Thursday, July 29, 2010
Okay, so you have prepped by having good snacks along with you, but you are still going to have to eat out. More than likely your first meal in a restaurant will be while traveling to your destination. You need to get it in your head from this very moment that you are going to make good choices! This first meal out, I've found, sets the tone for the entire rest of my vacation.
My best tip for eating out is to peruse the menu before you eat. I give it a pretty good scan before I finally hone in on a few things I feel safe choosing. Of course I look at the salads, and they are usually my choice, but I will also look at other areas of the menu, as well.
Soups: Anything that starts with the words "Cream of" I immediately reject. Broth-based soups are usually relatively safe, and I've found some marvelous chicken tortilla soups that are surprisingly healthy. And I sometimes a bowl of chili can be a good choice, but I always ask how it's cooked. What makes or breaks chili is usually whether it's swimming in fat or not, so asking about how it's prepared is really important.
Having said that, usually a bowl of soup is not enough food for me, so sometimes I will ask them to substitute a lower-fat soup for fries with a sandwich, or have the soup with a side salad, hold the crackers (I've never seen a good cracker choice in a restaurant).
Salads are pretty much my go-to meal in restaurants, but I have to be really careful to make sure that none of the meats on the salad are fried and that the lettuce is not bathed in dressing. The only time I don't ask for dressing on the side is when I forget, which has only happened once in recent history and, fortunately enough, happened on one of my splurge meals on my last little trip out of town, so I didn't bother sending the salad back (which I normally would have done, with apologies). When I get the dressing on the side I do the old trick of dipping my fork in the dressing before sticking it in the lettuce. This winds up using almost a negligible amount of dressing. It was hard to get used to having so little dressing with my salad when I first started eating it this way, but now I enjoy the flavor of the ingredients without the dressing most times and only do the fork-dip when I get down to just lettuce.
Ordering sandwiches I never choose fried meats and always ask them to leave the mayonnaise or any fattening sauces off. Mustard is my go-to sandwich lubrication, if I feel I need it. And usually I ask them to omit the cheese. Sometimes I can talk them into extra veggies on the sandwich. If I'm in a burger joint and just can't bear another grilled chicken sandwich or salad, I'll order a burger, but apply the above techniques to clean it up. And a lot of times I take off the bottom bun, because that's where a lot of the fat drains off into. Yeah, it's messy, but it's worth it to avoid the extra calories and simple carbs.
I never order fries anymore (I know too much about how damaging fried foods are to my body in more ways than one), and I never order an appetizer for my main dish. Why? They're almost always fried. A small appetizer is often more calories and fat than many of the main dishes on the menu, and it's not a healthy fat. The only appetizer I can remember seeing on a restaurant menu recently that was healthy was shrimp cocktail. Ordering Shrimp cocktail in addition to your main dish is a good way to raise the protein level of the meal, by the way.
Sirloin steak and Filet Mignon are good steak choices, but I'll ask them to leave off any toppings. Even the mushrooms are usually braised in butter.
Of course, broiled or baked fishes are good choices- just be careful of what they are coated in. And forget fried fish! You're better off health-wise getting a sirloin steak than you are any kind of fried fish (or fried anything else, for that matter).
Mexican places are about the hardest to navigate, IMHO. Fajitas are a lifesaver! I ALWAYS get the chicken fajitas and eat just the skillet, guacamole, and pico. I don't roll the contents up in the tortillas- Instead, I use one of the tortillas rolled up as a "pusher" to get the meat and veggies onto my fork, then eat only it if I am still feeling the need for a few carbs when the rest of the food is eaten. But often the skillet is enough.
For side dishes, I always get the steamed veggies and a baked sweet potato, if they are available. A baked regular spud is not a bad choice, either, but with any kind of potato be very mindful of your toppings! Butter, sour cream, and bacon bits can add tremendous amounts of calories in no time flat. I'll usually ask for sour cream OR butter (not both) on the side, then use either sparingly with salt and pepper for flavor. With sweet potatoes I ask for cinnamon only (not cinnamon sugar!), for the topping.
Breakfast is a bit trickier. I've had to learn to get aggressive with asking how my food is cooked. This can be a bit irritating to my dining companions, but it's me who has to live with my body, not them, and they'll get over it. Let them poke fun while I have the hot body! Anyhow, I always ask if they can make my eggs with either a whole egg and several egg whites, or if they have egg beaters, or if they can just use whites only. I'll either have them scramble my eggs, however I am able to get them, or sub them in a veggie omelet, hold the cheese. Breakfast calories can add up very quickly, so it's paramount to be careful!
I've also learned to inquire about oatmeal at breakfast. Most restaurants that serve breakfast have oatmeal. No, it's not a very fun breakfast food, but it sure is a good-for-me choice. I ask them to serve the butter on the side and I add a little bit along with some sugar-free sweetener. And I always ask if they have a milk that is either skim or reduced fat. Any kind is better than whole!
Ideally, my restaurant breakfast will have a whole egg with four egg-whites vegetable omelet and a serving of oatmeal as described above.
Whole-grain toast can be an acceptable choice with the eggs instead of the oatmeal (not in addition to), but when I make this choice I always ask for it dry. Usually the eggs are cooked in butter and I don't need any additional fat from the bread coursing through my body.
If I'm forced to go to a fast food restaurant for breakfast, I'll try to encourage everyone to go to McD's and I'll get the egg McMuffin without butter or cheese and a small orange juice. Not the best choice, but it could be worse. This at least gives me a fairly decend amount of protein and some nutrients. Most fast-food breakfasts are calorie laden fat-bombs with almost zero nurtients.
And dessert? Forget it- Unless it's a planned splurge, I simply don't order dessert in restaurants. I may take a bite or two of one of my kids desserts if it looks really good, but I limit myself to that. It's just food territory that is too dangerous for me to be venturing into and has the potential to open a pandora's box of bad food choices. I wish I had more control than with sweets, but I don't and I have to respect that about myself.
Staying vigilant about what I eat on vacation is not easy, and not always fun, but it IS always worth it when I come home and don't see the big jump on the scale that my travel companions often have. I guess I'd rather be careful for the short duration of the vacation than have to do weeks (or months!) of work to get the weight off that I gained over a very brief period of time.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
I was originally going to do a blog on vacation eating in general, but realized it would make a very lengthy blog, so I'm going to break it down into several parts.
Today is Part 1: Preparation.
My 13-year old daughter, Lane, and I recently took a long weekend away. I brought along several things that made eating healthy and not going overboard with eating on the trip a whole lot easier:
1. My tried-and-true favorite protein bars, Wonderslim Crispy meal replacement bars: www.dietdirect.com/wonderslim-crispy
-protein-diet-bars.html These were a lifesaver when I got a little hungry and there was nothing healthy around (or nothing around, period).
2. Beef Jerky. We like the peppered, but you can get any flavor you prefer. Be careful to check the nutrition labels to make sure it has almost no fat. I like to keep my protein level about equal to my carbs, if not a little higher, and in a pinch beef jerky is a great way to make that happen without adding a tremendous amount of fat to my diet. The cost of Jerky can be on the high side, but I've found I can save money by looking for store brands (Wal-Mart has a good one) and buying large amounts. Regardless of cost, Jerky is always less expensive than most snacks at tourist traps. And Jerky travels well when it's hot outside.
3. Bottled water. It's a LOT less expensive to tote your own in a small cooler than it is to buy it on the road. Here in Texas it's very hot, so we were chug-a-lugging water constantly. And it's waaaaaaay healthier than soda, diet or not. If we drank it all we just refilled the bottles in a water fountain.
4. Low-fat String Cheese. This is a great way for me to meet my calcium and protein needs while still keeping carbs low. I toss it in the cooler with the water.
5. On an extended trip I'll bring protein powder, portioned out into snack-sized ziploc baggies, and a shaker cup. I'll take one of the baggies and drop it down in the cup to keep in the car. When I want to drink the protein powder I take the baggie out, pour the contents into the cup, add some of the water from one of my bottles and shake. Wa-la! I've also been known to bring the shaker cup with the baggie of powder into a restaurant at breakfast time and add milk to it. When I get back to my hotel room I rinse the cup out and dry it, ready for the next outting.
I've found it's best to bring along a bit more of the above items than I think I will need. Not only do I wind up relying on them more than I anticipate I will (amazing the rotten selection of healthy food out there!), but also that my travel companions will often snack on these foods. They get tired of eating junk, too.
I did NOT bring any exercise equipment. Not even workout shoes, even though our hotel had a workout room. Why? Because first of all, this was a short vacation of only a few days. I had managed to lift weights for my entire body the days before we left so I was able to take a break without feeling guilty. And secondly, our activities included a water park, swimming in the hotel pool, and walking a TON. I didn't need any more activity than what we already had planned.
However, if I were going to be gone more than a few days not only would I have brought along workout clothes and exercise bands, but I also would have called ahead to the hotel to find out exactly what the hotel had to offer in it's workout room (sometimes it's simply a treadmill, which doesn't do the trick for me). If what the hotel had it wasn't adequate for my needs I would have then found a nearby gym, called ahead and inquired as to a temporary membership. I did this when we went to Las Vegas for two weeks last summer. I got up before the family woke up and put in a good, hard workout.
For me personally I have discovered that it's a bad idea to bring dried fruit. I love the stuff and it's quite calorie-dense. I have a hard time stopping once I get started (I'm the exact same way with peanut butter or peanuts), so I've decided it's best to just avoid the dried fruit and get my produce requirements met through salads and fresh fruit I find at the hotel breakfasts or in most convenience stores. I find it's not hard to find fresh produce these days. For others this might be a good thing to bring, but for me it's inviting disaster.
The other tip I'll throw out in the preparation department is to plan when you will have your splurge meals. Four days of going off half-cocked and eating whatever I wanted could have seriously undermined my health and fitness goals. So I decided to plan a splurge meal each of the first two nights of the trip, then be extremely mindful of what I was eating the rest of the time. The reason I decided the first two nights was because I wanted to have a chance, through the activity we would be getting, to work off the glycogen and consequently inevitable water weight gain that would come with the splurge.
And it was worth it when at the water park, while wearing a bikini and eating a salad for lunch, my daughter said to me "Mom, I am proud of you for losing all that weight and now working so hard to stay healthy. I love having a trophy mother!"
If that's not motivation to keep up the good fight, I don't know what is!
Monday, July 19, 2010
Which type of physique do you admire and wish you looked like? Is it the people who run all the time? Bike? Sit on the couch with a remote in one hand and a bag of pork skins in the other? The ones who spend all their time at the gym in cardio classes? Doing Pilate's or Yoga? Those who spend most of their workout time on weight lifting machines? Or the ones who spend their time on the grunt-end of the gym with the heavy free weights and bare-bones machines?
None of these answers are wrong (except for perhaps the couch potato one, simply because it will lead you to an early grave). The answer, though, should clearly show you what it is you need to be doing to obtain a body most closely resembling the one you desire.
Me? I took a look around many years ago and decided I'd most like to look like the gals who compete in figure and bikini competitions. Upon a little investigation I discovered those ladies spend a bulk of their exercise time lifting heavy weights, and a moderate amount of time doing both cardio and stretching, while completely avoiding steroids. (I did NOT want to look like a freaky manly-muscled she-male- Gross!) They eat really clean and keep a good amount of protein in their diets. So I decided to do what they do and see how close to looking like them I could come. I've never regretted that decision. It's yielded me results that I am really happy with.
So if you like the way gymnasts look, take a look at how they train (and eat!) and see if you can't implement some of those principles into your own exercise time. If want a runners legs, run! (And if you don't like the way runners legs look, why are you running?) Like the way yoga enthusiasts look? Yep- Do yoga! But if if you want muscle tone, even a little, you're going to have to get on down where the big boys work out and start picking up really heavy stuff. I've never seen someone with substantial muscle tone who only does group exercise classes! Am I dogging group classes? No! I love them and take them occasionally. But they aren't going to get the kinds of results alone that adding weight lifting into the equation will.
If you want to look fit, though, you're gonna have to do something more than just have low body fat. You're going to have to find time to exercise. And how you exercise will eventually dictate the way your body looks, so choose how to spend your exercise time wisely.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Here are a few tips to get the most out of your ab exercises. All of these help to ensure that your abdominal muscles do the work and not other body parts:
1. When doing any kind of crunch, strait up or to the side for obliques, keep your elbows so far back that you can only see them in your peripheral vision.
2. Also for any kind of crunch, keep your chin well back from your chest wall. You at least want a fists-length distance between your chin and the base of your neck- more is better.
3. When doing standard crunches, focus on a spot on the ceiling slightly behind your head. You want to be looking up and back, not up and forward.
4. When doing side crunches, pull your shoulder towards your knee, not your elbow. Keep your elbow far back as in rule #1, above. Envision there is a rope or cable attaching your shoulder and opposite knee that is being pulled on to pull you up into the crunch position. And come up as far as possible on side-crunches.
5. When doing strait-leg lifts (also called ceiling stamps) for lower abs, point your toes towards the ceiling at the top of the move.
6. ALWAYS think of the part of the abs you are using (middle, upper, lower, or obliques) as the originator of the movement. The more mental focus you can put on the muscle worked, the more muscle fibers you will engage and therefore the better the workout of the muscle will be.
And remember: The best ab work you do is in how you eat. The less fat cells you have at your mid-section, the better your abs will look.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
The biggest difference to my body since I've started working with personal trainers is my hips. I'm convinced that it's because they've had me squatting so much. Just about every single time we worked lower body they had me doing some kind of squat.
I'll be the first to admit that I don't really like squats. Never have. They're hard, and I've always been afraid of injuring myself. The first time I did squats many years ago I did too many reps with too much weight and employed bad technique. I literally hurt my whole body. I could barely walk for a week or so. I probably should have gone to the hospital. Ever since then I've been leery of squats. But knowing what I do now, I think squatting should always be included in a lower body workout. Even when you dislike them like I do.
My first trainer was a power lifter. Therefore, the man knew about squats! Here are some things I learned from him that might help you:
1. TAKE A WIDER STANCE THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED TO (shoulder-width apart is usually a little wider than you think it is), and turn your toes slightly OUT. The way most of us learned, with toes pointing forward, isn't necessarily best. After doing some research I discovered that the toes-pointed-out version of the squat is a power-lifting stance. I'd had problems with my knees when I did squats with my toes pointed forward before, but haven't since I've started doing them with my toes out. My guess? The risk of injury to the knees is lessened in this position. I think power lifters, bearing those huge amounts of weight, discovered this long ago.
The other advantage to turning toes out is that it more recruits the inner thigh muscles. This not only involves more muscle in the exercise, therefore giving you more power, but also tones up this area faster than anything else I've tried for inner thigh to date.
2. STAY IN YOUR HEELS! That first trainer, Ross, had to work to drill it through my head to stay far, far back on my heels all the way through the move. This helps to keep the knee from jutting too far out over the toe and puts the emphasis where it needs to be- on the quads and glutes. Lean back hard on your heels on the way down and drive up through them on the way up. I'm so far back on my heels when I squat that my toes are almost lifted off the floor, and Ross often STILL told me that I was too much on the front of my foot. He harped on me about heels more than anything else. Evidently, it's a pretty important point to squatting.
3. YOU AREN'T GOING DOWN LOW ENOUGH! I'm sure you've heard of the hard and fast "Don't let your thighs go below parallel to the ground" rule. This is a very valid rule, and you should follow it. However, parallel to the ground is MUCH lower than you think it is! When I finally got myself low enough that Ross approved, I felt like my butt was going to hit the backs of my shins. When I watched Ross do it, I thought it looked like HIS butt was going to hit the backs of his shins! But here's the thing- it's the FRONT of your thigh you are wanting to have parallel to the ground, not the back. If you have thick thighs like me, parallel is a very different thing when you are considering the front of your thighs as opposed to the back. I'll be honest: Coming down low like this is uncomfortable and awkward- especially at first when your hip flexibility is still improving! But it's recruiting more muscle, and therefore giving you a much better workout.
4. YOUR KNEES AREN'T AS FAR OUT OVER YOUR TOE AS YOU THINK THEY ARE. Another thing that I worried about with squatting in the past is the position of my knee over my toe. It's a widely known fact that when doing any kind of exercise your knees should not project past your toes. However, the execution of your heels as described in point #2 above prevents your knees from coming out too far and causing damage. So.... if you employ point #2(heels), it will ensure you don't hurt yourself with point #3(thighs parallel). Make sense?
5. LOOK STRAIT AHEAD! This was probably been the hardest habit for Ross to break with me. I thought constantly looking down at my knees to ensure they weren't jutting past my toes was a good thing. But when you look to the side while squatting you subconsciously swing ever so slightly to one side, putting uneven stress on your joints, especially your knees. Pretend your neck is in a brace and look strait ahead and slightly up!
6. IF YOU ARE A WOMAN, DON'T BE AFRAID OF SQUATS! They do GREAT things for a woman's rear view!
At first, after a hard squatting workout I always found it interesting that some part of my upper body (usually shoulders) was more sore and felt better worked than it did when I work that same body part specifically. That's because, while generally targeted for the quadricep (front of thigh) and glute (butt) muscles, squats literally involve the whole body, making muscles work in ways they've never been challenged before. And THAT'S a whole lot of bang for your exercise buck!
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