Friday, September 23, 2016

My Favorite Food Blogs

Research makes it clear that what you eat makes a difference in your health. But finding healthy recipes can be overwhelming. I love a good food blog, I read food blogs like most people read novels. But deciphering nutrition fact from fiction while scrolling through personal anecdotes from expert-backed advice is no easy task. That's why I'm sharing some of the most helpful, beautiful, next-level blogs that I visit on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

First up is Naturally Ella. After her father had a heart attack, Erin Alderson (whose initials are ELLA) broke up with fast food and all processed meat. Her blog features seasonal vegetarian recipes that are pantry-inspired. I've made many of her recipes and haven't had a bad meal, yet. Despite ditching Big Macs, Alderson doesn't believe in being obsessive or counting calories; her philosophy is simply to exercise and eat well. Given the results - the beautifully photographed whole foods that I want to gobble up - it's easy to see why her approach works. Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. 

Next up, Sprouted Kitchen. This blog resembles the pages of a glossy food magazine with a fleet of stylists making sure every bite looks impossibly scrumptious. But behind the scenes there's just one couple, Sara and Hugh Forte. She cooks and blogs, he photographs. They've elevated sandwiches, noodles and green salads to epic proportions. I'll be honest, I haven't made a lot of their recipes, but I love looking pursuing their blog. 

The Almond Eater is all about healthy recipes in 30 minutes or less. My kind of recipe blog. Erin, the blogger, writes recipes and stays healthy by listening to her body. Though, she admits she does try to keep things on the healthier side because if she always listened to her body, she'd "probably turn into a giant piece of cake." Amen, sister. I made these almond butter protein bars for my son this week and he loved them. As did I.

I've just recently become a fan of Well Plated. The name of this blogger is also Erin. What up with all the Erin bloggers?? This Erin is dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. And from the recipes I've tried...she does just that. I especially enjoy her slow cooker options and her healthy savory dishes. 

I started following kath eats real food years ago when the blogger, Kath, lived in Charlotte. She now lives in Charlottesville where she became a Registered Dietitian. I am a big fan of oatmeal and Kath's oatmeal recipes initially drew me to her blog. I've learned a lot from her nutrition posts, as well.

Pinch of Yum is one of my tried and true blogs. I have tried many of her recipes; Lindsay (not Erin) cooks things that are practical, interesting and delicious. She is a big fan of curry (as am I), lentils (as am I) and pasta (as am I). Lindsay and I could be fast friends.

Two Peas & Their Pod is another of my recipe-go-to blogs. The husband and wife duo, Maria and Josh, not only share recipes, they share a weekly meal plan so no complaining about dinner ideas...they've got you covered for the week.

Of course, when I find a recipe that I want to make healthier...Jacy is my go-to resource. She can take any recipe and make it better. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

I'm Not a Fan of the Word Diet

I'm not a fan of the word diet - diet in the sense of restricting what one eats in order to lose weight. The problem with dieting is after we lose weight, most of us go back to our old eating habits. So, dieting sets most people up for failure. Making a lifestyle change is different. But making a lifestyle change is also admittedly overwhelming. The idea of completely changing the way we eat and exercise seems like a helluva lot of work. That's why most people go with the easier option of a diet, even though for the most part, diets are unsuccessful.

Changing to a healthy lifestyle is hard, but it's a battle worth fighting. It starts with baby steps. Change one meal a week to include a few extra veggies. Go for a walk after dinner instead of dessert. Skip  the overly processed snacks. And take time to educate yourself - or have Jacy Shaffer do the educating. I can't stress how much I've learned from Jacy. Knowledge is a powerful friend and food doesn't have to be the enemy. It's okay to struggle, it's not ok to give up.

Make a plan that will stick, start small, change one behavior at a time, and get support. You have the power to change, sometimes it's just hard to remember that fact. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Numbers that Really Matter

If you read the email that I sent about Fitbits, then you'd know that I'm not especially number driven when it comes to health and fitness. In the email, I mentioned that I'm happier not knowing exactly how many steps I've taken in a day. I do better when I listen to my body because it tells me when I'm doing too much activity and when I'm not doing enough. Same goes with my scale; I'd be lying to you if I told you I didn't enjoy seeing the number getting smaller, but I get far more satisfaction from the way my clothes fit and how much better I feel overall.

But I received some numbers this week that not only brought a smile to my face, they really and truly inspired me. Since I started the Challenge 9 weeks ago, my cholesterol has gone down 20 points. My HDL, which is the good cholesterol (you want more HDL) went up 4 points and my LDL, which is the bad cholesterol (you want less LDL) went down 17 points. My triglycerides are also down considerably since the start of the Challenge. I knew that I was eating better, but these numbers have confirmed that I am healthier.

I don't need a Fitbit to tell me that I've walked enough because I can feel it in my legs. And I don't need a scale to tell me that I've lost weight because I can feel it in my clothes. But I do need a blood test to tell me my levels because high cholesterol doesn't typically have any symptoms. In most cases, it only causes emergency events like a heart attack or a stroke.

These number are important and I will continue to monitor and try to improve them. Heck, if the Fitbit could measure my cholesterol, I might start wearing it again. Until that happens, I will continue to follow Jacy's suggestions and recipes and will visit my doctor to monitor my cholesterol. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Common Sense Approach

I was chatting with a member who told me that she wants to take the Just 10 Challenge, but she's just not ready to give up certain foods. I told her that she was in luck, because the Challenge is not about giving up food.

The Challenge is about normal, healthy eating. It's about giving some thought to your food selection so that you get nutritious food, but not being wary or overly restrictive so that you miss out on enjoying food. It's about balance: normal, healthy eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important part of your life. And normal, healthy eating is flexible; it varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, and your proximity to food.

When it comes to weight loss, there are a lot of lies, distortions, unscientific thinking, and shameless contortions of logic out there. But Jacy Shaffer, our Registered Dietitian, takes a common sense approach to helping you lose weight based on sound science. No cleanses, no eliminating certain food groups, no counting calories or points; it's simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

The Just 10 Challenge is client driven, as is Jacy's overall approach to nutrition coaching. She does a lot of listening and learns about your behaviors and habits and then meets you there. She understands that change is hard and that most people resist it. Heck, she knew going into this thing that a lot of my family's traditions revolved around food. And yet, she never once told me to avoid certain foods, in fact, she encouraged me to enjoy every bite. But, she also helped me devise a plan and equipped me with tools to stay in control and suggested ways of incorporating an "activity element" (that was her sweet way of telling me to get off my butt) to counteract the time I spent sitting around the table at family gatherings.

Over the past weeks, Jacy has only shared recipes with ingredients that she knew I liked and would help lower my cholesterol. She didn't suggest eggs for breakfast because she knew they weren't a viable option considering that I eat at my desk every morning. When I told Jacy that I liked to bring salads for lunch, she suggested adding farro as a healthy whole grain addition. OMG, life changing. Not only is faro delicious, it's a great source of fiber and protein. I love the crunch it adds to salads. Check out Trader Joe's 10 Minute Farro. Ten minutes and voila.

Having a plan is more than half the battle. Finding recipes that are both delicious and nutritious is the goal. So, let me share some of my favorite recipes:

I am a fan of one pot meals. I've never met a soup or salad that I didn't love. Check out Pinch of Yum's bowls. I highly recommend all of their recipes...delish, delosh. When I'm not perusing Pinch of Yum....

Two Peas & Their Pod is my go-to website. I made this Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas for dinner the other night and could have eaten the whole thing by myself. I was looking forward to leftovers, but my family enjoyed it as much as I, so, yeah, unfortunately, no leftovers.

Cookie and Kate is another of my bookmarked food websites. My neighbor unloaded pounds of zucchini on me this past weekend, so I whipped up some zucchini bread. Which I call vegetable cake. I knew that getting my 16 year old to eat a bread with zucchini in it was going to be hard enough, but if I used whole wheat flour instead of white, chances were going to be slim. So, I stuck with white flour and my son gobbled it up. Deceptively delicious, right?

And last, but not least, chickpeas. I. Love. Chickpeas. Any way, shape, or form. I love 'em in a salad, roasted, or mashed up as hummus. But I recently came across this recipe that combines two of my faves: chickpeas and pasta. It's a simple recipe that doesn't sound all that yummy, but trust me, it's to-die for: pasta con ceci.

That's all I've got for this week. I've got the early shift at the Fitness Center tomorrow, so I've got to hit the hey. With any luck, I'll dream about pasta con ceci all night...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

An Individualized Approach

I was taking a group exercise class this week when a member mentioned that I looked fit and asked what I had been doing, so I told her about the Just 10 Challenge. She asked which change I had made to my diet had the biggest impact. I hesitated to answer because, I'm not sure it boils down to one change, and the thing is, what works for me, won't necessarily work for her. 

If there's one thing I've learned from Jacy over these past few weeks it's that in order to be effective, a weight loss plan must take into account a person's genes, environment, and lifestyle. Nutrition professionals like Jacy have long known that you can't just read a nutrition label or follow standard dietary guidelines and call it a day - there's more to it than that. People are finally starting to pay attention to the fact that foods and diets that work for some people, are less effective for others. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to losing weight. 

Jacy has devised a plan for me. Together we've tweaked it and built on it. While there are things I cannot feel, like high cholesterol, there are other things that I can feel - like my energy level, how well I am sleeping, and what my appetite is like. And paying attention to these things is part of figuring out what works and what doesn't. Physicians follow this approach with medication; they'll prescribe a particular medicine and if they don't get the results they want, they'll make an adjustment or a switch. And that's what a registered dietitian does, as well.

Jacy is my coach and being accountable to her makes this challenge real. Knowing that I am going to speak to her every week keeps me honest. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Summer Road Trip

Last weekend, I dropped my daughter off at school in Raleigh and continued up the East Coast, visiting friends and family along the way. When I reached my final destination, Long Beach Island, I beached myself on a lounge chair and enjoyed the view.

Before I embarked on my adventure, I spoke with Jacy about my plan. My food plan, that is. I had no itinerary, I was going to be foot loose and fancy free. Just me, my car, and the open highway. But when I told Jacy that I was hitting the road, she had a few questions and made some suggestions that really resonated with me. 

In the past, a road trip was synonymous with Swedish Fish and pretzels. But at Jacy's suggestion, I skipped the fish and twisted knots and instead loaded the passenger seat with healthy snacks. Before I left, I stocked my cooler with individual nut packs from Trader Joe's, sparkling water, apples, carrots, some dark chocolate, and a chicken, vegetable wrap that I made with the leftovers from the dinner I had the night before I departed. The snacks nourished and sustained me through Richmond, DC, Baltimore, Wilmington, all the way to the shores of New Jersey. 

I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or if I subconsciously choose friends who are phenomenal cooks, but every friend I visited in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey put out a spread that could have graced the pages of Gourmet Magazine. Jacy warned me that eating right isn't always easy when you are at the mercy of your host for meals, but she assured me that I could still make good choices if I had a plan, and then she helped me with the plan. Lucky for me, my friends are not only amazing cooks, they also choose a variety of healthy foods and recipes. I ate like royalty without making a total pig of myself. 

I wouldn't normally choose a blueberry muffin the size of my head to start the day, but when I came downstairs and was greeted by my friend, the hostess with the hostess, handing me a muffin right out of the oven and a delicious latte with an impressive heart woven into the foam, well, let's just say, it was impossible to say no. So I ate part of the muffin, and filled the rest of my plate with fresh fruit. When we grilled burgers for lunch one day, I had mine open-faced on half of a bun. I skipped the chips in favor of a small salad and didn't feel guilty about washing it all down with a Corona (and an orange slice in stead of a lime - highly recommend it). The night we had homemade pesto pizza, I served myself one piece with a heaping serving of the tossed shrimp and avocado salad.  My cousin, the former bartender, featured a specialty cocktail every afternoon at happy hour. I enjoyed Saturday's blackberry mojito, Sunday's watermelon basil margarita, Monday's vodka-thyme lemonade, and Tuesday's sparkling shiraz punch. But I made a point to pass on the appetizers. I also chose not to sample the fudge or indulge in nightly dessert as I knew that on Tuesday evening we were going out for frozen custard and I was not going to pass on that little scoop of deliciousness. 

When I arrived home and stepped on the scale, I was pleased as (sparkling shiraz) punch to find that the number flashing on the display was the same as when I last stepped on it. I had so much fun visiting with my family and friends. I enjoyed countless delicious meals, I added a few new cocktails to my repertoire, and best of all - I managed to stay in control and on track (thanks to Jacy's voice in my ear). I was supposed to check in with her this evening at 8:15 for our weekly chat, but my husband and I are celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary, so I rescheduled for tomorrow. It's hard to take the Just 10 Challenge when there always seems to be a birthday to celebrate, or a road trip to take, or an anniversary to toast. But that's life, and you can't put life on hold. But you can learn to make a plan. And if you keep practicing the plan, day in and day out, eventually the plan becomes a habit. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Trouble with Cheat Days

I had a great face to face meeting with Jacy on Monday. And as expected, I got that much needed booster shot. We talked about my week of celebrating and overindulging with my family. And we talked about cheat days in general and agreed that they don't really work. The trouble with cheat days starts with the name. The very phrase sets up enjoying a meal or a snack as something forbidden. Separating food into good and bad categories encourages you to associate eating with guilt and shame. 

Jacy cautioned that when a food is off limits except for on a cheat day, it can develop a specific, emotional charge and you can actually begin obsessing about it, fantasizing about it, and looking forward to that cheat day all week. Then, when you finally have access to the food, you overeat. Research shows that people who hold themselves back on all days except their cheat day are actually less likely to reach their dietary goals. They are more likely to consume a greater number of calories, not only on their cheat day, but on the days following it. Restricting yourself throughout the week and then slamming your body with sugar and fat once the cheat day rolls around can have a massive impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. Personally, I think there's a pretty fine line between a cheat day and a free-fall into food binging - especially if you're white-knuckling it during the other six days a week. 

So...if cheat days don't work, am I better off eating whatever I want, whenever I want? Nice try, right? I've learned from Jacy that following a healthy diet means including a number of different kinds of foods - all of which are to be consumed in moderation. And for me specifically - that means three square meals a day with planned snacks, incorporating treats - but in smaller portion. Sprinkling reasonably sized treats into my daily diet encourages me to find pleasure in meal time and that pleasure will help ensure that I don't feel the need to go overboard when birthday cake is served every day for an entire week. 

Instead of confining my treats to a single day, I'm gong to drop them into places throughout the week. I am incorporating a few pieces of chocolate after dinner on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I'm going to enjoy a Cashew Cluster (from Costco - to die for) in the afternoon to satisfy my salty/sweet need. I'm also going to concentrate on savoring every bite. Instead of inhaling my food, I'm going to concentrate on how it tastes and smells and I'm going to enjoy the experience as a whole. 

So what's the takeaway?

Denying myself most of the week and then indulging like crazy on a day "off" or when my family is in town celebrating a birthday just promotes guilt, anxiety and shame around eating. Instead, I am going to make every day a great day by listening to my appetite, periodically adding in some of my favorite foods in small portions, and savoring each and every bite I eat. This sustainable approach will enable me to think of all of my eating as enjoyable and that's what will get me down the road to where I want to be.