Sunday, 30 June 2013

Taking Your Diet on Vacation (Surviving Summer Part 3)

Awww … really?  Do I have to?

Summer vacation (oh - who am I trying to kid … ANY vacation) is notorious for derailing two things: your budget and your diet!  I am planning/saving/hoping for a dream trip next year so there won’t a summer vacation trip for me this year.  That being said there will still be the weekend invitations to one cottage or another, the barbeques and the hot lazy days where I don’t feel like cooking.  Whether you are going on a vacation or having a stay-cation this year it’s still difficult to maintain those healthy eating habits when the rest of you is “taking it easy”.

There are basically two ways to approach the whole healthy vacation dilemma.

1.  You can make a conscious decision to stick to your eating plan while you are on holiday (I know it sounds impossible but there are people who manage to do just that!).  Or,

2.  You can just throw in the towel, put the diet on vacation too and accept the consequences on the scale when you get back.

Neither choice is wrong, but if you decide to follow the second course you need to accept that you may put on a few pounds.  You may put on more than a few.  Once in my younger, non-dieting days I traveled overseas on my vacation to visit family.  Now I don’t know what the deal is with European hosts, but food is definitely a sign of hospitality and unconditional love.  If you don’t eat they tend to feel a little offended.  Some cultures (yes, yes, you know who you are) also lean a little more towards the bread and pasta than the salad and protein.  I ended up gaining almost 12 pounds in 2 ½ weeks.  Back then it wasn’t so difficult to get it off.  Now, however, YIKES, that would set me for weeks. I find falling off your diet is like getting behind on your bills … it takes twice as long to get back on track than it did to derail in the first place.  I guess what I am trying to say is that if you choose to ignore calories while on vacation you MUST FORGIVE YOURSELF the minute you get back, the minute you get on the plane or pack the car for the return trip home.  Get right back on your program.  If you are going to beat yourself up, blame the world for the injustice of it all and never go back on your sensible eating plan … then, may I suggest you make a conscious decision to just eat sensibly while you are away.  It may be the lesser of two evils.

How do you stay on track while you are on vacation?   I’m so glad you asked …

All of the experts and bloggers and nutritionists and diet plans have different versions of “how to” when it comes to staying on your eating plan for a healthy vacation.  When you look closely enough they also all have the main strategies in common.  So let’s cut to the chase and look at those tips.  Most of the items I found (but not all) were also published in The Toronto Sun (June 23, 2013) and are from Molly Morgan, a board certified sports specialist dietitian and author of The Skinny Rules:  The 101 Secrets Every Skinny Girl Knows

1.  Do your homework.  Research your destination for nearby hiking trails, swimming pools, fitness centers, walking paths, bike rentals and yoga classes.  Staying active on vacation can help you return without packing on a few pounds.  Plus, it will get you out and about in the area that you are visiting.

2.  Pack your exercise essentials.  Don’t leave home without stretchy bands and a yoga mat.  Then you can squeeze in a little extra exercise in you hotel room.  There might be a rainy day or some time when your traveling companion is off doing something in which you do not want to participate.  If you forget the yoga mat try a hotel towel instead.  Don’t forget about your favourite workout clothes and sneakers.

3.  Stick to a schedule.  Easier said than done since travel schedules often go awry.  But be flexible and try to stick with at least three meals per day and healthy snacks in-between.  If you know you are going out for a fancier dinner, make lunch a bit lighter.  Skipping meals will wind up making you hungrier for the next meal and less likely to stick to your eating game plan.

4.  Get cooking.  If you can, try to arrange for accommodations that have a stove and a fridge.  This is my least favourite tip.  When I go on vacation I want to be on vacation from EVERYTHING including planning and making meals.   That said, even I have to admit that it does make a lot of sense and as Ms. Morgan points out, sometimes the extra cost of the accommodation is saved on not eating out for every meal and snack.

5.  Get groceries.  Among the first stops you should make when arriving at your destination is the grocery store.  You can stock up on dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter, whole whet bread, popcorn, bananas and apples.  If you have a refrigerator, grab some berries, low fat milk and cereal and yogurt for simple breakfasts or snacks.  Having these foods on hand will help keep your hunger in check and prevent overeating at mealtimes.  Again, it is definitely budget savvy to have breakfast, coffee and snacks (perhaps even lunch) in your room at least some of the time.

Okay, so the planning is done.  Yup, you’re feeling pretty good about the whole vacation/diet thing.  But the real test comes when you arrive at your destination.

6.  Plan for restaurants.  Restaurants are notorious for large portions.  Check out the menu and nutrition facts before you order.  Don’t be swayed by other’s choices.  Stick to your own plan!  Skip sauces, ask for double vegetables, order a meal of all side dishes such as sweet baked potato, broccoli and a side salad.

7.  Eat fruits and veggies.  Challenge yourself to have a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal.  For example, berries at breakfast, salad with lunch and double vegetables at dinner.  And NO french fries do not count!

8.  Don’t drink your calories.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but especially around beaches and hotels, fancy smoothies and soda seem to go hand-in-hand with sunbathing by the pool.  The sad fact is a strawberry daiquiri contains around 250 calories.  Down two, and you’ve taken in as many calories as an average meal.  If you want to indulge in the taste, many establishments offer mocktails so you do not blow your calories on alcohol.  You will save yourself from the calories and sugar.

9.  Pack your own snacks.  Ditch the bags of chips and high-sodium pretzels (not good for you … but especially not good in the hot weather as the salt aids in dehydration).  Pack your beach/pool bag with a filling trail mix and fresh veggies.  Celery and carrots have a high water content, that will not only help you stay hydrated but feeling full as well.

10.  Stay hydrated!  Stay hydrated!  Stay hydrated!  Try to keep a reusable bottle of water with you on vacation.  When you are out of your routine, sometimes water intake can quickly slip.  Having a water bottle with you helps to keep your water intake up while you are on the go.  Many amusements parks and popular tourist attractions offer free refills for reusable water bottles.  If you are traveling to a destination where it is not safe to drink the water, stock up on a case of water at the grocery store and avoid ice cubes in any of your drinks.

12.  Give yourself a break.  You are on vacation!  Excuses to fail don’t cut it when you are in your day to day to day routine, but one or two days off the perfect eating plan are not going to cause a major setback.  Eat well for two out of three meals a day and let yourself indulge just a bit for the third meal.  Treat yourself to a little decadence after a long day, or split a dessert with one or two other people.

Just as I was about the hit the "publish" button I came across this video giving tips from a chef on how to navigate a buffet while on vacation (or even while you are not on vacation).  It an be viewed at

Enjoy your vacation !

Friday, 28 June 2013

Food Friday (Surviving Summer - Part 2 - Stay Cool & Hydrated)

Yesterday I posted about dealing with excessive heat and humidity and the health reasons why you should stay calm, cool and collected during the summer.

Well, since we all occasionally want something besides water to achieve that, here’s a couple of cooling ideas that are guilt free and (believe it or not) very budget friendly!

Watermelon Green Tea Punch

2 cups watermelon purée 2 cups steeped green tea,
chilled (unsweetened)
1 cup grape juice
1/4 cup cherry juice (optional)
2 cups ginger ale
(or for the grown up version 2 cups of Chardonnay)

In a large pitcher, stir together the watermelon purée, green tea, grape juice, cherry juice and ginger ale or Chardonnay.
Mix well and chill. Serve over ice.

Serves 6-8.

Yogurt Pops

Yogurt offers a quick source of dairy and protein.  It’s cheap, healthful, and sweet enough to replace dessert.  Make these pops and enjoy the cooling benefits without the sugars, colouring and syrups.

Thanks to

One 32 oz container organic yogurt (vanilla works well)
1 ½ cups of frozen berries (blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
6 popsicle molds (or more if you have them!)

Put one spoonful of yogurt into the bottom of the mold, drop in some berries, then another spoon of yogurt, continue layering until just below the top.  Place in the freezer for 4 hours.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Surviving Summer Weather)

It seems Mother Nature took note of the fact that June 21st was the first day of summer, at least here in Southern Ontario.  And just in time for out July 1st Canada Day long weekend we have been hit with the typical heat and humidity that accompanies the middle three months of the year.

So, even though this blog is primarily based on trying to encourage a lower number on the scale every week, its also about being healthy.  The Toronto Sun (June 25, 2013) featured two full page articles that contained excellent information on Heat and Humidity.  It seemed worthwhile to share them here.

BEATING THE HEAT ... as much as we enjoy the warmer temperatures we sometimes forget about how difficult it is for our bodies to adapt to that heat.  Heat stroke, also known as sunstroke, happens when the body's mechanisms for controlling temperature fail.

Heat stroke can be a life threatening emergency and requires immediate treatment.  People can feel, faint and weak during heat waves, although most of those people suffer from heat exhaustion, which is a related but less serious condition.

So what are some things we should avoid to prevent heat stroke?

* Working/exercising in hot conditions - sometimes it is impossible to avoid working in the heat but as important it is to keep up exercise routines, maybe in excessive heat a temporary gym membership may be something to consider.
* Not drinking enough fluids - water is important at all times, but especially so in times of extreme heat.

People with the following conditions are especially prone to heat stroke ...

* Alcoholism
* Heart disease
* Obesity
* Older age
* Parkinson's disease
* Uncontrollable diabetes
* Use of certain medications such as diuretics and antihistamines

Another sure sign that summer has arrived is the "humidex" advisories we hear on the nightly weather reports.  "Humidex is a common word  in Canadian weather reports, but what does it really mean?  What is humidity and why is it such a danger to people?

Well, Humidity generally refers to the amount of water vapour in the air.  Relative humidity is the percentage of water vapour in the air compare to the maximum amount the air can actually hold.  When the air is at 100% humidity, it is completely saturated with water vapour and cannot hold any more.  When the air is at 100% humidity, sweat will not evaporate, making us hotter.

What are the dangers of high humidity?

Hyperplexia:  Blood brought to the body's surface cannot dissipate heat, causing more to be sent to skin and less to muscles, brain and other internal organs.

Heat fainting:  Quick drop in blood pressure from too much activity.

Heat exhaustion:  Fluid/salt loss

Heat stroke:  Extreme body temperature rise.


While waiting for paramedics to arrive you can:
* Fan air over patient
* Wet and cool skin with water
* Apply ice packs to armpits, groin, neck and back where blood vessels are close to the skin.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Lighter Side

Reader’s Digest has known the secret for years.

They have always had a section somewhere in the magazine called
“Laughter is the Best Medicine”.As it turns out, they were right.  A study at Vanderbilt University showed that you could burn up to 50 calories by laughing 10-15 minutes each day.  When laughing, people burned a lot more calories.  Laughter has other health benefits that include things like strain reduction, immune system boosting, natural pain relief and increased blood flow.

But …

Once you go on a diet, quiet often instead of a pound or two, the first thing you lose is your sense of humor.  I wish I could claim all these as original thoughts, but they are actually a compilation of humorous tips and quotes I found on the Internet.  They are meant to elicit at least a giggle (if not an outright guffaw) but some of them … well … they kind of make sense (at least in my twisted little mind).  Judge for yourself.  After all,“LMAO” is a great way to reduce weight in your hindquarters.


Let’s “laugh-ercise”!

   Put up a full length mirror …
On your refrigerator door.


Eat your food while staring into that mirror …
Totally naked!

“When I buy cookies I eat just four and throw the rest away.  But first I spray them with Raid so I won’t dig them out of the garbage later.  Be careful though, because that Raid really doesn’t taste that bad.”
                   -  Janette Barber

When eating donuts …
Only eat the center part.

Use the parental block feature on your television, for the Food Network.
Then eat the paper where you wrote down the pin and password.

If you are having Chinese food …
Eat with one chopstick.

“You know it’s time to diet when you push away from the table and the table moves.”
- Quoted in The Cockle Bur

Instead of carrying you laptop around with you …
Carry your desktop computer instead.

“Never eat more than you can lift.”
- Miss Piggy

Remove the wheels …
From your grocery cart.

Use superglue …
As a lip gloss.

Only eat food that you can catch …
With a toothpick.

“I told my doctor I get very tired when I go on a diet, so he gave me pep pills.  Know what happened?  I ate faster.”
- Joe Lewis

Like the silent tree falling in the forest …
Food actually has no calories if no one sees you eating it.

Just say “McNO”!

“I recently had my annual physical examination, which I get once every seven years, and when the nurse weighed me, I was shocked to discover how much stronger the Earth’s gravitation pull has become since 1990.”
- Dave Barry

If you can’t pronounce the ingredients …
It contains no calories, but you probably shouldn’t eat it.

Eat anything you want …
Just don’t swallow it.

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
- Julia Child

Running to the refrigerator …
Is not considered exercise.

Ask yourself …
Is there really anything “lite” about “cellulite”?

If you ate pasta and antipasti …
Would you still be hungry?

If your dog is fat …
YOU are not getting enough exercise.

The toughest part of a diet isn’t watching what you eat …
It’s watching what other people eat.

“The biggest seller is cookbooks and second biggest seller is diet books.  Basically, how not to eat what you’ve just learned how to cook.”
- Andy Rooney

Self-delusion is pulling in your stomach …
When you step on the scale.

If you drink a diet soda while eating a candy bar …
The calories in the candy bar are cancelled by the diet soda.

The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight …
Because by then your body and your fat are really good friends.

My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.  Unless there are three other people at the table.”
- Orson Welles

Dieting is …
Wishful shrinking.

Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.
Coincidence?  I think not!

I’m in shape.
Round is a shape, isn’t it?

Try the cardiologist’s diet.
If it tastes good … spit it out!

Containers of food that list the number of servings as greater than one are lying.  Every container includes one serving.  Half gallon of ice cream, box of cereal, bottle of soda, bag of chips are all one serving.

Food has replaced sex in my life;
I can’t even get into my own pants.

Foods that are frozen have no calorie because calories are units of heat …
Examples are ice cream. Popsicles and frozen pies.

Power bars and other types of energy bars make you thinner …
In all my years of exercising I have only seen thin people eating energy bars, ergo they must make you thin!

Tasting other people’s food does not add to your calorie count.

Food used for medicinal purposes NEVER count …
Such as hot chocolate, brandy, toast and Sara Lee Cheesecake.

I hope I’ve given you some giggle, snickers or laughs.  With that I’ll close for now,
because after all …

You can’t lose weight by talking about it …
You have to keep your mouth shut! 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Food Friday (Smoothies)

Smoothies are everywhere now.  They are being used as supplements, pre and post workout, as meal replacements for on-the-go nutrition.  There are are many options when it comes to making smoothies that meet all the nutritional criteria, so I was thrilled when I came across this "chart".  It seems to list all the basics yet allows for lots of taste personalization.

I find a smoothie often hits the spot when I'm having one of those "I'm hungry but I don't know what I want" days.  I believe when that feeling happens it's because my body needs some sort of vitamin or mineral or something else essential that I have not been supplying it with properly.

I haven't ventured too far into the world of "green smoothies" yet. Spinach in a fruit smoothie is about as adventurous as I have been, but the diagram below is informative for the more daring out there.

And remember ... although properly made smoothies can be delicious and nutritious, depending on what you add to them ... they can, very sneakily (is that a real word?) become calorie laden as well.  Choose ingredients wisely!

I found these two graphics on Pinterest and happily note that the originating websites are on the bottom of each.  Thanks to the talented people who create these so that the rest of us (not so talented) people can share them.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Habits)

They say it takes 21 days to develop a habit.

When starting an exercise routine or staying on track with your eating, put up a Post-it note for each day and then rip it down when you are done.  It helps to keep yourself motivated.

Monday, 17 June 2013

You Snooze - You Lose !

“The Dream Diet:  Losing Weight While You Sleep.”

“Burn Fat While You Sleep”

Sounds like lines from a late-night infomercial (yes I have on sleepless nights taken the last resort of watching the snake-oil sales-pitches on late night television)
Oh, be still my pounding heart …

If only it were true.

Well, you know what?  Maybe it is!

Whenever I think of weight loss, dieting and a healthier lifestyle I think of food and exercise but there are so many other factors that play into being healthy and fit.  More and more often I am coming across articles indicating how important sleep is to being healthy AND to losing weight.

I don’t want to sound like I am latching on to every excuse I can find but lately my lack of sleep is definitely a deterrent to losing weight.  I have had trouble getting a good night’s sleep … due mainly to the dreaded menopause.  I find that I can fall asleep no problem but then I am up at 4:30 and cannot get back to sleep.  So … of course I have my breakfast and try to make those morning hours as productive as I can.  The unfortunate part of that whole scenario is that I AM NOT a morning person. 

Being tired and miserable and being productive DO NOT go hand in hand.  The other thing I find is that my brain/body clock measures time in it’s own way … so when I have my “breakfast” at 4:30 in the morning, by the time I get to the office my body is telling me that’s it’s time for lunch.  I mean it’s been five hours since I ate so it sort of makes sense.  But then when I eat something it amounts to an extra meal every day.  That’s certainly not a good thing when I am trying to lose weight!  I’ve had to rethink my meal planning and break breakfast into two installments.

But enough about me … on to the “Dream Diet”.  Can proper sleep really help you lose weight?

Apparently, say all the experts, it certainly can!  When you are sleep deprived, your body craves more food and you will have to eat more of it to feel full.  It is common for people who are tired to reach for food as a way of keeping themselves energized and alert.  If your goal is to lose weight, one of the ways to overcome cravings, reduce calories and have more control over your diet is simply to get enough sleep.  We all know that sleep and sleep disruption can do strange and remarkable things to one’s body and, now, that includes influencing weight.  Doctors have long known that many hormones are affected by sleep and recently appetite has entered that picture as well.  Two hormones that influence appetite are “leptin” and “ghrelin” and studies show that the production of both may be influenced by how much or how little we actually sleep.

Have you ever experiences a sleepless night followed by a day when no matter what you ate you never felt full or satisfied?  That is the leptin and ghrelin at work.  Ghrelin stimulates your appetite and leptin is the hormone produced in fat cells that signal to the brain when you are full.  When you don’t get enough sleep it causes your ghrelin levels to rise which means your appetite is constantly stimulated.  At the same time it drives your leptin levels down and that may mean you don’t feel satisfied even after you eat.  For me, that little piece of information was a definite eye opener!

I don’t want to dwell on the science too much but I thought how researchers came upon the correlation between sleep and weight was intriguing enough to share.  As it turns out they were studying people with sleep apnea, which closes off air passages during the night, causing disruption in sleep and a tendency to snore.  The end result is that although you are “sleeping” eight hours the breathing issues prevent you from getting a deep sleep.  Eight hours of disrupted sleep leaves you feeling like you had only four.  In screening overall health of patients with sleep apnea, researchers noticed that patients were more likely to be overweight.

Interestingly enough, obesity can cause sleep apnea.  So is this a case of which came first – the chicken or the egg?

Can getting the right amount of sleep simply means that you wake up with more energy and therefore you are just naturally more active?  It could just be a vicious circle, but most experts agree that if you are dieting, logging in a few extra hours of sleep a week is not a bad idea, particularly if you get six hours of sleep or less per night.  With the proper amount of sleep you may discover that you aren’t as hungry, or that you have lessened your craving for sugary, calorie-laden foods.

One researcher states “one thing I have seen is that once a person is not as tired, they don’t need to rely on sweet foods and high carbohydrate snacks to keep them awake – and that automatically translates into eating fewer calories”.  Simply put, when you do not sleep enough, you have more hours in the day when calories can be consumed and because you are tired and invariably those calories are the kind that give you a false sense of energy (the “sugar rush”).  They are also the calories that are metabolized the quickest leading to an even greater feeling of no energy (the “sugar crash”) which leads to another grab at a “quick fix”.

Now, what can you do to insure that you get a proper night’s sleep?

Some do’s …

* Establish a regular exercise routine of 3-4 times per week, and do it well before bedtime

* Try pre-bedtime rituals that relax you – warm baths, light reading, listening to calming music or recorded nature sounds

* Create a peaceful sleep environment.  Adjust the darkness to what works best for you.  Make sure the temperature of the room is set to your comfort level.

* Give yourself sleep hours instead of trying to squeeze more activity into one day.  Adequate sleeping hours will increase your productivity during waking hours.

Some don’ts …

* Don’t nap in the daytime if you have sleeping problems at night

* Don’t take in caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol from the late afternoon and beyond

* Don’t lie in bed agitated if you can’t sleep.  After half an hour, move to a different room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again

* Don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a big meal right before bedtime.  Eating high protein food close to bedtime makes you body think it should be active and therefore keeps you awake.

Hmmmm … that last point is pretty interesting when you place it under the glaring light of DIETING.  For years and years one of the golden rules of dieting has been DO NOT EAT FOR FOUR TO SIX HOURS BEFORE GOING TO BED.  Yet, every article I read in regards to sleep and weight loss contradicted this advice and indicated that it was better to have a snack before bedtime.  They all agreed that if you struggle with insomnia, a little food in your stomach might help you sleep.  BUT don’t use this as an open invitation to pig out!  A heavy meal will tax your digestive system, making you uncomfortable and unable to get soothing ZZZ’s.  One article went as far as to say that avoiding food completely before sleeping can actually have to opposite effect, as people who wake up feeling hungry are far more likely to binge on food at breakfast.  It was suggested that eating something “light” that breaks down slowly in your system while you sleep will keep your metabolism active throughout the night, and you’ll wake up feeling energetic instead of starving.

As with any research, information, suggestions or the latest diet phenomenon you have to decide what is right for you and what works for you?  If you are going to try having something to eat before bed or if you are just naturally peckish before going to sleep, which foods should you eat and which foods should you definitely steer clear of for a good night’s sleep?

The following are suggestions from and comments in italics are mine.

Reach for Tryptophan-rich foods.  We’ve all heard of warm milk’s magical ability send us off to dreamland.  Do you know why it’s true?  Dairy foods contain tryptophan, which is a sleep-promoting substance.  Other foods that are high in tryptophan include nuts and seeds, bananas, honey and eggs.  There is no doubt in my mind about the tryptophan because it effectively explains why my son-in-law falls asleep on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner!

Indulge in your craving for carbs.  Carbohydrate-rich foods complement dairy foods by increasing the level of sleep-inducing tryptophan in the blood.  So a few perfect late night snacks to get you snoozing might include a bowl of cereal and milk, yogurt and crackers, or some flat bread or pita with cheese.  If you are going to indulge in a pre-bed snack you have to remember that it is not a free food … adjust your daily portions accordingly.

Put down the burger and fries!  As if you needed another reason to avoid high-fat foods, research shows that people who often eat high-fat food not only gain weight, they also experience a disruption of the sleep cycles.  A heavy meal activates digestion, which, which can lead to nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Beware of hidden caffeine.  It’s no surprise that an evening cup of coffee might disrupt your sleep.  Even moderate caffeine can cause sleep disturbances.  But don’t forget about less obvious caffeine sources like chocolate, cola, tea and decaffeinated coffee.  For better sleep, cut all caffeine from your diet four to six hours before bedtime.  And, remember medications may contain caffeine.  Some over-the-counter and prescription drugs contain caffeine, too, such as pain relievers, weight loss pills, diuretics and cold medicines.  These and other medications may have as much or even more caffeine that a cup of coffee.  Check the label of nonprescription drugs or the prescription drug information sheet to see if your medicine interferes with sleep or can cause insomnia.

Skip the nightcap.  Here’s the catch-22 with alcohol:  it may help you fall asleep faster, but you may experience frequent awakenings, less restful sleep, headaches, night sweats and nightmares.  Alcohol sounds a lot like menopause!  If you’re consuming alcohol in the evening, balance each drink with a glass of water to dilute the alcohol’s effects.  For a good night sleep, the better bet is to avoid alcohol for four to six hours before bedtime.

Beware of heavy, spicy foods.  Lying down with a full belly can make you uncomfortable, since the digestive system slows down when you sleep.  It can also lead to heartburn, as can spicy cuisine.  Make sure to finish a heavy meal at least four hours before bedtime.

Keep protein to a minimum at bedtime.  Sorry Atkins.  Protein, an essential part of our daytime fare, is a poor choice for a bedtime snack.  Protein-rich foods are harder to digest.  So skip the high-protein snack before bedtime and opt for a glass of warm milk or some sleep-friendly carbs, like crackers.

Cut the fluids by 8 p.m.  Yes, staying hydrated throughout the day is great for your body, but curtail your fluid intake before bed.  You’re sure to have interrupted sleep if you’re constantly getting up to go to the bathroom. 

Don’t be fooled by a relaxing smoke.  Nicotine is a stimulant, with effects similar to caffeine.  Avoid smoking before bedtime or if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Another point that this article missed entirely ... sometimes having pets can lead to the worst example of why you don't get enough sleep.  That could be the title of another blog post ... Is your dog/cat making you fat?  Sorry ... just a little humour and a personal observation and a case of "been there - done that".

Sounds easy enough, right?  Yeah, but there are two sides to every coin.
Another article on suggested “Your diet and your sleep patterns are related.  When you do not sleep enough, your body’s physiology changes, which may lead to cravings and an over-consumption of calories.  Sleeping too much also has adverse effects on your weight”.

Now just wait a minute … I can’t seem to keep ahead of the game here?  Too little sleep is not good, yet too much is not good either?

Fitday agrees that “sleeping only a few hours each night significantly increases the chances for obesity.  Sleeping only five hours each night increases the chances of weight gain by 50%”.  They sight the same leptin/ghrelin levels research I’ve already discussed at the beginning of this post.

As with eating properly and exercising properly the key when it comes to sleep is balance.  Sleeping more than nine hours each night can also lead to weight gain.  The cause of this is not as clear, however it is possible that if you stay in bed too long, it is a result of not sleeping soundly.  You may be waking up numerous times throughout the night and not getting the deep sleep needed to be alert and healthy.

Okay – got it.  They are saying the same thing but coming at it from a different direction.

The bottom line on snoo-zzzz-ing and lo-zzzzz-ing?  When trying to control your diet, paying attention to your sleep patterns is a good strategy.  Be sure to sleep eight hours each night.  Going to bed at the same time each night makes it easier to fall asleep.  Minimize night-time distractions, wear ear plugs to block out unwanted noise and try some of the tips mentioned here.  Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis will keep your body in balance, help to reduce cravings and keep your diet healthy and on track.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Food Friday (Shirataki Noodles)

Love pasta?

Feel guilty about the carbs, gluten and calories?

No more!

According to you can “make your favourite pasta dishes without the guilt thanks to
Tofu Shirataki noodles.  Made from a blend of pureed tofu and the root konnyaku, a member of the yam family, this noodle substitute is easy to prepare and is only 20 calories and gluten free!  Available in macaroni, spaghetti, angel hair and fettuccine shapes, it can be used anyway you would use regular pasta”.

Shirataki noodles can be found in the Tofu section of most grocery stores.

According to “Shirataki needles were once Japan’s best kept weight loss secret.  Thanks to the new low carb craze, the noodles are out of the bag now.  Shirataki means “white waterfall” – a pretty name for a noodle.  We like to think of them as little miracles of science”.

These noodles contain no fat, carb, net carbs, sugar, or any other weight loss enemies.  As mentioned above these noodles are made from the yam-like konjac plant and loaded with glucomannan – a water-soluble dietary fibre.

Not everyone is enamoured with Shirataki noodles.  Like sushi and beer, Shirataki noodles have an acquired taste.  Before you ship these Asian noodles off to diet food island try the recipe below, or substitute the noodles in any other Asian noodle recipes.  Some people think the noodles taste rubbery, probably because they didn’t parboil!  Before you use Shirataki noodles, rinse and parboil them to get the right texture.  Simply bring water to boil and add a pinch of salt (optional).  Quick boil the noodles for 1 – 2 minutes, then drain and rinse.

Note:  One of my TOPS group ladies has tried these and deemed them as “not pasta, but not bad”.  She did mention that they “smell funny” right out of the bag and need to be rinsed well and dried thoroughly to get the “right pasta feel”.  I have not tried them myself.


2 teaspoon vegetable oil
8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast
2 carrots
1 medium onion
1 clove pressed garlic
¼ pound snow peas
1 package (16 oz) Shirataki noodles
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil

1.  Heat large frying pan, preferably non-stick, over high heat

2.  Add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil to coat the pan

3.  Add 8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast, slivered.  Stir fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Remove from pan.

4.  Heat 1 teaspoon oil in same pan.  Add 2 carrots, cut into matchsticks, 1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges, 1 clove garlic, pressed and ¼ pound snow peas, trimmed and halved lengthwise.  Stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes or until tender crisp.  Remove from pan.

5.  Add 1 package (16 oz) Shirataki noodles drained and coarsely chopped, and 1 tablespoon Soy Sauce to same pan.  Cook and stir for 3 minutes.

6.  Turn into large bowl.  Mix in chicken, vegetables, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon Soy Sauce and 2 tablespoons sesame oil.

7.  Cover and refrigerate until chilled, stirring occasionally.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving:  187 calories, 16g protein, 6g fat, 14g carbohydrates, 774mg sodium, 39mg cholesterol.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Menus listing calories and exercise)

You have just been seated at your favourite restaurant.  You have been looking forward to this meal and ordering your favourite menu item all week.  When the waitress hands you the menu you notice that there is a something different in the way it looks.  Your favourite items are still listed but listed beside each item is the amount of time it would take to burn off that meal by taking a brisk walk.

Would that information make you rethink you ordering choice?

Would you still order that dessert if you knew that it would take two hours of brisk walking to burn it off?

In the U.S. “by law, retail food establishments that are part of a chain with twenty or more locations nationwide must disclose the calories content of each menu item.”  However, the majority of studies show that providing information on calorie count does not lead to fewer calories ordered or consumed.  In the first study of its kind, researchers at Texas Christian University have discovered that out of group of 300 study participants, those ordering from a menu that displayed the amount of exercise needed to burn off the calories in each food, ordered significantly fewer calories than those ordering from a menu not showing either calories or exercise-costs.

The study (in a nutshell) went something like this;

GROUP ONE – (99 participants) - ordered lunch from a menu without calorie or exercise labels.

GROUP TWO – (99 participants) – ordered lunch from a menu listing only calories

GROUP THREE – (102 participants) – ordered lunch from a menu with labels as to the minutes of brisk walk needed to burn the calories of each food.

All of menus listed the same food and beverage options.


The researchers found that the Exercise-listed group ordered and consumed significantly fewer calories than the No-Calories-listed group.

However, they found that the No-Calories-listed Group and the Calories-listed groups did not differ significantly in the food calories ordered and consumed.

The groups were all under the age of 30 and the researchers do not want to generalize, but in the groups of young men and women studied listing exercise times to burn off the menu items made a BIG difference in the their choices.  The researchers chose “brisk walking” since everyone can relate to the activity.  They plan on continuing their research with other age groups to see if the results are similar.

Would it make a difference to me?  I think it would because I am on this journey.

Would it make a difference to someone else not concerned about their weight?  In my opinion, whether that person is overweight or not, if they are not concerned going in that number on the menu is probably not going to make a difference in their ordering (despite the study).

Would it make a difference to you?

Monday, 10 June 2013

So, you think you know?

After I’ve been on a diet for a while I start to become complacent about certain things like calorie counts and portion controls.  The food scale begins to get dusty on top of the fridge and accurate portion sizes become “guesstimates”.  Then I have the nerve to wonder why that pesky little indicator on the scale starts to travel in the wrong direction again.

The same thing happens in my TOPS group.  We can always tell when members are getting complacent because our “overall gains” for the week start to outweigh (pun fully intended) our “overall loss”.

This week I decided to throw a couple of quizzes out to the group.  I find quizzes are a fun way to refresh some the information we need to make good choices.  Especially fun when there are prizes involved!!

Sorry, I can’t give out any prizes here but if you want to take the quizzes for your fun and enlightenment, let’s go …

All answers will be given following each quiz


1.  To start your morning off right, which breakfast has the least amount of calories?
  1. Two scrambled eggs with cheese
  2. A glazed donut
  3. One cup of granola cereal

2.  Which of these delicious appetizers boasts the lower amount of calories per serving?
  1. Shrimp cocktail
  2. Chicken lettuce wraps
  3. 12 chips with salsa

3.  Those four fun-size Snickers you just grabbed from the receptionists candy jar cost you how many calories?
  1. 120 calories
  2. 324 calories
  3. 500 calories

4.  You ordered the chicken.  Now which side dish should you choose if you want to continue with your low calorie dinner theme?
  1. One bowl of broccoli soup
  2. Half a cup of rice pilaf
  3. Two slices of garlic bread

5.  Which movie-theatre treat should you nosh on to avoid calorie-overload?
  1. A medium-size buttered popcorn
  2. One salted pretzel
  3. A 5-ounce pack of red licorice

6.  Which alcoholic beverage packs the highest amount of calories at happy hour?
  1. White Russian
  2. Budweiser
  3. Glass of red wine

7.  To avoid turning your snack into a mini-dinner calorie-wise, which should you choose?
  1. Half a cup of cottage cheese
  2. Two stalks of celery with peanut butter
  3. A handful of tortilla chips

8.  Which Chinese food favorite will set you back the most calories?
  1. Orange Chicken
  2. Broccoli Beef
  3. Vegetable Chow Mein

9.  While in a fast food drive thru, which item should you choose if you want to spare yourself some major calories?
  1. McDonald’s Quarter Pounder™ with cheese
  2. Taco Bell taco salad
  3. McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets™

10.  To finish off your meal, which tasty dessert has the least amount of calories?
a.       A slice of apple pie
b.      One serving of chocolate pudding
c.       Two Rice Krispies™ treats

Question 1
Two scrambled eggs with cheese = 300 calories
A glazed donut = 380 calories
One cup of granola cereal = 400 calories (and don’t forget about the milk)

Question 2
Shrimp cocktail = 1 serving is 125 calories
Chicken lettuce wraps = 4 wraps equals 630 calories
12 chips with salsa = 270 calories

Question 3
Four fun-size Snickers = 324 calories (81 calories each)

Question 4
One bowl of Cream of broccoli soup = 570 calories
Half a cup of rice pilaf = 155 calories
Two slices of garlic bread = 300 calories

Question 5
A medium-size buttered popcorn – 1000 calories
A salted pretzel = 370 calories
A 5-ounce package of red licorice = 560 calories

Question 6
White Russian = 4.5 ounces is 404 calories
Budweiser = 12-ounces equals 145 calories
Glass of red wine = 6 ounces equals 170 calories

Question 7
Half a cup of cottage cheese = 100 calories
Two stalks of celery with peanut butter = 220 calories
A handful of tortilla chips = (12 chips) equals 260 calories

Question 8
Orange Chicken = 1 dish equals 480 calories
Broccoli Beef = 1 dish equals 150 calories
Vegetable Chow Mein = 1 dish equals 260 calories

Question 9
McDonalds Quarter Pounder™ with cheese = 510 calories
Taco Bell’s taco salad = 870 calories
McDonald’s six piece McNuggets™ = 260 calories (without the high calorie dipping sauces)

Question 10
A slice of apple pit = 450 calories or more
One serving of chocolate pudding = 160 calories
Two homemade Rice Krispies™ treats = 140 calories


1.  Which typed of diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease?
  1. Atkins Diet
  2. South Beach Diet
  3. Paleo Diet
  4. Mediterranean Diet

2.  Which of these best describes the Mediterranean Diet?
  1. Very low carbohydrates (no rice, pasta or bread), high protein and fat from meat, eggs and other sources
  2. Plenty of fish, vegetables, fruit and dairy, whole grains, olive oil and other healthy fats, moderate wine consumption
  3. Restricted carbohydrates, including fruits; encourages healthy fats, vegetable and low fat proteins
  4. Includes meats, vegetable, fruits, roots and nuts, excludes grains, legumes, dairy products and potatoes

3.  What happens to the body when you eat doughnuts?
  1. A rapid spike in blood sugar
  2. A burst of energy, followed by a sluggish feeling
  3. A release of insulin, which causes the blood sugar to plummet
  4. All of the above

4.  Which of the following is considered a “healthy” fat by nutritionists?
  1. Saturated fat, which is solid at room temperature and comes from animal sources
  2. Trans fat, found in processed packaged foods
  3. Monounstaurated fat, found in plant based foods and oils
  4. Partially hydrogenated fat, chemically altered by adding a hydrogen atom to an unsaturated fat

5.  Why is fatty fish an important part of a healthy diet?
  1. It has omega-3 fatty acids that are important for brain health
  2. It lowers your risk of certain cancers
  3. It is low in calories and high in protein
  4. All of the above

6.  Which of these eating habits is not linked with losing weight and keeping it off?
  1. Chewing gum
  2. Snacking often
  3. Eating out
  4. Drinking water

7.  What drink may lower risk of an early death?
  1. Diet sodas
  2. Coffee
  3. Prune Juice
  4. Water

8.  Which of the following can be a diet buster?
  1. Consuming low-fat dairy
  2. Sleeping at least seven hours a night
  3. Choosing food labeled “fat-free”
  4. Meditating a few minutes each day

9.  Eat this not that.  Which of the following food switches make the most sense for health and weight loss?
  1. Steel-cut oats instead of instant oats with sugar
  2. Unbuttered popcorn instead of potato chips
  3. A small piece of dark chocolate instead of a milk chocolate candy bar
  4. All of the above

    1. (d) The Mediterranean Diet
    2. (b) Plenty of fish, vegetables, fruit and dairy, whole grains, olive oil and other healthy fats, moderate wine consumption
    3. (d) All of the Above
    4. (c) Monounsaturated fat, found in plant based foods and oils
    5. (d) All of the above
    6. (c) Eating Out
    7. (b) Coffee  * This answer was a puzzler to me because I assumed it would be water.  The explanation given was “older adults who drink two or three cups of coffee per day (regular OR decaf) have a 10% lower risk of premature death then those who drink no coffee at all.
    8. (c) Choosing food labeled “fat-free”
    9. (d) All of the above             

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Food Friday ... Be warned!

Consider yourself duly warned!

This post has absolutely no business being on a diet/healthy eating blog.  But sometimes things are just too delicious to ignore.  I mean “delicious” in the sense of gossip – NOT eating.  Of course in this case you can make up your own mind.

But as I mentioned right off … consider yourself duly warned … just reading this post could subliminally add calories to your daily count.  Conduct yourself accordingly and please, do not blame me for any subsequent cravings.  Proceed with caution ...

Friday, June 7, 2013 is “National Donut Day”.  Appropriately, almost every newscast, on their ‘lighter side’ segment had the story about the newest phenomenon to hit the streets of New York – the Cronut.

What the heck is a cronut you ask?  Well, let me explain …

The cronut is a croissant-donut hybrid.  The brainchild of French chef Dominique Ansel and is served exclusively and sparingly at Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho.  Although the actual recipe is a deeply guarded secret he does acknowledge that it has “loads and loads of butter, along with cream injected through multiple layers with a syringe-like pastry tip and a glaze on top that encircles the hole in the middle”.  Each cronut is then fried in grapeseed oil for 30 seconds.  He only fries nine at a time as this leaves the outer layers crunchy but the inner bites doughy.  Then he rolls the sides in sugar and adds dried, candied rose petals.  Apparently there will be a flavor of the month as in May he sold rose-vanilla and for June Ansel switched to lemon-maple with glaze and cream to match.

My teeth are starting to hurt!

One customer was quoted as saying, “it’s a little bit of heaven.  Definitely worth the calories.”  Chef Ansel is not giving up the calorie count on this new treat. 

I don’t even want to contemplate that number!

Only 200 to 250 are made each morning as it takes three days to complete the process of making a
cronut and the bakery sells out within an hour.  The bakery opens at 8 a.m. and the lines have started to form two hours ahead of time.  Pre-orders are allowed but you must order them at least two weeks in advance.  Reservations for orders of 100+ must be placed months ahead of time.  At this time purchases are limited to 2 per customer with a price tag of $5 per cronut. 

For those customers who sleep in and don’t make it to the bakery in time to get their cronut fix they can still pick one up off the “cronut black market” or on Craigslist where scalpers are asking up to $40.

“Cronut” is already a registered trademark but that has not stopped copycats from starting to mimic his creation.  Enter “DIY Cronuts” or “Copycat Cronuts” into a search engine and you will be sure to get all kinds of hits; “Doissants” seem to be leading the way, but there is also a knock-off using Pillsbury Crescent Rolls and an ordinary oven.

My BFF is in NYC this weekend … I really hope she does not bring me back a Cronut … sad as it is to admit – I’d eat it!