TFS Wednesday: Make it from Scratch

There are certain foods that are just hell on a diet.  Not only are they high in calories (and points) they are foods that have been made too convenient because you can get them frozen or in a large quantity at a restaurant. 

In the past, it was much more difficult to have these foods, especially on a regular basis.  In the time before frozen convenience foods and cheap restaurant food, it was easier to lose or maintain your weight.  

So, here is a solution that lets you have your cake and eat it too (or have your cake and diet too).  Any food that falls into your high calorie/high point category that you LOVE; only allow yourself to have it if you make it from scratch.

Cake is a great example.  Making a cake from scratch (no box mix) takes time and specific ingredients, then there’s the icing.  That’s one of the reasons that cake was considered a special event item in the past.  If you are dying for cake, make one, buy all the ingredients, plan the time to make it, then share the love when it is done.  

Same goes for french fries.  Potatoes aren’t expensive, so restaurants are happy to dish up a heaping helping along side anything you order.  They (usually) taste great and are so easy to just keep picking at as you wait for others to finish or the check to be paid.  To make them correctly at home takes time, effort, grease.  If you LOVE fries, get the best potatoes you can, cut them, soak them, fry them, then share them.  This same idea applies to potato chips too.  

Ice cream is another good item to put on your “only from scratch” list.  If you made one luscious batch a month and shared with your family or friends, you could have full fat, full of goodies, ice cream (and not the pretend stuff).  

Pasta can be put in this category.  It takes time, effort, and supplies to make a batch of home-made pasta (not to mention the sauce).  Bread can go on this list too.  Homemade bread is super yummy and worth the effort, occasionally.  Imagine the calorie/point savings you would get from only having bread when you made it yourself. 

The other upsides to all this cooking is learning to make different foods and making them exactly the way you like them.  Get your family involved.  Let them see what goes into making their favorite foods and get creative with new recipes. 

TFS Wednesday: Soup, Soup, Hooray

I’m so excited, it’s cold and rainy here today!  It’s a soup day! 

Soup is one of the easiest to make and most filling ways to eat healthy.  It is also total comfort food.  The first rainy, cold day of fall just begs for a big bowl of soup and a mug of hot tea. 

I have nothing against good old canned soup.  It’s not the best for nutrition, but it is convenient, cheap, easy-to-store, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.  For super-easy soup days, I break out my crockpot.  Start with a liner (which makes clean up fantastically easy), add in a can of chicken noodle soup, maybe one can of cream of chicken soup, throw in a frozen bag of mixed veggies; leave this on low for a few hours and you have a quasi-healthy meal that your kids will love.

Besides canned soup, I always keep a big supply of chicken broth on hand.  I can go Costco size with this because it really does have 1001 uses. Almost any vegetable simmered with some spices in chicken broth makes a great soup.  To make it into a low-fat cream soup add some potato and/or cauliflower then run either all or part of the soup through the blender.  If I am feeling indulgent I will add a 1/2 tablespoon of real cream to the top of my veggie soup and maybe a few seeds or nuts for crunch.  

Chicken broth also makes a great warm-you-up and fill-you-up snack.  Just pour some in a mug and heat it, then sip it slowly.  It keeps hunger at bay and can be put in a thermal mug to take with you when you are on the go.   

Today’s soup is going to be one of my all time favorites, Pacific Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup (it’s the big container in the back of the photo).  One very-filling cup is only 110 calories and 2 grams of fat with 5 grams of protein.  To jazz it up I’m adding a few spicy sausage ravioli.  

Which brings up my final point about soup, if you have a favorite, possibly high calorie, dish, you can almost always recreate it for fewer calories as a soup. For example, I love reuben sandwiches, which usually come on buttered toasted bread with lots of 1000 island dressing.  So, I created reuben soup; beef broth base with cabbage and corn beef and potatoes and lil rye bread croutons, which I of course top off with a little broiled swiss cheese.  Yummmm!

TFS Wednesday: Sleep or Eat

When I heard the results of the study linking a lack of sleep to weight gain, I thought “well duh.”  At the time I had an infant and a two year old.  I wasn’t sleeping much at all, and with a little experimentation of my own I figured out that I could keep my sleep-deprived brain functioning by substituting food for sleep.  

The plan worked great for keeping me awake to take care of my kids, but it failed at helping me control my weight (and take care of me.)  

If you think about it sleep and food are both used to give you energy, so one can be substituted for the other.  When people lack food they sleep more because their bodies want to conserve energy and when they lack sleep, they crave more food to give them energy.  

There are times in your life, like when you are a new mom, that it is difficult to get adequate sleep, but most of the time we are the ones guilty of depriving our bodies of sleep.  We develop bad habits like staying up to watch late night comedians or drinking coffee late in the day so we will stay up longer and work.  You might not be missing enough sleep to cause you to walk around in a stupor all day; the effect might be much more subtle than that.  Like you might be eating more and always wondering why you are so hungry.  

Luckily, the answer is simple.  Go to bed (alone, and sleep).  One good night of sleep probably won’t make a huge difference, but better sleep habits will.  If you need proof, keep track in a journal or calendar.  Note how many  hours you sleep each night for a few weeks and how hungry you are in general.  I will bet you will see a pattern of sleep deprivation, hunger and weight gain. 

TFS Wednesday: Eating in Order

My tip for today comes in especially handy for me in restaurants.  When I am home I usually make a meal that fits within the calorie or point range I need for the day.  It’s not often that you can order from a menu and keep your entire meal within your range.  So, you are left with using your will power to only eat part of some special treat foods that you rarely have at home. 

The easiest way I have found around this dilemma is to start with the healthiest foods first and work your way to the least healthy.  

This is especially easy if you can start with a salad or veggie soup.  Just be sure to ask for the dressing on the side of the salad and dip your fork into the dressing as you eat.  That way you get dressing in every bite and you use just a little dressing (and you can order the real stuff, because it is sooooo much better than the diet!)

After a salad or clear or veggie soup, start on any vegetables on you plate.  Eat all of them first.  Then start in on the protein (meat, fish, chicken, etc.) and finally, if you have room, eat a little of the starch (potato, rice, pasta).  

The same idea works at home when I am really hungry and not sure what I want to eat.  If I eat some carrot sticks, sweet pepper, or celery, then allow that to cut my hunger, I can make a better decision about what else to eat.  

Even at fast food restaurants, go for the most nutrition first.  If you have a burger and fries, the burger will give you more nutrition, so eat that (try it with only the bun bottom, that can save a lot of unnecessary points/calories), then start on the fries.  If you are with a kid and they won’t eat the apples in their happy meal, flinch those and eat them before your fries.  

Finally, the theory works for dessert too.  If I’ve saved room and calories to have dessert (or it just looks so amazingly good) I can start with the part that has the least calories/points and only have a little of the rest.  If it’s pie, I start with any fruit filling, then eat part of the crust.  If its cake, I eat the cake first and some of the icing last.  

TFS Wednesday: Shop the Whole Store

My tip for this week is along the same theme of not limiting what you eat while you are losing weight or keeping it off.  

Hands down, the best thing to happen to losing weight is the nutrition label.  Reading these is an eye opening experience, in both a good and bad way.  If you start reading and comparing, you will see that the numbers on some “diet” foods are not as good as, or very close to “real” food.  (And the real food almost always tastes better.)

My eyes were opened to this at my first Weight Watchers meeting when my leader explained that she wasn’t about to cook one meal for her family and different food for herself.  She pointed out that a serving of Stouffer’s Lasagna (with meat) was only 7 points per cup (on the old point system).  I was sold.  I could easily spare 7 points for a filling, easy-to-prepare meal.  I almost always have one of these in my freezer.  It is my ultimate backup meal plan.  

That led me to looking around at any and everything in the grocery store that caught my eye.  I found that Bagel Bites were one point each (old system).  Whipped cream cheese is only slightly higher than low fat cream cheese and it tastes soooo much better (in my opinion.)  When I was completely tired of the diet frozen dinners, I branched out to checking the calories on the regular meals,  I was amazed to see they were often only a point or two (or 100-150 calories) more.  This opened up so many more options for me.  

Now checking nutrition labels has gotten even easier with scanners on phones.  It’s important to keep a close eye on portion size, but I now scan away all over the store. Some of the foods that I never would have thought of as “diet” but I buy regularly, because they are low in numbers and versatile, include:  frozen hash browns, refrigerated buttermilk biscuits, frozen pizza dough, Alfredo sauce in a jar and dark chocolate syrup.  On all of these the nutrition numbers will vary by brand, but in the case of Alfredo sauce and chocolate syrup, a little goes a long way on flavor.

TFS Wednesday: PMA

I am a glass-half-full kind of girl.  It is my natural point of view to see the positive in almost any situation and I’m usually perplexed when others aren’t enjoying something as much as me.  I truly enjoy dieting.  Not just the results, but the process of dieting.  I see it as a big game and I love to win the game.  

Those who were successful on Weight Watchers,when I worked there, tended to have a positive mental attitude (PMA) and I am sure that is true for any weight loss program.  Seeing weight loss (and maintenance) as a challenge rather than a burden will not only increase your chances of success, but it will also make the trip a lot more pleasant.  

I was lucky to start Weight Watchers with a super-positive leader.  Diane set everyone up to see all the foods they could have while losing weight.  She encouraged us to try lots of different foods, and keep enjoying the foods we love in moderation.  She never posted a list of bad or off limit foods (because I don’t think she had one.) It’s possible to see any diet plan this way, but I admit that it is much easier with Weight Watchers.

Somewhere along the line I started to look at my daily points (or calories, etc.) like money.  This made the game much more fun.  At the time I was allotted 22 points per day plus the bonus points.  I looked at it like someone (maybe the magic diet fairy) gave me $22 to spend everyday, plus bonus money for the week.  I got excited.  It was mine to decide how I wanted to spend it, and more would show up tomorrow.  The bonus points were just beyond fun.  I would buy all sorts of splurges and savor the thrill of every one.

I challenged myself every day to use my “money” to get the best food bargains I could find (like those I posted on Monday).  I felt like I was winning the game when I found foods that I love the taste, I knew I was getting good nutrition, and I only had to spend a little of my daily 22.  Birthdays, holidays and other events were challenging, but it was a fun challenge.  Our family always gets Gigi’s cupcakes for birthdays (16 points each!!).  Instead of whining that I can’t have an entire cupcake (and the diabetic coma to go with it), I just spread the yum (and sugar) out over three days.  

The way I see it, it’s just more fun for me.  

TFS Wednesday: If You Bite It, Write It.

This week’s tip is sort of a continuation of last week’s “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.”  Once you make a menu plan you will need a place to write it down and keep track of what you actually do eat (which sometimes will not be what was on your menu plan). 

When you first begin dieting (or begin again), it’s important to keep track of everything that you eat.  It can be a HUGE pain in the butt (and another major reason people quit in week 2 or 3), but there are ways to make the process easier.  First, let me point out why tracking is so important. 

Tracking what you actually eat puts you in touch with reality and lets you see the big picture (no pun intended.)  Tracking, if done right, can be shocking.  When you take the time to look up the calories or points or carbs in some of your favorite foods the big picture of how you  put on so much weight becomes really clear.  There are so many foods disguised as healthy that are amazingly  high in fat, calories, points, carbs, (or whatever you are tracking.)  Salads are usually one of the most shocking items.  Restaurant salads, especially those with the dressing already on the salad, are almost always up there with fast food hamburgers in numbers.  Now, the salad has more nutrition, but it is still too much. 

710 Calorie Salad versus a 510 Calorie Quarter Pounder with Cheese

 One way to make tracking easier is to stick to a few favorite items as I noted last week.  See how the foods you already know and love fit in your plan.  You might have to modify them a little (dressing on the side, half a serving with more veggies, etc.), but they are a great place to start. 

Lose It! App for smart phones and tablets

Another way to make it easier are all the apps and electronic gadgets available.  My favorite free app for tracking my food intake is “Lose It!”  There are many on the market, but this one is simple to set up and use and has the ability to input a food using the camera on your phone to scan the bar code on a food.  It also keeps track of my past meals, so repeat meals can be added with one or two swipes.

If you don’t have a smart phone or a way to track electronically, pen and paper still work just as well as they always have, although access to the internet will make it so much easier to find nutrition information on food you like. 

Which leads to my final point.  You want to be as accurate as possible, but this really isn’t rocket science.  There will be foods that you cannot find the exact nutritional numbers for, local restaurants are one category that comes to mind.  This is when I just get as close as I can.  If I have fish tacos at my local Mexican restaurant, they are probably close to those served at a chain restaurant, so I can use that nutrition number. 

Just be careful that you are not cheating (yourself) in lots of small ways.  Those are the calories that add up quickly and are forgotten just as quickly.  Samples at Costco count.  The last four bites of your kid’s pizza counts.  Liquid calories count.  It all counts, so bite it, then write it.