Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Salad that had me Raving

First of all, let me tell you what inspired this salad. My friends and I went to this place called Teqa last weekend. It is a Mexican restaurant with amazing margaritas (or so I hear). As I sat down, I pulled out the menu, and ordered my salad leaving my friends rolling their eyes as usual. I expected a regular salad, you know, greens, some chicken and minimal dressing. But this salad was no regular salad. It was like a Mexican fiesta in my mouth.

I’m still not certain what all the ingredients were, but the dressing was spicy, the chicken was fresh and hot, and they used my favorite greens – spinach. When I woke up the next day,… Okay, that sounded like I ate the salad, collapsed and woke up the next day. I meant after I had eaten, partied, slept, and then woken up, I became obsessed with making my own spicy salad. Well, I did, and it tasted great, so I thought I’d share the recipe!

¼ a pound of chicken breast
5 ounces of spinach (or however much you want)
1 medium peach or nectarine
1 medium tomato
1 teaspoon of low-fat Italian dressing
½ a cup of strawberries
A dash of hot pepper (or yaji – suya pepper – if you can find any)
A dash of salt
½ a teaspoon of curry powder
½ a teaspoon of jerk sauce
No-stick cooking spray

You really may not need both jerk sauce and hot pepper. It all depends on your tolerance level.

The only major task is grilling the chicken. Before you make the salad, let the chicken soak in a marinade of the jerk sauce, hot pepper, salt, and curry powder. Leave it for about half an hour.

Since chicken breast has its own juices, start by just lightly spraying a pan with cooking spray, just so it doesn’t stick. Heat up the pan, and then put in the spiced up chicken breast. Because we didn’t dice up the chicken, it would take a little longer to cook, but it’d be really juicy once it’s done. Keep it on for about 20 minutes regularly flipping sides (depending on how well done you want your chicken to be). Take it off the heat and chop it up!

It’s a salad, so you can layer it how you’d like. I like to put greens on the bottom, fruits on the next level, and then chicken on the top to give it that multi-colored look. And then put on your low-fat dressing making sure you spread it across evenly. If you’re not satisfied with the spice from the chicken, put the dressing in a dish, and mix it with some pepper or yaji, before you put it over the salad.  The presentation is half the success, right?

Instead of spinach, you could use lettuce. Also, you are not tied down to these particular fruits so take this as an opportunity to mix up your fruits. I also tried this with romaine lettuce, blueberries, and pears (instead of spinach, strawberries, and peaches). Frankly, I preferred the original options, but this is mostly because I like my veggies dark, green, and spinachy. If you try another other variations, please share!

The great thing about a salad is that it’s easy to put together, and it contains few calories. If you use the sizes above, it’s only about 300 calories and it is pretty filling. The bad thing is that your ingredients need to be fresh for it to taste great. But if you make the effort, it can be a great culinary adventure.

Now, I haven’t come up with a name for this awesome salad. What say you? Any suggestions?

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How Do You Track Your Calories?

Well, your answer should be "I live in the technology age, silly!" Those of you who know me well probably knew this was coming. Since I discovered websites and phone apps that help you track how many calories you consume and burn every day, my life has become way better. Well, I do say a lot of things have changed my life so take that comment with a grain of salt. But you know what I mean…

It’s pretty difficult  to try to figure out how much you should be eating and how much you are actually eating, so when there is someone or something else that can do it for you, celebrate it. Most of the websites estimate how much you should be eating and burning based on the information you enter into your profile (weight, age, activity level, weight goal, etc.). And then every day, you can go in and enter what you ate and what exercise you did, and they help you estimate how much more you should work out or eat in that day.

Granted, these are only estimates, but they are much better than nothing. Imagine going to a restaurant and trying to figure out how many calories chicken parmigiano or jollof rice is, when you can simply enter it in and something else calculates it for you (yes, some of these websites have Nigerian food too).

Over the last few years, so many diet and exercise trackers have emerged, but the ones I will list below are 100% free, and also have apps that you can get for your smart phone. They also have healthy recipes for when you need advice on what to cook.

Before I list them though, here’s a basic idea of the details contained in each, and how exactly it benefits you:
  • Customized weight loss goals: You start by joining (for free), and then entering information about yourself, including your weight, age, sex, and your weight loss goals. This information is used to calculate the nutrients you should be eating every day (calories, protein, etc.). As the day progresses, your food consumption will reduce how many nutrients you are allowed to eat for the rest of the day, and your exercise increases your allowance. So remember, no cheating!
  • Calorie tracker: With your customized goals, it is now easy to figure out how your daily caloric intake fits on the good vs. bad scale. You enter every meal or snack you eat, and it calculates how many calories you have left for that day.
  • Exercise tracker: These sites also contain the number of calories you burn when you do various exercises. So based on what you do each day, you can put the information in to the database, and it re-calculates the amount of calories you have left for that day. The good thing is that doing more exercise gives you a higher calorie allowance each day.
  • Community: Of course, there is also the advantage of community. You can track your weight loss with your friends or strangers, so you can cheer each other on, you can ask questions, and you can even contribute by recommending new foods to be added to the site.

Alright, now you know what they do. Do you know where to go? See the list of 5 of my favorite diet and exercise trackers below. Again, there are many more out there, but these are the ones I find have great user interfaces and are pretty easy to use. Of all of the sites I have used, this one has one of the best user interfaces. It’s organized, and you can view things in a calendar form. The only problem is that if you don’t join, you can't really use any of the tools, like checking how many calories a person burns by running at 7mph for 30 minutes. A Twitter friend was kind enough to recommend this to me, and I already love it. It is very easy to join, and has all of the great tools you need to stay on track. There are even challenges that you can join too. And apparently, it has a great iPhone app. With this site, I find that the app is actually better than the site; a little slower, but better organized. On the website, the daily food and exercise trackers are in different sections and that bugs my lazy bone, but I still love that it gives you a summary, and you can create reports to see how well you have been doing. This is another beautifully arranged site. You can tell that they put a lot of work into it. It is easy to find tips, and just test out the site even if you are not a member. I think this site was one of the first to get into the app world. You can sign up to receive newsletters, or join a group working to reach a goal. They do give awards and points to teams doing well, so if you’re super-competitive, here’s your shot to use that to your advantage. My favorite feature is that they have specialized sections for teenagers and pregnant women.

Do you have a favorite calorie tracker?  Please tell us about it!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Work Hard! Why Don’t I Have a Six-Pack?

Here is a common theme we see. We exercise consistently, do all the sit-ups and hip raises our bodies can take, and yet, we don’t see a big change is the size of our midsections.  This triggers a lot of questions. Are we doing something wrong? Are we just doomed to have big bellies? Is it something hereditary? No matter what your questions are, my advice is: don’t give up yet!

It is true that it is generally easier for men to get flat stomachs than women because for most women, fat tends to populate in our belly and hip region (Sorry ladies!). This is not to say it is completely inevitable and we have to just take it as it is. The truth is that most of us (men and women included) make a lot of mistakes when we’re focused on trying to burn belly fat.

Are you really burning more than you’re consuming?
We all know the theory. To lose weight, you need to be burning more than you eat. You have to reach a negative of 3500 calories to lose just 1 pound. However, when you exercise a lot, your body tends to hunger for more food. And so a lot of heavy exercisers eat a lot too to keep their energy up with all the calorie-burning activities they are involved in.

But we have to be really careful here because it could easily lead to eating more than we are actually burning. It might be helpful to use a tool that monitors your daily food consumption, just to assist you in figuring out your calorie consumption before you get on your own two feet. A great tool I love is MyFitnessPal, but there are several others you can use. These tools are also great with Portion control. Men, take note, because you are more prone to eat those super-gigantic meals when you exercise.

It’s not just exercise, it’s food too!

If you spend most of your time at the gym, there is a tendency to give exercise more significance than your nutrition. But what you eat has just as much importance as what you burn. You can’t eat anything and everything, and then believe it would all go away with exercise. And as much as we hate to admit it, most of us find ourselves doing this. The bottom line is that we need to eat right to get rocking bods.

Keep set mealtimes
I know, I know. With the busy lives we lead, we eat whenever, we eat fast, and we eat on the go. But in order to trim your midsection, you have to make a change. Try to set standard mealtimes; For example, breakfast at 7am, a snack at 10am, lunch at 1pm, another snack at 4pm, and dinner at 7pm. Our bodies respond well to routine when it comes to food, and so do our minds. If we set standard mealtimes, we are less likely to be dying of hunger late at night or in the middle of the afternoon. And of course a routine lets us know exactly what we want to eat, when, and how much.

Calm your ass down
Ever heard that belly fat tends to come from stress? This is not totally untrue. On one hand, stress makes us eat because we are looking for some form of comfort. On the other hand, stress physically affects how much our bodies are capable of, and reduces our concentration when we exercise.  So do what you must to calm your ass down. If yoga calms you, do that regularly. If food calms you, well, maybe don’t do that. Find something (or someone) that makes you stress-free, and make time for it.

The Ever-Life-Consuming Alcohol
Okay, so it’s not just alcohol. It is latt├ęs, soda, milkshakes, energy drinks, and any drink that contains calories that we tend to overlook. If you have two sodas with your lunch, you have already added a couple of hundred calories to that one meal. A few beers also add a couple of hundred calories to your meal. If we don’t pay attention to what we are drinking as well as what we are eating, we could be consuming much more than we think we are, and then get frustrated. Also, carbonated drinks tend to make you bloat, so while you’re consuming several cans of “Diet” soda, consider that.

Foods that make you bloat
Okay, so I know women cannot always help that we will get bloated when we get our period, but if your belly looks flat in the morning, a different way in the afternoon, and then a different way at night, it may be due to the type of food you are eating. Carbonated drinks, fatty foods, and foods like chips with a very high salt content tend to make us bloat, giving us that pot belly feeling. It would pay both in the long and short term to minimize how much we eat or drink these, because they could also cause our stomachs to be uber-sensitive.

While exercise is great, and it is pretty difficult, there are other factors that we need to consider as well while we are trying to lose belly fat and build six-pack abs. So don’t knock your head against the wall if it does not seem to be working. Try the tips above, and reach out to me with comments here if you have any questions. You can also reach me at anytime. Good luck!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Portion Control: How Much is Too Much?

It is easy to assume we are eating the right sizes because we are satisfied at the end of the meal. But sometimes, trying to use our stomachs to gauge what our bodies actually need does not work out too well in the weight loss department. So how can you really know how much food to eat? Everyone eats varied amounts of food based on their weight goals. Your goal may require that you eat 1500 calories a day, while another individual’s goal may require that he/she eat 2500 calories a day.

Because we are not machines, there are a lot of websites and diet plans that help us meet the suggested number of calories. But then again, most diet plans give you information based on “servings”. e.g. two servings of oats is about 300 calories. But since we can’t go about our lives with a measuring cup, there are a few tricks to understanding what one serving means. We’ll focus on some of the major foods.

Rice/Beans: One serving of rice or beans (1 cup cooked) is about the size of two regular light bulbs. It might be easier to divide it into two, and think of each portion as the size of one light bulb.
Bread: The length of a slice of bread should be about the width of a cassette tape. I know, I know, they make gigantic loaves of bread nowadays. And sometimes, you might be underestimating the calories you are consuming when the slice of bread is so large.

Swallow: This list would not be complete without eba, pounded yam, amala, fufu, and the like, usually referred to as "swallow". One serving of any of these foods is about the size of a light bulb. One serving of the soup (or stew) used to eat these foods should be about the size of a baseball.

Cereal: This is a huge disappointment for those that love to eat humongous bowls of cereal, but one cup of flaked cereal (one serving) is only about the size of a baseball. So when you look at the pack and it says 1 cup is 300 calories, that 1 cup is about the size of a baseball. Think about how much cereal you can consume in one sitting.

Pasta: Another 1-cup disappointment is pasta. 1 cup of cooked pasta is about the size of a baseball. On the plus side, pasta is squishy so a lot can probably fit into that 1 cup.

Pancakes/waffles: The size of one pancake should be the size of a compact disc. Most of the information on calorie content of pancakes on the web would refer to one serving of pancakes/waffles as a CD-sized pancake/waffle.

Nuts: ¼ cup of nuts is about one serving. What does ¼ cup of nuts look like? A golf ball.

Meat: A serving of cooked chicken, beef or any other kind of mammal or bird is about the size of a deck of cards. With fish though, the serving is about the size of a checkbook. It may be easier to think about this in terms of length rather than trying to figure out how a chicken thigh translates to a deck of cards.

Tofu: So I had to do this for my soy lovers, right? One serving of tofu is about the size of a cassette tape. That’s actually a lot after it’s been all diced up.

Veggies: 1 cup of broccoli, carrots, spinach, lettuce, peas, and any combination of these is about the size of a baseball. Is that hard to picture? Think about it in terms of length or chopped up in a cup.

Potatoes: A potato should be able the size of a computer mouse. Yea, I know you’ve seen over-fertilized potatoes as large as your head, but that counts for multiple servings.

Corn: An ear of corn should be as long as that yellow pencil you used in school. You know, the one with the pink eraser on the bottom?

Fruits: Fruits come in all sizes and shapes. But the general rule of thumb is that one serving of round fruits like apples and oranges is the size of a baseball, one serving of long fruits like bananas is the length of a pencil, and one serving of small fruits like berries and grapes is the number of these fruits that can fit into a light bulb.

Spreads: One serving of spreads like butter or mayonnaise is about the size of a poker chip.

Miscellaneous: This is actually most of the junk food we eat. A serving of a burger should be as big as a deck of cards (I wonder where the Triple Whopper falls). A cup of soup, a meat pie, a serving of French fries, a serving of lasagna, and a cup of mac and cheese should all be about the size of a baseball. A burrito and a sub should be as long as a check book. And a slice of pizza should be about the size of 2 dollar bills.

Dessert: And now for the ultimate disappointment. How big should a slice of cake really be? About the size of a deck of cards. What about a cookie? It should be the size of two poker chips. One serving of ice-cream should be the size of a light bulb, and one cup of pudding or yogurt should be the size of a baseball.

So now you know. It’s a lot to take in, but once you’ve mastered grouping food into the baseball, light bulb, and deck of cards groups, it would become way easier. Also, now you have this article that you can save on your phone and reference anytime :)
I also found this fabulous guide that you can print out and put up on your fridge: Portion Control Guide. Please let me know if it helps you at all.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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