Sunday, January 31, 2010

The First Ten Minutes

Two Saturdays ago my friend Elise Hayes and I were talking about my writing goals for the year and for the next few months. I have decent ones for the year, revise my first novel to a polished draft and finish a rough draft of a second novel, but I've been struggling with breaking these two, big goals down into approachable chunks that would give me direction for the next couple of months. She challenged me to come up with at least one goal that would help me day-to-day by the end of the afternoon.

In the past the one goal that had helped me be the most productive on a daily basis was club 100, when you promise to write at least 100 words a day for 100 days in a row, but I didn't think that this approach would work for revisions. I thought about why club 100 was so productive for me. It doesn't take too long to write 100 words, so it was never too intimidating. I could always tell myself I could find the time to write 100 words in any given day. Often by the time I reached the hundredth word, I was back into my story and writing away with no intention of stopping for another hour or two or even longer.

How could I recreate this in revisions? I decided that I would set a goal of working on my revisions at least 10 minutes a day until the WRW retreat in April. Hopefully, this would mean I would have or be very close to a polished, full draft by April 16.

I'm not sure what it is, but there is some kind of magic in reaching the ten-minute mark. It suddenly feels so much easier. I know that if I do stick to my promise of working at least ten minutes a day on revisions, I will work much longer than that on most days. I'll be so much more productive for it.

The exact same thing is true in exercise. The first ten minutes on the elliptical, the treadmill, or in a class are often the toughest. Whenever I'm struggling with it and want to walk away from my cardio for the day, I tell myself I can't even consider it until I reach the ten-minute mark. I may hate every second leading up to 10 minutes, but I can't think of one time when I've ever walked away from my exercise early after passing that minute. It's suddenly not as hard to keep going, and I know I can finish it.

Have you ever experienced something like this? Are there other short-term goals that are just as helpful for you? If you've never tried the ten-minute rule, you may want to give it a shot. It really works for me.
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ode to Soup - Red Lentil Soup

My sister’s cookbook 1 Stock, 100 Soups (written by Linda Doeser) has a lot of interesting and different soups in it. This is not 100 variations of Chicken Noodle soup – though it is hard to top a good chicken noodle soup. When deciding which recipes to try first, I was drawn to the kinds of soups I’d never had before. That still didn’t stop me from changing the recipe when I wanted to. The following is my version of a red lentil soup.

Before you see this recipe, you should know that the original version of this soup called for 8 oz. of salt pork. While I’m sure that version is yummy, I just could not face adding that much fat to a soup. I do agree though that most legume soups are tastier if cooked with a little meat. I’m sure you could use lots of different substitutes for the salt pork, but I went with .42 of a pound lamb patty (seasoned ground lamb) because my Dad just loves lamb.

Red Lentil Soup

Serves 6-8


8 oz of meat of your choice (original recipe calls for salt pork – I used a 6 oz lamb patty and broke it into small pieces)

2 tbsp olive oil (used spray can of olive oil and really reduced the amount)

1 onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

4 potatoes, diced (I didn’t bother to peel them since most of the nutrients are in the skins)

2 ¼ cups red lentils

12 cups chicken broth (again, use your favorite broth)

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon curry powder (to add flavor – especially since I eliminated a lot of the fat, I added several different spices to this not in the original recipe)

1 bay leaf

2 tbsp fresh, chopped, flat leaf parsley

1 fresh rosemary spring (large)

salt and pepper


Eat oil in pan over medium heat. Brown the onions 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and brown an additional minute. Add meat and brown 3-5 minutes. Add potatoes and brown 3-5 minutes. Add red lentils and brown 3-5 minutes. Stir constantly because the red lentils clump easily.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Add all the additional spices. Cover and simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours, until the lentils are very soft. The lentils and potatoes will absorb some of the broth the longer this soup sits around.

You may want to serve this with crusty bread to soak up some of the delicious and thickened broth.

What are your favorite kinds of soups? Are you a chicken noodle soup purist?

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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Tipping Point

By Terri Brisbin

First, thanks to Trish and Michelle for inviting me to blog today.

I’ve been on my own journey to try to get healthier and wanted to share a bit of it with you all. I’ve done the roller-coaster weight loss thing, having gained about 75 pounds between marriage and child #2 and then lost 75 pounds between child #2 and child #3, only to regain it all and more ever since. But I reached my ‘tipping point’ about 18 months ago.

For those who haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s work, the ‘tipping point’ is the point at which a market shift occurs, when a trend begins, when a paradigm shift occurs, aka a change in the way you think about something. And mine began about three years ago when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

Oh, I wasn’t an immediate convert at all. After surgery and recuperation, I really didn’t pay attention to my overall health. But a followup visit a year later to an endocrinologist brought me to my tipping point. The doctor pointed out that all my tests and levels were ‘fine’, but if one shifted to bad, the rest would topple with it. I went home thinking that this young doctor (did I mention I have children older than her?) was just an alarmist, but her words both troubled and resonated for weeks.

I realized that I was being really stupid! I mean, I’d been given a second chance when my cancer was found early and treated and I was not doing anything to appreciate that chance. Finally, a few months later, I gathered up my courage and took the first step toward a healthier style of living. But, it hasn’t been easy!

I’ve been using the Nutri-system(R) program to lose weight with its focus on portion-control, balanced foods and getting active. I decided to begin at the end of December 2008 and, by October 2009, I’d lost 80 pounds! And, even better, my blood pressure, sugar levels and cholesterol readings are waaaaay down. My doctors are happy and I am, too.

It hasn’t been easy at all, made worse because I love carbs (breads, pastas, potatoes) and generally hate veggies and don’t like fruits. Although sweets were not a big temptation to me, salty foods are. Why eat a handful of potato chips when a bag would be better? One piece of pizza and a salad when two pieces would be soooo much better? So, I found the structure of Nutri-system to be very helpful in getting control over my diet. It forced me to eat veggies and fruit every day, and it pushed me to get more active. It was easy to follow and worked for me because I only have an older son and hubby to cook for and we usually eat different things.

The exercise part is more of a challenge for me, but something I’m working on. Once I began losing pounds, it became easier to walk. And, in spite of a history of fracturing my back twice (yes, I broke my back twice….), I was able to travel to Scotland by myself and walk my way to castles, tombs, ruins, caves and shorelines. Uphill, in both directions, at times, it seemed. It was something I would never have been able to do while carrying around those 80 pounds.

My success so far, the encouragement I’m getting from friends and family, and the changes I’m seeing and feeling in myself are pushing me now to maintain the weight loss and to continue to get myself in shape. I’m still struggling and know that I always will, but I’m feeling a bit more confident in my efforts. Potato chips call my name as I pass them in the grocery store, but I know if I succumb to their temptation, all is not lost.

And that is my other tipping point – realizing that one misstep isn’t the end of the world. That if those darned potato chips win the day, I can still reclaim control. And that each day is a new battle…..

Have you reached your tipping point? Can you share it with us?

P.S. – One of the hardest things during this process has been giving up my favorite foods or recipes – but on the Hungry Girl Web site, she shares lots of ways to substitute and change recipes and ingredients to make your favorite foods healthier. Hey, anyone who can tell me how to make ‘better’ cocktail hotdogs is okay with me! Take a look at .

Terri is a married mom of three sons (two grown and out, one too big but still home!) and she lives in Southern New Jersey. The author of more than 20 historical and paranormal romances, Terri currently serves on the RWA Board of Directors and is busy writing more romances for Harlequin Historicals and Kensington Brava. Visit her Web site at

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Trigger Defenses, or Lists Part Deux

Last week I blogged about our eating triggers –those emotional/situational/food triggers that seem to make our ‘eat healthy’ resolve go poof. Or worse, the ones that push our buttons and send us right over the edge into a binging indulgence that makes us miserable after-the-fact.

So did you read the blog? If not, here, check it out! And once you’ve read it, you made your list, right? (s’okay if you didn’t, just play along with me) So now you know your triggers. You’re aware of what repetitive triggers you encounter in your life that could spell disaster for your progress toward healthy weight. And knowledge is power, yay. But... just knowing what they are isn’t enough.

The trick is knowing what to do about them.

You know what’s coming next, right? If you read last week’s blog, I’m sure you have an idea *g*
Make a list!

Look at each trigger and list three things you can do to avoid the situation.

For instance – if your trigger is a party with a buffet, what are three things you can do to overeat?

1. Eat a light meal beforehand
2. Fill your plate with veggies and healthy fare, then move away from the buffet
3. Don’t drink alcohol if you know it’ll send destroy your good intentions.

Your list will vary, of course *g*

But by having a list, of whatever variety, you’re prepared to deal with the trigger. It’s like that ‘what to do when you get the call’ list (you’ve seen it, right? The list of questions to ask, of things to have prepared?). It’s just one extra tool in your arsenal to help you to be a healthy writer, ya know?

So do you have a list for your list yet? Do you think this is a tool you’ll find useful?
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another Drama Filled Episode of The Biggest Loser

Trish is traveling, so I am taking care of this week's post. Another drama filled episode! Here's what I'm thinking about:

What happened to the green team? I really liked them in week one and still have a soft spot for them, but they do seem to have a chip on their shoulders. They also seemed to have more of a competitive spirit earlier in the show. I was sad to see Migdalia voted off but am so glad that they do show you where the voted off contestant is now. Good to see that she is still losing weight.

I can't stand Melissa. I was going to ask did she lie, but I really don't care. I just don't like her. At all. There usually is one contestant per season I do not like, and she's it for this one.

How do they lose so much weight so quickly? OK, I'm still struggling with my impatience and jealousy, and the numbers they pull just kill me. They've all lost more in weeks than I have in a whole year.

What do you think of Bob and Jillian's approach to the contestants? I do like how this show contrasts their two styles. Jillian's contestants lose more weight, and I agree with her emphasis on emotions, but there were times tonight when I thought Bob was much smarter in his approach.

How do the contestants' journey relate to folks trying to lose weight at home? I came up with ten lessons I've learned from watching this show, but I'm taking another look at this question. I think their emotional journeys can be relevant, but I wonder if I need to continue watching this show. The amount of weight they are able to lose in a short period of time is just not achievable for me. Yes, it could be a metaphor, but still... If you watch it, what do you get out of it?

Who are you rooting for? I don't really have a favorite yet. Pulling for someone always makes it more interesting and fun.

If you watched the latest episode of The Biggest Loser, what are you thinking about? The consensus on Twitter is definitely anti-red team and anti-beard (brown team). If you are on Twitter, you can follow me at: I'm having too much fun with it since I signed up Sunday.

If you want a proper recap of last night's episode, you may want to go to
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Oh, Jealousy!

My first Weight Watchers meeting of 2010 surprised me with how upbeat and positive it was. The long-timers were all vowing to have as positive a year in 2010 as 2009 – or even better! – and the fresh crop of new people were full of hope from their latest New Year’s resolutions. Our brilliant leader stressed how it was a new year full of new opportunities and asked us to leave on the carpet what was holding us back. I decided to leave my impatience and jealousy behind me in 2010. That didn’t last long.

At the end of each meeting, people are invited to share their successes such as their first 5, 10, or 50 pounds lost on up to losses in the hundreds. In this early January meeting, one woman had lost her first 5 pounds and danced her way to the front of the room to receive her sticker and bookmark. It was so cute. A few people received a charm for attending Weight Watchers for 16 weeks. As he gave one woman who looked to be close to me in age and weight her charm, he asked her how much she had lost. She replied 25 pounds. I joined everyone else in smiling and clapping, but inside all I could think was, “I hate you.”

At 16 weeks, I had lost 15.4 pounds. Heck, at 32 weeks, I had lost only 20 pounds. To further share how ugly my thoughts can be, it sometimes kills me how much faster our guest bloggers have lost weight than me. Sometimes it feels like everyone in the whole world, even my mother, loses weight faster than me. I hate it. What’s wrong with me? I’m working as hard as I can. Why can’t I lose weight faster? Why can’t I be naturally skinny? Why is this so challenging for me? It’s not fair. Wah, Wah, Wah!

The feelings of jealousy I struggle with in terms of my weight loss are very similar to the ones many writers can feel when they compare their career to others. Everyone who joined RWA at the same time I did is now published. My fellow ’06, ’98, insert your own year here GH finalists have all sold, and I haven’t. The women who were nominated for the best first book Rita the same year I was have published many more books than I have. My fellow category writer who started at the same time I did has now just signed a big, multi-book, single-title contract, and I can’t get my category editor to sign off on my latest revisions much less sell a single-title book. This sub-genre author who was published by the same house as me in the same year is now on the NYT list, and I’m clinging to my mid-list status. Does any of this sound familiar? Are these feelings helping you?

I know my jealousy does not help me one bit. Sometimes, it can even make me want to overeat or do other acts of self-sabotage. It certainly makes it harder for me to keep going and figure out ways I can plan and prepare for success. Furthermore, I can’t control what others do or what they achieve. I can control what I do and how I react to the feelings I have about it and others along the way. This takes discipline to acknowledge regularly what I am feeling and how this can affect my forward progress and to ensure I don’t let my reactions turn into ways I self-sabotage myself. I’ve gotten much better at this over the past year and plan to keep working at it this year.

I still want to leave my impatience and jealousy behind me in 2010. I now know that it’s going to be harder than I originally thought, but I’m up for the challenge.

Do you ever struggle with jealousy? Have you figured out ways to control your reactions to those feelings? Do you have any advice for me?


If Michelle Mondays are not enough for you, you can now follow me at Twitter:

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Joy of Vinegar

By Rachel Kleinsorge

I returned from vacation in Las Vegas with an unusual souvenir in my bag: a $20 bottle of aged balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegars are made from leftover grapes that will never be wine. In my house, balsamic vinegars are called “drinking vinegars” for their sweet-sharp flavor. I’d rather sip a shot-glass full of aged balsamic vinegar than malt whiskey. Before you judge me, give it a try; you’ll be surprised by the way a good balsamic vinegar brings out the sweetness of strawberries, the creaminess of avocado, and the crisp salty flavor of ham.

Others may argue about the supposed health benefits of balsamic vinegar, but my attention focuses on the flavor-filled burst it can give ordinary foods. With roughly 25 calories per tablespoon and no fat, a little balsamic vinegar goes a long way to adding life to boring entrees or so-so salad dressing. The recipe below is one of my favorites, a mix of herbs and balsamic vinegar that makes skinless boneless chicken into something special.

Herbed Balsamic Chicken Breasts


2 chicken breasts (roughly ½ a pound)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon garlic
½ tsp Onion Powder


Remove all fat and skin from the chicken. Press the breasts to a uniform thickness; set aside. Mix remaining ingredients in a shallow cooking dish. Marinade the chicken between 20 minutes and eight hours; flavor will intensify with longer times. Place baking dish (with chicken in marinade) in a 350-degree oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until the center of the thickest piece of chicken is 165 degrees.

Serve the chicken sliced over white rice with the marinade drizzled artfully on the plate, or chop the breasts into chunks and toss them with your favorite salad fixings. One of the beauties of the recipe is its flexibility. Thanks to the strong taste of the balsamic vinegar, the chicken is flavorful even if you’re in a rush.

Where do you use vinegar in your cooking? Are there any ways to enjoy good balsamic vinegar that I’m missing?

When she’s not cooking, buying, or dreaming about food, Rachel Kleinsorge writes steamy paranormal mystery romances. She is currently waiting for the call from her agent, the amazing Carolyn Grayson, while working on her next novel.
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Friday, January 22, 2010

What Works for Me

By Beth Andrews

While I don’t consider myself any sort of expert, I have had quite a bit of experience with dieting, exercising and healthy living. I was overweight as a child, and it seems as if my whole life has revolved around food. In kindergarten I asked my teacher if she had skim milk because I was on a diet and didn’t want the 2% milk that came with snack time. In fourth grade, I joined a national weight loss program and lost 20 lbs. The program was one where no carbs were allowed so naturally, as soon as I was off the plan, all the weight, plus some extra, came right back on.

At thirteen, I decided to lose the weight for good. Unfortunately, to make that happen, I drastically cut calories. It worked, I lost 65 lbs. I managed to maintain a healthy weight throughout my teens through somewhat sensible eating and a moderate amount of exercise.

And then, I got pregnant. Honestly, you’d have thought someone had just given me the keys to the food kingdom! Telling myself I was eating for two, I ate. And ate. And ate! And gained a whopping 75 lbs. But this time when I lost it, I was older and wiser. Instead of cutting back on all food, I cut back on foods with high fat content and I exercised daily. It took over a year, but the weight came off. More importantly, I’d learned my lesson and was able to keep my weight at a healthy level through my other two pregnancies.

As a matter of fact, my weight stayed the same for years. So you can imagine my surprise when I gained weight again. Telling myself a few pounds weren’t bad, I ignored it, and avoided getting on the scale. It wasn’t until my nice stretchy jeans became tight that I forced myself back onto the scale. Only to discover I’d somehow put on 15 lbs.

Here we go again. Now, to tell you the truth, at that point in my life, I’d had enough of watching what I ate and worrying over single calorie, but I knew that even losing 10 lbs would make me healthier so I made a few adjustments. I’m down those 10 lbs, and I know I’ll lose another 5 if I just keep working at it.

I thought I’d share some of the things that DID and DID NOT work for me:

What DID work:

Amping up my workouts. While I was doing okay with my workouts, to really help my heart health and drop those extra pounds, I need to push myself. Instead of 30 minutes of moderately paced walking, I now alternate a few minutes of jogging with a few minutes of walking and I’m working on increasing my time until I’m jogging for a full 3 miles.

Lifting weights. I love resistance training, but it’s so easy to tell yourself you don’t have time, that cardio workouts are more important (at least, that’s what I used to tell myself). But I see the biggest difference in my body when I do both cardio and resistance training.

My workouts, my way. I live in Northwestern Pennsylvania which means that for at least half the year, the weather outside is frightful. And while some people don’t let a little thing like snow or below freezing temps keep them from their daily walk or run outside, I’m not one of them *g*. I stay inside and walk/run on my treadmill while watching DVDs. And while I love weight training videos, I get bored easily so I’ve started listening to my iPod while following the routines.

What DIDN’T work:

Deprivation. I’m a big believer in “Everything in moderation”. I’m not sure if it’s because of my history with dieting or what, but I refuse to give up the foods I love. I love to cook so I always make a big dinner on Sunday nights, complete with dessert. And I allow myself to enjoy that dinner and a little bit of dessert as long as I: a.) don’t go overboard (no seconds, no large helpings) and b.) don’t eat that dessert any other day during the week. That means if there’s leftover chocolate cake on Monday, it’s off limits to me. I think it works because I know that in one short week, I’ll be having another (small) amount of dessert again *g*

Diet foods. Because I already eat a low-fat diet, I knew there was something else keeping me from losing weight. Sugar. When I decided to cut back on my sugar intake, I knew I’d have to alter how much Pop (soda pop *g*) I drank. I’d rather drink regular pop than diet so at first, I cut back the amount I was having daily (and yes, I drank pop daily) then I cut it back even more, then I completely cut it out a few times a week. I’m now at the point where I have No Sugar days twice a week—that means for those two days I eat only foods with no added sugar. I’m looking to add a third No Sugar day to my week soon. I’ve also discovered added sugars in some of the foods I’d considered ‘healthy’ before such as certain whole grain crackers. I believe watching for added sugars and amping up my cardio workouts are the two biggest reasons I was able to drop those 10 lbs.

Hating my body. I used to worry so much about what I looked like, I totally ignored every other reason to eat right and exercise…such as being healthy. Now that I’m (like I said earlier *g*) older and wiser, I realize just how wonderful my body is! I love working out because it makes me feel strong and energized, and I truly do love most foods that are good for me such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It’s much easier to make healthy choices because I want to live a long, happy and healthy life and as this is the only body I’ll get, I want to take the best care of it.

What have you found works best for you to keep you on track? Any long-standing belief that others swear by that just doesn’t cut it for you?
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lists... they are our friend

I'm a list maker by nature. Grocery lists, to-do lists, revision lists, packing lists. You name it, I've probably listed it. I could probably even make a list of all my lists, but that'd be silly, huh?

I was reading something the other day that got me thinking about our triggers. Weight gain triggers, overeating triggers, stress triggers. We all have them. It might be a deadline or a family visit. Maybe certain meetings trigger us to make poor eating choices, or rejection letters might send us out in the middle of the night to buy chocolate. Arguments that seem to freeze our ability to choose wisely, instead igniting that comfort-food craving.

And then there are the trigger foods. You know the ones, the can't have just one treats. The 'one chip leads to eating the entire bag' triggers. The 'if I have a beer, I'll quickly have another and then eat anything and everything' triggers. Or the 'skipping lunch and eating three entrees because I'm starving' trigger.

These are so common, and more often than not we don't see them coming. Sometimes, we're able to get ourselves past the trigger quickly before much damage is done and others we could be derailed for weeks.

This is where lists come in!

Make a list of all of your triggers. Trigger events, trigger situtations, trigger foods. Know your challenges, list them all. Even the once a year ones! Remember, knowledge is power and the more you know - or bring to a conscious level - about what challenges you, the easier you can deal with it.

If you're doing a weight-journal, thats the perfect place to keep this list, too.

So - have you ever stopped to consider triggers. Before they are switched on, I mean. Can you recognize them or do you have someone you can talk to that would help you see them more clearly?
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Conflict Galore on The Biggest Loser

This week's Biggest Loser was rife with emotion and conflict. First, there was Migdalia not responding well to Jillian pushing her to open up emotionally, resulting in Migdalia walking out of the gym and saying she wanted to go home. It took Bob talking to her, then Miggy (her mother and teammate) helping her realize that she doesn't know how to express the feelings of unhappiness built up inside her to convince her to stay. I hope that she can dig deep to figure out why she feels the way she does and find a way to fix whatever the root cause of her unhappiness is.

Part of Migdalia's anger seemed to stem from the first challenge, which Sherry of the pink team won. All Sherry had to do was eat two chocolate candies (I think they were M&Ms) to win the ability to decide who would be the teachers (team members who would get to work with Bob and Jillian all week, then have to teach their teammates what they'd learned and run their workouts) and the students (those who didn't get to work out with the trainers, and who would be the teammates whose weight would count at the weigh-in).

We got to see how the two teams at home (blue and yellow) were doing halfway through their 30 days away from the ranch, though they didn't tell us how much they'd lost. I'm sure they're saving that for the big reveal in a couple of weeks. It was interesting to see O'Neal's determination in the gym. I also liked his quote about not looking back anymore: "You can't go forward looking in the rear-view mirror."

Curtis Stone gave the contestants an eye-opening lesson on healthy eating and cooking. And it was cute how Stephanie (purple team) thought he was good looking. Hey, she's not wrong. Maybe if I become a fabulously wealthy author, I'll hire Curtis Stone as our personal chef. I'm sure the hubby wouldn't mind at all. LOL!

The immunity challenge had the contestants stringing 1,000 feet of ribbon through a playground, making it as challenging as possible for whoever was going to have to untangle it. But in this show there's always a twist, and their own teammates had to untangle the ribbons -- blindfolded! The winners (the gray team of Sam and Koli) got immunity and also got to choose one of the other teams to switch who would weigh in. They ended up choosing the white team because they didn't feel Michael had been giving his all in the gym. It proved to be a well-played strategic decision because Michael only lost 10 pounds, putting him and his mother, Maria, below the yellow line and resulting in Maria being sent home.

Even though the gray team had immunity, they didn't slack off on their workouts and the posted 11-pound (Sam) and 13-pound (Koli) losses. I admire them for not using their immunity to take it easy.

More conflict erupted -- this time between Bob & Jillian and Melissa of the red team, who only lost one pound. The trainers felt she threw the weigh-in again because Lance was the one whose weight counted. She adamantly denied it, and a yelling match ensued until Bob said that the weigh-in wasn't the place to get into it. It'll be interesting to see what happens between the trainers and the red team next week.

The biggest losses of the night were posted by John (14 pounds), Koli (13), and Darrell, Lance and Ashley (all with 12).

In addition to the revelation of how much weight Maria had lost since arriving at the ranch (51 pounds), the transformation moment also showed how she's conquered her fear of water. As someone who suffers from the same affliction, it brought tears to my eyes. As soon as I meet my March deadline, I'm going to inquire about adult swim classes at the local YMCA.

What were your favorite moments from last night's show? Do you think Melissa threw the weigh-in, or was she telling the truth? Do you think Michael will step it up next week? Will Migdalia be able to have the emotional breakthrough she needs?
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Task a Day

Yesterday, Michelle talked about changing one thing each week to improve one's health and fitness. And I recently read an article in the January issue of Prevention titled "Small Changes that Take Off Big Pounds." Seems like the idea of small changes adding up to long-term success is popular right now, and I have to say I'm a fan. That's how I also tackle writing projects like revisions, especially when the revisions are extensive. Thinking about all the revisions at once is too overwhelming. I have to break them down into manageable chunks. It's also how I attack other tasks like cleaning house, assigning a certain amount of time per day or certain tasks for a certain day. When I receive my RITA entries to judge soon, I'll add up the total number of pages that must be read by the deadline to return scores and divide that by how many days I have. Manageable chunks.

According to the Prevention article, "taking baby steps -- not giant leaps -- is the best way to get lasting results." The article cited a study detailed in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine in which participants who made one small change in their eating habits or exercise level each week lost more than twice the amount of belly fat, 2 1/2 more inches off their waistlines and approximately four times more weight during a program spanning four months than those who followed more common calorie cutting and physical activity recommendations. Those are some nice results, and ones I'd like to experience.

Among the potential changes the article suggested were the ever-present food diary, exercising during every commercial break while watching TV (personally, I exercise while watching the programs and skip through the commercials to save time for other tasks such as writing), walking five minutes more each day, limiting your high-fat foods to one per week, and signing up for healthy e-newsletters such as those available at (I just signed up for several myself).

So I'd like to invite all of you to share what one thing you want to change today. For me, I'm going to reintegrate sit-ups into my daily routine. I'm going to start out with 10 and add 1 more each day. Maybe I can add to the 1.2 pounds I lost last week.
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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Third Monday in January

I heard on NPR recently that the third Monday in January is one of the most depressed days of the year for many. All of the holiday bills have arrived. People feel like they’ve already failed at their New Year’s resolutions, and the current year will not be any different or brighter than the previous year.

We’ve already discussed why setting goals instead of resolutions is a better option, but let’s tackle the question of whether 2010 will be any different or brighter than 2009. Of course it can be if you want it to be and are willing to make some adjustments. There are roughly 50 weeks left in the year, and you don’t have to make all your changes in the first two weeks of 2010.

For many years, January was one of the busiest months of the year for me at work. It was just impossible for me to hit the latest year running on my New Year’s resolutions or goals since I was working killer hours at work. I whined to Trish about it once, and she asked me why I didn’t treat February 1 as my own personal New Year’s Day. What a simple suggestion, but it made all the difference. I started doing that, and my Februaries became so much more productive.

I didn’t try to do everything on February 1 though. I made plans and tried to tackle one area or change at a time. For example, if your goal is to become healthier through changes in diet and exercise, you may want to incorporate one new thing into your life every week. Start off your first week by keeping a food diary. The next week, you may set a goal of going to the gym 2-3 times in the next 7 days. The third week may be devoted to trying to eat at least 3 servings of vegetables a day. During the fourth week, you may want to work in some strength training into your fitness routine by lifting some weights or attending a yoga class. Ideally, you would keep up with each one of these changes so that by the end of the month, you are doing 4 new things that will help you become healthier. At the end of the year, you would have incorporated 52 changes into your lifestyle that make it healthier. A book that looks at weight loss through one change every 4 days is Martha Beck's The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace.

These changes need not take much time or even effort to implement. Psychology professor Richard Wiseman’s new book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot looks at many recent studies on why people act they way they do and is full of steps you can take in less than a minute to change your life. He examines the areas of happiness, persuasion, motivation, creativity (he’s not that wild about brainstorming), attraction, relationships, stress, decision making, parenting, and personality. He critiques where typical self-help and common sense advice get it wrong and shares what the latest scientific studies say will work. If this intrigues you, you can listen online to an hour interview with him entitled Brain Science on NPR’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show before you read the book.

In his chapter on motivation, he reviews how people successfully make big changes in their lives such as losing weight. They must create the ideal plan that identifies what their overall goal is, create a step-by-step plan for how they will achieve that goal, identify the benefits of achieving their overall goal, and go public by sharing their goal with others. He even suggests blogging about it. Does this sound familiar? It does to me because it succinctly captures how I lost 30 pounds last year.

How are you feeling on this third Monday of January? Do you have any stories or advice to share about how you have successfully made changes - big or small - in your life?
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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ode to Soup

I love soups. I often make a big batch of various soups and freeze them in individual containers for future lunches or dinners. I eat soup all year long, but they are even more special during the winter. For the winter of 2010, I'm going to do an ode to soup series for my next several healthy cooking posts.

My sister received the 1 Stock, 100 Soups cookbook this past Christmas. It’s a very fun book. While we were at my parents’ house for the holidays, we tried out some of the recipes and made four of the 100 soups.

As you know, I feel free to experiment with any recipe and will often make variations and substitutions if I think I’ll like it better. Soup is very amendable to this. The following recipe is my version of the North African Soup Harira, the #88 soup on page 197 of the 1 Stock, 100 Soups Cookbook.

North African Harira

Serves 6 – 8


2 tbsp olive oil (I used a spray can of olive oil and really cut back on the oil used.)

8 – 16 oz lamb (the original recipe called for boneless lean lamb, cut into cubes, but I used lamb on the bone, cooked it whole - still on the bone to add more flavor to the soup broth – and shredded the meat at the end of cooking.)

1 onion, chopped

12 cups beef broth (I’m sure you could use vegetable or chicken broth if you prefer. I wanted a heartier broth.)

1 cup lentils (your choice – I used the regular lentils you can find easily at the grocery store.)

½ cup barley

1 can diced tomatoes

3 celery stalks, chopped

3 carrots, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 tsp sugar (I used raw sugar)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ginger

1 – 2 tbsp fresh, flat-leaf parsley

salt and pepper to taste


Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the lamb and brown over medium heat 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until softened.

Pour in the beef broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the soup is at a simmer. Add the lentils, barley, tomatoes, celery, carrots, red bell pepper and spices. Keep it at a simmer and cook for 40 minutes. Add the can of garbanzo beans and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

If you used lamb meat on the bone (shanks, chops, etc.), pull the lamb. Let it cool and then shred.

When you are done cooking, you may think there is too much broth. Since you use so many legumes in this soup, they’ll absorb the broth as it sits. You may feel like you need to add extra broth after a couple days.

If you plan to freeze the soup, you may want to let it sit a day in the refrigerator so that it gets more flavorful before you freeze it.

This soup was a huge hit for the whole Butler family. I hope you like it as well.

Are you a big soup fan? Does it matter what time of the year it is? Do you have any favorite soup recipes you would like to share?

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Vanity Led Me To It, and My Writing Made Me Stay….How Weight Watchers Changed My Life

By Margaret Carroll

As of this writing, I’ve just lost 25 pounds. I’m on the Weight Watchers maintenance plan. I feel ten years younger and pretty again.

Like many women reading this, I was a Twig my whole life. My parents cajoled me to eat as a child. Long after my siblings had been excused from the table, I had to sit there until I finished everything on my plate. I wore a Size 4 or 6 (I’m five feet, seven inches tall). Even into my thirties, shopping for bathing suits and underwear was no big deal. I was able to buy those three-in-a-tube patterned dainties from Jockey (remember those?), or sexy strings on sale at Victoria’s Secret.

I got married and then came The Baby. I’ve never known hunger like I knew when I was pregnant. If we had plans to meet friends for dinner, I’d beg to go to Outback and dream of Bloomin’ Onions all week. By the time I gave birth, I had gained 50 pounds.

I lost some of it and gained some back. Lost some and gained some back. Occasionally I would diet. My method was to skip breakfast (except for coffee loaded with heaps of sugar and cream) and put off eating as late in the day as possible. By lunch I devoured anything that wasn’t nailed down.

I began writing fiction seriously in 2003. For the first time, I was alone all day, sitting in a chair in my house. The kitchen was not far away. I wrote and sold four novels. I grew heftier with each book.

Last summer, I crossed a line in the sand. Medically, technically, I became Obese. It was not Baby Weight, technically speaking. Our Baby is now in the third grade.

The problem was, I didn’t know how to stop eating. Seriously, I had no idea. I had gotten to the point with my carbohydrate intake that I needed to eat every two hours or I got the shakes. My energy flagged. I got headaches in the afternoon. I couldn’t concentrate on my work for more than an hour or two at a time or I got sleepy. I made a Starbucks run most days after lunch (I was hooked on white chocolate mocha lattes). And I fell into the habit of taking a half-hour nap every afternoon before school let out.

I grew used to having a gut, to put it plain and simple. With every change of season, I had to go out and buy new pants. The old ones didn’t fit. I noticed I lost confidence, too.

This is middle age, I told myself. Everything gets rounder. Life slows down. I tried to think of myself as a curvy mature woman at peace with herself. But I missed wearing Lily Pulitzer shifts with mules in summer. I was not becoming voluptuous, Beautiful with More to Love. I was growing a fat butt with thunder thighs to match.

By the time I went in for my annual physical, I expected to be diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I was not, but the news was not all good.

My cholesterol was zooming into the danger zone.

My doctor gave me a hard stare. “You need to lose weight.” Nobody had ever talked like this to me before. Well, the obstetrician had but I ignored him.

“But how?”

“Join Weight Watchers.”

This sounded dreary, like joining a 12-Step recovery program. Despite all the women I’ve known who had lost weight on the Weight Watchers plan, I winced.

“You can do this,” my doctor said cheerfully. “It’s easy. You’re going to lose weight. They’ll show you how.”

The next words out of his mouth were the ones that convinced me. “You won’t be hungry. I promise.”

He was right.

I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting determined to keep an open mind. I was scared. My need for refined carbs had progressed to the point where I needed to pop Hershey Kisses just to get through a trip to the mall or a play date in the park.

So the idea of starting my day with a protein-rich breakfast (such as an egg-white omelette – gag me) and a cup of fresh fruit scared the heck out of me. The idea of coffee flavored with just two tablespoons of fat-free creamer made me wonder if I’d even want to get out of bed each morning.

If I wanted to snack, I learned I could snack on carrots (woohoo). A tasty cup of vegetable soup (no added salt) would replace my midday mocha latte. Mustard and ketchup, I learned at the meeting, would become my condiments of choice (bye-bye, mayonnaise). Everything I ate would be measured and logged. (‘If you bite it, write it,’ my team leader advised.) I learned that you can eat a lot more halibut or tuna than grilled New York strip steak (ouch!), and that white bread is the Enemy. And I began drinking eight glasses of water each day.

I left that first meeting with my new Points Finder and Food Tracker, determined to give it a shot.

I lost three pounds the first week and felt as though I had won the lottery.

I continued to lose, for a total of 25 pounds in six months.

It was simple. I’ve never been hungry, ever. I’ve had a small dessert every day. I’ve dropped down close to my wedding day weight.

But the big surprise is how great I feel. My mind feels sharp as a tack. The fuzziness (which I now call my Carb Cloud) has lifted. My energy level is high, and remains steady throughout each day. No more peaks and troughs. No more shakes. No more naps. I’m down to a single cup of coffee in the morning. I eat four small meals each day, with low-fat protein at each. I eat grains and really do get six servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

My stomach is flat. My concentration level is high. I end my writing sessions each afternoon feeling pretty good, with plenty of energy left for after-school activities, errands, homework, play dates, housework, dinner prep and cleanup.

No more naps! I’m still a Walking Zombie by Light’s Out but at least now I can read a few pages (more if I like the book) or catch a minute or two of Jay Leno’s monologue before the curtain comes down.

To be honest, I would have been happy just to stop gaining. Or even with losing two or three pounds. I did not dream of looking good in Calvin Klein jeans again, or feeling so peppy and alive.

I had no idea food could have this big an impact. For me, a low-fat, low-carb diet is the key to a better life.


Margaret Carroll’s debut thriller, A Dark Love (Avon) was named one of the top five mass-fiction titles of 2009 by Publishers Weekly. She has three other books in print: Riptide, a Hamptons murder (Avon); and two chick-lit style romantic comedies set in NYC, The Write Match and The True Match (both from Avalon). She is currently at work on her fifth novel, another thriller set in New York.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

To Journal or Not To Journal

That is the question...

I've been reading a lot lately about the power of journaling. In life, and specifically for weight loss. The journaling could be as detailed as a daily diary, recording not only food and exercise, but thoughts, emotions and the day's activities. Or it could be as simple as a notebook with the day's calorie intake and expenditure jotted down. But there seems to be a strong connection between weight loss success and the act of journaling.

For me personally, I see a direct connection between my success and whether or not I journal.

If I record my food, I tend to think harder about what I eat. I record my food intake, and the calories and fat, as well as what exercise I did. I know there's no point in lying to myself, so I'm brutally honest about that bag of M&M's that I knew I shouldn't have had, but gobbled up anyway. And at the end of the week when I check my weight, its crystal clear why I did or didn't lose anything that week. I can see what I ate, whether I exercised, and how much water I drank.

I also keep track of what happened that day - not in 'dear diary' detail, but just making note of anything specific that had a major impact. Whether I went out to lunch with the girls, had good news or had a stressful appointment. It helps me see, too, how my emotions and life are impacting my success and weight journey.

What about you? Do you journal, or have you in the past? Did you see a direct connection to your success when you did?
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Biggest Loser Contestants Face Reality

Last night was the second episode of Biggest Loser Couples, and it had the contestants facing facts, facing fears and just facing reality. Early on, we found out that John feels like his family is cursed because they've had so much tragedy. Within a year, he lost his father, grandmother and older sister. He said he doesn't want to be another death in that family, another tragedy. He has a 1-year-old son to live for -- perhaps one of the cutest kids I've ever seen. Just adorable.

It was what I like to call the seasonal Dr. Huizenga show, where he talked to the contestants about the health problems they were facing because of their obesity. For instance, Michael had to watch as trainer Bob was loaded down with more than 300 pounds of weights -- the extra body weight that Michael is carrying around. Bob was stunned that Michael could even move. The purple team had to watch a video from home where family members talked about how Patti's and Stephanie's obesity affected them. They came away from the viewing determined to make changes. Dr. Huizenga said, "We'll show you the road. You'll have to walk it."

The red team of Lance and Melissa got a visual of how much their obesity is going to cost them over the rest of their lives in lost wages and health care costs when an armored truck pulled up holding $3 million! Lance, who used to make good money as a commercial diver, can't do it anymore because he can't pass the dive physical. Jillian faced the orange team of Cheryl and Daris and had to eat a meal they would have eaten before coming to the Biggest Loser campus. Jillian tried, but she couldn't do it. She was seriously grossed out. Ashley of the pink team got the devastating news that though she's only 27, she's diabetic and her inner age is 57.

The challenge this week had the contestants carrying beach balls down a balance beam over a pool. The first team to get 10 balls across won immunity, and the last team had a 2-pound disadvantage at the weigh in. The red team won, and the white team came in last after Maria's severe fear of the water (to which I can relate) kept her off the balance beam. In fact, she freaked so much that she fell and cracked her nose on the concrete side of the pool, necessitating a trip to the hospital. I felt so sorry for her as she realized her fear had cost them the challenge, making them vulnerable to elimination. Jillian did get her in the pool later, helping her to face her fear.

At the weigh in, the green team of Miggy and Migdalia won the percentage lost even though Migdalia only lost 4 pounds this week. The biggest numbers were put up by John of the brown team (10 pounds lost), Michael and Maria of the white team (11 and 10, respectively), and Darrell of the black team (10). Melissa of the red team actually gained a pound, but it was strategy on her part. By not trying so hard this week since she had immunity, she's hoping that next week she can put up big numbers. In the end, the purple team fell below the yellow line and Patti asked to be sent home since she had a support system there and her daughter, Stephanie, didn't. So Patti was the second person voted off this season. In the Transformation Moment at the end, we saw that Patti has lost 43 pounds, is sporting a great new haircut, ran a 5K with her husband, is taking dancing lessons with him, and works out at the gym with her other daughter every day.

What were your favorite or most eye-opening moments of this week's episode?
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Which weight-loss plan? And cash for weight loss?

This is the time of year when lots of people are thinking about their health and eyeballing the gym and/or some sort of weight-loss plan. If you don't skip right over the commercials, you've probably seen an increase in the number of ads for weight-loss plans on TV. The big task for each of us is to find a plan (whether a pay plan or something we devise on our own) that will work best for us as a life change, not a "diet." But if you decide you want to go with one of the popular weight-loss plans, which ones are worth the money? That's the question this article at CBS MoneyWatch asked.

MoneyWatch analyzed several of the top weight-loss programs: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, eDiets, In the Zone, Bistro M.D., NutriSystem, and Medifast. They give overviews of the plans, what they cost, what the cost per pound is, assessments of if the plans work and if they are worth the money. There's a side-by-side comparison at the end of the article.
Do you think you'd be more likely to lose weight if money were on the line? If you said yes, you may very well be right. According to this interesting article about sites such as, "dieters who had a financial incentive to lose weight were nearly five times as likely to meet their goal when compared with dieters who had no potential for a financial reward."

I need to get back to reporting my progress on the days when I post. Today, I kept it down to 1,560 calories, but would like to shave 200-300 calories off that. I did two hours of house work, much of which was shampooing carpet. It's amazing how much you can ache after shampooing carpet. I'm on Day 11 of no Coca-Cola. Yesterday, I craved it like crazy, but I managed to resist. Yay! Score one for willpower. I started a weight chart and stuck it on the front of my refrigerator. I'm weighing every Monday morning before I eat breakfast. I didn't have a good eating or exercise week last week, so I count myself fortunate that I lost .4 pound.

How's everyone else doing?
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Are You Lying to Yourself?

For years, I told myself that I carried my weight well. The scale may have shown a huge, scary number, but I looked fine. Look at some of the before photos I’ve posted on this blog to evaluate the truth of that statement for yourself.

I never referred to myself as obese – even though I was by all ways of determining that. If I referred to my weight at all, I’d say I was overweight. Only an absolute and complete lack of clothing that fit and the need to have appropriate, nice outfits for job interviews got me to enter a plus size store that first time.

I told myself that the excess weight did not affect my life. I felt fine and could do whatever I wanted. When I could no longer believe that, I told myself that overall my life is good. I’m happy. I'm not missing out on anything because of my weight. I’m healthy. If you think one can be overweight or even obese and healthy, read this recent New York Times column.

I’d tried and failed to lose weight so many times that I told myself it was impossible for me to lose weight. I ate well and made healthy choices. I exercised some. I understood nutrition and portion control. I couldn't possibly be lying to myself about how much I was really eating or exercising. I was meant to be fat, so I should make the best of it. Realizing how all these lies and negative thinking patterns turned into expectations and results is frightening. How did I ever find the courage to try yet again?

I did. And, it wasn’t caused by hitting bottom. I’d done that years before in terms of my highest weight and biggest sized clothing. A recent PBS special I saw called This Emotional Life would say it’s the resiliency of the human spirit and the need to have hope. I’ve also read that sometimes what you want the most is what you are most frightened to attempt. Your ability to procrastinate or even self-sabotage attempts to go after this most wanted thing can be off the charts.

Somehow I still found the way to try again, and it was not with any great sense that this was the time I would succeed. I know I was very inspired by two friends who had lost 50 pounds in 2008 and by several seasons of The Biggest Loser. Somehow I walked back into Weight Watchers to try yet again but not quite believing I could really lose that weight. I have done better than I ever expected. It’s made me think a lot about the power of thoughts, expectations, bad habits and lies.

Weight is not the only area where you can lie to yourself. Have you ever said you want to be a published author and then gone months without writing or ever establishing a writing schedule? Have you avoided mastering the one or two craft areas that you know you need to learn before you’ll make that sale or move to the next level in your career? Have you ever submitted anything?

Are you lying to yourself in other aspects of your life? Finances? Relationships? At work? Do you drink too much? Do you still smoke? Are you denying other risky behavior? Are you refusing to acknowledge and work out your negative emotions and thoughts?

2010 can be the year you stop lying. It’s extremely liberating.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Healthy eating, one day at a time

By Anne McFarlane

For the past 10 years, every New Year’s Day I vowed to lose the 30 or 40 pounds I’d gained over the years. Surely I didn’t eat enough for me to be this big? Oh, I started the year off right. I’d lose 10 pounds then put it all back on. One summer I even lost 20 pounds. Fortunately, I only gained 10 of those pounds back by the end of 2008. But my blood pressure was high and my hips were aching. If I didn’t want to end up on medication or having surgery, I needed to make permanent changes.

2009 started off with that same promise. I had to lose 33 pounds. I weighed more on Jan 1, 2009 than I did on Jan 20, 1990 -- the day before my daughter was born. When I was nine months pregnant!

The promise might have been the same, but my attitude wasn’t. This year there would be no rigid cutting back on food so I was hungry all the time or heading to the gym and exercising until I couldn’t move. I was going to view the weight loss as a healthy lifestyle choice. Rather than trying to shed the pounds as fast I could I would treat it as a year-long project. Every day I would try to make healthy choices and move more. If I had an off day or an off meal I wasn’t going to let it sink the ship. So many times in the past if I fell off the wagon I would give up. The new promise I made to myself is that there would be no giving up. No matter what I ate an hour ago, last night or all day yesterday, it was done. Over with. The only thing that mattered was the next meal in front of me.

Do you know what happened? When I gave myself permission to fail without beating myself up, I succeeded. A little bit like writing a book, isn’t it? You can’t write a whole book if every time you choose the wrong word or plot twist, you give up.

I lost 34 pounds last year. For the first time in years, I dressed for our RWA chapter’s Christmas potluck without trying to squeeze into something that didn’t fit – and wearing a loose jacket or cardigan over pants because I couldn’t do up the button.

Jan 1, 2010, I no longer had to make a resolution to lose weight. That doesn’t mean the struggle is over. Keeping the weight off is a new journey. Every day I have to choose wisely.

One of the big challenges is finding meals that are healthy and taste good. Eating salads and baked chicken and fish everyday can be boring. Sometimes we crave a certain food, maybe something sweet or crunchy. Substituting food with similar textures can help. I love nachos with toppings. I substitute baked chips, salsa, low fat cheese and sour cream. Or, if I have pita bread that’s a little stale I cut it in triangles, use an Olive Oil spray and bake them until they’re crispy. Team those with the salsa and sour cream and it makes a low-fat snack. To replace dessert I team low-fat yogurt with one of those low-ca, individually wrapped cakes or frozen fruit.

An additional challenge is healthy food that appeals to my daughters. And since my girls are teenagers, getting them to eat breakfast before they fly out of the house is tough. Here’s a recipe that started out as light banana loaf and I’ve changed it up to make banana muffins – and added whole wheat flour for a little more fiber and just a few chocolate chips to keep the kids happy:

Healthy Banana Muffins
Makes 16 muffins.

1 cup mashed bananas
1 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
1/4 cup margarine, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

In small bowl, stir mashed bananas and baking soda together. Set aside. Beat eggs in small mixing bowl until frothy. Cream margarine and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add ½ of the eggs. Beat. Add second ½ of eggs. Beat. Stir in mashed banana. Add additional dry ingredients and chocolate chips. Stir just to moisten. Don’t over stir. Spoon into medium lined muffin tins. Bake at 400 F for about 15-20 minutes until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
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Friday, January 8, 2010

Finding What Works for You

By Sara Reinke

As we head into the new year, armed with resolutions to lose weight, it seems there is no end to the wealth of information available to help us achieve our goals. Just turn on your television and you’ll find them—advertisements featuring workout DVDs promising cardiovascular “boot camps” to toughen you up, prepaid diet programs where food is delivered to your door in perfectly portioned servings, or any number of pills, supplements or energy drinks guaranteed to reprogram your metabolism, decrease your body’s fat absorption or reduce your hunger pangs.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with so many options coming at you so fast. And if you’re like me, instead of adding to my motivation to lose weight, all of these options only work to discourage me.

Let me give you an example. A friend of mine is trying to lose weight. She’s putting herself through her own personal hell, sweating through 80 minutes of cardio workouts daily, plus free weight training at her local gym. She’s lost 30 pounds, but man, she’s working at it.

I hate to sweat. I’m lazy by nature. I’m cheap. And I like to eat. There’s no way I’d endure some drill sergeant of a personal trainer screaming in my ear in so-called “motivation.” There’s no way I’d put my body through the torture of nearly an hour and a half of intense physical exercise. And there’s no way in hell I would shell out perfectly good money for a gym membership to be subjected to that kind of abuse. That’s just not something that suits my personality, my physical abilities.

Another friend lost more than 50 pounds doing Weight Watchers. She counted points religiously, attended meetings and inspired other friends to join her. She almost inspired me to join her, too, but then I went online and found out how much Weight Watchers costs. (See my note above about being cheap.) I was able to repeatedly talk myself out of even trying Weight Watchers just for the price of the program alone, never mind the commitment to a weekly meeting and weigh-in session. I work full time, in addition to my writing pursuits, and am a wife and mother, full-time jobs in and of themselves. So I discovered I’m commitment-shy, too, meaning I didn’t want to put forth the time, effort or energy demanded of a regimented program.

Nutrisystem? I’m too cheap to try it. Same thing with diet pills and weight-loss tonics. Fad diets? I like carbs too much to give them up, lettuce too little to eat nothing but and will bite you like a rabid dog if you try to take away my chocolate.

This probably means that as a food-lover with a penchant for carbs, chocolate and cheese, who is too cheap to commit to a gym or diet program and too lazy to sweat, I’m doomed to be overweight forever. Right?

This time last year, I’d have told you yes. But today, I know differently. Last spring, I took a little online health quiz and saw that my body mass index, which is an indicator of the percentage of fat in your body given your height, weight and gender. At the time, I would have admitted to being a little overweight. I would have admitted to hiding behind other people in photographs, or avoiding having my picture taken altogether. Had you asked, I would have said, no, I’m not happy now that my size 18 pants are getting too tight and my 1X shirts too snug, so I have to purchase size 20 and 2X. But it wasn’t until I saw that BMI result that I realized just how big the blinders I had been wearing were. I wasn’t overweight.

At 5’6” and 190 pounds, I was obese. I was at critical risk for developing adult onset diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, respiratory problems and other obesity-related health issues. I realized I had to do more than go on a diet. I had to find someway to change my life for the healthier.

But then I found myself overwhelmed by all of the options I described earlier. And by feeling overwhelmed, I was also able to postpone getting healthy and losing weight, because I was waiting for what I thought was a magic pill, an easy answer, the quick and simple solution that would melt my pounds away while requiring nothing more of me than I was already giving.

But there is no magic pill. Not really. By that, I mean there’s no one thing that works every time for every person. Everyone has to find out what works for them. That’s why those cardio boot camps DVDs have real-life people in their commercials on TV describing how much weight they’ve lost or how many inches have melted off their bodies from doing the exercises. For those folks, and plenty of others, those DVDs are their magic pill. Just like Weight Watchers was the magic pill for my friend and Jenny Craig was the magic pill for Valerie Bertinelli. But that didn’t make these methods right for me—and doesn’t make them right for you, either.

For me, what worked was counting calories and walking. I decided to do this after almost buying a little carton of Weight Watchers yogurt. I was buying it for the label alone, figuring if it said Weight Watchers on it, it had to be the healthiest. Right? But then I compared it to another brand of yogurt and realized it had 20 more calories for the same sized container. And thus, the idea for counting calories and reading nutrition labels was born.

I kept a food log, first in little spiral notebooks I carried in my purse, and now that I have technologically vaulted headlong into the 21st century, I keep track on a little app on my iPhone. I write down everything I eat, whether I want to admit it or not, and the calories in each and every item. When I was trying to lose weight, I limited myself to 1,500 calories a day. Once I’d hit my goal weight, I allowed myself 2,200. Because I ate too many sweets over the holidays in spite of this, I am back to 1,700 so I can get back to my goal weight.

Because I love food, I wasn’t willing to go without anything I like, and by counting calories, I don’t have to. I can eat bread, rice, potatoes, French fries, cheese, fruit—anything I want. It’s the portion size that counts. I’ve learned how much I can eat and still remain within my daily caloric allotment.

I added a salad to my lunch every day, and for those first few months, ate Smart Ones or Lean Cuisine frozen entrees. The calories are already totaled for you, the portions already sized, so you don’t have to worry about it. And you can learn what 300 calories worth of salisbury steak and macaroni and cheese looks like, so you can later fix a plate for yourself and keep within that range. Today, I’m better about estimating by sight what a proper portion of food looks like. When I’m in doubt, I still pull out my food scale and make sure. (You can buy these cheap in your grocery store, less than $10. Money well, well spent.)

I read nutrition labels. I compared different products and bought the ones with the least calories. Spaghetti sauce, pasta, soups, rice cakes, puddings—you name it, I learned about it and went with the healthiest. I decided if it was more expensive, it would be worth it in the long run. And it was still less expensive than a paid-diet supplement or gym membership, so that kept my cheap self from grumbling too much.

I found little ways to keep my gluttonous self happy. For example, Jell-O sugar-free puddings help ease my craving for chocolate. Jell-O sugar-free gelatin is another indulgence, especially if topped with Redi Whip fat free (5 calories!) whipped topping. Rice cakes take away my urge to chomp on something salty and crunchy. Microwave low-fat popcorn works well, too. Partially skim milk cheeses have fewer calories per serving than regular cheese. Baked French fries are every bit as good as their fried counterparts, without all of the grease and added calories and fat.

I also discovered new indulgences I never would have otherwise tried. For example, I love the grilled chicken snack wraps at McDonald’s, ordered without any sauce. Most places put way too much sauce on sandwiches anyway, and the snack wrap comes with cheese, which, with the chicken, tastes delicious without drowning in ranch dressing.

When I go out to eat, if possible, I check the menu’s nutritional information online before going, or use my iPhone to check it out once I’m there. Then I can make healthy choices on the fly. I tried a grilled pork tenderloin at Olive Garden doing this—something I never would have picked had I not been calorie conscious. And it was incredibly delicious.

One thing I’ve seen stressed on Biggest Loser, and with which I have to agree whole-heartedly, is to not be afraid to order off the menu at a restaurant. I substitute healthy sides like a salad or grilled vegetables for French fries or not-so-healthy dishes. I always ask for sauces to be skipped or served on the side. Salad dressings, too. I don’t always get the least-caloric salad dressing, but even if I don’t, when it’s on the side, I use only a fraction of it by dipping each bite into it, instead of dumping it all over my food. Pull the skin off your chicken. Order a side of vegetables with your steak instead of a potato. Have salsa with your tortilla chips instead of queso dip. Order fish if they’ve got it—preferably white, like tilapia or mahi mahi. Keep all of your meat portions under 6 ounces and you won’t overdo it. Share a dessert with your husband or kids—or your husband and kids. These are just some of the rules of thumb I keep in mind anymore when dining out.

When I say I walked as part of my new diet/exercise changes, I don’t mean on a treadmill. I have one at home, and I’ll get on it if Biggest Loser is on, but ordinarily, it sits in my family room, collecting dust bunnies beneath it. I like to walk outside. I call it my daily dose of Zen. Whether it’s 98 degrees outside or 22, you’ll find me twice a day, Monday through Friday, hoofing a path around where I work. A group of my coworkers join me, and that helps keep me motivated, even on days when I’d rather stay inside and eat M&Ms. I probably average 3.5 or 4 miles an hour, which means for each 20-minute trek, I burn anywhere from 65 to 75 calories, or roughly 130-150 calories a day. Not bad.

I set realistic goals for myself. When I was 20-something years old, I could quit eating for a week and drop 10 pounds. I’m almost 40 now and have had two kids. My metabolism doesn’t work that way anymore. So I tried to be optimistic but realistic with my weight-loss expectations. One to two pounds a week is a healthy weight-loss range. And you’re more likely to keep the weight off if it’s lost gradually like this, through healthy methods.

Eating less and exercising more in a fashion that suited my activity level and personal preference. That’s all I did. That’s my magic pill. I’m not saying it’s going to work for you. But by doing this, I went from 190 pounds in April to 150 pounds in September and I’ve kept it off. With the exception of four pesky pounds I gained around the holidays, which I am now half-way to losing. I’m healthy and happy, no longer hiding in photographs. And my BMI is well within the normal range for my proportions.

My advice to anyone with a New Year’s resolution to lose weight is to go for it. Find what works for you—whatever that may be—and stick to it. Trust me—if I can do it, anyone can.

Sara Reinke is the author of urban fantasy and paranormal romances, including The Brethren series from Zebra Books. Visit her at her blog:

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Getting Right Back on Track

Did the holidays play havoc with your diet? The craziness of the season derail your exercise plans? All of my good intentions definitely took a hit in December, too.

I think thats natural, though. Time, energy and options become limited at different times of the year (holidays, conference season, etc) and we can easily slip up. The trick is to keep that slip from turning into an excuse to give up, right?

I was reading the Shape website today and came across this fabulous article on jumpstarting your weight loss- or getting right back into focus after the holiday craziness. The article sites 3 tips that I thought were awesome.

  • Bounce Back -aka get right back in the healthy mindset and on track again. Too often, we let the excuse of the holidays or busy time lengthen way longer than it merits. To give in to just one more of gramma's awesome sugar cookies in December is one thing. To still be snacking on the crumbs in January is only going to add way more pounds to the scale and way more stress to your life before you get yourself on track again. So if you accept that December is over, and that January means you're bouncing right back on track, you'll start seeing fabulous progress again soon.
  • Think Positive - Oh yeah, this one is priority, especially after falling off the healthy wagon. We are the queen's of guilt, so its way to easy to beat ourselves up for what we did or didn't do before. But negative motivation rarely gets us back on the treadmill or into a healthy state of mind. A positive mindset though? That's the key to success. Accept what was, and be determined to stick with what is --which is your eating and exercise plan.
  • Exercise Smart - Its all about finding that exercise you love, that you'll easily fall back into the habit of doing. Once you've found your exercise match, it'll be like riding a bike. You just get back on and fall back into the habit as naturally as breathing. But first, of course, you have to find that exercise match *g* If you haven't, this is a great time to try. If you're social, check out group classes with a friend -the energy will keep you motivated until you can decide if the actual class/exercise is the one for you. If you're anti-social (raising my hand) or introverted, check out the plethora of exercise videos, equipment on sale, and options out there that might appeal to you. While you try them all out, you'll be exercising and losing too. What a win-win gig, huh?
So, are you already back on the healthy wagon? Or were you needing a little nudge?
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Biggest Loser Kicks Off Another Season

It was a night of big numbers on the first episode of the new season of The Biggest Loser. For instance, one season after Shay was the biggest contestant in show history, that non-enviable title has been handed off to Michael, who tipped the scales at the initial weigh-in (held in each contestant's hometown in front of friends, family and community members) at 526 pounds. Twins John and James' combined weight was just a few pounds shy of half a ton. Collectively, this is the heaviest group of contestants of any season so far. And as Jillian said, "That's not a good thing."

But big numbers weren't just part of the negative side of things. More on that later.

The Biggest Loser is big on surprises, and the contestants got a big one as soon as they walked onto the Biggest Loser ranch. On day one, barely out of the cars that brought them there, Allison told them that they would be taking part in their first challenge -- riding a bike the equivalent of a marathon, 26.2 miles. The twist? Only the first nine teams to finish would be staying on the ranch. The last two teams would be sent home immediately. I had a very negative reaction to this, as did my husband. He said, "That's just so wrong!" I agree. I know it's shock value, but I just think that everyone is so happy to be there at that point, thinking they're going to have this awesome chance to train at the ranch, at least for a week, that it's cruel to snuff out that joy so quickly. Especially for someone who is there to make what very well might be a life-saving change.

During the challenge, the green team, made up of the mother-daughter pair of Miggy and Migdalia, just smoked it! I don't think they slowed down the entire time and as a result finished first, in less than an hour. I'm tired just thinking about it. Not far behind them was the gray team, cousins Sam and Koli. The last two teams were the blue team (mother and daughter Cherita and Victoria) and the yellow team (the father-daughter team of O'Neal and Sunshine). The blue team had a hard time because the medical staff that was on hand made Cherita quit because she was in such pain. I was really sad to see the yellow team have to leave because I really liked their interview early in the show, and Sunshine's words about not being happy and wanting to find love nearly broke my heart.

As the two eliminated teams were leaving the ranch, their cars were stopped by Bob and Jillian, who told them that they would be competing at home and that they would come back in 30 days. Whichever team has lost the most will be back in the game.

Something that struck me when we were getting to know the contestants was that three teams mentioned how their culture contributed to their weight problems because those cultures revolved so much around food. These were Italian for Michael and Maria, Tongan for Koli and Sam, and Puerto Rican for Miggy and Migdalia.

Now, back to the big numbers. When it came to the weigh-in at the end of Week 1, some impressive losses were posted. Chief among these was a 34-pound loss for Michael, a record for the most weight lost in week one. Patti of the purple team lost 23 pounds for the biggest percentage loss of a woman ever. Several guys besides Michael shed lots of pounds: Koli, 29; Daris of the orange team, 29; and Darrell of the black team, 30. And in true twin fashion, James and John each lost 23 pounds. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to keep them safe because of the percentages. The rest of the contestants had to face a heartbreaking decision -- which twin to send home. In the end, James was sent home. But in the transformation moment, he revealed that he's down 100 pounds. He still has a long way to go, but that's a huge start.

While exploring the Biggest Loser site now that it's been updated with the new contestants' information, I discovered that Abby from last season has a blog on there now. I read the blog she posted last night about finding our inner warriors, inspired by Jillian challenging Cheryl of the orange team to move away from her meek self and find her inner warrior, and found myself nodding. Check out Abby's blog here.

So, what were your impressions of the first episode? Did you connect with anyone in particular?
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