Food Is Not Your Enemy


Instead of Counting Calories…
February 1, 2017, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Beans, Dairy, Fruits, Grains, Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, nuts, Sweets, Vegetables, Water, weight loss | Tags: ,

Counting calories is a pretty reliable way to help you lose weight, no question. But most of us hate doing it. It’s unpleasant and tedious. And because it’s no fun doing math problems every time you put food in your mouth, most of us stop doing it eventually. And then the weight comes back.

So why does the weight inevitably come back once you stop counting, despite your best intentions? The short answer: because you never learned how to eat.

Rather than focusing on meaningful changes to your diet, and moving toward healthier foods and habits, it’s likely that all you paid attention to were the numbers. And hey, if you ate a tiny dinner, there was caloric room in your day for a sleeve of Oreos! That kind of thinking doesn’t bode well for your long-term health or weight goals.

Instead, I’d recommend getting back to basics and focusing on these key principles for eating well and losing weight:

-Avoid or reduce foods that act as appetite stimulants. That would be foods with added sugar and anything made with white flour.

-Eat fiber-rich foods. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans are deeply nutritious foods that help fill you for very few calories.

-Minimize fried stuff. Deep-fried foods such as French fries, donuts, and fried chicken and fish are among the worst foods you can eat. They just contain a ton of calories from all that oil.

-Choose snacks that are not marketed as “snacks.” Rather than chips, crackers, pretzels, and bars choose fruit, nuts, vegetables with hummus, or any other whole food. Why not even a cup of soup, or a chicken leg?

-Cook. Restaurant food is high-calorie food, and we’re often served overly large portions of it as well. You will lose weight if you start cooking more at home, no matter what you cook (unless you’re frying chicken regularly).

-Watch what you drink. Water should be your default beverage. Unsweetened tea and seltzer work too. Banish sodas, sweetened teas, sports drinks, and other garbage liquids from your diet.



Time to Hibernate?
December 8, 2016, 12:22 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Sweets | Tags: ,

My sister-in-law has a bear problem. She lives in suburban Connecticut—not a place you’d associate with bear problems—where they see the same black bear wandering out of the woods behind their home and into their backyard every so often, sniffing around for food. A glassed-in sun porch caps the back of her house, and as it’s not insulated, come holiday season she’ll use the room as a second refrigerator of sorts, storing leftovers and Christmas cookies out there. Well that bear got a whiff, and late one night over Thanksgiving weekend when everyone was asleep it knocked out a small glass window in that porch, hoping to squeeze itself through that laughably small space. Luckily the bear gave up and moved on. As my brother-in-law said of the incident the next day, “I got home from a gig at midnight and went in for the last slice of cheese cake. It would have been hand-to-hand combat if he was in there eating it.” So it’s good the two never met.

Anyway, that bear should have been hibernating! Alas, it hasn’t been cold enough yet, so instead it is out making mischief, looking to eat food it shouldn’t be eating.

We humans can benefit from a “hibernation” mindset at this time of year too. After a long year, and a busy buildup to the holidays, sometimes all we really need is rest, relaxation, and the opportunity to do nothing. If we don’t allow ourselves this downtime, we may find ourselves, like the bear, looking for food—as a way to “reward” ourselves, as pleasure, something to help us feel relaxed.

So if you start reaching for sugar cookies to help you unwind, think about other ways you can do that without turning to food. How about brewing a pot of chai tea with a splash of warm milk and a dusting of cinnamon? How does curling up under a soft blanket with a good book sound? Or watching your favorite “Harry Potter” movie for the umpteenth time with family or friends?

Give me any of these options—especially in front of a fireplace–and my holiday will be happy. May you too find joy this holiday season in the little things.



The Healthiest Eaters May Lack This Vitamin
November 29, 2016, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Dairy, Eggs, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , , ,

I am not a big fan of taking vitamins. I don’t take any myself, and generally don’t recommend that my clients take them. I believe that eating a nutrient-dense diet of whole natural foods will provide you with everything you need.

But there are two important exceptions to this for me. If your doctor recommends you take a vitamin supplement because you’re deficient in some way, then of course you should do so. And if you’re a vegan, or a vegetarian who eats very little dairy and/or eggs, then vitamin B12 supplements are a MUST.

Vitamin B12 is needed for the formation of red blood cells, nerve cells, and DNA, and is an energy metabolizer. It plays a big role in keeping the brain healthy. A lack of B12 in the diet can lead to weakness, fatigue, anemia, numbness or tingling in the limbs, and cognitive difficulties.

The problem for vegans and some vegetarians is that B12 is only found in animal-based foods–meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. Plants do not make B12. So if you are a vegan or vegetarian who barely eats animal products, a B12 supplement is non-negotiable, or you will become malnourished and develop serious health issues.

Other people who might be at risk for B12 deficiency are those who have had weight-loss surgery, take heartburn drugs such as Nexium or Prevacid or H2 blockers like Pepcid (stomach acid is needed to absorb B12, and these drugs reduce acid), or suffer from such conditions as Celiac or Crohn’s disease. Some people over 50 may have an issue as well, as our bodies naturally produce less stomach acid as we age.

A daily multivitamin usually is sufficient for meeting our B12 needs, or you can take a B-complex pill or drops, or B12 alone. More severe deficiencies could mean a need for weekly B12 shots.

If you have any concerns about your B12 levels, ask your doctor to test you. Chronic low energy is the first warning sign that something might be amiss.



When the Number on the Scale Starts to Creep Up …

Inevitably, this seems to happen to all of us at one time of life or another. Maybe you haven’t weighed yourself in a while. And then you do. And the number is not what you expect. Wait, really? When and how did that happen?

I myself have remained in the same five-pound weight range for many years. But I am now in my mid-40s, and it’s clear that as I get older I cannot continue to eat the same way I did when I was 25. Looking down at the scale for the first time in months let me know that some changes were in order.

I didn’t feel any big changes were required. I just wanted to be sure to stop a potential upward creep, and maybe get down a few pounds back into my usual range (or at the top end of it, anyway). So here’s what worked:

-No seconds. I realized that I never really needed a second plate of food at dinner. I would often just take another helping because the food tasted good. I stopped this habit.

-A big lunch, then no snacks. I’m very hungry for lunch, and like having a big hearty meal mid-day. If the meal is filling enough, then I don’t need snacks and can comfortably make it until dinner. This is a good thing for me, because once I start snacking I often find it hard to stop.

-One or two fewer drinks. Moderate alcohol consumption is good for heart health. Unfortunately for women, drinking alcohol raises our risk of breast cancer. Once I read that fact, I decided I wanted to cut down my own alcohol consumption—which would have the added benefit of reducing my caloric intake for the week. So now instead of having two to three drinks when I’m out socializing, I’ll have one or two.

-Dark chocolate is dessert. Sugar is addictive, and the more of it you eat, the more of it you want. I feel much better keeping my sugar and calorie consumption lower by sticking with a few squares of dark chocolate as my only dessert. (Except for perhaps a weekly indulgence in something a bit more decadent.)

-More greens, less charcuterie. When out in restaurants, I now tend to order an appetizer that is vegetable based, like a salad of some kind. In the past I would more often pick charcuterie plates, or pate, or something cheesy.

-More fish, less pasta. And I now order pasta in restaurants less frequently, opting instead for fish when I can.

What small changes can you make to reverse the upward creep?



How Diet Can Affect Your Skin
September 27, 2016, 12:51 pm
Filed under: Dairy, Drugs, Healthy Lifestyle, Sweets | Tags: , ,

Millions of people, both teens and adults, suffer from acne. I myself did for much of my life—I remember at age 9 putting on mud masks to try to dry out my pimples, and by age 15 I was on Accutane, a prescription medication which we now know can cause liver damage and increase one’s risk for depression and suicide.

There can be a strong hormonal component to acne, but the food we eat can also have an effect—something dermatologists generally don’t mention. Inflammation is a big driver of skin eruptions. While many factors can contribute to inflammation, such as nutrient deficiencies, toxicity, and allergens, our processed, sugar-laden diet can be the number-one cause. Added sugars and all the foods that quickly convert to sugar in the body, like white bread, white pasta, and white rice, lead to an increased risk of breakouts.

Dairy can also be a trigger, thanks to the hormones found in such foods as milk, ice cream, and cheese. Dairy raises the levels of male sex hormones in the body, which can drive the development of pimples.

In addition to minimizing sugar and dairy, what will also help your skin is eating an anti-inflammatory diet, consuming more healthy omega-3 fats (fish and nuts/seeds) and fruits and vegetables, actively managing your stress (stress increases inflammation), getting enough sleep (lack of sleep also leads to inflammation), and exercising regularly.

Give these suggestions a try, and you just might be able to toss all the harsh face washes and ointments in the trash!



The Foods I Eat

As a holistic nutrition counselor, I’m often asked, by my clients as well as my friends and acquaintances, what I myself eat every day. Do I do Paleo? Do I start my day with oatmeal or Greek yogurt? Do I mostly eat fish and broccoli for dinner?

So I thought that I would put together a list of typical meals I might have during the week. Here goes …

Breakfast: A smoothie. The recipe template I use is here.

Lunch: I rely a lot on leftovers from dinner the previous night. If there are no leftovers, I will often make two fried eggs and have them on one piece of buttered dark German rye bread, with perhaps half an avocado on the side. Or I’ll do a can of sardines (I know—not a popular choice with most people!) with some buttered whole grain toast, or a turkey sandwich. I always also have fruit with my lunch, and maybe also some nuts, hummus with whole grain crackers, and/or a little cheese. This is often my biggest meal of the day.

Snacks: I choose not to snack, with rare exceptions. Once I start eating snacks, I find it hard to stop! I prefer to just eat a nice large lunch that keeps me full for 6-7 hours until dinnertime.

Dinner: I’m a big fan of variety when it comes to dinner, so I rotate between probably 40-45 different recipes. Some typical dinners might include a quarter of a roast chicken with half my plate full of leafy greens or other vegetables, turkey and bean chili with a side salad, whole wheat pasta made with any number of different sauces or vegetables, homemade soup with salad or whole grain baguette on the side, salmon with vegetables, shrimp and vegetable stir-fry (using brown rice), homemade tacos on soft corn tortillas, BLTs on whole wheat toast with side salad or vegetables, and pork ribs or pork shoulder made in the slow cooker, with vegetables and maybe also a whole grain like black rice or potato on the side.

Dessert: 85% dark chocolate, 1 or 2 rows broken off the bar. I have this a few times a week. Once a week I might have a more decadent dessert, often out at a restaurant. That can be anything from ice cream to crème brulee to pie.



Is There Any “Life” in Your Work/Life Balance?

Are you working longer and harder than ever? Do you struggle to get enough sleep? To find time to cook? To relax? To look away from your phone for more than 20 minutes at a time, because important work emails may come in, even on a Sunday?

If you’re answering, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes,” you may have also noticed that you’ve put on a few pounds over the past few years. Or that your anxiety levels have kicked up. Or that you’re always tired, no matter what. Or any other number of changes to your health.

Overwork and the deterioration of our health are closely related. Numerous studies have borne this out. And you likely know it on an intuitive level. But what can be done?

If your job is stressing you to the breaking point, you have two choices–find work you love or a way to love the work you have. If you dread going to work every day, and it’s been that way for a long time, think about whether this is really the job or career for you. Make a list of pros and cons about your job, and if the cons outweigh the pros, it may be time to either seek a similar job elsewhere, or think about what you really want to be doing with your life. Our time on this earth is short–do you really want to spend most of your time on it doing something that makes you unhappy?

If you’re not currently happy at your job but feel it truly isn’t possible to leave at the moment, then think about what steps you can take to improve your current situation. If your workload is killing you, speak with your supervisor and see what can be done to potentially lighten the load or get you support, and identify any time-wasters in your day and then eliminate them. Communication, planning, and smart time management can go a long way in helping you get through your day’s tasks. And it can really help to manage others’ expectations—if you’re routinely at work at 9 p.m., people will just come to expect that that’s what you do, and wouldn’t think twice about shooting you a work email at that hour. You may want to ask your boss—if he or she emails you over the weekend, are they hoping that you’ll deal with their request then and there? Some bosses don’t expect that—they just send the email over the weekend because they’re thinking about that particular issue and want to send the email while it’s fresh in their mind, expecting that you’ll get to it when back in the office on Monday.

With today’s seemingly endless work days, it’s more important than ever that we allow time for self-care, fun, and pleasure in our lives. If you have to schedule time for yourself into your calendar, then do it! Allow yourself time to browse your local greenmarket. Treat yourself to a massage. Sit at an outdoor café and linger over a cup of tea and the Sunday paper. Try out a new recipe you saw online. You get the idea. Whatever you choose, just know that these small steps to help you de-stress and care for yourself will make a big difference over time when it comes to your health—both mental and physical.