Category Archives: Health

Nutrition Book Review: S.A.S.S.! Yourself Slim

Title: S.A.S.S.! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches (previously released as Cinch!) (HarperOne, 2012)
Author: Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D.
The Big Cover Promise: “Lose Up to 8 LBS. in the First Five Days!”

Last year I reviewed Cinch!, a diet book that pleasantly surprised me. (You can read my original review of this book here.) I credit that book with helping me rediscover a love of cooking and getting me to discover the joy of flavoring with herbs and spices rather than salt and sweeteners. Now the book has been rereleased with brand new content and the new title of S.A.S.S.! Yourself Slim, which refers to Slimming and Satiating Seasonings (and, yes, the author’s last name). In addition, the cover claim has added a pound to the possible amount of weight you can supposedly lose in four days.

Yet the book’s main idea is the same – that learning to discover the natural goodness of foods that pack flavor punches and keep you full can help you lose weight in a more permanent way than a more drastic plan ever could. Sass’ writing is still very pleasant and reflects her practice as a nutritionist: common sense principles applied in clever ways so that you don’t feel you’re sacrificing. She is sensible, yet cheerful and optimistic, and she knows how to share her knowledge in convincing and encouraging ways. And, my favorite part of the book is still all those great recipes.

Since the main content is the same, I won’t bother to review the entire book over again – just the extra content.

Testimonials: The new edition of the book still has the original quotes sprinkled throughout from Cinch! enthusiasts, but also includes new, lengthy testimonials complete with names, ages, and full details. In some cases “before” and “after” pictures are there, too. Women talk about the positive benefits of the plan, which includes not just weight loss and increased energy but also husbands and kids who got on board with the tasty recipes, too.

Swaps: A glossy section of pink pages includes a reflective letter from Cynthia Sass, a bunch of testimonials, and a short section with examples of some swaps that you can try for some of the recipes that keep within the same food groups (or “puzzle pieces”).

Change in Potential Weight Loss: As I said before, I don’t like gimmicky “lose this much weight in this number of days!” claims. Now I’m really curious as to why the amount of weight you can lose went up a pound. I guess some people had even better results than others.

Overall, you get all the same good content as the last book, with little bit more content. All the new testimonials help make the book feel more genuine and encouraging and complement Sass’ naturally warm writing very well.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from One2One Network, but have not received monetary compensation, and was neither requested nor required to provide a positive review.


Less Than 8 Months … whaaaat

Less than 8 months to go, and I’ve really been coasting with this wedding business. Eric and I are very excited, but we’re also very busy … with normal life stuff. We did get some incredible engagement photos taken a couple weekends ago, courtesy of our good friend, the multitalented Evan Valentine ( He and his wife Jaime (one of my very best friends) ate at Ray’s Hell Burger with us in Rosslyn. Then we made visits to some favorite Arlington spots: Dark Star Park, Gravelly Point Park (out by Reagan Airport), and the rooftop garden at our apartment building. Finally, we got some shots on the balcony of our apartment, where Eric proposed to me. We had a good time and the pictures came out really nice, with some hilarious outtakes, too!

I’ve been to some fun places and done some fun things lately, so maybe I’ll eventually write something about that. I’ve made all these rough drafts that I just left sitting. I have also been writing an entirely new book. The idea just came to me one day and I went nuts with it and wrote 20,000 words in about a week. I wish I’d had that same motivation when I wrote my last book during NaNoWriMo! I’m now up to nearly a full 25,000 words. This novel has been much more fun for me than the last because I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen. Every time I start working on it the characters spring to life in my head and show me what’s occurring as I type. So right now, I only have the vaguest idea of the denouement. I could stand to do a little travel around the country to strengthen some of the storyline (due to locations I’m not familiar with), but basic research will have to do for now. Now, I’m truly not that good of a writer, but I enjoy it and it’s a great stress-reliever and fun hobby. I could probably better spend my time on more pressing matters, but it’s hard to stay away from the keyboard. I have another friend working on a novel, so we may try to meet up at coffee shops and have “writing nights” in the near future.

I went to my first Body Pump class last Friday; it’s a lifting class – you use a mat, a step (to lay on, like a bench), and the bar with weights. It was very difficult but so much fun that I greatly enjoyed the challenge. At the end of the class, the instructor announced, “Congratulations, you’ve just done 800 reps!” I intend to keep going, although it will require me to get up at an ungodly hour. Ugh!

Coming up soon (but don’t I always say that?) … more wedding stuff, a couple book reviews, recommended beauty products, some travel articles from all over, hotel review, and a disgusting, hideous exploration of the life of the house centipede and his many apparent benefits … ugh. And I think I might have a giveaway for y’all as well. 

Working Out at Work with Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Continuing my guinea pigging of workouts you can supposedly do in your cube or office, today I went through a small routine by Tracey Anderson, found in Bloomberg BusinessWeek‘s September 22 “How To” issue. If you don’t have a copy, you can view most of the same article here. Keep in mind that the purpose of these routines is not to get you in the kind of shape that Ms. Anderson is in, but rather for your good general health – as recent studies have discovered that even a small amount of sedentary time is very bad for your body, regardless of how fit you already are. And obviously that is definitely not good news for us desk jockeys.

This workout has little going for it compared to the Washington Post workout I reviewed last week. With just four moves, it’s decidedly faster than a full set of WP moves. Which is a good thing, because presumably you have to get actual work things done in the office, too, right? But the moves don’t include the number of reps to start out with. I found I was more likely to injure myself or bump into something with these moves – the first one in particular means balancing yourself on your rolly chair with both legs off the ground. The second exercise means you better wipe down your germ-laden workspace before planting your snoz on it. The third one is confusing – what is a “flick kick”? (“I don’t know, is it a kind of movie?” said my sister when I texted her with this question.) I did find the last move pretty satisfying; it’s a good stretch, and anything that gets us moving more during the day is a good start. With this one, that’s about all I can ask for.

Working Out at Work with The Washington Post

One of the latest fads, although I hope this one has more staying power than others, is the office workout. In the past few months I have seen articles in magazines and newspapers on this very topic along with new products designed to facilitate such workouts, such as “standing desks”. I have even heard of meetings conducted while everyone is on a treadmill. (That is pushing it too far. The only thing that could possibly make a boring meeting even MORE torturous is bringing a treadmill into the equation.)

A few months ago, The Washington Post presented 12 office exercises tested by their infographics department. The result is this clever presentation on their website, complete with awesome (and somewhat funny) drawings of office workers demonstrating how to do each exercise. You can read pros and cons of each move and rate whether or not you would actually do this exercise in your own office. There is also a small link you can select to download and print a useful cubicle poster of the exercises.

Me being me, I had to guinea pig these things, just for you! And now I do them most days of the week. I’m kind of cheating as far as the embarrassment factor goes because my cube has a privacy door on it and not a ton of people work on my floor anyway. But ultimately I found this routine pretty easy to do, although I would recommend changing out of your work shoes into sneakers first. It involves a lot of marching and stepping, so if you’re in a quieter atmosphere, your cube mates will probably hear your repeated steps and wonder what you are doing. And if you work in a cube with a low-wall, people will see your arms swinging around on some of the moves. (Consider grabbing an empty conference room if you’re in a busy area and just can’t stand people looking at you during the day.) Regardless, this is a quick workout that will keep you energized and is a good way to take a brief break. It’s even kind of fun. Just be very careful when doing the ones that require you to lean on your desk – sometimes cubicle tables are too flimsy.

Bonus points if you attempt to make the same faces shown on the people in the WaPo article as you do each exercise. 😉

The Grab-it-and-Go Diet

I gained some weight over the past few months. You can blame a decent amount of it on stress. So now, while I normally try to cook more and make large amounts of healthy entrees that I can divide up into portions for the week, I’ve got too much else going on at the moment to really care about that. Microwave diet meals to the rescue! These have made it SO easy for me to get a tasty and filling breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not to mention snacks, while easily tracking the number of calories I’m taking in. One downside is that microwave meals, like many processed and packaged foods, *may* contain a lot of sodium. So read your labels carefully if you are concerned about that.

Here are some of the things I’ve been gnawing on lately:

Jimmy Dean D-lights. Start your day with a classic breakfast sandwich or scramble – the lowest calorie sandwich will only dock you 210.
Lean Pockets breakfast sandwiches. I don’t get these often because 1) it’s too easy to eat two or three of them in one sitting and 2) I always burn my entire mouth with the melted cheese that leaks out. In fact I burned my hand at work the other day when some hot lava cheddar oozed onto it.
Healthy Choice. This brand has reinvented itself over the years and has all kinds of steamed meals, microwave meals, and soups.
Weight Watchers Smart Ones. Smart Ones makes, above and beyond, my favorite ice cream “diet” treat ever. Go get one of their sundae packs. NOMMMMM. I just ate a 150-calorie bowl of Smart Ones mint ice cream with hot fudge sauce swirls and mini chocolate chips, sitting on top of a crumbly brownie layer. There are several other varieties. I seriously die and go to chocolate/ice cream heaven with these.
Kashi meals. These microwave meals cost more than the others, or at least in my neck of the woods they do, but they are worth it for their inventive take on the “zap it and eat it” meal. My favorite is the Mayan Harvest Bake.
Lean Cuisine. My current favorite brand overall … perhaps due to their Delicious Rewards program, in which codes found inside the box can be entered for 20 points a piece. Points add up quickly and get you various cute and useful rewards from their seasonal catalog (lunch totes, kitchen gadgets, salt and pepper shakers, things like that). There are tons and tons of varieties, so it will be hard not to find something you don’t like. I bring home everything from pizzas to paninis to pasta. My favorites this week are the Butternut Squash Ravioli and the Chicken in Peanut Sauce. Lean Cuisine also has a new line of snacks, like pita bread with spinach-artichoke dip and Thai-inspired spicy egg rolls, and I think each is right at 200 calories. And, they recently introduced a small line of vegetarian dishes – there are currently just four choices in this line, but if you dig them, be sure to keep buying them so they’ll make more! (There are additional vegeterian dishes in the “regular” line.)
Breakstone’s Cottage Doubles. These 100-calorie containers include a serving of lowfat cottage cheese and a side serving of a fruit sauce, in flavors such as Apple Cinnamon, Peach, Pineapple, and Strawberry. A great way to get some protein and calcium in a filling snack.
String cheese. You can get lowfat string cheese sticks at 80 calories a pop. A quick and easy snack that’s great on its own, or paired with a few whole-grain crackers.
100-calorie packs. I love these, but they are still junk food and not super filling, so I tend not to buy them as much. You can probably buy your own regular-size bag and portion it out yourself for far less money, if you think you have the self-control not to eat it all in one sitting. (Guess who doesn’t? This chick)
Green bell peppers and Mrs. Dash. Just chop up the peppers, then toss them in a bag, sprinkle with Mrs. Dash, and shake around.

I’m trying to flex my writing muscles more since I let them get so out of shape and National Novel Writing Month is coming up again … so stay tuned for more stuff.

Nutrition Review: AMC Theatres Smart MovieSnacks Pack

Watching what I eat when I go out is always a challenge, but especially so at the movies. Honestly, many people say the best bet is often to sneak in a bag of low-calorie snacks rather than pick the one or two items off the menu that don’t have a RIDICULOUS amount of calories and fat. Even the innocent looking pretzel bites at Regal Cinemas have 970 calories in them (including the tiny tub of cheese dip and the oil (or whatever it is) that’s liberally brushed on the pretzels). So when I recently saw a pre-show ad for AMC Theatres Smart MovieSnacks Pack, I was so excited I almost knocked my Coke Zero all over myself!

Here is what you will get in your pack, at a current retail price of just $7 and a total calorie count of 453:

*Mini-bag of PopCorners popped corn chips (Kettle Corn flavor)
*Odwalla trail mix bar (chocolate chip)
*Chiquita fruit chips
*Bottle of Dasani water (which you can swap out for Coke Zero or Diet Coke, adding miniscule amount of calories)

Not bad! My favorite snack was the PopCorners. I had never had these before and they were definitely delicious. I was expecting them to be something like my favorite Popchips but these are lighter and crunchier. I already love Odwalla bars, and while I don’t eat fruit chips very often, I enjoyed the Chiquita ones as well. All of the snacks were gone by the time the movie actually started.

I do have one complaint. When Eric went back into the lobby to buy me the snack pack (at the AMC Theatre near Old Town Alexandria), they had a hard time finding it at the upstairs snack bar and wound up sending him to the downstairs snack bar to get it! It took so long that he was minutes away from missing the beginning of Captain America! I don’t know if the difficulty finding it reflects more on the number of people requesting the pack or AMC’s efforts to market it, but either way, not cool to make it so hard to get. I think it should be more prominently displayed so that more people know it is available. I had no idea until we were in our seats watching the pre-show ads.

Look for the Smart MovieSnacks Pack whenever you visit an AMC theatre. And stay tuned to see if other chains follow suit – I hope so!

Personal Training Update

A couple of weeks ago, I had to get a new trainer after my old trainer left under somewhat abrupt circumstances. Based on a conversation I had with her during our last session, I knew it was just a matter of time and wasn’t surprised at all to receive the phone call she was gone. So, now I’ve had to get a new trainer. The coordinator originally planned to assign me to a male trainer, but I explained to her that while I think male trainers are great, I would feel more comfortable training with another female. She was happy to fulfill that request even though I think it made things more difficult schedule-wise. My new trainer is high-energy and hilarious. I have really enjoyed working with her thus far and I find her more on my wavelength than the last trainer. I also appreciate how involved she is with the sessions. Rather than just standing there waiting for me to finish, she keeps on chatting, doing exercises with me, and joking around. She recently had me RUN for several minutes on the treadmill which is my ultimate nightmare and she stood there next to me telling me all about her day and cracking jokes which made it SO much more bearable. In some ways she reminds me a bit of myself.

It has been hard to adjust going from one trainer to another. I like both girls but the old trainer’s style was different and more strict than the new one. That was useful because I knew someone would be paying attention and would give me a hard time if they saw I hadn’t been in the gym often enough. However, I find I actually look forward to coming to the gym and working with the new trainer. During my first session, I told her I hadn’t been in to the gym for five days because I’d been enjoying my four day holiday weekend. She just said, “Oh psssh, whatever. It was a holiday. Who wants to work out on a holiday?” Also, whereas the previous trainer had gently suggested a couple of times that I might be “looking” to lose as many as 40 pounds, this trainer started me off by saying, “Well, you don’t really need to lose any weight or anything” and was appalled when I told her what my old trainer had suggested. New Trainer clearly didn’t approve of my being given a target weight amount to lose. So that’s kind of been an adjustment in focus for me as before I was thinking I must look really heavy.

The new trainer also seems to have a better sense of humor about life in general. I figured out long ago that a good sense of humor can be essential for both day-to-day life and dealing with real hardship, so I can appreciate that. When you look for the lighthearted or fun side of every day situations, you’ll find hard times can be easier to step back and examine more calmly, because you’ve already had the practice looking at everything else from a different angle. Or at least, this is true for me.

So far I’m still doing well. I felt proud last night when the trainer said, “You were awesome! I couldn’t find your lesson plan so I threw all kinds of crap at you and you took it like a champ.” She’s right – that was probably the hardest workout I’d had but I wouldn’t give up. (The lesson plan thing wasn’t her fault by the way – the gym re-organized the trainers’ office.)

I’m doing *mostly* fine with nutrition although my motivation has completely flagged lately! You know what I can’t avoid all of a sudden? MILK. Real milk! I gave it up nearly two years ago in favor of plant-based milks because dairy doesn’t help my breakouts. I love almond milk, but man, does real milk taste good. I let myself have a cup at my parents’ house a month or two ago and now I help myself to Eric’s 2% all the time. NOM. I can’t help it; I have always loved dairy! I would drink pint after pint of plain white 2% all day if I could.