyone is talking about New Year’s Resolutions and I’m no exception.

It can be tempting to make sweeping resolutions like “be a better friend” or “eat healthy and exercise” but I’ve always found that being specific with my resolutions (and goals in general) is the best way to keep them. One easy way to think about resolutions is to ask yourself if they’re SMART. SMART is an acronym that’s often used in project management, but it can really be used for any type of goal. It stands for:

S – specific

M – measurable

A – achievable

R – results focused

T – time bound

If your resolutions fit these criteria, you’re off to a great start! If not, how can you break them down so that they’re SMARTer?

Jared and I decided to start of the year on a physically clean slate by cutting out caffeine and alcohol for the first two weeks of the year. Depending on how our bodies feel at the end of two weeks, we may add them back into our diets, but in a more limited way. I’ve decided to challenge myself a step further and cut out added sugar for the two weeks, as well. The American Heart Association suggests women have no more than 25 grams of sugar a day which is surprisingly low. It’s going to be tough, but my goal is to stick to 25 grams daily for two weeks and see how I feel at the end of it.

This resolution is:

Specific – cut down on sugar

Measurable – 25 grams a day

Achievable – It will be tough, but it’s totally in my control

Results Focused – By January 19th, I’ll hopefully have less sugar cravings and more energy

Time Bound – 2 weeks

What are some of your resolutions for 2015? Are they SMART?

A Little Preparation Goes a Long Way

Untitled

My vacation is in full swing and so far, I’ve been enjoying every moment of it. Everyone needs a break once in a while and I’m trying to really turn off work and relax. On Thursday, Jared and I leave for a 5 night trip to Vegas, and I can’t wait!

I know for me, it’s easy for diet and exercise to fall to the wayside when I’m away. I don’t beat myself up over it because you SHOULD indulge, that’s what vacations are for. But falling off the wagon completely always makes me feel worse, so I try to get a bit of exercise in when I can. For me, it’s all about preparation. When I’m home, my workouts are in the calendar so I do the same thing on vacation. Maybe not as specific, but I plan in advance which days I’m going to work out and which days I have off. I call the hotel ahead of time to find out if there’s a gym. If there isn’t one, I decide ahead of time what ‘in the room’ workout I’m going to do (for this trip, I’m using a barre video from Gina at The Fitnessista). It takes a little extra planning, but I’m always glad I did it. And everyone is ALWAYS impressed when they hear you worked out over vacation!

**Click here for Gina’s awesome workout!

Friday Faves

I’m so pumped for this weekend! I’ve got a weekend full of family beginning with my brother and his girlfriend spending the night at our apartment, Jazz at Lincoln Center with my parents on Saturday, and my family Hanukkah party on Sunday. I’m taking time off the next two weeks and I can’t wait to rest and relax before the New Year.

Photo Dec 18, 8 35 02 PM

I LOVE colorful healthy food and this simple stir-fry always fits the bill!

Photo Dec 18, 7 13 35 PM

Celebrating Hanukkah with the Empire State Building

Photo Dec 17, 7 38 59 PM

Manhattan Mini Storage is known in New York for their hilarious and spot on ads. This is one of my favorites.

Photo Dec 17, 1 14 27 PM

The most amazingly epic engagement photo. Shot by the brilliant photographer Ed Hafizov at Zorz Studios

Happy Hanukkah! +3 Tips for Staying on Track this Season

Chanukah_gelt

Happy Hanukkah everyone! Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays of the year. I love the decorations, the festivities, the candles, and of course, the latkes and donuts.

This month, my monthly pot-luck dinner with the girls fell on the first night of Hanukkah and I was thrilled.  I immediately offered to make latkes. They make your entire house smell like fried oil, but it’s always worth it. Our dinner included latkes, pistachio chicken, an apple and cranberry salad, plus a yummy tofu dish and sides of brussel sprouts and broccoli. We ended the meal with hot-from-the-skillet munchkins. It was a feast and we enjoyed every single bite.

Photo Dec 17, 11 28 27 AM

There was a time when I meal like this would have caused me a ton of stress. First of all, how are you supposed to track all of this food? And more importantly, aren’t the latkes and donuts going to completely derail my diet? But I look forward to them every single year, so what am I supposed to do?

Photo Dec 17, 11 29 29 AM

I’m a big fan of tracking calories and nutrition and there can be so much stress when you know you can’t track everything perfectly. I’ve learned a couple of lessons over the years to help me stay on track (and stay sane) in these types of situations. Because at the end of the day, celebrations should be just that – CELEBRATIONS! Not added stress in our lives. Here are my tips to help you track your way through the holidays.

  1. Be aware of portion sizes and make your best nutrition estimate based on what the dishes are and whatever food database you choose to use.
  1. Ask your friends for their recipes and use them to track what you ate. Again, you’ll have to be aware of portion size and try to estimate the best you can. I do this one all the time and have collected some of my favorite recipes this way!
  1. This one might be a shocker, but consider disregarding your tracking for one night. Yesterday, I ate a healthy breakfast and lunch and kept my snacks minimal. I didn’t have time for the gym because the dinner was at my apartment so I tried to get extra steps in. And I relaxed. I kept my portions reasonable and I tracked what I could (like the latkas, which I made and the donuts, which I got the recipe for) and this morning, I’m right back to tracking again.

Not every tip will work for everyone and that’s ok. If you have an all-or-nothing personality, tip #3 might not be your best choice. If you’re going to a party where you don’t know people well enough to ask for recipes, tip #2 might not work for you. But remember, what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. And enjoy the holidays!

Entertaining, the Healthy Way

Entertaining

This weekend, we had friends over for Friday night dinner. Jared and I love to entertain, and it’s important to us that our guests feel special and welcome when they’re in our home. One of my goals as a health coach is to prepare a meal that isn’t just delicious but is healthy, as well. I think it sends a message that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring, bland, or unappetizing. And often, health-ifying a recipe doesn’t take much more effort than its unhealthy counterpart.

This Friday, I made chicken puttanesca with the option of whole wheat pasta, apple-walnut salad with cranberry vinaigrette, and chocolate cupcakes. I will say that dessert is often the hardest for me because it can be tough to find recipes that are nutritious. The recipe I made isn’t exactly healthy and I wouldn’t suggest it as a regular option, but for special occasions, it was a delicious and much lower in calories and fat than the original recipe.

Here are the recipes for our Friday night meal. Where do you go for healthy recipes?

Delish

Chicken Puttanesca

Apple-Walnut Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette

Chocolate Cupcakes (I used seltzer water)

Nobody’s Perfect

whatyoudoeveryday

Do you have a guru? Perhaps not in the traditional sense of the word, but maybe someone you consider as a master or teacher? For a long time, I’ve admired and respected the teachings and insights of author, Gretchen Rubin. Rubin has written a number of books on a variety of subjects and it’s her two books on happiness, The Happiness Project and Happiness at Home that led me to jokingly (and not so jokingly) refer to her as my guru.

As a lover of quotes, lists, and mantras, it’s no surprise that Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood resonate with me. One of my absolute favorites is, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

No one is perfect and it’s silly to try to be. Sometimes we have an extra drink when we know we shouldn’t. Sometimes we accidentally leave someone on an email that we meant to take off. Sometimes we miss a workout because watching the latest episode of Modern Family just can’t wait any longer. What’s important is to remember that if those mistakes truly only happen once in a while, it’s ok.

I keep this hanging on the wall as a reminder to acknowledge my mistakes and learn from them – but to also let them go and not beat myself up. We all deserve a pass once in a while.

 

**This post has not been sponsored by Gretchen Rubin in any way; I’m simply a fan. If you’d like to read more, check out www.gretchenrubin.com.

3 Tips to Win the Willpower War at your Thanksgiving Table

14624939651_2a546034c4_z

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to avoid snacking in the morning than after dinner? Or if you’re really sad about something you care less about getting to the gym? Well, there’s a reason for it and it’s not that you’re lazy.  It’s called the Principal of Limited Self Control or Ego Depletion – the idea that self-control and willpower are limited resources that can actually be used up and need to be replenished by rest. That’s why when you’re tired after a long day of work; it seems harder to resist that cookie. Or when you’re stressed out by family issues it’s harder to get to the gym. When you’re using all of your willpower just to get through the day, you have little left over for things like exercise and healthy food.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and for many, that means potentially stressful travel, potentially stressful family time, and a lot of tempting food – things that can easily deplete your self-control. Here are a few tips to help you win the willpower war this Thanksgiving with just a little advanced planning:

  1. Plan Ahead. Planning for obstacles in advance means you’ll need less willpower when the situation comes up because you won’t have to think about it. Find out what will be on the menu ahead of time and create a game plan. Decide in advance what you’ll fill up on (like roasted veggies and lean turkey) and what you’ll indulge in. You won’t feel like you’re missing out and you won’t go crazy when you see all of the delicious food out in front of you.
  1. Develop an ‘If-Then’ Strategy. For example, “If Aunt Martha asks me to try one of her cookies that she made just for me; I will take one, eat half of it, and put the other half back on the table.” Or, “If everyone has a drink in their hand before dinner, I will have a glass of club soda and put a lemon in it.” Like the first tip, if you’ve already developed a plan, you won’t have to think about it when the time comes.
  1. Offer to make something. What’s your weakness at the Thanksgiving table? Whatever it is, you can make a healthy version to bring with you so that you can indulge without the guilt. I have a sweet tooth, so this year, I offered to make dessert. I know exactly how much is in a serving size and I can enjoy without having to worry.

Another tip that’s been shown to help with willpower is exercising in the morning, before the meal.  Studies have shown that when you work out before eating, you tend to eat less because you’re more aware of the work you just did.  Another tip is to not starve yourself before you sit down for dinner.  You’ll be wasting that valuable resource of self-control and won’t have as much left for the actual meal.

And remember, that no matter what happens this Thursday, it’s only one day. So even if you’re not the picture of perfect nutrition, give yourself a break, enjoy the holiday, and jump back on that horse on Friday.

 

10 Thoughts That Are Holding You Back

abis

As I continue with my studies to become a certified health coach (!!) one of my favorite topics is behavioral psychology. At its core, behavioral psychology is all about habits – how we acquire (and eliminate) certain behaviors through conditioning. Every time I read a new theory it’s like getting an insider tip and I wanted to share one that anyone can use when trying to adopt a new habit.  It’s called the 10 Cognitive Irrational Distortions**. These are 10 things that people do that get in the way of their progress.

The trick is, once you’re able to identify them, you can start tuning them out.

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking – Looking at things in absolutes without acknowledging the grey area. (I’m either a healthy person or I’m not. And I’m not.)

2. Overgeneralization – Viewing a negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat (I ate too much junk food today, just like I do every single day.  I’ll never be able to stop.)

3. Mental Filter – Dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives (It doesn’t really matter that I ate well today because I didn’t get to the gym.)

4. Discounting the Positive – Insisting that accomplishments or positive qualities ‘don’t count’ (Of course I ate healthy today, I wasn’t near any junk food. I still don’t have any self-control when it counts.)

5. Jumping to Conclusions – Assuming that people are reacting negatively when there is no evidence or arbitrarily predicting that things will turn out badly (I’m overweight and I’ll never be able to get in shape.)

6. Magnification and/or Minimization – Blowing things way out of proportion or vice versa (I didn’t eat a healthy breakfast so it’s going to ruin my entire day.)

7. Emotional Reasoning – Believing that your feelings are true even when there is no evidence (I feel like an idiot, so I must be one.)

8. ‘Should’ or catastrophe statements – criticizing oneself or other people with ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts’ (I should’ve gone to the gym today.)

9. Labeling – Identifying with one’s shortcomings (I’m a failure and have no self-control. Instead of saying ‘I made a mistake.’)

10. Personalization and Blame – Blaming oneself for something that the person was not entirely responsible for (All of our plans fell apart today and it’s all my fault.)

Do you catch yourself using any of these? What do you do to combat these kinds of negative thoughts?

 

**Adapted from the ACE Health Coach Manual. For more information, go to ACEFitness.com

Photo: Markus Spiske / http://www.temporausch.com / CC-BY