Sunday, August 08, 2010
Did you know that if you are a regular exerciser, taking the occasional week-long break is good for you?
I lift weights very hard, and schedule a week off of training every 10 weeks. Back in the days when I wasn't maxing out on my weights and just working out 4 days a week I took my break about once every four months. As my intensity has increased I have lessened the time in-between breaks.
Some people I know who lift weights or train extremely hard will take a week off every 8 weeks. It all depends on your intensity of training.
Taking a break accomplishes several things: First and foremost, it allows the nervous system to repair from the same routine all the time. Secondly, it can let little injuries you don't even know are in your body repair themselves. And thirdly, it can rejuvenate your enthusiasm for your workouts again. I always come back from my breaks rarin' to go!
You don't have to take a total break. You can try something gentle you don't normally do like yoga or walking. Or you can do what I do, turn into a complete sloth, and totally give up exercise altogether.
Sometimes my break is built into my life, like a vacation. Most times I have to put it on the calendar. Almost every time my body starts "asking" for a break about the time I am due one: My enthusiasm for exercise starts to wane, I start having little joint aches and getting little sore in places I hadn't been sore before, my performance and enthusiasm start to suffer, I begin to dread cardio... I just generally feel like I need a break. I have to be careful not to confuse these feelings with just general laziness, though. This is why scheduling a break helps me..... I know I can take it without guilt, knowing it is actually good for my body.
I look forward to my breaks, but I also look forward to returning to my routine after a break. It's good for my frame of mind. How long has it been since you took a week off?
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
The part of the vacation we look forward to the most is also the part that I dread the most when it comes to eating: The Theme Park!
Let's face it, they really don't cater towards healthy eating at theme parks. To make matters worse, they often won't let you bring your own food in. I know this was the case with the water park (Hurricane Harbor, Arlington, Texas) my daughter and I went to a couple of weekends ago.
So let's start at the gate:
I knew they didn't allow food, but I was gonna try, anyhow. My daughter and I packed protein bars and jerky and water bottles in a bag we were bringing in the park. When they went to check our bag I explained to the guy that when I don't eat regularly I have blood sugar issues, and that protein best keeps my sugar steady. This is true, and you have the same condition: It's called hunger.
At any rate, I told the poor boy at the gate checking bags that if the park sold lean jerky and my brand of protein bars I'd be happy to take mine back to the truck and purchase theirs, regardless of price. This was true- I would have. But I knew I had him over a barrel and they wouldn't. He called ahead to his supervisor and got permission to put a medical sticker on our bag with the food in it. Problem #1 solved. For some reason he let us keep the water bottles. (I think he was so confused with all of my big words that he just wanted me out of his hair.) This was fine with me!
We paid $14 for locker rental for the day (high, but not as high as snacks in the park), and put all of our stuff in there. Throughout the day we went back to grab a bite to eat and guzzle some water. We kept refilling the bottles from the water fountain.
Lunch I was a little worried about. I resigned myself to thoroughly examining the menu and making the best choice possible, even though it probably wouldn't be wonderful. We found a Papa Johns Pizza place. I'm not kidding you- I read over ever single item on the menu. Not that it was a huge menu, but I didn't want to leave any stone unturned.
I saw that they had a side salad for $3.99. Right above it was a "family salad" for $6.99. It was meant to go with an order of pizza and bread sticks to feed a family of 3 or 4. Suddenly it hit me that the Family Salad was probably the size of one of my regular meal salads. And seven bucks for lunch in a tourist trap isn't a bad price! So I ordered the family salad.
Much to may amazement, they assembled the salad right there out of a limited selection of fresh veggies, banana peppers, and mozzarella cheese. Not too bad! And, to make matters better, they had fat-free Italian dressing. Yay! I figured if I felt I was still hungry and felt I needed more protein I could run back to the locker and scarf down some jerky after lunch. But the salad was a very nice size and filled me up. Combined with a diet coke (I'll have one on occasion as a treat), the whole thing was perhaps 250 calories.
My daughter had pizza, so she was happy. We enjoyed our lunch, then went off to play in the water again when we were done.
Had they not let me bring my bag in and had there not been a salad at lunch I would have tried to hunt down some peanuts at the gift shop to help get me through the hungry times between meals, then probably would have purchased a sandwich for lunch with the leanest meat I could find (often this is a burger), and taken the bottom bun off. And drank a LOT of water. No fries! Fries hold almost no nutritional value and do all kinds of crummy things to your body. Forget ordering fries!.......... Forever!
I will say that I have seen in some amusement parks that some of the vendors offer fresh fruit. This, of course, would make a great snack or side dish for the sandwich. You just gotta keep your eyes peeled for healthier options!
So my biggest tip in tourist traps, in addition to bringing snacks and drinking water, is to examine your choices thoroughly and think outside the box. If there are no healthy options, just do the best you can and don't kick yourself, because you know you made the best choice possible.
And have fun! The reason you're there is for the fun, not the food.... Right?
Saturday, July 31, 2010
The hotel breakfast..... You find yourself surrounded by free waffles and danishes and sausage.... Oh my!
I know that at first glance the hotel breakfast looks like a lost cause for a health-conscience eating, but it all reality, you can probably make some good choices here. The biggest key? Don't let your grumbling stomach rule.....Take a deep breath and investigate!
The very first thing I do when I get to the hotel breakfast is peruse the offerings and see if I can't find some healthier options. Sometimes they're buried, but they're almost always there.
One side note that I found amusing is that each of the three mornings I got breakfast on this last trip I found myself being intently watched by the other diners. I don't know if it's because I was making such a scene going back and forth to get what I needed or if they were actually interested in WHAT I was eating, but I found myself have a little more sympathy for zoo animals!
While instant isn't my preferred method of eating oatmeal (the slow cook kind is the best for you), un-flavored instant oatmeal (you note I said UNflavored! If the only thing they have is flavored, it's back to the drawing board!) is usually a better choice than any cold cereal. It was almost hidden behind the packets of instant hot cocoa when I took my latest trip out of town, but I found it there! I checked the back of a packet and read that they were 100 calories a piece. I wanted to get 150 calories for my starchy carbs, so I used the only two packets there (trust me- no one else wanted them), added hot water to cook and ate 3/4 of it.
So there I'd overcome the biggest hurdle of healthy carbs.
For protein they had scrambled eggs. Okay- so I'm pretty sure they weren't real eggs they were cracking and scrambling back there, but whatever that stuff was it had to have had a fair amount of protein, so I put about two eggs worth on my plate.
Next order of business was finding some kind of fresh fruit, if at all possible. There were grapefruit halves, but I am not a big fan of grapefruit. I kept looking. At the end of the buffet, on a separate little table, next to the garbage (why?) was a bowl of bananas. Bananas aren't my favorite, but they looked the better option than the fruit salad, which I was fairly sure was in some kind of a sugary syrup. So bananas it was.
Poured a glass of 2% milk(would have preferred skim, but it wasn't available), got a cup of coffee (don't usually drink coffee, but treated myself since it was vacation), and some artificial sweetener (I know, not a clean food. So shoot me!) for both the coffee and the oatmeal, as well as a pat of butter (also for the oatmeal), and was all set.
I skipped any of the breakfast meats, which were either link or smoked sausage. Fat was just too high for these options. Although if they'd of had crisp-cooked bacon, I'd of probably grabbed a couple of pieces of it.
I also avoided any pastries (duh!), breads (wheat toast in hotel breakfasts usually has more white than wheat flour in it), and the juices and cereals. Both are highly processed and very low in nutrients. Had there been waffles offered, I'd of avoided those, too. Same reason I wouldn't have eaten the pastries. To me, anything you put syrup on or has the first two ingredients as "sugar" and "flour" aren't breakfast, they're dessert.
Oh, and none of the peanut butter was getting into my oatmeal. It was Skippy- sugar added and fats made hydrogenated (NOT healthy!). Butter was my better option.
I'll be the first to admit that I got lucky in this hotel. Often the selection is not this good. Sometimes I get REALLY lucky and it's better- They'll have slow cooked oatmeal and skim milk and hard boiled eggs. But all in all I was in pretty good shape at this particular hotel (Hawthorne Inns and Suites in Arlington, Texas). I stuck with the same menu all three mornings.
Had my choices been more limited, which they often are, I'd of gone for the raisin bran with skim milk and run back up to the room for protein powder to put in the milk.
Again, I think breakfast is the trickiest meal to eat out. And free hotel breakfasts make it even tougher. But it's hard to pass up a free option when you are already spending a fortune on the vacation itself. If all the hotel had to offer was danishes and Sunny Delight, we'd of had no choice but to eat out. But usually you can do a little investigation and come up with a decent breakfast right there for no additional cost. You just gotta go in with the mindset that YOU are in control, not the buffet!
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!
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