Active Holidays

I eat cake at birthday parties and candy on Halloween.  I don’t believe in depriving myself or my children from treats on special occasions.  However, I also believe in celebrating with activity.  I used to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas in Salina, Kansas, with my parents (when I lived at home or close to home) and after the holiday a tradition was going to the YMCA to exercise.  My Dad and I would get up early the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas and workout.  We always felt so much better after a good workout.  Exercise is like a reset button after a day of overindulgence.  You feel better and you start to eat better.

Yesterday was Father’s Day and after Nathan opened his presents from the kids we asked him what he wanted to do.  He wanted to go for a run and then for a family hike.  Although we did include food in our celebration (Lily and I made Nathan breakfast in bed), we also included lots of activity.  We drove to Savannah and hiked in the Mississippi Palisades.  Rather than staying at home and eating brunch at a restaurant, we enjoyed the beautiful day moving our bodies.


During the long span of winter holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years, people often gain weight.  Food becomes too much of a priority and exercise falls by the wayside.  I encourage you to begin traditions during the holidays that involve exercise.  Complete a 5K walk/run with your children on the 4th of July, go for a hike on Labor Day, run or walk at a local Turkey trot on Thanksgiving, or take the family swimming at the YMCA during the Christmas holiday.  Being active together as a family is one of the best habits you can pass down to your children.


Over the next few days, I want you to keep track of what you put in your mouth.  We know what we eat for meals and, usually, that is the only food we think of at the end of the day.  But, we also eat between meals – and those bites are often forgotten.  I want you to imagine the sound of a cash register going “cha-ching!” every time you put something in your mouth.  At the end of the day, add up the calories from each bite because those extra bites may be coming between you and your goal weight.

Let me give you an example of some cha-ching moments in my life…

3 bites of Lily’s left over bagel from breakfast:  50 calories

2 Fun Sized Mr. Goodbars from a candy dish in someone else’s office:  92 calories

Handful of nuts during a meeting:  180 calories

5 saltines with peanut butter after work (standing at the kitchen counter):  190 calories

3 Starburst that Lily gives me during Noah’s baseball game:  60 calories

My total bill for the day (in addition to my meals): 572 calories.  Cha-Ching!  What does that add up to?  Well 500 extra calories each day will cause a pound of weight gain a week.  Ouch.

My assignment for you:  pause every time you put something in your mouth.  Consider what and why you are eating.  Decide if the calories are worth it.  Remember, if you put the food down then you don’t have to hear that annoying Cha-ching in your mind and you’ll be resisting the urge to eat mindlessly.  Practice mindful eating and you’ll have a much lower calorie bill at the end of the day.

When Life Gets Messy

My 5-year-old daughter had her tonsils removed last Tuesday.  I always thought this was a routine procedure until it happened to my baby.  My life has been turned upside down for the past week.  I have been worried, not exercising as much as usual, and surrounded by ice cream.  You know from my previous blogs that I have an issue with ice cream in the house.  Yesterday I was back at work and feeling sorry for myself.  I was not able to run on Sunday which is usually my long run day, and I felt like giving up.  My wise husband stated, “This would be a great blog.”  I felt awful:  sleep deprived, thick around the middle, and worried.  So instead of throwing in the towel, I went to the gym.  I exercised for 40 minutes on a hectic day and felt like I got my life back.

I think eating healthy and exercising can be easy when life is routine.  The past week reminds me of the days when I had a newborn and lived in a constant state of sleep deprivation.  These are the days when exercise is so important.  I felt recharged after my workout.  Just 40 minutes to myself was heavenly.  Remember to exercise especially when you are tired and life is hectic.  When life gets messy, get active.

1000 Readers!

I started this blog 5 months ago at the beginning of 2010.  I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts on healthy eating and exercise.  Sometimes I have a coworker, friend, or even stranger tell me that they read my blog for inspiration.  This feedback keeps me writing.  This month I reached 1000 readers!  Thank you for reading.  I hope that I can continue to inspire or at least make you consider what you are putting in your mouth.

Last month I started writing a blog for Mississippi Valley Health News Online at  This is a local blog for the Quad Cities and features ideas for eating out healthier.

Here are my top 10 beliefs about healthy lifestyles:

1.  All foods can fit in a healthy diet.

2.  Use your common sense when it comes to changing the way you eat.

3.  Healthy foods can and do taste good!

4.  Exercising and healthy eating go hand in hand.  When you exercise you want to eat healthy and vice versa.

5.  Healthy eating and exercising should be a family affair.

6.  Eat plant foods and lots of ‘em.

7.  When you exercise, do what makes you smile.

8.  A positive attitude is the first step towards a healthy lifestyle.

9.  Do not be all or nothing…find a happy place in-between.

10.  A healthy lifestyle = a higher quality of life.

Thin Doesn't Always = Healthy

I counsel many clients, friends, and family on weight loss.  There are countless fad weight loss diets out there, and unfortunately they can be very tempting.  Losing lots of weight fast sounds great, right?  However, weight loss in spite of healthy eating is not what I preach.  I promote healthy eating.  If you eat healthy and exercise but have a few extra pounds on your frame I contend that you are healthier than a thin person who doesn’t exercise and eats an unhealthy diet.  It is possible to lose weight eating lots of high fat meats but that isn’t healthy.  I don’t believe that weight loss is the paramount goal.  Instead developing healthy habits should be your goal.

How do you know a fad diet when you see one?  One sign is the elimination of certain foods or food groups.  I have said many times on this blog that there is not a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid.  When diets claim that you cannot eat whole grains or beans or fruits then a red flag should go up.  Avoiding entire groups of foods is not easy to maintain.  Once you add those foods back to your diet then the weight gain often occurs because you never learned to control portions.

A second sign of a fad diet is strange combinations of foods.  Eating healthy is really not complicated.  Some fad diets claim that you should combine certain nutrients together for weight loss.  In reality, the key to weight loss is achieving a calorie deficit.  You can be in a calorie deficit by eating less, exercising more, or (ideally) both.  At the end of the day you need to take in fewer calories than your body needs to maintain your current weight.  The best way to do this is by moving more and cutting back on portions.  Also increasing fiber can truly help fill up your stomach and give you a sense of fullness.

Third, fad diets have gimmicks.  The paleo diet claims that we should eat like cavemen because cavemen didn’t have the diseases that we have now.  Cavemen also lived very short lifespans.  There are diets that claim you should eat based on your blood type.  There is no scientific evidence that your blood type determines what you should eat.  These are just two examples of diets that, while popular, lack scientific evidence to suggest that they will keep the weight off over the long term. The American Dietetic Association has an excellent resource to look up popular diets:  ADA Diet Review.  Unfortunately, it’s very easy to make fad diets sound scientific.  It’s up to you to be smarter than that.

I have been told by some thin individuals that they can eat whatever they want without eating healthy or exercising.  After I get past the resentment, I remind myself that a fast metabolism is not an excuse to avoid exercise and eat unhealthy.  Fueling your body with high fat, low fiber foods will catch up to you.  Some children are very thin and develop bad habits at a young age because parents give them junk foods to help them gain weight.  Often children hit an age where their metabolism catches up with them and weight gain occurs.  At that point they have developed bad habits and run the risk of becoming overweight or obese.  I have two children with very different food preferences and metabolisms.  My son has a stocky build and loves higher calorie foods.  My daughter is thin and picks fruits over all other foods.  I still offer them the same food choices because both of them are developing food habits that will affect them for life.

When you see someone eating foods that don’t seem healthy-but they are at a good weight-remember that thin does not always equal healthy.  You cannot always judge a book by its cover.  Similarly if you want to lose weight don’t lose sight of what is important:  fueling your body with healthy foods and living an active, healthy life.

Real Life Inspiration

I am going to spotlight some people I know who are very busy and still find time to exercise.  I hope to inspire some readers to do just that:  make exercise a priority.  I believe that what we do in life is all a matter of priorities.  There are important things to consider:  family, work, kids’ activities, exercise, yard work, and hobbies.  Balancing your schedule so that you have time to exercise is essential for a healthy lifestyle.

Liz Lareau is a partner at Bawden & Lareau Public Relations.  She works full time taking care of PR clients and their related projects.  She is also the mother of four children who range in age from 3-12.  Her husband is a local attorney who runs a martial arts school.  Family activities include YMCA pre-school events, piano and choir recitals, summer camps, lots and lots of baseball games, church events, and martial arts tournaments.  Are you as exhausted as I am just reading about Liz’ life?  She has double the kids that I have and works double the hours.  She’s my hero.

But here’s the kicker:  Liz is training for the Quad City Marathon this fall.  That’s right, 26.2 miles which will require some long runs on the weekend (and I mean long in both time and distance).  How in the world does Liz juggle it all?  She makes exercise a priority.  I’m sure she doesn’t find herself sitting at home with nothing to do.  Ever.  So she carves out time for herself and her goals.  In September Liz will be a “Marathon Mom” and I’m certain of it.  Liz has already completed two half marathons, so she is well on her way.

As a mom, it’s so important to take time for yourself.  I often tell my 5-year-old daughter Lily that if I can get a run in then I will be in a much better mood.  Lily always considers this and then says, “Ok, you should go then.”  Exercise is a time for you…and will help you handle the stress of life better.  Just think of exercise as a time when you don’t have to get anyone a snack or drink and you can think about anything you please (and listen to your music instead of Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez).

Liz has the following to say about priorities, “I have certainly learned there is no secret to having it all and pursuing the holy grail of “balance,” we just all make different sacrifices based on our priorities.”  Liz and I both hope our daughters will learn to live for family, community, health, and peace.  Now doesn’t that sound like a great world?

p.s. I think you can find time for that bike ride now.

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

I’m not big on lists of foods to eat and not eat.  I think I’ve already told you that people call my office asking for just that.  Healthy eating isn’t a matter of just avoiding foods and eating certain foods.  I think of healthy eating as a balance:  you have to balance healthy foods and unhealthy foods (to keep your sanity).  You have to learn to eat foods in moderation.  There is no diet out there that allows you to eat all you want of a list of foods.  If only it were that simple…  But wouldn’t that be boring?

That said, I wanted to let you know some of my all time favorite foods.  I think you should try them if you haven’t already.  They are delicious.

Avocado.  I know an almost-one-year old named Ava who eats lots of avocados.  My 68-year-old Dad just discovered the joy of avocados.  As you can see they are loved at any age.  Avocados are wonderful sliced up on their own, in a salad, mashed up to make a guacamole, or on a sandwich.  If I can quote Ava, “Mmmmmmmm.”

Chickpeas or Garbanzo Beans.  You know about Hummus right?  Hummus is made from the wonderful, delectable chickpea.  Mashed up and blended with some olive oil and garlic…there is nothing better to dip your veggies or pita chips in.  I love chickpeas on a salad and score salad bars with chickpeas higher (like the salad bar at Arthur’s Garden Deli).

Eggplant.  My kids will totally disagree with me here. Noah went so far as to tell his Kindergarten teacher that the only food he hates is eggplant.  His classmates thought this was hilarious because…what is eggplant?  First I think eggplant is beautiful.  Have you ever purchased one from the store?  They are shiny purple.  We like to put them right on the grill and have grilled eggplant.  We don’t make the kids eat it, but I believe someday Noah will like eggplant.  Grilled eggplant on a sandwich is divine.

Blueberries.  You’ve heard the hype about blueberries, right?  Super food with phytochemicals galore.  I love blueberries in oatmeal, pancakes, yogurt, and plain in a bowl.  Fresh blueberries are hard to beat…like popping candy in your mouth.  Blueberries are also so yummy in a smoothie.  In the winter we rely heavily on frozen blueberries.

Kiwifruit.  When I was in high school I used to bring a bag of kiwifruit to parties.  I’m sure I was well loved.  Kiwifruit is high in vitamin C and just beautiful added to a fruit salad.  I enjoy buying lots of different colored fruits and making a big fruit salad…my kids even enjoy cutting the fruit up with me.  Kiwifruit looks cool when cut in slices and even the kids will eat it.  Kiwifruit is also known as Chinese gooseberry if you want cool trivia at your next get-together.

Next time you’re in the produce section, pick up a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t tried before.  You might find something that you like.  When I was a little girl my Dad used to take me to the produce section and we would pick out exotic fruits and take them home to try.  Trying new foods can be a fun event for the whole family.  Of course you’ll be obliged to sing, “Fruit salad…yummy yummy!”

Health Halo

Have you succumbed to the mesmerizing effects of the health halo?  The health halo is a tendency to eat more of a food that is “low fat” or “gluten free” or “trans fat free” or “organic.”   I was recently at Starbucks purchasing a very important cup of coffee on a cold, rainy day when I spotted some sweet potato chips.  When I hear sweet potato I think healthy.  So the trained dietitian in me immediately flipped the bag to see the nutrition information.  The entire bag has 300 calories and 20 grams of fat.  Yikes!  But the label also spoke of “natural” “organic” and good ‘ol sweet potatoes.  Ladies and gentlemen, do not be fooled by health claims.  A chip is still a chip.  I don’t care if it’s organic, gluten-free, natural, and made by some woman on a farm who grew the sweet potatoes herself…when it’s fried in oil it’s still high calorie and high fat.

In the 1990’s, the health halo occurred with fat free foods.  The Snackwell craze even hit my home.  I remember my Mom buying Devil’s Food cookies made by Snackwell which were “FAT FREE!” and eating perhaps more than a recommended portion size.  We tend to eat more of low fat foods.  We think they are healthy so we eat more.  The result of the fat free craze of the 90’s was weight gain in our country.  Calories are calories.  It doesn’t matter if the food is fat free; if you are eating twice as much then you are getting in more calories.

Subway has a wonderful health halo built by a brilliant marketing campaign using Jared, the man who lost weight eating Subway sandwiches.  People go to Subway and think they are eating healthy.  They will order subs with mayo or even a 12” sub and round out their meal with chips and a cookie, but the health halo surrounding Subway makes them feel that they ate a meal that was good for them and their waistline.

Brian Wansick, a professor from Cornell who wrote the book Marketing Nutrition,  explains, “An organic label gives a food a ‘health halo.’  It’s the same basic reason people tend to overeat any food that’s labeled as healthy or low fat.  They underestimate the calories and over-reward themselves by eating more.” 

How do you stop the Health Halo from sabotaging your healthy eating goals?  Remember that the claims on the label do not matter when it comes to your weight:  calories do matter.  You can still look for foods that are low in fat or organic, but be aware of how much you are eating.  Know that when you think a food is healthy the tendency is to eat more.  In order to lose weight, you must eat less and move more.

Food in Disguise

I have an image in my head of a salad with a mustache and glasses on…unhealthy food in disguise.  Sometimes eating healthy isn’t common sense.  What is healthier…a tuna salad sandwich or a Big Mac?  It seems like tuna would be a better choice, right?  Or what has less fat and calories, a salad or a hamburger?  The salad, right?  Unfortunately salads are not just vegetables and fruits with a little olive oil vinaigrette on top.  Salads also contain cheese, bacon, croutons, macaroni salad, potato salad, and other super-high-calorie toppings.  When you go to Panera, don’t you feel like you’re in a place that serves healthy foods?  The calming music and nice atmosphere must = healthy food.  When you go to McDonalds, don’t you feel like you’re in a place that serves unhealthy foods?  The employees yelling out the orders and the smell of French fries must = unhealthy foods.  Amazingly there is a lot of unhealthy food in disguise as Panera and you may end up with a meal that has more calories and fat grams than a meal from McDonalds.  You have to be very savvy to outwit restaurant eating and the foods in disguise. 

Some unhealthy foods in disguise at Panera:

Carrot walnut muffin:  440 calories/19 g fat/500 mg sodium

Apple crunch muffin:  470 calories/12 g fat/350 mg sodium

Remember, when you eat a muffin you’re eating cake.  They are packed with sugar and oil and just because “carrot” or “walnut” or “apple” is in the title, you are not eating a fruit or vegetable.  You are eating cake.  Sorry.

Spinach and artichoke soufflés:  480 calories/31 g fat/920 mg sodium

Not a healthy breakfast choice.  Again, don’t be fooled by the spinach and artichoke…there is a lot of high fat cheese too.

Turkey artichoke on Focaccia:  750 calories/27 g fat/2340 mg sodium

Tuna salad on honey wheat:  750 calories/47 g fat/1130 mg sodium

Woa, 750 calories?  These sandwiches are huge.  And check out the amount of sodium.

Broccoli cheddar soup:  290 calroies/16 g fat/1540 mg sodium

French onion soup:  240 calories/12 g fat/2210 mg sodium

Soups from Panera are very high in sodium.  Sodium causes fluid retention and is not healthy for your heart.  Also, many of the soups have added cheese and thus added fat.

Greek Salad:  380 calories/34 g fat/1670 mg sodium

Asian Sesame Chicken Salad:  400 calories/20 g fat/910 mg sodium

20-30 grams of fat in a salad!? So many people say, “I just had a salad for lunch.”  You might have just consumed more calories and fat than a hamburger and fries.

None of these meals are low fat or low sodium.  Many of these items are very high in calories.  To give you a comparison a Big Mac is 540 calories and 29 g of fat.  Not a healthy choice, but that’s less calories and fat than a tuna salad on honey wheat from Panera!  The tuna sandwich is large and has lots of added mayo which brings up the calories and fat grams.  Don’t be fooled by the foods in disguise.  At Panera, the “Pick Two” option helps cut down on the portion sizes.  Pairing up half a sandwich with soup or salad brings down the calories and grams of fat.  With salads, always ask for the salad dressing on the side and add less.  Watch out for toppings like croutons and cheese. 

You can make healthier choices at Panera, but you have to be careful.  Next time you eat at Panera just imagine your Greek Salad with a moustache and glasses.  Don’t let the salad fool you!

Damage Control

Eating healthy and exercising is all about consistency.  I preach consistency all the time.  It doesn’t matter if you eat healthy 6 weeks of the year…you have to eat healthy most of the time all year long.  It doesn’t matter if you run a few months of the year…you have to exercise most of the time.  But what happens when you splurge and/or don’t exercise?  Well then it’s time for damage control.  Here are some steps to take when you overdo it and succumb to temptation (which we all do at some point):

  1. Don’t beat yourself up for it.  Attitude is everything.  If you feel guilty then you will seek out more unhealthy foods to medicate that bad feeling inside.  Remember:  everyone eats unhealthy foods or eats too much sometimes.  The key is what you do after the fact.
  2. Exercise.  Go outside for a walk.  If it isn’t nice out, walk around your house or the mall.  I like to take my dogs out and for a walk and have some companionship.  If you have small children at home, put them in a stroller or try to keep up with them on their bike.  Find a way to exercise!
  3. Detox the old fashioned way:  with fiber.  I’m a huge fan of a high fiber diet.  Fiber gets things moving through your system.  Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, beans, and high fiber grains.  After a splurge there is nothing more important for your system. 
  4. Drink water.  When you overeat you often get too much sodium in your system.  Drinking water helps with bloating and is another great way to detox your system.

With a little bit of damage control you can be back on track towards living a consistently healthy lifestyle!