Junk Food to Healthy Food: Your Tastes Can Change!

I know this may sound totally crazy, but when you adopt healthier food choices for your lifestyle and diet, it is possible that your tastes can actually change to the point where you prefer healthier food.  Sound ludicrous?

I first discovered this in high school. Back in the day, there were no healthy choices on the menu whatsoever. The Sloppy Joes that they served were literally swimming in grease. One year I decided to brown bag my lunch and eventually one day, I had forgotten my brown bag.  That day I had to eat the greasy cafeteria food, and I noticed how grotesque the food tasted! This contrast is something I always remembered.

As you may know if you’ve read some of my earlier posts, I have lost around 50 pounds in the past 5 years or so.  Although, I am totally lean now with strong muscle tone, one look at my earlier childhood photos reveals that I was quite meaty and my flesh had a high fat content. I became very calorie-conscious and very aware of what was in my food, and along with a consistent exercise program, over time, I’ve become the healthiest and leanest I have ever been in my life, pretty good for middle age!

Over time, I eventually went Vegan and now I eat at least a 50% raw diet. For those of you who know me, you know I love to cook and entertain especially for the holidays. On my bookshelves are a library of Southern Living Cookbooks of which I have made many scrumptious meals! Although I eat my healthy diet everyday, I still will splurge and cook “evil” dishes for the holidays for my guests.

The interesting thing for me to note is that when I look at recipes, I will see for example a cheese and egg dish and think, “That looks good!”, however I have no desire to eat it.  So many delicious recipes have cheese and dairy and meat, but they no longer tickle my taste buds. This is truly a remarkable feat for me. I still love to read recipes and marvel at the artistry of the presentation of food, but I don’t desire non-vegan fare any longer. When my friends are eating cheese-laced eggs and bacon, I no longer feel like I am missing anything! Now I eat Vegan and raw, not only for my health, but because I actually like it and prefer it!

If you like what you are doing, then common sense would maintain that you would likely to continue. At this point, although I sometimes crave cacao, I can walk down the candy aisle without any temptation. Today, I eat raw vegetables like potato chips. I feel cheated if I don’t get to have my huge salad full of raw veggies and fruit. Because the fruit is sweet and the veggies provide a satisfying crunch, it is both a meal and dessert for me.

All this to say, that as you change to a healthier fare, that over time you may actually like it and prefer it to other alternatives.  Hopefully, this will be an encouragement to your pursuit of healthier diet choices.

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Make Dieting a Game

I know that dieting isn’t fun. Having to stop and think about what you are doing or eating takes extra time, so how do you motivate yourself to get started when you know you need to drop a few pounds? First, congratulate yourself if you only have a few pounds to drop. Your commitment will be much lengthier if you have 20, 30, 40 or more to lose. Either way, a good way to begin to diet is make a sport out of it.

For a bargain hunter, it is the thrill of the hunt. Maybe your budget isn’t squeezed as tightly as a 10 pound sausage in an 8 pound bag and you don’t need to pinch pennies to survive. For many of us in this economy, we are pinching pennies like never before. For example, one local grocery store discounts fresh vegetables as they are getting close to expiration. The price is usually marked down 50-75%. When I see this markdown, I will buy it, just for the sport. And yes, I will consume it and not let it go bad. One can get used to playing the bargain hunting game and will continue to play it to see how well they can do. This is good method to use in making your dieting fun!

Reviewing Diet Basics
We all know to lose weight that we must cut back on calorie consumption and up the exercise factor to lose weight. We all know that 3,500 calories equals one pound. For every 3,500 calories we cut back, we lose 1 pound. We all remember to lose weight and keep our metabolism stoked, we must drink plenty of water (64+ oz/daily) and be sure to eat breakfast so our body won’t go into a starvation mode or so you won’t overeat later. Eating 3 small to medium meals + a couple of small snacks is a good way to get the metabolic furnace going. I mention these basics as sometimes people can tend to forget them.

Let’s Make Dieting Fun
Here is a way to play a game and compete against yourself, kind of like doing a crossword puzzle. There are many ways to track your food consumption and exercise output, but this particular way is effective and fun for me.

  1. You can make a form using your computer and keep an electronic copy.
  2. You can print the forms and write the information in by hand.
  3. Take a spiral notebook and draw a grid that shows each mean and calories consumed. (This is the option that I am into at the moment)

Setting up for the Game:
I have made a grid for: breakfast, lunch, dinner & snacks on a page in a spiral notebook. I have subtotal spaces for each meal calories intake and a total at the bottom. To the far right, I track the amount of water I am drinking. On the upper left corner of the page I have listed exercise and on the top right corner of the page, I put my calorie goal. The spiral notebook approach works for me because I am a tactile type, I enjoy a Filofax calendar to a digital one. Do whatever method that speaks to you.

Here is the Game
Now you think of your diet tracking as playing “diet” Bingo! Look at your “scorecard”, your grid and plan your moves like you were playing Chess or checkers. Plan your daily meals. Keep them as simple as possible for easier tracking and for keeping calorie counts down. I am taking joy in looking at what I can eat and what I have to do to keep it in the budget. Feeling victorious will encourage you to stick to this plan as long as you need to.

The first couple of days on a diet are an adjustment. If you have been eating huge amounts, a good suggestion would be to stair step your way down to lower amounts for a week, otherwise, you’ll throw yourself into calorie shock and you will be more apt to blow your diet and be mad at yourself. After the first couple of days, you will be on to smooth sailing to making your diet successful.

Look at dieting as a sport and have some fun with it. Put your focus on winning with your diet score card so then you can win with the scale. Having fun with the process will definitely improve your chances for success. What are you waiting for?

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A Darn Good Smoothie! (Vegan/Non-Vegan Recipe)

A few weeks ago, I found myself in Costco having a nice conversation with a fellow tennis enthusiast, Roger Federer fan and healthy lady who was about my age.  We were conversing over the Flax Meal section as I was considering trying the Costco brand over that of Bob’s Old Mill which I had been using prior to that day. She uses the Costco brand, so I was seeking her opinion. As a result, that I now use the Costco brand as it is less expensive in bulk and mixes more smoothly and unobtrusively in smoothies and protein shakes.

Come to find out we both take supplements. Any of you that take supplements, especially if you have a handful like I do, then it is a bit of a drag to swallow them each morning with water. It is my experience and personal preference to take my supplements with a protein shake. My protein shakes are so good, they have the consistency of milk shakes, so taking supplements becomes a pleasant experience. I told her that this is how I took my supplements and she asked for my smoothie recipe, so I thought I would share it with you.

Joy’s Smoothie
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or water)
3 packets of Stevia (zero calorie sweetener)
1/2 scoop of protein powder of choice
4 TBSPNS of Flax Meal
1/4 cup of uncooked oatmeal
1 cup of water
1/2 of a frozen banana
1 cup chopped frozen strawberries

Put the first 5 ingredients in the blender and mix. The resultant mixture will be very thick. Add about 1/3 or 1/2 of a cup of water as your blender could be straining at this point.

Chop frozen 1/2 of frozen banana and 1 cup of frozen strawberries and add a few pieces at a time alternating with the water. The mixture will be thick so you may have to stop the blender and shake it gently to break the suction. Continue until all the fruit is mixed.

Yield 30-32 oz, and more if you add ice.

Cook’s Notes:

  1. Almond Milk/Soy Milk/Rice Milk are your vegan choices. If you prefer dairy then use that. Sometimes I use water if I don’t have almond milk, but just started using almond milk and it is my personal preference now.
  2. Stevia: I use unsweetened milk so hence adding Stevia to cut down on calories. I also use Stevia when using water to give a little zing to the fruit.
  3. Protein Powder: I use soy (sometimes whey when cheating), but mainly soy and I alternate in-between using vanilla and chocolate. If I am using vanilla protein powder with the almond milk, sometimes I will add a few drops of almond extract to bring out the flavor of the almonds.
  4. Flax Meal: I am used to it, so I use 4 TBSPNS. If you aren’t used to flax meal, then start out with 1 TBSPN and work your way up. Flax makes you feel full longer and contains fiber. If you are consuming flax, then you need to make sure you have adequate water consumption during the day so that the flax can do its thing. Not enough water with flax will stop you up and have the reverse effect that you want.
  5. Oatmeal: This is a new addition to my shakes, and wow is it good! I only use a 1/4 of a cup for the sake of not adding more calories. This amount makes the smoothie plenty thick. I just use the plain oatmeal that comes in a silo shaped container. My father had some extra around, so decided to try it. You will love it!
  6. Frozen Fruit: Nothing tastes more delicious than taking a bite of a frozen banana. I freeze mine to keep them fresh. When I buy a bunch and just before they become overly ripe, I just take off the skins, chop them into 1/8s and put them in a bag in the freezer. This way you don’t have to worry about them going bad and they taste great too! It is wonderful that none of the bananas go to waste. The fact that they are frozen helps them whip into a nice consistency for a protein shake. I buy frozen strawberries in bulk from Costco. Again the frozen state helps the consistency of the shake and you don’t have to worry about the more expensive fresh berries going bad.
  7. Add ice if you want the shake bigger or colder. I had been doing that, but now that the weather is colder, I don’t add ice. I like it better with no ice as the shake tastes creamier, too much water alters the consistency.
  8. One last note: yes, making a shake in the morning is a little bit high maintenance, but they are so delicious and good for you and my recipe will keep you full until lunch. Middle-aged bodies need the extra help with the flax and besides, taking your supplements won’t be such a pain. Everyone needs to eat breakfast to stoke their metabolic fire, so a shake is a good way to do it. Don’t skip breakfast!
  9. Calories: About 420*. 1/2 frozen banana & 1 cup strawberries = 100. 4 TBSPNS flax = 150, 1/2 scoop protein powder = 50, 1 cup Almond Milk = 50, 1/4 cup of oatmeal = 70.  *Numbers adjusted very slightly by rounding. It makes a huge glass, 30-32 ounces and is a very thick shake that you can eat with a spoon in addition to having a satisfying and healthy breakfast substitute.


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Overeating/Cheating Season is Over

My birthday is coming up on Saturday, so there is one more cheat session coming to interrupt my healthy eating plan. I don’t plan a huge cheat, but I know my meal will be hearty. The gang and I are going to meet at The Flying Biscuit Cafe for brunch. I already know what I am going to eat: the vegan burrito. It is yummy! I will more than likely cheat with a whole wheat biscuit since I’m out having a good time. If somebody brings a cake, yes I will cheat and eat a small piece.

Cheating Season is Over
But what do you do when cheating season is over (I’m referring to holiday eating, not cheating on your spouse)? You resolve to go back to your better habits. For me, it will mean getting to the gym more often to get that badly-needed cardio. If I can get myself doing cardio 5 days a week to supplement my weight training, it will make a difference.

Remove Temptation
Another thing will be to remove the candy jars around the house. I have 3 little jars with peppermints, York Peppermint Patties, and some Peppermint Salt Water Taffy from Trader Joe’s. Do you see a recurring theme here?

More Water
A third thing I will do is reach for the water more often. For the most part I drink my water, but when it is cold, I much prefer decaf coffee. A lot of thirst signals from the body get mistaken for hunger pangs, and I know I am guilty of this.

Nothing too big here, but it is consistency over time that yields the best results. Small adjustments or tweaks in your habits can help one receive the results you want to have.

Happy New Year to You and Happy Birthday to Me. If any of you has a piece of cake in my honor on Saturday, then please enjoy it. But just remember… come Sunday, we need to behave! Let’s all begin our good habits so we’ll look good come spring. What are you doing to be good now that the season of overeating is over? Write us and let us know, we would love to hear from you!

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Getting Back on Track with Your Diet and Fitness, the Scarlett O’Hara way.

I started this blog with the intent of helping others with their weight loss and fitness goals, and of course with a special emphasis on those who work for a living, have family responsibilities who wanted to become fitter and enjoy life more.  It was my passion to discover the tips that I have shared with you. Things worked so well for me that I even got through the past couple of delicious holidays without gaining any weight, but today, I stand before you human.

Life Happens
Life happens sometimes and even the best of intentions and habits can go awry. This has happened to me. Basically, I have been through unemployment (the easy part), but for the past 6 months, I have had the experience of living on the edge of the unknown while watching my father waste away and die. My duties became being the assisted living caretaker along with my brother. We went on a long, arduous journey watching Dad die. He did pass away right before Thanksgiving in peace and comfort and for that we are grateful.

There was unknown tension around us for months. I didn’t pig out with pasta or ice cream or any of that, but slowly over the months, I over ate.  A little extra here and there over a period of time has taken it’s toll. No, I’m not back at square one, but all of a sudden I’m uncomfortable in my clothes and am not happy where I am now, although to everyone else, “I look fine.”

The Damage of Emotional Eating Over Time
Think about this. If you eat an extra 200 calories per day for 6 months (180 days x 200), then you will consume an additional 36,000 calories over that period. Divide 36,000 calories by 3,500 calories (calories to burn a pound) and in round numbers, you get 10 extra pounds! Do you know what an extra 200 calories amounts to?  Needless snacking, which in my case came from emotional eating.

My emotional eating was born of an underlying tension from uncertainty that comes from watching somebody you care about deteriorate over time. We knew that after July 4th, he could die any day, and it finally happened, much to our relief. Now we enter another place we’ve never experienced, attending to the business of the diseased. With the condition of the estate, we are left way behind the 8-Ball and we are completely in a world of uncertainty that we are living out day by day and hour by hour.

Get Back in the Game!
But you know what? Life happens! I got the thin and strong body I have always wanted and I will drop the handful of pounds that crept on. But first, I have to forgive myself and get back to the business of eating better than I have been. My plan is to try to respond to the source of emotional eating in a more thoughtful manner. Mostly I calm, but the uncertainty makes grab for extra handfuls of things. While I am normally a very disciplined eater, it is more difficult with this set of underlying challenges that have been going on for months and still has a few months to go before things are situated in a steady state.

What Do You Do?
You simply start over. Go back to the fundamentals. Do the things that worked before. Forgive yourself. It’s like the football player that fumbles a pass. Does he go home and quit? No, he gets back into the game. I fumbled, but I’m not out of the game, because this little extra around the middle has got to go! Cut back your portions and insure that you are getting enough time in at the gym each week.

So How Does This Apply to You?
We are standing on the thresh hold of the New Year. More than likely, you’ve veered off your good habits during the holidays. To me, the holidays aren’t fun unless you enjoy some once a season treats. If you have fallen off the wagon, do not let your heart be troubled. You are human. Life happens. Dust yourself off, regroup, and resolve to go back to your good habits. Restart the clock, it’s okay. As Scarlett O’Hara said in “Gone With the Wind”, “Tomorrow is another day.”


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Weight Maintenance Tips During the Holidays

When it comes to the holidays, I think there is a potential for us all to have a love/hate affair with them. We love them, because of all the wonderful food associated with the holidays, but face it, so many of us just wince when we think about the potential of weight gain. Last year, and the year before that even, I did not gain over the holidays, so I want to pass along a simple survival guide for weight maintenance.

Stick on Your Basic Diet Routine
If you have created a good diet routine, then you are blessed to have a firm foundation in which to work. You already have the habits in place to monitor your daily food intake. Know that it is okay to have a bite or two of a holiday treat. Remember this does not mean to overindulge and eat the entire plate of cookies, but just taste them. By tasting slowly, you can enjoy the flavor without consuming the volume which adds all of the calories. Enjoy a treat and don’t deprive yourself, just know that this isn’t a license to have all you want. Also don’t eat anything and everything. Select only the best treats and sample them. Don’t feel guilty, enjoy it, because in 2 weeks, the holidays will be over and the New Year’s Resolutions will begin.

For those that don’t have a good foundation with a healthy eating plan, realize that in a couple of weeks you will need to start one, so in the meantime, go for the fresh vegetables rather than casseroles, select smaller portions of the most fat and caloric-dense foods, eat smaller portions of meats and cheeses, drink more water and exercise. Eat your treats sparingly. If you can do this, then you will be proud of yourself for not going crazy and will be in the mode to get serious right after New Year’s because you are laying the ground work for more discipline.

Only Keep Your Favorite Treats in the House
Your sweet tooth is sure to talk to you over the Christmas/Hannukah holidays and it is okay to answer it sometimes. Only keep the very best temptations in your house, the sweets that will satisfy you. If you are satisfied, then you don’t have to keep eating. So if some well-meaning friend or associate brings you something that isn’t your favorite, then recycle. Take it to work, church, but get it out of your line of sight. Offer it to the people who come to work on your house or your mechanic, people like that always enjoy an extra treat with their coffee, and most of them are moving around enough to burn the extra calories. It’s your kitchen, so stack the deck in your favor.

Exercise More!
I think one of the most helpful things that kept me from gaining over the holidays is that I exercised more. My holiday exercise schedule was to go in 5 days a week. For 3 days, I did my walking/jogging and machines and free weights. For the other 2 days, I walked/jogged only and let my muscles rest. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, I upped my daily walk/jog from 30 minutes to 45. Because I am someone that likes to cook and spare no calories for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I chose to enjoy my food (not in massive quantities), but upped the ante on the exercise too. I know you are busy, but find ways to move more. It will help clear out your head during this hectic time.

Enjoy Your Dinner
You don’t eat a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal every day.  If you indulge and enjoy the wonderful food without imposing guilt on yourself, you will feel very satisfied and won’t feel deprived. We deserve that nice feeling a couple of times a year, enjoy it! After all, we have the whole year to feel food guilt, so don’t do it on Christmas. It only takes a couple of days to burn off the excess calories consumed. Just don’t make a habit of it!

You can enjoy your holidays without adding on the pounds. Remember that the holiday menus are not your new norm. This isn’t the way you are going to eat from here on out. Keep that blueprint of good habits in your frame of reference, because that is where you will go back to when these next couple of weeks are over. Enjoy your dinner, because somebody worked very hard to fix it. Enjoy your holidays and stay healthy and slim.

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Hey Pasta Lovers: Want to Save 500 Calories?

For those of us who have to watch our calories, especially if you watch your calories closely, you probably have given up calorie-dense pasta. I know I have. 1 tiny cup of pasta is 220 calories.  220 calories! And who do you know that eats just 1 cup of pasta? If you are on a 1,200 calorie per day diet, then 1 lousy cup of plain pasta with no butter or sugar-laden spaghetti sauce is half the calories of 1 meal! I don’t know about you, but 1 cup of pasta doesn’t fill me up nor is it fulfilling. So what if you’re dieting and you need an Italian fix?

Spaghetti Squash
Don’t go to the Olive Garden or put a box of pasta in boiling water, go to the store and buy a “Spaghetti Squash”! I had just recently learned of  spaghetti squash while perusing recipes. The inside of the squash tears into spaghetti-like strands, so hence the name. While out grocery shopping, I found a spaghetti squash at a Kroger, at the checkout, I found that they were charging $1.99/lb and my squash was going to cost $6.00, so it went back to the produce section. Later I found a spaghetti squash at Trader Joe’s and it was $1.99 for the squash, so Trader Joe’s got my money.

Easy to Cook!
All you have to do is slice it length-wise and clean out the seeds and the strings. It is just like a pumpkin… in fact, like a pumpkin, I separated the seeds and toasted them in the oven with a little Pam on top to toast them. Not sure what the calorie count is for the seeds, but they were delicious. The calorie count for the seeds is not included in the numbers that I will mention below.

After you clean out the strings and seeds, put the squash cut side down in 1 – 1.5 inches of water in a microwavable dish.  Microwave for 12 minutes. Drain the water, pick up the squash with a potholder watching out for the steam, then get a fork and run it across the inside of the squash. It will shred effortlessly into spaghetti-like strands.  1/2 of a squash will feed one person. I’m single, so I cooked 1/2 and put the other 1/2 away for a later meal. If you cooking for more than one person, then you can cut it in two and place both halves face down in some water in a pan in your oven. I have not cooked it this way yet, but it is similar to cooking acorn squash in the oven: preheat to 350 degrees, put squash cut side down into a pan with water, and cook until tender, about 45 minutes.

Calorie Comparisons
Spaghetti Squash – 1 cup: 41 calories & 10g carbs
Regular Spaghetti – 1 cup: 220 calories & 40g carbs

Look at those numbers: what is not to like?

For my dinner this evening, I had 1/2 of a spaghetti squash which yielded between 2 & 3 cups (82-123 calories). I added about 5 tablespoons of Trader Joe’s Italian Bruschetta with a little added Basil for more a Italian kick. The Bruschetta was 25 calories for 2 tablespoons, so for simplicity, let’s say I had 75 calories. This is just 200 calories for something that tasted every bit as good! Pasta has very little taste anyway and it has to be jazzed up with sauce or butter.

My Dinner:
3 cups of spaghetti squash                             123 calories
5-6 tablespoons bruschetta                             75 calories
2 slices 35 calorie bread                                   70 calories
1 TSPN Vegan butter (spread very thin)     100 calories
                                                                            368 calories

Comparing “pasta” for “pasta”: 3 cups of regular pasta @ 220 calories per cup = 660 calories. 3 cups of spaghetti squash @ 41 calories – 123 calories. Right there you can save 537 calories. Have your Italian fix and save calories by using spaghetti squash!

Beware Though…
I urge you to read the labels for your sauce, most of the store-bought kind I found has a very high calorie and high sugar content. There are lots of sauce that includes meat and cheese adding all kinds of fat and calories. If you buy one of these, you will defeat the purpose! I used bruschetta, for its rich taste and low calorie content, I also added extra basil to add even more taste. For those of you who are vegan, this recipe should work for you also. Most importantly, this recipe is filling and fulfilling and is low calorie as well. So next time you need an Italian fix, then have some spaghetti squash, it tastes even better when you take away the guilt!

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