Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The More You Run...

While skimming through fitness sites the other day, I came across this headline on Fitperez.com:

Study Suggests the More You Run, the More You Can Eat Without Gaining Weight

As an avid runner, this statement caught my eye – and initially, it really ANNOYED me. At first glance, it glamorizes running, making it seem like you can eat Hostess cupcakes all day and not have to worry about weight gain as long as you run – if only it were so easy. I can tell you first hand, running 2 miles at a 10:00 mile pace 5 days a week while indulging in pizza, burgers, and French fries at mealtimes is NOT going to keep you from gaining weight (just ask my college self).

However, as I continued reading the article, it began making sense. I am a huge advocate of running as a form of cardio. I can preach to the masses about what it did for me and accomplishing my weight loss goals. But running alone is not going to be the key to weight change – it’s always going to be about caloric balance. And even unrelated to weight, eating an unhealthy amount of food not only affects your gut, but it can lead to problems such as diabetes and atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries).

So if you place a heavy emphasis on “the more you run” part of the headline, then it becomes more accurate.  I just wanted to share a few highlights from the article with you that I found really interesting:

  • Research from the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that people who run at least 5 miles a day maintain their slim waistline and low BMI no matter what they eat. For a 155lb person running at a 10:00 mile pace for 6 miles, that is 704 calories burned - that's a lot of calories to replenish!
  • By categorizing 106,736 runners by the average distance they run every day, the data revealed runners reduced the effects that diet had on BMI and waist circumference:
    • 1 mile: by 32%
    • 2-3 miles: by 44%
    • 3-4 miles: by 59%
    • 5+ miles: by 65%

Bottom-line: Caloric balance is going to play a HUGE role in weight change - in order to lose weight, calories in have to be less than calories out. This article also highlights that vigorous exercise significantly increases the body's ability to oxidize fat. 
So if you're looking for a good form of cardio to jump-start your weight loss, it might be in your best interest to take up running! 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Weight-loss Goals: The Nutrition Edition 1.0

Alright, let’s get it out there – I HATE the word ‘diet’ so I will be using 'nutrition' instead. I hate the phrase “I’m going on a diet” even more. And maybe it’s because every time those words have escaped my mouth, mass destruction has occurred.

This is how it would go down for me:

Step 1:  Make the vow “Starting Monday, I’m going on a diet”
Step 2: In preparation, binge eat all weekend, trying to consume as much comfort food as possible, knowing I will be restricted from it for what may seem like an eternity.
Step 3: Eat healthy for a few weeks, lose a lb or two. Then some event comes up, causing crash and burn of diet. Give up on diet.
Step 4: Repeat Steps 1 through 3.

Conclusion: I am an absolute failure at dieting.

So where did I go wrong? Well one of my mistakes was assuming I would be 100% successful the first attempt and all my issues would be solved. But even bigger than that, I was under the assumption I could be on this “diet” until I lost my goal of 10 lbs and then revert back to my previous eating habits. I basically set myself up for failure with that one.
But I’m not alone. Many people out there are drawn to this kind of dieting – quick fix approaches to weight loss. They hear “Lose 2 pounds in a day!” (I’m serious – read about it here) and think "hey, I can do that!" Most people can, but unless you are using it as a way to jump-start your weight loss, in no way is that sustainable. Sure, you may lose that 6lbs a week you were promised, but the second you go off that diet, those 6 lbs will come crawling right back to you.

A major key to weight loss success is making realistic, well-planned goals. Here are some examples of goals you may establish:
  • Start off slow. Looking to lose weight to improve your health? Aim to lose 5-10% of your body weight.
  • Make sure your approach is maintainable. Aim to lose 1 to 2 lbs per week. 
  • Plan for long term. Allow some flexibility with what you eat. Try not to restrict food groups - restricting may help you may lose weight faster, but it will be quite difficult to maintain.
  • Be realistic. It is likely you will have an occasional setback, but do not give up. Conquer the setback and start fresh the next day. 
What will your goals be?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Recipe of the Week: White Bean Soup with Peppers and Bacon

I made this Tuesday night for dinner and loved it, so I thought I'd share. It's an all-in-one meal: you get your carbs, tons of vegetables, and protein packed into one bowl. Enjoy!

Recipe inspired by Cooking Light

White Bean Soup with Peppers & Bacon

1 can (15.5 oz) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 bacon slices
2 cups chopped red bell pepper
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup peeled, chopped carrot
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced 
3 (16 oz) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

  • Cook the bacon in a pan (large enough to hold 8 cups of soup) over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, crumble, and set aside. 
  • Add bell pepper and the next 8 ingredients (bell pepper through minced garlic) to drippings in pan. Saute 10 minutes or until browned. Stir in the broth, scraping pan to loosen brown bits. Add beans. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Place 3 cups of the bean mixture into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Return the pureed mixture to pan. Stir in the crumbled bacon and parsley.

Nutritional Info:
Serving: 1 cup
Calories: 267;  Fat: 9g; Saturated fat: 3.2g; Monounsaturated fat: 3.8g; Polyunsaturated fat: 1.3g; Protein: 13.6g; Carbohydrate: 33.8g; Fiber: 5.9g; Cholesterol: 9mg; Iron: 3.6mg; Sodium: 479mg; Calcium: 87mg

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Get Physical Thursday: Quick Total Body Series

Quick Total Body Series

I'm going to dedicate Thursdays to posting a new exercise. Thursdays are good because you're only one day away from the weekend (woo!), and you're more likely to have time to try a new workout. I decided to post a really great strength training workout for women and emphasize how important it is for your weight loss journey.

Sure, cardio burns more calories than strength training DURING the actual activity itself, but weight-training burns more overall. Since muscle accounts for about 1/3 of the average woman's weight, it has a significant effect on your metabolism. Muscle, unlike fat, is metabolically active, and will burn extra calories, even when you're not at the gym.

But…strength training makes women bulk up!

I used to believe this in college. And hey, it was a convenient way of avoiding that entire section of the gym, loaded with all the intimidating machines and muscley men grunting and throwing down weights.  It became an excuse for me: after spending 40 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical, I really had no desire to be in the gym another hour with a set of weights.
Well, sorry to report otherwise, but this is a myth – most likely started by someone like my college self. The women you see on weight lifting magazines with huge biceps are not the result of performing 30 minutes of strength training with 5lb weights twice a week. These women likely produce abnormally high levels of testosterone or take testosterone supplements to help increase their body mass. 

So relax, you’re not going to look like this after trying this workout…

With winter in full swing, this workout is perfect to do indoors. I found it on About.com's exercise section a couple years ago and still continue to to some variation of it at least once a week. It's great because it is a total body workout, and it provides options with three degrees of difficulty per targeted muscle group. I worked up to be able to perform all three exercises per muscle group, and in between muscle groups, I perform some type of cardio (jumping jacks, high-knees, treadmill intervals), which turns this into a really great circuit workout. Here's the link...enjoy!

Quick Total Body Series

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Waist-friendly Cocktails

After a super productive week of eating healthy, exercising, and feeling great, you get on the scale Monday morning and realize the number didn't go down at all - but you did so well this weekend! You only went out to eat once, and you ordered a nice big salad. You made it to the gym Friday after work and went for a long walk on Sunday morning. So what gives?!

According to Dr. Michael Mantell, Americans drink about 20% of their calories on average - the major offender being COCKTAILS. This can put a major dent in our weekend success. Just to give you an idea...
  • 12 oz of domestic beer (1 bottle) = 150 calories...keep in mind, if you're ordering a pint, that'll run you 200 calories. Is a pint of BUDWEISER really worth 200 calories?
  • 5 oz of wine = 125 calories
  • 1.5 oz of 90-proof alcohol = 110 calories...which does not include mixers.
Of course, leading a healthier lifestyle would be easier to just avoid alcoholic beverages altogether, but let's get real - sometimes it's nice to unwind after a long, stressful work week over a few drinks at the local pub with your coworkers. Being a 25-year-old living in the Boston area, it is common for my fiancé and I to meet up with friends at a bar, and I'd be lying if I said I don't enjoy trying a new cocktail. When I found out my favorite Cosmopolitan can run over 250 calories per drink, I figured it might be worth my time to look into some lower calorie alternatives. So I wanted to share some great cocktail recipes, all under 200 calories!

POM & Champagne Cocktail - inspired by my friend, Holly (95 calories) 
1 oz POM Light Pomegranate Juice
4 oz champagne
-Add POM to champagne flute and top with champagne.

Sour Apple Martini - inspired by Glamour (160 calories)
2.5 oz sour mix
3/4 oz vodka
3/4 oz sour apple liquer 
-Add ingredients + ice to martini shaker. Shake well and strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with thin apple slice.

'Cosmopolitan Flaca' (Skinny Cosmopolitan) - inspired by Las Vegas Bellagio Resort (127 calories)
1.25 oz Absolut Citron
0.5 oz Solerno Blood Orange Liquer
1 oz white cranberry juice
0.5 oz lime juice
-Add ingredients + ice to martini shaker. Shake well and strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with cranberries.

Margarita - inspired by Fit Sugar (144 calories)
1.5 oz 100% agave blanco tequila
1 oz lime juice
0.5 oz Cointreau
-Add ingredients to shaker with ice. Garnish glass with wedge of lime and/or salt.Mix ingredients well and pour liquid + ice into glass. 

Enjoy! And if you have any other low-cal cocktail recipes, please feel free to share! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jumpstarting your weight loss

If you are like the majority of Americans - myself included - you probably feel like you over-indulged this holiday season. A little too much pie at Thanksgiving; maybe a few more scoops of mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and butter rolls than you'd normally put on your plate. And you're probably feeling like you gained 5-10 lbs because of it.

But are you ready for some good news? In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000,  they found that Americans only gain 1 lb of body weight on average through the holiday season. That's right, just 1 measly pound.

It takes consuming 3500 extra calories to gain 1 lb of body fat; so for an average woman whose maintenance needs are 2000 calories a day, she would need to consume 5500 calories in order to gain 1 lb of body weight.  So this 1 lb average gain makes sense if you think about it. You only have about 3 days during the holiday season that tend to wreak havoc on your normal daily caloric intake: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. And the days in between are likely spent dieting and exercising.

So if you find yourself having trouble getting back on the bandwagon after the holidays, you are not alone. However, here is where the bad news comes in...

The subjects in that same study did not lose the extra holiday weight gain in the post-holiday period. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing trend where that 1 tiny pound can continue to gradually increase through the year. But you know what? Just because it might have happened to those people does NOT mean it has to happen to you. And here are a few tips to help you gain momentum and control of your weight loss this post-holiday season:

  1. Tracking food intake. This can be challenging, but that lovely Smartphone in your purse or pocket can do wonders in making it easier for you. I use MyFitnessPal, which has an amazing food database, as well as an exercise entry. Based on your current weight and goal weight, it will recommend a daily calorie intake for you, which I find really helpful in keeping up with loss and maintenance. Download a calorie tracker app and try logging your food for a week. You'll be amazed at what you consume in a normal day! 
  2. Portion control. This goes hand-in-hand with tracking your food intake, but I feel like this tip should be highlighted because it can really make or break your weight loss journey. For all of you non-dieters out there, I'm with you - I cannot give up foods. I tried the salad-for-lunch-everyday thing - BORING; I cut out carbs  - lasted all of 2 weeks; I gave up desserts - UGH. All I got from that hard work was a loss of a few pounds with a huge gain of feeling like a failure. In the end, I am a believer of anything in moderation (noun: avoidance of excess). Next time you go out to a restaurant for dinner, try eating only half of what is on your plate and take the rest to-go. 
  3. Eat your fiber. The American Dietetic Association recommends that women consume at least 25 g of total fiber per day, while men should consume at least 38 g per day. Most people eat less than 50% their recommended fiber intake. But why? This stuff is like a freebie for dieters: it isn't digested by the body. It makes you feel fuller longer without the high calorie value. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans - which is likely why most Americans do not reach their recommended 25-38 g of fiber per day. So make a promise to yourself to try substituting at least one food item a day for a high-fiber food. Along with fruits/vegetables, I highly recommend FiberOne's 100% Whole Wheat English muffins and 90 Calorie Peanut Butter bars
  4. Plan out Meals. Many people head to the grocery store with a short list but somehow return home with cart full of groceries, most of which were a product of walking up and down aisles and grabbing items at leisure. Stop this. Try sitting down during the weekend and plan a menu for the upcoming week. Go online and find a new recipe to try. Try to eat a vegetarian meal once a week - not only will it save money cutting back on meat, but it will get you that fiber your body may be lacking. Try to substitute that bag of chips for some pretzels. With a fridge full of food and your menu planned for the week, you'll be in control of what you eat and much less likely to eat dinner out! 
  5. Get moving. If you live in an area where winters consist of freezing temperatures and snow/ice like me, then you know how difficult it is to get motivated to exercise. But there are plenty of indoor options out there. Like to bike? Join a gym and get on a stationary bike - and bring a good book while you're at it; it will keep you on there longer! If you like to run or speed walk, try out a treadmill - no, it may not compare to the thrill of being outdoors, but it's only for 3 months of the year, and it's a much better alternative to gaining weight! Like to change up your routine but are running out of ideas? Take a look at what your cable provider offers. I have Comcast, and they offer some really great FREE workouts through their On Demand feature under the Sports & Fitness section. You can find some fun kickboxing, dancing, and yoga workouts to do right in your living room. 
  6. Drink lots of water. This is no secret to those trying to lose weight. Water is calorie-free; your body depends on it for proper function; and it can be quite filling. I keep a bottle with me at all times. Try drinking a bottle of water immediately before you eat. You're more likely to eat less at mealtimes. Not a fan of water? Unfortunately, juices and sodas are high in calories and will likely inhibit your weight loss. But luckily, there are some low calorie additives out there to enhance the flavor of your water; I recommend MiO Liquid Water Enhancer and Crystal Light On the Go packets. 

Soon to come: winter-friendly exercise routines!

Monday, January 23, 2012

FAT Epiphany

Have you ever woken up one morning, went to put on your favorite jeans, and noticed they were a a tad tighter than you remember? Sure! Haven't we all? 
How about fast forward a few weeks when you find yourself struggling to button favorite jeans. Obviously, they must be shrinking too much in the dryer, so you decide to start letting them air dry instead.
Then a few months after initiating this new air drying routine, you realize that favorite jeans still seem to be difficult to put on, but it must be because they're just stiffer than they used to be. Don't worry though, you discover that after squeezing into favorite jeans, there's nothing a couple lunges and a few squats can't fix in order to help make them more comfortable.
Then you find yourself getting on a scale. Yes, that square object that's been sitting on your bathroom floor for 6 months that you have managed to avoid until your next physical, which happens to be this upcoming week. You take a deep breath and step on up...
"WHAT?! No, there's no way that number can be right. I've never been that number. This scale must be wrong, it is sort of old anyways. Maybe I stood funny the first time, let me get on it again. Dammit, it didn't go down. There's just no way this number is right. I mean c'mon, I still fit into my favorite jeans!"

Hi. My name is Jen, and this is my story...or as I like to call it, my fat epiphany. Just your average mid-20-something female. I have never been obese nor have I been skinny. I consider myself lucky because I was blessed with a general like for physical activity, which has probably kept me from being a statistic for obesity.
I have struggled with image and weight for as long as I can remember. I have been up, I have been down. I have squeezed into jeans, jeans have fallen off me. I have looked in the mirror and cried at the image staring back at me. I have also smiled at my reflection in that same mirror. But do you know the one thing that has always stayed the same throughout this seemingly endless cycle? I will always prefer to get on a scale and be proud of the number staring back at me; to be able to fit comfortably into my favorite jeans; and to be able to look into the mirror and smile.
These are the thoughts that keep me going every day when I make choices about my health; whether it be denying that delicious pizza being served at the lunchtime seminar or forcing myself to get right on the treadmill after work instead of lounging on the nice comfy couch. Sure, some days are harder than others, and some days the pizza and the couch will win. But my goal never changes. I finally realized it's not about dieting, making resolutions, or exercising every day for a month straight: it's about making life changes and setting realistic goals that you can maintain. I knew in order for it to be realistic of me to maintain, it had to be a slow and steady process, but in the end, I have lost over 25lbs and managed to maintain this new healthy lifestyle for 8 months now.




This page will be dedicated to health and fitness tips I've learned along the way that I think can help others reach their goal to a healthier lifestyle. And believe me, I am no Miss Willpower. I am not a dieter, and I do not spend hours a day at the gym. I do work 40 hours a week, have two huge Mastiffs in constant need of attention, and I am in the middle of planning my September wedding. So if I can do it, you can do it.