Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene in NYC?

 After days of 24 hour live reporting and hype from every media outlet, Hurricane Irene came and went fairly quietly in NYC.

Battery Park, Monday 8/29

I am not, by any means, downplaying the devastation that Hurricane Irene caused up and down the east coast this past weekend but where I live, the effects were very minimal compared to what we expected. 

We did almost everything officials told us to do, except evacuate.  We technically live in Zone A but if we crossed the street, we would be in Zone B. 

So we decided to take our chances and ride out the storm.  We brought everything in from our terrace, bought the necessary survival "supplies" (flashlights and candles), filled our freezer with bags of ice and our bathtub with water.  And of course, we bought some non-perishables that we could eat if we were without power.

 This seemed to be an excuse for everyone to buy junk food and not feel guilty about it.

In the end, after all the preparation, it pretty much felt like any other stormy summer weekend... at least where I live.  Like Bloomberg said, "we need to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best."  And that's what we did (prepared for the worst) and what we got (the best case scenario).  We were prepared for disaster but we were lucky enough not to feel the harsh affects that were expected or that were experienced in other, not so far away, areas. 

A lot of people are complaining that officials overreacted and about the inconvenience of the mass transit shutdown and having to evacuate lower Manhattan.  However, there is a flip side. If officials hadn't taken these pre-cautions and the hurricane had been as bad as originally predicted, then we would all be saying how irresponsible they are and what a poor job they did. So, unfortunately for them, they were in a no win situation.  In my opinion, the actions they took make me feel confident that in the event of another emergency, the city is capable of efficiently handling evacuations, shut downs and clean up so that we can resume life as usual as quickly as possible.

From this experience, I gained a few things.  The first is perspective.  You can't please everyone but you have to do what you think is right and hope for the best.  I also gained an umbrella that was blown down from the terrace above, a giant piece of sheet rock that was blown off the terrace below and 2 lbs from all of the junk food I ate in anticipation of the big storm.  Oh well.  Today is a new day.  Time to start fresh and make the next right decisions to get back on track.

I hope everyone else was lucky enough to escape the hurricane safely and without any major damage. 

Have a great day!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Free Fitness Course

There was a running trail just outside our condo at the beach last week.  It ran parallell to the ocean for about a mile and then veered slightly inland and continued behind some beautiful ocean front homes.  This all made for a scenic run but there was something I discovered along the way that surprised me... a fitness course. 

The course includes about 10 different stations set approximately 50 feet apart from each other.  It's free (no gym membership required!) and you can get a good workout without any other additional equipment.  I think anything that is done to encourage and support people in their efforts to be active is great.

These are just some of the stations they have.  I couldn't photograph all of them because people were actually using them!

I wish we had a fitness course along the Hudson River where I run!

Have a healthy day and for those of you in the path of Hurricane Irene, stay safe.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quick and Easy Meal

When we were at the beach last week, we stayed in a condo with a full kitchen.  This was great because we were able to spend our mornings at the beach and then head inside for a quick lunch instead of having to drive around trying to find somewhere to eat every afternoon.  Below is the recipe for a simple summer "salad" that I made.

Summer Vegetable "Salad"
1 box couscous/quinoa (I used couscous because I couldn't find quinoa at the store)
3 carrots, chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 jar kalamata olives, pitted
1 container crumbled feta cheese
1 lime, juiced
salt & pepper

1. Cook couscous or quinoa as directed on box
2. Chop red onion and saute in butter or oil of your choice (olive, sesame or coconut) until almost translucent
3. Chop carrots and zucchini into evenly sized pieces and add to pan with onion.  Saute until tender but still crisp
4. Chop kalamata olives in half
5. Add sauteed vegetable, olives, feta cheese and cilantro to the couscous/quinoa
6. Add juice of 1 lime
7. Add salt and pepper to taste
8. Stir

I apologize for not taking any pictures but, take my word for it, it was easy and delicious!  My sister-in-law, Quinn, can vouch for this as we ate it for lunch 3 days in a row.

I think this is great served cold in the summer but you can certainly heat it up before eating if you wish. 

Please remember that you can always vary the quantity and ingredients to suit your personal taste.  One alternative that I like is using cucumbers and tomatoes in place of the zucchini and olives.  You can also mix in fresh mixed greens or spinach (fresh or sauteed).     

For those of you that are super busy (and who isn't), this is a great dish to make at the beginning of the week.  You can leave it in the fridge and you will always have a great meal ready to go.


Monday, August 22, 2011

5 tips for when you're on the go

I'm back.  Sorry for my absence last week but I was on vacation with my husband and his family.  We had a relaxing week full of sunny weather and good company!

Being on vacation was great, but it did remind me of the challenges of staying healthy while away from home.  Eating healthfully and sticking to your exercise routine on a daily basis is tough enough, but it becomes even harder when you're traveling.

Planning ahead can help alleviate some of the stress regarding your food and exercise choices.

Here are 5 tips to help you stay in shape and eating well when you're away from home:

1.  When traveling, eat before you leave whenever possible.  Even if you're lucky enough to find a place along the way that serves healthy or somewhat healthy food, there are usually so many other tempting options that it can be difficult to make the right choice.  If you eat before you leave your house, you won't need to think about food for a few hours.

2.  Pack healthy snacks and bring them with you.  I recommend buying a small cooler bag and some ice packs.  This will allow you to pack all kinds of healthy snacks including chopped vegetables, fresh fruit, hummus, green smoothies/juices and water.  These are all items that are easy to pack and easy to eat on the go.  Granola bars and nuts are also great snacks that don't require any refridgeration.

3.  There are several websites that can help you locate healthy food options in almost any location.  I like  Eat Well Guide® is a free online directory for anyone in search of fresh, locally grown and sustainably produced food in the United States and Canada.  Just enter the zip code of the city where you will be traveling and it lists local restaurants, stores, farmer's markets, CSA's, etc...  This is a great resource to use when you reach your final destination.  But, if you're driving, with a little advanced planning, you can also look up healthy food options at points along the way where you can stop to eat.  This will help you avoid making poor food choices out of convenience.

4.  Travel in your workout clothes (if appropriate).  If you have an early flight or are heading out early for a road trip and don't have time to get your workout in before you leave, travel in your workout clothes.  Not only will you be comfortable, but if you're already dressed for a workout, it will be that much easier to make the decision to workout upon arrival.

5.  If you don't have access to a fully equipped gym (once you arrive or along the way), you can usually at least find somewhere to run/walk outside.  If this isn't an option, you can perform Meg's 5 simple and effective exercises pretty much anywhere!

Wishing you happy and healthy travels!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Make the next right decision....

This past weekend I was in Portland, Maine for our annual Olsen/Sanders family Lobsterfest. 

Even though we drove 6 hours each way in the car and stayed in a hotel without a fridge and with no Whole Foods in sight, I am so disciplined that I still always made the right choices and ate only healthy foods and ate only when I was hungry. 

Ha.... if only that were true.

When I 'm at home, I pack my own lunches, keep my fridge stocked with healthy foods, plan my meals in advance and cook as much as possible. I do this because it eliminates me having to decide what to eat every time I'm hungry. If I have to make the "right choice" whenever I have a craving, chances are that eventually I will break down and pick the unhealthy, easy or cheap option that may not be best for me. Planning ahead helps me to avoid these temptations.

Eating while on the go can be more challenging though because you don't always have control over your environment.  However, my sisters and I had every intention of eating well on the car ride up.  We packed things that we eat (and enjoy) on a regular basis... raw veggies, hummus, sliced strawberries, fresh peaches, almonds and walnuts.

However, we also packed Stacy's Pita Chips and Boursin Cheese. 

Guess what we ate (the chips and cheese) and guess what we had to throw away (the fruits and veggies) when we arrived? 

The rest of the weekend wasn't much better... I indulged in (more) chips, hash browns, some cocktails and even a donut!  So after 3 days of questionable food choices and no time to get to the grocery, I have had a hard time getting back on track this week. 

I am sure you have heard the saying that "one bad decision leads to another."   For example, how many of you have ever had a piece of leftover birthday cake for breakfast and thought "Since I already ate a piece of cake, it doesn't really matter what I eat the rest of the day."  A lot of you, I'm sure.  There is this widespread rationale that if you make a poor choice, then the rest of the day/week/month is shot.  I can't tell you how many times I have said "I will start over tomorrow." 

We all make poor decisions or give in to cravings every once in awhile. And that's fine... healthy even.  But, this all or nothing mentality is not.  If you make a choice to eat a lobster dipped in butter (which I may have indulged in this weekend) don't think that what you eat the rest of the day doesn't matter.  Make the commitment to make the next right choice.  If you eat one too many slices of pizza or even a brownie sundae, have a green smoothie or a fresh salad for your next meal or snack on fresh fruit and vegetables. 

Being healthy isn't an all or nothing proposition.  Vow to make the right choices more often than not.  And when you slip up, don't beat yourself up about it and scrap the rest of your day, just make the next right choice and get back on track.

Have a Healthy Day!

Friday, August 5, 2011

5 simple and effective exercises you can do anywhere

As you know from my previous blog, health is about more than just the foods we eat.  In order to be healthy we have to consider not only our diet, but also many other factors, including exercise.  Today, I am happy to have my sister Meg (a fitness instructor, 4 time marathon finisher, high school lacrosse coach and former college athlete) as a guest blogger on the subject!

Guest Blogger:  Meg Sanders

As a newly certified group fitness instructor, I have been learning a lot about the tried and true exercises of the trade.  I have narrowed down this extensive repetoire to just five of what I think are not only the simplest, but also the most effective.  The best part if that they require no weights, machines or special equipment and they can be done anywhere!

Planks are a great way to strengthen and build endurance in your core, abdomen and lower back. Here is how to do a perfect plank:

Lie face down resting on your forearms with palms flat on the floor. Raise your body up so that only your elbows and toes are touching the floor. Maintain a flat back in a straight line from head to toe. Avoid letting your lower back sag or rise into the air by contracting your abs. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat 2-4 times. The stronger you get, the longer your hold should be.

Yes, push-ups are one of the oldest exercises, but they remain one of the best, no matter how much we hate them (OK, I’ll speak for myself here – I hate them!).  Push-ups are a great way to strengthen your shoulders, arms, abs and upper back. (By the way, planks and push-ups work in tandem, each helping you perform the other one better so use that as motivation to do them both!)

As with planks, good form is imperative for performing push-ups. Keep a straight back, tight abs and butt and try to maintain continuous movement and full extension of the arms. To work more on chest, place your hands wider than shoulder-width; to focus more on your back and triceps, bring your hands closer together and form a triangle with thumbs and index fingers. If a full push-up is too difficult, do a modified push-up by dropping your knees to the floor until you build up your strength. Shoot for 10-15 consecutive push-ups.

Doing dips are one of the best ways to tone the back of your arms. You can use a chair, bench or any other stable piece of furniture or object. Place your hands behind you, fingers facing forward, on the chair (or other object). Elbows should be pointed straight back and at a 90 degree angle at starting position. Lower your hips down toward the floor/ground and raise your body back up without locking your elbows. Bending your knees is a good way to start, but work up to keeping your legs extended straight in front of you or, place feet on a second raised piece of furniture/object.

I love step-ups because there are so many variations. They work your glutes, hamstrings and quads simultaneously and can be modified by adding height to the step or by holding weight. Like dips, you can use a bench, wall, chair or even a large rock, as my sister and I did recently in Montana (the same large rocks I ran into with a pickup truck towing 4 horses in a trailer, but that’s a different story).  You can perform step-ups by keeping one foot on the bench and stepping up and on with the opposite or by alternating each time. If doing step-ups with one leg, you can add a knee lift after stepping up, pulling your knee up to your chest. For a more intense challenge, jump on and off the bench with both feet at the same time.

If there is one exercise I dislike as much, or more than, push-ups, it’s this one. But it is also probably the best total body strengthening and conditioning exercise there is. You’ll feel these in your chest, arms, shoulders, quads, hamstrings and core. Start in a squat position with your palms on the floor in front of you. Next, kick your feet back behind you so that you are in a push-up position and immediately bring your feet back underneath your torso into the squat position. Jump to a standing position and raise your arms straight above your head. Immediately continue with the next rep.

These exercises are also a great way to measure your progress – give yourself a monthly fitness test by doing as many repetitions of each as you can in one minute and track your results (for the plank, hold it as long as you can).

Thanks for all the great tips, Meg!

Photos: Google Images

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Think mind over matter is just a figure of speech?

If you're like me, when you crave something (like buttered popcorn at the movies) you usually try to put it out of your mind and think about something else. My assumption being that continuously thinking about something I long for increases my desire for that item rather than decreases it.   However, Joachim Vosgerau, Ph.D., author of a recent study at Carnegie Mellon University, shows just the opposite.  The study reported that people, who repeatedly thought about a specific food before eating it, actually consumed less than:
  • those that didn't think about eating that specific food as many times
  • those that didn't think about eating that specific food 
  • those that didn't think about eating food at all
Below is an abstract of the study that was published in Science Magazine in December 2010:

The consumption of a food typically leads to a decrease in its subsequent intake through habituation—a decrease in one’s responsiveness to the food and motivation to obtain it. We demonstrated that habituation to a food item can occur even when its consumption is merely imagined. Five experiments showed that people who repeatedly imagined eating a food (such as cheese) many times subsequently consumed less of the imagined food than did people who repeatedly imagined eating that food fewer times, imagined eating a different food (such as candy), or did not imagine eating a food. They did so because they desired to eat it less, not because they considered it less palatable. These results suggest that mental representation alone can engender habituation to a stimulus.

So if you think mind over matter is just a figure of speech, think again... and again... and again.

Click here to listen to an interesting podcast with Joachim Vosgerau, Ph.D as featured on PM with Mark Colvin.  If you happen to be at work and can't listen to the podcast right now, the transcript is below...

MARK COLVIN: There's new evidence today of the power of imagination. US researchers have shown that people can cut their desire to eat certain foods if they repeatedly go through the motions of devouring them in their mind's eye. There's potential in the findings to help break food addictions and even to help people quit smoking.

Ashley Hall reports.
 Joachim Vosgerau is a professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and one of the authors of the study, published in Science magazine.

ASHLEY HALL: The researchers started out with a simple premise; that a person's imagination and actual experiences manifest themselves in a similar way.

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: Imagine a spider crawling over your leg, yeah? Has the same behavioural consequences than if the spider actually crawls over your leg.

ASHLEY HALL: They wondered, could that premise be extended to thoughts about food? 

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: I thought that was actually a crazy idea. I didn't believe that this would work but I like crazy ideas so we said, let's see whether that's true and we designed and experiment and was totally stunned when we got the results.

ASHLEY HALL: The researchers tested their theory by dividing the participants into groups and asking each group to imagine eating a different amount of chocolate. Then, they gave them a big bowl of chocolate and told them to eat as much as they could.

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: So it turns out that the group that imagined eating more M&Ms, they ate less M&Ms than the other two groups.

ASHLEY HALL: So they imagined themselves to a state of fullness?

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: That is actually the one potential explanation: that simply by imagining eating all those M&Ms you get this sensation of feeling of being full, yeah? But then we did another experiment to test that.

ASHLEY HALL: They asked people to imagine eating chocolate or cheese, with the researchers offering them a big bowl of cheese afterwards. Those who'd imagined eating cheese ate far less of it than those who'd imagined eating chocolate.

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: It is specific to the food that you imagine eating that brings about the success.

ASHLEY HALL: So do we know what is at work there? What's going on in the brain?

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: Yeah, we believe the effect or the mechanism is habituation. So habituation is a gradual decrease in the motivation to obtain that food and habituation is food specific. So it's like in real life when you eat, for example, a steak, with each bite of the steak, the steak becomes less desirable and your motivation to eat more of the steak declines. But then that has not much of impact on your desire for eating let's say ice-cream for dessert, yeah? So it is a food specific effect.

ASHLEY HALL: It might explain why children who say they simply can't eat another mouthful of their dinner still have room for dessert. Joachim Vosgerau says a similar but different principle is used in advertising.

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: There's a lot of research that shows if you just think about a stimulus, only once, then it increases in its attractiveness. So if you just think about the steak, then your desire to eat the steak increases. So you get this effect of habituation with a decrease in the desire to eat the steak only if you repeatedly think about it and so this is the difference between what we are doing and what is done in advertising. In advertising you are typically only motivated to think about the stimulus and it's only once, not repeated, like 30 times or so.

ASHLEY HALL: So are there applications for the findings of this study in day to day life? Particularly, I imagine, in the field of weight-loss?

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: You have to be careful. You have to keep in mind that this is a food specific effect. So it's probably not, it's not going to work in terms of curbing your hunger or so. But what you can use it for is to substitute foods. So if you're tempted, for example, by chocolate brownies, then thinking intensely about how you eat chocolate brownies bite by bite will decrease the desire to eat chocolate brownies and therefore you can probably eat something else. But it will not work in terms of decreasing your overall hunger level.

ASHLEY HALL: The researchers believe their findings might also help people wanting to quit smoking.

JOACHIM VOSGERAU: When you're a smoker and you're trying to quit smoking the most difficult problem is that you have those recurring thoughts about smoking. So typically you try to suppress the thoughts which is very effortful and very painful and according to our theory one should do exactly the opposite. So whenever the craving comes and you think about cigarettes, you should engage in thinking as vividly as possible smoking a cigarette drag by drag. And that will actually decrease the craving.

ASHLEY HALL: It's a technique Joachim Vosgerau has himself adopted to quit cigarettes. So far, he's managed two weeks.

So, we know this technique works with food and smoking... which is great!  But what about other areas of our lives?  Like the gold Cartier Love bracelet I've been longing for?  I think about it all the time and I still want it...

Photo 1:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Katchkie Farm

Normally, I decide what I feel like eating or choose a recipe I want to make and then I go to the store and buy the ingredients I need. But this year, I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and it's exactly the opposite. When I get my vegetables each week, they dictate what I'm going to make. It helps me to eat locally and seasonally and encourages me to try new foods that I probably wouldn't otherwise buy.... like garlic scapes, gooseberries and kohlrabi (a cross between a cabbage and a turnip).

Here are the basics of a CSA according to Local Harvest: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of vegetables, but other farm products may be included like fruit, grains or dairy. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or "subscription") at the beginning of the season and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

The CSA I belong to, Katchkie Farm, is an organic farm about 3 hours north of New York City. For $275, I receive a half share of vegetables every Wednesday from June through November. I get the same selection of vegetables as those members that purchased a full share, but I just get half as much. For 2 of us, this is more than enough.  I also joined a fruit share and a bread share through Local Roots NYC.

Here are pictures of some of the fresh vegtables, fruits and breads I have received so far this season and some of the dishes I have made.

If you are interested in joining a CSA, here are some helpful links: