Nutrition Tips for 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 exactly 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, like potato chips and tons of condiments. 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? And if you do actually 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 every now and then.

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 are good for satisfying the salt craving, 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, such as diet soda, dehydrate you and can make you feel bloated.
  • Bring sparkling water to the party so you know you'll have something good to sip on
  • 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.

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!

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