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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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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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