weight loss

Why Knowing Your Number is Important--especially when it comes to restaurant food.

I don’t count calories. Though I know calorie-tracking apps are hugely helpful for some people, I tend to veer down an unhealthy path of food fixation when I use them.

But I know my number: 1,600.

That’s roughly the number of calories I need daily to maintain my weight. Because I’m a woman, just over five feet tall, and not exactly 25 years old or as active as I’d like to be, that number is lower than the general 2,000 calorie guideline listed on food labels. Which is good to know, because if I ate 2,000 calories a day–even if it was “clean”, high-quality food–I would probably gain weight. I know this because it has happened to me. (Read: Too Much of a Good Thing: Why Calories Still Count.)

I don’t think too much about my number, but knowing it helps put things into perspective–like calories in restaurant food. I’m thrilled about the new FDA rules that will put calorie counts on menu boards and menus by December 2015. The new rules cover restaurants and food establishments with 20 or more locations, including popcorn at movie theaters, take-out pizza, and baked goods at coffee shops.

Thanks in part to mega-sized portions, restaurant food is notoriously higher in calories than what you’d cook at home. So high that most people grossly underestimate the calories in their order (because who would assume that a plate of seemingly harmless pasta could pack more than 1,000 of them?).

Because some chains have started posting this information, it’s already making a difference for me. Out to lunch recently at Noodles & Company with my six year old, I was about to order the regular Pad Thai. Until I saw the posted info: 800 calories was half my day! I opted for the small size instead, and guess what? I was totally satisfied.

Looking at posted calories is a good way to learn that the Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta at Panera has fewer calories than a basic bagel with cream cheese. And that a Starbucks Grande Eggnog Latte is the calorie equivalent of a slice of Iced Lemon Pound Cake.

Considering that Americans eat one-third of their calories away from home and that two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, posting calories on menus and menu boards has the potential to be hugely helpful. Not everyone will use this information–but some people will. And even if you don’t frequent any chain restaurants (and prefer to BYOP–bring your own popcorn–when you go to the movies), most of us can probably agree that giving consumers more information about what they’re eating is a good thing.

Want to find out YOUR number? Use this equation from the Mayo Clinic.

What are your thoughts about restaurants posting calories on menus? Will you use this information?

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My Number One Trick For Eating Right

by Sally on October 6, 2014

The question that keeps me away from junk foodI don’t have the stamina for junk food anymore.

As a kid, I could suck on Sour Patch Kids until my tongue was raw. I could wash down greasy pizza and Cheetos with a Cherry Coke and be no worse for the wear. These days, a donut for breakfast would send me crawling back to bed in a sugared stupor.

Even candy corn, my all-time favorite seasonal delicacy, holds little to no allure now. If I ingest more than a few kernels, my head begins to pound.

This is yet another sign that I’m getting older, but I welcome it. Because the old adage is true: With age comes wisdom. The older you get, the more you know who you really are. You know what you need (and don’t). You know what works for you (and what doesn’t). That includes food.

As a dietitian, I know exactly why a handful of almonds is a better snack choice for me than a handful of candy corn. I understand protein and fiber and blood sugar. But let’s face it: I could ignore all of that and plunge my hand into the bag of Brach’s. So instead, I focus on this one simple question:

How will I FEEL after eating this?

The answer to that question is always clear and impossible to ignore. If I eat the candy corn, I’ll get a headache. Eat more than a handful and I’ll break out in a light sweat. I’ll feel tired. And cranky. I’ll wish I’d eaten the almonds instead.

Junk food has massive sensory appeal. It looks good, and it’s engineered to taste really REALLY good. It’s hard to muster up enough energy to constantly resist it, especially because it’s everywhere. When faced with it, thinking about what’s nutritionally superior doesn’t always work. But for me, asking myself that question usually does.

With my kids, I sometimes talk about how food can make us feel (read: “Why I’m Glad I Bought The Gatorade“), but I know it doesn’t motivate them in the same way. Gummy bears don’t make their temples throb. They seem to have even more energy after a sticky-sweet birthday party cupcake. But I hope the basic message gets through: Different kinds of foods can make us feel different ways, good and bad.

So does that mean I never eat sugar? Hardly. I nibbled on the candy corn I bought for that photograph. I love to make homemade desserts like pies, cookies, and cakes and lick the bowl when my kids aren’t looking. But I also know that I feel best if I have non-starchy carbs (like a smoothie) for breakfast, so pastries are easy to pass up. I know that a big dose of sugar will render me useless for at least an hour, so candy and soda have barely any appeal and I eat a small amount of dessert after I have some dinner in my belly.

Sure, sometimes I eat against my best interests and regret it. Nobody’s perfect (read: “The Myth of Perfect Eating“). But knowing myself has helped me stay on track more often than not. And this one little question has become a powerful tool that squashes the same cravings that used to get the best of me.

How about you: Has your tolerance for junk changed over time?

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Snack Girl To The Rescue! (Plus How To Make Brown Rice In Your Oven)

June 28, 2014

Are you a fan of the popular blog Snack Girl? You should be. Author Lisa Cain dishes up recipes and strategies for healthy eating in a way that’s smart, funny, and best of all, totally nonjudgmental. You’re not getting Wisdom From On High, from someone who naturally prefers kale over cookies (and can’t believe everyone […]

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The Trap of Clean-Eating Treats

March 27, 2014

I’m a little bit worried about the words “healthy” and “clean”. Because I’m seeing them everywhere on social media in relation to dessert: There are recipes for Healthy Peppermint Patties. Clean Cookie Dough Blizzards. Healthy Clean-Eating Double-Chocolate Brownies with Marshmallow and Bacon Hot Fudge Sauce. Okay, I made up that last one. You get the idea. […]

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Too Much Of A Good Thing: Why Calories Still Count.

March 26, 2014

When the FDA recently proposed changes to the food label–including calorie count in a larger, bolder font–there were people who said that if you’re eating a diet of mostly whole foods, you don’t even need to think (much less worry) about calories at all. That calories don’t really matter. Oh, they matter alright. I’ve learned that […]

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Project 40: October Diet & Fitness Goals

October 5, 2011

It’s tempting to kick off Project 40 with an insanely inspirational game plan (Train for a Marathon! Stop Eating Sugar!). But I’d last about six days. And I’ve got six months ahead of me. Instead, I’m doing what I’ve always recommended to clients: Setting a few small, doable goals each month. So here’s what I’m […]

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Stop Eating Food From Your Kids’ Plates!

March 8, 2010

In my self-righteous, childless days, I had a very long list of things I said I’d never do once I had them: change a diaper on an airplane seat, let my toddler run screaming through Target—and definitely never eat my kids’ food scraps. Even those cute, young dads licking away the drips on their child’s […]

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OK! Not really.

January 20, 2010

The cover of last week’s OK! magazine brings back so many memories—of me, after my son Sam was born 20 months ago, making soy protein and flaxseed smoothies in full makeup and a fashionable yet supportive tank top. Alright, alright. For the first four (read: eight) weeks, I ate cereal out of the box, wore […]

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Pie for Dinner

June 16, 2009

On a recent episode of the “Today” show, Dr. Nancy Syderman was debunking diet myths (and promoting her book, Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat). She talked about some of the usual stuff, like how white foods such as potatoes and bananas aren’t the enemy, why you need some fat in your diet, and that […]

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