An Unexpected Journey

"Health is the condition of wisdom, and the sign is cheerfulness — an open and noble temper." – Ralph Waldo Emerson


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Ben’s Workout / “On the Go” Shake Recipe

There are days when I’m on the go but I need what basically amounts to a meal in a cup (and no, I’m not talking Ramen).  Usually I’m off to my weekend Boot Camp classes or I’m going to be out for a good bit of time and have no time to cook a full meal.  In those cases, I prepare what I call my “workout shake”, a tasty, protein (and natural sugar) packed drink that fills me up and gives me the energy to tackle a long morning to afternoon or a killer workout.  I thought I’d share the recipe.  Just toss the “dry” ingredients together, add the liquids and frozen items in last and blend away to your desired consistency.  Here are the ingredients:

  • Fat Free Milk (or substitute such as Almond Milk): 10 oz
  • Whey Protein Powder (I prefer a chocolate flavor): 1 Scoop / serving
  • Oatmeal Oats (instant is fine, with no added sugars):  1/2 Cup
  • Peanut Butter Powder:  2 Tbsp
  • Chia Seeds: 1 Tbsp
  • Greek Yogurt: 2 Tbsp
  • Frozen Banana:  1 medium sized
  • Ice Cubes: If you desire more of a frozen smoothie consistency

On average, depending on brands and so on, this shake will come in around 5-600 calories (more if you use regular peanut butter instead of the powder).  Given that this is meant to be burned off in a workout or over the course of half a day that load isn’t too bad.  By no means is this recipe perfect.  I’m sure many improvements could be made on it, but this is what has worked for me, enjoy!


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Survival Guide: New York Comic-Con (and similar events)

Every year around October, New York Comic-Con comes crashing into New York City with a Geek-borne force of the Death Star from Star Wars.  For a few days, midtown Manhatan gets invaded by fans of comic books, movies, science fiction, fantasy, horror, Anime and more.  If you are in town around that time and see Batman or Wonder Woman calmly strolling by you at Starbucks, they’re probably around for Comic-Con.

This convention takes place at a gigantic convention center known as the Jacob Javitz Convention Center.  It’s like a small city within New York City.  It has everything you need to hold an event.  Food vendors include a Korean food stand, Starbuck’s, a Hudson news, frozen treats and more.  The problem for someone trying to lead a healthy lifestyle however is eating healthy inside the convention center is near impossible.  Most of the food here primarily consiste of high fat, high sugar and mostly deep fried or oily items.  Knowing this, I prepared a “Survival Package” of sorts of items that could sustain me throughout the day as I went through the convention.  I thought I’d share some of these items here:

  • A bottle of water (the same reusable bottle I take to the gym) to keep hydrated
  • Hard boiled eggs for protein that’s filling
  • Blue Diamond 100 Calorie packs for a great crunch snack
  • Apples (they travel well and satisfy a sweet and crunchy craving)
  • Atkins Bars (a healthier substitute for candy bars)

In general, aim for the following:

  • Stay hydrated (water is ideal)
  • Make sure to have protein, it’s filling and good for you
  • If you need crunch or savory snacks, aim for “safer” items like nuts or even fat free pretzels
  • Fruit is ideal as it generally travels well and gives you something sweet
  • Packing a sandwich with healthy ingredients (low fat meats and cheese, vegetables etc.) and whole wheat bread is always welcome

Truth be told, these items and the concept of a “Survival Package” doesn’t just apply to Comic-Con.  There are plenty of times when we’re away from our normal food venues, and putting together a package such as this will definitely put you ahead of the game from eating some of the less healthy options that are so readily available at events away from home.


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Snack: Not a dirty word!

Recently I was talking to a friend who was trying to eat healthier, and she mentioned how she was always starving.  A look at her eating plan showed that she was indeed being very disciplined, but unfortunately she was also denying herself a lot (including solid foods at critical times).  I gave her some advice about upping the fiber and solid intake in her diet, but most of all I advocated something I have some to believe is critical in any eating plan: snacking.

The word “snack” has taken on a very negative connotation in our culture.  In many Western countries, the idea of a snack generally involves stuff that’s delicious but not so great for you.  Cookies, chips, candy or cakes often serve as snacks for people who want that immediate satisfaction of a carb and sugar rush in their bodies.  However, many of these “snacks” leave you feeling just as empty as before you ate them, often leading to over-consumption.

Many people trying to lose weight unfortunately wind up overcompensating once they learn this.  They swear off all snacking and begin to deny themselves entire meals and the next thing you know, after a couple weeks or so a full out binge occurs, wrecking their eating plan.

The key to eating smart is not denying yourself snacks, it’s snacking on the right things. Many of us know what these things are intuitively.  However here’s a list of some handy items that make great snacks:

  • A serving of hummus with celery or carrot sticks
  • Peanut butter with whole wheat crackers or vegetables
  • A piece of fruit (preferably something with a good amount of fiber like an apple)
  • A sports bar (but be careful as some have a very high caloric load)
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Plain yogurt with some honey drizzled on for flavor
  • A handful of nuts (not honey roasted or smothered in sugar)

 

It’s also important not to just eat and eat throughout the day (which is what most people who snack believe they should do).  Rather, schedule your snacks according to your meal times.  There’s no hard and fast rule since everyone’s schedule is a bit different, but in general, try to schedule your snack a couple hours after a meal and at least an hour or so before your next one.  It’s also important to tailor what snack item you choose to your activities.  If you’re going to have a very rigorous workout day, then something like peanut butter or a sports bar will help you get the energy you need to plow through the workout.  On days where you’re not working out at all, the piece of fruit or vegetables may serve you better.

I would also advise strongly against snacking late at night (unless you work the night shift of course).  You want to give your body a couple hours (at least) of digestion time before you go to sleep.

Snacking is a good thing if you do it right.  Indeed, if you love food as I do, it’s crucial as it takes away the feeling of “denial” that many associate with weight loss.   A good eating plan is about balance, not about seeing how long you can withstand hunger pangs!

Disclaimer: I am not a certified Nutritionist.  This advice is purely based on my own experiences and research.  Before starting any nutrition/eating plan, please consult a qualified physician.


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Food Focus: The Mighty Peanut Butter

There are certain foods I could eat every day if I was allowed. Pizza, roast pork buns, Chinese egg custards…okay, you get the point. However, there are some foods that I love (and could eat every day) and one of them is: Peanut Butter! Wait, what? Isn’t that stuff full of sugar and totally fatty (and therefore a diet no no?). Not so!

First off, there are many brands of peanut butter on the market now that don’t use sugar (or a natural substitute) as part of their recipe. Some even remove the oily portion, distilling it down to its flavor with less calories. My “go to” brand for peanut butter spread right now is Smuckers Creamy Natural which has two basic ingredients: peanut butter and salt. The powdered peanut butter I use in my workout shakes is Betty Lou’s “Just Great Stuff” Powdered Peanut butter which does have a sweetener, but it’s coconut sugar which has a lower glycemic index than regular ol’ cane sugar. I highly recommend looking for items like these for your peanut butter needs.

But what about that pesky saturated fat? Well, it’s not great for you of course, but according to Harvard Health Publications “Saturated fat isn’t the deadly toxin it is sometimes made out to be. The body’s response to saturated fat in food is to increase the amounts of both harmful LDL and protective HDL in circulation. In moderation, some saturated fat is okay.”

Even better, an article from Brigham and Women’s Hospital talks about the benefits of this food, “The typical supermarket brand of peanut butter, while high in overall fat content, is low in saturated fat—and high in protein and fiber.”

There’s one more awesome benefit for those trying to watch how much they eat. Eating peanut butter (or peanuts in general) may even make you feel fuller longer! One study performed by Professor Richard Mattes from Purdue University showed peanuts and peanut butter have all sorts of features that make them an ideal part of a healthy diet. According to Professor Mattes: “Peanuts have a great mix of features, such as high protein, high fiber, and a crunchy texture, which enhance satiety,”

Add all this up and peanut butter is really a powerful food to add to your diet arsenal. It’s delicious, filling, good for you and it’s quite versatile (just check out Food Network’s search results for ‘peanut butter).  Just don’t go eating an entire jar every day, everything in moderation after all!


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Restaurant Profile: “Just Salad” rocks my salad world!

Working in Manhattan, going out to lunch is inevitable.  Most of the time I bring my food but every now and then I like to get a big ol’ salad and my restaurant of choice for this is “Just Salad“.  This chain specializes in making healthy salads that are filled to the brim with ingredients.  They’re not just piles of lettuce with one or two bits of meat in them.  My favorite salad the “Turkey Health Cobb” has several ounzes of turkey, a whole soft boiled egg, avocado, low fat swiss cheese and more packed inside.  Then they quickly chop it up for you and put on dressing in amounts you specify.  After a quick toss lunch is served!  The salads are absolutely delicious and healthy.

The best part?  Their calorie counts for all their prefab salads are on prominent display.  Even better?  They break down the calories of their add ons and dressings!  You can even go to the calculator on their web site and assemble your own salad to gauge its impact on your eating plan.  It’s all really quite spectacular.

Recently the chain introduced a “Black Bowl”, a reusable salad bowl that came with a bunch of privileges (including skipping the line!).  These are rare (limited to 100) and they set up a contest to win one.  I submitted my weight loss story and won!  Here’s an excerpt:

“Once an emotional eater, Ben was 5’8″ and 285 lbs in 2006. After a series of life changes (divorce and job loss), he decided it was time to take control of his body. Over the course of 3 years, he lost 100 lbs and has kept it off since! How did he do it?

You can read the entire story on Just Salad’s web site!  The logo above is also borrowed from their site.


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The Creamy Awesomeness of the Avocado

I was standing in Subway the other day watching my sandwich get put together.  When the time came for the gent to ask what spread I wanted, I asked for avocado (which they have available in a mushed up form).  Whenever possible, I make this substitution as it’s a wonderful way to get the creaminess and texture normally associated with mayo, but without all the bad-for-you cholesterol and saturated fat.

The Avocado (a corruption of the Spanish word aguacate) is a fruit native to Central Mexico.  Over the years California has developed a robust industry around the fruit.  Once the food of royalty, getting one now is as easy as going to your local supermarket.

When I begin my weight loss journey, one of the first things I did was read up on what foods were good for you and which were not.  That led to figuring out what could be substituted for certain items and avocado came up again and again for various uses, most often as a spread to substitute for less fatty foods.  But don’t take my word for it.  Directly from the California Avocado Nutrition page:

“Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a “nutrient booster” by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit.”

Great stuff eh?  Nowadays I don’t use avocado as a “substitute” so much as I truly enjoy its flavor and texture.  As a snack I’ve eaten them right out of the skin with just some salt and pepper spread on.  Now and then if I’m entertaining, I like to make a guacamole that includes:

  • Garlic and onion puree
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cotija Cheese
  • Cilantro
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • Salt
  • Lime Juice

Other great uses for the avocado include salads, omelettes and even sweet drinks!  To get more ideas, check out this recipe page.

With its healthy properties, rich texture, mild flavor and multiple applications, the avocado is a great “secret weapon” to have in your nutrition plan!

Avocado picture borrowed from The California Avocado Commission web site


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Forgiveness: The Key to Moving Forward

Frustrated“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope

I’ve seen the look many times.  A friend has been following a diet plan perfectly for weeks, maybe even months.  They’ve lost weight, they felt better and then one day or one night they “cheated” and now they sit in front of me grim faced, shoulders slumped and feeling like they just did something akin to kicking a puppy.  I’ve felt this too, and I always have a deep sympathy for people in this position.  In one moment, you feel like you’ve done something wrong, like you’re a loser and worse: you feel like giving up.

My first response to this?  “You have to forgive yourself, then move forward.”.  This isn’t just a platitude that I throw out to people.  It’s something I say to myself often.  When you have that dessert at dinner or an entire weekend of careless eating, one’s automatic instinct is to look back and think “I could have done that different, I shouldn’t have eaten this or that” but going in that direction quickly leads down a very dangerous path of self recrimination that gets you nowhere or worse, for an emotional eater it leads to more counter productive behavior (trust me, I’ve been there).

Whenever we stumble in life, it is important to remind ourselves that we are all only human.  You’re going to stray off any path eventually, but you are only one decision away from getting right back on it.  Even better?  Every day is an opportunity to do new things.  Every minute is a new chance to think of a new challenge to overcome.  Forgive yourself, embrace new challenges and remember, you are always stronger than you know!