Recipe: You won't believe how easy (and delicious!) this spaghetti squash is

It's no secret I love spaghetti squash. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the health benefits and basically why it rocks, so check it out if you haven't already. This recipe is my latest take on the versatile vegetable, and it's easily now one of my favorites. With the perfect amount of flavor, it's a staple side or base to a main dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large spaghetti squash

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Salt

  • Black pepper

  • 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

  2. Cut spaghetti squash length-wise and scrape the seeds out with a spoon

  3. Brush the inside of the squash halves with 1 tbsp oil (1/2 tbsp each) and season generously with salt and pepper

  4. Place the halves face up on a baking sheet for about 30 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork. Then, remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to touch.

  5. Use a fork to scrape the inside of the squash, creating spaghetti-like strands. Set aside.

  6. Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until lightly brown (about 3 minutes).

  7. Turn off heat, add cheese and reserved spaghetti squash to the pan. Use tongs to evenly coat.

  8. Enjoy!

Note: If you want to use this as a main course instead of a side dish, just add protein! Ground turkey, lean ground beef, chicken sausage, shrimp, salmon or chicken (grilled, baked, rotisserie) are all great options.

To have extras for later and/or use as the base of a meal, consider cooking 2 spaghetti squashes at the same time.

Nutrition: Per serving (about 1/4 of recipe): 3g carb, 3g protein, 8g fat - 96 calories

Recipe: Turkey Stuffed Peppers

I tend to keep my cooking pretty easy by focusing on rotating between a few staple items and mixing things up with spice and flavorful, nutrient-dense complimentary ingredients. For more on my simplistic approach, check out my meal prep strategy here. But in this case, it was a chilly evening and I was feeling creative, so I decided to try something new in the kitchen and it did not disappoint. These turkey stuffed peppers are full of flavor, perfectly satisfying and packed with wholesome goodness. Give them a try, and let me know what you think!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb 99% lean ground turkey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped 
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 large red bell peppers
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • Nonstick spray
  • 6 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly coat medium skillet with nonstick spray and turn to medium heat.
  3. Add onion, garlic and cilantro to pan and sauté about 2 minutes
  4. Add ground turkey, salt, garlic powder and cumin to pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.
  5. Add 1/4 cup of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup of chicken broth to pan, mix well and simmer on low for about 5 minutes.
  6. Combine cooked rice and meat together.
  7. Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove all seeds. Spoon 2/3 cup meat mixture into each pepper half and place in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top each with 1 tbsp cheese.
  8. Pour the remainder of the chicken broth on the bottom of the pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes.
  9. Be careful when removing the foil. Let cool for a few minutes before eating, and enjoy! 

Nutrition:

1 serving = half a pepper, makes 6 servings. Per serving: 30.4g carb, 24.2g protein, 4.5g fat | 259 calories

final 8.JPG
 

Healthy Hot Chocolate Recipe

Hot chocolate is a crowd favorite this time of year, and whether you’re bundled up at home or out looking at Christmas lights, the smooth, sweet flavor quickly warms your heart and hands.

A tall hot chocolate from Starbucks traditionally made (with 2% milk) packs 320 calories (39g carb/13g fat/11g protein), and made with almond milk it has 250 calories (33g carb/12g fat/4g protein). And both have about 30 grams of sugar - yikes!

Don’t miss out on this seasonal staple, make it at home to save calories and money. This recipe requires only four main ingredients and takes less than five minutes to prepare. Nutrition before topping options: 64 calories per serving (5g carb/3.5g fat/7.5g protein).

Ingredients:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp collagen protein*

8 drops vanilla creme stevia or 2 regular stevia packets

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and whisk together until cocoa powder is mixed well. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently for a few minutes until hot. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Topping ideas:

  • Ground cinnamon is a great option -- 1 tbsp has only 3 calories (1g carb/0g fat/0g protein) and adds just a hint of Christmas spirit.

  • Top with 2 tbsp whipped cream for only 15 cals (1g carb/1g fat/0g protein).

  • To make peppermint hot cocoa, add 3 drops pure peppermint extract and break half a candy cane into pieces and sprinkle on top of finished drink, adds 25 cals (6.5g carb/0g fat/0g protein).

  • Chocolate lovers rejoice! Cocoa nibs have delicious flavor and great texture, and 1 tbsp is only 60 cals (3g carb/5g fat/1g protein) -- sprinkle on top or mix and melt in.

  • A classic: mini marshmallows, just 15 grams gets the job done for 45 cals (11.5g carb/0g fat/0g protein).

Notes:

You can also use cashew milk (a little creamier than almond) or coconut milk based on preference.

*Collagen protein is beef based (non-dairy). It is flavorless and dissolves in water, so be cautious if substituting for a different protein powder.

Sources:

Various nutrition facts may vary based on brand. Starbucks information from their website

Five things to keep in mind this Thanksgiving

I know what it's like to want to indulge in the annual holiday and all the associated calories, but not throw away all the progress you've worked for; which can feel like a pull in different directions. I've had several clients tell me they're worried about Thanksgiving, or don't want to do weigh-ins or pictures this week because they're nervous about all the damage they will have done on Thursday. 

I wanted to share some guidance and suggestions so that you hopefully feel a little more comfortable, calm and confident going into this week. 

Tip 1: Thanksgiving is one meal

I usually get annoyed when people say "Christmas is just one day!" because really, it's four weeks of parties, social events and work potlucks with temptations on every end cap at Target that you have to endure (click here for Christmas advice). However, Thanksgiving really is just one meal on one day, so unless you're planning on having pumpkin pie for breakfast too (in which case, we probably should talk privately, haha), then you really can't do that much damage with that one dinner. This week should be exactly the same as last week, with the exception of Thursday afternoon/evening.

Tip 2: Enjoying yourself every once in a while is why we work so hard in the first place

You don't need me to tell you that the time you take each day to measure and track your food, and the healthy choices you make when sometimes it would be way easier to just give in, is intentional effort by you to get closer to your goals (you rock!). Because you do that so well most of the time, it's important to indulge in a little life balance so you don't get burnt out, you don't feel left out or resent what you're doing, and to reduce the chance of binging later. What fun would it be to eat perfect 100% of the time and never enjoy yourself and a less-than-macro-friendly meal? Which leads me to my next point...

Tip 3: Don't make your Thanksgiving dinner fit your macros

In fact, I suggest just not tracking that meal at all. Everyone views tracking a little differently, so if you prefer to guess the quantities and put something similar into My Fitness Pal, I won't stop you. But please don't starve yourself all day to try and make it fit, or get your food scale and measuring cups out on the table. PS: Do track your meal prior to Thanksgiving, per usual. :) PPS: If you have no idea what I'm talking about with macros, click here to learn about them.

Tip 4: You should eat well (normal) earlier in the day, especially protein

Your breakfast, lunch and/or snacks should resemble the normal quality of your food (which is awesome, clean, nutrient-dense food...right?), and maybe slightly smaller portions. You don't want to go into your Thanksgiving meal starving, because you'll be more likely to overeat. There's not usually many vegetables present on the table (that aren't in a casserole - doesn't count folks), so get your fiber in early in the day. Generally, while turkey has protein, you're going to get more full off the higher-carb options at your feast, so getting some extra protein in earlier in the day as well will help make sure you're not shorting yourself too much and keep you feeling a little more satisfied throughout the day. When you feel more satisfied, not only do you make smarter food choices but you have less cravings and/or crashes as well. Some good quick options: hard boiled eggs, sliced turkey or ham, chicken breast, mini bell peppers, non-fat Greek yogurt or a protein shake.

Tip 5: Everything goes back to normal on Friday

Wake up and enjoy your typical breakfast and get back on track to hitting your goals. Recall the 80/20 principle we've talked about before: if you're tracking and crushing your goals at least 80% of the time, you're still going to see positive results with that 20% margin of error, better known as life happens, "I forgot my lunch at home" or in this case, holiday celebrations. I'll give you an example: if you eat 4 times per day, that's 28 eating opportunities during the week. If you count Thanksgiving dinner as an off-plan meal and crush the other meals during the week, that still puts you at 96% adherent for the week. Boom! However, if you let Friday slip, and roll into the weekend eating untracked leftovers for snacks, your adherence rate will drop quickly. ;)

Bonus Reminders

Drink lots of water. Before you eat, during and after. Don't make bad food decisions out of dehydration. Chew slowly, and take breaks (setting your silverware down) frequently to chat with loved ones so you're able to identify when you're full. Wait at least 15 minutes before deciding to go back for a second helping. Lastly, if you can, catch a workout Thanksgiving morning. Whether it's a jog or bike ride around the neighborhood, a quick gym session, or some air squats in the backyard; getting your heart rate up early is always an awesome way to start the day.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and don't stress about your food too much. Focus on the intent to spend time with your friends and family, rather than overthinking the food. If you found this advice helpful, please share with a friend. :) Cheers!

How to Track a Recipe in My Fitness Pal

Creating a recipe in My Fitness Pal (MFP) makes tracking your food so much easier if you’re someone that likes to get creative in the kitchen, cooks in bulk for the week or makes large portions, such as for a family. It also improves the accuracy of your tracking and makes it quicker to log next time you eat the dish and/or make the recipe. Follow the steps below to learn how, and reference the set of pictures at the end of the instructions if needed. Happy cooking! 

Step 1. Open the MFP app on your phone and select More on the bottom right of the screen

Step 2. Select Meals, Recipes and Foods

Step 3. Select Create a Recipe at the bottom of the screen

Step 4. Select Enter Ingredients Manually

Step 5. Under Recipe Information, give your recipe a title. Then change the Serving Size to 1, and press the arrow in the top right corner to move on to the next step.

Step 6. Select Add Ingredient. This will enable you to search the MFP database for millions of foods so you can add ingredients individually. Try to check your ingredients for accuracy because there can be some incorrect listings in the database -- the more specific you can be with your search (brand name, store you purchased it at, etc.), the better. You can also scan the barcode of items you have on hand by pressing scan on the bottom right. Begin adding ingredients, adjusting their quantities to reflect how much you’re using for the total recipe.

Step 7. Once you’ve added all your ingredients, make sure the serving size is set to 1 before completing -- you’ll see it next to the Calories Per Serving at the bottom of the page. Click the arrow in the top right of the screen, and you will be taken to the Save Recipe page. Note that the nutrition facts shown are for the entire recipe, because your serving size is currently set to 1.

Step 8. You need to weigh the finished product in grams, which may have to be done in several bowls if the quantity is too large (then just add the measurements together). When you set an empty container on the food scale, press “tear” or “zero” to zero out the scale, then start adding food to get the weight -- otherwise it will include the weight of the bowl/container in your measurement.

Step 9. Once you have the total grams of the recipe, you’ll return to the Save Recipe page you left on and update the servings from 1 to the grams total you just measured. Then press Save Recipe. You’ll notice that the nutrition facts updated (and are much lower) because they now reflect a single gram of the recipe.

Step 10. Now you’re ready to enjoy and log your recipe! When you go to track the food, you’ll see Recipes on the food diary page. Recall that 1 serving = 1 gram, so when you weigh the portion you’d like to eat, just change the amount to the grams you weighed for that meal. As you can see in the example, the tracker is eating 100g of the recipe.

All things pumpkin: part two

Last post, I told you what to ditch/replace to improve your seasonal treats, but the vegetable doesn't deserve a totally bad rap.

Here's what you can love about pumpkin (when it's not covered in icing):

  • The orange color is derived from beta carotene, which provides vitamin A to the body and is good for eyesight and immunity
  • It also packs some vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Manganese + Potassium (more than a banana!)
  • Pumpkin is a member of the squash family - doesn't everyone love it's sister spaghetti squash?
  • The seeds have an average of 12g fiber per 1 cup - you'll feel fuller, longer using them as a crunchy, satisfying snack

Get in the kitchen: roasted pumpkin seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds yourself is an easy, hands-on activity for kiddos. Once you've carved the pumpkin and scooped out the seeds, rinse and roast for about 20-30 minutes to dry. Then, toss in 2 teaspoons of butter and a pinch of salt, bake in a single layer (on foil, for easy clean up) at 300 degrees for 45 mins or until golden brown. That's the traditional method, but there's lots of ways to change up your pumpkin seed flavor:

  • For a spiced seed, add in 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.
  • For a deeper profile, mix in 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (skip the salt)
  • Feeling Italian? Mix with dried Oregano and parmesan 
  • For something a little different, skip the salt and use butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ranch seasoning mix - yum!
  • For my southwestern friends, mix butter, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon taco seasoning and a tablespoon of fresh cilantro
  • For a barbecue feel, toss in 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Everything is better with bacon - cook 3-4 slices separately and crumble over the roasted seeds
  • Make a tasty trail mix: once roasted, combine with dried fruit (cranberries, raisins), almonds and cashews

Bonus: the science behind the craving

Less relevant to nutrition, but equally fascinating, I thought I'd touch on the "why" behind your craving for pumpkin spice, that seemingly only happens a few months out of the year. 

Pumpkin spice isn't really pumpkin (especially in syrup form), it's actually a combination of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, ground allspice and ground cloves. Because these spices are commonly used in home cooking, the scent brings feelings of comfort; perhaps family gatherings, home cooking and warm memories. We learn and create associations with odors over time, and generally speaking, all the associations with pumpkin spice are all very positive. When the spice is created synthetically, it mimics the aroma of butter browning with sugar, giving your senses the illusion of freshly baked pie.

About 80% of flavor comes from smell; largely why when you're sick and congested, nothing tastes or sounds good. That's also why the pumpkin spice smell is strong enough to make us crave and enjoy it.

It's truly marketing genius. The pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks unofficially marks the beginning of fall, and the drink even has its' own verified Twitter account. Since the roll out of the drink by the coffee chain in 2003, there have been more than 200 million cups of PSL sold.

As mentioned above, real pumpkin provides great health benefits, and all spices come from nutrient-packed plants. Enjoy more of the real thing this season, and less of the artificial versions.

Cheers!

A healthier take on the pumpkin spice craze

Do I think it's silly that every girl (+ the guys who won't admit it) obsess over all things pumpkin this time of year? Yes. Will I still partake in the seasonal nonsense? Also yes. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - you can have your PSL and drink it, too. ️

Here are some things to keep in mind this fall to keep indulgences in check:

  • Order a low-fat latte (non-fat or almond/coconut milk), add 1 pump pumpkin spice, ask for pumpkin spice sprinkles on top and skip the whip. That cuts the originally 340 calorie drink in HALF (literally). PS: the actual pumpkin spice sauce has dairy, so the alternative milk doesn't make it completely dairy-free, if that's something you're cautious of.
  • For an even lighter coffee, order an Americano (espresso + water) with some steamed cream or coconut milk (the steaming makes the milk taste sweeter), and add 1 pump pumpkin spice. Boom! 
  • Snag some pumpkin spice K-Cups for your Keurig.
  • The store bought pastries are hefty: running 380-500 calories (+ lots of sugar) per muffin or scone. Make baked goods yourself with healthy tricks like utilizing apple sauce, Greek yogurt, egg whites and/or protein powder. Test one, and give the rest away. I found a handful of ideas (complete with nutrition facts) on Cookie and Kate and on Amy's Healthy Baking.
  • Treat pumpkin pie like Thanksgiving food, not "because Costco has them already" food. You're in control of your choices, not the supermarket.
  • Pick up some pumpkin spice tea on Amazon for all the warm-your-heart-deliciousness and none of the calories (seriously zero, it's just tea).
  • To make a macro-friendly pumpkin spice hot chocolate, steam 8oz of chocolate almond milk (or heat in the microwave), add 1/2oz pumpkin pie sauce and top with cinnamon, nutmeg and if you're feeling super festive, finish with a dollop of whip (15 cals per 2 tbsp). This version: 132 calories. An 8oz pumpkin spice hot chocolate at Starbucks: 438 calories. Whoa!

Lastly, below is a shake recipe I love to make this time of year. By utilizing real pumpkin and no added sugar, it satisfies the craving without the added empty calories. And, sneaking protein in throughout the day is always a plus! This blended treat has good sources of protein and carbs, and is low in fat -- perfect for a post-workout meal.

Recipe: Pumpkin Protein Shake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon honey or agave
  • 1 scoop protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 banana
  • Ice cubes (about 6)

Directions

Throw it all in a blender and mix until ingredients look smooth. Top with nutmeg and cinnamon. 

Macros

32g carb, 6g fat, 27g protein (290 calories) for one shake.

Modifications/Suggestions

  • For extra protein, add 1/3 cup Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of collagen protein, or 2 tablespoons of powdered peanut butter.
  • For extra fat, add a tablespoon of almond butter or MCT oil.
  • For extra sweetness, add 1 tablespoon cocoa nibs, a pinch of stevia or a few drop of liquid stevia.

Enjoy, 'tis the season!

Resources:

Starbucks Nutrition Facts

 

Eat, Breathe, Work Hard, Repeat

I’m going to tell you something, and you may be shocked. Drum roll please… I eat ice cream sometimes. Gelato specifically, it’s my fav. And cheesecake, like on my birthday last month. And even chocolate, because every 20-something girl loves chocolate, it’s science. I know, I know -- you’re totally shocked. A nutritionist eats things full of fat, sugar, processed ingredients and insane amount of calories sometimes? Sometimes, yes.

Every time I’m at a social gathering and indulge in something less-than-nutritionist-worthy, heads literally explode and I hear comments ranging from “oh my God you eat things like that?” to “how do you look like that and eat like that?” -- there’s flaws all in, out, and around the logic of those statements and I’m going to break them down for you really quick. Partially for my sanity, but mostly to help you take better control over your approach to nutrition as well.

Eat

First, I eat things like that sometimes. I’m a BIG advocate of balance, and my clients know this well. If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll grow resentful and create an unhealthy relationship with your approach and possibly foods. Anything that doesn’t bend will eventually break, and your “diet” should allow for flexibility.

Balance is open for interpretation, but with something like sugar, it’s fair to assume it should be consumed far less than the higher-priority, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables (especially the green ones), lean proteins, whole grains and fruit.

Next, I’m not actively trying to lose weight right now. I’m eating for maintenance, which supplies my body enough calories to train hard, be less strict with my calorie intake and/or macronutrient distribution, have plenty of energy, and hold consistently at the same body weight. If your primary goal right now is to lose weight, it’s also fair to assume your balance should be more strict than the person who is trying to maintain. Note: you can still eat delicious things and lose weight, but as a general rule of thumb, less frequently.

Furthermore, maintaining is pretty easy (especially once you’ve been doing it a while). Basically: keeping abs is generally easier than getting them. So don’t fret if you are trying to drop pounds, you’ll have even more flexibility once you’re trying to maintain, too.

The 80/20 approach means eating nutrient-dense food 80% of the time, and enjoying other things 20% of the time. Of course, these percentages will vary based on if you have specific goals you’re working toward, but for maintaining weight and overall wellness, this structure works well for most people. So if you’re absolutely just craving that doughnut, consider it part of the 20% for that week. Keep in mind: in order to stay within that 80%, you want to get right back on track after an indulgence -- be mindful of that, and don’t let one meal turn into a weekend.

Breathe

It’s so important for your mind, body and overall health to not beat yourself up when you do indulge. Way easier said than done, I totally get it. But the practices below really help me keep that “guilt” in control.

I make the meal count. I don’t eat indulgences in my car, alone at home (unless that’s your happy place, no judgement), or at the office. Don’t let your circumstances dictate your decisions; you can always find an excuse: it’s so-and-so’s birthday, but there’s a work happy hour, someone else is in town and your aunt is having a baby shower -- if you indulge every single time something comes up, you’re probably further from the balance concept we just addressed. You are in control of your nutrition choices, the food sitting on the break room counter is not.

Try to eat well most of the time so you can really enjoy the pieces that don’t fit in the “most”. Do you ever eat something and think “man that wasn’t worth it?” — “it” being the calories. I strive to avoid that feeling. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, it’s going to be planned and in-line with what I’m really craving. This notion can be applied to events, too: if you know you’re going to a dinner party, eat well most of that week to allow yourself to embrace whatever delicious items are available in that scenario. Be in control when you can, so that when you aren’t it doesn’t set you back (thus, ladies and gents, an example of the 80/20 approach).

Another thing that really helps with the breathe component is meditation. I used to think meditation was rah-rah yogi stuff and totally not for me. Since I’ve let that assumption go, I’m in the process of writing a piece on how much guided meditation has positively impacted my, and many of my friends’ lives, but in the meantime, know that I use an app called Headspace. Download it on any smart phone -- your first 10 sessions are free. It REALLY helps with the whole “letting things” go thing. Seriously, look it up, right after you finish this post.

Work Hard

Lastly, work hard! My clients know we don’t call them cheat days, we call them reward meals (not “cheating” because you’ve earned the indulgence, this is a lifestyle not a diet, and it’s not full days). Reward meals are earned for, you guessed it: following the plan 80% of the time, not making excuses, and working hard.

Truth be told, in addition to the ongoing comments aforementioned during the introduction, the inspiration for this blog post came from a conversation with my CrossFit coach. On the first Friday of each month, our gym does Fran (a famously terrible workout in the functional fitness community). After everyone sweats their heart out, our coach brings in something fun like snow cones or a waffle truck. It is his intention (and him and I are quite aligned on nutrition-based things) that members eat well most of the time, work really hard during the workout, enjoy the indulgence with their fellow CrossFit friends, and then don’t stress about it and get right back on track the next day. Hmm… it’s almost like, that is what I just outlined as my approach, too! :)

I hope you find these concepts helpful and apply them to improve your mental health, quality of life and relationship of food. Cheers!

How to Beat Nighttime Sugar Cravings

Craving some sweet, chocolaty and delicious before bed is totally normal -- but it's no basis for derailing your progress. The best thing you can do is to know the craving is coming and be prepared with a strategy to win the day. Plan for your roadblocks to happen so you're ready to get through them, until they don't happen anymore.

Below are a bunch of strategies you can utilize to kick those cravings, overcome them completely, or simply make a more mindful choice. If you find any of them helpful for you, please feel free to comment and/or share with a friend!

Try these out:

  • Plug in something small and sweet into your food log for the evening before logging the rest of your day so you can account for it and it's planned in later; like a piece of dark chocolate. Then, you can look forward to it all day and it doesn't throw you off when you have it.

  • Have some fruit, its naturally sweet and will curve the craving a little bit. Fruit breaks down into sugar the same way sweets do, and they have way more micronutrients (vitamins + minerals)! Try: strawberries with a little whip cream on top, peaches warmed up and topped with granola, apple slices topped with cinnamon or a little peanut butter, frozen grapes, or some raspberries topped with Stevia.

  • Drink more water at night; that helps with cravings -- and you could do something fun like add orange, cucumber or lemon slices to your water.

  • Have some hot, decaffeinated tea. There's plenty of naturally sweet teas (no added sugar) you can find at a local Fry's or Sprout's store, or via Amazon that come in decedent flavors like caramel and actually promote restful sleep.

  • Brush your teeth right after dinner so you're less likely to snack on something.

  • Set an alarm to go off on your phone about the time this usually happens at night; change the name from "alarm" to "you've got this!" or a brief message about your why behind your goal you're working toward. This literal reminder will come at the perfect time to re-instill that motivation.

  • Ask yourself: are you tired, stressed, bored, or upset? Those feelings may increase your cravings, and I encourage you to recognize that you are in control of your actions, not your emotions at the time.

  • Journal about what you're craving -- seriously! Write down why it might be, how committed you are to your goal, and then how proud of yourself you are that you stuck to the plan. Then, in your next moment of weakness, you'll have this to reference.

  • Distract yourself: go do some meditation (Headspace, for example), go for a walk outside, or write in your gratitude journal.

  • Just go to bed -- seriously! I know that one seems silly, but really, you probably just need to catch some zzz's. I promise you'll wake up being glad you stayed strong. If you need some ideas for before bed rituals to get your mind off the candy drawer and on the pillow, check out this blog post.

Good luck, and cheers to empowered, healthy evenings! :)

Set up for success: Eating while traveling

Hitting your macros, eating well, resisting temptation: those things are all hard enough when you’re in your usual environment such as work or in the comfort of your home. Once you throw traveling into the mix, people tend to completely fall of track. Finding healthy options and maintaining some sense of positive nutrition habits while flying, on the road or in unfamiliar towns can be challenging -- but it’s absolutely doable.

Many of my clients travel often for work and have utilized many of these strategies already to consistently work toward their goals, regardless of where they are. I’ll reference tracking macros in the information below, although even if you’re not diligently following your protein, carb and fat intake, these tips will help you stay on track and feel your best while on vacation.

Restaurant research

Prior to arriving to a new city, or first thing when you get there, scout out a couple top-rated restaurants in the area; you might as well try the best food while you’re there! Once you’ve identified ones within your proximity and price point, pull up their menu online and look through some options of things that fall within your macros from an estimated perspective. 

Example: if I know I’m trying to keep my carbs within reason, a dish with a pasta base, served with bread, topped with something crusted and breaded, probably isn’t the best choice.

Doing this research ahead of time ensures two things: you have some places to go ready to reference when you’re hungry which helps you avoid stopping at some semi-decent hot dog hut, and secondly, you already know what on the menu sounds appealing before you get there and are tempted by smells, other customer’s plates, and so forth.

If the restaurant's nutrition facts are available online, great! Definitely reference those to get an idea of the composition of their dishes. Consider that if their veggie-based plates are super high in fat, they may be cooking in a lot of oil or butter. You can use this information to eat less fat throughout the day to maintain some balance, and/or to track the actual macros.

Estimated nutrients

The reality is that when you’re eating out, protein is expensive and served in small portions. Always look for ways to add lean protein to your meals, and ask your server what’s available for cooking methods: grilled is more ideal than fried, for example. Fat is usually used in excess (because it tastes so good!), everything has more salt than you can taste to preserve ingredients longer, and most things are carb-dense. This doesn’t mean you should just eat less, but rather be more mindful of the nutrients you’re looking for. If you haven’t had many vegetables that day, add some in at dinner on the side. If you had a huge omelette at breakfast, maybe skip the cheese or bacon to keep your fat in check. These small tips go a long way and require no measuring or counting. And always, always, always: drink more water. Being out of your element, it’s easy to forget to get those fluid ounces in.

Reasonable expectations

It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your traveling partner or family in regards to your restaurant suggestions, and share ideas for healthy snacks and ways to stay active during your trip. It’s also important to remember that consistent progress is key: whether or not you got significantly closer to your goal while on vacation isn’t important, but as long as you made some conscious healthy decisions and made an effort to stay enough on track to continue working toward progress, you’re golden. Don’t be too hard on yourself; having unrealistic expectations of eating perfectly and working out every day while traveling will only make falling short of those more upsetting. Let go of the perfection mindset, and prioritize consistent progress.

The adherence “rule”

Let’s start with this: we’re always shooting to hit your goal nutrient intake about 90% of the time to move consistently in the right direction on the progress scale. If you’re eating four times a day (for example), in a given week you’d not want to stray too far off track for more than two meals. 90% of 4 meals per day x 7 days per week = 25 meals to crush perfectly. Over the course of months and a year, you really do have some wiggle room to allow yourself to go a little off track while still achieving progress.

With that said, there’s always going to be some flaw in your measuring -- even at home. Sometimes we don’t have our food scale or measuring cups (like, at a work lunch or on vacation) and we have to eyeball the ounces of chicken or cup of rice. When eating out, you don’t always know how much or what oils food is being cooked in, so we do our best to guess. And furthermore, nutrition labels aren’t 100% accurate, but we go off the information anyway. This small, common discrepancy is called what I refer to as your margin of error. If you’re not totally new to tracking food, you probably have a good sense for what portions looks like. If you tracked everything on vacation pretty closely, you’d probably only be off about 10% (or less) of the time, given all the mentioned variables. That would still put you in the 90/10 area of adherence we’re striving for.

This is a lifestyle

Whether you’re eating healthy or counting macros, it’s a lifestyle -- not a short-term gig. Consider the importance of balance and quality of life before you make yourself miserable avoiding treats or “cheat meals” on a trip. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying, “This is good fuel for my body, and what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Make your indulgences count and cash in on really good, tasty food that’s worth it if you’re going to stray away from your norm.

Back on track

The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. When you get back in town, your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer your wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours. Consider ordering some food ahead of time to have ready to go when you get home, or have some easy-to-prep ingredients on hand so vacation doesn’t roll into a week of “off” eating once you’re back in town.

Come prepared

Bring snacks that don’t need to be kept cold in your suitcase: protein powder (and shaker bottle!), protein bars, those kind of things. If you have access to a cooler, pack in tons of veggies, fruit and extra water. For some more snack ideas that are easy to bring along, check out my recent blog post here

On my most recent road trip, I ordered pre-portioned meals from FitChoice Foods to eat during the day, with the intention to treat myself to a restaurant meal each night. These stay great in the cooler, and can be quickly heated in a microwave at a gas station, hotel room, or hotel dining area if there’s no microwave in your room.

Due to my own recent traveling and busy weekends, I looked into ordering my meals from a prep service to make sure I stay on track consistently when my time to meal prep falls short. After ordering from FitChoice several times over the last couple months, I reached out to the owner (based in Mesa) and asked if they'd consider a partnership because I'm a big fan of their service. I'm stoked to announce they provided me a discount code to share with you all!

Here's a brief rundown of why I’m a big fan:

  • You order your meals online, choosing from pre-selected options OR create your own meals by picking a protein, veggie and carbohydrate to pair together

  • You can select your size of protein with each order, and the macros are listed on the container

  • There's a TON of options for carbs, proteins and veggies -- and each meal comes with your choice of a sauce (score!)

  • You can have it delivered to your house, or choose to pick it up at a gym located near your house during set times given on the website

    • Make note of the order cut-off times for ordering listed on the website.
      Tip: I put these deadlines in my calendar, so I don't forget to order!

And, bonus: I've been buying one meal for lunch and/or dinner every single day, and I'm spending less on food each week than I was when I was meal prepping all my food.

If you give it a try, please let me know how much you love it, and don't forget to use heypreslie10 at checkout for 10% off your order for the discount, and so they know I sent you their way. :) If you need suggestions or have any questions while navigating the site, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.

Cheers to happy, safe traveling and a summer full of progress toward those goals!

Nutrition Survival Guide: Memorial Day Weekend

What doesn’t bend will eventually break. This concept applies to many situations, and in this case: your diet and lifestyle. If your nutrition regimen is so strict that it allows for zero flexibility, you’re far more likely to binge eat, create an unhealthy relationship with food and feel deprived. You’ll realize (I hope) that none of those three side-effects are desirable results, or ones you’d associate with a sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle.

Being satisfied and actually liking the food you eat while simultaneously working toward your goals, AND having a social life is not a lifestyle only found in a mythical land far away. It can be your reality! It does take time, and you’ll get there through small steps and little efforts at a time. I’ve compiled tried-and-true strategies and suggestions to help you enjoy your Memorial Day celebration while keeping your nutrition goals in mind.

Eat before you eat

Pre-eat. You read that right. You’re thinking “you want me to eat...before I go to eat?” Yes. Your body craves the good, basic stuff: proteins, fats, and carbs. Protein is found in chicken breast and egg whites, just like it is found in hot dogs and hamburgers. Fat is in avocados and dairy products, and in the mayo that makes chicken salad so tasty. And, in simple terms, your body sees the carbs in brown rice and fruit the same way it does hot dog buns. Therefore, eat some wholesome food (such as what you’d meal prep for lunch during the workweek) before you head to the BBQ, so you’re already quite satisfied of the things your body needs and craves, before you’re put in a will-power testing situation. 

This practice has a dual purpose: in addition to being content from a macronutrient perspective, you won’t be as hungry. We all know what happens when you grocery shop on an empty stomach, and a pool party is no different. You end up buying and eating things you didn’t even know you wanted (and in most cases, really don’t want). Set yourself up beforehand so when you arrive, you’ll only want something if it’s absolutely worth it.

Friends don’t let friends eat grocery store dessert

“Worth it”, what does that mean? Great question. You know that favorite dessert you have? Maybe it’s a certain flavor at the Cheesecake Factory, or that award-winning combination at Coldstone Creamery. Picture that item in your mind for a moment. Now, think of what a cookie from the box at the grocery store bakery tastes like, or a brownie from the gas station. Would you say they are comparable? Probably not. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying “this is good fuel for my body, and what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Do you feel confident saying that about a crappy, store-bought cookie? Make your indulgences count. This philosophy has really helped me, and I have a post dedicated specifically to it you can check out here.

Similar to the dessert example, there are plenty of foods that don’t seem indulgent that you may eat at a pool-side BBQ that you wouldn’t ordinarily. An average hot dog bun is 21 grams of carbohydrates, 2g of fat and 3g of protein. And be honest with yourself: do they even taste that good? If you do love it, try having half of the bun with the whole hot dog. This concept introduces moderation, which is further explained in the next tip. 

Moderation is key

I know you hear this a lot, largely because it’s true. Let’s say you eat 4 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. That’s 28 times you eat in a given week. Now if you “cheat” or eat something less than ideal for one of those meals, that’s not even 4% of all the food you ate in those 7 days. Any dietician or statistician can assure you that if you’re doing something quite well 96% of the time, the 4% won’t make a huge detrimental impact to your overall success. LeBron James, one of the best basketball players of all time, has a career shooting average of only about 50%. If he misses almost half the shots he makes and is still that good, you’ll be okay going a little off track on one meal in a week.

The nice thing about a wagon, is you can get back on

It’s your wagon; you’re the one driving it! If you fall off, stop your own wagon, dust the dirt off your pants, and get right back on. The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. A “cheat” meal is that: a meal. If you choose to have all of the food, calorie, indulging freedom on Memorial Day, keep it to a meal and remember that the next meal, and next day, should go right back to normal. In this situation, it can be really helpful to have your next meal planned. Your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer you wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours.

Wait, there’s more!

For some additional practical tips and healthier picks, here are some ideas:

  • Ditch your hamburger bun, and wrap it in lettuce
  • Grab a single plate and toss it when you’re done, instead of grabbing a second helping
  • Pickles have ton of salt, so snack some of those instead of potato chips for the salty satisfaction without the extra carbs and oils
  • Use your fist as a guide; have only that much (in size) of any potato, egg, or chicken salad
  • Keep the condiments to a minimum; try having less than you usually do. Two tablespoons of ketchup packs 10g carbs, and you’ve likely spread on more than that in the past out of habit
  • Drinks lots of water: it will not only keep you hydrated in the heat, but feeling fuller as well. You’ve heard this tip before, but actually do it — have some water, and then have some more.
  • Add fruit to your water for some flavor and summer flare. Skip the carbonated beverages, even those without sugar, such as diet soda, dehydrate you and can make you feel bloated
  • Don’t sit by the food table: distance yourself from the temptation by getting out and enjoying the pool water, weather, green grass and outdoor activities
  • Chew gum so you don’t nibble on something just for the sake of nibbling
  • Bring one of your favorite healthy dishes to share, so you’re in control of at least one item available to snack on
  • Don’t think about what you can’t/shouldn’t eat, instead add more good stuff! Pack on the veggies, fruit, and wholesome ingredients to whatever you’re eating -- which in turn, makes less room for the junk, both on your plate and in your belly.
  • Look for better options, regardless of the options you’re given: when possible, pick leaner proteins like chicken, turkey or fish over beef. Choose whole-grains or plant-based carbs (like corn or rice) instead of highly-processed ones like breads and desserts. 

And at the end of the day remember: you’re building a healthy lifestyle, this is a long-term game. Enjoying yourself without guilt isn’t an easy feat, but I encourage you to embrace life balance. Your nutrition goals, friends and family, and happiness will thank you for it.

Prepping for success: Snacking secrets

Many people only think about breakfast, lunch and dinner when they’re meal prepping for the week. Snacks serve a handful of beneficial purposes, including:

  • Keeping your hunger in check between meals
    • You’re a lot less likely to want your healthy, prepared meal if you’re absolutely starving – avoiding reaching the “hangry” state keeps your appetite in a good place.
  • Getting extra nutrients in
    • I don’t love huge meals, so it’s hard for me to stomach all the protein I need during the day in a few portions of chicken. I use snacks as a tool by having small amounts of protein in between meals to ensure I hit my protein goal by the end of the day.
  • Making a healthy diet work with your lifestyle
    • Depending on your job and/or schedule, it’s not always possible to sit down, find a microwave or utensils, and eat a typical meal. Nutrient-dense snacks help you avoid going long periods without eating in these situations.

My tips and tricks:

  • Cut any fruit that won’t brown. I’ve found after slicing apples, they only stay good in the fridge for a couple days. I’ll slice and portion 2-3 apples at a time, and then repeat midweek. This works well for watermelon and strawberries, too.
  • Don’t leave chips, or anything that’s easy to grab and eat too much of, in the bag you bought it in. Separate them out into reasonable portions, so they’re perfectly sized for snacking. I pair these with hummus for a salty, satisfying snack.
  • Cucumbers are refreshing and crunchy, and you can eat a ton of them for a small caloric-value. When you get an itch to snack on something at your desk, these are an easy go to.
  • Hard boiled eggs are a great source of fat, protein, Vitamin A and Potassium. If you don’t like the consistency of the hard boiled yolk, or don’t have enough fat to spare, consider eating just the whites for quick, accessible protein. Hard boil a dozen or two with your meal prep, and then peel just a few at a time; repeat midweek to keep the outside fresh.
  • Portion out your favorite granola into small containers and pair with your favorite non-fat yogurt.
  • In terms of macros, rice cakes are pure carbs. They come in a ton of great flavors, and simple to take anywhere when you need to get some fuel in. They stay good for quite a while, so have plenty of these separated out on hand.
  • Sliced turkey is a great way to get some extra protein, especially if you get sick of chicken, beef and fish during your regular meals. I prefer the kind sliced by deli counter (as opposed to pre-packaged) to maintain a fresh texture and taste. It rolls up great by itself, or with a piece of cheese, tomato, hummus or lettuce wrapped in.
  • Salami, similarly to the sliced turkey, is a protein option that you don’t have to cook. It’s higher in fat than some alternatives, so you don’t need as large of a portion to feel satisfied.

When a food is nutrient-dense, it contains vitamins and minerals your body needs, outside of what you’re measuring by tracking macros. The most nutrient-dense foods come from the earth in the form of real foods, which you can read more about here. I think about nutrient-density as “more bang for your buck” kind of items, asking myself: how many vitamins, minerals and grams of fiber can I get in this food, for the lowest amount of calories?

For example: 100g of pretzels is about 380 calories, and contains vitamins such as Potassium, Iron and Magnesium. For the same amount of calories, you could have almost 450g (that’s 4.5x more!) of sweet potato and score more of the three nutrients found in pretzels, along with tons of Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C. In this case, the sweet potato would be a much more nutrient-dense carb to choose.

The above example also highlights the concept of volume eating. It’s similar to nutrient-density in that you’re looking for the most “bang for your buck” in food quantities.

For example: 200g of spaghetti squash is about 60 calories; 1.2g protein, 1.2g fat, and 14g carbs. For roughly the same amount of calories and carbs, you’d only be able to have 46g of whole-wheat spaghetti. A plate of 200g of spaghetti squash vs. a plate of 45g of pasta will look and feel very different when you’re eating it. Certainly, the spaghetti will fuel your body differently than the spaghetti squash – however the concept here is how much food you can eat to achieve more volume without necessarily eating more calories. Eating high-volume foods can help you feel fuller, and easily increase the overall nutrient-density of your diet.

Idea: One of my favorite ways volume eating habits is to mix shredded cauliflower and rice together for the base of a stir-fry meal. 1 cup of jasmine rice is about 250 calories; 5g protein, 2g of fat and 52g carbs. 1 cup of shredded cauliflower is about 25 calories; 2g protein, 0g fat and 5g carbs. They both have similar consistencies, color, and take on flavor really well. By mixing the two, say 1/3 cup of jasmine rice and a full cup of cauliflower, you now have a bigger portion overall and get the best of both worlds: some hearty rice, more food on your plate (volume eating), and all the nutrients that cauliflower contains (nutrient-density).

For a refresher on what macros are, check out my blog post here.

Improve (or start!) your meal prep process

First, if you aren’t already meal prepping — you should start. All the cool kids are doing it.

But seriously, it makes things immeasurably more efficient. It also boosts your likelihood to stick to a healthy diet, saves money and time, and creates a self-awareness and pride in regards to the food you’re eating. Often when I talk to people who do (or did) meal prep, they absolutely dread it and think it’s a tedious undertaking. I also used to feel that way, until I changed my strategy and perspective. Therefore, in the list below I’ve explained some of my favorite tips for meal prepping gained through my personal experience that should make a world of difference for you going forward. And regarding perspective, take a moment to consider that this process is perhaps a blessing in disguise. Use this time to collect wholesome food, organize your materials thus setting yourself up for a successful week, and enjoy some calm kitchen time where you can reflect on your intentions and embrace the opportunity to be in control of how you nourish your body.

  1. Make a plan and a list

Have some structure for the week ahead by planning out your meals and snacks ahead of time. If it’s too overwhelming for you to forecast 7 days out, plan 3-4 days. All it takes is a piece of paper, a pen and 10 minutes of goal-oriented thoughts and you won’t be aimlessly wandering aisles at the grocery store or realize you forgot something when you’re already unpacking bags back at home. In your head, walk yourself through the process of cooking and eating it, too. When I skip this step, I always forget things like baggies to put food in, spray for the cooking pan or cinnamon for the decadent finishing touch to my morning oats.

  1. Schedule the time

This may be one of the most magical steps of the method: meal prep as you’re unloading the grocery bags. If you pack it all in the fridge and cabinets with the intent to meal prep later, you may never get to it, or waste time digging it all out again trying to figure out what’s old and what’s new.

When you get home from the supermarket, put the cold stuff away (such as bacon, dairy products, freezer items), and leave everything else out. Then ask yourself what takes the longest: baking before steaming, cutting and separating last. Preheat the oven and place all items to be baked (i.e: potatoes, chicken, veggies) on their appropriate sheets prepped to go. Next, place eggs in a big pot covered in water ready to be hardboiled. Then, while those two items are cooking slice up all your cold veggies and fruit and place in containers (more information on containers in tip #3). Lastly, sort snack items like cheese slices, almonds or granola into easily grabbable zip-tight bags and put away. By executing the steps in this fashion, everything finishes about the same time — saving you minutes in the long run, and making cleanup a breeze.

  1. Those darn containers

Plastic containers can be a pain: you can never find a matching lid, they’re a nuisance to wash, and you never have the right size for what you need. For these reasons, keeping everything in gallon-size zip-tight bags is a great method. However, I still like the look and feel of rectangle containers so here’s my approach for those: use big containers of the same size. The small, individual container system is why I believe most people are emotionally scarred from meal prep. The large ones stack nicely and it’s easy to see what’s inside when you open the fridge. Keep all of one food product in a container and measure it out as you use it.

For example: if you know you want to eat 4 oz. of chicken everyday for lunch, it takes less than a minute to complete that measurement in the morning before you take it with you to work. It takes a wasted extra amount of time, containers and fridge space to measure out several portions of 4 oz. of chicken for the week.

  1. How much to buy: bulk shopping and wasting less food

I eat a lot of food, and I still can’t finish the container of fruit you buy at Costco before it goes bad. Buy in bulk what stays good for a while such as frozen fish and chicken or oats, for example.

If you’re new to meal prepping: you probably need more food than you think you do. Consider that two bags of broccoli will only last you a couple days, or one potato won’t get you very far.When you give it your first go, do your best to guess based on portion sizes listed on the label (or how much you’ll actually eat, who really eats just 2 tablespoons of peanut butter?) and then either keep your receipt or write down how many of everything you purchased while you’re prepping. That way, you’ll have some data to reference for making modifications to quantities next grocery trip.

What I’ve discovered works well is to pick a central couple foods from each category to eat that week, and rotate to maintain variety. I suggest picking two or three to eat in a given week; then buy the others the meal prep after and rotate. It takes more money and time spent prepping for an unnecessarily wide variety.

For example: chicken and beef this week, fish and turkey the next.

  1. Keep it easy breezy

It’s not practical that you’re going to made slider burgers, BBQ this, lemon-crusted that and rosemary something or the other every single week, or want it every day for that matter. Complicated recipes can be exhausting to repeat and the extra ingredients make tracking macros a little harder. I stick with basic stuff for the week, and let myself spend extra time on the weekends to have a culinary experiment. Spices have a long shelf-life, and simple ingredients like spinach, bell peppers or onions can be thrown in to add a pop of flavor (and nutrients!) to many dishes.

For example: bake sweet potatoes plain for the week and add cinnamon when you’re heating them up to eat. Mrs. Dash makes great salt-free seasonings that I love to sprinkle on vegetables, Old Bay is killer with beef and chicken, low-sodium soy sauce or olive oil in small amounts go a long way, and a pinch of salt and pepper are the perfect touch for many things.

We’re in this together

It’s probably rather silly how much I enjoy both meal prepping, and talking about this stuff. I suppose I have a soft spot in my heart for it, because I’ve learned all of these things first-hand and can emphatically say there’s no way I’d be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle without taking time to meal prep — it’s a conscious decision to prioritize your nutrition. Afterall, the saying goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.

Don’t let it stress you out, enjoy the adventure of learning a technique that works for you. I hope you find this list helpful, and please share with a friend who needs to take control of their kitchen, too! If you have additional suggestions for how to make meal prep even more awesome, or feedback on these ideas, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Happy prepping!

 An example of my meal prep

An example of my meal prep

Recipe: Peanut butter protein balls

Not to brag, but I’ve never made these for someone who didn’t love them. They’re a hit! Peanut butter-y, satisfying, filling and the perfect amount of sweetness. They’re best served and stored cold, and can be frozen and taken on the go to work or up a mountain for a mid-hike snack. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 cup dry oats

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

½ cup peanut butter

½ cup ground flaxseed

1 scoop whey protein

¼ cup honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 spoonful of coconut oil

A healthy dash of cinnamon

Directions:

Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl, then place in fridge for 30 minutes. Then, roll out into balls and store in the fridge. Yum!

Suggestions and modifications:

  • Add raisins, dried cranberries or chocolate chips to the mix for added sweetness.
  • Substitute almond butter for peanut butter if that’s more your jam.
  • Double the recipe: I almost always make at least a double batch, because I’ll eat plenty of them or end up giving some away to family or friends at the gym.
  • Use a protein powder that compliments the other ingredients well (such as chocolate, peanut butter or vanilla).

Eating healthy in a pinch

You’ve probably heard “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” I’m a huge believer in this saying, and meal prep basically religiously. Keeping in mind I’m one of the busiest people you’ve ever met, I use “meal prep” loosely (some weeks it looks like perfectly portioned Tupperware containers, and some weeks it’s a bunch of cooked veggies and chicken in zip storage bags). I can’t wait to cover meal prep with you! But that’s coming soon.

What I wanted to touch on today is no matter how much you plan, life happens. Whether you left your lunch on the counter, are running late to an appointment and don’t have time to stop at home, or are just at your desk and way hungrier than you anticipated: there’s still ways to make smart choices. Here’s some of my favorites:

  • Stop at a gas station for nuts. Individually packed cashews or almonds are just the perfect amount of satiating fat to tide you over. (Tip: don’t grab the trail mix option, they’re loaded with extra sugar. Opt for the plain nut packs — salted or unsalted is fine).
  • Sprouts Market has a sandwich counter where you can build your own half or full sandwich made up of wholesome ingredients and unprocessed meat (or a ton of fresh veggies for my non-meat eaters). Most locations have the option to fill out a form to build your sandwich that you leave on the counter, so you can run and grab a water while they make it. Whole Foods offers this same service, though it’s about half the price at Sprouts.
  • Chick-fil-a serves grilled chicken nuggets, an awesome alternative to the breaded, fried version available most places. An 8-count serving packs 23g protein, 4g carbs and 3g fat. Score! (1)
  • For a last minute breakfast option, I love the reduced fat turkey bacon sandwich at Starbucks. It’ll cost you more than the McDonald’s breakfast sandwich, but comes warm on a whole-wheat english muffin with 13g protein, 28g carbs and 6g fat. (2)
  • Keep a shaker bottle and a scoop of protein powder in your car or desk.
  • Lastly, an apple or banana from a grocery store (or most Quiktrip locations as well) is a good snack to hold you over until you can get a real meal in.

A few other tips:

  • Keep water with you! It’s a ripoff to buy it anywhere, and so often we confuse dehydration with hunger. A hydro flask is a great investment (a reusable bottle that keeps water cold all day long), or buy water bottles in bulk (super cheap!), keep a few in the fridge at a time and grab a couple when you leave the house in the morning.
  • When you’re grabbing food to go in a hurry, don’t forget to look at the ingredients. Notice I didn’t include protein bars or smoothies on the list above, these are foods with “health halos” (which I’ll cover soon), which essentially means they’re assumed to be healthy but often actually contain far too much sugar to be considered healthy. I gave the example of trail mix earlier: give the ingredients list a quick read and only grab things that contain what the food item actually is.

More and more grocers and gas stations are offering to-go salads, fruit mixes, or packaged pairings like veggies and hummus — which is awesome! Keep in mind these should be “last minute” options, because purchasing healthy food pre-packaged is usually a tad pricey. Although when needed, the extra few dollars is a huge investment in your health and keeping you on track to your goals.

Sources:

  1. http://www.chick-fil-a.com/Food/Meal
  2. http://www.starbucks.com/menu/food/hot-breakfast/reduced-fat-turkey-bacon-breakfast-sandwich?foodZone=9999

Counting macros: It’s like a game!

I was so excited to write this post, I just had to get the macro basics out of the way first. This is my favorite way to explain it, and people get wide-eyed trying to understand how on earth eating and tracking your food could be any kind of fun.

Here’s the way I see it: you can look at what you eat each day as a puzzle. By consuming the right (right is subjective, we’ll touch on that in a separate post) foods and the appropriate amounts, you’ll hit this magic number and you’ve won! That day you won the game. Tomorrow you play again, and you can assemble the puzzle however you so choose (based on what you’re craving, or a dinner date perhaps), and then you hit the number and win again! When you win each day consistently, you’ll achieve the goal you’ve set up your goal numbers for. For some people their daily goal macros are geared toward losing weight, some are to increase muscle mass, there’s a wide spectrum.

We haven’t even got to the best part, get this: after winning everyday for a while (say a few weeks), you slowly increase those daily goal numbers. Your body will respond the same way before the increase because the change is so subtle, but now you’re eating more food which in turns gives you more ways to build your puzzle! You can continue this process over a period of time, until essentially you’re eating all the food and reaching alllll the goals.

Okay, you’re thinking it sounds too good to be true. It’s not! It’s a mindset. Tracking your food is tedious and takes effort, that’s a fact. But really, achieving any sort of goal does. It can take time to learn how to win everyday; my best suggestion is to track your food the night before. Calculate what you plan on eating before you actually it, that way you’re pretty darn sure you’ll win before the day even started. This also helps avoid the awkward situation of being in the kitchen at 8pm when you haven’t eaten dinner yet, and have nothing but 4g of fat left for the day. Been there, that’s a rough one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions on this, you can post them below. More tips, tricks and some of my favorite macro-friendly recipes to come. Happy tracking!

P.S. If you need a little background on what macros are, check out my previous post “What the hell are macros?”

What the hell are macros?

I hear this a lot. Especially when I tell people I count them, then they get very confused.

Here’s the basics. I’ll get to some really good stuff later, like apps and strategies, but first here is some background information.

What They Are

A macro-nutrient is a protein, fat, carbohydrate or alcohol. These 4 types of nutrients are the only things you put in your body that contain calories (or energy). Water, vitamins or sugar, for example, don’t have a caloric value. You need calories to think and function, you can’t live without them. Calories tend to get a bad rap considering a consistent calorie surplus is associated with weight gain and obesity, but calories aren’t the enemy at all.

Macros and Calories

Most foods are made up of more than one macro. For example, an egg has 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein and 0.6 grams of carbs. When people say they’re “counting macros”, they’re keeping track of how many grams of protein, fats and carbs they eat each day. Protein and carbs are both equivalent to 4 calories per gram, while fat is 9 calories per gram and alcohol is 7.

Tracking macros is essentially a more specific approach to counting calories. Trying to stay below a specific calorie intake means you can eat whatever you want, as long as it all equals a certain number. The potential problems with this approach are: 1) you may be tempted to eat “low-calorie” foods that are often highly processed, low in nutrients (especially fiber) and don’t keep you full very long, 2) You may only eat one or two large meals to fill your calories, which doesn’t support optimal brain function or sustainable energy levels, or 3) you eat only “clean” foods (think chicken breast, rice cakes or fish), feeling hungry or deprived and unable to sustain that method of eating.

Macro dieting takes the concept that staying below or within a particular calorie range consistently will help you lose weight, and structures it with the building blocks that are macros. When you do this, you’re likely to eat enough and can factor in things like going out to eat or a craving for a particular food. Another perk is that if you’ve built your macro breakdown and you’re not seeing results, it’s a smarter approach to then modify your goal macro numbers, instead of just blindly cutting your caloric intake across the board. (For example, tailoring your carbohydrate or fat intake specifically based on how your body is responding).

How To Count Them

My Fitness Pal is the most popular app (according to the Apple App store) for tracking food intake. There are similar applications available for download as well, several of which are free. My Fit Pal includes a bar scanner that will input the nutrition facts for you when you scan a packaged item, which is handy.

Before You Go

A couple things. First, for the sake of understanding while you’re paroozing the internet, “IIFYM”, “flexible dieting” and “tracking macros” are all interchangeable terms and mean this same process that I just explained. Second, counting macros is not the answer for everyone, there is no miracle diet plan that works for every individual. Some people simply become too neurotic tracking grams each day, or their body responds better to a different way of eating, and that’s perfectly okay. Lastly, IIFYM among social media is frequently accompanied by those who brag that everyday they eat donuts and ice cream. Counting macros is a great way to avoid feeling deprived, because you absolutely can fit sweets into your daily allowance of food everyday if you so choose. But realize that then the rest of your day will be structured differently when including a calorie-dense or indulgent item and that can be hard on your appetite, metabolism or self-control.
As I mentioned, this is the basics. I think macro dieting is fascinating, and I’m looking forward to diving deeper into the subject with you!