Make a Change

I participate in a Wellness Challenge at work that involves making goals for the year and receiving a monetary award at the end of the year if you reach your goals.  As part of the markers, I am weighed each year at the same time.  I think this is very valuable information.  Many adults gain weight after the age of 30 at a steady rate (typically at least one pound each year after the age of 30).  Start weighing yourself every year around the same time and keep a record of your weight in a document on your computer.  If your weight is slowly creeping up each year, you need to make some changes.  The year will pass and you can make a difference in your weight next year with a few simple changes.

Eating just 100 calories less each day results in 10 pounds of weight loss over the course of a year.  Imagine how easily you consume 100 calories:  2 cookies, 20 peanuts, 10 chips.  Now imagine cutting just 100 calories a day.  Nothing drastic.  Just making an effort to eat 100 less calories for 365 days.  Now imagine stepping on the scale one year from today and being 10 pounds less…and with so little effort.

The key is consistency.  You must consistently eat 100 calories less.  You can’t just eat a very low calorie diet Monday through Thursday followed by splurging Friday through Sunday.  You can eat well over the calories you saved during the week by eating too much on the weekends.  You must consistently consume 100 calories less.

How can you achieve this?  Simply set one goal for the following month.  Pinpoint an area that you need to improve so that you are in a calorie deficit.  Once you have made that change a habit, move on to another goal.

Here are some examples:

  • Give up bread at dinner.  Instead of having spaghetti with breadstick, have spaghetti with steamed vegetables
  • Stop drinking your calories.  Cut out juice, regular lemonade, and regular soda pop.
  • Eat fruit and vegetables for snacks instead of chips, crackers, or cookies.

You don’t have to start following a strict meal plan and feel like you are depriving yourself every day.  Focus on one area of your diet where you can cut back.  With just a few minor changes in your eating habits, you can stop the cycle of weight gain and like the number you see on the scale.

Stop the Excuses

A friend just shared with me the following quote:

“You’ll never medicate your way out of diseases you behave yourself into.”

-Dr. Roby Mitchell

I love it.  I think one of the problems with our society is a reliance on medications which are treating behaviors we chose to have.  Let’s look at some behavior modifications.  What behaviors can you change to improve your health?

  • Start moving.  If you’re intimidated by going to the gym or exercising outside, start moving in your home or at work.  Go up and down the stairs at work when you have a spare 10 minutes.  Go up and down stairs in your home.  Try exercise videos at home or buy a step and step up and down while you watch TV.  Do something.
  • Stop buying junk foods.  If you don’t buy them then you will not eat them.  Don’t bring chips, ice cream, and candy into your house. 
  • Stop baking.  Baking results in lots of goodies that are eaten by you, your family, or your friends.
  • Start fueling yourself with healthy foods.  If you feel low on energy during the day, you are not fueling yourself.  Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.  When you start fueling yourself every 3-4 hours you’ll find that you’re not hungry and tired all day.
  • Stop eating in front of the television.  Night time snacking in front of the TV is a bad habit. 
  • Stop eating out.  The more food we’re given the more we eat.  Eat at home.  Eat wholesome foods.
  • Start cooking more at home.  Find healthy recipes (there are tons online), make them, and enjoy them!
  • Start reading food labels.  Be informed about what you’re eating.  Don’t live in denial.

I often hear the following excuses:

  • Obesity runs in my family.
  • I don’t have time to exercise.
  • I have a slow metabolism.

Stop with the excuses and start changing your behaviors.  You have the power to change your life, and you are the only one who can.

My Top 10

I am often asked what I eat.  People want to know the exact products I buy because I’m a dietitian.  You don’t have to eat exactly what I eat to consume a healthy diet.  We all have different tastes, and you need to learn how to pick the foods you like and manage portion sizes.

But since you asked…here are my top 10:

(Drum roll please…)

10.  Baby Spinach:  This may not sound very exciting, but I absolutely love the containers of baby spinach at the store.  Making a salad out of spinach is so incredibly healthy and delicious.


organic spinach9.  Pluots:  A delicious fruit that is a mix of a plum and an apricot.  As an added bonus you sound unique when people ask you what you’re eating.  Just roll your eyes and say, “A pluot, of course!”


8.  Steamfresh Vegetables:  These have been out for a while, and I love the convenience and taste.  What an easy way to make vegetables for you and your family:  just throw a bag of veggies in the microwave for 5 minutes.  Some have added sauces and often the sauces are low fat (make sure to read the label).  There are also single servings available which make bulking up on vegetables at lunch time easy.  The nutrients in frozen vegetables are often greater than fresh as they are frozen at the prime state of ripeness.



7.  Mission Carb Balance Tortillas:  These tortillas (make sure to read the label to get the right one) have 11 grams of fiber a piece!  They are tasty and give you nearly half your recommended fiber for the day.  Wrap up some vegetables, low fat cheese, or lean meats in these babies and you have yourself a healthy meal.  Kids like them too…


misson tortilla  

6.  Honey Crisp Apples:  These are a seasonal delight.  I don’t remember these apples when I was little.  I’m making up for lost time by eating two a day all fall long.  You may not want to share these with the kids…



5.  100 Calorie Pack Almonds:  Mmmmmm cocoa flavored, dry roasted, or natural.  They are all tasty and portioned out for you.  Remember that almonds are a healthy choice but very high in calories.  If you lack portion control when it comes to almonds (like I do), these are a great choice:


4.  Laughing Cow Cheese:  Who hasn’t heard about this cheese in the circle container?  If you start reading food labels you’ll quickly realize that cheese is high in fat.  No one wants to give up cheese (right?) and Laughing Cow is low in fat (the light versions) yet creamy and full of flavor.

laughing cow 

3.  Sandwich Thins:  Arnold’s makes these wonderful sandwich thins which are high in fiber (5 g) and only 100 calories.  My kids call it the “cookie bread” and with a little peanut butter and honey you just might think you’re eating a cookie.

sandwich thin arnold 

2.   Greek Yogurt Dip:  This dip is unbelievably tasty.  The dip comes in a variety of flavors (cucumber dill is my personal favorite) and is low in fat yet creamy.  A perfect dip for veggies.



1.  Greek Yogurt:  I can barely believe the nutrition information on Greek yogurt.  It is the creamiest yogurt ever yet low in fat.  You can pick from plain, vanilla, honey or fruit on the bottom.  Where has this yogurt been my whole life?

 greek yogurt



There you have it…my top 10.  Who knew that eating healthy could be so delicious?

When a Snack is Not a Snack

There are a lot of “snack” options at fast food restaurants these days.  These snacks are actually meals.  I snack between meals, but I have a general rule of thumb:  snack on a fruit or a vegetable.  If you want something more try to keep the calories around 100 or less.  A candy bar is around 250 calories, and most people know that if you’re snacking on candy bars you’re not going to lose weight.  Many of the “snack foods” at restaurants these days are the same as one or two candy bars.  In fact, many snack foods have the calories that you should be consuming in a meal.

Here are some examples:


Honey mustard snack wrap with grilled chicken:  260 calories/9 g fat

Honey mustard snack wrap with crispy chicken:  330 calories/15 g fat


KFC Snacker fish:  320 calories/14 g fat

KFC Snacker with crispy strip:  290 calories/11 g fat

Steak n Shake has a small burger, French fries, and drink “snack.”  That’s a meal folks.  Don’t think these options are part of a healthy diet.  If you are trying to lose weight or follow a healthy diet, these “snacks” use up too many calories and fat grams.

People often complain that it’s hard to get in the recommended 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  Snack on fruits and vegetables!  Bring fresh fruits and bags of veggies with you to work, on road trips, when you’re running errands.  Plan ahead and you will be snacking your way to a healthy weight.

Your Friend, Fiber

I want to turn you on to a high fiber diet.  If you are not getting enough fiber in your diet and cycle from constipation to diarrhea then you are increasing your risk of developing diverticulosis.  Diverticulosis is not a fun condition, and the dietary treatment is a high fiber diet.  Diverticulosis involves little pouches called diverticuli in your colon which can become inflamed and infected and result in severe pain.  Sometimes people have to have parts of their colon removed due to the complications of diverticulosis. 

High fiber diets also may prevent cancer, heart disease, and help control diabetes.  All of this is good, so why not strive for a high fiber diet every day?  Encourage your children, parents, and grandparents to eat more fiber.  If you look at a box of cereal, pasta, or snack food you should always check out the fiber.  The best way to ensure more fiber in your diet is by eat primarily whole plant foods.  The powerhouses when it comes to fiber include legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), 100% whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.  Foods with zero fiber include meats, milk, cheese, and processed breads and cereals.

There are many foods out there with added fiber that are not whole foods.  There are cereals, bars, and other products which have fiber added.  These foods can be good additions to the diet and help you reach your high fiber diet goals, but don’t skip out on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.  Whole foods have phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that the processed foods often lack.

You should strive for 25-35 grams of fiber a day as an adult.  Children should get their age plus 10 grams of fiber/day (a two year old should get in 12 grams/day).  I often have people tell me that they eat a “toddler diet” which consists of chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese.  This is a high fat, low fiber diet and shouldn’t be the mainstay of you or your children’s diet.  Make sure to include whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables in your children’s diet starting at a young age. 

I gave a grocery store tour last year, and by the end of the tour everyone had caught on to my love of fiber.  When asked if a snack was healthy, I would review calorie, fat, and sodium content but end my rant with, “but it doesn’t have fiber in it…”  Sure a rice cake is low in fat and calories…but also low in fiber.  Fiber gives you a sense of fullness and fills your stomach up without the calories.  Fiber helps prevent diverticulosis and possibly other chronic diseases.  Fiber is your friend.

Define Lifestyle

I talk a lot about having a “healthy lifestyle.”  What exactly does that mean?  I think the goal of making healthy eating and exercise part of your everyday routine is the key to being healthy.  When I go on vacation, I do not eat healthy all the time.  I indulge in foods that I don’t stock in my pantry and refrigerator on a regular basis.  When I return home to my comfy bed I also return to my healthy lifestyle.  This summer we had a family reunion that included a lot of splurge foods like chips and dip and deserts.  I felt pretty thick when I got home, but I knew my lifestyle would take care of it.  When healthy eating and exercise is the norm for you, large fluctuations in weight do not occur.  I came home feeling a little heavier, but I got right back to eating my typical diet and exercise routine and within a few days I was back to normal.

Some people strive to have a healthy lifestyle their norm but do not achieve it.  They go on weight loss diets and exercise sporadically but do not stick with healthy eating and exercise long term.  I often hear these people say, “I’ve tried eating healthy and exercising, but it doesn’t work for me.”  It won’t work if you don’t do it most of the time.  And making excuses that you have a month of birthday parties or a vacation coming up doesn’t cut it.  If you are following a healthy eating plan and are active then a few pieces of birthday cake in a month or a week long vacation isn’t going to ruin anything.  Just let your healthy lifestyle take over and you’ll be right back to your healthy self.

One Word: Balance

My Dad went to a physician for many years and respected him tremendously.  The physician was retiring, so at his last check-up my Dad asked him to sum up his years of experience and make a recommendation using one word.  The doctor said, “Exercise.” As an avid exerciser, I agree with the doctor that exercise is so important and something lacking in many people’s lives.  As a dietitian the one word summation for what I think is important is “Balance”.  Balancing healthy eating, exercise, and all of your obligations in life is a lifelong journey.  You may exercise regularly but not eat healthfully.  You may eat healthy foods most of the time but still overdo the unhealthy foods.  You may eat healthy but never move your body.  You may eat healthy and exercise regularly but have a stressful job with long hours and little satisfaction.  The key to a healthy life is balance.  When you balance healthy eating, regular exercise, work, family, relaxation…you have arrived, my friend.

This summer I decided to train for my first marathon:  the Quad Cities Marathon on September 26th.  I started training for events three years ago starting with the Firecracker 10K, then the Quad Cities Marathon half marathon, and last year I completed a sprint triathlon.  After much hum hawing around I decided to train for a full marathon this year.  My husband, who has ran many marathons and ultra marathons, worked up my training plan.  My training plan involves run, run, rest, run, cross train, long run, rest.  Except for the one day of cross train it’s not very balanced.  I love having a training plan because I’m a rule follower.  I’ll get up and do the run because I get an email that tells me I’m supposed to.  As I started my training plan I realized that my life seemed unbalanced.  There was a lot of running and very little else.

I received an email from Indigo Wellness that a class called Boost was being offered this summer.  The class included walking, strength, and yoga.  I love yoga.  The class was taught by Daina Lewis, my favorite yoga instructor.  I decided to sign up for the 8 week class and pay up front.  I know me, and if I pay for it, then I will go.  I was so into running that the first class seemed a little slow to me.  I got up early, put on my workout clothes, and we walked.  We walked and talked by the river.  I enjoyed the company but I found myself thinking about the 10 mile run I had to do the next day.  We returned to the studio, and Daina put on some Black Eyed Peas and we did lunges, squats, and pushups.  Now I started to notice something.  I was getting a much more balanced workout than just running.  My thighs and arms ached for the first time in months.  The class ended with yoga which felt so heavenly I nearly groaned.  Ok, I did groan quietly.  All that running had tightened me up, and I was in heaven.

Boost class became my favorite workout of the week.  I got an opportunity to talk to women of all different ages and fitness levels as we walked by the beautiful Mississippi river.  The walk no longer seemed like a waste of time.  I started doing yoga on my own after my runs.  I started walking a few nights a week with some girlfriends.  My life felt balanced.

I believe you can compare my summer exercise experience to other aspects of your life.  If you struggle with overeating then you are leading an unbalanced life.  Try focusing on exercise or stress reduction and your issues with food may reduce. If you struggle with insomnia it may help to eat healthy, avoid reliance on too much caffeine, and exercise regularly.  When areas of your life are balanced you may find eating moderately and sleeping soundly come easily.

At the end of yoga class, Daina always leads us in meditation.  As a mother of two young children I almost never get quiet time.  I can feel the tension leave my body.  Then Daina blesses all of us and wishes us happy moments where we positively touch the lives of everyone we meet.  I often get chills during her blessing.  What is more in balance than living your life in a way that positively touches everyone you meet?  Here is my wish for you:  May you find ways to bring balance to your life and the lives of everyone you meet.

Real People

Over the past 13 years as a dietitian, I have learned that everyone is unique.  Overall my recommendations for healthy eating are the same—for the young and old, athletic and sedentary, vegetarian and meat-eater, but I fine-tune information to the individual.  I have clients who swear that certain foods “make them fat” or cause constipation or result in a low blood sugar.  Even though their claims are not backed in science, I still believe that they are real to them. 

When I meet with a client I always want to know what foods they like and what they eat on a typical day.  I believe a healthy meal plan can be created including foods that you like.  I don’t whip out a menu made before I talk to a client.  I also want to know how active they are.  Sometimes people think of exercise at a gym as the only activity that counts.  If you sit at a desk or on your couch all day then you are living a life that is a much more sedentary than a person who is high energy and always moving around.  Studies have found that even the fidget factor (shaking your leg under the table) increases your energy expenditure.  I’m thankful for that.

When you are making changes in your eating habits remember that you are an individual.  I receive request for “healthy menus and recipes” often.  There are websites out there that will spit out a week of menus, but are you really going to follow them for any length of time?  There are diet books and health magazines that give menus to follow for 6 weeks.  I have yet to meet anyone who follows those diets to the T for any length of time.  I feel that kind of information may give you ideas on what to have for some healthy meals, but you need to learn how to pick healthy foods to make meals and snacks that YOU like.  For example, I love salads.  I could honestly eat salad every day for lunch, but I know that many people get tired of salads.  If I gave you a meal plan with salad twice a day every day how long would you follow it?

My favorite articles in fitness magazines are the success stories.  I have read hundreds of them, and I love the men and women who have already maintained their healthy lifestyle and healthy weight for years.  Although each one is an individual in how they met their goal, I find there are similarities in their tips.  Here are the tips I see the most:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables at your meals and for snacks.
  2. Exercise regularly and do something you enjoy.
  3. Replace the foods you used to splurge on with healthier or lower calorie alternatives.  For example, ½ cup of ice cream vs. a large shake.
  4. Eat out less and plan for your meals and snacks.  Pack your lunch for work, eat more dinners at home, and experiment with cooking healthy foods at home.
  5. Include your family.  The success stories always include a supportive family member.

I talk about nutrition every day.  I talk with my husband who is an endurance athlete, my young children, my 70-year old father, my friends who want to lose weight and my friends who are trying to eat healthier.  My message always has the same core but I adjust for the individual.  You are one-of-a-kind, and you can eat healthy for a lifetime.

Set a Good Example

I am often asked about childhood obesity.  I have friends who worry about their children and their eating habits.  I’m sure you know that childhood obesity is a huge problem in our country.  America is ‘obesogenic’ with an environment that promotes unhealthy foods and discourages physical activity.  I often see a parent behind their cell phone with a child behind their Nintendo DS.  This was not a scene 30 years ago yet the norm today.  High fat, high calorie food is at every corner.  The number of obese children has more than tripled in the past 30 years since I was a child.

I am glad that parents are concerned.  I believe there are things we need to do as parents to promote healthy eating and physical activity with youth today.  I struggled with my weight as a teenager, and I know how painful it was to be overweight as a child.  Children are learning habits that they will have for a lifetime.  Making healthy lifestyles a priority in your household will impact your child for a lifetime.

Here are some tips I have to you as parents:

  • Set a good example.  Eat healthy foods around your children.  Do not expect your child to eat only healthy foods when you sit around snacking on chips and cheese.  Children are growing and need to eat healthy, but so do you.  Kids watch everything we do…believe me they are watching what you put in your mouth.
  • Be active together.  Exercise regularly and include your kids in your exercise programs.  Noah and I run together.  Lily and I ride bikes and flip on the monkey bar together (ok I can’t really do any flips anymore, but you get the idea).  If you expect your child to exercise then you need to join them.
  • Do not include your family on drastic lifestyle changes.  People often go to extreme measures to lose weight and take their family with them.  Do not take all treats away from your child when you are on a fad diet and then add them all back after you give up on the diet.  This kind of message is confusing to children.
  • Talk positively about yourself and your children.  If your child does have an issue with his or her weight, do not make comments about it.  Make only positive comments about your own physique as well.  Attitude is part of the battle and having a positive self image will help your children have the same.
  • Treats are ok to have.  Portion control and moderation is my primary message on this blog.  Your children need to learn how to balance birthday cake with fruits and vegetables.  Taking all treats away from your children can result in an adult who never learned moderation.  I think children are exposed to way too many treats at school parties, birthday parties, and family cookouts, but treats are apart of life and can be included in a healthy diet.
  • Stay informed.  Have you read what is served at breakfast and lunch at schools?  Know what your kids are getting for their main meals and make sack lunches when needed.  Teach your children about the importance of fiber, a healthy breakfast, and appropriate portions.  I was eating lunch out with friends when Lily picked up a chip and asked, “Does this have fiber?”  That’s my girl.
  • Include more fiber in your child’s diet.  A rule of thumb for fiber is the child’s age plus 10.  A 5 year old should consume 15 grams of fiber per day.  Most Americans only consume 9 grams of fiber/day.  I will not buy a cereal without at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and my kids know it.  Children often enjoy whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, beans, hummus, fruits, and veggies.    
  • If you need to make changes, make gradual changes.  Include your children on some of the choices.  Point out 3 healthy cereal options and let them pick the one they want.  Kids like to have some control.  If your children are involved then they will be more apt to accept new foods.

I believe food should be enjoyed and not feared.  I believe exercise should be fun and not torture.  If you live life in a way that embraces these beliefs then your children will too.

Surviving Summer Cookouts

We are approaching 4th of July weekend and lots of cookouts with family and friends. There are many benefits to cookouts: the meat or vegetables are grilled not fried and fresh fruits are in. There are also lots of temptations: pasta salads, high fat meats like brats, and desserts galore. As you set off to your 4th of July celebrations, keep some of these suggestions in mind:

  • Bring fruits and vegetables to get-togethers and fill your plate with them. Often fruits and vegetables are left out, so make sure they are included in your celebrations by bringing them yourself! You can make fruit salads fancy by including a rainbow of fresh fruits. You can also hollow out a watermelon for a fancy (and disposable) bowl. Fresh vegetable plates with dip are always popular with adults and children.

  • Hold the mayo! Mayonnaise-laden salads and dishes are very high calorie. If pasta salad, potato salad, or deviled eggs are your favorites then go with a very small portion. You can still have a taste of it, but a cup of potato salad has 350-400 calories in it! You can consume more calories and fat from potato salad than a hamburger.

  • Try to get lean meats or protein sources when you can. Good choices would be chicken breast, a lower fat turkey brat or all beef hotdog, lean ground beef for hamburgers, veggie burgers, or vegetarian baked beans. Also watch your portion. If you fill your plate with fresh fruit and veggies and just have one brat then your overall calorie and fat intake will be lower.

  • Savor one special dessert rather than trying everything. Mindless eating is an easy trap during parties. You may find yourself nibbling on store bought cookies when really you just want to try your best friend’s homemade brownies. With desserts, be choosey. Pick your favorite special dessert and enjoy it! Eat slowly and try to eat a small portion.

  • Calories from beverages add up. Avoid sugary beverages such as lemonade and sweet tea. If you are drinking alcohol, go with lite beer or wine. Drink plenty of water in between drinks with alcohol. Stay hydrated and safe!

Keep these tips in mind and you can still have a wonderful holiday weekend, but when you return to work you won’t be feeling bloated and guilty. I enjoy food and holidays, but learning to watch portions of high fat and high sugar foods is essential for a healthy lifestyle. Happy 4th of July!