Thursday, April 26, 2012

Creative substitution: Lose it without tears

I’m pretty wimpy about self-denial when it comes to food, as many folks are. Anytime I even think I may be denying myself, the strategy tends to boomerang. If I let my stomach rumble for too long, I end up eating twice as much when I do eat. Heaven knows what might happen if I watched as others ate birthday cake while I swallowed hard and shook my head “no.” I can’t remember ever letting that happen. You may be wondering how I ever lost weight and have been able to keep it off.

I owe much of my success to creative substitution (in addition to regular exercise of course). The concept likely can help you stay full and satisfied while managing your weight as well. You may already be employing it at times without thinking. But it’s an even more powerful tool when you consciously use it. It’s easy: Just look for ways to cut calories and boost nutritional value by substituting one less-healthy food or drink for a healthy version that has a similar taste, texture and/or satisfaction level. The pack of peanuts I always keep on hand has saved me from gobbling down a fast food burger innumerable times when I get hungry away from home.

Another example of creative substitution: I have a bit of a beer tooth, and tend to favor a Corona with lemon or a Bud Light Lime. Those liquid calories add up quickly, so when I committed myself to losing weight I decided to find a delicious low-calorie alternative. Diet ginger ale with lemon served the bill beautifully with almost zero calories. Sometimes I even serve it in a chilled mug. One more example: Because I like to have a crunchy snack while I watch TV movie, but also prefer being fit and trim, I have shifted from dip and chips or nachos to microwave popcorn. I make my own microwave popcorn using a brown lunch bag and several tablespoons of generic or on-sale popping corn kernels. I season with sea salt and/or Mrs. Dash (when I’ve had my sodium quota for the day).

Creative substitution even helps with portion control. Those healthy, low-calorie frozen meals seemed seriously small to me, and were not filling, until I started serving them on a bed of fresh spinach. A can of healthy soup can easily turn into a meal when I microwave it with fresh or frozen veggies such as broccoli, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes. I thought I was a little strange about my need to pump up my food until I saw “The Hungry Girl” on the Dr. Oz Show. She has taken the idea of bulking up meals with high fiber, nutrient rich foods and gone wild with it. I love her idea for using cauliflower (cooked from fresh or frozen) in combination with a small portion of pasta and healthy sauce of choice to make your dish seem like you’re eating a restaurant-size portion. Check out her website for other ways to bulk up your meals.

By employing creative substitution every day I find I’m not on or off a diet. I’ve simply made a lifestyle change in my dietary habits. If I occasionally indulge in the high-calorie food or beverage I typically substitute for, I can do it without guilt because I know that overall I’m eating well. A fellow fitness professional looked at me suspiciously the other day when I ordered a small serving of ice cream while she opted for black coffee at the coffee shop where we met. Our orders cost about the same. I preferred to spend my money on a real treat, plus I needed a boost of protein and carbs after two back-to-back exercise classes. I know better than to let myself get too hungry!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Life is easier when you're fit

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being fit is that life is so much easier than when I was out of shape. It’s easier to carry in the groceries because I’m stronger. It’s easier to pick things up off the floor because I’ve got greater range of motion. There’s virtually no spot on my back I can’t scratch or apply suntan lotion. And I can twist to get something out of the backseat of my car without risking a back spasm. My energy level is higher, and it’s easier to fall asleep. My mood, which was fairly positive to begin with, has become more so, and I’m feeling ever more confident and empowered.

We really don’t hear enough at middle age and beyond that becoming sluggish, stiff, achy and discouraged with age is not inevitable. I had no idea I was taking sips from the fountain of youth several years ago when I started what has become a regular fitness program.

First I began walking every day, building up to about an hour of walking (approximately 3 miles or 6,000 steps on the pedometer). Then I started weight training at home with light dumb bells. Later when I learned I could reduce my back pain through core exercises I took yoga classes. After I began studying to become a personal trainer and gained the knowledge of how to systematically train my whole body, my strength, endurance and flexibility improved phenomenally. Today in my early 50s, I’m stronger, more flexible and fit than I’ve been since my 30s.

Are you game? To create a good balance of physical activity that will really make your life easier, opt for an aerobic workout (walking, running, dancing, tennis or such) at least 3 to 5 times a week and strength training 2 to 3 times a week. Some folks like to split their strength workouts up over the week, which is fine. The most important thing is to challenge your muscles at least twice a week with 48 hours of rest between working the same set of muscles. It’s also important to stretch your body, and a good time to do it is after you work out. I’ve found taking yoga once or twice a week, as well as stretching after exercise, extremely helpful in improving my range of motion.

I devote more than seven hours a week to staying fit, but the time is more than made up by the fact I’m able to get more accomplished when I’m not exercising.  However, making your life easier doesn’t require seven hours of exercise. Many benefits accrue with a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week, according to scientific research and federal fitness guidelines. That’s 30 minutes 5 days a week, 50 minutes 3 days a week or however you want to split it up.

If you’re seriously busy, accumulate activity in increments of 10 minutes or more several times a day. What about stretching or lifting dumb bells while you watch TV? What about walking during part of your lunch hour and stretching at your desk? Ten minutes here and there can kick start or ramp up your fitness program. You will be amazed at how time expands when you exercise regularly. Life is not only easier with exercise, it’s better.