Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chilly chow

More and more lately, I find myself standing in line at the -- gasp -- Student Center Grille, aka the only "cheap" food on campus. Today was one of those days. I'm waiting patiently to order my fabulous black bean veggie pita sans sauce and cheese when I overhear the orders in front of me. "Chicken strips, cheese sticks, and a Dr. Pepper." "Chicken strips and fries and a red Gatorade." One older woman ordered only a side of fries, then turned to her friend and said, "They don't have ice cream here, it's on the other side."
What!? No wonder college kids (and increasingly, staff) have become so lethargic. I know it's winter, but the Chicago chub is never fashionable, as warm as it may be. So what is it about winter and college that keeps us from living well, and how can we combat it?

First point -- it's cold outside! No one wants to go for a run or so much as walk to class in the Midwest mess, let alone abandon the blankey to head to the gym. I admit, I take Public Safety the four blocks from the train station back to my apartment to save me the walk in the cold. When we make this seemingly "little" sacrifices, however, we lose the few calorie-burning, health-churning events of the day that come absolutely free and without doing anything extra. Walking a few blocks makes up for some of that cookie you splurged on at work...and lets you have one next week, too!

Warm foods are comforting. There's a reason we have an affection for hot cocoa when it's snows; it warms you up from the inside out. So naturally, what happens when we walk into the Student Center or restaurant? We want something warm and snuggly. This makes the salad and fresh fruit look awfully unappealing, so instead, we go for french fries, a burger, or creamy soup. If you're looking for a hot way to get hot (ha), try some steamed vegetables or a plain baked potato instead of fries, green tea instead of a latte, and or a baked apple with cinnamon instead of an apple pie from McD's (and those babies are tempting -- two for a dollar and vegan?!). Not only will you feel yummy in the tummy, you'll feel fab even in that puffy marshmallow coat!

Believe it or not, the lack of sunshine in winter makes you sad. You may have heard of a Seasonal Affective Disorder, dubbed SAD for a reason. Sunshine is responsible for stimulating vitamin D production in our bodies which in turn creates a balance internally. This gives you energy and stimulation and helps your endorphin production! Conquer the winter blues by using a full-spectrum light bulb, a Sun Alarm, or visiting your tanning bed once a week. Up your leafy dark green intake and vitamin D-fortified orange juice to help your happy, too!

Indoor workouts are always a great option during winter, whether that means taking a class at your gym or renting a few workout videotapes from the library (excuse me...DVDs). Don't let your routine get dusty during colder months...keep in mind the rockin' bod you want to show off this summer and you'll stay motivated all the way until April showers bring May flowers!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Calorie counter: how much should I stuff my face?

So you've decided to brush up your eating habits, now what? In order to effectively jump-start your healthy lifestyle and keep it up, it's important to know the basics!

Obviously, step one is beginning to read your food labels to understand their nutritional value. This will allow you to find a balance during the day between levels of fat, sodium, fiber, and so on. But what about calories? Few realize that a typical nutrition label is based on a 2000 calorie diet - calories that not everyone needs (or sometimes, isn't enough)!

I stumbled across a FABULOUS tool to calculate how many calories you should consume in a day. Keep in mind that, regardless of caloric intake, a body still needs a balance in all areas of nutrition; calories are just one measure of that.

1. Calculate your basal metabolic rate:*

FEMALE: 665 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

MALE: 66 + (6.23 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

Or click here!

2. A few further calculations can help you meet your goal intake. Measure your level of activity (honesty is key here, lying to yourself will only keep you from that great look) and use the appropriate formula.

Sedentary (little to no exercise): BMR x 1.2
Lightly active (light exercise, 1-2 times/week): BMR x 1.375
Moderately active (moderate exercise, 3-5 times/week): BMR x 1.55
Very active (intense exercise, 6-7 times/week): BMR x 1.725
Extremely active (intense exercise or physical labor): BMR x 1.9

3. For weight maintenance, this is your goal number. For weight loss, reduce this number by 15-20%.

I remember in high school asking my health teacher if eating more could help you lose weight if you weren't eating enough; she looked at me like I was crazy. Believe it or not, though, eating too little is almost as detrimental as eating too much. When you eat too sparingly - or skip meals - your body goes into "starvation mode" and begins to store calories and fat to protect itself from, well, dying. So no, you can't live off 100 Calorie Packs for the rest of your life; it's okay to eat!

Reassuring, isn't it? :)
*Thanks to The Pageant Place for this info!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Sleeping Beauty had it right

I never sleep. Recently, my best friend has pulled enough all-nighters at school to have been diagnosed as medically nocturnal. I never believed the hype until I got here -- college isn't just professors and classes and being away from home, it's a lifestyle. The difficult part about this, though, is how that lifestyle means crazy stress levels, late-night calls for Chinese takeout, and 5 am bedtimes. No surprise one of the biggest threats in college is the freshman fifteen!

It's tough to balance the due dates and research papers, not to mention the work shifts, club meetings, and some resemblance of a social life. I can attest to this in the three all-nighters I've pulled in the past week. When we're so overloaded in life, whether in college or balancing mom-dom and a career, it's easy to steal time away from what should be our time to relax and recharge. So what's the deal with sleep? Can't I just balance myself out again over the weekend? If I feel fine during the day, it can't be that big of a deal, can it? Check out why sleep is so vital to our health and why it's time to keep it at the top of our "to-do" list!

Sleep deprivation affects your thyroid and stress hormone levels.

The thyroid is responsible for balance within your body system, including serotonin levels (the hormone responsible for putting you to sleep when it's dark outside) and endorphin release (your happy hormone!). Sleep heightens your ability to deal with stress, making you more productive throughout the day and more readily-abled to conquer that jerk at work!

Sleep is your body's natural defense against daily wear-and-tear.

Cosmetic companies have advertised their product's ability to "reverse the effects of free radicals in the air"...but you have that ability already, better than any lotion or cream, and for free! Sleep reconstructs body tissue and clears your mind of irrelevant thoughts from the past day, freeing up your focus for the next morning's activities and embedding in memory the important ideas from yesterday.

Not sleeping will make you fat.

One of the other hormones affected by sleep is leptin, which tells you when you're hungry and when you're full. Tie two and two together and you'll notice that not sleeping causes your leptin levels to go berserk, leaving you stuffing your face for the entire day, but never feeling full. Aside from this, sleep deprivation often causes us to make yucky eating decisions, either by eating a snack right before we try to snooze or by encouraging us to stray from our healthy eating plan. No good!

Most importantly...lost sleep can't be made up!

It's the most commonly used excuse to stay up all night: "Eh, I'll just sleep in 'til noon on Saturday, no big deal." However, sleeping isn't like eating, where what you've eaten across a few days can balance itself out. Sleep is exclusive to every 24 hours (following the circadian rhythm)...meaning that sleeping for three hours Tuesday and 11 on Wednesday doesn't average out to the healthy 7 hours a night. In reality, all you did was oversleep on one day and not sleep enough the other, both throwing your body off track!

If you're having trouble sleeping, try using the power of scent to lull you to bed. Lavender has an all-over calming effect and will ease you into your beauty sleep. Hiding light, whether from streetlamps, alarm clocks, or charging laptops, will have a huge impact on your ability to stay asleep; studies show that even the smallest amount of light can disrupt sleep wavelengths and keep you from achieving REM. Avoiding caffeine after noon, turning off electronics an hour or two before you hit the pillow, and taking a bath pre-bedtime can also help you relax and calm down.

If you still find yourself up and awake at night or unable to sleep straight through a solid 7 to 9 hours, contact a sleep specialist or doctor. You may have a sleep disorder (i.e. my best friend) or an hyper/underactive thyroid -- even food allergies can keep you awake when it's time to sleep!

So even amongst the high stress of that seemingly-irrelevant class and the ever-increasing cost of groceries, sleep is extraordinarily beneficial in productively addressing this chaos. After all, she wasn't a sleeping beauty in her ability to stay up for 36 hours.

Now, if I could just get to bed earlier than sunrise...

My biggest vices

I've learned something over the years: I have an addictive personality. Considering I'm a huge foodie, this becomes an issue when I'm trying to cut back on what I shovel in my mouth! Here's to highlighting my top edible vices and how I've learned to "cope" with them.

5. Monster Lo-Carb

As someone who readily gets herself involved in far too many things, the idea of sleep is often times way too tempting to beat. Thus, the addiction to energy drinks. While these little beasts pack quite the powerful punch, they're notorious for spiking energy levels only to cause a dramatic energy crash not long after and wreak havoc on your immune system, eek!
Solution: Lack of energy is usually a result of one of the following: dehydration, low B-12 levels, or too little sleep. My answer is d. All of the above, so instead of opting for the quick fix, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night, 8 glasses of water, and a liquid b-12 supplement. I like Now Ultra Liquid B-12.

4. Mini OreosLet's face it -- Oreos really are America's Favorite Cookie. Plus, this convenient fun-size version of the original snack makes them easy to pop in your mouth by the handful. Sugar seizure, anyone?
Solution: Try a super-sweet fruit before diving into that bag of cookies. Dates are a good choice; try date rolls, little dates covered in coconut with an almond center. Low in processed sugar, they'll trick your tongue into thinking it's candy! If your craving still refuses to back down, eat a few Minis and wait. Because you haven't deprived yourself, you should feel satisfied.

3. Taco BellCheap. Fast. Open late. I'm a broke college student; need I say more? Oh, but I can, and in just two simple words: Baja. Blast. My order: "Beef & Potato Burrito, substitute the ground beef for refried beans so no meat, Fresco it, so no sour cream or red sauce, add guacamole, crunchy red strips, and lettuce, and grill that for me, please? With tons of Fire sauce!"
Solution: While the best solution is no Taco Bell, the menu does offer some flexibility. Skip the sour cream and cheese and ask for your taco "Fresco style," which replaces the fat with a leaner tomato salsa. Soft shell is lower in fat than hard shell, and the refried beans are a fabulous and vegetarian substitute for the Grade-D meat.

2. Jalapeño kettle chips
If the loads of Fire sauce didn't clue you in, I like my food hot and spicy. We're talking Chipotle Tabasco and Cholula hot sauce on everything. At just 79¢ a bag at 7-11, every little bag reminds me that you "can't stop eating 'em."
Solution: Instead of chips, go for spicy crunchy vegetables. Carrots dipped in red pepper hummus make a great snack and provides necessary protein and nutrients to get through the day!

1. ChipotleYou've seen their ads advertising their burritos: "Usually when you roll something this good, it's illegal." And by golly, they've got to be putting something in that cilantro-lime rice that's less than ethical. SO. GOOD. SO. ADDICTING.
Solution: I switched from a burrito to the burrito bol. The simple switch saves 220 calories, woah! Try the vegetarian bol and go for guac instead of sour cream and cheese. To cut back on fat, I ask for half a spoonful of guacamole instead of the heaping glob they shovel on. I also cut out the spicy red tomatillo salsa, cutting out 520mg of sodium (that's 21% of your recommended daily sodium!), and use a few extra shakes of the Chipotle Tabasco provided at the soda counter. Also, it's pronounced "cheh-POHT-lay." Just saying.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Monday Myth: chain restaurants

I work in a chain restaurant. That being said, you may think it's the idiot that asks for a refill every two seconds or the tables that can't comprehend the concept of tipping that has scarred me for life...but in all actuality, it's in the way I've seen the food being prepared that I've become extraordinarily skeptical of the idea of chain restaurants being "healthy."

So often, we opt for a sit-down restaurant like Chili's or Outback in an attempt to avoid the fattening images we've built around McDonald's and Burger King. We're constantly reassured that we're receiving higher quality food because of the friendly server who brings it to our table and the twenty minutes we wait for our meal. It's like waiting for food fools us into believing it's being made fresh or from scratch. Check out the reasons why some restaurants may be just as unhealthy as their fast-food counterparts:

1. Portion distortion

TGI Friday's recently debuted a new "3 Course" menu, where guests choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert for an alluring low price. The funny part about this meal deal, however, is how these full-size courses are meant to be shared! The Fried Mozzarella normally divided between two or three people becomes a 660 calorie starter - and you still have an entree and dessert on the way! Humongous salads pack over 1,300 calories and 50 grams of fat (almost the entire daily recommendation for a 2,000 calorie diet) and steaks come prepared at two to three times the standard serving size.

2. Hidden food additives

"What do a hot dog from Yankee Stadium, potato latkes from the Four Seasons in Manhattan, and a sirloin steak from Applebee's have in common? They all come from Sysco...a food wholesaler." Working at a restaurant opened my eyes to just how many items come frozen or from a box. Hooters's wing sauce nutritional facts have yet to be disclosed, but it's rumored that the famous marinade hosts a whole party of unhealthy friends, like partially hydrogenated margarine and xanthan gum. It's no wonder your brain screams for naptime after eating out!

3. "Would you like fries with that?"

Whether in a paper cup or on a china plate, a fry is a fry is a fry. Don't forget, however, what else is shared in the same fry grease as our favorite side; Burger King French Toast Sticks are thrown in the same oil as Chicken Fries, BK Fish patties, pork sausage, and onion rings. Mmm, good morning, Fish Toast Sticks, you taste good in my maple syrup.

4. Refills, bar drinks, and extras

Since liquid calories don't register with our digestive system like solid foods do, it's easy to get carried away with the soda. Every free refill your server is trained to bring you adds another 200-450 calories to your meal, not including the sugary syrup added to the popular strawberry lemonade or cherry Coke. Mixed drinks from the bar, especially ice-cream based drinks like mudslides, offer no nutritional value but contain heavy amounts of carbs, sugar, and/or fat. We tend to forget about the impact the request for extra sauce carries, but a seemingly tiny side of ranch dressing boasts 200 calories, and almost all of them from fat.

Not to ban all dinners out, though! There is a sensible way to consume restaurant food. For one, take half of your meal home with you. Not only will you have lunch ready to go for the next day, you'll skip that yucky bloated feeling that usually comes home with you. If you want an appetizer, save dessert for next time or vice versa. Don't be afraid to share a normal-sized portion with someone else at the table! This keeps both your tummy and your wallet full, double whammy! Read the fine print in the menu; "creamy," "loaded," "crispy," "fried," and "sauteed" are keywords for added fat, so ask for your menu item grilled or with the sauce on the side. Most nutritional facts are available on the restaurant's website to check out, too!

Eating out can be the pitfall of any healthy diet, but realize what you're eating and bring a friend or two and you can still enjoy a night out. Oh, and don't forget...tip your waitress/waiter 20%. If you're not sure how to figure that out, we'll be more than happy to help you. :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Myth: high fructose corn syrup

Get the facts: you're in for a sweet surprise.

If you've watched television at all lately, you've seen this fabulous strategy of a commercial more than once, the one that quips high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) is "made from corn, has no artificial sweeteners, and is fine in moderation." What few people know, however, is what the "sweet surprise" the Corn Refiners Association is literally sugar-coating and force-feeding Americans across the country.

Log on to Sweet Surprise and you'll find masses of "expert testimonials" citing HCFS as equivalent to honey, table sugar, and other sweeteners. Yet the sweetener, primarily based in fructose and a combination of other sugars like glucose, is NOT metabolized by the body in the same way as sugar! The fact that the artificial sweetener is completely derived from genetically-modified corn and subject to extreme processing already only emphasizes the unnatural basis of HCFS. Sure, HFCS has no artificial sweeteners...because it IS one.

Whereas glucose in standard sugars is metabolized by the body and converted into blood glucose affecting insulin levels, HFCS is processed by the liver and converted into fat and cholesterol. Insulin helps tell your body when to stop eating; because of the different way HCFS is processed, a person may be more likely to overeat without this heads up. This fructose also ups your levels of bad cholesterol (or LDL) and triglycerides, an extraordinarily unhealthy fat linked to the hardening of healthy arteries and increased risks for heart disease.

Diabetics and at-risk diabetics especially should be on the lookout for this nasty food additive; a 2007 study by the American Chemical Society revealed that HFCS in soda and other drinks was linked with cell and tissue damage that triggers diabetes. Diabetes in itself has been linked to obesity and heart disease and only makes the healthy living battle that much more difficult, so why put another hurdle in your way of crossing the finish line at the top?

Next time you're loading up the pantry, check the labels -- you'll be surprised how many products use HFCS as a sweetener, everything from soda to soup to bread! Instead of indulging in this Frankenstein of a beast, try some actual fruit; fruit is low in yucky fructose but offers loads of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes for healthy digestion and energy. Opt for water over Coke and you'll have saved yourself an average 8 tablespoons of sugar per serving...think of all the calories you don't have to feel guilty about! Your little heart and liver will thank you.

Pretty sure the website should be renamed "Sweet Deception." Eh, better luck next campaign.