Eat Whole Foods

Hey America, if you want to avoid taking fiber supplements then start eating more whole foods.  Our supermarkets are lined with processed foods:  low fiber crackers, chips, pasta, and breads that have been stripped of nutrients.  Americans eat these products, suffer from constipation, and then remedy the situation by taking Benefiber or Metamucil.  These products claim to “make taking fiber easier.”  You know what’s even easier?  Eating high fiber foods.  To save money and avoid choking down a fiber supplement, just eat fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains!

I know, I’m brilliant.

The Secret to Being Fit

I’m a vegetarian, runner, and dietitian.  When people hear that I am one of these three things they often say, “Ohhhh, that’s why you’re so fit.”  Actually, none of these things guarantee a fit body.  People are always looking for that secret reason why they are overweight and someone else is fit.  There are vegetarians who are overweight.  There are runners who are overweight.  There are dietitians who are overweight.  I bet there are even some runner, dietitian, vegetarians who are overweight out there.

The real secret to being fit is balancing calories in with calories out.  There are plenty of individuals who eat meat and have a very healthy diet and are in great shape.  Excluding meat from your diet does not = weight loss.  Decreasing total calories does = weight loss.

There are many paths to fitness. I meet so many people who find out that I run and then start telling me the reasons they can’t run.  You do not have to run to be fit.  Running is an efficient way to burn calories but there are many other activities that burn calories as well:  aerobics, walking, swimming, biking, elliptical, etc.  The key is to push yourself and do something you enjoy!

I have to admit being a dietitian helps me stay fit because I preach healthy eating and exercise every day.  On my off days I preach it to my children (to many eye rolls behind my back I’m sure).  Reading articles about healthy eating, weight loss, and exercise can reinforce your lifestyle changes.  I recommend subscribing to a health magazine such as Fitness, Shape, Self, or Men’s Health and read the articles for inspiration, motivation, and ideas.

Stop looking for that secret to weight loss! (For example, not eating pasta, avoiding potatoes like the plague, eating grapefruit with every meal, etc.) Accept that the real secret to weight loss is reaching a calorie deficit by eating less and moving more.  Eat what you enjoy and be more active doing what you like best.  That is the real secret to success!

Focus on Food First

A common mistake made when trying to lose weight is focusing only on exercise and not on diet.  What you eat makes a huge difference in weight loss and maintenance.  In order to lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit (take in less calories then you need to maintain your body weight.)  I often hear clients, friends, and family complain that they have started exercising and end up gaining weight.  How frustrating!

If you run or have tried to run, you know the time and energy it takes to run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or marathon.  Running a mile burns on average 100 calories.

Here are some examples of how much food you could eat to equal the calories burned at a race:

5K (3.1 miles):  2 Reese’s peanut butter cups and 1 cup of 1% milk (310 calories)

10K (6.2 miles): An order of cheese quesadillas and 1 lite beer (620 calories)

Half marathon (13.1 miles):  A thick burger, medium French fry, and 20 ounce regular soda (1310 calories)

Marathon (26.2 miles):  5 slices of supreme pizza and 20 ounce regular soda (2620 calories).

Do you see how easily you can overeat and surpass your calorie needs while exercising?  Do not view your new exercise regimen as a free pass to eat whatever you like.  You need to eat healthy foods and watch your portion of splurge foods.  If you are trying to lose weight and you exercise enough to burn 300 calories but then consume 300 calories as a reward, you will not lose any weight even though you are moving more.

Tips to keep your diet in check:

  1. Eat every 3-4 hours.  Do not go too long without eating and end up overeating due to extreme hunger.
  2. Keep a food record.  Write down everything you put in your mouth.  You can use online food journals at or to help you count calories.
  3. Eat healthy foods.  Fill up on low calorie fruits and vegetables.  When you have a splurge food, keep the portion size small (a fudgescicle vs. a bowl of ice cream for example).
  4. Do not use increased exercise as an excuse to overeat.  You are putting time into exercise.  Don’t waste that time by eating too much at the end of the day.

Focus on food first for successful weight loss.  When you add in exercise, continue to mind your calories.  Less food + More Activity = A recipes for success.

Eat This

I have been absent on this blog.  I write for Mississippi Valley Heath News Online and have completed an 8 week series of blogs on weight loss.  Here is the final installment:

Now that I’m done with the series, I can write for fitlifespot more regularly!  I’ll start by encouraging you to eat.  Diets often focus on what you can no longer eat.  You cut out potato chips, French fries, ice cream, cookies, and chocolate.  But what if you take a positive approach to healthy eating and focus on what you can eat?

Eat This:

  • 3 fruits/day

Include a variety:  citrus fruits, berries, melons.  Aim for a variety of colors.

  • 4 servings of vegetables/day (1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw is a serving)

Include a variety:  dark leafy greens like spinach, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, bright orange vegetables like carrots.

  • ½ cup of beans/day

Black beans, pinto beans, chick peas, lentils…mmmmm.

  • 3-4 ounces of whole grains/day

Oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, and weird sounding stuff like quinoa.

  • 1 small handful of nuts/day

Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are great choices.

  • 4-5 ounces Lean protein

Soy protein, eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, lean beef or pork.  Aim for 8 oz. of fish weekly if you like fish.

  • 1-2 servings of monounsaturated fats

Olive or peanut oil for example (1 teaspoon is a serving).

I think you’ll feel pretty full at the end of the day if you try to get these healthy foods in.  Instead of just cutting your portion of meat and potato in half, add colorful fruits and vegetables to your plate.  Spread these healthy foods out over the course of the day and you may find that you are no longer focused on what you can’t eat…you’re too busy munching on what you can eat.

See the Forest for the Trees

I was recently asked to be a part of an online chat for a local news station. After a segment was aired on healthy weight loss and keeping New Year’s Resolutions, viewers could ask me questions.  I was asked three main questions:

  1. Is high fructose corn syrup worse then sugar?
  2. Are sugar substitutes O.K. to have in the diet?
  3. Is natural peanut butter better than regular peanut butter?

Here are my answers:

  1. Added sugar or high fructose corn syrup adds calories to your diet and causes weight gain.  Too much of either is bad.
  2. Sugar substitutes have been found to be safe.  If you want to use them, that is your personal choice.  For beverages, drinking water is always best, but having some beverages with sugar substitutes is not harmful (especially if you drink more fluid as a result).
  3. Natural peanut butter does not have added hydrogenated oils.  Regular peanut butter has less than 1% of added hydrogenated oils.  I don’t see a huge difference.  Yes, natural peanut butter may be a tiny bit better.  Both natural and regular peanut butter are loaded with calories, so if weight loss is your goal, then you should be very careful with how much you eat.

This is an example of being caught up in details and missing the big picture of healthy eating and weight loss.  Here is another example:

My Mom watches Dr. Oz’ show and on it he talked about how many teaspoons of sugar most Americans eat per day.  He encouraged viewers to count up their teaspoons of sugar and reduce sugar intake.  My Mom then added up her sugar intake for a day and it was more then recommended.  The reason is that my parents eat a lot of fruit (around 5  servings/day).  She called me asking if she should cut down on her fruit intake.

Do you see how getting bogged down in the details and missing the big picture is a problem?  There are no foods or ingredients that I say you should never eat.  I do not tell my clients to read every label and never eat high fructose corn syrup.  I do say to eat as many whole foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains) as possible and avoid processed foods.

Many people who are adamant against high fructose corn syrup will still eat foods that are not healthy.  For example what if I told everyone that bacon is the worst food and no one should eat it?  Would anyone listen to me?  You may not eat any high fructose corn syrup, but are there other seemingly natural foods that you eat that are unhealthy?  I bet so.  I have yet to meet the person who eats 100% healthy foods every day.  I can’t imagine living that way.

I think Michael Pollan summed it up best:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


The End.

Make Yourself Accountable

Today marks the one year anniversary of! Over the past year I have written 59 posts and have 2,500 readers! I have so enjoyed having an outlet to share my recommendations for healthy living. I have received a number of emails from readers, and I’m thrilled to hear that my suggestions are hitting home for so many of you.

Over the past year I was inspired by this blog to train for and run my first marathon. The experience was amazing. I ran with my husband and two girlfriends. We had so much fun training and running the race together. In the end, the race was pretty painful, but I was proud that I stuck with my goal. This brings me to the topic of accountability. I counsel many clients on weight loss, and a recurring theme is accountability. Being accountable to yourself is often not enough. I have to admit that if I had to train for a 26.2 mile run all by myself I’m not sure I would have done it. I had my husband and friends to entertain me along the way, and I knew they were counting on me showing up.

This year find a way to make yourself accountable for your goals. I will share with you my fitness goals. This year I have made a pact to complete a 50K ultra trail run with my friend Brandi in September. I have never ran more than 26.2 miles, and I only did that once…so this will be a challenge. I’m sure between my husband and Brandi I will be held accountable to my goal.

Set some goals for yourself this year and share them with the people you can count on. I have found that making goals that are a bit outside my comfort zone results in a huge feeling of accomplishment. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds this year then let a good friend know! Start exercising together. Tell your significant other, family members, and closest friends. You may be surprised the kind of support you receive. I sure was amazed with the support from my husband and friends last summer.

I received an email from a fitlifespot reader who explained that he had lost weight successfully in the past with weight watchers but had gained some back. He started a contest with his brother to see who could lose the most weight. He used a food journal app on his iphone to keep himself accountable. Accountability was key for his success. Some of my friends who want to lose weight are frustrated that they don’t have internal accountability. I think everyone can use some outside support along the way. Once you follow a healthy lifestyle long enough you will find your own accountability and then you can help others on their journey.

Thank you for reading fitlifespot and sharing the link with your friends and family. Here is to another year of new goals and an even healthier you!

I'll do the Math

Weight loss is simple math and yet much more than just math. Are you confused yet? Let me explain…You simply need to be in a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. If you want to lose one pound then you need to cut out 3500 calories which could be 500 calories daily to lose a pound in a week or 250 calories daily to lose a pound in 2 weeks or about 110 calories daily to lose a pound in a month. Simple math, right? The “much more than just math” part includes all of the temptations along the way. Sure you need to be in a calorie deficit but when someone brings donuts to work can you really avoid the temptation? What if you come home from work tired and there is nothing healthy in the refrigerator to prepare for dinner? Do you order pizza? That doesn’t sound like math…

I preach making small changes and I stand firm in my recommendation that large changes never last. When you cut out all splurge foods from your diet you will end giving up on what is clearly a diet and not a lifestyle. You need to get to the point where you say no to the donuts at work or go to Hyvee and get a salad to go vs. pizza with the knowledge that making those decisions consistently will end up in a calorie deficit and weight loss.

Surrounding yourself with healthy foods helps when it comes to creating a calorie deficit. If you start your day with a bowl of warm oatmeal and set off with two pieces of fruit for snacks then you are starting the day satisfied and prepared. Then if you are invited to eat out for lunch you are more likely to order the salad with dressing on the side than the bacon cheeseburger with fries. If you fuel yourself throughout the day with healthy foods then when you get home at dinnertime you will be less likely to overeat at dinner.

You have to chip away at your average calories daily to see a difference. You may think that small changes don’t add up, but they do! Avoiding a 200 calorie donut is 200 calories less to your calorie total at the end of the day and over time that equals weight off your middle. Tracking your calories on a website can help. For the next 3 days log onto or or and record everything you put in your mouth. If you are currently maintaining your weight, see what your total calories are for the day. Then reduce that by 100-500 calories daily to put yourself in a calorie defecit. Simple math + consistency = the weight loss you desire.


The Dietitian’s Cleanse™

Dietary cleanses are popular these days.  Celebrities often tout cleanse programs, so how could they be wrong?  Even Jillian Michaels from “The Biggest Loser” sells cleanse products (don’t get me started).  Americans want an easy way to lose weight and taking a pill or supplement for a few weeks to promote rapid weight loss is enticing.  Unfortunately, these products can cause major gastrointestinal upset and even vitamin and mineral deficiencies if taken for too long.  Your body doesn’t need to be cleansed by any product.  In fact, I think your body would be offended if you took a cleanse product.

On that note I offer you The Dietitian’s Cleanse:  Absolutely free of charge and will not cause you any harm!  Added bonus of weight loss to reach your goals for the New Year!  Don’t delay—start right now!

Step 1:  Cleanse your pantry:  Go through your pantry and throw away all unhealthy foods.  Toss out potato chips, Oreo cookies, candies left over from the holidays, and any other foods that tempt you.  I know this feels wasteful, but remember that it either goes in the wastebasket or on your waist.

Step 2:  Cleanse your refrigerator:  Go through your refrigerator and throw out junk foods.  Get rid of gallons of ice cream, pop, left over pizza.  (Notice the added bonus of a clean refrigerator with lots of space for healthy foods.)

Step 3:  Clean up your grocery list:  Make a grocery list that is plant-based.  Include lots and lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.  Only buy lean meats and in small portions, low fat dairy products, and low fat cheeses.  Make your grocery list based on a week of healthy meals planned.  Put a menu of dinners on the refrigerator so that you know what to make each night.

Step 4:  Stock your refrigerator with cut up veggies in baggies ready to grab (it helps to put them at the front of the fridge).  Make a fruit salad with colorful fruits.  Wash grapes and put them in a bowl in the fridge.  Put fruit in a pretty bowl on the table.

Step 5:  Cleanse your days and evenings of television.  Take the kids to the YMCA and go swimming or play basketball.  Bundle up and go for a hike.  Take your dogs for a walk around the neighborhood (the pups are gonna love my dietitian cleanse).  Go outside and play in the snow.  Move.

Just 5 steps and don’t you feel better?  You are now set up to eat healthy and exercise.  There are no unhealthy foods in the house tempting you and there are lots of healthy foods ready to fuel you and your active schedule.  The Dietitian’s Cleanse: …Start it Today!

Gaining Perspective

Living a lifestyle with healthy eating and regular exercise is all about patience and perspective.  Over the holidays we indulge.  Then, at the first of the year, everyone hits the gym.  Those of us who go to the gym regularly know the cycle:  lots of cars in the parking lot in January and every treadmill occupied followed by fewer cars in February and even less in March.  By April the gyms are back to the regulars.  I don’t want to sound cynical, but it happens every year.

I hope to inspire you to gain some perspective.  If you are feeling a bit thick in the middle then talk a deep breath and make a plan.  Do not begin a crazy cleanse program or a high protein/low carb diet or a very low calorie diet (less than 1200 calories).  Analyze what you are doing now.  Are you exercising regularly?  Are you eating extra bites of desserts or candies left over from Christmas?  Have you developed the bad habit of eating at night?  If your weight has gone up since the cold weather set in, then there is a reason.  The solution is to make some small changes to your lifestyle, not start a dramatic weight loss program that you could never follow long-term.

To help you with some perspective find a picture of you from Christmas.  If you have 20 pounds to lose, you need to cut out 200 calories every day for a year and you will be at your goal weight next Christmas.  The year is going to pass regardless, but you can make changes gradually to get to your goal.  The alternative is a winter of starving yourself or exercising so much that by April you never want to see the inside of a gym again.  Try something new:  approach a healthy lifestyle with patience and perspective.  Imagine a picture of you on Christmas next year at your goal weight with a new outlook on healthy living.

A Lesson in Paradise

I just returned from a week in Cozumel, Mexico, with my husband and good friends.  Before you get angry with me please note that I am now in Illinois where the high today is going to be 17 degrees.  I am no longer in paradise.  The weather was amazing on Cozumel with 80 degree, sunny days.  We stayed at an all-inclusive resort where we could eat and drink everything we wanted for (what seemed like) free!

Usually when I go on vacation I take lots of walks but do not participate in intense workouts.  This year I decided to join my husband on some runs in Mexico.  Nathan ran every day, and I managed to join him for three runs.  The first one was great.  The second one was tough.  The third one I had to quit before we got back to the car.  Nathan and I discovered that when you are eating from an all-you-can-eat buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and your meals are not exactly “plant-based” that running is hell (or at least very very hard).  During one of his runs alone Nathan actually felt like stopping to throw up.  Eating healthy (that magical low fat, high fiber, plant-based diet I preach) feeds into regular exercise.  If we didn’t already have established exercise habits there is no way we would have ran in Mexico.  We realized that people who regularly eat an unhealthy diet must feel awful when they exercise.  Exercise is so much easier when you fuel your body properly.

So now I’m back in Illinois (a.k.a. winter wonderland) and my swimsuits and flip flops are back in storage.  This morning I got the kids on the bus and headed straight to the gym.  I had a wonderful run (indoors due to the possibility of frostbite) followed by a healthy breakfast.  I have been cheerful all day.  Do not underestimate the power of a healthy diet and portion control.  Overeating leads to feeling sluggish and makes intense workout nearly impossible.  Although I miss Cozumel and had an absolutely wonderful time…I gotta say I can’t wait to have a big salad with fruit for lunch.