Sunday, 31 March 2013

Happy Easter


Who can resist chocolate bunnies at Easter?  I know I can't.  But we all know that even if the Easter Bunny hides a dark chocolate bunny for you, it can easily derail any attempt at dieting.

Hmmmm - so what if I just take a little nibble off the ears.  How bad could that be?

So finally here it is ... the official calorie count on Chocolate Bunny Ears

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Food Friday - Healthy, Guilt Free Easter Breakfast

Honey Cloud Pancakes

To make a single serving pancake you will need.

1 large egg and 1 egg white
¼ cup warmed milk
¼ cup flour (you can use gluten free)
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoons of honey
1 dash of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of butter
Soft fruits


Heat the over to 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees F)
Heat a small 6” over proof frying pan
In one bowl whisk one egg white until it is white and peaky
To make the main batter, in another bowl, mix the whole egg with flour, salt, honey, and vanilla, then whisk in the warm milk
Gently fold the egg white into the batter with a metal spoon
Melt one tablespoon of butter in the hot pan
Pour the batter in and cook on the stove for a few minute until it is starting to set at the very edge
Sprinkle some fruit on top
Bake the whole lot in the hot over for 7 minutes until puffed up and golden
Drizzle with honey

Double it up and use a full-size pan if you want to share.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Clean You Plate - Or Else!)

“Eat everything on your plate or NO dessert.”

“You’ll sit there until you clean your plate.”

“I’m not running a restaurant.  There’s no menu.  You’ll eat what’s put in front of you.”

“Starving children around the world would love to have what you leave on you plate.”

“My, my, I think your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

How many of us heard those lines or something similar while we were growing up.  And let’s face it; no one likes to throw food away.  But is it always necessary to clean your plate?  Obviously, since this is a blog about trying to lose weight I think the answer to that question is no.  I believe that you should stop eating when you are full. 

If you happen to be in Sapporo, Japan and go to Hachikyo restaurant for a seafood meal, you will find that the owners share a very similar opinion to that of your mother.  Clean your plate!

Their signature dish is called tsukko meshi, a popular meal consisting of rice topped by a huge heap of salmon roe.  Customers also come because of the high quality of the fish they serve.  Regulars are quite prepared to pay the price of eating at Hachikyo as well.  Not only premium prices for the always-fresh seafood, but a $20 “fine” if they fail to finish every last morsel on their plate.

According to the explanation on the menu, “the working condition for fishermen are harsh and so dangerous that it’s not unknown for lives to be lost.  To show our gratitude and appreciation for the food they provide, it is forbidden to leave even one grain of rice in your bowl.  Customers who do not finish their tsukko meshi must give a donation.”

So, the surcharge goes back to the fisherman.

Hachikyo customers seem to not mind the surcharge since owners are planning to open a second branch in Tokyo soon.

According to the article I read on Yahoo-Shine, while unusual, their approach is not necessarily unique.

Sprite Lounge in Montreal has only one dish (vegetarian) on the menu per night and customers can order it in small, medium or large portions.  Your stomach better be able to keep up with your appetite though – you’d better be able to lick that plate clean – if you don’t, be prepared to pay a $2 fine that goes to a local charity.  Even more seriously though … you forfeit you right to seeing the dessert menu!

Doesn’t that give “home style food … like being in your mom’s kitchen” a whole new meaning?

Friday, 22 March 2013

Food Friday - Guilt Free "Ice Cream"

Ice Cream is not usually my "go-to" snack, but every once in a while I just get the craving.  When that craving hits it is NOT for a scoop of vanilla in a bowl.  If I am going to indulge it usually involves wanting something that tastes a little decadent.  Since I don't eat ice cream often enough to keep it in my freezer when the craving hits it usually also involves a drive to the nearest ice cream shop.  Be it Dairy Queen, Baskin Robins or Marble Slab, let's face it, the diet is going out the window.

I came across this suggestion on Pinterest and followed it back to a posting by The Kitchn.  It sounds really yummy and much lower in calories and fat than regular ice cream.  I haven't tried it yet, but think that it would definitely satisfy any errant cravings I might suffer.  Since the satisfaction criteria is usually cold, flavourful and creamy ... this seems like it would do the trick.  I might add in some almonds or other nuts just for the crunch I like, but even so, overall it would still be okay on my eating plan.


4 bananas, just slightly overripe (brown spots good, completely black not so good)

2 tbsps creamy peanut butter (optional – thus 2 ingredient ice cream)

2 tsps cocoa powder (Dutch process), (optional – thus 2 or 3 ingredient ice cream 
depending on peanut butter)

DO NOT FREEZE THE WHOLE BANANA, you’ll have a heck of a time blending that 

Peel the bananas and slice them up into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices.

Place the banana slices in the freezer for about an hour or until they are frozen solid.

Put the frozen slices in a food processor and pulse. First they will start to resemble gravel, but keep going. The bananas will soon turn into a frozen mush – at this point, start scraping the sides 
down (you will do this a lot). Or you could add a dash of milk since the liquid will help 
the blending. After a few minutes of stopping to scrape the sides down, the banana begins to blend into a creamy texture.

When the bananas look like whipped ice cream, you can add your mix-ins like peanut butter and/or cocoa powder, chocolate chips, toffee, raspberries, anything goes!

Straight out of the food processor, the ice cream is like soft serve. You can also freeze it for a firmer texture. I find it’s pretty hard (and therefore, brittle) when I scoop it immediately after removing it 
from the freezer. Just give it a minute or two to soften up.

Makes a pint.

My own thought:

For an extra special little treat, before freezing, layer the soft "ice cream" between waffle cookies (Pizzella) or thin chocolate wafers and enjoy an "ice cream" sandwich.  Maybe a little less guilt-free, but better than the processed kind found in the grocery store.  Much more cost efficient too.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Thursday's Random Thought ... A scary way to lose weight

Let’s face it; we have all had one of THOSE days.  You know you should stop at the gym on the way home, go for a run or just do anything physical.  But it’s been a bad day at the office and all you want to do is sit in front of the television, plug in a movie and relax.

Well – good news – according to a study done at The University of Westminster as long as you plug in a horror movie, you’re good to go!  That’s right.  If you scare yourself for 90 minutes you can burn approximately the same number of calories as going for a half-hour walk.  The study was commissioned by LOVEFiLM, a DVD rental company in the UK, so admittedly the results may be a little skewed.  The researchers say; “Each of the ten films tested set pulses racing, sparking an increase in the heart rate of the case studies.  As the pulse quickens and blood pumps around the body faster, the body experiences a surge in adrenaline.  It is this release of fast acting adrenaline, produced during short bursts of intense stress (or in this case, brought on by fear), which is known to lower the appetite, increase the Basal Metabolic Rate and ultimately burn a higher lever of calories.

The study concluded that calorie burning increased by a third when the movie watcher was horrified.

I am a big horror fan, but I prefer to take my dose of fright off the written page.  If anyone out there wants to do a study on calories burned while reading a horror novel – I’m your girl!  I imagine the results would have to be even better since you add in the cardio of actually turning the pages and the resistance of holding up the book.  Laugh if you must, but if you have ever read one of Stephen King’s 900+ page, 'door-stopper weight' books in hardcover, you KNOW what I’m talking about.

I always thought the scariest part about being on a diet was getting on the scale!

Of course, keeping in mind that watching a movie often goes hand in hand (or hand to mouth, as the case may be) with eating popcorn.  Even that is not as horrific as it sounds.  One cup of air-popped popcorn has approximately 55 calories, so if the following calculations for calories burned according to the movie watched are correct, you can pretty much snack on four cups of popcorn and call it a wash.

According to science, these are the best movies to watch if you want to scare the calories off yourself:

1.  The Shining:  184 calories

2.  Jaws:  161 calories

3.  The Exorcist:  158 calories

4.  Alien:  152 calories

5.  Saw:  133 calories

6.  A Nightmare on Elm Street:  118 calories

7.  Paranormal Activity:  111 calories

8.  The Blair Witch Project:  105 calories

9.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre:  107 calories

10.  [Rec]:  101 calories

As Malene Arpe writing for astutely points out,

it is interesting that Stephen King’s “Thinner” did not make the list.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

How Sweet it Isn't

I’ve been told that humans have muscle memory, tactile memory and sensory memory.  If we have any sort of inherited or genetic sensory memory then I am sure that “sweet” is one of the first memories to which we relate back.  When our primitive ancestors hunted and foraged for food - berries, fruit and tubular vegetables would have been staples.  The sweetness must have made an impression.  “Sweet” has been a cultivated taste ever since.  Sugar has a long and sometimes not so sweet history dating back to the beginning of recorded time.

In the mid-15th century sugar really started to cause some problems, and not the kind that have anything to do with weight.  When Christopher Columbus stopped in the Canary Islands for wine and water he intended to remain in port for only four days.  As luck would have it he became romantically involved with the lady Governor of the island and ended up staying for a month.  When he finally set sail she gave him cuttings of sugarcane to take with him.  Sugar was a luxury in Europe until the 18th century when it became more widely available.  By the 19th century it was considered a necessity.  The evolution of taste and demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient unleashed some pretty ugly social changes.  It drove the colonization of tropical islands where labour-intensive sugarcane plantations and sugar manufacturing could thrive.  The demand for cheap, docile and abundant labour drove first, the slave trade from Africa, followed by the indentured labour trade from South Asia.  The modern ethnic mix of many nations that have been settled in the last two centuries has been influenced by sugar.

So sugar can be said to be at the core of geographical, political, social and ethnic upheaval.  I know it’s at the core of some major upheaval in my life because there is no other way to state this … I am addicted to sugar.  My own sensory memory can definitely be linked back to “sweet”.  With no problem I can say, “no, thank you” to salty treats, breads, and starches.  But you put a sweet temptation in front of me and I will start salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs.  I am most definitely addicted to sugar and quite clearly I am not the only one.  The average daily consumption for a North American is 22 teaspoons (330 calories).  Yikes!

Yet everywhere I turned for information I learned that although sugar really has zero nutritional value, our bodies – particularly our brain – cannot function without it.

Sugar seems to be a necessary evil, but what’s the correlation between sugar and brain function?  Well, it turns out that like any relationship it has its good points and its bad points.  Glucose seems to be the hero/villain when it comes to sugar.  Glucose is a form of sugar that your body creates from the carbohydrates you eat and it’s a simple sugar that your body likes.  Once glucose is made it gets into the blood stream so that your muscles and organs can use it for energy.  Your brain alone needs 125 to 150 grams of glucose per day to function.  It is usually the only source of energy for the brain.  The brain’s neurons must have this supply of energy from the bloodstream since they are not capable of storing energy, like fat, for later use.  The brain needs a steady supply of energy that will last until more energy comes along.  Spikes in this supply are dangerous and cause things such as “hyperactivity” and “sugar crashes”.

The sugar from fruit will get into the bloodstream at a steady rate as the fruit digests in the stomach.  That’s why most reputable weight loss programs promote eating the actual fruit as opposed to drinking the juice.  Fruits also provide great sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre, so fruit sources of sugar are great for your body and your brain. 

I’ll have to remember that little tidbit … fruit sources of sugar are great for your body and your brain.

Complex carbohydrates such as starch also break down in the liver to form sugar.  These strands of energy take a longer amount of time to break down, so this source of sugar works well with the brain in much the same way as fruit.  They can provide energy for hours without diminishing.  One thing to remember about complex carbohydrates is that they contain appetite enhancers and so can tend to cause people to overeat, unlike fruit.

I’ll store that away too … complex carbohydrates break down to form sugar, which releases more slowly into the bloodstream.

Refined sugars and brain function are a big no-no.  These are sugars we typically find in abundance on store shelves and in the average North American diet.  The sugar energy from soda, cookies and desserts flood your bloodstream with glucose almost immediately.  At first you get an initial “sugar high” as the sugar causes the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel happy.  The massive increase in blood sugar signals the pancreas to start pumping out large amounts of insulin.  Once the insulin gets into the bloodstream it soaks up the sugar to store for later use, depriving the brain, other organs and muscles of energy.  These are the beginning of the infamous “sugar crash” as you become weak, tired and unable to focus.  The “sugar high” combined with the following “sugar crash” causes you to crave more sugar, most likely resulting in a damaging cycle of sugar bingeing.  So avoid refined sugar as much as possible.

That’s the important statement to remember here … avoid refined sugar as much as possible.

So if refined sugar is so bad for our bodies and has no nutritional value, why is it in so many foods and drinks we buy?  Well, it does serve many purposes:
* It serves as a preservative for things like jellies and jams.
* It provides bulk to things like ice cream.
* It assists in the fermentation process in items like break and alcohol.
* It helps to maintain the freshness of bakes goods, and
* It is added to processed food and drinks because it makes them taste more appealing.

Unfortunately, food manufacturers are not required to separate naturally occurring sugars from added sugars on the nutrition label.  But you CAN see how much total sugar is in each serving.  You can also check the ingredient list, which lists ingredients in descending order by weight.  When looking at nutritional labels for information on sugar there are two nutritional tips to keep in mind; 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar and, 1 gram of sugar equals 4 calories.  Keeping that in mind the nutritional labels should be a little easier to figure out.  A food or beverage that contains 40 grams of sugar per serving is the same as 10 teaspoons of sugar and 160 calories.

On food labels sugar can be listed as brown sugar, palm sugar, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, dextrose, fructose, honey, invert maltose, molasses, raw sugar, table sugar or sucrose syrup.  It is pretty generally known that any ingredient ending in “ose” is probably a sugar.  We’ve touched on glucose and why it is a good form of sugar to ingest.  The other most familiar form of sugar is probably fructose.

Consuming fructose negatively changes the way your brain recognizes your food consumption.  Consuming high quantities of fructose causes your brain to have trouble regulating energy intake and expenditure, which includes keeping your appetite in check and your metabolism working efficiently.  As a result you keep eating without necessarily realising you are full.  For example, a soda containing high amounts of fructose (most non-diet sodas) will do little to make you think you’re full even though you’re taking in large amounts of calories.  Your brain doesn’t get the message so it still thinks you are hungry.  That’s a pretty basic way to look at it, but that’s the way it works.  If you are an athlete who needs fast energy that you are going to burn off quickly, fructose can be your best friend … for those of us fighting the weight battle … not so much!  Eating sugar is like flipping a switch that tells your body to store fat.

So, now you should be sitting there scratching your head and wondering what the heck I am talking about.  Fruit contains fructose, fruit is on any food pyramid and all eating plans should be telling you that fruit is okay.  If fructose is almost always bad, how is it that fruit is good for you?

Fruit in its natural form contains fibre.  Fructose doesn’t provide an alert to let your brain know to tell you to stop eating, but fibre does this to the nth degree.  That is why you can eat fruit, despite the fructose content, without experiencing the same problem as, say, drinking a sugary soda.  We all know sugar doesn’t exist as little white crystals it comes from sugar cane.  It isn’t until you process the sugar that you lose all the fibre.  Without the fibre, you only have the tasty but problematic part of the original food.  Sugar cannot be refined retaining the fibre because fibre causes food to go bad much faster.  Consider the shelf life of your fruits and vegetables compared to packaged cookies and cakes.  I think Twinkies have an expiry date somewhere in the next millennium.  As the old dieting adage goes … eat the orange instead of drinking the juice!

If you want to curb your sugar intake fibre is very important.  It does what fructose cannot do – alert you that you’ve consumed enough calories and you do not need to eat any more.  Basically, fibre and fructose need to work together.  Fibre is fructose’s unattractive but brilliant friend.  Fructose makes up for fiber’s lack of sweetness while fibre makes up for fructose’s uselessness.  How do you combine the two?  Don’t eat processed foods.  Get your fructose from fruit or other sources that contain built in fibre. 

Many of the foods we eat today have changed considerably from a generation ago.  Then, most foods were made at home from natural ingredients and eaten in much smaller quantities.  More than 80% of the food eaten today is manufactured in a food laboratory and, created to appeal to our insatiable appetite for sugar and salt.

Because sugar is “hidden” in the foods we enjoy everyday, reducing sugar in our diets is not easy.  If you try to curb your sugar intake, be reasonable about what you can accomplish.  Failure is more likely if you try to pack in large amounts of change at once.  When you cut back on anything slowly, it feels much easier and is more likely to stick.

Obviously since I am trying to lose weight I need to eliminate any excess sugar from my diet.  But if you remember, I mentioned at the very start of this that I am addicted to sugar.  Like any addiction, withdrawal can be tough.

If you are currently eating a lot of sugar, or you really like it, cutting it out entirely immediately is a bad idea.  Not only is comfort food possibly good for your mental health, but it is also believed that you can develop a dependency to sweet foods.

 I know, what about the artificial sweeteners?  Although the jury is out on artificial sweeteners there are naturally occurring choices such as Agave nectar, honey, raw brown sugar or evaporated cane juice.  However, studies have proven that it is not the calories we are addicted to, it is the sweetness.  These studies cannot identify why these craving exist, it could only identify the dependency.  If you’re cutting down on sugar, take it slowly.

1. Keep sugar products out of the house.  If you like dessert, don’t keep it at home.  You can’t eat something your don’t have.

2. Get moving.  Your metabolism pretty much goes in the toilet when you don’t move.  It’s just good for you all around, but helps in reducing stress (which reduces appetite), it improves your metabolism (so less fat is produced because it is being used by your body).

3. Learn to enjoy foods that are naturally sweet, without added sugar.

4. Make homemade sauces and toppings with less sugar.  For every cup of sugar indicated in a recipe only us 2/3 to ¾ of a cup and replace the rest of the sugar with an equal amount of non-fat dry milk to increase the nutritional value.

5. Buy fresh fruit and fruit packed in water instead of syrup.

6. Buy and consume fewer baked goods.

7. Be careful not to replace foods high in sugar with foods high in fat and sodium

8. Avoid heavily sweetened breakfast cereals – those that have more than 10g of sugar per serving.

9. Be wary of reduced fat and fat-free products, sugars are often added to mask the loss of flavor when fat is removed cutting out fat but not necessarily calories.

10. Limit sweetened beverages like milkshakes and coffee drinks, which are deceptively full of sugar and calories.

11. Mix fresh fruit into plain yogurt as many fruity yogurts are loaded with added sugar.

12. Choose fruit when it is in season.  At its prime it should not require any added sweetness.

13. Be cautious of products labelled “no sugar added”.  This does not mean that the product doe not naturally contain a lot of sugar.

14. When you eat foods that contain added sugars, choose foods that also contain nutrients like vitamins, minerals or fibre.

15. Drink water, water, water … mineral water, unsweetened flavoured water, sparkling water … anything but high sugar sodas and juices.  It may sound horrible to some people, but pretty much every other drink you can buy is a processed drink.  This isn’t to say you can never have another sugared beverage EVER again, but the more you drink them the harder it will be to control your appetite.  If you want to incorporate sugared drinks and alcoholic beverages into your diet, try consuming them 20 minutes after you’ve eaten.  You can use the same trick for desserts.

Like with anything, sugar isn’t all that bad for you – in moderation.  The problem with sugar these days is that it’s in practically everything and in higher quantities than ever before.  So long as you pay attention to what you’re eating and you don’t overdo it, sugar can be a pleasant part of your life with no issues.  The important thing is that you know what you’re consuming and made good choices as a result.  The answer to the sugar problem isn’t groundbreaking or earth shattering … but just a matter of paying attention.

Note:  There is an excellent article written for the Huffington Post by Rick Foster titled “My Year Off Sugar”.  It was a little too long to reprint here but if you’re interested in reading his adventures in giving up sugar for a year you can read the whole thing at

Other sources of information here were:

TOPS weigh-in:
I was down 3/4 of a pound this week.  I was a little disappointed with that number because I had a pretty spectacular week of healthy eating and I completed a nice little section of my ...

Between my recumbent bike and my treadmill I "travelled" 50.5 Km this week, so on my virtual trip I have just arrived in London, Ontario.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Food Friday (On Sunday?) Happy St. Patrick's Day

If you are really wanting to eat something green as a treat, here's a suggestion I came across for St. Patty's Day.

Washed green grapes, shaken or rolled in Lime Jello

It’s tart, sweet and sour all at the same time.

Go Green …


The above came with a little information I found interesting.

Forget the corned beef and green beer; if you really want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, why not make yourself a nice bowl of gruel? Because that was probably a major part of St. Patrick’s diet, according to culinary historians at the University College of Cork. Other things the famed enemy-of-snakes likely partook of include seaweed, eggs, honey, fish, meal pastes, cereal, fruits, nuts, cheeses and milk, the Irish Times reports.

What he wouldn’t have eaten: Potatoes, which hadn’t arrived yet. Instead, the Irish ate a rich combination of grains and wild foods that changed with the seasons. “From May onwards, the diet was very much dominated by dairy products,” says one researcher. “It was incredible, such profound skills were developed making all sorts of wonderful creations from milk, right up until the time the potato was universally adopted.”

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Both Sides of the Battle)

When I came across this vintage ad a little while ago I, for some reason, saved it to my computer.  Going through some old files I came across it again and had a good look at the picture.

When I saw the ad, my first thought was “Ha-ha-ha, wow, times sure have changed”, because to me the depiction of the girl in the ad would not have seemed ‘skinny’ ten pounds previously.  That’s my 2013 perception (and I’m trying to lose weight) side of the brain thinking.

Contemplating posting it on this blog, intending it to be a nostalgic little chuckle, I immediately became concerned that to some people it may be offensive.  As desperately as I am trying to lose some weight for both health and aesthetic reasons … there are people (both men and women) out there who are just as desperately trying to gain weight for health and aesthetic reasons.  I know, I know, it’s really easy to think, “yeah, I’d like to have THAT problem for a nice change of pace”, but realistically, it’s just as hard trying to go the other way on the scale.  Not to mention the fact that not much has changed over the years.  If there is an issue you are having with your body, there is a company out there trying to help you out ... by lightening your pocket book.

With all due respect to everyone out there, no matter which side of the battle you’re on, I still think it’s an amusing piece of nostalgia.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly About Calories

When you are talking about weight loss talking about calories seems like a no brainer.  The information is a calorie is a calorie is a calorie and the equation is calories in versus calories out – simple, right?  It would seem so, but there are also a lot of variables in that equation.

Of course there are!

Nothing is ever that easy!

I think a good place to start would be to ask the question”what exactly is a calorie?”  Calorie has become a household word, but what a calorie does is still a mystery to most people.  If you ask 100 people “what is a calorie?” almost all of them would reply with some version of “the thing in food that make me fat”.  Calories have a bad reputation and are considered to be the enemy.  By definition a calorie has less to do with food than it has to do with energy.

There is a long, technical explanation of what a calorie is that I just do not have the science background to explain, but simply put, a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius.  The most important word in the definition is energy.  Translate that to food and calories are the energy that fuels our body.  Without sufficient calories nothing in your body would work … your heart, lungs, brain, vital organs; nothing would not work.  That is why anorexia is a condition that kills.  An adult body requires at least 1000 to 1400 calories to have enough energy to perform its necessary functions.  This number varies according to age, sex, weight and muscle mass.  To be active you need more energy and this extra requirement is usually 400 to 600 calories.  If you do the math you will see that the totals equal the most common recommendations for healthy caloric intake.  Each person has a different need for caloric intake.  Below is an easy guide to calculate what your optimum caloric intake would be to maintain your current weight.

Now, adjust accordingly. If your "calories in" are above your "calories out," you're going to gain weight. If that's what you WERE looking to do, keep doing it. If that's NOT what you want to do, then you have three choices...

  1. You can make a small decrease to your daily calories in so that it ends up being below your daily calories out. For example, if you want to lose weight and are consuming 3000 calories per day and burning 2800 (just an example), try reducing your calorie intake to 2500 calories per day instead of 3000. Doing so would mean you were now consuming 2500 calories per day yet still burning 2800. And, you'd now be burning more than you consume, and this would make you lose weight.
  2. If you only wanted to maintain weight, in this example you would just reduce your calorie intake to an equal 2800.
  3. Instead of reducing your calorie intake, you can just as easily increase the number of calories you burn per day by exercising. Sticking with the same example, you'd continue consuming 3000 calories per day, but you can burn off an additional 500 each day through some form of exercise. Doing so would mean you were now burning more than you were consuming.
For best results, do a combination of both #1 and #2.

If you continually exceed the number of calories your body requires every day you will eventually gain weight.  It takes an excess of 3500 calories to gain 1 pound of fat, so if you exceed your calorie intake by 500 calories a day you will gain 1 pound a week (a large mocha swirl latte could easily add 500 calories).  One day of overindulging does not cause weight gain. 

To lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume!  TOPS has a program right now called “Cut and Burn”.  Barb Cady, president of TOPS Club, Inc. describes it best when she writes, “Many of us have been in TOPS for several years and have achieved considerable success for a while. Then, for a variety of reasons, some of us began slipping back into old habits. Sometimes, we undermine our best efforts by overwhelming ourselves with too many changes or by selecting changes that are too large. Looking back with the clarity of hindsight, we realize that a small, sustainable loss each year would have been an amazing achievement. Defining, making, and continuing such changes are, together, our new challenge. It is never too late!  Join us by beginning to “Cut and Burn”, today. Spend a week journaling everything you eat and all the exercise you do. Do not make changes in your routine during this week just because you are journaling. Then, review your lists and select 100 calories to cut from your daily food plan. Also, decide how you will increase your activity to burn 100 calories more each day. These two small changes could result in a 20-pound loss if continued for one year.

This program is not exclusive to TOPS … it’s everywhere … because it makes sense – its basic math!

BUT (ah … come on … you knew there would be a but, I warned you at the beginning nothing is ever that easy)

“A calorie is a calorie is a calorie” is a true statement when you look at the science.  A calorie is always the amount of energy it takes to heat that 1 gram of water to 1 degree Celsius.  When discussing food you MUST look at the quality of the calories that you are consuming.  If you ate a doughnut or any processed carbohydrate such as bread, cereal, crackers, pasta, etc. you are eating sugar that your body really does not need and you are consuming a lot of worthless calories.  Remember your body is an efficient system that wants to keep functioning, even in times of deprivation, so any worthless calories will be converted to sugar (the easiest system your body has for storing energy) and that just succeeds in plumping up your fat cells.
Eating a 400-calorie sandwich with 60 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of fat and 17 grams of protein would lead you to believe those 400 calorie are available for energy or fat storage.  However the body needs to use energy to break down calories.  This is called the thermic effect of food.

BUT (yup another one) … this is the premise behind the popular myth that some foods are negative calorie foods because it takes the body more calories to burn them than they actually contain.  There are no such things as negative calorie foods.  The negative effect comes from how the body uses that food and how the food makes you feel long term.  Even in the example above, it is the sustaining feature of the protein that helps you feel full longer that is the significant element.
Fat is pretty easy to digest and absorb.  Two to three percent of calories coming from fat are burned in digestion.  For carbohydrates, the percentage is closer to 5 – 8 percent.  Protein requires the most work to digest and absorb.  Between 20 – 28 percent of the calories in protein are burned for digestion.  That’s why eating 400 calories of doughnut does not equal eating 400 calories more of protein and less of fat and carbohydrates.  The calorie count may not change, but the calories actually made available to the body for fat storage are reduced.

Focusing only on the numbers takes to focus off health and nutrition where it belongs.  Although it is technically correct, it gives people the wrong impression.

So, now that we have a firm grasp (I think) on what a calorie is and why it is important to consume the right calories let’s take a short look at how to get rid of some of those calories through activity.  You don’t have to run a marathon to lose weight, just increase you normal day to day activity.  Park a little further from the entrance to the office or the store and walk briskly to the door.

Walking is a highly underrated form of exercise.  Everyone is running (no pun intended) to a gym or investing in expensive equipment when walking is an excellent activity.  Walking calories do add up especially if you do it regularly and the good news is that walking to lose weight is just about one of the easiest activities you can incorporate into your lifestyle starting today.  A lot of people get confused about whether it is more beneficial to walk a longer distance or just to walk faster?  Both are important and obviously you will burn more calories if you combine both.  An average person will burn 100 calories per mile that you walk.  The heavier you are the more calories you will burn because your body provides its own resistance.  To calculate your own calorie burn rate for walking at an average speed of 3 miles per hour, the formula is:

0.53 x your body weight in pounds = your personal calorie burn per mile

Swimming is another good exercise for those beginning an activity routine because the buoyancy of the water takes pressure off the joints and makes it easier to move.  Many local pools offer aquatics classes and lessons and some have “free swim” times.  A simple aquabics class will burn approximately 240 calories per hour.  Mid level swimming will burn 390 calories per hour and competitive swimming will burn about 620 calories per hour.

Look at the chart below for some simple examples of exercises and their equivalent calorie burn count:

You are even burning calories at work:

Even common everyday activities (or chores – yuck) help with the calorie burn:

Just to put things into perspective, the following chart might help you decide whether that “treat” is necessary in comparison to the activity it will take to burn it off.

So lets tweak those two opening statements just a little bit …

“A healthy calorie is a nutritious calorie is a good calorie”
“Healthy calories in versus unused calories out”

Monday Weigh-in ... I stayed the same.  I did however, manage to log 6 km of walking into my "Virtual Trip" and since my time has freed up a little I am determined to add another 15 km this week.  We'll see what the scale says next week.  Gotta be good 'cause Easter is just around the corner ... my arch nemesis chocolate bunnies everywhere already!  Aaaaargh!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Food Friday - Layered Mexican Chicken

One of the things I find most challenging about trying to lose weight is finding the time to eat properly.  Working full time, having a few outside obligations, trying to make time to exercise and other real life things often puts meal prep on the back burner.  I find it especially difficult when I am cooking for only myself.  It seems so much easier to “grab something” on the way home and be done with it.  I know that is a major pitfall as take out is notoriously bad for diets and equally bad for the budget.

Although I belong to TOPS, I am constantly scouring other diet sites and organizations for ideas and recipes.  One of my TOPS group members once belonged to Weight Watchers and brought this recipe in to share at our meeting.  I loved the concept of cooking once and having dinner all week.  My one concern was … wouldn’t this get boring?  You know what – surprisingly it didn’t.  The food was tasty enough that I could actually enjoy it the second and third night.  Admittedly, I did halve the recipe so that I didn’t have to eat the same thing ALL week.  I changed it up a little by having a side salad with it one night, some pickles another and some cut up veggies on the next.  If you really do not like the thought of eating the same dinner several nights in a row, have it for one or two and freeze the rest.  The recipe is freezer friendly for 4 – 6 months.

Another major plus for me was that I didn’t have to think about what to have.  There it was in the refrigerator waiting for me when I arrived home.  No mess, no fuss and no thinking involved.  A healthy, tasty, low calorie, nutritious meal ready to go, so I was not tempted to eat something less diet-friendly.  What could be easier?  I sit here thinking back to the days when both my girls were involved in rep sports and food was often a sandwich in the car on the way to a game, or take-out on the way home.  Sometimes, even both!  This would have been great to have on hand back then. 

This “Mexican lasagna” will last in the fridge for 5 days.

Layered Mexican Chicken

(my personal comments are added in blue italics)

I am not familiar with the weight Watchers point system, but this recipe has a value of 8 on the Points Plus system

1 spray olive oil cooking spray
2 pounds uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast(s) (I prefer dark meat so I used boneless chicken thighs, which are also more budget friendly and once even used the pre-cooked chicken available at the meat counter.  Also an excellent place to use left over roast chicken … cuts down on the cooking time)
30 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups fat-free sour cream
2 cups shredded, reduced-fat, Monterey Jack cheese, or Mexican-style cheese blend
8 ounces chopped green chilies, two 4-ounce cans (I do not like spicy foods so substituted this with sliced green pepper)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (again, not a fan, so left this out completely)
½ teaspoon black pepper
12 medium corn tortillas, cut into 2-inch strips
1 cup fat-free salsa, your preference of mild medium or hot.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat lasagna pan with cooking spray.

Place chicken in a medium saucepan and fill with enough water just to cover chicken.  Set pan over high heat and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes; drain.  When chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into 1-inch pieces.

Transfer chicken to a large bowl and add beans, sour cream, 1 cup shredded cheese, chilies, cumin, and pepper; mix well and set aside.

Arrange half of tortillas in bottom of prepared lasagna pan, overlapping pieces to cover surface.  Top tortillas with half of chicken mixture, layer with remaining tortillas and then top with remaining chicken mixture.  Sprinkle with remaining cup of cheese.

Bake until filling is bubbly and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes before slicing into 12 pieces.  (I preferred to cut only what I was going to eat and leave the rest intact for the storing in the fridge.  Thought it would prevent drying out of the edges.)

Serve with salsa on the side.

Store in the refrigerator covered with a casserole dish cover or tightly with plastic wrap.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (The 5 Stages of Dieting)

It’s been a busy time.  Despite my best intentions I have not posted a proper blog for a couple of weeks.  Usually I use my Monday TOPS meeting discussion as my Monday blog topic but having had one Monday off, then our usual “last Monday of the month is exercise Monday” and this week Executive elections, I haven’t had to prepare a meeting either.

It was a blessing in disguise really because the rest of my life swung completely out of control over the last two weeks.  Anyone having anything to do with the tax process knows that the first three months of the year are crazed, but thankfully that’s finally over.  I got all the employee tax papers out (on time despite my non-cooperative printer … grrrrr).  The rest has gone to the tax accountant so it’s his baby now.

I had a pipe spring a leak in my ceiling downstairs and did not even realize it for a couple of days.  Thankfully the leak dripped into the washing machine, which I always leave open so it doesn’t get the icky smell.  I went downstairs to throw in a load of laundry and the machine was full of water and it was creeping over the top of the machine and onto the floor.  It could have been so much worse but I had to get that fixed and then cleaned up.  There is a life lesson in everything though.  My exercise equipment is downstairs, so had I been exercising regularly I would have noticed the leak sooner, no doubt saving myself a bundle on the next water bill (I’m scared to open THAT envelope when it arrives in the mailbox).  I would have had a better weigh-in this week and be further ahead on my virtual trip.

Living in southern Ontario we also got blasted by winter these last two weeks.  Not as badly as some of our neighbors to the south, but enough so that shovelling snow was a daily event.

Kind of makes me wish I had a Guardian Angel that shovelled snow.  Hmmm ... maybe not!  LOL

But, weather like that really lets you see what kind of neighbours you have.  By personal choice I do not own a snow blower.  I find them just a little bit intimidating and I honestly do not mind shovelling snow, except when it’s the wet, heavy stuff that the street plow deposits at the end of the driveway.  Both of my neighbours do own snow blowers.  The neighbour to the right is a nice fellow and helped a lot with the really heavy stuff, offered with the rest, but I declined.  My choice – but he’s a nice man.  Now my neighbour to the left stopped at his property line and offered to do the rest of my sidewalk for $50, but I declined.  My choice – but he’s an a**!  However, Karma is a bitch and when it snowed again two days later I went out with my trusty shovel and I noticed he was shovelling too.  Well, turns out his snow blower wouldn’t start.  I admit it – like Karma I too can be a bitch – I giggled to myself, just a little.

What does all this have to do with today’s random thought?  Not a lot (I was venting) but I do have a meeting to prepare for next Monday’s TOPS group (yes, I was nominated and elected as leader again, sigh).  While trying to find some information online I stumbled across It’s a blog posted by a very talented couple that use amusing comic characters to illustrate their topics.  The topics range far and wide, but they do have some very clever posts to do with food, exercise and dieting.  This one is called the “Five Stages of Dieting” and considering my struggles to not stray from the path I thought it would be fun to share.

After all “many a truth is spoken in jest”.