Monday, November 30, 2009

I Really Hate Getting F@#%ing Old!!!

I'm frustrated with my yoga practice. A few weeks ago, I noticed a slight twinge in my left shoulder which eventually became an all out pain. I don't know what exactly happened, but I've had to back off the chatturangas in my practice or else I wind up really hurting by the end.

A chatturanga is essentially a reverse push up, and during the course of an entire Ashtanga practice you might do 50 or 60 of them. However, in the last couple of weeks I've had to cut them out, along with anything else that puts stress on my shoulder. It's really frustrating to know you can do a full back-bend, but can't because your shoulder will ache because of it.

It truly sucks getting old. I can't point to a single "ouch" moment where I actually hurt myself. Instead, this started as a little twinge, that turned to a minor ache, which then became a major ache. It's what I call a "wear and tear" injury. I'm getting old, so along with my aching knees, I now have an aching shoulder.

The good news is that it does seem to be getting better. Last week I started adding back in some of the postures I had stayed away from. I still can't do the majority of my chatturangas but at least I can do a few as well as bakasana and bhujapidasana.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Moveable Fast

I meant to comment on this NYTs op-ed yesterday, but just ran out of time. Check it out here:

Essentially, the piece discusses how the pilgrims fasted in addition to feasting. Specifically:

To the Pilgrims and Puritans, the community-wide fast, or “day of public humiliation and prayer,” and the thanksgiving feast, or day of “public thanksgiving and praise,” were equal halves of the same ritual. But the fast was not merely a justification for a community-wide gorging. Both customs were important components of a religious rite that served to pacify an angry God who was believed to punish entire communities for the sins of the few with starvation, “excessive rains from the bottles of heaven,” epidemics, crop infestations, the Indian wars and other hardships.

According to the 19th-century historian William DeLoss Love, the New England colonies celebrated as many as nine such “special public days” a year from 1620 to 1700. And as the
Puritans were masters of self-denial, days of abstention outnumbered thanksgivings two to one. Fasting, Cotton Mather wrote, “kept the wheel of prayer in continual motion.”

I thought this was interesting because it once again illustrates how food obsessed our culture has become. Now-a-days if you mention to someone you're going on a fast, they look at you askance and write you off as some kind of new-age, freak.

But, fasting is part of the natural cycle, and our bodies were actually designed to go through periods of fast. It's the whole reason why we store the fat to begin with. Don't forget that the pilgrims underwent a forced fast the Winter prior to the first Thanksgiving.

The whole reason for the feasting around harvest and Christmas time (a ritual which pre-dates Christianity by thousands of years), was that once Winter hit, food was scarce. You ate in abundance around harvest time and the Winter Solstice because that's when the food was available, then lived off the fat you put on then until Spring when food started to become abundant again.

So, it is OK to indulge a little around the holidays. Just remember that it's also OK to fast a little afterwards. You can skip a meal or two, or even a whole day's worth of meals, and it's completely, totally natural.

Monday, November 23, 2009

See the Movie, But Skip the Popcorn

Did you know that a medium-sized popcorn from the Regal Movie Theatre chain contains 1,200 calories, 60 grams of fat and 980 milligrams of sodium? And, that's before you add the butter topping. Check it out here:

When I go to the movies with my kids, I can't get the movie popcorn because even without the butter topping, there's usually milk ingredients in the popping solution. Since my son is allergic to milk, that means popcorn is a no go at the movies.

On the now rare occasions when I actually get to go to a movie with my husband, it's usually combined with going out to dinner, so I usually avoid the popcorn as well.

Good thing. Who would have thought that I could blow through the bulk of my daily caloric load on popcorn?

It just goes to show. Knowing what you're eating is key to weight loss and retention.

Wonder Woman

I'm looking over my schedule for the next few months, and I'm dumbfounded over just how busy I'll be.

Sticking to a weight-loss/weight-maintenance regime is hard enough as it is. Sticking to one during the holiday season, is doubly difficult, and sticking to one during an incredibly busy holiday season is quadruply difficult.

And, things don't get any less busy after January 1. I don't think I'm going to have a completely free weekend until March at this point. With skiing, Special Olympics and family obligations, I'm going to be driving from New Hampshire to New Jersey all Winter.

All I can do is plug on and remember my long term goals.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Feeling Good

One of reason why I love to cleanse is how good I feel during and afterwards. I was driving to the Farmers' market with my kids yesterday, and it suddenly hit me that I felt better than I had in several weeks.

This time of year, I normally get into this lethargic, its-getting-colder-and-darker-so-I-don't-want-to-get-out-of-bed, funk. I had been in that mood prior to starting the cleanse on Sunday. But, after just four days of just a "mini-cleanse" I now have more energy. Getting out of bed isn't a struggle, and I am more clear headed.

Now, if I could only muster up the ambition for a deeper cleanse right after the holiday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Few Thanksgiving "Facts"

Believe it or not, according to the American Council on Exercise, the typical Thanksgiving meal is approximately 3,000 calories. And, that's just one main course plate, any seconds, extra snacks, desserts, etc. add even more calories to your caloric "load." If you also eat big breakfast that morning, you can easily eat enough calories on that one day to gain at least a pound.

With that thought in mind, here are a few facts to keep in mind:

  • Turkey skin is the most caloric dense part of the turkey, has the most fat and the least protein. The skin contains 482 calories and 44 grams of fat. A whole turkey with the skin has 231% more fat, 59% more calories, and 23% more cholesterol than a turkey with no skin.
  • Breast meat without the skin is the healthiest part of the turkey. Breast meat without skin has only 161 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving.
  • Two tablespoons of cranberry sauce will give over 1/3 of the sugar you need for the day. And most processed (not homemade) cranberry sauces contain high fructose corn syrup.
  • Two tablespoons of processed gravy products give you over 1/3 of the sodium you need for the day, and some contain trans fats.

So, a good rule of thumb to stick by is to eat the turkey without the skin, and stick to home-made dishes made with fresh, unprocessed ingredients.

And, remember, there's always leftovers. You don't have to have the stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes all on one plate. Eat one, and save the others for left-over meals.

It's Been a Good Run, But the Husband is Back Today

Sorry I didn't blog yesterday, but the kids only had a half-day of school, and I had to go to a teacher's conference in the afternoon, then on to my son's piano lesson, etc.

Plus, I'm head coach for the local Special Olympics Alpine skiing team this year, and had to get reams of paperwork done last night. All I can say is that I just ran out of time yesterday.

I had a nice little mini-cleanse this week. Last night for dinner I made myself a simple dish with beans, brown rice and brussels sprouts with lemon and olive oil. That, along with lots of fruit, salad, and oatmeal, was pretty much along the lines of what I've been eating all week. I don't know if I lost any weight, but it definitely feels good on the digestive system to just keep away from meat, fish, dairy, wheat and alcohol for a few days.

But my husband is back today. He took the red eye from the West Coast and should be walking in the door any moment. He already called from Greenwich and asked if I could make him eggs for breakfast.

I just had a banana this morning, and will probably have a salad for lunch, so I'll keep the vegan streak running a bit longer. Dinner is up in the air for now. When the kids get home today I'm taking them to the last Farmer's Market of the season in Westport. Dinner will depend on whatever I find there.

I'm sure my husband has been on a meat-fest all week, so it's probably a good night for a nice vegetarian pasta dish. Maybe some sauteed kale with onions, olives over whole wheat linguine?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Finding Friends and Inspiration in My Workouts

Today I did my absolute favorite work-out--a long hike with a good friend. My girlfriend Deby and I love to take long hikes in the Devils' Den Nature Preserve which is right around the corner from both of us. We hiked today for over 1 1/2 hours. It was a beautiful, crisp, fall day, and the sun was shining through the bare branches of the trees.

It was so wonderful to be outdoors with a good friend. We could have easily gone an another hour if we both didn't have work and appointments.

I think its so important to have social workouts. Individual workouts are important as well because we all know just how hard it is to arrange schedules. But, when you're working out with a friend and having a great conversation, it just doesn't seem so much like a workout.

At the end of the hike, we took some time to practice Tai-chi. It was really a perfect day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

While the Husband's Away . . . .

My husband left on a business trip yesterday. I have four glorious days without him. I'm free!!!!!

Too bad I still have the kids.

Still, with the holidays coming up, I'm taking this little break from the ball and chain to do a little mini-cleanse and diet. With the holidays coming up, God knows I'll need it.

This morning for breakfast I squeezed myself a tall glass of fresh grapefruit juice (yummy), and ate grapes. Lunch was a raw, vegan salad and I'm going to saute up some kale with currents and olives for dinner. I'll eat completely vegan for the next few days (I actually started yesterday), and drink no alcohol.

I'm not going completely raw because I just find that I crave hot food too much in the Fall and Winter. I can easily go completely raw in the summer, but I just need the warmth in my belly when the thermometer drops.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Eating By the Numbers

There's an interesting Op-Ed in the New York Times today which you can view here:
Apparently, buried in the health care bill working its way through congress is a provision requiring chain chain restaurants to post their calorie counts on their menus.
The authors of the op-ed take a rather dim view of this proposal (gee, I wonder who they actually work for? Could it be McDonalds?)
Here's their big argument. In NYC, where they already have to post calories, only 56% are aware that the calories are posted, and of those only 25% choose fewer calories because of it.
My counter-arguments. First, the longer the law is in existence, the more people will be aware of it. Second, even if only 25% use the information, that's 25% more that hopefully won't have weight problems (and I have problems with their data since they apparently only studied behaviors in McDonalds. Something tells me that if you're eating in McDonalds, you're unlikely to be concerned about calories to begin with).
Here's the deal. I want to easily figure out what's the best option for me, calorie-wise, when I go out to eat. Yes, I can look up the information on-line, but it would be so much easier and nicer to just have the damn data stamped on my menu. It would save me 15 minutes looking it up, and as any working Mom will attest, 15 minutes is a big deal in any day.
So, I would use the data, and even if only 25% of 56% now use the information, as time passes, and knowledge of the existence of the information exists, both the 56% number and the 25% number will both increase.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More Thoughts on Thanksgiving-Surviving the Holiday Without Gaining Five Pounds

As you can tell, Thanksgiving is on my mind. I love holidays. I love being with family and friends and celebrating. The problem is, of course, being a little too celebratory. One day can throw off weeks of weight watching if you're not careful. So, here are my own personal rules for the holiday:

1. Eat lightly the week before. I try to build up a "calorie reserve" by being really careful about what I eat for the entire week beforehand.

2. Get a good work-out in that morning. Usually I try to find the time to get in an extra long walk and a short yoga practice.

3. Eat extremely lightly for breakfast and lunch that day. After all, you're going to have a huge meal later on. Sometimes I'll just juice up some fresh grapefruit juice and have an apple for breakfast, and maybe munch on a few carrots around 12. The holiday starts around 2, so I know I'll be eating soon.

3. During the "appetizer phase" start with some water and stand away from the food. In our family, we put out platters of "appetizers" and mingle and socialize for a few hours before the meal. Wine, beer and liquor flow freely. I start with just a glass of water and initially just enjoy being there and talking with people (away from the food). I will nibble eventually, but I give myself a good 30 minutes or more before I do.

4. Go for whatever raw you can. Usually we do have a crudities platter, and maybe some fresh grapes. I'll start with those so that I'll eat less of the cheese puffs, etc.

5. Eat what you love, but don't eat everything. My family tends to go for the smorgasbord approach. Besides the turkey, there are usually a good 15 to 20 side dishes. I go for the food I really love (like mashed turnips, stuffed mushrooms and homemade pumpkin pie) and pass on the stuff I don't love (unless it's meets the "healthy" requirement below).

6. Avoid the processed crap and go healthy. If the dish mostly comes from a can, I skip it and go for the sides that are mostly fresh vegetables. I'm making a roasted vegetable dish and kale, so I'll be sure to eat those.

7. Remember there are always leftovers. If I really love a particular side (and it's reasonably healthy), I'll just take more of it home with me (along with leftover turkey etc.). Thanksgiving leftovers are just another reason to give thanks (one less meal to cook).

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

My Mom and my sister called me about Thanksgiving today. We alternate spending Thanksgiving between at my sister's house and my husband's sister's house (being that I married a Jewish guy, Thanksgiving is the only holiday were there's a conflict).

This year we're spending Thanksgiving with my family, which is always a good thing because the women in my family tend to be more conscious of health and calories then my husband's family.

But, every thing is not perfect. Being that we're Italian, my family has this insane notion that every big holiday meal has to start with pasta. My husband likes to call it the meal before the meal.
And, it's not just any ordinary pasta, but something like manicotti with homemade pasta shells. After my mother went through all the trouble of mixing the pasta dough, putting it through the hand cranked pasta machine, then mixing the ricotta filling herself, there's really no way to say "I pass," (oh, and did I mention the tomato sauce is also made from scratch?) The only thing I really can do is keep it down to one or two manicottis.

The other problem is that both of my sisters' partners are WASPS whose families believe that food isn't good unless it's drenched with fat and sugar and a can or two of something processed. We never saw sweet potatoes with marshmallows until the WASP contingent joined the family (and, unbelievably even the potatoes come out of a can. I didn't know that you could get sweet potatoes out of can until the year one of my sisters' new relatives brought them).

There's also this green bean casserole concoction they insist on bringing which is loaded with butter and has some canned crispy stuff in it.

Thank God that I pretty much found this stuff gross from the start. My first bite of sweet potatoes with marshmallows was also my last. It was so sickeningly sweet, it took a tremendous amount of self-control to swallow it and not just spit it out.

So we tend to effectively now have two Thanksgiving meals. One for the Italians (and my Jewish husband who doesn't like the WASP food either), and one for the WASPS. The only thing that binds us is the actual turkey (many of my sisters' partners' relatives won't touch the pasta either. There was a bit of an uproar one year when one mother-in-law asked if she could bring a jar of sauce for her family because they didn't like my mother's homemade, unsweetened sauce).

We have one of those families were everyone brings something (it's kind of like an entry ticket, if you don't bring at least two dishes, you're not given entry). The hostess is more of a coordinator who makes the main course. My sister is of course making the Turkey (something free-range and organic from a local farm in Jersey), so she and my mother were calling around today to arrange for the other sides, appetizers and desserts.

And, this is kind of a good thing, because I then get to bring a couple of dishes which I know are healthy. I found two recipes a few weeks ago in Food & Wine that I knew I wanted to make. One is for maple-ginger, roasted Autumn vegetables, the other is for sauteed kale with currents. The main fat in both is olive oil, and both are almost entirely vegetable based with nothing processed.

Paired with a little turkey and some of the "real" sweet potatoes (not canned and sans marshmallow) and mashed turnips, that will satisfy me more than adequately (particularly after the manicotti).

The only thing I then have to look out for is the apple pie and Bourbon pumpkin pie!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Understanding What You're Eating

There's a really good article on factory raised meat that's really worth a read. You can find it here:

Over the last few years, I've not only been trying to reduce my consumption of meat, but increase the quality of the meat I actually do eat. The reason is simple. Factory raised meat is so loaded with unnecessary hormones, chemicals, antibiotics, etc., that I'm really jeopardizing mine and my family's health by consuming it.

I'm not saying that I never buy meat in the supermarket, but that my first option is to try to find locally sourced meat, or, in a pinch, look for meat in the supermarket that is at least, organic, grass fed, free range, etc., (although as the article explains the claims of these labels is dubious).

The bottom line is to know your food. As the article says, you can pay your grocer now, or your doctor later. What you eat translates directly into how healthy you will be. Factory raised meat may be cheaper, but only in the short term. You'll pay more for it later on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Motivation to Stick with the Program

Losing weight is a bitch. Keeping it off is even a bigger bitch. I'm the first to admit that dragging my tired ass out of bed at 5:15 to get my one hour of cardio in most morning is not fun, and that I long for things like a tuna melt for lunch instead of salad.

But, I know that if I didn't drag myself out of bed and I did eat that tuna melt I'd pack back on all the pounds I lost faster than I took them off.

So, I look for motivations to keep me on track.

This blog is just one motivation. Writing about losing weight and keeping it off everyday inspires me to stay the course (as well as reading about the weight loss journeys of my fellow bloggers).

I also always look for special "events," a big night out, a wedding, Bat Mitzvah or some other gathering where I want to look svelte and sexy. I think to myself "Amy's wedding is in May, I have to look fabulous in my black, sleeveless sheath."

Today I think I may have found the ultimate weight loss motivation--my 30th high school reunion. The class of 1980 of Wayne Valley High School is having their 30th union on July 24, 2010.

I have to look good particularly for that one, since I have never attended a high school reunion. I've gone to a number of reunions for my law school but never one to my high school. So this will be the first time my former classmates have seen me in 30 years.

A few months ago I signed up for a Facebook account and started getting "friended" by a number of former high school classmates. To be perfectly honest, I had no recollection of most of these high school "friends" but it was nice to touch base again with the one's I did remember.

It was through Facebook that I learned of the reunion, so now I'm pretty determined to go. If I go, of course, I have to look drop dead gorgeous and sexy so what better motivation to keep the weight off I lost and hopefully lose a bit more?

Gee, I guess I also now need to save up for a new dress, shoes and bag. It's a summer affair so I can probably get away with something slinky that shows a bit of skin.

After all, I'll probably run into quite a few of the guys I had crushes on way back then who are now balding and overweight. I have to look real good for them.

Monday, November 9, 2009

You Have to Reduce Calories Plus Exercise to Lose Weight

A really good article in the New York Times explaining why exercise alone will not help you lose weight:

I, however, believe that not only can you not lose weight by just exercising, but that you can not lose weight by just dieting only as well. You need to do both.

Another interesting factoid. According to the article exercise alone won't help you lose weight, but it will help you maintain weight once you've lost it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Losing Weight is All Just a State of Mind

Lately I haven't been as good as I should be. I've found myself sneaking some of the kids Halloween candy this year. Something I hadn't done for the past two years.

I couldn't understand my behavior. I know that not only is the candy full of calories, sugar and processed chemicals that I shouldn't be eating (nor should my children but you can't deny them everything). Still something changed.

Then it occurred to me, that losing weight is really all just a state of mind. I didn't start losing weight until I became absolutely resolved to do so. I was so focused and so determined to get back into a dress size that I could be happy with, that food like Halloween candy just held out no temptation for me.

Now I've been a size 4 for two years and I guess some of that resolve is evaporating. Yes, I'd still like to lose some more weight, and see my post-kids and menopausal "muffin top" dissipate, but basically, I'm happy with myself.

But I have to remember that I won't stay a size 4 if I fall back into old eating habits and exercise patterns.

If I start eating again like I did when I was a size 10, then I'll eventually be a size 10 again.

So, I have to fix in my mind that Halloween candy is still off limits. Not just for my weight, but for my health.

It Ain't Summertime, and the Dieting Ain't Easy

What is it about when the weather turns that I just want to eat, and eat and eat?? Is there some kind of biological clock at work here that programs us to want to eat more than usual in preparation of Winter?

It's also so much harder to stay on the raw food routine during the day. I just crave warm food (which I try to offset by drinking lots of herbal teas).

My other issue is sleep. I swear that I just want to go into hibernation and stay in bed all day. In the Spring and Summer I can just pop out of bed to go for my morning walk. This time of year, I literally have to drag myself out of bed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Getting Off the Dairy

Yesterday, I posted a story about food allergies and how they may impact weight loss.

I found the article intriguing because of my own personal experience. A few years ago, I was a mess. I had put on quite a bit of weight. I had never had a weight problem before because I was always fairly active. I have exercised in one form or another every day for my entire life.

I was also very ill. I had bronchial problems and allergies for a number of years, and had a persistent post nasal drip and sinus congestion. Air born allergies to pollen, mold, animal fur, etc. also plagued me, and I was constantly taking anti-histamines and other products to deal with the allergies.

Worse, three years ago, within the period of six months I had pneumonia twice (I had also had pneumonia twice before). The steroids they put me on to treat the pneumonia caused me gain even more weight (I put on 25 pounds in six months), and the heavy duty anti-biotics caused me to have a systemic yeast infection.

Worse, even after the second bout and cure for the pneumonia, my lungs just never seemed to recover. A friend of mine recommended a naturalpathic physician, and since I was desperate to finally get better, I went.

The first thing the physician zeroed in on was my eating habits. I, at the time, consumed large quantities of dairy products. My standard breakfast was yogurt with fresh fruit in the morning, and I usually ate cheese at some point in the day.

The naturalpathic physician suggested that my nasal, lung and weight problems were all due to a dairy allergy, and suggested that I eliminate all dairy from my diet for a few weeks.

I was skeptical, but decided to give it a try. Well, within a week my nasal congestion and post nasal drip began to clear up, and were completely gone within three weeks. My bronchial issues also began to finally go away. Furthermore, I had begun to eliminate the dairy in May, a month in which I was usually miserable due to tree pollen, and that was the first May I didn't have to live on anti-histamines to get me through the month.

Best of all, the weight that I had been struggling to lose, finally began to show some inclination that it was willing to come off, and as the months went by with me not eating dairy, I finally shed pounds as opposed to just packing them on.

I still try to minimize my consumption of dairy products. I will have some cheese now and again, mostly because I just love it, but when I do I feel the effects. My sinuses become clogged for several days and I even now get head-aches from it.

So, in my experience, I found that there is some truth to the notion that some of our chronic conditions and weight gain may be from what are otherwise healthy foods. By eliminating dairy from my diet I cleared up a persistent problem that had plagued me for years. I spent God knows how much money on drugs to treat the symptoms of nasal congestion and allergies, when all I really needed to do was eliminate the cause of the symptoms--dairy products.

And, eliminating dairy also finally got me on the track to losing weight as opposed to just gaining it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Portion Control

I generally like to eat fresh fruit for breakfast. Bananas, apples, grapes, grapefruit and fresh berries are all regulars on my breakfast menu. Fruit is filling, has lots of fiber, and is just a great way to start the day.

In the late Spring, Summer and early Fall I can eat just fruit for breakfast. But it's getting cold again, and I just need something warm in my belly first thing in the morning to start the day.

Having a little oatmeal in the morning is the perfect solution. According to the directions for the organic oatmeal I use, I need to combine 1/2 cup of oats with 1 cup of water to produce a portion.

Now, if I made the full portion size as directed it would contain 190 plus calories, and is just too much food for me, particularly since I still like to pair the oatmeal with a piece of fruit.

So, looking at the directions given, I see that the proportion of oats to liquid is 1 to 2. I just reduce my portion of oatmeal to 1/4 cup and add 1/2 cup liquid.

So when I make my oatmeal I use 1/4 cup oats plus 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup almond milk (to give it some creaminess and extra flavor). I also add a sprinkling of cinnamon and either raisins, chopped apple or fresh berries (blueberries are my favorite). I then nuke it in the microwave for 2 1/2 minutes to get a hot, steamy bowl of delicious oatmeal.

I reduced the portion size appropriately, and reduced overall calories as well. I find that my bowl of oatmeal plus either a banana or apple is enough breakfast to take me through the entire morning (which usually includes hiking, walking or yoga) until I'm ready for lunch.

Got that Sinking Feeling???

It could be the foods you're eating:

A new study suggests that people who eat lots of processed foods have a higher risk of depression. Conversely, those who ate a diet high in fruits, vegetables and fish had a lower risk of depression.

So, in addition to making you thinner, eating less processed junk foods will make you happier.