Jun 152010

Far too often people cope with stress by reaching for a piece of candy or a cookie. Others can’t stop at one or two and end up eating the whole bag or box. Hardly ever are the foods people reach for to calm themselves healthy (when was the last time you reached for a carrot stick when your boss chewed you out?) Usually, people grab items loaded with salt, sugar and/or fat. Once the thrill of the binge ends, the net result is guilt and low self esteem. If this sounds all too familiar, below are some suggestions for how to reduce your stress level without expanding your waistline.

The first step is to put a halt to using food as a stress reliever. When you need to relax, try some of these other tools and stay clear of the refrigerator until you feel calm.

1 – Step outside for a long walk, preferably someplace quiet where you can feel in-tune with nature.

2 – Slip into a warm bath. Make it even better by pouring in some of your favorite bath oil, reading a favorite book or listening to music.

3 – Put on your gardening gloves. Touching the earth and plants can be very soothing.

4 -Write down your thoughts without worrying about grammar or punctuation or writing it so someone else would want to read it. Sometimes just unloading what’s on your mind without having to censor it can do wonders for your stress.

5 – Engage in a favorite hobby. Whether you like quilting, knitting, painting or working with clay, just indulge in some quality “me” time.

Adopting a different strategy to cope with stress may be difficult for awhile. The sacrifice will be well worth the effort, though. Once you get in the habit of using non-food methods to decompress at the end of the day, you will feel more relaxed than you ever did before. Not to mention that you will feel much more in control of your weight and your life.

May 142010

You would think that someone drinking a diet soda would tend to watch his or her weight and eat light. Unfortunately, many people drink diet sodas while consuming amounts of high calorie food. What is it about certain situations that trick people into eating more than necessary? Its something that food companies count on, that American desire to eat big portions. Take for example those foods labeled “light,” “low calorie” or “healthy.” You go through that package faster than a “normal” package of food and then you have to buy another one sooner, right?

Studies have repeatedly shown that people tend to eat larger quantities of foods they perceive to be healthy and/or low in calories than those without a similar label. This, in fact, could lead to someone having two bowls of “light” ice cream instead of one small bowl of regular ice cream or a half dozen “low fat” cookies instead of three regular ones. When you look at total calories, a large quantity of any item, healthy or not, is likely to tip the scales in the wrong direction. This is NOT healthy for you.

Make it your goal to not fall prey to that voice in your head saying “its healthy so go ahead and have as much as you want.” Send the food company executives running into the boardrooms, scratching their heads and wondering why people are taking so long to get back to the store.

Limit your consumption of any food item to one serving, rather than allowing yourself a carte blanche to eat as much as you want just because the food is supposed to be healthy. Then it will be your wallet, not your waistline that will be expanding.

Apr 212010

Many recent articles have discussed the health risks associated with too much sodium added to our foods; high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Because of these risks, the FDA is working to regulate manufacturers so that they reduce the amount of sodium added to foods. The recommended intake is 1500 mg or less, the maximum healthy amount is 2300 and the average American intake 3400 mg according to an April 21 Associated Press release.

Since I consider myself to eat a very healthful diet, I found it an interesting exercise today to add up the sodium in my diet today and discovered that sodium was hiding in foods I never imagined.

Breakfast (pre-swim workout)
Cup of English breakfast tea – 0 mg
English muffin with raspberry jam – 269 mg
1 cup of XOOD sports drink – 105 mg

Breakfast 2 (post-swim)
1 cup oatmeal – 0 mg
1/2 cup milk – 120 mg
1/2 cup strawberries – 0 mg

Lunch
2 string cheese – 400 mg
1 whole wheat bagel – 400 mg
1 cup raspberry yogurt drink – 100 mg

Dinner
Bowl of Split pea soup – 690 mg
1 cup Mushrooms/asparagus – I added the salt – probably 500 mg

Doesn’t this sound like I did well? Truth is, my daily sodium intake is slightly over the 2300 recommended healthy maximum at 2315 mg even though I believed I was eating very healthfully. I learned a lesson, never imagining that salt would be present in yogurt or milk!

The moral of the story? Read your labels carefully and make sure you aren’t getting more sodium than you bargained for. Eat close to the source and avoid processed foods laden with hidden sodium.

Mar 052010

If you are tired of following complicated diet plans and eating measured portions out of packages, maybe you should try the Mediterranean diet. These foods pack in the nutrients without all the calories, preservatives, and saturated fats.

What comprises the Mediterranean diet? Nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats, legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Not only is this diet anti-inflammatory, which means you’ll likely have more energy and feel less achy on this plan, you’ll also be able to control your weight and reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Feb 012010

Deciding what to eat pre-race can be a challenge at best, a performance buster at worst. Hundreds of articles  tell us what’s best to eat  and drink before a race, but we all digest food a bit differently, to me, it makes sense to do some individual research on your own body to see what’s really best. Its been my experience that the magic bullet for one athlete is the fatal one for another. For example, most energy gels and bars cause me major intestinal distress. My husband, Chris,  does  half marathons and is a Shot Blok addict! He just wouldn’t leave the house on race day without them. For me, anything with major caffeine is sayanara. And anything with a lot of preservatives is pretty close to the same. While I can stomach exactly one sports drink and very few foods, an Arizona Masters teammate at the 2009 SCY USMS Nationals in Fresno chugged a Starbuck’s Cappucino before diving in the water to set a national record. I couldn’t have drank that and swam well to save my life!

After a few very uncomfortable races, I began experimenting with foods to figure out what worked best. In general, I do well with a light diet of mostly simple carbohydrates before a race. Most of the time, I eat an English muffin with creamed honey and a banana. Occasionally I eat waffles and grapes. Oatmeal, my favorite breakfast on non-racing days, makes me feel too heavy when I compete.

I finally found a sports drink that keeps me hydrated without upsetting my stomach. XOOD. The green tea formula is absolutely the best. I have suffered intestinal distress for years during races, especially after running.  I tried a sample of this drink at a trail running race 9 and ever since, XOOD has been a part of my calm stomach as well as my racing plan!

Here’s a few quick suggestions to help you figure out what to eat and drink pre-race:

1 – Experiment with foods before a training session. If you plan to eat 90 minutes before a race, eat 90 minutes before you train. If you have a good workout afterward, try it a few more times to see if you can get consistent good performance results with that meal. If you get a bad result, move onto something else. In general, you want to be hydrated and eat foods rich in simple carbohydrates.  Simple carbohydrates are digested rapidly so that energy can be delivered to the muscles. Complex carbohydrates consumed in the days leading up to  the race will also enable your muscles to store extra glycogen which will also enhance performance. Proteins and fats are slower to digest. Eat too much of these  on race day and you will have more e blood flowing to your stomach than the muscles and will likely feel sluggish. Experiment with amount as well as the kind of food. If you are too hungry when you race, you may feel weak or get an upset stomach.

2 – Never try something new on race day. Although my stomach is more sensitive than most, I have found this to be a disaster every time I have tried it!

3 – You may need a different diet and to eat different amounts of food to prepare for different races. I eat less when preparing for running races compared to a sprint triathlon or a swimming race. If you are doing a race that will take more than 90 minutes, it is prudent to replenish yourself with energy drinks and gels or light food along the way.

Below are some foods I prefer pre-race:

-English muffins, waffles, toast, bread, berries, grapes, bananas

Below are foods I consider too heavy to eat pre-race:

-bagels, oatmeal, pancakes, eggs, steak, bacon

Below are foods that upset my stomach pre-race:

-dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese), citrus fruits

Well I hope you are ready to begin your research. If you keep track of what works and what doesn’t, before you know it, you’ll have your own winning formula for a pre-race meal.

2009 Tri XOOD Racing Team Weekend Training in Patagonia

2009 Tri XOOD Racing Team Weekend Training in Patagonia

Jan 102010

Photo for fitness article by Susan Dawson-CookAn article written by Michael Hill of the Associated Press and published in the January 8, 2010 issue of the Arizona Daily Star states that of 10 chain restaurants studied, menu items had caloric content an average of 18 percent higher than published. So it could be that that “500 calorie” burger actually has closer to 600 calories. Exact caloric content of foods can be difficult to control. One person’s application of mustard or mayonnaise to a bun may be done thicker than another’s. Then a  little bit larger bun or slice of meat can add up to even more calories. In the Arizona Daily Star article, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University described nutritional labels as ballpark figures and not scientificially precise.  Even caloric listings on packaged foods at the grocery have been found to be up to 8 percent lower than actual.

Our tendency is to say “Oh well. What is another 100 or so calories?” I’m here to tell you over the long haul, every calorie counts. An excess of only 100 calories, consumed daily over a period of 1 year, will leave you almost 10 pounds heavier by the end of the year!

My recommendations? If you want precision  in caloric estimations, eat fresh and eat at home. When keeping food logs, restaurant going customers should record caloric values  that take into account this  average discrepancy (recording a 20 percent higher caloric value per item than is listed in published literature).