Monday, July 14, 2008
2 Nutrition Tip #10: What I Will & Will Not Do In the Name of Nutrition......
I'd like to think that, when it comes to exercise & nutrition, that I'm a practical & realistic person. I don't believe in fad diets, diet pills or drugs, or quick fixes. If I'm unsure of what some chemical compound is going to do to the human body, you better believe that I'm not going to just blindly put it in mine. I'll take the sane & healthy route, thank you very much.
I do read labels & check ingredients, & of course, watch my fat intake, but I'm not some kind of unhinged wacko who will never eat a potato chip. I also refuse to count calories or carbs, because frankly I think that this sort of thinking is silly & unrealistic, and doesn't really address one's true dietary needs or concerns. Plus, I don't have the time or the patience to sit around counting these sorts of things, & frankly, even if I did, this tactic has never ever worked for me, & I doubt that it ever will.
Rather, I've got a tool which is even more powerful -- my own brain!
So what exactly do I mean by this? Well, for starters, I now think like a healthy person. Please note that I expressly did NOT say that I now "think like a thin person." There's so much more to being healthy than just focusing upon a singular aspect like one's weight. (I'm not denying the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, but it's certainly not the only factor in maintaining one's health! There's far too much focus in the media on this sort of thing, & I refuse to gratify the baser, pettier thoughts around this topic.) Rather, it's about truly achieving balance & moderation in various aspects of one's life, & about openly facing challenges & emotions, as opposed to sublimating them with food & exercise or some other means.
I eat regular meals & snacks, & the experience of eating is about.... well, eating & enjoying my food. (And when I say "eating" I mean providing nourishment for the body.) And if I do happen eat a French fry or two, it's a conscious decision, usually based upon my estimated daily & weekly fat intake calculations, & is not a scene from the melodramatic one-act play, "My Emotions, Myself, & My French Fries." ;-)
As most of us already know (or have hopefully learned through personal experience!), it never pays to sublimate emotions or stress with food. A person who tries to "work out issues" using food never really resolves the true issues, because the issues are really the thoughts &/or emotions which need to be expressed & dealt with, not stuffed down with a helping full of French fries. ;-)
So, how did I arrive at this point of "nutritional enlightenment"?! ;-) Well, the "how" is a very long story, but I will share with you some of the tips & techniques that work for me. Who knows, maybe they'll work for you too.......
First of all, I got on the right track by practicing the basics: A lot of what I do now which really works well for me is based upon a combination of things I learned from my time spent at Canyon Ranch & some highly useful techniques I gleaned from the Abs Diet books & site. (Please note that the latter is not actually a diet! It's a nutritional plan.)
I focused on the fundamentals of balanced, healthy eating & used well-established, common-sense guidelines to measure my portions. Once I got the basics down, it became much easier for me to extrapolate on a theme. What I mean is that, whereas I might've started out by measuring & weighing my food on a food scale or via other means, now I don't need to do that. Now I can just eyeball portion sizes, & I know what portion sizes are just right. I also know, based on practical experience, what is too little or too much. At first it was a bit of trial & error, but the larger point is that I learned how to manage my food intake in a healthy & realistic way. I use my eyeballs & my memory to determine how much I should eat of a particular food. I keep a mental tally of how much fruit, veg, & other types of food I've eaten throughout the day. I also know roughly how much fat I've consumed, & if I still have a little "wiggle room" on that front. ;-)
I've also established a set of my own personal guidelines for coping with various challenging food scenarios. If you're curious about the specifics, then you'll definitely want to check out previous articles I've written on this particular topic: I'd recommend that you start with this post & then move onto this post next.
(If you'd like to read articles I've written about specific nutrition guidelines, then you're welcome to read this post & also this post as well.)
I think that a lot of what healthy living & eating is about is frankly just using common sense & one's G-d-given senses. If you just use proven resources that are backed by sound, medical science, train yourself properly, & perpetually reinforce what you learn through continual application & practice -- using your own "natural resources," i.e., your brain, taste buds, nose, & your eyeballs -- most likely, you'll be in good stead.
It sounds simple, because it is simple!
Of course, we ourselves are often the greatest challenge we face -- Most times, all we need to do is to just step aside & get out of our own way! Otherwise, we block the path to our own progress. We need to focus on & invest in the solution, what we have or have got going for us, & what we ourselves can do to get there, & instead of focus on what isn't working or what we don't have. I know I probably sound like a broken record on this particular subject, but this point is just so crucial to making progress, that I can seem to say it enough! It's simple but quite profound. Of course, it feels different when you go through the arc of the actual experience itself, versus just talking about it. ;-) These revelations are an experiential learning curve that cannot be merely learned via osmosis.
And then, there are other useful things I do to simplify my life: When it's time to eat, I eat. I don't distract myself from the experience. I try to enjoy it fully & pay attention to when I feel full.
I eat regularly & often (to stabilize blood sugar levels & thus also eliminate/curb any potential urges to overeat).
When I prepare meals & snacks, I'm thinking about two main concerns -- how it's going to taste & what it's going to do for my body. (Sometimes those two factors might conflict with one another - LOL!, but for the most part, it's not really a huge or continuing struggle. I know that I'm in complete control of the decision-making process; and whatever I decide to do or to eat, I'm not going to agonize endlessly over the choice. I'm just going to figure out what the best course of action is for that particular moment in time & then just do it, having complete confidence in my decision.)
The body is an engine as well as a temple. I believe that the act of eating is about nourishing both the body & the soul.
As for specific techniques, here are some of the things I currently do that really work for me:
Since these days I'm very pressed for time, I find myself making very simple meals. (For the most part, this has actually been a very good thing. Whole foods are usually healthiest when done simply.) One of the reasons I haven't updated my recipe blog in ages is that I frankly have had zero time to cook in the past few months. ;-)
So, instead, I find myself returning to some "oldies-but-goodies" -- those reliable, tried-but-true food choices that take minimal preparation but are big on nutrition. Here are some examples:
I have the same two or three types of cereal in the morning, & don't make a big fuss over it. I'm not a picky prima donna when it comes to breakfast food. My breakfast is there to nourish me, & I don't have a lot of time to futz over the preparation. Don't get me wrong, I still want it to taste good, but since I'm focused on getting to work on time, this is clearly not the time for me to make a 3-course breakfast or even "home-made crumpets & tea" ;-) Like most people, my breakfast has got to be fast, or it's not going to happen at all. (And I don't believe in skipping breakfast; that's just NOT an option. I won't rattle on endlessly about the health benefits of eating breakfast; that's already been addressed ad naseum. We'll let someone else be the dull one & drone on endlessly about that. ;-) )
I eat my breakfasts for energy, as well as nutritional value, focusing on organic whole grains, omega-3 fats, plant-based proteins, & natural fruits: The three high-energy staples that work for me are a no-added sugar whole grain cereal like "Alpen," "Post Spoon-sized Shredded Wheat 'N' Bran," or a hot cereal like oatmeal. I typically combine them with slivered almonds & some sort of natural fruit like a banana, peaches, nectarines, or blueberries. I also take a multivitamin, "Advanced Triple-Strength Osteo Bi-Flex Glucosamine Chondroitin MSM with Joint Shield" (for joint health), & a variety of other vitamins on a daily basis.
In the mid-morning & afternoon, I typically will eat a piece of fruit & 8 eight almonds (which is a single snack-sized serving). Or, sometimes I might have baby carrots & a cheese stick instead, or celery & all-natural, low or no-sugar peanut butter (It does have salt, thank goodness! ;-) ) . I also recently found these wonderful organic dried fruit strips in various flavors (i.e., "Archer Farms' Organic Naturally Flavored Fruit Strips") at Target that I also use as snacks; they're really great because they are all natural, only 45 cal. per slice, & contain zero fat; plus, I can literally shove them in my pocket & eat them on the go.
It all depends on my mood & what I decided to bring to work that morning. And since I typically stop at home to eat lunch, the afternoon snack can also be changed up again later if I really feel like it. ;-)
For lunch, I will typically have a can of sardines (i.e., a good source of Omega 3's), either served on a bed of salad or on a slab of matzo. If I choose the latter option, I will usually round out my meal with some other types of veggies, like carrot sticks, red pepper slices, or cucumbers. Veggies are an excellent source of fiber, & are also very useful for when you are looking for that just-right, healthy "something" to help you flesh out the remainder of your meal & attain that feeling of satiety.
Another lunch option I greatly enjoy is a mozzarella, basil, & tomato sandwich on sourdough bread: I slice two slices of sourdough bread & toast them; while the slices are toasting, I prepare the other ingredients, slicing 1 vine-ripened tomato, 2 fresh mozzarella balls, & then breaking off a few leaves of fresh basil, washing them, & then putting them aside. The sandwich is really fresh & delicious-tasting, & really hits the spot! I am usually not very hungry in the afternoon after I eat this sandwich!
Other favorite lunchtime options are tuna with capers, drizzled with fresh lemon juice, on a bed of lettuce or between two slices of freshly-baked Kalamata olive bread (from the grocery store, not homemade by me!). If I eat out for lunch, I'll try my best to opt for the healthiest AND tastiest options: For example, one favorite treat of mine is going out to a local restaurant & ordering their marinated Thai salmon over salad. For lunch, I try my best to incorporate the healthier fishes or plant-based proteins.
Our dinners also tend to be very easy & light: If I'm going to eat chicken or red meat, it usually tends to be during dinner. Sometimes we'll eat soup & salad, eggs & toast (or some other kind of cracker), or salad & a 97% fat-free burger. We will also occasionally eat salmon steaks; my favorite preparation is the Indian-style masala spice rub. (It's very quick; you just toss the spices & the salmon in a Ziploc bag, let it marinate for a bit, et le voilà. Very easy. Practically a no-brainer, save the final part where you actually need to cook the salmon. ;-) Salmon steaks actually cook fairly quickly, so as a whole, it's still not a very time-intensive process. It's best to cook the steaks until they have a warm, medium-light pink center, but you don't want until the pink is almost cooked out, because then it'll be overcooked!)
Once in a while, we'll eat a veggie burger like "Boca Burger," but this hasn't happened in a while. (We got good & sick of them after OD'ing on them a few summers ago. ;-) After that, it took a good long while before we were able to eat another one!)
Of course, this isn't the full extent of our dinner choices, but just a few examples of typical dinners we make.
If we order out, it'll usually be Mediterranean or Chinese, but we'll typically choose the healthier choices on the menu:
For the Mediterranean food choices, I like to eat the marinated steak or chicken kabob, which comes served with pita slices & a shirazi salad (which has freshly squeezed lemon juice, sumac, lettuce, tomato, feta, & red onions), or a fresh, all-vegetable pita sandwich (which contains a single slice of provolone cheese, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, avocado, red onion, alfalfa sprouts, & lemon juice). The second sandwich is typically made with mayo, but I always order it sans mayo. I've never actually tasted it with mayo, but the mayo seems quite unnecessary with all of the other vibrant flavors in there! (Plus, if I'm going to expend my fat calories on something, you'd better believe it's going to be something a tad bit more exciting than mayo. LOL! That just seems like such a throw-away. I'd personally rather have a piece of chocolate or an ice cream cone, or some other tasty treat. Again, it's an individual choice, of course, but my point is still that, whatever you decide, that it should be a conscious choice!)
For the Asian food choices, I'm big into the ginger-chili steamed fish (Yum!), or the steamed chicken or tofu with steamed veggies & dipping sauce. I'll also occasionally order the Ginger Chicken with Green Scallions, the Beef Maki rolls with asparagus, or the Satay Longtong (thinly sliced beef or chicken skewers with peanut dipping sauce). Sometimes the dishes come with steamed white rice, & sometimes they don't; when they do come with rice, I make a point of only eating about half of the rice or less. If I decide that I do want to eat the rice, my strategy is that I will usually eat about half of my meal first, & then wait & see if I'm still even hungry for the rice at that point.
As for the main dishes, I try to stick to entrées that are steamed versus sautéed or fried, & thus, haven't been drenched in fattening sauces. (Dishes that might not be saturated in sauce in a restaurant setting often soak for much longer periods of time when they arrive in the form of a take-out carton!)
As an appetizer, we'll sometimes get the steamed vegetarian dumplings. Or sometimes, we'll get some kind of soup like egg-drop or miso soup. I find that the tricky part is not eating the fried noodles that come with the soups! ;-) Sometimes I've been known to give in & eat them (!), but it's not that big of a deal, since the rest of my meal is typically very low in fat. Plus, you don't gain weight or fat from eating just one pack of fried noodles. Again, everything in moderation.
All in all, we don't really eat out that often anymore, but when we do, it's certainly a treat. We have several favorites & several places that are on our "to try" list, but lately, since both of us have been so busy, it's usually the quick meal at home that seems to win out more often than not. As of late, we've been saving our meals out for special occasions or days off together.
I definitely think that changing the frequency of how often we eat out has also contributed to better health in our household. I know that it's not always possible for people to do this, but it is still possible in most cases to make healthier choices when eating out.
Now, lest you think that I'm some sort of "health food saint" (or "martyr"!), I'd like to assure you that there is hard, supporting evidence showing that I occasionally do eat things like french fries & cookies, but again, it's not like I eat them every day, or even every week.
In fact, just this past weekend, I just had the most delicious Peruvian chicken on the East Coast -- un medio pollo con las pappas fritas, un Inca Cola, e dos alfajores (delicious cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar & filled with Dulce de Leche). And I enjoyed every last lick of it! However, this is a meal that I have once in a blue moon. If it were a regular occurrence, it's likely that I might be waddling around the lake (QUACK!) instead of running around it. ;-)
I will also confess to recently eating a small bag (i.e., a single, individual-sized portion) of salt & vinegar potato chips, an entire box of LU's raspberry-filled, chocolate-topped "PiM's" (Whoops!), & a few handfuls of "Cheez-Its" all in that very same weekend, over a span of two days. Er, that'd actually be in the previous two days. ;-) But again, it's not like I'd catastrophically stuffed my face in a frenzied chocolate attack. I was fairly rational & calm, & just looking for something delectable to munch upon (& frankly, at that moment, a batch of plain air-popped popcorn just wasn't going to cut it! ;-) ). After all, it's not my intention to turn into one of those mentally unstable, health-food freaks that loses it after days of consuming nothing but carrot sticks. ;-)
I typically like to eat something salty & crunchy followed by something soft & sweet! As Erik likes to joke, I'm a "serial snacker." I take the smorgasboard approach, going for myriad, alternating taste sensations: To quote the Fatboy Slim song, it's "a little bit of this & a little bit of that." ;-)
Now granted, I haven't hopped on the scale lately (I'm not a masochist!), but all the same, I do realize that a bit of munching has to be balanced with a bit of exercising. ;-)
And I think I've definitely done that: I hiked yesterday, & ran the day before. And now, I'm just about to go out for another run.
And, just so we're clear here, I'm not exercising so I can go on a "food bender" from time to time. ;-) I eat to live, & but I still do enjoy eating! Erik will back me up when I tell you that I have a hearty appetite; I'm not one of those chicas who picks at their salad like a bird. I certainly like to eat, & am happy to openly declare it!
Having a healthy, hearty appetite is an affirmation of life. I like food to taste good, but also think that it should be good for you! And I sincerely believe that it's possible to have the best of both possible worlds -- And that's what my foodie/recipe blog is all about. My philosophy is all about saying "yes!" to life & food, & enjoying the experience of cooking & eating. And my foodie/recipe blog certainly embodies the essence of the healthy gourmet......
On a related note, I'd like to mention a really important article I just read on runners & the importance of establishing healthy exercise & eating habits (from Runnergirl.com). The article is about how there are a lot of (female) athletes who exercise excessively &/or are afraid to eat -- There are some who worry that eating foods with fat will adversely affect their training. Others are focused on calories to the point where they aren't eating enough to sustain themselves, let alone sustain their training. The irony is that this runs contrary to both logic & medical science. In order to perform as an athlete, you need to eat! It's all about eating the proper foods to fuel your body to its maximum advantage. Conversely, when the body goes into starvation mode, it actually holds onto it's body fat as a means of self-protection. And once the body's glycogen stores are used up, the next thing the body's going to burn is muscle! And the only way to avoid that is to eat the proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, & fats.
A Final Footnote: I hope you've found this post to be helpful. As always, I welcome your constructive comments & questions. Have a great night!