[caption id="attachment_1788" align="aligncenter" width="232" caption="Guest Blogger, Andrea Simon"][/caption]
Most of us who consider ourselves runners do it simply because we love it. But if your foray into the running world was anything like mine, it began less as a labor of love, and more as a part of a bigger plan—a plan to lose weight. While there’s no doubt exercise is essential to weight loss and an overall healthy lifestyle, if you’ve ever heard the old adage “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet,” I’m here to tell you, it’s true. In fact, when I first set out on my own weight loss journey, I was exercising every day—sometimes even twice a day—but the thing I attribute most to reaching my weight loss goals was changing the way that I eat.
I am a strong believer in the principle that what you put in your body is what you will get out of it and is the single most determining factor in its appearance and health. Not only that, but I’ve learned that simply paying attention to what you eat (and of course making choices accordingly) is the golden ticket to a healthy weight. In fact, once you start being conscious of what you’re consuming, you may even learn that in some cases you’ve been sabotaging your own weight loss efforts by the very foods (and food practices) you thought were “healthy.” After figuring all this out for myself and finally getting it right, here are just a few tips I’ve learned along the way that have not only helped me meet my goal, but have helped to change my life:
1.) If calories are king, then portions are queen: While most of us already know the importance of reading food labels and knowing how many calories we’re consuming, the area that I’m learning often gets overlooked is serving size. Even when I cook at home, I pay close attention to what's considered a single serving and measure out my portions accordingly. You'd be amazed how something can seem low in calories until you take a look at the serving size, which is usually much smaller than what any average person would eat. A good example of this can be found at one of the gazillion frozen yogurt shops that have become popular over the last year (which I’m SO guilty of frequenting myself). The average shop lists their ‘original’ flavor as containing about 70 calories. I’ve often heard people praise how “guilt-free” and low in calories this is, however, being the calorie-conscious person that I am, I found it awfully strange that while calories are listed, serving size is nowhere to be found. After doing a little research, I learned that a serving at most fro-yo shops is about 3 oz.—sometimes even less. Given the ginormous cups offered at fro-yo shops these days, (I know you’ve seen them!) that’s not much! In fact, since most of these shops charge by the ounce, as a challenge, take a look at your receipt next time and do the math. I guarantee you’ll learn you’re consuming a heck of a lot more than 70 calories!
2.) Just because it sounds healthy, doesn’t mean it is: Much like the aforementioned frozen yogurt debacle, I’ve learned never to take anything at face value, because while it may sound healthy and “lite,” that doesn’t mean it is. Sure a whole wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese sounds and is better than its regular counterpart, with an average of 450 calories (not to mention the high carbs) it’s still quite a significant addition to your daily intake; especially if you’re eating it as a snack. A better choice might be an Arnold sandwich thin or two slices of Ezekiel 4:9 bread, which you can top with a nut butter and honey or all-natural apple butter. Also, while salads are always a great choice, if your salad is topped with cheese, bacon bits, croutons and the whole nine, all while slathered in ranch or Thousand Island dressing, hate to break it to you, but you may as well have opted for the hamburger. Instead, try sticking with lean meats, fruits and veggies, and raw nuts and seeds as toppings. And when it comes to dressings, I’ve found that it’s often safest to stay away from the creamy varieties altogether (since they are typically the highest in calories and fat) and opt for choices in the Italian or vinaigrette family instead. A great trick I really love is using raw apple cider vinegar as a salad dressing. It tastes delicious and has zero calories and zero fat so you can drench your salad to your heart’s content! But, hey—if you know you love your ranch dressing and can’t live without it, simply remember tip #1 and just be mindful of your portions. To do this, consider measuring out a serving or two into a small dish and dipping your fork into the dressing rather than pouring it on top. This will not only help you use less, but it’ll also keep you aware of how much you’re consuming.
3.) There’s a substitute for everything: As with my apple cider vinegar trick, I’ve learned that for every unhealthy food you love, there’s a way to make it healthier or find a healthy alternative, and the small changes can make a huge difference. For instance, instead of bread, I often eat sandwiches on two wheat crackers (my fave is Wasa Crispbread), which not only taste great, but are only 30 calories a slice as opposed to the 70-110 a slice of regular bread. Also, did you know that unsweetened vanilla almond milk has almost half the calories of 2% dairy milk? I’ve switched to this and never looked back! I’m also a big fan of Smart Beat dairy-free cheese slices (25 calories a slice vs. the average 70 calories) and lastly, as a huge pasta lover, I’ve found that whole wheat pastas (again watching portions) and spaghetti squash are just as satisfying as the real thing, and I’ve never heard anyone who took my advice on this disagree!
4.) Prepare, prepare, prepare: One of my rules of thumb is “the best way to know what you’re eating is to prepare it yourself.” As a result, something I’ve found especially helpful to staying on track is packing my breakfast, lunch, and all snacks for work. This way I have wholesome meals and snacks in queue at all times, so I’m not tempted to fall into the office juice and bagel trap, eat fast food for lunch, or head to the vending machine for 3 p.m. munchies. Some of my common snacks include: carrots, cucumbers, and bells peppers with hummus; grapes with a Laughing Cow cheese wedge; a piece of fruit like an orange, apple, or nectarine; or a wheat cracker/rice cake topped with apples slices and drizzled with honey, and a little cinnamon. Now, of course I recognize we can’t always eat only our own food since we all love to eat out from time to time, but even in these cases it’s still possible to be proactive. Before I go to a restaurant, I almost always Google their menu to see if I can find the nutrition information, which often times is available on their website. This helps me review my options and make a healthy choice beforehand rather than getting to the restaurant and letting my eyes make the decision for me. Also, as a person who enjoys having a cocktail or two when I’m out, I’ve even recently began preparing on this front since many cocktails have just as many calories as a full meal. I like to keep a few Crystal Light packets in my purse and if the mood strikes for a drink and I know I want to keep it light, I opt for a vodka and tonic (or club soda) and mix in my packet for an instant low calorie cocktail! Works like a charm!
5.) Your freezer is your friend: If you’re looking to adopt healthier eating habits, some common concerns you may have are: How will I make time to eat healthy? Won’t it be expensive? If I buy a bunch of produce, won’t it spoil before I get a chance to use it all? My answer: Frozen is the way to go! Not only do I stock up on bags of frozen veggies (which are pretty inexpensive I might add), I also purchase frozen chicken breasts and shrimp for easy access when I need a lean protein, I freeze my loaves of Ezekiel Bread and bags of Sandwich Thins to preserve their freshness, and if I find that I’m not using my fresh produce in a timely manner, into the freezer it goes! If you think your bananas are useless once they start to go bad, think again! Peel those suckers and place them in a freezer baggy, then grab them later for smoothies, eat them ‘as-is’ topped with almond butter as a healthy and delicious snack, or throw them in the food processor to make yummy banana softserve.
If you’ve been trying to lose weight or simply adopt a healthier approach to eating, I hope these tips serve you as well as they have me!
For more healthy eating tips, check out Andrea Simon and her blog, Thin Thighs and Sweet Potato Fries.