Food Is Not Your Enemy

No-Recipe Recipes
June 17, 2019, 10:23 am
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Recipes | Tags: , ,

I used to be a frightened cook. I only began cooking in earnest in my late 30s when I began my nutritional counseling practice (thanks to my husband, an excellent cook, I was able to avoid touching a piece of raw chicken up until that point). Then when I did begin cooking, I clung to my preferred recipes like a drowning woman holding her rescue buoy—do not take this recipe from me! I may have cooked this 15 times, but I will still look at it 15 times as I cook, to make sure everything is right!

Only in the past year or so have I gained the confidence to let go a bit, to trust that, a decade into my cooking habit, I have some feel for how to do things in the kitchen. Which is why I’ve been enjoying The New York Times’no-recipe recipes” lately—recipes that are not really recipes, but sort of are. There are no ingredient lists or set steps, but instead an informal narrative essentially telling you to throw in a little of this, a little of that, bake until done. Improvise along the way. I like it.

I realized upon browsing through the Times that I had a couple of these no-recipe recipes too, and I want to share them with you. Very simple stuff, quick to prepare, and totally delicious …

Roasted Chicken With Herbs

Slice up some onions, and lay them out in a roasting pan. Put a piece of bone-in chicken on top of each slice, salt and pepper the chicken, and drizzle some olive oil and lemon, if desired, on top. Finish by sprinkling whatever dried herbs you like on the chicken—I happen to love the combination of rubbed sage, thyme, and rosemary, but you can go in any number of directions here. Roast at 375 degrees until the skin is nice and brown. For the legs or thighs I tend to prefer, this takes about an hour and 15 minutes. No need to baste, no fuss. Just delicious, succulent chicken with lovely crispy skin.

Roasted Veggies

Yes, there’s a theme here. I love roasting my food. Roasted vegetables in particular have become my new weeknight go-to side dish. Cover a sheet pan or two with some parchment paper, and spread out a nice mess of cut-up vegetables on there—virtually anything works. I like to do a diced winter vegetable medley of carrots, winter squash and rutabaga; or halved Brussels sprouts, or broccoli, or cauliflower, or big slices of cabbage. But whatever you like. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, add salt and any other seasoning you like, then use your hands to mix everything around and get the oil nice and evenly distributed. Roast at 400 degrees until the vegetables are tender and starting to brown a bit on the edges. That’s about 30 minutes for all the vegetables I mentioned above. (Stir them /flip them around at the halfway mark.) Beats steamed vegetables any day.


Do We Even Need to Work Out?
March 12, 2019, 1:00 pm
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , ,

There is no question that moving our bodies is a good thing. For those of you who were hoping I was going to advocate a couch potato lifestyle—sorry! But what is worth taking a closer look at is how we go about moving, and if it is so critical that we all sweat at a gym on a regular basis.

The longest-lived peoples in the world, according to Dan Buettner, the author of the Blue Zones books, often do not “work out.” These healthy populations, who live in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California; tend to get their exercise in other, gentler ways. They walk. They hike. They garden. They head down to the pier to buy fresh fish. They bring their dogs outside to run around.

The key is that they are not sitting for eight hours a day, five days a week, with their only movement being an hour at the gym here and there. Movement is part of their days, every day.

This does not mean that you should abandon your CrossFit or spin class or weight lifting regimen if you enjoy it and it makes you feel good. There are certainly plenty of cardiovascular and mental health benefits to more intense workouts, not to mention they can help you with your weight-loss or weight-maintenance efforts. The point here is that there are other ways to approach exercise—if you hate the gym, don’t feel that you have to go! Head outside. Walk or bike every day. Take the stairs. Get a dog. As long as you’re moving, you are doing your body good.

Negativity Will Get You Nowhere
December 10, 2018, 1:29 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Sweets, weight loss | Tags: , ,

Have you ever worked with a nutritionist or trainer or done a diet program where you’ve been scolded or shamed if you didn’t follow the plan exactly? Or worse, do you scold or shame yourself if you don’t follow the plan exactly?

Many health/fitness practitioners who sincerely want to help you may think that acting like a drill sergeant or judgmental mother is the best way to motivate you to reach your goals. And you may think that speaking harshly to yourself, telling yourself that you are an utter failure of a person if you eat a pint of ice cream, will help you stay on course. But I find that motivation via negativity, judgment, and fear don’t work in the long run.

Realize that you are human, and that it can feel very difficult at times to change old habits. When sugar, for instance, literally affects the brain in a similar way that heroin does, it helps to be forgiving when you can’t resist the cookies or the chocolate. You are not alone in having trouble kicking your sugar (or carb, or fried food, or salty snacks) addiction. It takes some time and practice. I’ve found it’s much better to focus on all the times you don’t go for the sugar in situations where, in the past, you absolutely would have. Celebrate your progress, your many small victories, instead of homing in on the times you didn’t make the best choice. Better choices will come the longer you stick with your new healthy habits. And remember that negativity never leads anywhere good.

My Favorite Advice From the Twitterverse

Every day I make a point of trying to learn something new. Our knowledge of nutrition and health is constantly changing, shifting, and growing, and it’s important for me to keep up on what’s happening in my field. In addition to reading scientific journals and studies that cover nutrition, one of the ways I like to do this is to follow on Twitter some very wise people who are passionate about improving our health and well-being. Below are some of the best tweets I’ve come across lately, tweets that contain some excellent food for thought …

Michelle May M.D.‏ @EatWhatYouLove Jul 12

Feeling overly hungry doesn’t mean you need more food than usual; it just means you need to eat soon.

My comment on this: This is so smart. So many of us think that if we’re super hungry, we need to order more food or put more food on our plate, when in fact, a normal portion will do just fine. This is an issue of timing, not quantity.

Frank Lipman MD‏ @DrFrankLipman Jul 4

For many headache sufferers, a diet lacking in magnesium may be part of the problem. So I recommend magnesium-rich leafy greens as well as cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.

My comment on this: I have seen this work with my clients! On several occasions more greens led to fewer or no headaches.

Frank Lipman MD‏ @DrFrankLipman Jun 7

Crucial to develop healthy habits…..because once a habit is developed, they work effortlessly for you, partly because the brain loves habits. When actions become habitual, they are automatic.

My comment on this: Building healthier habits over an extended period is a big part of what I do. This is why I don’t meet with my clients just once or twice, but 6-12 times over 3-6 months. We need that much time to overwrite our old unhealthy habits with new healthier habits.

Blue Zones‏Verified account @BlueZones Apr 27

The five pillars of every longevity diet in the world are: whole grains, tubers, greens, nuts, and beans. If you’re an American and eating a cup of beans a day, you’re probably adding 4 years to your life expectancy.

My comment on this: Blue Zones is all about tracking what leads to a healthy and long life. Beware of fad diets that try to tell you that whole grains, root vegetables, and beans are on the “no” list. Evidence from around the world proves they should be at the top of your “yes” list.

Dalai Lama‏Verified account @DalaiLama May 4

Scientists warn that constant fear and anger are bad for our health, while being compassionate and warm-hearted contributes to our physical and mental well-being. Therefore, just as we observe physical hygiene to stay well, we need to cultivate a kind of emotional hygiene too.

My comment on this: This speaks for itself!

4 Unexpected Things That Affect Your Weight
July 19, 2018, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

Do you feel stuck? Do you believe that you eat well and exercise consistently, but you still aren’t losing weight? The answer to this dilemma may have nothing to do with food or working out.

It’s important to look at four other factors that might be getting in your way:

Lack of sleep. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to weight gain. If you’re regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep, expect to feel hungrier than you otherwise would, and know that you will likely find yourself taking in more calories than if you’d had a good night’s sleep.

Stress. The fact is, stress makes us fat. And actively releasing that stress and relaxing can help us lose weight, in a way that all the steamed broccoli and skinless chicken breast in the world can’t. Stress activates a biological response that makes us feel hungry (which is why so many of us stress eat). Carbs and sugar are particularly appealing when we’re stressed. And stress leads to increased storage of belly fat.

Boredom. Many of us don’t realize how often we eat mindlessly, when we’re not even hungry. Boredom can be a big driver of this, where we end up using food as an activity, a way to fill time. Notice if you automatically hit the fridge when you can’t think of anything else to do with yourself.

A pleasure deficit. Are you having enough fun? If all you do is work and attend to various obligations, and it’s rare that you do anything that brings you joy, you may end up eating for pleasure. That hot fudge sundae that feels like the highlight of your week? It would be helpful to find something else that feels like a highlight of your week that doesn’t involve 1,200 calories.

Not Just What You Eat, But When You Eat Matters

When I was attending the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I heard two anecdotes, one from Dr. Mark Hyman and the other from Ayurvedic practitioner Dr. John Douillard, about how much it can matter when you eat.

Dr. Hyman explained how the last thing you want to do is eat most of your food before bed, as that food tends to get stored as fat as we sleep. He called eating like this the “sumo wrestler diet,” as sumo wrestlers in Japan, when they want to put on weight, will make a point of eating right before bed.

Dr. Douillard, on the other hand, explained how he helped a very obese man lose a lot of weight by recommending that he eat only one meal a day—a Thanksgiving-sized meal—at noon. The man was stunned to find that this odd-sounding directive actually worked, and the pounds fell off. According to Ayurvedic tradition, our digestive system is functioning optimally in the middle of the day, and that is when we should be eating the bulk of our calories as a result. While I think the one-meal-a-day approach is a bit extreme for most of us, I do like the idea of a big hearty lunch.

While everyone is different, most of my clients who are looking to lose weight find it helpful to frontload their calories earlier in the day—a good solid breakfast, a big lunch, and then a more modest dinner. Many also find it helpful to stick to regular meal times, and avoid grazing all day. Some newer studies have found that it’s better for our metabolism to wait about 4-6 hours between eating times, and to give ourselves a good 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. If we’re constantly snacking, then our bodies don’t have an opportunity to start burning our fat stores.

So don’t assume that as long as you stick to a certain number of calories a day then you’ll lose weight. For best results, watch the clock.

The Fat Balancing Act
April 30, 2018, 2:15 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, nuts, Oils | Tags: , ,

There was a time when Americans feared eating practically any fat. Low-fat diets were all the rage in the 1980s and 90s—who remembers Snackwells, those non-fat cookies everyone thought they could eat to help them lose weight, even though they were loaded with sugar and calories?

Today we know better—fats are a critical macronutrient we need for both good physical and mental health, and some trendy diets are even pushing people to eat a high-fat diet to lose weight.

We hear a lot about how important omega-3 fats are, how they are an anti-inflammatory and can lower risk of depression. But what’s lesser known is that when it comes to our omega intake, there’s a careful balancing act between omega-3s and omega-6 fats of which we need to be aware.

Omega-3s are found primarily in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, as well as nuts and seeds. Omega-6s are present in vegetable oils such as corn oil and soybean oil (and the processed foods often cooked in them), and factory-farmed corn-fed beef. Ideally, we should be consuming omega-3 and omega-6 fats in a 1:1 ratio, according to Psychology Today. The problem is that most Americans end up consuming about 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. And this imbalance can lead to inflammation in the body, which contributes to everything from heart disease to diabetes to depression.

What to do? Eat fish a few times a week if you enjoy it, seek out a handful of nuts or seeds for a snack, and switch from corn-fed to grass-fed beef. Use olive oil as your default oil at home rather than corn or another vegetable oil, and limit your intake of processed foods cooked in those oils (chips, fries and the like).