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Wednesday
Sep162009

Dear FitMamaEats: How to Shrink My Tummy?!

Dear FitMamaEats,

Photo Courtesy CDCDo you have any secrets for losing a few pounds, especially for my tummy bulge? I'm stumped because when I recently had my wisdom teeth out, I ate less than 800 calories a day that week but only lost a couple pounds (I know this because I wrote my calories in a little notebook). I'm 20 years old, 5’2”, and 115 pounds. My highest weight was 122 when I was 18 and my lowest was this past spring at 111. I drank lots of water! But usually I stay around 115 pounds even though it’s fluctuated a lot the past two years. I'd like to get down to maybe 107 pounds and maintain it. I exercise sometimes but nothing intense…jogging or walking 20 minutes a few days a week. But I can tell it's not nearly enough because of how quickly I get tired! Please let me know if you have any tips :) Thank you!

Stumped

 

Dear Stumped,

Thanks for a great question! Here are 3 points I’ve highlighted for your situation:

Decide on a healthy weight for you.  A few tools can help estimate your healthy weight range. Height and weight charts for a small frame suggest your “desirable” weight range to be 108-121. Another rough formula is 100 pounds per 5 feet and then 5 pounds for each additional inch—about 110 pounds in your case. Your body mass index (BMI), a formula based on height and weight, is 21, which indicates a normal weight. According to these three formulas, your current weight of 115 pounds is considered healthy. If your lowest weight was 111 pounds, it might be difficult to aim for an even lower weight of 107 pounds. It also sounds like your body is comfortable at 115 as it rebounds to this after both weight losses and gains. Based on these factors, it would be better if you shifted your focus away from pounds and instead on eating healthfully and implementing a consistent, fun, and progressive exercise program. Aim to feel strong and full of energy rather than reaching an exact number on the scale. Attaining or maintaining an unrealistic weight will only make you miserable and frustrated.

You’re eating more than you think.  Most people underestimate their calories. Calories sneak in where you least expect. I once had a young client who claimed she was “eating almost nothing” but was baffled she couldn’t lose weight. After a quick food recall, we found that she was drinking almost 1000 calories a day just from juices and Cokes. Inflated portion sizes and seemingly healthful restaurant entrees that are actually loaded with fat and calories are other common culprits of underestimated calories. Eliminating those sneaky calories will help control your weight. Some restaurants offer nutrition information but a safer bet is to simply limit how often you eat out.

Increase how often you exercise and how you exercise.  Exercise is important for everyone, not just to lose weight. Focus first on a weekly exercise routine that gets your heart pumping and challenges your muscles: both will burn calories, shed overall fat, and give your body a more toned appearance regardless of whether you lose weight. Cardio exercises should be done at least 30 minutes almost every day. These include fast walking, jogging, cycling, and dance. Or try fun group classes at a local gym or YMCA like Zumba, step aerobics, or kickboxing. Strength training 2-3 times a week with free weights, resistance bands, or even your own weight will help build muscle. Muscle is a perpetually active tissue. The more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn even when you're sleeping! In addition to cardio and strength training, to target your tummy bulge you can include core exercises that strengthen your abdominal and back muscles. Try these effective do-at-home ab exercises from YouTube:

15-Minute Abs Workout

2-Minute Abs

Other Resources

CDC: Healthy Weight - It's Not a Diet, It's a Lifestyle

Sunday
Sep132009

Fried Couscous

Dad's Fried RiceI know the title doesn’t sound very appetizing! I named the recipe after Fried Rice, the popular Asian staple, and couldn’t think of anything more clever. I love LOVE my dad’s homemade fried rice because it’s light on soy sauce, so the rice stays white and fresh-looking, not the dark brown oily grains you usually get with Chinese take-out. His ingredients include cooked white rice, scrambled egg, frozen peas and carrots, fresh chopped scallions, and finely chopped chicken, ham, roast pork, sausage, or shrimp (or all of the meats!). Fried rice is a tasty solution for leftover cooked meats. Just gather your favorites and chop them into bite-sized pieces; then stir-fry with fresh or frozen vegetables in oil and soy sauce. You can have a higher ratio of “stuff” to rice to make it a main entrée, or use more rice than stuff to serve as a side dish.

Now my dad’s rice is a real treat, not something I would eat everyday. To make it healthier, I used Trader Joe's whole-wheat couscous (my dad was slightly horrified), a high-fiber pasta that looks like a grain, which is SO easy to cook―even easier than boiling an egg! I also used turkey hot dogs, which somewhat resembles the flavor of roast pork, and a lot less oil (my dad uses liberal amounts of vegetable oil, as do most restaurants). The result: it tasted like fried rice, made with couscous! Haha. It did have less richness because I cut the amount of oil in half. Also, a warning if you've never used couscous, they can be messy little critters―the tiny sticky grains ended up in every crevice of my stovetop and smushed under my feet. But this fiber-rich recipe is well worth the extra cleanup. It has a nice fried rice flavor without the heaviness you may feel after eating the real thing.

Ingredients

Fried Couscous2 eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)

2 T canola oil

3 stalks of scallions (or green onions), diced

2 cups frozen peas and carrot mix (defrosted)

2 cooked turkey or chicken hot dogs, cut into coins and then cut in half again

2 t garlic powder

1/4 t ground ginger

1 1/2 cups dried couscous, cooked (follow package directions)

2 T lite soy sauce

Directions

  1. Coat a pan with nonstick spray and scramble the egg on medium heat. When egg solidifies, remove from heat and, using the end of a spatula, dice the eggs into very small pieces. Put aside.
  2. Pour oil into wok or large pan and swirl to coat bottom of pan. Turn heat to high and allow oil to heat.
  3. Lower heat to medium, then add scallions and stir-fry about 2 minutes until they soften.
  4. Add peas and carrots and turkey hot dogs and stir to heat. Add in scrambled egg and spices and stir well.
  5. Add couscous and stir well to distribute ingredients. Then add soy sauce and stir well again until soy sauce evenly coats the rice mixture.
Tuesday
Sep082009

Grasshopper Restaurant: Bountiful, Boring Fare

I wanted to eat here because it’s gotten lots of attention as a top vegetarian restaurant in Boston. I’m not a vegetarian but very much a veggie lover. Grasshopper is actually vegan, which means no meat, seafood, butter, eggs, or dairy of any kind. The menu offers pseudo-meats and seafood, fashioned from tofu, tempeh (pressed fermented soybeans), and seitan (wheat gluten), shaped and decorated to look like the real thing. The hectic corner location in remote Allston was a deterrent (but then a Sizzling Platterpreplanned stop at the nearby beloved Clear Flour Bread quickly added incentive!). My friend and I dropped in on a Sunday night and entered an all green cozy-casual dining area adorned with photos of wild animals, a sort of affirmation for eating vegan. Business was great with every table filled and a constant flow of patrons getting take-out. However, we left with mixed feelings:

Strengths:

  • Impressively large menu for such a restricted diet, with the majority of dishes containing nutrient-rich vegetables and tofu or soy derivatives.
  • Inexpensive, very large portions with most entrees less than $10 and the most expensive being $13.95.
  • Sweet & Sour Vegetarian DumplingFavorites: My friend enjoyed her Grilled Vegi-Chicken appetizer that had a hint of meat flavor and not-too-chewy texture served on a fresh salad with a sweet vinegar dressing. I liked the Sweet and Sour Vegetarian Dumplings that tasted like a comforting Pierogie. Interestingly the dumplings contained no vegetables, just soft tofu wrapped in dough. Some finely chopped vegetables would have added a nice texture.
  • Creative-looking fake meats and seafood.

Shortfalls:

  • Vegi-ShrimpAlthough I credit the chefs for those cute lookalikes, the soy just couldn’t carry the taste or texture of real meat and seafood; most had a rubbery or soggy/greasy texture.
  • The menu copies traditional Americanized Chinese takeout, complete with strong MSG flavor and shiny cornstarch glaze, so the dishes ended up tasting pretty similar.
  • Vegan doesn’t always mean more healthful, as BBQ Vegi-Porkseen with the many battered and deep-fried offerings. My BBQ roast pork appetizer was slippery with grease; certain pieces were excessively deep fried (if chicken-skin chips existed, they’d taste like this!).
  • Most of the dishes we ordered were covered in a brown cornstarch glaze, which made for blah presentations and drowned out any potentially unique flavors in the ingredients.

I can see the appeal of Grasshopper to strict vegans who have limited food choices, but at the same time why would vegans who’ve sworn off animal products even want to eat something reminding them of meat? Instead of mock meats, why not call it true-blue tofu and decorate it into pretty flowers or butterflies? Furthermore, I wouldn’t classify Grasshopper as a healthful restaurant because of the heavy use of oil, batter, MSG, and sugar though it’s possible to get healthful entrees by interrogating the waitstaff and asking for modifications (steamed or grilled with less salt and no MSG). Overall, not bad vegetarian food, just not special enough to tempt a return visit.