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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Finding happiness

One additional key to finding happiness is…

Learning to say “No.”

Are you dealing with clients who demand to be accommodated to the point you are always playing catch up? Well, you’re the one who keeps saying yes. So it’s not the pushy clients who are the problem – it’s you. There is a difference between going out of your way to be helpful and disregarding your own needs.

If this sounds harsh, let me use my current work situation to illustrate. I haven’t worked in customer service since waiting tables in college. I’d forgotten how stressful dealing with irate people can be – if you let it. The office that I’m working in is fast-paced. I mean, I put in two and a half weeks before I was able to send one personal e-mail during work hours (shhhh). There is constantly a fire to put out – and everyone is stressed and frazzled. This past Friday at 4:30, I got a call from a Lieutenant Colonel who needed us to fax information to a financial office so he could move into his new home. I responded by saying that the specialist who handles this was on an appointment and to be honest, I wasn’t sure that it was possible to accomplish that day.

He explained his circumstances and said that he and his family would have nowhere to go for the weekend. I stopped what I was doing to track down the supervisor. I explained the Lieutenant Colonel’s predicament, and she set aside what she was working on to finish his application. I faxed it over, confirmed it was received via phone, and even scanned the item to be sent to his personal e-mail. We shifted our priorities to accommodate the family, however, neither of us stayed late or left something crucial unfinished. Worst case scenario, is that this family would have had to rent a hotel for the weekend. But by going out of my way, I felt good about helping this family. He was sincerely grateful. Both parities won

However, in the same office at 4:30 on Friday afternoon, my coworker was completely and utterly defeated. She has a big heart, and tries to accommodate everyone she works with. She genuinely feels for others. Some days, she cries. Today, she mutters the words “I can’t do this anymore.” She had agreed to move a family out of their home at 4:30 even though her last appointment is supposed to be a 3 p.m. and she had hours worth of work awaiting her afterwards. She often stayed in the office until six or seven on days she didn’t have to work her second job at a community center. Mere minutes until her 4:30 appointment, the family still did not have the house ready for inspection. This was the time (if not even earlier) where my co-worker could have said no. Even the manager told her to say no. She had already gone out of her way and the family was still not ready. It was most likely their own fault or something due to unforeseen circumstances. Either way, it is not my coworker’s responsibility. Yet, because she feels badly for the family, she takes on this responsibility.

What about her? Does the family feel badly for her? Not likely. They don’t know how much work she’s been doing lately. They don’t understand just how far out of her way she was going to help them out. They don’t know she has to work two jobs just to make her rent and her accommodating their needs takes away from her precious few hours to relax. Worst case scenario, the family is charged for an extra day’s rent. It’s really not the end of the world. But for my co-worker, this is one more day that pushes her to the edge of quitting her job. If she said no more often, the families might be inconvenienced, but they would live. My co-worker, however, won’t fare as well. This is her life and her livelihood. But she’s also the one standing in the way of her own happiness.

How do you stand in the way of your happiness?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Skinny Chick Sweet Summer Salad

There's nothing more refreshing than a cool summer salad. Many restaurant salads are drenched in fatty dressings and contain more calories than standard meals. Make healthy and delicious salads from home instead! This is my current favorite considering my recent love affair with goat cheese. Enjoy!

1.5 cup Romaine lettuce
3 oz. chicken breast
2 TBSP onion, chopped
4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 TBSP dried cranberries
2 TBSP yellow bell pepper, chopped
¼ cup blueberries
¾ oz. goat cheese
2 TBSP croutons
2 TBSP Ken's Lite Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette dressing

Serves 1

Nutrition: 390 Calories; 24 carbs; 14 grams fat; 33 grams protein.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Three simple keys to finding happiness

No matter our age, gender, economic status, and interests – we all want to be happy. It’s why we crave relationships, buy beautiful things, eat delicious food, learn new things, go on vacation, start families, and find meaningful work. Although different things give people joy, happiness is the common denominator. So how do you get closer to this elusive state of mind?

1.Decide to be happy, and work at it. This sounds improbable, but your mind is a powerful tool and whether you know it or not – you can choose to be happy. Leading researchers in the field of happiness report that circumstances only account for 10 percent of happiness. Here’s a demonstration of this fact. Take an article I recently read about a local disaster that caused bumper to bumper traffic in a major West Coast city. A journalist interviewed two drivers whom were both stuck on the highway for hours. One man was furious. He complained about the wait, his wasted time and the fact that he would be late to work.

The second man was upbeat and said he didn’t mind the traffic at all. He knew it would be inevitable, so he’d brought a book, several CDs and packed a snack. He also told the reporter that he’d left his home 30 minutes earlier than usual, and that his boss couldn’t expect much more than that. The two men encountered the same event, but it was their thoughts and perception about the situation that determined their reaction and emotions connected to the event.

2.Take the “No complaining” two-week challenge. This literally changed my life. I hadn’t noticed the heaviness that self-generated negativity creates until I took on this challenge. I realized I how my negative thoughts about little things like rude salespeople and asinine drivers really impacted my moods. It got to the point that I’d go into a rage every time we went shopping. The rages didn’t make me feel better – they pulled me down. Negativity is like fuel – it only take a little to light a big fire. And fires are known to spread.

3.Realize that you are choosing your life. Every single day. Each day is made up choices that feel small at the time, but culminate in massive changes. They happen so gradually that they go unnoticed until that one day you find what started as grabbing fast food for lunch because it’s “quick” has lead to a 25-pound weight gain in a year. Or putting college on hold for one semester has resulted in never going back. This concept also applies to life’s big goals.

One of my favorite quotes is from the movie “The Answer Man.” A 20-something asks the main character: “Why can’t I do the things I want to do? There’s so much I know I’m capable of, but I never actually do it. Why is that?” The answer: “The trick is to realize you’re always doing what you want to do. Always. Once you get that, you realize you’re free and life is just a series of choices. Nothing happens to you – you choose.”

This is a powerful reminder that I would be doing the grand things I've planned if I really wanted to. If you look at life from this perspective, the excuse of “not enough money” becomes “not a big enough priority to save for.” The excuse “I don’t have time” becomes “I’m allowing something else important to take up my time.” Sometimes, the bottom line is that family or stability or comfortabilty is more important than what we say we want. But that’s a choice, too, and it’s your choice. Although a tremendous responsibility – it’s a powerful realization.

Stay tuned for Part 2! I’ll show you how to decide to be happy; replace complaining with gratitude; and choose what you want in life.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Desserts: Skinny Chick Style

In my last post – Do you have what it takes to lose weight – I suggested finding replacements for your favorite foods. Summer is the season of the ice cream treat. Here are some ideas to indulge in the desserts you crave while minimizing weight loss damage.

Replace a medium Chocolate McCafé® Shake (720 cals; 20 grams of fat) or a Dairy Queen medium chocolate shake (710 cals; 26 grams of fat) with a small Wendy’s frosty (250 cals; 6 grams of fat).
SAVES: 470 calories and 14-20 grams of fat

If you’re craving more of a blizzard-type concoction, bypass Sonic Blasts which run from 730 to 1030 calories and Dairy Queen Blizzards which run from 440 to 750 calories (lower calorie flavors are fruit based). A compromise might be McDonald’s 12oz. McFlurry® with OREO® Cookies at 580 and 19 grams of fat. However, the best option is Wendy’s Oreo® Frosty™ Parfait at 400 cals and 10 grams of fat.
SAVES: 350-630 calories and 19+ grams of fat

Instead of a Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfait (720 cals; 31 grams of fat) or a Sonic Hot Fudge Sundae (440 cals; 18 grams of fat) choose a McDonalds Hot Fudge Sundae with peanuts (375 cals; 13.5 grams of fat).
SAVES: 115-345 cals and 4.5 - 17.5 grams of fat

Pass on Dairy Queen plain waffle cone with soft serve (420 cals; 13 grams of fat). Instead, choose a Sonic cone (250 cals; 13 grams of fat) or better yet, a McDonalds Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream Cone (150 cals; 3.5 grams of fat).
SAVES: 100-270 cals and 9.5 grams of fat

If plain cones just don’t do it for ya, remember that size does matter. If nothing except a Cold Stone Creamery waffle cone will do – get any flavor you want. Just get it in the “Like It” size. Each flavor in "Like It" runs from 320-360 except for the OREO® Crème, which is 440. A waffle cone adds 160 calories to these totals. But going” Like it” instead of “Love it” or “Gotta have it”:
SAVES: 200-490 calories and about 20 grams of fat

Craving add-ins? Choose fruits instead of chocolate. Blackberries, blueberries, pineapple, and Maraschino cherries add 15 or less calories to your cone. Other good choices include the rest of the fruits and the pie fillings (apple, cherry, peach). Each of these is between 15 and 80 additional calories.
SAVES: More than 100 calories

If you must go beyond fruit, stay away from the candy bar mixes. Except for Heath and Kit Kat, which are both 110 cals., the other candy bar add ins are steep – anywhere from 120 to 190, with most at the middle. The best of the worst? Chocolate shavings (90 cals, 5 grams of fat); Gumballs (90 cals, 0 grams fat); Nilla wafers (70cals and 2.5 grams fat;) and the best bang for your buck – in my opinion – the yellow cake (80 cals and 2.5 grams fat).
SAVES: 20-100 calories

Monday, June 20, 2011

Do you have what it takes to lose weight?

Weight loss is not simple. It’s one of the biggest struggles some people ever face. What do you get for your tremendous efforts to change your life? People try to sabotage you. You sabotage yourself. Society tells you that it’s okay to eat a Whopper, medium fries and a strawberry shake equaling 1,740 calories in one sitting. That’s 240 calories more than a 150-pound woman needs per day to maintain her body weight. In one meal. And to top it off, if we conquer all of this and lose some weight, our own bodies fight against us.

So weight loss is not easy. But the principles behind it truly are. Simply put, 1) your desire to lose weight must be stronger than your desire to eat anything you want and to sit on the couch; 2) your head has to be in the game; and 3) you have to know what you’re doing.

1)Desire. This is the key. You have to want weight loss more than you want to be comfortable. The desire has to remain strong throughout cravings, plateaus, burn-outs, and the simple passage of time.

* To help you create a strong desire for a healthier lifestyle, make a vision board. On a large whiteboard, paste pictures of you at your desired weight. Add photos of people engaging in an active lifestyle. Choose favorite activities that you’re able to do now, but also activities that you would like to be able to do in the future. Cut out letters and create words that describe how you’ll feel when you begin to lose weight (energetic, powerful, vibrant). Add pics of wonderfully healthy foods that you plan to enjoy. Place in a spot where you’ll see it often. Spend at least 5 minutes per day looking at the board. Close your eyes and see yourself at goal weight. Picture yourself enjoying new activities and feel the feelings you’ll feel as if you’re already at your desired weight.

2)For long term weight loss to be possible, your head must be in the game. You have to recognize that you are choosing to be overweight. You choose what to put in your mouth and how often you exercise. Change your thought process. Don’t focus on what you’re sacrificing. Instead, focus on the fact you are creating a better life.

* Remind yourself daily that you’re choosing to be at your current weight. Say it out loud. Every day.

*Concentrate on what you can have – not on what you can’t have. Look at your new choices as positives. The closer human beings come to feeling deprived, the quicker they will abandon new habits. One way to not feel deprived is to learn to transform your favorite foods into healthier versions and to find new loves.

*Remember that our bodies are meant to be active. We used to have to hunt and gather our food just to survive. Remember that exercise is not a curse, but a gift that lifts your mood; enhances sleep; decreases symptoms of depression; relieves stress; enhances productivity; and oh yeah - burns calories. Exercise gives you a big bang for your buck. Take advantage of it!

3)To lose weight successfully, you have to be knowledgeable. You can sweat your butt off at the gym for six hours a week, but you won’t see progress if you’re still consuming more calories than your body needs. An acquaintance of mine was dedicated to the gym and to losing weight, but still made big mistakes in the eating area. (Scroll down to second half of article for full story).

*Know the basics. Understand that it takes 2,000 calories per day to maintain a 200-pound body weight. Study restaurant menus so you are informed. Research serving sizes and weigh meats to get an idea of what 3 ounces of chicken looks like.

*Log calories – at least for a few weeks. Even if you can’t imagine doing this consistently, logging calories is the most powerful advantage you have in the weight loss game. You will get a good picture of how many calories you’re consuming even if you do this for a short period of time.

*Get help. Fifty percent of people who sign up for gym memberships quit within six months. One reason is because they feel lost or they don’t have the knowledge needed to see results. They get frustrated or worse – bored – and quit. Hire a personal trainer – just for a few sessions. Ask questions and learn what to do and what not to do. Then, go out on your own. When you hit a plateau or feel you need additional knowledge, get a few more sessions.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Splenda: friend or foe?

Several weeks ago I received an e-mail from a reader who appreciated my blog, but suggested I remove Splenda from my recipes, because it was unhealthy and against what I was about. I appreciated the letter, and wrote back explaining that I included Splenda in my recipes because, I myself use it sparingly. I told her my dilemma was that most of what Americans put into their bodies is not by definition real food.

My rationale was if I warned against Splenda, I’d have to warn against high fructose corn syrup, hygrogenated oils, sodium nitrite, monosodium glutamate and the list goes on and on and on. Not to mention the hormones in our meats and the pesticides used to grow our vegetables. Anything packaged – from Bisquick to crackers to jam has chemicals in it. In today’s world, it’s not realistic to avoid it all.

The main reason I include Splenda in my recipes is because it's easy. I realize most people on a weight loss journey are fighting everyday just to become a little bit healthier. Asking people to cut calories; unhealthy fats; most fast foods; packaged junk food; and real sugar is hard enough for people used to this type of diet. Suggesting that people then add in five hours per week at the gym is pushing it. Suggesting they spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on heath food store fare seems almost mean.

Splenda has been a tool I used to give people ideas for great tasting food with less calories, and more importantly, no insulin rush that triggers cravings, weight gain, and potential diabetes.

Sugar damage
And then there’s the fact that real sugar can be dangerous.

According to Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, at minimal sugar causes headaches, tooth decay, indigestion and even hormonal imbalance in perimenopause. Pick says excess sugar intake upsets the balance of intestinal flora in the digestive tract, which can cause bloating, cramping and gas. Other symptoms of sugar sensitivity are insomnia, aggression, panic attacks, irritability, mood swings, depression, depleted levels of serotonin and the creation of metabolic debris that collects in our organ, joint, and skin tissues. And of course, there is type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and sugar addiction.

So while the urge for sugar (ie energy) is primal, it didn’t used to be readily available. In fact it was extremely sparse, and only found a few months out of the year. According to Pick, what started out as a survival mechanism has become an insidious addiction.

So what’s the deal with Splenda?
Sucralose (Splenda) comes from sugar — except for the fact that three of the hydroxyl groups in the molecule have been replaced by three chlorine atoms. According to Pick, some experts claim the Splenda molecule is similar to table salt, while other researchers say it has more in common with pesticides. Scary, right? But then again, Pick says that just because something contains cholrine doesn't atuomatically make it toxic. Confused yet?

What’s even scarier is that Pick says there is no research on the long-term effects of Splenda on human beings – the longest trial was six months. In addition, the largest study done included 128 people for a period of only three months. Pick reports that short-term studies done on rats using extreme doses of sucralose showed enlarged livers, shrunken thymus glands and kidney disorders. Self-reported (not clinical) adverse reactions to Splenda have included skin rashes/flushing, panic-like agitation, dizziness and numbness, diarrhea, swelling, muscle aches, headaches, intestinal cramping, bladder issues, and stomach pain.

To the question: Is Splenda safe? Pick answers “The truth is we just don’t know yet.”

And to me, not knowing is perhaps the scariest part of all. So, is my rationale for using Splenda just a cop out? I mean, I’ve been telling myself that I’ll buy all organic when we make a little more money. All along, I’ve planned on eating cleaner and finding healthier alternatives for sweeteners once I meet goal weight – because like most of you – I feel like I can only handle what I’m currently handling. But I also know that unless I make it a priority, and put it on my list, I might never get to it.

To become healthier, I have to open myself up to new ways of doing things. And each new habit is created by taking that first step. So have I ponied up more money, bypassed Wal-Mart, and headed to the health store to buy the herb stevia, which is actually natural?

Not yet. But it’s on my list.

To read more about Splenda, go to

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to get out of a rut

The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions. ~ Ellen Glasgow

The past six months, I’ve been in a rut. I’ve battled ebbs and flows of motivation before, but ruts are a scarier kind of beast. They’re like graves, but dug so slowly you don’t realize what’s happening until you’re lying in one.

Ruts sneak up on you because in general, you’re moving forward, or at least holding your ground. I mean, I’ve maintained a 50-pound weight loss for years. I haven’t gained weight, but I developed bad habits that have kept me from my original goal. My original goal was to weigh 125 pounds. Whatever happened to that?

Well, it didn’t help that people told me I didn’t need to lose weight. It didn’t help that my body reacts oddly to the scale. Or that I lost my workout partner. It didn’t help that the New York winters make the gym like a mirage you can see but never touch. Or that I began drinking wine to celebrate Wednesday. It didn’t help that I’d conveniently forgotten that my body didn’t need as much fuel when I only spent two hours in the gym instead of six. Or that I’d gotten comfortable being comfortable. But these are all excuses.

Even before I realized what a rut I’d gotten in, I attempted to get out of it many, many times. I would call it “refocusing.” I tried refocusing so many times that I can never be called a quitter. I’d succeed in bumping up workouts for a week or two and cutting out a glass of wine here and there. But mostly, I failed.

Until I didn’t. I figured out the secret – sort of. People talk about the power of creating a “fresh start.” There’s something so inspiring about starting over – starting from scratch. I was able to do a complete 180 when we moved. I didn’t undergo intense therapy or suddenly grow will of steel.

I simply made new rules for a new space.

I dropped every single bad habit and created a new beginning by simply changing my environment. With the very first day of the move, I created new rules about what was allowed in this new space. And none of the bad habits I’d recently developed were welcome.

When I craved sleeping in and skipping the gym, I visualized my body at goal weight. When that wasn’t sufficient, I reminded myself that sleeping in every morning was not allowed in this new space, because laziness wasn’t honoring my purpose in life. When my new workout regimen sapped my energy, I took short afternoon naps and pushed on. When the urge to pour a glass of wine set in, I’d make a soothing cup of chamomile tea instead. When I hit my 1,250 calorie limit, I wouldn’t invent an excuse to exceed it.

What reward did I get for digging myself out of my own grave? A 2-pound weight loss –promptly followed by a 4-pound gain. Oh well, the scale and I have agreed to disagree. It continues to say that my hard work is not paying off – but my reflection in the mirror begs to differ. And anyways, it’s not the pounds that are most important to me in this journey. It’s the growth.

I’m proud that I’ve stuck things out even when they’ve gotten tough. It’s funny how much I learn each time I transform. A big lesson has been that life will constantly change, and you must work out the kinks to keep your new life alive. And I’ve now witnessed how the power of meshing a new environment with a new mindset can help break unbreakable habits.

So I had this question: What constitutes a new space? We can’t pack our bags and move across town every time we get in a rut, can we? Could creating a new space be as simple as re-arranging furniture and starting a brand new routine? Could painting our walls, creating new lighting and hanging new art transform more than our living room? Could we completely turn our lives around by turning our routine upside down?

I think it’d be worth a shot… What do you think?