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!