Healthy Habits

Party dress too tight Five tips to slim down quickly, safely

Generally, this isn’t the time of year that most people are watching their weight – because if they were, they’d probably be watching it go up. But you’d be surprised. It’s not unusual for people to call me in a panic mid-December – realizing they’ve got a big New Year’s eve event coming up – and wondering what they can realistically accomplish in a couple of weeks. Of course, this comes up at other times of the year, too. An upcoming wedding, a cruise or a graduation – all can spark the question: How much can I lose in a couple of weeks?

Let me start by saying that there’s no simple answer that applies to everyone. For one thing, a lot depends on a person’s starting weight. The larger a person is, the more calories it takes for them to maintain their weight. So heavier people can cut their usual calorie intake back quite a bit, and will usually lose more weight in two weeks than a smaller person will.

It really does all come down to calories – one way or another, you’ve got to tip the balance so that you use up more calories than you take in over a period of time in order to see that scale budge. The bigger the gap between the two, the faster you’ll lose.

A pound of fat represents about 3500 stored calories – so if you were to burn up 500 of those stored calories every day for a week, you should lose about a pound of fat. You could eat 500 calories fewer than you need – or you could burn up an extra 500 calories from exercise – to make that happen.

• You need to both cut calories and exercise. If you simply cut calories, you run the risk of cutting back too far, and you won’t have the energy to exercise, and it’s harder to meet nutrient needs when your calories are too restricted.
• Relying solely on exercise to lead to weight loss is tough, too. It takes a lot of activity – like an hour of uninterrupted swimming – to burn 500 calories.
• Focus on the foods that provide the most nutrition with the fewest calories, like vegetables, fruits and very lean proteins like fish and shellfish, poultry breast, egg whites, fat-free dairy products (yogurt, cottage cheese, milk) and protein powders.
• Make sure to include protein at every meal –it will help keep you satisfied from meal to meal.
• It’s okay to cut back on grains for a week or two – you should be getting enough carbohydrate from fruits and veggies to fuel your exercise. After a couple of weeks, though, add back a serving or two of healthy whole grains.

Careful calorie counting is key, though. One approach I often recommend for a jump start is to use meal replacements– like a protein shake made according to a specific recipe or a healthy frozen dinner –twice a day, with a third healthy meal. Then, fill in with fruits and vegetables for snacks. This takes the guesswork out of calorie counting, so you’re more likely to see results.

Food waste Hurts your wallet, harms the environment

It really hurts me to throw away food. Aside from the money that’s being wasted, I’m ashamed to be tossing out food when I know there are those who don’t have enough nutritious food to eat. I felt even worse after I read a recent report1 describing the impact of food waste on the environment. After calculating how much energy it takes to produce our food – and how much of that food we toss out – it was estimated that we could save the energy equivalent of about 350 billion barrels of oil if we didn’t waste any food.

Producing food costs a lot of energy – 10% or more of total US energy consumption goes towards food production. It takes the equivalent of about 1.4 billion barrels of oil to produce, package, prepare, preserve and distribute a year’s worth of food.

So here are the numbers – and they’re staggering. We waste an astonishing 27% of the food that’s produced in this country. We dump out 32% of dairy products, 31% of eggs, 25% of vegetables and 23% of all the fruit that’s produced. Some of our most nutritious foods are literally going down the drain, and we’re wasting huge amounts of energy in the process.

On average, we each waste about 150 pounds of food a year – that’s the body weight of an average person – because we buy too much and we prepare more than we need. And much of what we waste is safe and edible. Aside from the leftovers we don’t get around to, we also throw away a huge amount of unopened foods, or foods that we’ve opened and only used part of – like the remains of a family–sized carton of yogurt or the heels of a loaf of bread.

A lot of people throw out perfectly safe food because they don’t understand the dating system on food labels. Here’s the short course: a sell-by date is just the date that a food has to be pulled from store shelves. But properly stored, foods can last a lot longer than that. Milk, for instance, can easily last another week past that date– eggs could last another three. Even a really perishable food, like ground beef, is good for a couple of days after you buy it – assuming you store it properly. A use-by date is suggested for best flavor or quality – but foods are safe to eat after this date.

Food that’s obviously bad shouldn’t be eaten, of course. When foods are still safe to eat but starting to fade, think about how you can use them. When my apples start to get soft, I’ll make applesauce. If the bread is getting stale, I’ll dry it out and make my own bread crumbs. When the veggies are a little limp, I’ll put them into a soup. Sour milk makes fantastic pancakes.

So add these to your list of New Year’s resolutions to help you reduce your food waste and help the environment: When you shop, buy only what you can consume before the food spoils. Yes, larger packages are usually a better value than smaller ones – but not if the food is perishable and you end up throwing half away. Then, cook only what you know you’ll eat, or have specific plans for your leftovers – plan to use them for another meal, pack up for tomorrow’s lunch, or put them in the freezer.

And don’t serve more than you can (or should) eat. One of the biggest sources of food waste comes from food left on the plate.

Healthy pastas

If you’re resolving to eat more whole grains in the New Year, a good place to start might be with some whole grain pasta. In the past, our main decision in buying pasta was shape – did we want sinewy strands, or curly corkscrews? Nowadays, we’ve got delicious whole wheat pastas or noodles with spinach or tomato added, and we’ve got pasta made with rice, corn or quinoa. So how do these different noodles stack up?

Most people buy regular pasta – it’s made from a type of high-protein wheat – durum or semolina – that gives pasta its characteristic yellow hue. A serving – which is defined on the package as 2 ounces of dry pasta (about a cup cooked, depending on the shape) -– has about 200 calories, a trace of fat, about 2 grams of fiber and around 40 grams of carbohydrate. Not a bad deal, but if you switch to whole wheat pasta, you’ll save about 20 calories and more than triple your fiber per serving. That’s a great deal, nutritionally speaking. And those numbers look more impressive when you consider what people typically eat – not one cup of cooked pasta, but more like three.

There are gluten-free pastas on the shelf, too – made with grains other than wheat, like corn, rice or quinoa. Calorie-wise, they all come in at around 200 per cup, but they may have less fiber and some have less protein than wheat pasta. But for those who are going gluten-free, they’re great alternatives.

I’ve also been seeing more ‘super pastas’ in stores, too – products with more protein and fiber, and even some touting omega-3 fatty acids. The extra 3 grams of protein or so usually comes from a blend of higher protein grains, and ground flaxseed provides the omega-3 fatty acids. These pastas will probably cost you a bit more – also keep in mind that the omega 3s found in flax don’t provide quite the same health benefits as those you get from eating fish. You’d be better off cooking up some whole wheat pasta with some shrimp tossed in.

Those pretty red and green pastas have tomato and spinach powder added to them – but the amounts are so small that they don’t increase the nutritional value all that much. They’re fine if you like the how they look on your plate, but they won’t take the place of a fresh or cooked veggie.

On a dry weight basis, all pastas have about the same calories – around 100 per ounce of dry pasta. But most of us think of our portions in cups, not ounces – so consider this: the calories in cooked pasta can range from 175 to 240 per cup, depending on the shape. So if you’re a calorie-watcher, go for the big wagon wheels or the bow ties instead of the fine angel hair. The big shapes pack less tightly, so you’ll get fewer calories per cup.

I’ll admit that up until the last year or two, most whole grain pastas were not for me. When I tried the first whole grain pastas to hit the market, I found them tough and grainy. But the products have gotten so much better – their texture is a true match for regular pasta, and the nuttiness of the whole grain adds a depth of flavor to finished dishes that I’ve really come to love.

Which milk is best for you

If you’ve spent any time staring into the dairy case lately, there are enough milk choices to make your head spin. No longer is the decision simply whether to buy regular, reduced fat, low fat or skim – we’ve got goat’s milk, and milks made from soybeans, almonds, rice, oats and even hemp.  But making nutritional comparisons among all these choices is no easy task.

Cow’s milk and goat’s milk are great protein sources, but some people can’t tolerate their natural lactose.  Almond milk is lowest in calories, but it contains very little protein  – and some brands can have a fair amount of salt.  Hemp milk, although it provides some healthy omega-3 fatty acids, doesn’t offer much protein, either.  Neither do rice or oat milk, but at least they’re naturally mild in flavor – so some might prefer them over soy milk which can be a tad bitter. So how do you choose?

Get a boost of calcium and protein, with low fat or nonfat cow’s milk or low fat goat’s milk – or soy milk if you’re looking for a non-dairy alternative.  The cow or goat milk will give you somewhere in the range of 7-10 grams of protein per cup, along with about a third of your daily calcium needs – all for 90-120 calories or so.  Ditto for the soy milks, which are also naturally cholesterol-free, and don’t contain lactose (although lactose-free cow’s milk is fairly widely available, too).

Some people have trouble digesting some of soy’s natural carbohydrates – excess gas is not an uncommon complaint among soy milk drinkers.  And, since plain soy milk may be an acquired taste, keep in mind that the flavored ones have added sugar – and more calories.

Almond milk, like soy, is plant-based, so it’s naturally cholesterol-free.  It’s also lactose-free, and has the fewest calories – averaging about 60 per cup.  But almond milk contains only a pinch of ground nuts – almonds are usually listed as an ingredient after water and sweeteners (although, to be fair, most soy milks list water and sweeteners first, too). Almond milk doesn’t offer much protein –only 1 gram per cup, but most are calcium-fortified, so this might be a good choice if you simply want something with very few calories to wet your whistle.

Like almond milk, the plusses of rice, oat and hemp milks are more about what they don’t contain – no lactose, no saturated fat, no cholesterol.  Of the three, rice has the least protein (1 gram per cup, vs. about 4 for oat or hemp) and rice and oat milks have naturally mild, sweet flavors so they usually have less sugar.  All are calcium-fortified, too, often to levels that come close to matching what’s found in cow’s milk.  But they’ll cost you somewhere between 100 to 120 calories per cup.

Allergies to rice and hemp are rare – something for the allergy-prone to keep in mind.  They’re also gluten-free – as are all milk and milk alternatives, with the exception of oat milk.

What’s next? Salty camel’s milk is set to hit Britain’s supermarket shelves later this year.  Could the U.S. be far behind?

Roasting vegetables Making the most of the fall harvest

The change of seasons brings with it a new group of fruits and vegetables you can enjoy. Apples, root vegetables – like carrots and sweet potatoes – and all the cabbage family foods, like broccoli and cauliflower, are at their peak now.  And they’re all great candidates for roasting – one of my favorite fall cooking methods.

With the grilling season over, I start giving a lot more foods the roasting treatment.  The oven’s dry heat caramelizes the natural sugars in foods and brings a depth of flavor to fruits and vegetables that summer grilling can’t touch.

If you’ve never roasted root vegetables, you should give them a try.  Roasted carrots are particularly delicious.    Toss them with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then spread out on a cookie sheet and roast at 425 degrees for about a half hour until they’re tender.  The vinegar turns into a sticky, syrupy glaze that coats them irresistibly.  You can give the same treatment to sweet potatoes or beets – tossing them with something tart before roasting like lemon or lime juice, vinegar, or even pomegranate juice contrasts with their natural sweetness.

Roasted veggies make a great side dish, but on the off chance there are any leftovers, they’re great added to soups and stews, or you can slice them up cold and dress with vinaigrette, or add to mixed greens to give some fall flavor to your tossed salad.

I was never much of a cauliflower lover until I started roasting it; now it’s become a fall staple at my house.  Roasting softens the strong flavor – the cauliflower gets sweeter, and the texture becomes almost meaty.  I coat the florets and a sliced onion with a dash of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and curry powder, and then roast.  Broccoli and Brussels sprouts – other veggies that are often a hard sell – are also delicious roasted with some oil and garlic.

You can roast fruits, too – and fall apples are fantastic when they’re prepared this way.  Pretty much any variety will do, and you don’t need to peel them – just cut in halves or quarters, remove the core and spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick spray and roast like you would the veggies.  You can toss them with a little lemon juice, apple juice or spices first if you want, but if you start with tasty fresh apples, they’re really good on their own.

Healthy Halloween Controlling the candy monster

When I was little, there was a guy down the street who bucked the Halloween candy trend, and instead pulled quarters from behind our ears. His place was really popular, but he also knew all the kids in the neighborhood, so we all knew that one quarter was the limit – no circling the block and coming back for more. But now it seems that in this era of supersizing – where more is always better and there are almost no limits – we’ve managed to supersize Halloween, too. 

No longer is it just about scary costumes and fun with friends and family. The focus seems to be more on who can collect the most candy. I don’t recall exactly what I used to carry my loot, but I’m positive it wasn’t a pillowcase – which, thanks to its light weight and large size, seems to be the preferred method for hauling Halloween booty.

Does anyone really need a pillowcase full of candy?

I don’t want to spoil anyone’s holiday – but when you recognize that Halloween revelers spend the evening collecting a staggering 600 million pounds of candy from strangers, perhaps there are things we can do to make us feel as if we’re a contributing just a little bit less to the madness.

We’ve learned some lessons from food psychology research that might well apply here.
For example, we know that people eat less from smaller bowls or plates than larger ones – people judge ‘how much they have’ based on how well it fills up a plate, bowl or cup. We also know that people serve themselves less when they’re dipping or pouring from small containers rather than larger ones.

So what if we dole out candy from a small bowl rather than a huge cauldron? Maybe kids would take a little less. And, if we provide our own kids with smaller containers for collecting goodies, they might be satisfied with less, too. All they really want is to go home with a full container – whatever size it is. So out with the pillowcases – and bring back the old-school plastic jack o’lanterns.

The other thing we’ve learned is that the more variety we’re faced with, the more we’re likely to serve ourselves, too. We tend to eat more at buffets for this reason. The same should hold true for candy. If you offer the little goblins an array of candy, they’re probably going to try to take one of each – and you might feel a twinge of guilt for indulging their gluttony. But, limit your offerings to just one type of candy, and it’s more likely they’ll just take one.

You could, of course, buck the candy trend altogether, too. Pulling coins from behind kids’ ears may have lost its appeal, but you could pass out small packs of nuts, colorful stickers, pencils, temporary tattoos and Halloween-themed party favors – all guilt-free alternatives to traditional sugar-laden treats.

Don’t let family & friends ruin your healthy diet

A few months ago, I got a call from a long-time patient who hadn’t been in for a while. The last time I had seen her, she was doing so well with her diet and exercise program – she lost about 25 pounds with another 20 to go – that we agreed to loosen the reins between us a bit. So when she called, I expected her to give me the good news that she’d reached her goal. Instead, she asked if she could come back in to see me – and if she could bring her husband.

“You need to talk to him,” she said, “because lately, I feel like he’s sabotaging me. Every time I turn around, he’s bringing goodies into the house. Then last night he told me that he liked me better when I had more meat on my bones!”

No matter what dietary changes you’re trying to make – whether you’re looking to lose weight, lower your cholesterol or keep your blood sugar in check – you’re likely to run into a diet wrecker or two. Maybe your spouse cooks a high-calorie meal (“you’ve got to eat this, I made it just for you!”) or your co-workers entice you (“you’re doing so well, you can come have greasy fast food with us just this once”). Then there are the ones who hint that they liked the “old you” better, often because you are becoming less like them – and more like someone they could only hope to be.

There are all sorts of reasons why people interfere with our efforts at self-improvement. Sometimes the intentions are well-meaning – after all, what better way to show someone you care than to offer up their favorite food? But sometimes there’s a twinge of jealousy, too. While you’re getting fit and healthy, there are those around you who aren’t – and your success is making them look and feel more like failures. A man who sees his partner getting slimmer and stronger may worry that he’ll lose her. So – like my patients’ husband – he might do a subtle sabotage. He’ll tell her he misses eating ice cream together in front of the TV, or that he misses her curves.

I knew from my patient that her husband was carrying a little extra weight himself, so I had them come in for a visit – sort of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” approach. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Bring two people into the same room to discuss a potential hot topic, and you’re never quite sure where it’s going to go. But when it goes well – which it does more often than not – both parties end up with a better understanding of what they should do, and why. It also gives them a chance to talk about the adjustments they each might need to make, and to commit to offering support, not sabotage. And usually, everybody wins. My patient and her husband started cooking together, and he started walking with her every night after dinner. Now she’s almost reached her goal, and he’s feeling great, too.

But it does take a lot of toughening up to deflect some of the sabotage. You can try the subtle approach – “yes, those pork rinds look delicious – maybe later”. When that doesn’t work, you just have to be more direct – “Mom, I love your fried chicken and I love you, but I’m trying to keep my cholesterol down”. Let your co-workers know that you’re the same person you always were, that you’d love to join them for happy hour – and that it would be really, really helpful if they could respect your efforts by not trying to tempt you with hot wings.


Adult picky eaters

Picky eaters can drive parents crazy – kids who demand the same foods day after day, or turn up their noses at foods they’ve never even tried.  But most grow out of it. Every once in a while, though, I’ll run across a grown adult who is as picky as a toddler.  Unlike the rest of us – who have a pretty short list of foods we’d rather not eat – these extremely picky adults have a very different short list, one made up of just a few foods they’re actually willing to eat.  While it’s tempting to just dismiss this – on the assumption that these folks are just choosing to be stubborn and rigid – research is suggesting that there may be other forces at work.

Typically, the food repertoire of very picky adults is so limited that it can actually interfere with their work or social life.  Their food tastes lean towards bland, salty, processed foods – French fries, grilled cheese and vanilla ice cream, for example – and little else.   Fruits, vegetables and spices are almost universally shunned, and their entire diet might be limited to only 10 or 20 foods.  Many say that the majority of foods they’re exposed to are simply disgusting – an unappetizing appearance, texture, color or odor are all grounds for rejection.  Understandably, many extremely fussy eaters try to avoid business functions and social occasions that involve food – which is pretty hard to do -so as to keep their condition under wraps.

I had a client like this not too long ago.  He was a successful investment banker, but business lunches were an absolute nightmare for him.  He wouldn’t touch fish, poultry, salads, soups, or vegetables – and subsisted primarily on bread, rice, well-cooked beef and the one fruit he could stomach – canned pineapple.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Duke University are trying to better understand this finicky eating, or what they are calling ‘selective eating disorder’.  They’ve set up the world’s first registry for picky eaters, the Food F.A.D. Study (Finicky Eating in Adults), in which participants are logging their eating habits and medical histories into an online questionnaire.  It’s hoped that the information gathered from the nearly 10,000 registrants to date will shed some light on an issue that, for now, remains pretty murky.

It’s not clear whether extreme food pickiness is psychological in nature, or physiological, or a combination of the two.  It’s possible that finicky eaters might perceive flavors, odors or textures differently, since so many are deemed inedible based on odor or texture alone.  In some cases, food allergies or swallowing problems seem to be at the root.  Or, extreme pickiness could be a form of food phobia.  Some persnickety eaters say that many foods simply don’t look like food to them – a plate of spaghetti may just as well be a plate of worms.

At this point, research has yet to account for the basis of extremely finicky eating.  And until it’s better understood, the best we can do is to try to help picky adults get over their extreme fear of new foods.  And it’s a slow, stepwise process.   I finally convinced my client to try a piece of fresh pineapple – which he did – but whether he’ll ever actually like it is yet to be seen.



The truth about sugar in fruit

I was teaching a class, and a student dismissed the health benefits of fruit because, as she put it, “it’s full of sugar”.  You won’t be surprised to hear this wasn’t the first time I’d heard this ‘sugar in fruit = bad’ idea.

This thought that fruit is somehow a bad thing to eat came into full swing with the low carb diet craze a few years ago. But the myth persists. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear someone tell me that they avoid fruit because it’s “all sugar” or “loaded with carbs”. So, I’m here to set the record straight and come to the defense of some of the world’s healthiest foods – fresh, whole fruits.

Sugar in fruit – what are the facts?

I’ll tackle the “fruit is all sugar” statement first – because it’s just plain wrong. Fresh fruit offers so much more than the natural sugar it contains – including water, vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients (those naturally-occurring plant compounds that have wide ranging beneficial effects on the body). Where else can you get a package like that for about 75 calories per serving?

The idea that fruit is “loaded with carbs” or is “full of sugar” needs to be put into perspective, too. It’s true that when you eat fruit, the overwhelming majority of the calories you consume are supplied by carbohydrate – mostly in the form of fructose, which is the natural sugar in fruit.

But that’s the nature not just of fruit, but of all plant foods – they’re predominantly carbohydrate (and that means not just natural sugars, but healthy starches as well as structural elements, like cellulose, that provide fiber). When you eat vegetables, the majority of the calories you’re eating come from carbohydrate, too. But you don’t hear people complaining that vegetables are “loaded with carbs”.

Before dismissing foods as being loaded with sugar, or too high in carbs, consider not only the amount of sugar or carbs you’re eating, but the form of the carbohydrate, too. There’s a big difference between the nutritional value of the natural carbohydrates found in fruits and other plant foods – the sugars, starches and fibers – and what’s found (or, more accurately, what’s not found) in all the empty calories we eat from added sugars that find their way into everything from brownies to barbecue sauce.

Faced with a serving of fruit, how much sugar are we talking about, anyway? An average orange has only about 12 grams of natural sugar (about 3 teaspoons) and a cup of strawberries has only about 7 grams – that’s less than two teaspoons. And either way, you’re also getting 3 grams of fiber, about a full day’s worth of vitamin C, healthy antioxidants and some folic acid and potassium to boot – and it’ll only cost you about 50 or 60 calories. “All sugar”? I think not.

By contrast, a 20-ounce cola will set you back about 225 calories and, needless to say, won’t be supplying any antioxidants, vitamins, minerals or fiber. You’ll just be chugging down some carbonated water, maybe some artificial color and flavor, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 grams of added sugar – about 1/3 of a cup.

Now that’s what I call “full of sugar”.

Revealed: Why sleep is a secret weapon for improved fitness

Revealed: Why sleep is a secret weapon for improved fitness

Tired of not getting the best results from your nutrition and exercise plan? You might actually be tired.
My advice? Make time for quality rest. Go to sleep, wake up energized and get the best results from your fitness plan!

A good rest, in my opinion, can sometimes be as beneficial as a good workout. This is especially true if you have a busy, demanding schedule. Today, I want to share with you some of the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep and give you tips to help improve your sleep quality. Insufficient sleep can sabotage even the most disciplined health plan because tiredness  and everyday fatigue can often make you fall into what I call the  “no results sleepy body cycle.”

A little known secret weapon for fitness: Go to sleep

Improving your sleep quality and creating good sleep habits may help you to improve your body composition and your overall mood.  Next time you’re planning an early night but get sidetracked think about how easy it is to find yourself in a vicious circle that leaves you feeling more tired than ever!

  • Lack of sleep can create an energy slump that you feed with sugary snacks or caffeine.
  • Eating carbohydrates and caffeine late at night can disrupt your sleep or prevent you from falling asleep when bedtime comes around.
  • Unhealthy weight gain can make you feel stressed out; high levels of stress can negatively impact your body composition goals and body confidence.
  • …then the cycle repeats.

Sleep and lifestyle demands

Many parents set wonderful bedtime habits for their children. A bath, story time, a warm glass of milk… yet for themselves, they collapse on the couch and get very little good-quality sleep. I know this first-hand—as a mom, I’ve been very conscious about setting a good bedtime routine for my kids. However on some occasions, I fall very short of the 6-8 hours of quality sleep I need per night.

My body feels and looks tired when I’m not getting adequate rest. And that’s no good. I bet that you start to feel increasingly lethargic if you aren’t sleeping well too. And poor quality rest means it’s hard to find the energy for a good workout.

Sleep and Fitness

You may be reading this and thinking ‘how are improved sleep habits going to help boost my fitness level and improve my body composition results?’ Here’s a little bit of exercise science for you:

It’s not the actual workout in the gym alone that helps your body to positively evolve and adapt. Exercise actually places stress on your body, and it’s your body’s ability to respond to and rebuild from this stress that creates growth, results and body improvement. This is why nutrition and recovery are an essential part of any good exercise/athletic training routine.

4 good bedtime habits to go to sleep

Create a wind-down routineA little known secret weapon for fitness: Go to sleep

I find that a face cleansing routine using warm water and my favorite products gets me into a bedtime frame of mind. I feel as though I’m removing all the dirt and stress from the day. It’s my internal cue to go to sleep after a long day.

Technology ban

Avoid using the computer and TV as part of your bedtime routine as much as possible. The screen on these devices just further stimulates your senses. Sometimes when you’re very tired, you’ll fall asleep with the TV on… and a few hours later, you’ll be disappointed when the noise from the TV wakes you up from a perfect slumber. Instead, calm your mind with reading a good book or listening to soothing music.

Avoid a late night sugar rush

Avoid sugary foods and alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol in particular can be responsible for disrupting the most important part of your sleep cycle and could wake you up in the middle of the night. A better solution would be to try calming your body with simple yoga stretches or start to practice meditation.

Lights out

It’s important to sleep in a room that’s dark because lights can be stimulating. Exposure to light also affects your natural circadian rhythm. It feels natural to go to sleep when it’s dark and venture out for fresh air when it’s bright. Turn off all of the lights at bedtime. If your sleep environment is naturally lit, or if you’re a night-shift worker, consider installing light-blocking curtains. If you’re a frequent traveller like me, use a good eye mask on your travels. Excess light can disrupt sleep.

I hope my tips on good sleep habits work for you. The next time you need a good excuse to head to bed early, you can say, “I’m going to get a little extra sleep to help build my six-pack!”

If you have any good winding down habits that you think could help people go to sleep and improve their personal fitness level, please share them in the comments section.

Written by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA. Samantha is Director of Fitness Education at Herbalife. it is orignially posted here

Understand the meaning and why fear the fat

Sheer the word “fat,” and most people shake. But, I’m not talking today about the kind of fat that deposits under our skin, making us soft and bulbous. I’m talking about the kinds of fat that we eat.

Fat, more than any other component of our diet, causes the most confusion. Everyone has an view as far as how much to eat, what kinds to eat, which ones are healthy and which ones should be evaded. It seems like every month there is a new “scientific study” hyping one kind of fat over another that contradicts the last study. There are many misconceptions and myths about fat in our diet, so I hope to address the most common ones and help you sort out the facts.

1. Eating fat makes us fat. True, dietary fat has more calories per gram (9 calories per gram) than either protein or carbohydrates (4 calories per gram), but it’s the total calories we eat that lead to weight gain. Too often we avoid fat but end up replacing those calories with sugar. When excess sugar is not burned off, it is stored as body fat. Eating fats slows down our digestion and helps us feel full longer, which can actually help with weight loss.

2. Our bodies don’t need fat in our diet. We can’t live without some fat in our diet. Fat gives us energy, helps absorb vitamins, including A, D, E and K , helps make necessary hormones, and is essential for nerve and brain function. A fat-deficient diet can result in stunted growth, reproductive failure, skin lesions, kidney and liver disorders, vision problems, subtle neurological problems, and chronic intestinal disease. In fact, 25 percent to 30 percent of our calories should come from fat.

3. It is best to stick to low-fat or fat-free foods. Not always. Processed foods that are low fat or fat-free have additional elements added to make up for the lack of fat. Often, the ingredient is sugar. Fat-free does not mean calorie-free, and many reduced-fat foods have as many or more calories than their traditional replacements.

4. Any food high in fat is high in cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found only in animal foods. Vegetable oils and nuts do not have cholesterol.

5. Eating fat will raise my cholesterol and increase my risk for heart disease. Eating the wrong foods can definitely raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease.

But some fats can actually help you lower your risks and improve your lipid levels. Fats found in fish, nuts, seeds, some vegetable oils and avocados help decrease inflammation and increase good cholesterol levels.

6. All fats are the same. True, all fats have the same 9 calories per gram, but they are not equal when it comes to health benefits. There are several different types of fats; the most talked about are:

  •  Saturated fat: Found in animal products, like meat and dairy, this is the type of fat that can negatively affect cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease. However, there are more than two dozen different kinds of saturated fat and not all of them are harmful. Coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil are saturated fats but appear to be metabolized quickly, help reduce inflammation and do not elevate lipids. Beef and chocolate have a kind of saturated fat that that isn’t harmful to our health.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: This is the kind of fat found in most vegetable oils, like corn and soybean. These can help improve cholesterol levels.
  • Monounsaturated fat: Considered the healthiest kind of fat, you can find this in olive or canola oils, nuts, avocados and olives. Monounsaturated fat can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Trans fat: Worst of the worst, trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats, increase our risk of heart disease and should be avoided. These are mostly found in processed foods.
  • Omega 3 fat: Found in fish, flax and chia seeds, omega 3 fatty acids can help decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.

7. If you stick to healthy fats, there is no need to limit how much fat you eat. Healthy fat or not, all fat is still a major source of calories. Unless you can afford unlimited calories, it’s best to eat a diet moderate in fat.

Make snacking frequently your healthy habit

Spend some time around kids – or your household pets – and you’ll see that frequent grazing is the instinctual way to eat over the course of the day.

We certainly evolved as frequent foragers, not meal eaters, and frequent snacking isn’t necessarily a bad thing – if the foods you choose are appropriate, and if you are truly hungry, it can be a healthy habit.

We usually get hungry about every three to four hours, so several smaller meals spread throughout the day may actually prevent you from eating too much at meal time.   Snacks should have some healthy carbs – like fruit, veggies, whole grains (like crackers) – along with some protein (like nuts, soy protein products or nonfat dairy foods).

The afternoon stretch between lunch and dinner can be a difficult time – many people try to “tough it out”, but end up eating too much at dinner.  Rather than a small snack, try having a ‘second lunch’ – something a little more substantial like a protein shake, a cup of cottage cheese with some fruit, or a low calorie frozen meal.  Then, you can do your cutting back at dinner time.

If after-dinner snacking is a problem for you, try brushing your teeth after dinner.   It works as a great signal to stop eating.

This Post is Written by Susan Bowerman originally posted here