This New Year: Don’t Diet!

2019 is around the corner and so it begins…evidence in all types of media that diet culture is alive and well. It’s typical, but honestly a little surprising to me as an RD–because it’s never been more clear that diets don’t work in the long run.

But, as you know, thin is in.  In general, our society overvalues thinness and discriminates against people who are not seen as thin.  We don’t have to look far to see this weight bias everywhere–in Hollywood, magazines, and sadly, even health care settings. (Has your doctor ever told you to lose weight and failed to fully address the reason you made the appointment?)

The main reason this has become socially acceptable is because the assumption has always been that thin people are healthier.  And while there are statistics that link obesity to certain diseases, such as diabetes, it is definitely not that simple.

Maintaining Weight Loss is the Exception

Odds are good that you know first hand how hard weight loss is. Even if you don’t, consider that the U.S. weight loss industry is worth $66 billion because this is a very complex problem…with not much of a solution.

Losing weight and keeping it off forever is rare.  (There is a national weight control registry to study these exceptional people.)  Most people lose weight only to yo-yo up and down throughout their lives. Recent research confirms that restrictive weight-loss diets don’t work in the long-term and diets may actually predict weight gain.  AND, even more importantly, recent research reveals that yo-yo dieting appears to lower your metabolism in the long run (the Biggest Loser follow up study). 

What does this mean?

Odds are very good that after dieting you will not be able to sustain the restrictions, you will return to your original weight or exceed it, AND now you need to eat less and/or exercise more to maintain your weight. (Although maybe the nutrient profile matters…a brand new randomized controlled trial, the gold standard, suggests following a lower-carbohydrate diet may maintain energy expenditure to help maintain weight loss.)

In summary: you are worse off when you focus on weight loss.

And of course, many people develop disordered eating or eating disorders along the way.  Keep in mind this post doesn’t even touch on the many psychological ramifications of failed weight-loss attempts…

If Diets Don’t Work,Then What Does?

Well, first it’s important–albeit difficult–to come to terms with the fact that we are all different and our bodies are all different. I’m very sorry, but no amount of dieting (or exercising) is going to change this.

I love this Poodle Science video! It makes a really good point–you wouldn’t expect a Mastiff to look like a Poodle, even if it ate more like a poodle.

Now, of course, it’s a little different for people, but the idea is that we all have varied genetic make up and have far less control over our size than was once thought.  And that’s okay–we are who we are meant to be.

Avoiding diet culture often requires a continual redirection of your thoughts to overcome occasional relative comparisons and prevent them from becoming part of who you are.  The struggle is indeed real to prevent negative thoughts or societal influences from penetrating your sense of self worth…and even worse, affecting your behaviors.

Keep in mind, sometimes a lot of soul searching and often therapy is necessary to help us get to this point. But it’s a journey–I’m hoping you start today, if you haven’t already, and let it lead you to a healthier frame of mind regardless of your weight.

Now, I’m not saying we should give up on our bodies or the pursuit of health.  I believe we need to focus on forming healthy behaviors irrespective of weight in order to better our physical and mental health.

Lose the Pressure Instead of the Weight

How many times have you avoided doing anything at all to improve your health, because you’re fixated on and frustrated by your inability to lose weight?  However, if you don’t start a diet, you won’t be able to “quit” and then feel guilty and ashamed.

Diets don’t work because they fail you. You don’t fail them.

There’s no need for guilt and shame. Simply take the pressure off yourself! If you don’t focus on weight as your end goal, I believe you would feel more empowered about making changes for your health because your goals will be much more attainable and sustainable.

These are examples of far more immediately achievable, and therefore, likely more sustainable goals:

  • add 1 cup of vegetables to 3 meals a day, or
  • exercise 30 minutes 3 times a week, or
  • check your blood sugar 2 times a day (if you have diabetes), or
  • go to bed/wake up at the same time each day (for a regular pattern of 8 hrs of sleep), or
  • meditate for 10 minutes each day.

Notice we’re staying positive in our goals. Adding, not taking away. If not these, what healthy habit would you like to add to your daily routine?

If you happen to lose weight implementing a sustainable healthy behavior, then of course, that’s okay.

But when you focus on realistic goals rather than weight loss, you have more importantly created a sustainable behavior that carries with it proven lasting health benefits, such as improvements in the following:

  • blood sugar control,
  • blood pressure control,
  • mood,
  • body composition, etc.

What Do You Think?

Is it surprising I’m telling you not to focus on weight or losing weight? Is it liberating? Or are you doubtful this approach is healthy?

Honestly, as a health professional I have long known restrictive diets don’t work, but I was at first reluctant to let go of focusing on weight as a measurement of health risk–but then again, maybe that just shows you how deep weight bias runs.

But I truly believe we can make more progress toward better health if we can let go of our obsession with weight and instead focus on creating healthy behaviors one at a time.  Please leave a comment or question to further the discussion!

Happy New Year!

Plenty of Options: Meal Planning Monday Week 13

Sometimes you just need options. And flexible ones. By now even if you’ve tried some of my recipes, you may have noticed it’s not ideal following someone else’s (my) meal plans!  I actually feel strongly about why you should meal plan for yourself.

Simply put:

You are not me. We are not the same. And that is ok. I don’t provide meal plans for you to mimic week after week. Rather, I hope you look at my meal plans to get recipe ideas and to make real food a priority and a weekly habit. 

This week is a short meal planning week for me because my kids and I are leaving Thursday to visit my sister in D.C. and tour the White House, the Capitol and the FBI building (where she works).

So, instead of showing you what I’m eating (nothing spectacular, mostly leftovers from the weekend)–I’m giving you some of my most popular easy, real food recipes in these five categories: Instant Pot, Slow Cooker, Ground Beef, Vegetarian, and Fish.

Instant Pot: Instant Pot Pulled Pork Tenderloin (my most popular recipe)

Slow Cooker: Chicken Burrito Bowls (makes enough for a freezer meal or for leftovers)

Ground Beef or Turkey: Meatloaf Pizza (really tastes like pizza)

Vegetarian: Thai Yellow Curry with Baked Tofu (delicious for leftovers)

Fish: Blackened Fish Tacos (just yum!)

Buon appetito!

Cultural Food for Hanukkah: Meal Planning Monday Week 12

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. You may know I’m not Jewish, but I do love eating my way around the world and enjoying traditional foods of other cultures. I think it’s the best way to get to know people who are different than ourselves while relating–because in many ways we are the same.

Whatever our culture, we all have values and beliefs that are important to us…and we all eat. It makes the world feel a little smaller when we are able to respect others’ values and beliefs even if we don’t share them. (As the original melting-pot culture, we could do this more often!)

And when we show interest in others, share a table together, and try new things, we are making ourselves vulnerable and well, life meaningful!

Frankly, sometimes what we eat isn’t even all that different–I find that so comforting! Or maybe it’s just the carbs…but take bread, for example. I love how many cultures have some version of a food that is traditional and similar, yet different.

  • Pita bread (Greek or Middle Eastern),
  • naan (India)
  • Italian bread,
  • baguette (French),
  • the spongy (Ethiopian) flatbread called injera
  • and of course, America has corn bread…or Wonder bread (kind of embarrassing, but it’s probably most representative of our culture)?

Well, then there’s also Jewish challah bread. My daughter has a new friend from school who is from Israel, and her mother shared this delicious freshly-baked loaf of challah with me last Friday! And these new friends also invited us into their home this week to share a meal to learn more about how they celebrate Hanukkah…such a generous invitation and I am really looking forward to it!

Of course you may have noticed I don’t eat a lot of bread because I try to avoid overly processed and refined carbohydrates.  So when I do, it has to be worth it…this is worth trying and I’m hoping I have time to make French toast out of it for “brinner” (breakfast for dinner) on Friday (because my kids have been asking for French toast for a while).

But if you don’t have time for breadbaking this week, try these easy salmon potato cakes! The are a new, higher-protein take on potato latkes, a traditional Hanukkah food. Latkes are fried traditionally to commemorate the miracle of a one-day supply of oil lasting 8 days. So, these are still pan-fried in olive oil, because they taste best that way! But they come together quickly with canned sockeye salmon and you can use frozen hash browns if you like (I prefer fresh, but if I don’t have time I use Trader Joe’s brand because they are preservative free).

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a busy night): Salmon Potato Cakes with sour cream, roasted broccoli and cauliflower

Tuesday (a busy night): Leftovers (Holiday concert night!)

Wednesday: Out for dinner (to a Hanukkah celebration with friends who are from Israel)

Thursday (a busy night): Instant Pot Chicken Soup (Not a Hanukkah food per se, but it’s easy and warms the soul like new friends! Plus I am making extra to have on hand for the winter.)

Friday: Cinnamon French Toast (with homemade Challah bread if time permits), and fruit

Buon Appetito! And Happy Hanukkah!

Creative Leftovers: Meal Planning Monday Week 11

Ah, Thanksgiving 2018 has come and gone and now it’s Cyber Monday.  If you’re too busy shopping online today (or just living your regular life) to plan this week’s meal–let alone cook–here’s hoping you still have leftovers.  But if you are sick of turkey leftovers or even the turkey-stuffing-cranberry sandwiches (my favorite), creative leftovers can make you extra thankful…for the Thanksgiving meal that keeps on giving throughout your busy work week!

I am weirdly satisfied when I am able to use up foods I have in the fridge. Is that a dietitian thing?! Or can you relate? Here’s my thinking:

  • Part of it is about making the most out of the meal to use up natural resources (i.e., the turkey and the vegetables).
  • Of course I’m also happy to create more meals from one holiday meal to stretch out the food savings.
  • But mainly I find it rewarding to create new meals–that my family members love and look foward to–out of tired, boring leftovers.

So, this week’s Meal Planning Monday inspiration is creative leftovers. Feel free to leave a comment about how you love using up your turkey and leftovers!

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a busy night): Leftover Shepherd’s Pie (Gluten Free)–a new recipe!  I froze half of this pie I made last week, but you could also use up leftover mashed potatoes and/or vegetables with this recipe.

Tuesday (a busy night): Leftover After-Thanksgiving Creamy Turkey and Rice Soup (new instructions for Instant Pot turkey bone broth!) Usually my husband makes this soup the Friday after Thanksgiving, but I waited till I got home to make it on Sunday so I could use my Instant Pot to speed up the broth step (while also being able to leave the house–win-win!)

Wednesday: Instant Pot Chicken/Turkey Enchilada Casserole  Use turkey if you have it, or chicken. You make the meat filling and enchilada sauce for this casserole in the Instant Pot and then assemble it into a casserole. It can be made ahead; just keep it in the fridge till you bake it. Leftovers freeze well, too.

Thursday (a busy night): Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie This is a family favorite with chicken or turkey and even when we don’t have leftover cranberry sauce, we serve it with the pot pie–a guilty pleasure! I feel a little better only using one crust on top.

Friday: Leftover leftovers?! Or if you’re fed up with fowl, it may be time for this easy Sheet Pan Italian Sausage, Pepper and Zucchini Bake

Buon Appetito!

Week of Thanksgiving: Meal Planning Monday Week 10

There are two kinds of people in America.  Those who stay home this week and have to clean house, host guests and cook a feast…and those who have to travel, but don’t have to clean or cook!

I’m not sure which is worse. I’d say it depends on which day you travel and how far you’re going! Of course, both are good problems to have…

While my husband is deployed on a humanitarian mission this holiday season (aboard the USNS Comfort hospital ship in South America and Central America), it’s never been more evident to our family that we have too many blessings to count! However, being able to travel to my mom’s this week is definitely one of them.

Thanksgiving Abundance

We have lived overseas many years (seven) and we haven’t always been able to spend holidays with family. But for the 4th year in a row we are close enough to drive to my mom’s and that is a gift!  Mostly because she’s family and we love her. But also because she makes an awesome Thanksgiving meal! And even though my trip likely will take longer than the usual 4 1/2 hours on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving…I’m super thankful I don’t have to clean my house or cook; it’s definitely a mini vacation for me!

Our Thanksgiving Food Traditions

My mom makes the full spread:

  • a roasted turkey,
  • from-scratch gravy from the drippings,
  • traditional stuffing,
  • mashed potatoes,
  • candied sweet potato halves,
  • mashed rutabaga (but we always call it turnip for some reason),
  • steamed green beans (for something green), and
  • creamed onions.  (I remember being surprised when I learned my husband’s family also had this tradition, but I believe it is a New England thing.)
  • And then we always have the choice of whole berry OR jellied cranberry sauce (but only from the cans! Are you “team Ocean Spray” or “team homemade”? LOL)

Roasted Turkey

Since we’ve been married, my husband started a new tradition for our family making a delicious spiced pumpkin pie and a heaping apple crumb pie. (I’m not a pie person, but the apple pie is especially amazing…not that you need help finding amazing desserts!) He’s not a baker, but the nostalgia of his grandmother’s holiday pies were his inspiration. (And conveniently enough after he perfected the recipes, somehow I’m the one who makes them most years…)

But my favorite of his creations is his After-Thanksgiving Creamy Turkey and Rice Soup. He loves using up “the rest of the turkey” and creating another hearty meal so much that he doesn’t mind spending Friday afternoon cooking while my sister and I usually visit an annual holiday craft fair. Several more blessings in all of that!  (This year, I will be enlisting my girls’ help!)

Pre-Thanksgiving Meals: K.I.S.S.

Random tangent:

Did you know that the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) acronym originated in the Navy in 1960?  Not sure if that explains a lot or begets more questions…but gotta love the Navy! And I am a fan of keeping things simple.

Back to my point:

For those of you cooking and even for those of us traveling, usually Monday through Wednesday before Thanksgiving needs to be E-A-S-Y! Pace yourself. Think minimal thoughts. Don’t be an overachiever on the pre-game meals!  But as always, you don’t have to cut corners with processed foods to have convenient meals either. As inspiration, I usually try to use up things I have in the fridge before a big holiday and in this case, branch out from poultry!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you slow down to enjoy your family, your food and your good fortune. I’m grateful for your support and honored that I’m able to encourage you in your healthy lifestyle efforts!

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a busy night): Cauliflower Fried Rice with Chicken

Tuesday (a busy night): Shepherd’s Pie (working on a recipe with ground beef, mushrooms, beef broth, veggies and garlic mashed potatoes)

Wednesday (traveling): Dinner at Mom’s when we arrive (or I would plan on leftovers from Shepherd’s Pie)

Thursday:  MOM’S THANKSGIVING FEAST!

Friday: After-Thanksgiving Creamy Turkey and Rice Soup (no photo yet, but here’s the recipe. “What can I say, except you’re welcome?!”)

Buon Appetito!

Cooking Down: Meal Planning Monday Week 9

Are you a moody eater?  I am–and honestly it makes meal planning extra challenging sometimes!  But my freezer is full and it’s time to focus on “cooking down.”

Hoard much? I don’t know about you, but every now and then I need to reorganize the freezer and make a list of what needs to be used up.  I keep the list on a white board on the fridge, which helps hit me over the head with it.  Sometimes (most times) I need that…

If you’re not familiar with cooking down, you can read more about it in this post. Chances are you do it already, but if you don’t, check out my tips to get you started!

In a nutshell:

Cooking down is using up what you have on hand to minimize waste while still preparing easy, real food for your family.

So, this week’s meal plans are inspired by my need to:

  • prepare mostly from-scratch easy, real food for my family (as usual),
  • cook down and make room in the freezer,
  • catch my breath from the “birthday sweeps,” and
  • brace myself for Thanksgiving and the holiday season!

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (no school, M’s birthday): Out for a sushi birthday dinner (fitting for my daughter who was born in Japan!)

Tuesday (a busy night): Leftover Instant Pot Balsamic Pork Tenderloin, creamed spinach (with frozen spinach), and leftover roasted root vegetables

Wednesday: Slow Cooker Whole Chicken (from the freezer) with Seasoning Salt, caprese salad with fresh mozzarella (from my The Neighborhood Harvest delivery), and whole green beans (from the freezer)

Thursday (a busy night): Brunswick Stew (from the freezer)

Friday: Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas (from the freezer), served over lettuce and topped with shredded cheese, chopped avocado and sour cream

Buon Appetito!

Easy, Real Comfort Foods: Meal Planning Monday Week 8

Well, in case you were worried about me…I made it through my hectic week and I can honestly say that dinner never caused me stress, because I had a realistic plan.  Well, that…and the fact that I had other people making dinner a couple of the nights. Heh. Back to reality this week.

But despite a loud sleepover birthday party with eight 7th graders Saturday night, my Sunday was relaxing enough to figure out the week’s meals. Winning! For now…but I’m definitely in the mood for some easy, real comfort food this week!

What Is “Easy, Real Comfort Food”?

The holiday season is here (as indicated by the arrival of Starbucks’ holiday drinks on Nov. 2, and no I haven’t had one yet)!  And so is some cooler weather (in Virginia anyway)–so, bring on the easy, real comfort foods!

You know “comfort foods,” but you may not know “easy, real comfort foods.” I’m talking about foods that are:

  • easy enough to make during the week,
  • made from real food, not processed foods,
  • warm and hearty for the chilly weather,
  • and particularly nourishing to your body and soul.

Maybe you’ve eaten particular comfort foods throughout your childhood. Perhaps you ate a particular comfort food only one time, yet associate it with the memory of something positively wonderful in your life. It could be that you associate particular comfort foods with a particularly challenging time in your life. Or it’s possible you associate particular comfort foods with the seasons.

Either way, I believe comfort food is an integral part of life’s ups and downs–events or temperatures! But when did “comfort food” become synonymous with “guilty pleasure”?

Here’s the thing:

You don’t have to overindulge in overly processed foods to thoroughly enjoy your food.  Easy, real comfort foods are guilt free, wholesome and real-food based, but most importantly they are easily enjoyable.

So, my meals this week include some of my favorite easy, real comfort foods that I hope you will try!

A hearty beef stew, like my mom used to make

An Italian Tuscan bean soup that reminds me of friends we met in Japan and our time in Italy

A Mediterranean frittata that reminds me of my Greek heritage

 

 

 

 

 

And my version of a chicken pot pie that my friend Kathy shared after the birth of my second daughter on Nov. 12th, 11 yrs ago

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a busy night): Instant Pot Beef Stew (leftover from Sunday)

Tuesday (no school, but a busy night): Instant Pot Tuscan Bean, Vegetable and Bread Soup (adapting this recipe to make a bread-free version)

Wednesday:  “Brinner”–Mediterranean Caramelized Onion, Zucchini, Tomato and Feta Frittata 

Thursday (a busy night): Leftovers (Tuscan soup)

Friday: Chicken Pot Pie (with a single top crust)

Buon Appetito!

Halloween: Meal Planning Monday Week 7

Not gonna lie, barely holding it together this Monday. Thus, the late evening Meal-Planning Monday post. But trust me, Halloween meal planning is worth the wait!

Monday has gotten away from me, but it sure was productive, which is good.  I really needed to kill it today! Because the week is only getting busier as the days go on.

  • Tomorrow: oldest daughter’s turning 13!
  • Wednesday: Halloween festivities!
  • Thursday: major house cleaning (see Friday) and recipe development projects.
  • Friday: video interview in my home for a military professional spouse project.

So, I had to get a plan together quickly to–you guessed it–prevent chaos.  I hope these meal plans spark some festive or seasonal ideas and help you stay sane, too!

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a busy night): Instant Pot White Chicken Chili (a new real-food, gluten-free, dairy-free recipe; to be posted soon!) Tip: I made this at 2pm and kept it on warm until 6pm.

Tuesday (a busy night and my oldest’s birthday dinner request): Mom’s Pot Roast (bonus my mom’s visiting to make it for us), Instant Pot mashed potatoes, and green beans.

Wednesday (Halloween): Chili at my neighbors; I’m bringing a large simple salad to share and one of my many festive real-food Halloween treats–not sure which one yet!

Thursday (a busy night): Leftovers!

Friday: Instant Pot Lemon Chicken Piccata with roasted winter vegetables (I’m working on developing a new winter vegetable recipe collection for OnTrack Diabetes; if you like plant-based eating, you may want to check out the easy vegan recipes I recently developed for them!)

Buon Appetito and Happy Halloween!

Digging Deep: Meal Planning Monday Week 6

Ugh, I really don’t feel like meal planning today!  Can you relate? We had a busy weekend with camping and birthday parties, and I have a busy week full of my projects and the kids’ activities. (And did I mention it’s just me and the kids?) Plus I’m feeling like I’m all out of meal planning ideas.  Yes, it happens to dietitian bloggers, too. But…when I really stop and think about the alternative (not meal planning), I am always convinced to dig deeper.

I can reuse recipes, or peruse Pinterest (Try this Healthy Recipe Board). But whatever I do–I cannot bear the idea of scrambling last minute.

So, this is what I came up with for the week. I hope it helps inspire you to maintain some order while feeding your family some nourishing easy, real food.

New Fashioned Meatloaf

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a holiday): New-Fashioned Meatloaf (doubling recipe to bring a freezer-friendly meal to a friend traveling for a funeral), mashed potatoes, and green beans

Tuesday (a busy night): Dinner (pizza) out at the Elementary School’s Roller Skating Party

Wednesday: Instant Pot French Dip Sandwiches (recipe to follow) and salad

Thursday (a busy night): From the Freezer: Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls 

Friday: Baked Salmon with Dill Butter, Butternut Squash Gratin (Doubling recipe to bring a batch to a neighbor’s Oyster Roast on Saturday), and roasted broccoli

Butternut Squash Gratin

Buon Appetito!

One-Parent-is-Away Meal Plans: Meal Planning Monday Week 5

Meal planning takes on a whole new vibe now that my spouse has left for an 11-week deployment on the USN Comfort Hospital Ship. I don’t mean to say it’s easier, just different because my audience has shifted a little. Usually, I cater to our adult tastes and preferences and the kids are along for the ride. But when B is gone, I realized today that I try to use meal planning as a way to bring some control to my kids’ lives, by allowing them to choose some of their favorite dinner options.  (Within reason, of course!)  And they seem to appreciate it. That’s what inspires this week’s One-Parent-is-Away Meal Plans.

And BTW, you don’t have to be military to appreciate that family meals can be a source of comfort, predictability and normalcy for kids!

Sometimes my kids’ choices are a little higher-carb than I typically prefer.  For example, I did already promise them brinner (breakfast-for-dinner)–which means homemade pancakes or waffles–so you’ll see that on the menu below for this week.

But surprisingly, many of their favorites are some of my healthy favorites. For example, tonight they requested my Slow Cooker whole chicken sprinkled with homemade seasoning salt. I plan to roast a kobacha squash we picked up this weekend at the farm market after visiting the pumpkin patch. We’ll also have miso-roasted Brussels sprouts (because, shocker, we didn’t get around to eating them last week!)

The kids are handling the deployment like pros so far. Yes, maybe because it’s only the first week and we’re lucky we’ve only had one other long deployment in the past 13 years!

But we realize it could be a lot worse. So, we approach each day the only way we know how.  We focus on and appreciate our family’s usual traditions (food-related or otherwise), which comfort us and sustain us one day at a time.

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a holiday): Slow Cooker whole chicken with homemade Seasoning Salt (no other ingredients needed), roasted Kobacha squash and miso-roasted Brussels sprouts (recipes coming soon to the Recipe page!)

Tuesday (a busy night): Chicken Parmesan, fressh mozzarella caprese salad and roasted zucchini

Wednesday: Brinner (breakfast for dinner): I’m excited to finally try these Spelt Waffles created by my RD friend, Maria at Halsa Nutrition! I’ll serve them with a quick fresh fruit salad.

Thursday (a busy night): Leftover night

Friday: Homemade pizza night (with whole-wheat flatbread and Califlour crusts)

Buon Appetito!