Thursday, July 29, 2010

Not all fast food is created equal

One of my readers recently commented that he considers In-N-Out to be the healthy choice, while McDonald’s, Burger King, and Jack-in-the-Box are the unhealthy choices. My first response was that while In-N-Out is my preferred choice, I didn’t know if it was any healthier than the other fast food. I got busy researching.

I looked up what I thought was comparable burgers from each fast food restaurant and checked the nutrition data posted on the companies’ websites. Here is what I found:

RESTAURANT SANDWICH CALORIES FAT SODIUM
McDonald’s Big Mac 540 29 1040
In-N-Out Double-Double 670 41 1440
Burger King Whopper 720 44 1240
Jack-in-the-Box Ultimate Cheeseburger 875 61 1489

There are other factors, of course, like the use of trans fats and freshness of the food. In-N-Out wins the fresh-food contest hands down since they don’t freeze their meat. They even cut your fries from a spud while you wait. Regarding trans fats, In-N-Out, Burger King, and McDonald’s all claim to be trans fat free, even though they all have small amounts of hydrogenated oil in their foods.

Jack-in-the-Box is the loser from every angle. The latest research I could find indicates that trans fats are still going full force in their food. (Some Jack-in-the-Box restaurants are now deep-frying their fries in non-hydrogenated oil, but not all.) This restaurant also happens to have the fattiest foods on the menu. Anything that can be deep-fried, is deep-fried. Even their tacos!

So while McDonald’s gets the bad rap on fast food, there are plenty of others that offer even worse choices. My advice is this: eat fast food only sparingly and never go to Jack-in-the-Box.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Strong Habit of Stress-Eating

I’d like to give a victory shout for a moment and say that sensible eating has paid off for me this year. I have lost a little over 30 pounds since January. It’s a wonderful feeling, both physically and mentally.

That being said, the past few days haven’t gone so well for me. I have somehow very quickly developed a habit for stress-eating.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend who used to be a smoker. He said that his addiction to smoking happened much faster than he ever dreamed. In fact, he thought he became addicted to nicotine during the first five seconds of the first smoke.

The problem with stress-eating isn’t just the calories and fat. It’s the fact that the indulgence is so addicting too. When I eat because of stress, it’s usually unhealthy and superfluous fat and calories. Stuff like chips, fries, cookies, and cake with lots of frosting work like a drug to my tired mind needing an escape. And this emotional eating can be addicting in that first bite. Once I permit it this one time—after all I’ve had a very trying day!—well it simply is a given that I will do it again. Soon.

Eating unhealthy foods like cake is okay every now and then. Special occasions are a good reason to allow it. Stress-eating is not one of those special occasions. Knowing the reason I am eating is a very important step to being healthy.

If you are trapped, and eating senselessly day after day the things you don’t want to be eating, chances are that stress is the reason. It will take work to break a bad habit, but a lot of the power comes from knowing—or admitting—the problem. No person is immune to picking up a bad habit! So, stress-eating? I quit!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Taste for Something Good

The other day I found my almost-one-year-old son chewing on a mouthful of something mysterious. It’s pretty typical with him. I pried his lips apart and went digging. And what did I find? A worm. All I can say is, Eew!

But before I laugh too hard at him, I probably should examine what I am eating. There is a whole list of foods on the market that should make me cringe. Oils which are almost plastic from so much processing, and chemicals that turn food to an unnatural dark blue or red. Those kinds of “food” might make worms look harmless. Maybe my son knows what’s really good for him after all.

I have noticed that I can actually develop a taste for something unhealthy. For instance, now and then my husband and I get meals from In-N-Out Burger. When I eat a meal there, I find I am much more likely to go for unhealthy eating later that day. On the other hand, if I eat a healthy lunch, I usually go for the healthy dinner later on.

So while I might stay away from the worms from my backyard, it might do me some good to use them as an illustration of how I should react to the unhealthy choices that are out there. When I say EEW! to the truly bad stuff, I think my body will thank me by making me feel good.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Favorite Restaurant

I have a favorite restaurant. Have you noticed that when people have a favorite place, they want to broadcast it to the world? I certainly do. Has anyone tasted Tom Yum Thai Cuisine from Portland, Oregon? It’s so delicious. The flavors are amazing, the food is fresh, the service is nice, and the atmosphere is pleasant. I just can’t get enough of that place!

Unfortunately, it’s over 700 miles away from me. I have been trying to find a new favorite Thai restaurant closer to where I live, but so far in that mission I’ve not succeeded. Oh, I’ve tasted some decent Thai food, but when you have a favorite place it’s hard to satisfy your expectations. This place is too salty, that place is too expensive, the other place uses canned bamboo!

Have you noticed that when people have a restaurant that is not their favorite, they also want to broadcast it to the world? I have been reading reviews online of various restaurants, and it amuses me how conflicting the assessments can be of the same restaurant. How can one person say the food is so good that it changed his life, and another person say that the food is the worst he has ever tasted? I know we all have different opinions, but you’d think that there would a smaller degree of variance when it comes to something as specific as the flavor of the food.

I guess we all look for different things when it comes to food and flavor. My food must be fresh-tasting and a bit creative to score high points. Others probably prefer the taste of the familiar. One of the reasons I need to be concentrating on my health is because I love food. It seems the healthier I think, the more picky I get. But when I find that dish that has me raving, “Five stars!”—I’m so glad I’m that picky.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Camping

When I was growing up my parents took us tent camping every summer. Actually, I’ve seen a picture of my family in the snow when I was less than a year old, so we may have gone during winter too. Now that I have small children I am pretty amazed at the tenacity of my parents. The thought of going camping right now pretty much terrifies me.

Simply going hiking for us is a huge project. We purchased a baby backpack to make it easier, but when your 11-month-old is 29 pounds it can hurt after a while. My 2-year-old is not prone to stick to the trail either. For this summer, I think our outdoor excursions are limited to paved trails wide enough to fit a double stroller.

It’s a bit of a disappointment, especially when hiking and camping are among my favorite hobbies. There is something therapeutic for me to be in nature, away from noise, TV, and schedules. Unfortunately, it’s also away from running water and air-conditioning. I can rough it, but I can’t rough it with two squawking little ones I guess. I don’t know how the pioneer moms did it.

No matter what my limitations are, however, I can still find ways to be in nature and stay active. I have found places to go that work…for now. But someday I can’t wait to get out and rough it again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A time to eat, and a time to refrain from eating

To every there is a season, even eating. Eating is fuel for our bodies and we need to eat to be healthy. Here are some tips on what to eat and when.

Breakfast. Eating need HIGH. Since we haven’t eaten for about a half of a day, what we eat at this time will affect our bodies more than other times. Foods high in sugar will almost guarantee a sugar crash in an hour or two. A mix of whole-grains and protein will help jump-start the metabolism and keep the body from getting too hungry again too soon.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Eating need MEDIUM. If you tend to get too hungry before lunch and dinner, trying eating a small healthy snack midway between meals. A small amount of food will help keep ghrelin levels down and keep us from overeating later.

Pre-exercise snack. Eating need MEDIUM. Some nutritionists say it is best not to eat before a workout, but if you’re like me, consuming a few calories will help increase energy for a more effective workout. Carbohydrates are best at this time since they will give the body quick energy. Just don’t wait too long between eating and exercising and don’t eat too much!

Post-exercise snack. Eating need HIGH. The body needs to refuel, even if we don’t immediately feel like eating after a workout. The best food to eat at this time is protein. Protein helps rebuild the muscles used during a workout.

Late evening snack. Eating need LOW to NONE. Our bodies need rest. There is no need to force ourselves to keep working through the night, especially when it comes to digesting food! We won’t sleep well and we’ll wake up tired. Worse yet, calories turn straight to fat while we sleep since we are not burning the fuel. The best option is to eat dinner 3-4 hours before bed. The meal should include protein and a small portion of healthy fat to sustain us until morning.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

But I am always hungry. Why? What can I do?

Why? We have a lovely hormone produced in our bodies that we can blame for much of our overeating. It’s called ghrelin (rhymes with melon). Before a meal when our stomachs are feeling the tug of hunger, it’s because our bodies are aware that we need food, and thus produces ghrelin. You might say that it is our bodies’ strategy for survival against starvation. I suppose we might forget to eat if it weren’t for that hormone (yeah, right!).

Ghrelin is a natural response to a body’s lack of food, but it is not unalterable. We condition our bodies to produce ghrelin more or less often. When people initially reduce their food intake while dieting, their bodies respond by producing more ghrelin. Needless to say, it can be very hard to stay on a diet when ghrelin levels are gushing forward.

There are some tricks to lowering our ghrelin levels. For instance, ghrelin levels are reduced for up to two hours after aerobic exercise. Eating protein, potatoes, grapefruit, and healthy fats can also lower ghrelin production. Sometimes even inhaling the aroma of food can trick the body into reducing ghrelin—if you can endure the torture of that!

Over time, if we can endure the body’s initial resistance to eating less, our bodies will adjust to a smaller amount of food. Ghrelin levels will eventually stop over-reacting. It may take a while for our bodies to adjust to a new way of eating, but eventually it really is possible to eat less and not feel hungry all the time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Refrigerator in the Garage

Our refrigerator is not refrigerating. It’s a funny thing to admit when my husband sells appliances for a living. I have threatened to call my dealer to figure out what’s wrong with it, but fortunately for me he’s sitting at my dinner table each night. While we await the part that should fix it, we are borrowing a refrigerator from his store to keep our food. It’s in the garage, which changes things more than I imagined it would.

I am convinced that anyone who struggles with too much snacking should permanently move their refrigerator to the garage. Impulse eating rather loses its momentum when you have to trek into a 95ยบ garage to grab a quick bite. Or if you’re a grazer, you might go hunting for ice cream in the freezer, only to find there is no spoon on hand. It’s deflating, but an effective reminder that you really don’t need it!

Of course there are gliches in my refrigerator-in-the-garage plan. Mostly, it is not practical when you’re cooking dinner. I suppose we could have one refrigerator in the kitchen for cooking, and one in the garage for snacking. But somehow that logic is a bit too premeditated for impulsive eaters.

Perhaps it would be best to stick with the tried-and-true method. Don’t bring the bad stuff home from the grocery store, and you can keep your refrigerator in the kitchen where it belongs.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Do healthy ingredients make healthy food?

A few years ago I decided to start eating healthier. I went shopping at the expensive organic stores, bought fresh ingredients, and started cooking my meals from scratch. And within a couple of months I had gained nearly ten pounds. What I very quickly discovered was that healthy ingredients do not necessarily a healthy meal make!

This is true at home and at restaurants. Take Quizno’s Tuna Melt Meal. Whole wheat bread, tuna fish, veggies—it must be healthy, right? Actually, the calories pile up to 1900, which is more than my daily goal at present. But the worst part is amount of fat—145 grams! This innocuous-looking meal is worse than deep-fried fast food.

Eating healthy food is achieved by incorporating healthy ingredients, yes; but it is also achieved by omitting unhealthy ingredients. The two principles must both be applied to get the desired result of healthy eating.

I know that it’s tempting to fall for the vegetable chips or spinach dip because they seem “healthy.” Just remember, the only true health food is the food that makes you healthy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Z is for Zero

There are a few areas in life when it pays to have zero tolerance. Allowing these things in our lives even for a brief time can lead us down roads that we will regret. Below is a list of a few things that will hinder success. If you are struggling with succeeding, analyze the list and see if one or more of them are in your life. The best way to stay on the victory road is to be absolutely firm that we don’t let any of them in our lives.

The Zero Tolerance List:
Quitting
Defeat
Discouragement
Binge eating
Doubt
Unqualified Excuses
Withdrawing
Hiding
Bitterness
Cheating yourself

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Y is for You

When I fly, I usually tune out the “what-if-we-crash” instruction. If I really thought we’d be needing it, I wouldn’t be flying in the first place! Nevertheless, there are some things the flight attendant says that manages to jump over the book I’m reading and into my ears. Here is one of those safety thou-shalts that I notice every time: If you are caring for a child, you should take care of your own need for an oxygen mask before taking care of the child’s needs.

The reason for this caution is logical. If we don’t take care of ourselves first, we might not be able to take care of somebody else. So even if my emotions scream at me to ensure my child’s safety first, it could be disastrous for both me and my child.

This logic applies to more than the worst case scenario on an airplane. When I think about my health and well-being, it’s much the same as putting the oxygen mask in position. As I take care of myself, I enable more years and abilities to take care of those I love. When I feel good and healthy, I have more energy and life to give to others. When I exercise, I get more endurance to keep up with my energetic kids.

So it’s really not a selfish thing to look after yourself. Taking care of yourself is quite practical and it’s even thoughtful of others.

Monday, July 12, 2010

X is for exercise

When we think of exercise, we usually think of the physical benefits it gives, but there are other kinds of benefits that come from exercise too. One of the best times of inspiration I have found is during exercise. Whether I am stressed or so tired that my brain feels numb, I still get rejuvenated as I am puffing away in a workout.

Exercising brings out my creative side. I have dreamed up everything from futuristic clothing designs to a blockbuster movie plot while exercising. And if I ever get writer’s block, a good workout will take care of that! Exercise helps with mental blocks all around. I wonder if the person who coined the phrase “jog your memory” realized that exercise can assist in helping us to remember things.

Exercising helps clear away the emotions. If I get worked up about something trivial—shocking that I do that, I know!—the two best ways for me to unwind and get the right perspective is prayer and exercise. Then again, when I get worked up about things that I have every business being worked up about, the same two strategies help me to calm down.

While exercise might not give the deep inward peace that prayer gives, it can help align our thoughts and prioritize our passions. While the physical benefits of exercise are outstanding, there are still other reasons that exercise can help make our lives better.