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Eating for the Holidays – 3 Simple Tricks to Keep the Scale Balanced

‘Tis that wonderful season once again. And as always this time of year means visiting friends and family and eating to our heart’s content… and then some ;).

You know although I don’t celebrate Christmas, I have always enjoyed the holiday cheer that accompanies it and having additional days off to laze around with family and friends is always a welcome change. And of course, considering I am a self-proclaimed food addict – a lot of the cooler winter days off often revolve around food!

Now granted that in Dubai our winter is more like a very pleasant summer (think Florida)… it does actually get quite cold in the buildings around this time of year (considering nobody seems to remember to turn up the thermostats on the ACs). So I like to think that all that cold air (even here) warrants a few additional calories that are burned to keep body temperatures in line. And of course if you live in a cooler climate than you know that we are naturally inclined to want richer foods during this time of year to help us with this – maybe a bit too much of it, which tends to be at the root of the weight yo-yo we put ourselves on between Christmas time and our New Year’s Resolutions.

So I thought I would share 3 tips that I apply during this time of year to help me stay at status quo in the weight department even when I’m indulging on great big mugs of hot beverages and the delicious desserts that absolutely must accompany them…

1) I know it might not sound like it, but one the funnest things I do is to try and incorporate some form of activity in with my social eating –  When I was in Halifax, a bunch of us would bundle ourselves up and walk about 45 min to the “Perks” on the waterfront. It was a great way for us to catch up and that hot mug of Joe along with a slice of the best lemon cake in town tasted so much better when you’re also thawing out (and we DEFINITELY burned the calories in advance). In fact after the first time we did it, it instantly became a tradition :). Our Dubai tradition? Walking to the Saravanaa Bhojan Shala for stuffed parathas and dahi vadas on rainy days. Honestly, whether it’s a brisk walk to a favorite destination or a fun game of touch football with family/friends – I can guarantee that the food will taste that much more delicious when you finally get to it!

2) I also tend to pick my treats wisely (something I do throughout the year but definitely more so during holiday season) – You know, as a skinny food addict I like to think that I can eat what I want when I want to, but I don’t usually treat myself to lavish meals every day either. Considering this time of year is littered with temptations for the tummy, I tend to plan ahead of time about what and how much of a particular something I want to indulge in. This is especially true for me on the hectic weeks leading up to a busy celebration (this might not be Christmas for me – but I can tell you Eid tends to feel the same). For e.g. if you know you are invited to Aunty Fatima’s house for South African style Biryani which is something you absolutely LOVE – then it makes sense to go easy on the other stuff :) So think about what it is that really makes a gathering special – is it that great bottle of Bordeaux that you’ve been waiting to share or maybe it’s a slice of Nanna’s homemade mince meat pie that you’ve been dreaming of all year long… You get the idea right?

3) Last but not least, I also try to focus on enjoying the quality – what I mean by this is I take my time to savour every bite and take in the many elements that go along with good food and good friends/family. By doing this I avoid mindlessly scarfing down large quantities of my favorite dish without even having my taste buds register what it is that I am eating. This actually is one of the biggest challenges of social eating! The simple fact is that we more often than not get so lost in conversation that we don’t remember to really savour the food on our plate but end up over-eating. In order to prevent this from happening I tend to start with a smaller size plate whenever possible so I don’t get too greedy at the buffet; and then I take my time to enjoy the conversation before going for seconds. This works even better when I’m at my family’s/close friends’ place because I know I can always stop in for seconds the next day (yeah my family/friends are used to it;))…

I want to end by reminding everyone to remember to take some time in these hectic weeks to steal some time for yourselves – whether that’s by grabbing a catnap in the middle of the afternoon or stopping for a warming green tea and catching up on that page turner while your shopping for gifts at Barnes & Nobel or simply stepping out onto your deck to savour the moment and meditate – finding some time to de-stress will help keep holiday cravings at bay.

And with that I want to wish everyone Merry Holidays!

What do Ramadan and being a Skinny Food Addict have in common?

Click here to buy an Iftar meal for someone in need

We went to an Iftar buffet the other day, the food was delicious and plentiful and as you might imagine I couldn’t resist trying a bit of everything until I was at the point where I thought for sure I’d pop! I honestly didn’t feel so good afterwards … Worse than this was the fact that when you’re fasting you end up doing a lot of eating with your eyes so I ended up having to throw away a bunch of food too, which really defeats the spirit of Ramadan :(

Someone recently told me that in Dubai alone 50,000 tonnes of food were thrown away during Ramadan last year (don’t quote me on this figure as its purely hearsay, but I will say I wouldn’t be surprised in the least bit if it were accurate) – that sounds pretty awful considering one of the key points of fasting is to be able to empathize with those who are less fortunate than ourselves and are unable to have a meal most days…

Fasting is also meant to help us build self-control. After all, if we can deny ourselves the simple pleasures of life like eating and drinking for the better part of a day, having the will-power to say “1 slice of pizza please” OR “1 scoop of ice cream thanks” rather than overindulging should be a piece of cake ;). This is exactly what Ramadan and being a skinny food addict have in common because to be honest, enjoying all foods – including the ones that aren’t the healthiest for you – isn’t the problem at all. The problem really is overindulging in even the healthiest of foods! But unfortunately most of us associate food with the feel good feeling we get when we first eat, and not with the terrible side effects that come along with overeating.

So yeah I had all those horrible symptoms the other day – I really felt like I had been hit by a freight train, I mean I was totally wiped out in terms of energy. I also had that weird acidic  feeling at the back of my throat you know the one where you think any second now all that food is gonna come back up – it was horrible!
I think everyone can relate to what I’m talking about. Whether you’re eating in or eating out, especially after a long day of fasting – I think most of us have been there… In fact ironically most of us end up gaining weight during Ramadan because of this! But more importantly, eating this way really doesn’t feel good at all…
Take the other day, I could have easily avoided all of it had I been able to stick to decent portion sizes (you know just one 8″ plate full divided into quarters with half veggies, one quarter grains and the last quarter meat)… And more importantly I would have been able to really enjoy my food experience well after dinner was done.
So my advice to anyone whose eating out – Do yourself a favor and skip the buffet!
You’ll never be able to eat your money’s worth of food and feel good about it and you won’t be able to doggie bag the leftovers for later. That’s a definite lose-lose situation right there! Instead really enjoy one of the world’s best simple pleasures in life by savoring each morsel and exercising a bit of will-power so you can also enjoy the rest of your night. I know first hand that it’s not easy to do, but I find being able to mentally  connect the negative side effects with the overindulging helps deter the same behavior in the future. And trust me it does get easier each time (practice makes perfect after all).
Ramadan Mubarak to all!

Avocados: Eat Fat Lose Weight

Although they are now all the rave, it wasn’t actually until 1996 when researchers at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social in Mexico (Archives of Medical Research,Winter 1996) found that the daily consumption of avocados lowered blood cholesterol levels, decreased both LDL (harmful cholesterol) and triglyceride levels and increased HDL (helpful cholesterol) levels in their subjects, that they were considered to be good for you. Grown in the southern states, and the African, Asian, South and Central American continents, avocados:

  • are loaded with vitamins, A, C, E, H (i.e. biotin or B7), K and B complex (including folic acid), plus the minerals magnesium, copper, iron, calcium, potassium and many other trace elements.
  • are full of enzymes and are 74 percent water by weight
  • provide all of the essential amino acids (those that must be provided by our diet), with 18 amino acids in all, plus seven fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6.
  • have 60% more potassium than bananas.[28]
  • have a high fiber content among fruits – including 75% insoluble and 25% soluble fiber.[29]

(If you do a quick web search you’ll get a whole load of information on how good these little gems are for you – I compiled all of this info just from wikipedia and alive.com) So you don’t need me to tell you why they would be considered a Power Food.

But the best part is – like most foods that are high in monounsaturated fats or MUFAs, avocados have also been found to help in WEIGHT LOSS! Several studies have shown that a diet rich in MUFAs help decrease your total body fat %, reduce belly fat, and help to maintain muscle mass. In fact a recent study published in the Oct 2011 issue of Nutrition and Metabolism reconfirms the positive effect MUFAs have on decreasing belly fat.

That’s not all – avocados, with their high mineral, vitamin and nutrient compounds, are also known to smooth skin, help to support healthy cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, improve brain function, fight serious malignant disease and promote good eye health. They also contain mannoheptulase, a carbohydrate that is just beginning to be researched for its potential benefits in maintaining blood sugar levels – also an important part of better weight loss.

But considering that they are so high in fat, there are conflicting views on how much we should consume. Half an avocado (which is considered a serving according to Canada’s Food Guide) contains about 150 kcals; though most of us dietitians agree that  1/4 piece of avocado is equivalent to a serving of fat and the perfect amount to add to your sandwich instead of mayo (simply use sliced avocado or mash half an avocado up with a bit of salt pepper and lemon juice and spread on toast).

Your best bet is to substitute avocados (and other MUFA containing foods) where ever you would normally use oils or creams.

What I love most about this creamy fruit is the diversity with which it can be used, because it has such a mild flavour it offers quite a bit of culinary diversity. I find that it’s a great substitute to make creamy shakes/smoothies without adding ice cream; and can be enjoyed as a dessert as well as a dip – who doesn’t love guacamole with homemade pita chips?

*Image by Master Isolated Images | FreeDigitalPhotos.net