When I lost 50 pounds over 35 years ago, it was the first time in my life that I paid attention to the food I was putting in my body. It was also the first time I fell in love with cooking. Thirty-five years later I continue to learn about food, the good, the bad and the ugly. If you continue to lose your way in the maze of unhealthy diets, perhaps this post may help in your journey toward healthy eating.
Healthy eating starts at home
I have learned over the years that to eat healthy you must have a healthy relationship with food. It really starts with an appreciation of food which is realized when you do your own cooking. I’m not saying you have to become Martha Stewart, I’m simply suggesting that healthy eating begins when you’re up close and personal with food.
When I decided to lose weight all those years ago, shopping, preparing and enjoying my own creations educated me on what foods go together and how to keep all of the flavor while reducing calories, fat and sodium. Had I not learned to cook, I may not have kept my weight off all these years.
There may be some of you who cringe at the idea of having to cook. Even starting with just a few meals a week at home is a start. Keep it simple. But trust me here, the more you learn about the power and flavor of real food, the greater chance of wanting to cook more at home. Cooking at home results in healthier meals and greater nutritional punch.
Since losing my weight, food trends are out of control. Lets walk through them and see which ones may sound familiar. When my kids were little, it was low-fat or no-fat. Then Susan Powter hit the world touting high carb and low protein. Then there was the oat bran craze, cabbage soup, food combining, low carb, Atkins, Paleo and gluten-free. I’m sure I’ve left a few out, but these are the most memorable. Now, what do all of these food trends have in common? They have all been used not for health, but for weight loss. Every time a new food trend hits the media, weight loss is typically the motive behind its success.
I have always believed that there are elements in each one of those diets that are redeeming. However, most of them are nothing more than a fad that helps drop pounds quickly yet rarely if ever is health focused, simply weight focused. Hence why obesity is alive and well.
Get Back to Basics
When I was pregnant I was dedicated to feeding myself and my unborn child well. I gave up alcohol, stayed away from foods that might be toxic (fish) and exercised daily. The idea of dieting was not even a thought. My focus was my unborn child. I believe this is true for most women. So, the question becomes why are we willing to risk our health by doing less than healthy things for our body when we’re not pregnant?
What I have discovered is that you’ve got one shot to make your health a priority. Figuring out the facts and myths surrounding food is next to impossible because there is so much conflicting information out there.
After thirty-five years I have learned the real truth behind healthy eating and healthy weight:
- Trust yourself. Deep down inside you know a good choice from a bad one. Green beans good, French fries not so much.
- Don’t jump on the latest food trends, they will be temporary and if they have staying power, read more about it. Look at the research and educate yourself.
- The healthier the food, the fewer ingredients. Have you ever seen fresh fruits or veggies with an ingredient list? No, because its straight up good for you, solid nutrition.
- Get back to basics. Eating too much is not good for you. Fried foods, processed foods, high sugar and salty foods are not good for you. Less is more when it comes to meat, saturated fat, sodium and portions.
- Eat for yourself, not for weight loss. You’ll likely choose more wisely. Further, a byproduct of healthier eating is weight loss.
Don’t choose food for weight, choose it for health.
If there’s one tried and true “secret” that I’ve learned over the years it is, eating for health vs. weight. This approach is actually the best way to lose or manage weight. Think about it, if you’re able to focus on the foods that are naturally good for you, you will weed out the less healthy foods that caused the excess weight to begin with. Sticking with whole, fresh foods is the surest way to a healthier you.
Trust yourself to make the right choices. Focus on your health and understand its a process. I learn something new everyday. I also seek to learn as much as I can so I can make the best decisions for my health. Isn’t your health worth it?
Two of my favorite new reads include: Julieanna Hever’s- The Complete Idiots Guide to Plant Based Nutrition and David Grotto’s Book, The Best Things You Can Eat.
Here’s to never wishing for more time, rather making the most of it!
By Nicki On March 3, 2013 1 Comment
Over 30 years ago I made the switch from a sedentary, fast-food lifestyle to a relatively active lifestyle eating well most of the time.
I remember Christmas in 1979, it was a year after I lost 50 pounds (note-the weight loss followed my healthy changes, not the other way around). I was heading to my Grandparents house ready to overindulge in holiday fare. I felt that I had deserved it because I really hadn’t eaten any unhealthy food in so long. I picked up my plate and headed towards the buffet table. I felt like a kid in a candy store without adult supervision. I felt that I deserved to eat all of the foods I had been denied for so long. So, I took one of everything.
What I hadn’t realized is although I wanted every morsel of food on my plate, my body had been trained to crave what it needs not what I wanted. At that moment I understood the importance of listening to my body, not my diet head.
What’s interesting is that your body will often tell you what it needs, whereas diet head will scream for ice cream! I had completely dismissed the fact that I felt great because I had let go of junk food. Yet for some crazy reason I felt compelled to knock off an entire plate of sweets and foods I had given up over a year ago. That was until I reconnected with my healthy head.
Remember, it is the dieting lifestyle that sets you up to want the foods that your diet forbids. As long as you continue to follow diet rules you will continue to crave, desire, dream about less healthy foods versus taking the steps to listen to your body and give it what it needs, healthy food.
As we recognize National Nutrition Month try to listen closely to your body. Think about how you feel when you eat well, versus how you feel when you eat garbage. Your body knows and is communicating with you all the time, you simply need to listen.
During the month of March, I will blog about nutrition in my ongoing effort to inspire you to stay focused on what makes you healthy, happy and productive. It all starts with what you put in your mouth!
Here’s to never wishing for more time, rather making the most of it!
By Nicki On February 6, 2013 No Comments
I’m a minority in my house. I’m a pseudo vegetarian amongst die hard carnivores. However, out of my four children, one is vegan and one is vegetarian. When they’re home, they are my partners in crime! We’re always trying to find ways to sneak in vegetarian dishes to dyed-in-the-wool carnivores. Not an easy task.
Super Bowl Sunday like Thanksgiving is an open invitation to overeat and melt in to a comfy chair watching football. To me that’s a fate worse than death. Bloated and sitting. Where’s the joy in that? Am I missing something?
So, this year I decided to sneak in some vegetarian style goodies along with the traditional junk food that defines Super Bowl.
I posted these creations on my FB page and had an overwhelming response asking for the recipes. O.K. maybe not overwhelming, but enough to prompt this post.
So here you go. A couple of the vegetarian dishes that actually made the Super Bowl more exciting than Beyonce and almost as exciting as the blackout!
Mushroom Sliders - Makes about a dozen.
24 oz. mushrooms (I mixed button, crimini and portobella) / 1 TBSP canola oil / 2 TBSP sliced shallots/ 2 TBSP sliced garlic / 3/4 c cooked brown rice / 1/3 c dry bread crumbs / 2 egg whites / 1 TBSP low-sodium soy sauce / 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce / 1 TBSP stone ground mustard / 2 TBSP chopped flat leaf parsley / salt and pepper to taste
2 TBSP canola oil / Slices of Swiss cheese (I quartered the slice of cheese and places 1/4 on each patty) / 10 cocktail buns (I used whole grain) / 1 avocado, pitted and peeled and sliced lengthwise and then across.
Saute mushrooms in large nonstick skillet until nicely browned. Add shallots and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat. Darin mushroom mixture in colander and let cool. Once cool, place on paper towel and squeeze out moisture.
Pulse mixture in a food processor until minced, 2-3 times. Add rice, bread crumbs, egg whites, soy sauce, Worcestershire, mustard, parsley and salt and pepper. Pulse to combine.
Use about 1/4 c. mixture and shape patties. Cover and place in fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 200
Heat oil in same skillet and cook patties until nicely browned on each side. Remove and place on cookie sheet. Place cheese on top of each patty. Put in oven until cheese is melted.
Meanwhile, toast buns in griddle (I buttered half the batch of buns, other half I left plain). Place patties on browned buns and top with a couple of slices of avocado. Serve warm.
Banh Mi Spring Rolls
Makes 4-6 rolls
6 oz. firm tofu /2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce/ 1/2 c. thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps /3 -4 TBSP of your favorite Thai peanut sauce/ 1 TBSP canola oil / 2 TBSP minced fresh ginger / 2 TBSP minces scallions / 1 TBSP minced fresh garlic / 1 /2 matchstick-cut carrots / 1/2 c shredded romaine lettuce / 1/2 c matchstick-cut cucumber / 2 TBSP minced fresh cilantro / 2 TBSP minced fresh mint / 6-8 spring roll wrappers (8-inch)
Brown tofu and and mushrooms in soy sauce and oil in a nonstick skillet breaking up tofu with spoon until it’s like ground meat and lightly browned, about 5 minutes or so. Add ginger, scallions and garlic. Stir-fry about 1 minute. Remove from stove and let cool. Mix tofu mixture with carrots, lettuce cucumber, cilantro and mint and thai peanut sauce. (Avoid any sauce with HFCS). Mix well.
Soften wrappers one at a time in hot water until soft, about 15-20 seconds. Place 1/2 c tofu mixture in the center of each wrapper; roll like burritos and slice in half. Serve w/ sauce. I add sriracha on the side.
Both of these recipes were inspired by Cuisine Lite- Fresh and Fabulous
By Nicki On December 29, 2012 No Comments
Today, I happened to catch the tail end of a show about a chef that recently graduated from culinary school. He was explaining why becoming a chef meant so much to him. Some of the reasons included the ability to be creative, share his talent to make others happy and doing something that brings him joy. As I watched him tear up sharing this story, it hit me that his reasons for loving to cook are the same reasons I love to cook, but I also thought about writing and how similar writing and cooking are.
O.K. first things first. I realized long ago that there is a difference between a cook and a baker. I am not a baker. I can’t remember a cookie, pie or cake that I’ve ever made that was any good. I am a cook. Being a cook allows me the freedom to add, subtract, and create any dish I want based on my personal preference. With baking you have to be exact, no margin of error, hence why I’m not crazy about baking, I can’t take a risk.
So back to writing and cooking. When I cook, I immerse myself and think of nothing else except how to make the dish that I’m working on unique, delicious and visually appealing. When I write, I do the same. I immerse myself in writing unique pieces that are fun and easy to read. I hope that when people walk away from something I’ve written they feel their time has been well spent. The same for cooking. When I cook, I hope that people walk away satisfied and wanting more.
It’s funny how much I love both writing and cooking yet I was never formally trained for either. I couldn’t imagine my life without cooking or writing. Both are my way of communicating and sharing a bit of my heart. When I cook, there is no shortage of love that goes in to each and every dish I make, be it complicated or simple. It’s the same when I write.
When I finish this blog, I’m heading to my kitchen to make some Vietnamese spring rolls. Of course, I’ll likely augment the recipe to my liking and we’ll see how they turn out. But just like writing, if I’m not crazy about it, I get a do-over.
By Nicki On November 15, 2012 No Comments
I don’t post recipes very often, but I feel obligated to share something that is not only healthy but full of flavor. You can add in chopped kale, spinach for a little extra nutritional kick. This is a great vegetarian meal, but for meat eaters, just grill up some marinated chicken tenderloins and place them on top with an extra sprinkling of parsley. Delicious!
2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
2 c water
2 c cubed butternut squash
1 TBSP olive oil
½ TBSP maple syrup
3 c vegetable stock
1 ½ TBSP butter (olive oil can replace)
½ c. large red onion, finely chopped
1 TBSP shallot, finely chopped
1 tsp (or more if you like) fresh minced garlic
½ c wild rice
1 c Arborio rice
½ c white wine
½ container (3 oz) goat cheese – optional
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 c. chopped fresh parsley
Combine the mushrooms and warmed water in a bowl making sure shrooms are covered with water. Soak for about 30 min. or until tender. Drain and reserve liquid for later use.
Preheat over to 375 (190 C)
Toss the butternut squash cubes, olive oil, maple syrup together in a bowl until squash is evenly coated. Spread on to baking sheet (I use parchment paper)
Roast squash until squash is tender but still in it’s cubed state, about 30 minutes.
Bring veg stock and mushroom liquid to a simmer in a saucepan over med/low heat.
Melt butter or oo in a large skillet over med heat, when butter begins to bubble stir in onion, shallots and garlic until soft and golden about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the wild rice and Arborio rice and mix well with onion mixture. Then add white wine and mushrooms (which I chopped up) to mixture and stir occasionally until liquid has been absorbed, about 7-10 minutes.
Pour enough of simmering stock mixture into the skillet to cover rice. Slowly stir until absorbed. Continue adding about ¾ of a cup until the rice is tender. It will take about 40 minutes, especially w/ wild rice.
When all liquid has been absorbed, carefully stir in squash and heat up for about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add in cheese (optional) and parsley until risotto is nice and creamy. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and serve!
By Nicki On August 7, 2012 No Comments
Though the Olympics play a rather large role in getting people active again, it’s a bit of a paradox when these average every day folks see Olympians touting their devotion to fast-food restaurants and junk food, primarily McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. These companies are the proud Olympic Partners.
Wait, let’s see if I’m getting this right, the most stellar physical athletes in the world claim that junk food is their go-to food when training and performing? I’m not buying it, but unfortunately plenty of other people will because, “Heck, if it’s good enough for Olympic athletes, it’s good enough for me!”
In my opinion, there’s a sense of responsibility on behalf of the Olympics and the athletes. Remember the scuttlebutt over American Olympic uniforms being made in China? People were aghast. Doesn’t the fact that hamburgers, fries and soda are being condoned by athletes and the Olympics ruffle a few feathers, somewhere?
The athletes are doing their fair share of getting the junk food message into the living rooms of families watching the events. LeBron James, Loul Deng, Apollo Ono, Shaun Johnson and others are pitching foods that just don’t connect to their performance and physical fitness. It doesn’t make sense to me. Oh wait, I hear a “ching,ching” in the background- money. That’s right, that silly little thing that often trumps just about everything else, integrity, health of our country (which by the way has a huge obesity issue) and well, good old fashioned conscious.
Though we are incredibly proud of the performance these athletes have executed, the blatant promotion of “carbage” is somehow disheartening. I will say, Subway stays away from deep fried foods and does offer veggie sandwiches. But for the most part, junk food is NOT what allows these athletes to perform at such a high level. Basically, it’s false advertising.
Some will ask, “What’s the big deal with having junk food once in awhile?” Well, the fact is that there are those who understand moderation, but tell that to an 8 year old who loves the gymnasts and sees them promoting McDonald’s, suddenly that is what she’s going to clamor for. If he or she is lucky enough, she’ll have a parent that understands moderation. But for many others (remember the obesity issue I mentioned earlier?) not the case. Bottom line, it’s a mixed message, pure and simple.
I have to give kudos to Ryan Lochte, who obviously didn’t let the endorsement cash get to him. He gave up junk food two years ago. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard anyone praise his efforts not only from a physical fitness and health standpoint, but for someone who didn’t get sucked in by a multi-million dollar contract.
I’m certainly not a purist, but when it comes to inspiring the next generation of athletes, there is some responsibility that should be realized by the Olympics and the athletes. In my opinion, promoting fast-food restaurants and soda is no different than promoting Marlboro reds after a long workout. (Yes, junk food can contribute to cancer). LeBron, got a light?
Here’s to your health!
By Nicki On August 2, 2012 3 Comments
By Nicki On July 15, 2012 2 Comments
I had a discussion with a friend of mine last week, and she shared her newest strategy on getting healthy, and losing some unwanted weight. Her approach? Major restriction during the week, and pig outs on the weekends. When I shared my concern about that strategy, she said, “It’s what works for me!” Hmm, it may work now, but what about 1 year from now?
According to research published in the journal Obesity, splurging even just two days out of the week can add up to an almost nine-pound weight gain over the course of a year!
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis followed 48 overweight adults for a year, tracking daily food intake and weight. Even from the beginning, they found a striking difference in what people ate during the week compared to the weekend: On Saturdays, people ate well over 2,200 calories, while Monday through Friday, the average calorie intake was about 2,000 calories. The amount of weight they were gaining based on these extra calories—about .17 pound a week—could translate to about nine extra pounds a year.
Lead researcher, Susan Racette, PhD, and her colleagues divided participants into three groups: 19 subjects were put on a calorie-restricted diet, 19 were instructed to follow an exercise regimen, and 10 were asked not to change their behavior at all. Over the course of the year, members of the caloric restriction group lost an average of 17.6 pounds, the exercisers lost about 14 pounds each, and the healthy-eating control group lost just two pounds. Upon closer inspection, however, the weekends still posed a problem and thwarted weight-loss efforts.
“Those in the calorie-restricted group would have lost over .6 pounds per week, but because they overate on the weekend, their weekly weight loss was about .5 pounds per week,” Racette says. And those in the exercise group actually gained weight over the weekends.
Even though they were asked to keep food diaries, many people in the study didn’t realize that they were consuming more calories on the weekends. This could be because of the types of food they’re eating (high-calorie on-the-go options), the lack of structure in their days, or the laid-back mind-set that many of us adopt on our days off. Whatever the explanation, this study suggests that one reason why people who go on diets often don’t lose weight as fast or as easily as they first predicted is due to overeating on the weekends.
If you think weekends may be sabotaging your weight management efforts, here are some suggestions:
* Try to stick with the same meal patterns you follow midweek on the weekend.
* If you know you are going out for dinner find ways to get in a bit more exercise that day and be mindful about your food consumption during the day. Further, you don’t have to “splurge” when out to eat. There are plenty of healthy options that taste fantastic.
* Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a diet double-whammy; it’s not only rich in calories itself, but it also reduces inhibitions and causes mindless snacking.
* If you exercise, don’t reward yourself with food. This common practice is the reason so many people are unable to lose weight and keep it off. Stay hydrated and stay on top of healthy food choices. On the flip side, some people blow exercise off on the weekends because it’s their rest time. Bad move, especially if you’re consuming more calories. Make exercise part of your everyday life, not just when you feel like it.
* Pack fruit and healthy snacks (nuts, chopped veggies) if you’re going to be out of the house all day. This way you won’t rely on food-court selections that are loaded with garbage.
These suggestions are pretty basic, but often forgotten. It’s typically the little things that can make a big difference. It’s up to you if you want that difference to be positive or negative.
Here’s to Your Health!
By Nicki On June 5, 2012 No Comments
For years, I’ve been telling people that weight loss is a byproduct of lifestyle, period. Yet many continue to jump on the latest diet trend in hopes of finding the miracle that once and for all melts unwanted fat and delivers the ideal body. Though intellectually people know that’s never going to happen, emotionally it’s a wish many still make every day.
I have always touted whole foods as the secret to a healthy weight. Even with my first book over 10 years ago, I gave the same advice then as I do today; in order to achieve a healthy weight, you need to consider moderate portions of whole, REAL foods.
We have discovered through many studies and personal experience, that excess weight comes from so much of the processed foods we eat. Folks continue to be sucked in by confusing labels that promote, “All natural, gluten-free, fat-free, calorie-free,” it doesn’t matter, they’re likely garbage.
One of the great things about dabbling in the world of health and wellness is that there is always something new, and very often fleeting. For example, remember oats back in the 90′s as being the secret to weight loss? Fat-free in the 80′s? Yet here we are, still battling with our weight and hoping that the miracle that comes along will be fast, easy, painless and permanent.
Will something like that ever happen? As a matter of fact, it’s something that’s been around forever, it’s just that diets are far more glamorous and make the truth far less attractive. The truth, real food. Yep, whole, natural food. No boxes no wrappers, no nothin’, simply whole, real foods. And there’s no better time than summer to experiment, and check out the vast selection of these amazing, natural foods that are kind to your body and your waistline.
As summer kicks in, Farmers Markets are opening and gaining in popularity. Farmers Markets are a wonderful way for small family farms to connect with their community, share their bounty of beautiful, fresh and in some instances, organic produce. I can promise you that the moment you choose to exchange your processed, diet foods for the real thing, change will happen. Your body will thank you for giving it what it needs by losing extra weight and operating in a more energetic way.
However, no matter how healthy food is, quantity is still to be noted. I like to follow my Q2 rule, quality and quantity. Just because something is healthy, doesn’t mean I should eat enough to feed 2 families. Part of being healthy is being kind to your body which includes not overeating.
If you’ve struggled with achieving a weight you’re happy with, why not support your local farmers while supporting your health? There’s nothing better than a meal full of fresh vegetables to make your body love you. And the best part of all, you’ll likely love your body back.
Here’s to your health!
By Nicki On March 11, 2012 4 Comments
I admit, my first attempt at weight loss as an overweight teen was a diet. In fact, it was Weight Watchers. However, back in 1978, WW was significantly different. It really wasn’t a “diet” like we know today, it was an education in healthy eating, a healthy diet. For the first time in years, I abstained from eating fast food, started moving more and ate fruits and vegetables every day. Since that time, weight loss strategies and the ridiculous number of fast-n-easy diets has dramatically changed people’s relationship with food. Instead of discovering how food can work with their body, many people are fighting weight loss and food has become their weapon of choice.
As a senior in high school, I was 50 pounds heavier and on a 5’2″ frame, that’s just not healthy. I knew by how I felt, how I performed each day that something wasn’t right. To be honest, it wasn’t so much how I looked, but more about how I felt. Today, it’s all about how we look, how thin we are and health has taken a back seat. I look at movie stars, models and even reality stars and thin is the new black. The truth is that not everyone is meant to be skinny, and I mean skinny, not thin, Hollywood, Angelina Jolie thigh skinny. And women (and some men) buy into that look as a goal to shoot for. So, they jump on the latest diet that promises to slim your thighs, harden your abs, whittle your waist and remove cellulite. And because of the pressure to meet the expectations of an unrealistic culture, we diet, over and over and over again all in an effort to be- skinny.
Over the last few years, I have become more and more interested in nutrition, how what we eat affects our body as well as our environment. I’ve been fascinated to read the evolution of nutrition over the years. Oddly enough, instead of our country creating amazing, healthy foods to make us smarter and leading edge, we’ve excelled in fast-food restaurants and processed food leaving us all unhealthy and overweight. We see high numbers of obesity, schools cutting out physical education and more and more kids being diagnosed with things never heard of 30 years ago. When I was in grade school, no one had allergies. Maybe one or two kids had asthma. ADD? Autism? ADHD? It was unheard of then.
As my interest in nutrition has grown, so has the way I fuel my body. And the funny thing is I find myself changing and becoming more and more interested in listening to and trusting what my body needs to perform optimally. The way I eat is not designed to help me become thin, not skinny but healthy. Diets that I have reviewed over the years have one goal, to cause weight loss and longevity is irrelevant. These programs figure if they get people to lose weight once, they’ll come back. because they believed it worked before. Hmmm. Over and over and over again, people fall in to the diet trap striving for skinny, to achieve what they perceive to be normal. If only we could rise above the hold that diets clearly have on the 70 million Americans that diet each year.
I recently wrote an article on Plant Based Nutrition. I am a believer. Not only am I believer, I am gradually changing my lifestyle to accommodate more of a plant based diet, not weight loss, health based. Why? Because it’s more along the lines of how my ancestors ate and given the way our environment is constantly compromised, I want to select my foods based on how kind the food is to my body and to the earth. When I’m buying organic simply because it’s organic and dismissing the fact that it was sent here from Mexico or Chile, what kind of carbon imprint is that leaving? Further, how does the nutrition diminish during lengthy transportation? Wouldn’t it make better sense to buy locally even if not necessarily organic? We’ve confused organic with earth and health smart, not always the case.
Imagine if more people took up gardening and learned to eat seasonally vs. expecting perfect produce in the off season. Imagine how differently you would view food if you didn’t have to decipher ingredients on the side of a box that looked more like hieroglyphics versus real food. Eating for health truly is the key to ridding yourself of diets and hanging on to a healthy, strong body.
I believe it’s time to walk away from the world of diets that does nothing to encourage healthy eating options, simply calorie focus. It’s time to realize that if diets were great, obesity and disease would decline, not the case. Getting back to basics with a focus on plant based nutrition, locally grown produce, small farms we can support, we will not only find a wonderful difference in the health of our body, we will discover a great way to positively impact our environment.
Here’s to your health!