My Experience With myfitnesspal. Did it work?

myfitnesspal

If you read my previous post, “Portion Control, Marathons and a Stick of Gum,” you’ll remember how I was using myfitnesspal to track calories in order to find out if my post-marathon eating was catching up to me.  Was I so used to eating larger, marathon-training portions that I had a tendency to do so months after racing, even though I wasn’t training anymore?

I’ve never had to count calories before.  After the birth of my second child, I lost nearly 40 pounds by eating clean and exercising almost every day.  I controlled portions by listening to my body’s signals.  Could my marathon racing have distorted my ability to still listen accurately?

I’d have to say yes.  Deep down I already knew, but myfitnesspal confirmed it for me.  Math doesn’t lie.  I’ve recommended this app to clients, so I figured, why not?  I religiously punched in my calories consumed and burned, every single day for 4 weeks.  I tried my best to stay within my allotted calorie count.  And guess what?  I lost the few pounds that I had slowly added from racing.

Myfitnesspal is a great way to learn about portion control.  It can also be a wake-up call.  Here’s why:

1.  It reminds us how many calories are in the foods we love to eat, even some foods that are considered healthy.  Athough some foods may be great for us, they can also be very calorie dense, and should be eaten in moderation.  For example, peanut butter and avocados.  Both excellent sources of fat, but if you’re trying to lose weight, measure your portions.  Two tablespoons of natural peanut butter has 200 calories!

2.  It is very easy to erase the calories burned through a good workout by eating badly.  Sad, but true.  You quickly find out what types of workouts burn the most calories.  But you also are reminded that it all adds up.  Ten minutes of brisk walking?  That counts.  Ten minutes on the stationary bike?  That counts too.

3.  If you mess up one day, it’s not the end of the world.  You can still stay within your calorie count for the week!  Like I always say, it’s all about balance.

4.  You can find out if you have any nutritional deficiencies.  I really like that the app lets you track your daily nutrition intake.  Yes, maintaining/losing weight is all about the simple math of calories in/calories out, but the quality of those calories is just as important.  It plays a huge role in how you feel, look, and how you metabolize your food.  Not to mention, your health, in general.

All that said, there are a couple of cons to using the app.  For instance, it can be tedious scanning food labels and entering every single food you’ve eaten every single day, especially if you make a lot of recipes, like I do.  Also, calorie counting day after day can become a bit neurotic after awhile.  If you get to a point where you’re saying, “I just ate a cupcake, I’ve got to go run 2 miles now!” it may be time to step back and re-evaluate the situation.

Overall, myfitnesspal can be a great tool to help people figure out proper portions, and to learn about what’s in the food they’re consuming.  Everything I’ve listed above, I already knew.  I just had to be reminded.  And now my marathon-sized portions are gone.  Hopefully for good.

Healthy Huevos Rancheros Salad

huevos-rancheros-salad-recipe-clv0214-de

I just made this for the first time.  With hubby out of town, I used the opportunity to experiment with a new dish.  Plus, the kids love having breakfast food for dinner.  It was a hit with them.  Little did they know how healthy it was…I love it when that happens.

I adapted the recipe from Country Living magazine, tweaking a few things to reduce the calorie count and add more nutrition.  This is a great, easy dish to make when you want to mix things up.  I liked it so much that I took the leftover salsa and made it again for lunch the next day.

The tortillas are optional.

 

Makes 6 servings. Total time 25 min., 373 calories.

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

3 large plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon

1/4 cup lime juice

3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro

3/4 teaspoon hot sauce (optional, I omitted because of the kids)

12 cups fresh greens of your choice

6  100% whole grain tortillas

6 large eggs

Freshly ground pepper

Sea salt

1/2 cup part skim or low fat queso fresco cheese (about 3 ounces)

 

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, gently stir black beans, tomatoes, onion, 1/4 cup oil, lime juice, cilantro, hot sauce, and salt to combine to create a fresh salsa. Set aside. Divide greens among 6 dinner plates and set aside.
  2. With 1 tablespoon olive oil, lightly brush all 6 tortillas and sprinkle lightly with salt to taste. Toast tortillas directly under broiler or over an open flame, 1 minute per side. Cut tortillas into quarters and wrap in foil to keep warm.
  3. Evenly divide all but 1/2 cup of the salsa among the plated greens. Spray 2 large nonstick skillets with all-natural cooking spray or a small amount of oil, and cook over medium-high heat. Crack 3 eggs into each pan and reduce heat to medium.
  4. Season eggs with salt and pepper to taste, and cook until whites are opaque and yolks are deep golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer 1 egg onto each plate. Sprinkle eggs with queso fresco and remaining salsa; garnish with cilantro. Serve salads immediately with reserved tortillas.

 

 

The No Running, No Jumping, High Intensity Workout

So you want to slim down, but an injury or medical condition is preventing you from doing plyometrics, running or jumping.  Don’t worry!  You can still get your heart rate up and melt off unwanted fat.  Try this home workout, performing the circuit 2-3 times (Resting 1-2 minutes in between), doing 12-18 reps unless otherwise stated.  Try to do each move as fast as you can, while still maintaining good form.  You’ll need weights and a towel, and if you have them, a kettlebell and medicine ball.

 

plank walkout

Plank Walk-Out

Begin in a standing position.  Bend at the waist, keeping your knees soft.  Walk out to a full plank position and hold for 1 second.  Walk back to standing.  You can also perform this move beginning and ending in a squatting position.   Do this move quickly but still maintaining good form.

 

 

kickboxing-punch-girl-smaller

Kickboxing

Punch and/or kick for 1 minute.  Do any combination of kickboxing moves that you prefer, or just do simple alternating jabs.  You can use a punching bag and gloves, if you have them.  Perform the moves with intensity, going as quickly as you can and keeping your arms tight.

 

dumbbell-bent-over-row

Squatting Rows

Pictured is a bent over row with dumbbells.  Do this, but also add a squat simultaneously as you lift the weights.  This increases the calorie burn.  Use the heaviest weights that you can while keeping good form.  Keep your back flat.

 

 

 

elbow donkey kick plank

 

Elbow Plank Donkey Kick

Get into a lower plank position and lift one leg in the air, bending the knee.  Extend your leg upward, and return to starting position.  Switch sides.

2b-Opposite-Arm-Raise-Sweep

 

 

Dumbbell Arm Sweeps

Using light to medium weights, go into a static half-squatting position.  Alternately swing the weights front to back for 1 minute, maintaining control in the arms.

 

 

 

 

 

sliding-plank

 

 

 

Sliding Plank

Place a folded towel or floor gliders on a smooth floor.  Get into a plank position, resting your feet on the towel/gliders.  Slide your knees up toward your arms, holding for one second, then return to starting position.

 

 

 

 

kettlebell-figure-eight-exercise-525x328

 

Kettlebell/Dumbbell Standing Figure 8′s

Grab a kettlebell, or one dumbbell by the end, in one hand, and go into a static, wide, half-squat position.  Hinging slightly at the waist and keeping your back straight, bring the weight in between your legs and grab it with the other hand.  Repeat on the other side, making a figure 8 motion around your legs.  Do this as quickly as you can, keeping your knees bent and maintaining good form for 1 minute.

 

mb41_medicine_ball_workouts_figure_8_crunch3-300x200

Ball/Dumbbell Sitting Figure 8′s

  • Start sitting on the floor, knees bent, holding the ball or a light weight.  Lean back 45 degrees and then move the ball around the legs, making a figure 8.  Squeeze the stomach and breathe.  Do this as fast as you can for :30.

 

 

 

 

A Shamrock Shake, The Healthy Way

healthy-shamrock-shake-recipe-edible-mosaic-560x400

I just read that a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake has 530 calories and 73 grams of sugar in it.  Yikes!

Here’s a healthier, tasty, additive, dye and chemical-ingredient-free option…

Combine these ingredients in a blender:

-1 cup lowfat milk or almond milk

-1 frozen ripe banana

-a few drops of mint extract

-a small handful of semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

-a large handful of fresh spinach

-1/2 tsp cocoa powder, if desired

I promise, you won’t even taste the spinach!!  Happy St. Patty’s Day.

The Pullover: An Old-School Move That Delivers

Dumbell-Pullover

As much as I love classes and home-based workouts, sometimes it feels good to go to the gym and pump some iron the old-fashioned way.  One gym move that’s been around forever, but has been swept aside amidst the boot-camp rave, is the pullover.

I love this compound exercise, especially performed with dumbells for a fuller range of motion, because it works the chest and back simultaneously.  It works the lats, pecs, triceps, teres major, deltoids, rhomboids, levator and abs–all at once.  That’s a lot of muscles.

Using a bench, you can lay perpendicular (pictured below), with your hips lower than your back, or lengthwise (above).

pullover2

Personally, my favorite way to do this is lengthwise, using one or two dumbells (rather than a barbell).  However, you can try using a barbell for a wider grip, which will work more of your chest.  Keep your elbows slightly bent.  Be sure to use proper weight that allows you to keep good form.  Start light and go from there.

This move can also be done with a cable…

pullover4

Or  at home with a bench or stability ball and weights…

Pullover 2

I like to superset this move with dumbbell chest presses or pec flies, or even lying tricep extentions.  Speaking of triceps, mine were sore for a couple of days the last time I did pullovers.  Try supersetting pullovers with tricep extentions for an awesome tricep workout. This may or may not sound weird, but I like being sore after a workout :)

When it comes to changing up your workout routine, sometimes going back to basics is best.  If you’re really looking for a firm, toned upper body, try adding the pullover to your workouts!

Today’s Recovery Smoothie: Chocolatey, Immunity-Boosting Goodness

proteinshake

I get bored easily, and frequently experiment with my recovery drinks.  Today after a long, challenging gym interval workout I needed something hearty and nutritious that would quickly feed my depleted muscles.  Here’s what I came up with:

Half a large frozen banana

1 scoop natural whey powder (can use soy powder or another low-Cal, fast-digesting protein)

1 Cup plain Kefir (A yogurt-tasting natural fermented milk product with 5X the probiotics as yogurt.  Usually in the organic section of your supermarket)

1 tablespoon natural peanut butter

1-2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Mix together in a blender….

The Kefir added an awesome creaminess, plus carbs, slow-digesting protein and immunity boosters to fight illness (It’s NOT pretty when Mom gets sick in my house!).  I usually use milk or almond milk, but this worked great.

The banana’s natural sugars and protein from the whey powder fed my hungry muscles.

The peanut butter and cocoa powder made it delicious without too many added calories.

This one is not rocket science, but a keeper!  I’d love to hear what you put in your recovery smoothies.

PS….If you’re trying to lose weight, remember that some recovery drinks can be high in calories and in some cases should be considered a meal.   Consider using higher sugar/calorie recovery drinks after long (over 60 minutes) or very vigorous workouts.

Portion Control, Marathons and a Stick of Gum

gum

I’ve acquired a bad habit as of late.  I LOVE to graze while I’m cooking dinner.  I’ve also been known to have a glass of wine while cooking dinner.  I love doing this so much, that occasionally I’m full by the time dinner is ready.  This is no fun, because then I don’t get to eat the recipe I’ve spent the better part of the past hour working on.  And, I get to sit at the table empty-plated and watch my family chow.  No fun either.

Portion control has been on my mind a lot lately, and not only because of my recent grazing tendencies.  If you run marathons, you know that you can actually gain weight during training, as well as after the race.  Marathoners need to properly fuel themselves during training by increasing calorie intake, but often portions can get out of control during the process.  What’s more, it’s very easy to keep eating the marathon-training portions after the race–even after the training and calorie burn have dramatically decreased.  I’m on a quest to make sure that I’m still not consuming marathon-portion meals, months after I’ve finished my long-distance training.

One way I’m tackling this is by doing what I make clients do–record everything I eat to find potential problems.  I’ve been using the phone app, myfitnesspal.  I’m not a calorie-counter by nature, but I figure it can’t hurt to try it out.  And for the most part, results have been helpful in helping me to keep calories in check.  Updates on the specifics of this in a future post…

As for the grazing-while-cooking problem, I think I’ve solved it with a stick of gum.  I chew half a stick while cooking, and the other half while cleaning up to prevent nibbling on my kids’ leftovers (Moms, you know what I’m talking about, right?!?)  This simple dinnertime ritual has helped tremendously, and now I always keep a pack of gum stashed away in the kitchen.  I’ve tried this while making my son’s chocolate chip birthday cake, and that also did the trick.

Portion control can be a tricky thing.  It requires listening to your body’s hunger signals over powerful emotional and social cues that bombard us every day.  It comes easier to some than others.  If you’re fighting “portion distortion,” it may help by first figuring out what triggers your overeating, and then coming up with coping mechanisms to turn to instead.  A stick of gum may not work for everyone;  The key is finding what tactics work for you, and using them consistently.

Some general suggestions to avoid overeating?  1) Go for quality.  Choose less-processed  foods.  The closer to nature,the better.  Typically these foods have more fiber, keep you fuller longer, and give you the most health benefits for the number of calories.  2)  Eat slowly and deliberately.  3) Don’t keep trigger foods in the house.  Have leftover birthday cake?  Stick it in the freezer!  4)  Don’t deprive yourself all day.  You’re much more prone to binge later.  5)  Opt for a smaller plate.  Studies show this works!

The Perfect Guilt-Free Dessert To Make For Your Sweetheart (Or Yourself!)

valentines-day strawberries

Dark chocolate covered strawberries are a perfect way to top off a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, especially if you or your significant other don’t want to splurge on sweets.  They’re decadent, fairly easy to make, and provide a perfect dose of flavonoid and antioxidant-rich chocolate.

The key to making your strawberries extra delicious and nutritious?  Find the ripest, freshest berries and a high-quality, low sugar, very dark melting chocolate.  Melt in the microwave for small increments of time at 50% power, or melt on low on your stove (usually the package will have melting instructions;  the key is not to burn the chocolate), dip, and let dry on parchment paper.  Sprinkle with your favorite chopped nuts, if you wish.

A large dark chocolate covered strawberry contains 115-145 calories, so this is a great way to feel like you’re indulging without actually doing so.  Actually, this dessert is quite nutritious.  Four extra large strawberries give you 3.81 grams of fiber, 44.82 IU of vitamin A and 94.12 mg of vitamin C.  Strawberries have more vitamin C per ounce than citrus fruits, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

Don’t have a sweetheart?  Who says Valentine’s Day is just for couples?  Make them for yourself, and enjoy every bite!

23 Foods For Health and Fat Loss

Kefir

Kefir

Mulberries

Mulberries

I get asked a lot–What should I be eating?  Whether you’re trying to lose fat, gain more muscle or just be the healthiest version of yourself, there are definitely specific foods that you should try to include in your diet.  Even if you don’t like the taste of some of them, you can try mixing them in a smoothie or with other foods that you do like.  Some of them are obvious–Others, you may not have thought of.  Here’s a list I’ve compiled of some of my favorites:

1.  Quinoa–It’s a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids and providing the same energy and feeling of fullness as meat.

2.  Olive Oil–A healthy fat with anti-inflammatory properties.  Use in moderation.

3.  Whole Natural Almonds/Almond Butter–Nutrient-packed, healthy fat.  Use in moderation.

4.  Apples–Satisfy your sweet tooth & has 4.4g fiber (medium apple) to keep you feeling fuller.  Low glycemic index.

5.  Blueberries–3.6g fiber/cup, the most antioxidants of all commonly consumed fruits

6.  Mulberries–3g protein/oz., potassium, magnesium, fiber

7.  Spinach–Iron, folate, antioxidants

8.  Eggs–The whites are pure protein and few calories.  The yolk is nutrient-packed and contains choline.  Use yolk in moderation.

9.  Kale–Low calorie, high fiber, vitamins A, K, C, anti-inflammatory properties

Flax Seed

Flax Seed

10.  Kiwi–Twice the vitamin C as an orange, almost as much potassium as a banana

11.  Sweet Potatoes–Nutrient-packed, antioxidants, fiber, beta-carotene

Matcha

Matcha

12.  Broccoli–Packed with vitamins and minerals, beta-carotene,  fights cancers

13.  Avocados–A top weight-loss food.  Monounsaturated fats to keep you feeling full.

14.  Lentils–High in protein, prevent insulin spikes that cause body to create excess fat

15.  Salmon–Has omega 3s

16.  Chiles–The spice cranks up your metabolism

17.  Cocoa–Fiber, iron, magnesium, antioxidants.  Sprinkle unsweetened cocoa powder on your yogurt or oatmeal.

18.  Matcha–A fine powdered tea, vitamin C, zinc, phytochemicals, metabolism-boosting

19.  Kefir–Fermented milk product.  Five times the probiotics as yogurt, with phosphorus and calcium.

Lentils

Lentils

20.  Plain Greek Yogurt–Protein, calcium, probiotics, vitamin-packed

21.  Flax Seed–Fiber, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat, protects against cancers, insulin resistant, magnesium

22.  Cinnamon–Fiber, iron, calcium, blood-sugar control, cognitive stimulant

23.  Water–Okay, so it’s not a food, but it’s worth mentioning here.  Carry it with you all day.  It helps maintain your balance of body fluids and can help control calorie consumption.

Top 2014 Fitness Trend: HIIT Is Where It’s At

workout_time_clock

The American College of Sports Medicine named HIIT, or high intensity interval training, as the top global fitness trend of 2014.  Everywhere, you can find HIIT workouts.  They’re on P90X infomercials, DVDs, and in your local fitness centers.

Never tried HIIT?  Here’s how a typical workout goes:  1. Go hard.    2.  Go easier.    3.  Repeat a set number of times.

You can make a HIIT workout out of any type of activity.  You can use equipment, or your own body weight.  You can make a HIIT workout out of your daily run, or mix strength training and cardio.  The point is to combine intervals of high intensity exercise with lower-intensity recovery periods to maximize fat burn.  How hard you go, and for how long, depends on your fitness level.

I’m not one for fitness gimmicks–But HIIT is one trend that I welcome with open arms.  Training at high intensity intervals is actually not new–Fitness professionals like me have been using this type of training with my clients and in my fitness classes for some time.  And if you’re a runner, you’ve likely heard of Fartleks, a method of training using bursts of fast running intervals.  So why is it catching on now?

For one, the research is there to back it up, and people are realizing it.  HIIT is highly effective, partly because higher intensity training increases after-burn, or the number of calories that you keep burning after your workout is over.  In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, people are realizing that they don’t have to spend hours a day at the gym, which saves time and money.  Research shows that a HIIT workout can acheive the same benefits as a conventional workout, in half the time.  Considering how time-strapped we all are these days, this makes it easier than ever to get healthy.

Finally, most HIIT programs can be modified for most fitness levels, as long as all participants really do go hard during those “hard” intervals.  What does this mean?  You need to get out of your comfort zone.  This means different things for different individuals, but one way to measure it is to use heart rate, working at about 80-85% of the average maximum heart rate for someone your age.  To find that number, subtract your age from 220.  Then shoot for a heart rate of about 80-85 percent of that number during the high-intense intervals.

That being said, some HIIT programs that are being marketed in the media right now may be a little too crazy for you if you have certain health concerns, so do your research first, and check with your doctor.  Also, it always helps to have a certified fitness professional recommend the type of interval training program that is best suited to fit your needs.

So should you ditch your conventional workouts?  Not at all!  Variety is key to a well-rounded exercise regimen.  But changing a portion of your weekly workouts to HIIT workouts may be just the boost you need to keep you on track in the long run.