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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From too thick to toothpick.

I hate to admit it, but I love celebrity magazines. The fashion, the scandal – the pictures! As these people don’t affect my life one iota, I only let myself buy them in airports. That way, I’m entertained on the flight, but the crazy “celeb-reality” doesn’t creep into my real life.

“Scary Skinny!” The headline screamed at me from the news stand as I headed to my gate. Just days after my doctor told me I could expect to lose only 1 pound a week on my new exercise and eating program, I admittedly had to see what the fuss was all about. These celebs truly are scary skinny. If the camera really does add 10 pounds, that means they're even more skeletal in real life (I’ve often looked at pictures of myself and wondered exactly how many cameras were on me….yikes!).

From eating only baby food to virtually no food at all, these lovely ladies are doing serious damage to themselves in the name of fame. The old yo-yo dieter in me might have been tempted by the quick fixes, but the older (ugh), wiser (matter of opinion) Svelte Gourmet isn’t fooled. No sir.

Lest you think that “only losing water weight” is the biggest risk of a crash diet, cleanse or fast, read on.

As crash diets usually consist of severely restricted caloric intake or elimination of entire food groups, nutrient deprivation is, in my opinion, the most threatening health risk. Not only do these diets weaken your immune system (increasing your risk of illness), they also deprive you of vital nutrients and can lead to bone loss (from a lack of calcium in your diet), organ damage, and even cardiac stress. Add exercise to the mix and you’re putting some serious strain on your body!

This alone should be enough to deter you from taking the crash diet plunge. But try this on for size – starving now to fit in that high school reunion dress can have serious implications for your ability to lose weight and keep it off later. You may lose 10 pounds now, but you’ll gain it back quickly….and probably put on more than you lost. I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times. But why does this happen?

Crash dieting (restricting calories or entire food groups) sends your body into starvation mode. It’s a vicious cycle. On crash diets, you appear to lose weight because your body in starvation mode is shedding water and muscle mass – NOT burning fat. Muscle burns calories faster than fat, so losing this precious muscle will slow down your metabolism (how quickly your body burns calories) and make it even more difficult to lose weight later. Then, since your body thinks it’s starving, it automatically stores new calories as fat – so when you start to eat again, you’ll pack those pounds back on faster than you lost them!

There’s a lot more to this and I’m not a doctor, so take this for what it’s worth – my very basic understanding of a growing problem (no pun intended!). My two rounds with the lemonade diet several years ago have made it noticeably harder for me to lose weight. My metabolism just isn’t what it used to be. When my doctor and I discussed my new plan (which, really, just ensures that I actually practice what I already preach), I was tempted to “jump start” my weight loss with a weekend liquid diet. But armed with this explanation and my own crash diet experiences, I know that would do more harm than good.

So what is the right way to lose weight and keep it off? It’s easier said than done – take it from me! But the best and only way is proper nutrition, enough calories and a lot of exercise. I know this now, and I do this now – it’s how the Svelte Gourmet came to be. But recently I’ve stepped it up in order to size it down. A lot more exercise (I’m up to running 5 miles! Yay!); sticking with lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and veggies; and especially watching my portion sizes has me back on track….to the tune of one healthy pound a week. This lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint – it's tough if you're impatient like me, but slow and steady wins the race.

And ladies of Hollywood, please eat something. Maybe a burger or five. Just go for the whole grain bun and you’ll be fine. Or better yet, choose any meal from my cookbook – all are delicious, full of nutrient-rich foods, and light enough for any diet. Oh, and feel free to carry the book around in front of the paparazzi -- let's get The Svelte Gourmet on the map!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A mile (or three!) in my shoes.

When last we met, I was dishing on healthy summer sides – simple, healthy choices to make in order to beat the summer weight I inevitably always put on in the warmer months. I was determined to beat it this year, and not let my “special occasions” get the best of me. Enjoying party and boat food (and drinks!) once in a while is fine. But if you’re like me, summer becomes one giant special occasion.

If you read between the lines of that sentence, you’ll gather that I didn’t exactly practice what I preach. “Me…becomes….giant.” That’s how I read that sentence. OK, so it wasn’t that bad. I gained about eight pounds (rather quickly, I’ll admit). My bikinis looked good in June and not really that good in August (they must be shrinking). And my shorts and skirts are tight. Urg. I always get a physical in August, so there’s no avoiding the reality of the scale.

My Very Fit, Tiny Doctor: “How did this happen? We need to check your thyroid. I’m ordering a full work up.”

Me: “No need to check my thyroid…again. I ate ice cream every day since our vacation in June. No real mystery here.”

Tiny Doctor: “But we lose weight in the summer! All those great outdoor activities!”

Me: “You mean like eating?” (she didn’t laugh)

Tiny Doctor: “You need to lose 20 pounds.”

TWENTY?! I only gained eight. If I lose 20 pounds, all the clothes in my closet that I can’t button now will be too big. TWENTY?!

Me: “Ha ha, no seriously.”

Tiny Doctor: “I think you should weigh X pounds.”

Me: “I haven’t weighed X pounds since 8th grade.”

Tiny Doctor: “By next August, you will. Tell me about your diet and exercise.”

Me: “Well, I go to the gym 3-4 times a week. Classes, elliptical, Body Pump for weight training. And I write a healthy cooking blog. Whole grains, lean proteins, lots of veggies. I know what to do.”

Tiny Doctor gave me a look that all but said “knowing is clearly not doing.” Gulp. How embarrassing!

Tiny Doctor: “You need to run.”

Me: “I don’t run. What about the elliptical? Or step class?”

Tiny Doctor: “No, running is the answer. Three to six miles a day.”

OK. Hold the phone. Three to six miles? Running? I can't run. I mean, I can do hours of advanced step class like it’s nobody’s business. But running is a fight-or-flight-only activity. I last about three minutes on the treadmill.

Tiny Doctor: “At your current weight and BMI, your body needs about 1,400 calories to maintain. I want you to eat 1,100 calories a day of protein and whole grains until you lose the weight and then 1,200 as a lifestyle. Run 3-6 miles 3 days per week and weight train 2 days per week. You should lose about 1 pound per week and lower your body fat by 2%.”

Hold the other phone! Take all the numbers out of this sentence and it reads like one of my blog entries. Eat right and exercise. Lean proteins, veggies, whole grains. Keep track of your calories. Eat less than you burn and you’ll lose weight. Lose weight slowly to keep it off. It's a lifestyle! I know how to do this! But really, I thought my base numbers would be higher.

What this really speaks to is the misconception that our bodies need 2,000 calories a day, as nutrition labels would suggest. Clearly if I ate 2,000 calories a day, I’d gain weight! (Which is evidently exactly what happened this summer.) One size does not fit all! I was shocked at my 1,400 number. That’s a strict diet for most people! I encourage you to have your doctor calculate your BMI and show you the number of calories that your body burns in 24 hours "just being" -- in other words, going through your daily routine without deliberate exercise. The burn number is probably a lot lower than you think. No wonder it’s so hard to lose weight! It's depressing, but once you have the math (your math), it's hard to argue. Calories in, calories out.

This is an outrage. Twenty pounds. Ha! I got to the office and shared my story, looking for a little sympathy. (“Can you believe it?! Twenty pounds!” “Where will you lose it from?” “I don’t know!”). Then I called my mom. She’ll be on my side, surely. Nobody tells her little girl she needs to change!

Me: “Mom, my doctor wants me to lose TWENTY POUNDS! Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Mom: “Good for her! You hold onto that doctor! She knows how important weight is at your age!”

Gee, thanks Mom! Now I’m fat and old. (wink…I love you Mom!) But I know she’s right. Eight pounds this summer is ten next summer, and 12 the year after that. And I’m almost 36, after all. It’s a recipe for disaster, and I have to get a handle on it now. Doctor's orders.

Oh well. I’ve always wanted to be a runner. There’s no time like the present! I went home from work and put my sneakers on. Our road is exactly half a mile. I’ll run down and back. That should be good for a start. And really, I wasn’t even sure I would make it a whole mile.

I ran and ran, willing my legs to keep moving. It was a brain game. And I did the mile. It was a moment of victory and it felt so good! The next day, I did a mile and a quarter. A couple days later, I went for two and I thought I was going to pass out. But I did it. I stayed there for a week, and then moved up to two-and-a-half miles. I can’t believe I’m doing this!

It’s been a month since my doctor visit and now I’m up to 3-mile stretches. I’m trying not to think about the fact that this is the minimum distance she wants me to do. Instead, I’m focusing on the feelings I have about this accomplishment. For me, this is huge. And to be honest, I’m starting to enjoy it. Keith bought me new running shoes to protect my joints. I got a heart rate monitor to track my burn. I’ve lost 6 of the 8 pounds I gained over the summer. Now it’s a mission for me – and not really as bad as I thought it would be. I picture myself totally fit at X pounds, and it motivates me. The calorie part is easy. The running part is monumental. This truly could change my life, and I look forward to sharing my journey with you. Stay tuned!

So what does one eat as part of this plan? Try the recipes in my cookbook -- all work perfectly as part of a 1,200 calorie per day lifestyle! The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!