Get Your Body Back: The New Mom’s Complete Guide to Healthy Eating

So you just brought a new little miracle into the world… amazing! But dealing with the ups and downs of being a new mom is no easy task. In addition to caring for a baby, there are so many changes going on with you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

When I became a new mom, I can remember how my life changed overnight. All of a sudden my schedule was dictated by a 6 pound human… Eat, burp, poop, sleep, cry… REPEAT!  And when I wasn’t actively taking care of baby, I was either hooked up to a breast pump, washing bottles, or folding piles of laundry (seriously, how can such a tiny human go through 8 outfits in a day?!) I was living in survival mode. Less time and less freedom felt like the name of the game in this new stage of my life.

And then those nighttime feedings and the sleep deprivation… I remember so many well meaning family members reminding me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” (like during daytime naps). Yeah right! Not when there’s a house to clean, laundry to do, and dinner to cook… Plus, it was kinda nice to have an uninterrupted shower every now and again, and sometimes BONUS—- long enough to shave BOTH of my legs… now, that’s a good day!  While sleep deprivation just comes with the territory of early parenthood, it also comes with exhaustion, irritability, and hormonal changes that lead to cravings and an out of whack appetite. So much for getting that “body back!”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter to the ends of the earth and she is totally worth every minute of the craziness! But there came a point when I realized motherhood is not the only thing that defines me… I wanted  some time for JUST ME, to take care of myself. I wanted to feel good again, confident again, I wanted my BODY BACK, I wanted ME back! And if you are at this point, just know that YOU DESERVE IT!

If you’ve had good intentions of getting physically active and eating healthier, but haven’t gotten very far, give yourself some grace! It’s a lot easier said than done, especially during this new phase of “motherhood” life when so many things are working against you… but I assure you, IT CAN BE DONE!

Let’s first talk about some common “nutrition” mistakes:

  • Skipping meals- Between cluster feedings, changing diapers, washing bottles, and all the other things… it can seem like all you’re doing is taking care of baby, which makes it very easy to skip meals. Whether it’s intentional, or because you are so busy you forget to eat, skipping meals can backfire in so many ways! For one, you could miss out on getting enough calories and overall nutrients for adequate milk production for your little one.  Skipping meals could contribute to low energy, on top of already being sleep deprived! From a health and weight standpoint, not giving yourself regular fuel can put your body into “survival mode” slowing the metabolism which makes it harder to lose weight. On top of that, it could also trigger overeating and/or poor choices once you finally do eat!
  • Fast food or eating out- As a busy mom of a newborn, it can be tough to get out of the house for an hour to get groceries, let alone, cook a meal! I don’t blame you for resorting to the drive thru or take-out at times, but if it’s becoming your new norm, the FAST FOOD has GOT to GO… FAST! The typical fast food meal tends to be high in fat and refined carbohydrates (think burger and french fries). In other words, these foods can pack ALOT of calories with very little nutritional value… this is a one way ticket to weight gain (or difficulty losing) and feeling overall crummy! Additionally, eating large high fat meals, which also tend to be high in sodium, can lead to indigestion, heart burn, and bloating. How fun! Now, I understand many restaurants are offering “lighter” or “healthy” options, but you still only have so much control over what is in your food and how it’s prepared. Bottom line: minimize the fast food, and make eating out a special or occasional treat!
  • Lack of nutritional value- lack of time to prepare meals and snacks could equate to lack of nutritional value. This is one I was guilty of right after having my daughter. When I would get hungry (usually too hungry), I would grab whatever food was the most convenient and shove it in my mouth without any thought. I would literally be pumping, cleaning bottles, and eating all at the same time. Multi-tasking leads to mindlessness, and mindless eating leads to poor choices OR eating too much! Some common easy but “low nutritional value foods” are things we may find to grab out of our cupboards or a convenience store that require no preparation such as crackers, chips, pretzels, fruit snacks, cookies, candy and other sweets. And even more dangerous is eating straight from the package which guarantees overdoing it… this girl is guilty as charged! The problem with these types of foods, is that they lack important nutrients such as fiber and protein that can sustain energy levels and keep us feeling satisfied. Refined carbohydrate snacks such as those I mentioned cause our blood sugars to spike, and then comes the crash which leaves us craving more… and more… and more… Disaster! But it does NOT have to be this way! Later in this post, I’ll talk about ways to set yourself up for success by making healthy food choices and snacks easily accessible.

Now to the nitty gritty on Nutrition…

  • Let’s talk nutritional needs while nursing- If you are exclusively breastfeeding, it is estimated that you burn an additional 500 calories per day to establish and maintain your milk supply.  This amount is an average so will vary for each woman, and  will decrease as milk production decreases (i.e. as baby starts to eat solids and/or if supplementing with formula). So basal metabolic rate (BMR)  which is the energy we burn at rest, PLUS the additional “lactation” calories burned, gives us breastfeeding moms more wiggle room for a higher caloric intake that can still support weight loss. While it’s important to take in enough calories to support lactation and your overall health, breastfeeding should not be a warrant to overeat. But on the flip side, as a new mom it can be very tempting to start a more strict diet in efforts to “get your body back.”  However, this can backfire as it can have a negative effect on milk production and quality, your energy level, metabolism, and leave you feeling hungry.  The goal should be to lose no more that 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. Plus, it’s not just about calories… our bodies need adequate amounts of all the other nutrients, and a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. So a restrictive diet, could mean a lack of certain nutrients that your body, and your baby needs.
  • Calories vs. Food choices- So to the common question… Do I need to count calories? Ultimately if your goal is weight loss, the bottom line is to consume less calories than your body burns. In other words, you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight.  But does that mean you have to track calories all day long? Not necessarily! Now for those of you who are “numbers” people and who like the idea of tracking to stay within a specific (caloric) budget, then it may be for you! I also suggest it for anyone who may have hit a plateau or is not seeing results- tracking can help them get a better idea of their average caloric intake as it may be too high or too low. I’m sure you’re now wondering “well. how many calories do I need?” The answer will vary depending on the woman and so many factors such as height, weight, age, activity level, lactation, etc. For most breastfeeding moms, I would suggest a minimum of 1800 calories/day. Now with that being said… the quality and nutritional value of our foods does matter for our health and the health of our growing baby. So staying within a certain caloric budget of mainly “junk” food will not do you any justice! Choosing “nutrient dense” foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats/proteins, low fat dairy, and whole grains can make it a lot easier to keep calories under control without having to count them! Healthier swaps are also ways you can slash calories without tracking… so for instance, choosing fruit rather than a candy bar when you want a sweet snack, or having a Greek yogurt instead of ice cream for dessert, or light popcorn in place of potato chips, etc.  Or it may just be that your work on decreasing portion sizes of certain foods, and fill in with more veggies and fruit. So there is no “one size fits all” approach. Whether it be tracking food intake or just making healthier choices, do what works for you!

The components of a balanced meal: 

So now let’s talk about what nutrients to include in your meals and snacks…

Fiber- because fiber cannot be digested by the human body, it will take longer to pass through our stomachs and therefore keep us feeling fuller for longer, and promotes sustainable energy. Fiber is also important for digestive regularity.

Good Fiber sources include:

  • Fruits- fresh, frozen, dried, or canned (no heavy syrup)
  • Vegetables- fresh, frozen, canned with “no added salt”
  • Legumes such as beans or peas
  • —Whole grains- *** READ LABELS: Good fiber source = 3 grams of dietary fiber or more per serving. Examples include whole grain breads (such as whole wheat or rye), whole wheat pasta, brown or wild rice, quinoa, oats/oatmeal, bran or other high fiber cereals.

Protein- assisting with satiety (keeping us feeling satisfied) , protein  can reduce hunger and cravings soon after or between meals. It can also support sustained energy and stable blood sugar when we balance it into our meals and snacks.

*** For some insight on how much protein is really necessary, and protein values of common foods, check out How Much Protein Do You Really Need? 

Lean and healthy protein sources include:

        • —Lean meat- turkey, chicken, fish, ham/lean pork, lean beef, and wild game
        • Eggs and egg whites
        • —Low-fat or fat-free dairy- 1% or skim milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese
        • —Legumes- beans, soy nuts, tofu, soy milk
        • Nuts or natural nut butters- peanuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, etc.
        • Seeds- sunflower, pumpkin, chia
        • Protein powders (as needed)

Healthy fats- When fat is included at meals, it can help us to feel satisfied. Healthy fats also have heart healthy, ant-inflammatory, and brain function benefits.

Healthy Fat sources include:

      • Monounsaturated fats:
        • Olives and olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil
        • Avocados/guacamole
        • Nuts and seeds, and natural nut butters- peanuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds.
      •  Omega 3 fatty acids:
                    • Fatty fish- such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines
                    • Walnuts
                    • Ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil
        • To find out why not all fats are created equal, check out The good, bad and ugly Fat Facts! 

 

Putting these nutrients together… 

Breakfast- Whether you work outside of the home or your full-time job is as a stay-at-home mom, mornings can be hectic! If you struggle to fuel your body right in the morning, check this out! 

Here are a few quick and easy ideas- 

  • Smoothie- made with 1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit, 1 cup milk or yogurt, and 1 Tbsp. of natural nut butter, chia or ground flaxseeds.
  • Hard boiled egg with a piece of fruit.
  • Yogurt topped with berries and crushed nuts or sunflower seeds.
  • Breakfast sandwich- Whole grain english muffin or toast spread with avocado/guacamole, egg, and fresh spinach.
  • Oatmeal with fresh or dried fruit, and crushed nuts or seeds mixed in. For something all ready to go in the morning, try overnight oats!

Lunch- The middle of the day may be just as hectic or even busier than your mornings! Planning ahead and/or packing your lunch is a must.

  • Simple sandwiches with whole grain bread and lean protein such as turkey, or tuna.
  • Prep ahead by making a large salad with all of your favorite veggies to use throughout the week. Then just before serving, add your protein (such as hard boiled egg, beans, or lean meat such as chicken, turkey, fish, or lean beef) and small amount of dressing. Consider mason jar salads for on the go!
  • It’s also okay to have a few healthy snacks to make up your lunch- for instance, sometimes a lunch for me may include cottage cheese with fruit, whole grain crackers and veggies with hummus.
  • Check out Make lunch easy for other ideas!

Dinner- And then there’s the evening… this is the common time of day I feel like I’m living in survival mode! Trying to prepare dinner with a hungry, nursing newborn always attached to you, can sometimes feel like a lost cause, especially when you did not plan the meal ahead of time. I am guilty of not meal planning ahead of time most weeks and I REFUSE to cook every night! So I try to make the dinner meal as simple as possible, and always have healthy back-up options when I’m running on pure chaos.

Try these “meal planning” tips on for size:

  1. Take inventory of what you already have in the house. Are there any fresh food you need to use soon? Plan to have meals or snacks that include these items.
  2. Write in your meal/dinner plan on the calendar for the week. If you are like me, you cook in batch and have just 3-4 dinners that you plan to cook that week, while the other nights consist of leftovers.
  3. Plan to have at least one crockpot meal each week- I love my crock pot nights… Dinner is ready when I get home, no cleaning multiple pots and pans, and there are usually extras for leftover. Score!
  4. Consider another 1 dish meal for the week, such as a casserole or skillet meal that can be prepped ahead of time and then just cook/heat up that night.
  5. Be sure to save and compile meals/recipes that work well (and that the family loves!). Store either hard or electronic copies of recipes (or online- Pinterest works great!). Organize by category (i.e. slow cooker, casseroles, chicken, beef, fish, vegetable, side dish, etc.). Having a good collection of meals/recipes will save you tons of time in the future from having to search new recipes or come up with ideas during the meal planning phase.

Here are some things you can do to prep ahead:

  1. Chop up all of the fresh vegetables you will be using in the meals for the week.
  2. For one-dish meals (such as stew or slow cooker meals, or casseroles), put all of the ingredients together/assemble ahead of time, so the only thing left to do is cook/heat it up.
  3. If possible, cook some meat up ahead of time, such as ground beef or turkey, grilled chicken, or a roast to be used in some meals during the week. It can be used in at least 1 dinner that week, as well as in lunches (perfect in a sandwich or on top of a salad).
  4. Prepare a large salad to be kept in an airtight container and used throughout the week.
  5. Chop up any fresh fruits and vegetables for handy snacks.
  6. Consider making lunches ahead of time for the week. Make sandwiches, and/or prep-portion out items to be included in packed lunches.

Snacks– Between meal snacks should serve a purpose. They should be eaten when you are truly physically hungry to carry you over until your next meal. They should be satisfying, and portion controlled rather than “grazing” which can turn into mindlessness and overeating. If you have any cravings between meals, you’ll want to focus on  healthier alternatives rather than eating the refined sugary or salty snacks that just spike and crash your blood sugar, causing you to crave more. Therefore, I highly suggest planning out and possibly pre-portioning snacks out ahead of time. I recommend protein and/or fiber for snacks, and to keep them within 200 calories so they don’t turn into another full meal. Some simple ways to set yourself up for snacking success would be to plan ahead by having a bowl of fruit on your countertop, fresh cut veggies at eye level in the fridge, and ready to eat protein sources such as hard boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese, nuts and natural nut butters.

Here are some ideas:

  • 6 oz light Greek yogurt with 1 cup berries
  • 1 medium apple or banana with 1 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
  • 1 piece of fruit with a hard boiled egg
  • 5-6 whole grain crackers with 1 oz cheese (or string cheese)
  • 3 cups plain or light popcorn
  • 1 cup raw veggies with 1/4 cup hummus
  • 1/4 cup trail mix (nuts and dried fruit)
  • Homemade granola bars 

Drink up! I can remember how thirsty I was during those early months postpartum. Within the first minute of nursing or pumping, I would get this strong thirst sensation and needed to chug some water right away. Did you know that when you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated? Also, it’s very common to mistake thirst for hunger, and  turn to unnecessary snacking when all you really need is a big glass of water! You can monitor hydration status by paying attention to your urine. If your urine color is lemonade or lighter, this is a good rule of thumb that you are adequately hydrated. If it’s darker in color, you should drink up! To support your hydration and energy level, and to promote adequate milk supply for your baby, it’s a good idea to drink fluids at meals, and between meals throughout the day. I recommend keeping a water bottle with you when out, and having a glass of water nearby when nursing or pumping. Watch out for juices and other sugary drinks such as soda which can contribute a lot of empty calories. If you’re not a fan of plain old water, try squeezing lemon or crushing some fruit into your water for some flavor.

What about working it off? Once cleared postpartum by your doctor, it is highly recommended to exercise. Not only can it help you get your body back and increase energy, but many experts say it can help reduce the risk of postpartum depression. One of the easiest ways to begin a postpartum exercise routine is walking, especially since you can have baby in “stroller tow” right there with you. Not only for the physical activity, but getting out in some fresh air to walk can work wonders for your mental health and sense of wellbeing. Start slowly and listen to your body. You can gradually increase your duration and speed/intensity to continually challenge your body as tolerated. Another area you may want to work on is strength, especially in your core since that tends to get lost during pregnancy. Try out some of the exercises to rebuild your core after pregnancy.

  • Bonus: Helpful tools to try out…
  • MyFitness Pal- A website and smartphone app to track food and nutrient/calorie intake. Very user friendly with a bar code scanner function on the app.
  • FitBit- device to track your steps/distance, food/calorie intake, sleeping patterns etc. that syncs with an app. An awesome motivation and accountability tool.

I know this is a lot of information, and I don’t expect you to tackle everything all at once. But decide on the top one or two changes you can start today. You’d be surprised how just getting started and taking small steps can add up to huge progress over time. The key is to just START and FEEL the DIFFERENCE!

Please share what you are doing to get your body and yourself back! 

Steak and Veggie Stir Fry

Another one dish meal… quick and simple…That tends to be the name of my game lately!

Ingredients: 

  • 1 lb New York strip steak, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 bunch of asparagus (woody ends cut off, and then cut into 2 pieces)
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 2 inch strips
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into 2 inch strips
  • 1/4 of a sweet onion, chopped

Instructions: 

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, and crushed red pepper. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat bottom of skillet with 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the steak strips and cook until browned. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Coat the same skillet with the other 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 20-30 seconds). Add the asparagus, bell pepper, and onions. Stir frequently and cook until vegetables are crisp-tender (about 3-4 minutes).
  4. Return steak to the skillet. Add sauce and stir frequently. Cook until sauce is slightly thickened (about another 2-3 minutes).
  5. Serve in individual plates/bowls over brown rice. For a lighter (lower carb) version, serve over cauliflower rice.

Makes 4 servings.

Enjoy and Share! 🙂

Chicken Florentine Skillet Meal

This is a new meal I came up with that the family loves! Perfect for a quick one dish weeknight meal!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 fluid oz of low Na chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 pound white mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
  • 5 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 12 oz whole wheat spaghetti noodles (cook per package instructions)

Instructions:

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Coat with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add chicken and cook until browned and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  2. Add the other 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and garlic to the skillet. Cook until fragrant (20-30 seconds).  Add mushrooms and cook until tender (3-4 minutes).
  3. Add broth to skillet and cook until reduced by half.
  4. Reduce heat to medium low. Return chicken to the skillet and add tomatoes, spinach, and basil. Cook and toss until spinach and basil are wilted.
  5. Add pasta to skillet and toss until mixed thoroughly.
  6. Stir in parmesan cheese until fully mixed in.

Serves 4

Enjoy! 🙂

Homemade Pizza… It can be Healthy!

One of our favorite meals at my house is homemade pizza… LOVE family pizza night! We average this once every 1-2 weeks. Pizza? you say? I say, Yes, it can be healthy! 

 

Here is a customizable way to make it healthy:

  1. Start with the crust. I am fortunate to have a grocery store in town that has an amazing whole wheat pizza dough (and no, this is not a health food store) . I just purchase the dough ball, spray my pizza pan with cooking spray and roll it out. Easy peasy! Or you can make your own- check out this whole wheat pizza dough recipe. You can also purchase already made pizza crusts (including whole wheat) at most grocery stores, although I’m not a huge fan of the taste or texture of the ones I’ve tried. If you need gluten-free, some stores have gluten-free crusts/mixes (such as Bob’s Red Mill brand).
  2. Then the sauce. I’ll be honest… I don’t make my own fancy sauce, although making a homemade sauce can be a great way to go… here’s a recipe.  But I just use our favorite jarred marinara sauce (tomato basil), and spread it on top of the rolled out pizza dough… just enough to fully coat the dough but not too heavy (about a 1/2 cup). Sometimes to change it up, I will  add pesto (either a light coating before I add the marinara, or in place of the marinara). This will add a rich garlic flavor to the pizza.
  3. Lean protein- If you’d like meat on your pizza, go with a lean choice such as chicken, canadian bacon, ham, lean ground beef, or turkey sausage.
  4. Load on the veggies! This is where you can get really get creative.
    There are so many veggies that go well on pizza and in so many combinations. The more veggies, the better as they are a
    great source of fiber and can fill you up… plus, they can add a lot of flavor! Here are some good choices: bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, basil, broccoli, zucchini, olives, artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, sliced jalapeños or banana peppers, etc.    
  5. Light on the cheese, please! Usually with pizza comes cheese, but that does not mean it has to be loaded or “extra” cheese. You can choose to sprinkle your pizza very lightly with cheese (in other words, it does not have to completely smother the toppings). Mozzarella (which is a naturally lower fat cheese) is the most common choice for pizza, and you can even look for a reduced fat version for a lighter option. I probably wouldn’t choose fat free though, as it will not melt all that well. 
  6. Practice portion control- Now, here’s a big point to remember: you could eat the healthiest foods ever, but if you eat too much, the calories, etc. can add up… and “healthy” pizza is no exception! Consider 1-2 slices (3 at the very very most!). You can practice portion control by starting out with just 1 slice first… take your time in eating it before going back for a second. Give yourself 20 minutes to eat 1-2 slices. That’s how long it takes for the brain to get the signal from your stomach that you’re full and satisfied. This will lessen the chance of overeating. Another strategy may be to include a salad you can fill up on along with the meal. 

 

Some Yummy ideas:

Chicken and veggies – This is our usual favorite! For sauce, I use marinara. I top with grilled or baked chicken breast (usually prepared ahead of time or leftover from another meal), fresh basil leaves, bell peppers (red, green, and/or yellow), red onions, and broccoli. I also add jalapeño slices to one half of the pizza (for the adults).  I top with a mixture of shredded reduced fat mozarella and pepper jack cheese.

Hawaiian- Spread on marinara sauce. Then top with cooked canadian bacon or ham, and pineapple. Optional would be to add some veggies (bell peppers, mushrooms, and/or onions would go well). Then add shredded mozzarella and/or pepper jack cheese.

Green pizza- Use pesto for the sauce. Then add variety of green veggies including fresh basil leaves, chopped spinach, chopped broccoli florets, and/or artichoke hearts. Top with shredded mozzarella.

BBQ chicken- For sauce, mix 1 part marinara with 1 part of your favorite BBQ sauce. Add pieces of cooked chicken breast, choice of peppers (bell and/or jalapeños,), red onion, and chopped fresh cilantro. Top with shredded mozzarella.

Tomato Basil- Brush olive oil on the pizza dough. Optional: then sprinkle with small amount of minced garlic or garlic powder. Add fresh basil leaves and sliced roma or cherry tomatoes. Top with shredded mozzarella.

P.s. Not only will the kiddos love to gobble it up, but they will also love to help out!

So try making some homemade pizza this week! Please share your creation! 

 

 

Mason Jar Salads

Does the idea of having a healthy salad for lunch sound great, but the thought of actually making a salad each day sound daunting?  You just know you won’t do it? Well, you may want to try out Mason Jar salads! Just takes a little time on the weekend to assemble a perfect on-the-go lunch for the rest of the week! 

Here’s how it works: 

  1. Add contents to mason jar as follows:
  2. Layer 1 (bottom)- 1-2 Tbsp. salad dressing. Consider vinaigrettes and/or homemade oil/vinegar.
  3. Layer 2- Hard/crunchy veggies (that won’t soak up the dressing) such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, celery, snap peas, or radishes.
  4. Layer 3- Soft veggies (cucumbers, mushrooms, beets, tomatoes, onions, etc.), Fruits (berries, grapes, pineapple, mandarin oranges, etc.), Grains (quinoa, rice, beans, edamame, or corn, etc.)
  5. Layer 4- Lettuce/greens (romaine, spinach, cabbage, sprouts, etc.)
  6. Layer 5 (top)- Protein (nuts/seeds, cheese, hard-boiled egg, meats, tofu, etc.). Leftover meats from dinner work great! It’s best to put this layer on the night before or day of. Other additions such as dried fruit can be added to the top later.
  7. When ready to eat, shake well in mason jar. Then pour ingredients onto a bowl/dish, and enjoy!

Once you try this, please share how it went, and what ingredients you used for your salad(s)! 

 

Delish Chicken and Noodles Recipe

Who doesn’t love chicken and noodles? Perfect on a cold day, when you feel like comfort food, and can even hit the spot when you’re sick! Not sure about you, but when I think of comfort food, I tend to think “heavy” and “unhealthy.” But comfort does not have to compromise nutrition!

I first made this on a very cold Monday night after an exhausting day at work. I just WANTED chicken and noodles!  So I threw what I had together, and it turned out Ahhh…mazing! My husband gobbled up two bowls, and my picky 2 year old loved it! Luckily, I made enough to have leftovers, so it made for a couple good lunches that week.

Delish Chicken & Noodles

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups low sodium beef broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 8 oz (1/4 of 12 oz bag) of whole wheat wide egg noodles
  • 1/2 tsp. parsley flakes
  • black pepper to taste

Directions 

  1. In a large pot, bring broth and water to a boil.
  2. Add the chicken breasts, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  3. Continue to boil for about 10-15 minutes (or until chicken is fully cooked)
  4. In the meantime, melt butter in a skillet on low-medium heat, and add minced garlic.
  5. Add carrots, celery, and onion. Cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes (or until vegetables are tender).
  6. Once fully cooked, remove the chicken breasts from the pot and shred on a cutting board using a fork and knife.
  7. Add shredded chicken back to the pot with broth. Reduce to medium heat.
  8. Once vegetables are tender, transfer them from the skillet to the pot.  Cook on medium heat for another 10-15 minutes.
  9. Bring back to a boil, and stir in uncooked egg noodles. Boil for 6-8 minutes or until noodles are cooked to desired texture.
  10. Add parsley, and pepper to taste.
  11. Reduce to low heat, serve, and ENJOY!

Try this out, and let me know what you think! 

Should I cut carbs to lose weight?

How many times have you heard “low carb” and “weight loss” in the same sentence? It’s no secret that “low carb” is a common theme in today’s dieting world. Maybe you’re thinking about trying it… OR maybe you’re thinking about trying it AGAIN, because it worked for you once before. But now you’re thinking “this time, I’ve got to actually stick with it”, right?  Well I say FORGET IT!

Find out why you initially lose weight on a low carbohydrate diet,  why it doesn’t work in the long run, and what actually DOES work!

Why the weight loss with low carb diets?

It’s common for those just starting a low carbohydrate diet to initially lose a significant amount of weight over a short period of time. But here’s a fact you may be interested in… Every 1 gram of glycogen (this is the stored form of glucose/carbohydrate in the body) holds on to about 4 grams of water. So when you initially cut carbs, depleting yourself of glycogen, you are primarily losing water weight… not fat!  If one remains on a low carbohydrate diet to the point that there is no glycogen or glucose to be used, the liver will start a process called gluconeogenesis in which it breaks down lipids and proteins to generate the glucose required for brain function. This is often accompanied by symptoms of physical exhaustion/fatigue, lack of mental focus, irritability, and the often described “low carb flu.” Eventually, your body will kick in to ketosis, a metabolic state in which the liver produces “ketones” from fat for the brain to use… essentially this is a “fat burning state.” However, high levels of ketones can be very dangerous as it can lead to dehydration and changes in the chemical balance of your blood.

Why do most people regain their weight back?

It’s hard enough to follow a strict diet that avoids 3 major food groups  (grains/starch, fruit, and milk/yogurt), let alone one that also makes you feel like crap! And even after just one “cheat day” with a moderate amount of carbohydrates, your starving liver and muscles will store as much glycogen as they can, including the extra water weight. This is what causes the significant re-gain of weight when one goes off of a low carbohydrate diet… not to mention, the overindulgence that can likely occur after finally giving in to those “forbidden” foods.

Why do I need carbohydrates and how much?

Carbohydrate is our most readily available source of energy (over fat and protein). It is the first to be used for energy during exercise, and our brain’s require glucose (from carbs) for energy. The minimum recommended amount of carbohydrate is 130 grams/day as this is about the amount required for daily brain function. Most people will require more than this, especially those who are very physically active.

So back to the question… Should I cut carbs to lose weight?

While I say NO to following a low carb diet, I do say YES to cutting back on carbs if you are currently consuming a lot of  “empty calorie” carbohydrates. Empty calories come from foods/beverages that contain a lot of calories with little to no nutritional value.  These include sweets or foods with added sugar (candy, cookies, cake, pastries, ice cream, sweetened cereals, etc.),  high fat/fried or refined carbs (potato chips, french fries, Cheetos, etc.) , and regular sodas or other sweetened beverages. These foods/beverages are contributing an excess of calories, likely putting you above your “caloric budget” necessary to promote weight loss.

So what does work for weight loss? 

Weight loss ultimately depends on calories in vs. calories out, regardless of where those calories are coming from. But because the body requires all 3 macronutrients (the nutrients that provide energy/calories), it’s a good idea to get a balance of all 3,,, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The quality of foods/beverages also matters. It’s pretty hard to lose weight if you’re feeding your body mostly junk and not the right fuel. So when it comes to carbs, focus on fiber-rich sources such as whole grains (whole wheat or rye bread, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, oats, bran, popcorn, etc.), beans and peas, and fruit (which contains both fiber and natural fructose “fruit” sugar). Fiber will help keep our appetites and cravings under control by keeping us feeling full longer, provide us with sustainable energy, and assist with digestive regularity.  Other nutrient rich carbohydrates are milk and yogurt which contain natural lactose or “milk” sugar, as well as protein which has a satiating effect. All of these carbohydrate sources will give you more “bang for your buck” in terms of the nutrients per their calorie content, compared to the refined or high sugar versions mentioned above. So when it comes to cutting calories for weight loss, I first suggest cutting some of the “empty calories” in your diet first and/or replacing them with more nutrient dense (lower calorie) alternatives. So instead of that pie and ice cream for dessert at night, instead have fruit and low fat Greek yogurt. Or in place of regular soda, switch to sparkling water with lemon. Making changes like this over time, can have a huge impact on our waistlines… and for the long run! 🙂

Please share… Have you ever tried low carb dieting? What was your experience? What are you currently doing to lose/manage your weight? 

How Much Water Do You Really Need?

How often do you hear “you need eight 8 oz cups of water per day.” But is that really true? How much water do you really need? 

So…No, the above recommendation is definitely not true for everyone!

Here are the facts:

Fluid needs vary from person to person, and will depend on your size, the temperature, and the amount of sweat lost through physical activity.

A basic rule of thumb for a normal, healthy adult is to aim for at least half of your body weight in fluid ounces (i.e. that’s 70 fluid ounces for someone who weighs 140 pounds). Those in hot or dry climates and/or who lose a lot of sweat through strenuous physical activity, may require more. You can also monitor hydration status by paying attention to your urine. If you are urinating  every 2-4 hours, have a good volume of output, and the urine color is lemonade or lighter, this is a good rule of thumb that you are adequately hydrated. Also, keep in mind that the sensation of thirst is the first sign that your body is already slightly dehydrated. From a weight control standpoint, it’s common to mistake thirst for hunger… so when you think you might be hungry and crave a snack, a big glass of water may actually be just what you need!

Why is fluid intake important? Water accounts for 50-80% of body weight, depending on lean body mass. Water plays a critical role in many functions. It regulates temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, lubricates joints, helps flush out waste products, and supports digestive regularity. Hydration also plays an important role in energy level, exercise performance, and preventing fatigue. In fact, dehydration of as little as 2% loss of body weight results in impaired performance.

Does only plain water count? No! Believe it or not, solid foods contribute 20% of total water intake! Who would have thought?!! Fruits, and then vegetables are the food sources with the highest water content. Think juicy oranges, watermelon,  cucumbers, and tomatoes, just to name a few. And then consider that other beverages including milk, juices, and even coffee and tea will count. While it was once thought that caffeinated beverages can be dehydrating, the latest research is showing that they actually do not increase risk of dehydration. So while they do have a mild diuretic effect (meaning they cause you to urinate more), caffeinated beverages can actually count for hydration.  But there is one beverage that does NOT count… and that’s Alcohol, which can dehydrate you. So for every cocktail you drink, try to match it with an extra glass of water.

Not getting enough fluid? 

Try these tips to help yourself stay hydrated:
1. Drink a large glass of water first thing in the morning and before every meal.
3. Keep a glass or bottle on your nightstand, work desk, or other common areas as a visual cue to drink up!
4. Take a large bottle of water with you when leaving the house
5. Keep water with you when exercising, and take drinks at periodic points throughout your workout (i.e. every 5 minutes, every mile, between sets, etc.)
6. Add squeezed lemon, crushed fruit, or small amounts of fruit juice to enhance flavor if plain water does not appeal to you.
7. Use sparkling water if you prefer carbonated beverages.

Please share what you are doing to stay hydrated! 

Willpower is Overrated!

Are you working towards a goal but can’t seem to make progress? Do you beat yourself up for not being disciplined enough to fight temptations, make a change, or get started with something?

But the problem could be JUST THAT!… the fact that you are relying on SELF-DISCIPLINE and WILLPOWER!  I hear it a lot… “I just need to make myself do it” (such as in the case of starting regular exercise)… or… “I’ just need to STOP eating those sweets”  (in regards to fighting temptations).  But willpower and self-discipline only go so far. It takes a lot of mental energy to fight temptation… and the more energy it sucks up, the higher the chance of eventually giving in (like talking yourself into, or out of, something) during a weak moment.

It’s inevitable that you’ll need to exercise self-discipline to some extent, but why not make it easier on yourself by minimizing how much of those limited “self-control” reserves you need to tap in to? Quit relying ONLY on willpower and self-discipline! Set yourself up for success by following these 4 steps:

  1. Create an environment for success! So if you want to eat healthier, it would probably be a  good idea to rid your house of all the junk foods/beverages that are temptations for you.  I’m not saying you can’t eat those “treats” ever again. Trust me, you will still have plenty of opportunity!  There are enough temptations outside of your home that you have no control over—- like the options at the store, restaurants, social gatherings, special occasions and holidays, and possibly even at work. These are the situations you should be saving your “self-disipline reserves” for and when you will need that willpower the most.  A successful environment serves a purpose and makes it easier to follow through with changes that support your goals. So for instance, if you keep fresh fruits and vegetables readily available (like a fruit bowl on the counter, or precut raw veggies at eye level in the fridge) you are more likely to choose these for snacks rather than the ice cream you’d have to leave your house to pick up.
  2. Set up Cues-  Create cues or “triggers” that will remind you to take certain actions. So for example, laying out your workout clothes the night before where you will see them the next morning– this will help trigger you to exercise after you wake up. When repeated regularly, a cue-to-behavior relationship will become so second nature, that you won’t  need to “will” yourself to choose that behavior… it will just happen!
  3. Plan It Out!- When you know you will be facing a tempting or challenging situation, take action ahead of time and have a plan! So if you tend to “impulse” buy at the grocery store, maybe you should eat something beforehand so you are not hungry, or write out a grocery list, and STICK TO IT! Or let’s say you have dinner plans  at a restaurant… I’d suggest checking out the menu options ahead of time and decide what you will order before you even get to the restaurant. That way, your decision is already made! You don’t have to risk being influenced by the people you are with, the environment around you, or maybe even that pre-dinner glass of wine ;). Or lets say you will be attending a holiday party…. Rather than “saving your calories” all day for the feast, you should eat your meals that day as you normally would, and maybe even an appetite-curbing snack (such as a piece of fruit or handful of nuts) before the party so your hunger won’t get the best of you!
  4. Write It Out!- Writing out your goals and plans is powerful! While in our minds we may have good intentions, a plan in WRITING MAKES IT REAL! It holds us accountable to ourselves. Write down your long-term goals in a notebook, add your exercise plan, meals, etc. to a calendar/planner. Much like a commitment or “appointment” you would make with someone else, when you write it down there’s a much better chance you will actually follow through with your own goals, rather than blowing them off.

Take Action: Start with 1 change/goal you want to work on. How can you create your environment to set yourself up for success? What cue(s) can you put into place to trigger that behavior/change? What tempting or challenging situations will you face that could steer you off track, and what will be your game plan for these situations? And… Be sure to WRITE THIS ALL DOWN!  Please share! 

 

The Weight Loss Solution… Eat Like A Kid!

I have a 2 year old. I am a Dietitian. When these two worlds collide during mealtimes, sometimes I get frustrated… like really, really, REALLY frustrated! Why won’t she just try the chicken? Why won’t she just eat one more bite of broccoli? Why is she refusing the pasta today when she gobbled it up yesterday? How could she only eat a fourth of her meal and be done already?  Or refuse the entire meal altogether?!! The struggle is real for me and my tot, as it is for so many other parents. But recently it dawned on me that us adults have it all wrong! I realized my daughter is actually eating (or not eating) in a very natural, normal, innate way. A way that us adults should be modeling. Yes, I said we should model our kids! And here is why you should EAT LIKE A KID!

Think about a newborn… it seems like all they really do is eat, sleep, and poop right? Well their “on demand” eating patterns are established to meet their bodies’ physiological needs. Their bodies tell them when they are hungry or need to eat (i.e. that dreaded… I mean, adorable… infant cry 😉 ), and their bodies tell them to stop once they’ve had enough.  And we, as parents, honor that. I mean it would be pretty hard to force a baby to drink more milk if he/she refuses to suckle anymore, right? So why is it ok for us to push our kiddos to “eat two more bites” or “finish your plate” when they insist that they are done? Who are we to decide how much they need?

And then there are those times, when my daughter can’t seem to get enough, like when she’s having a growth spurt. For all of the times our kids refuse to eat, they most likely will make up for it at another time. So us parents should just lighten up, right? Easier said than done… but WHY is it so hard for us? Maybe it’s because we have a different idea of what “normal” eating habits are. Somewhere along the way in our own lives we were trained, influenced, triggered, or somehow programmed to eat for reasons other than just to meet our physiological needs.

As we grow up… through environment, experiences, family or interpersonal influences, food somehow turns into much more than just fuel for our bodies. I mean, how many of us have bribed our children with a treat if they just behave themselves?  Unfortunately, I’m guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit :(.  For many of us, food may be a reward, a comfort, a stress relief, a social activity, or an outlet for boredom. You may have been trained to “clean your plate” or not waste food, or you may eat just because food is available or offered, regardless of physical hunger.  And then on the other hand, there’s DIETING— the deprivation, restricting certain foods, skipping meals or eating too little in efforts to lose weight, when your body is actually screaming “feed me!” Either way, we are letting our brains, not our bellies, run the show!

So what can we learn from kids?

  • Listen to your body- Young children will eat when they are physically hungry, and stop when they are full, regardless of how much food is left. Plain and simple.
  • Mindful eating- Young children often take a lot of time to eat. Between bites they might babble/talk, laugh, make silly faces, whatever. And the most common of all— every young child has played with their food. But is this so wrong? In most cases, absolutely not! They are exploring the color, shape, texture, and taste of food.  They are simply appreciating what they are about to put (or not put) in their mouths. Something all of us should do! Did you know it takes 20 minutes for the brain to get the signal from the stomach that you are full/satisfied? Chances are, if we all took more time to eat, we would probably EAT LESS, and ENJOY FOOD MORE!
  •  Be choosy about your foods- Kids are picky. They don’t eat just anything. They may eat something one day, but refuse the same thing another day. Not to mention, it can take up to 10 times to offer a new food before a child accepts it (like in the case of certain veggies with my daughter :/ ). The main point is, kids tend to eat what they feel like at that particular time, and they don’t necessarily eat something just because it happens to be available or offered. By choosing what our bodies need at the time, and what our taste buds enjoy, we will ultimately be satisfied in the long-run!

So to wrap it up… listen to your tummy and taste buds, and EAT LIKE A KID!

As for me? I’m trying my best to lighten up on my daughter during mealtimes, but even more so, I’m trying to follow her lead… even if that means I play with my food every now and then 🙂 .

Take Action: If you are a parent, how can you make mealtimes easier on yourself and your kiddos? OR, if you realize that you need to improve your own eating habits, what can you start doing today to rewire your behavior and thinking about how and why to eat?