Category Archives: Nutrition

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.


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.

The Summer So Far

First of all, it’s SUMMER BEER SEASON! What are your favorites? I’ve been asking everybody! I can’t wait to get over to Westover Beer Garden and enjoy a few along with some live music and barbecue!
It’s also summer blockbuster season. Last October, I took Roelof’s brother Johan and fiancee Xaviera by the Air Force Memorial where a scene for the third Transformers movie was being shot. That movie will be out in early July.

Other movies I’ve seen in the theaters recently, and my ratings for each (based on how much I liked the movie, not how well it was made, acting chops, etc.):

Fast Five. 4 out of 5. I was surprised by how much I liked this. It was more like a heist flick a la Ocean’s Eleven than the silly racing movie I was expecting.
Bridesmaids. 4 out of 5. Hilarious and surprisingly heartwarming, this raunchy flick showcased the skills of some of today’s best comediennes.
The Hangover Part II. 4 out of 5. The sequel molded in the exact same pattern as the first, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Super 8. 5 out of 5. I LOVED this movie. Set in 1979, it felt like a cross between ET and The Goonies, or The Manhattan Project and Monster Squad. Well-done.
Thor. 4 out of 5. The latest Marvel comic book-turned-big screen adventure.
Kung Fu Panda 2. 3 out of 5. I haven’t seen the first one. This one felt surprisingly dark for a movie aimed at children. I hear the first one is better. Still enjoyable.

There are plenty of movies still to come including the final installment of Harry Potter! I’ve been considering going back and re-reading the first four books, which are my favorites in the series.
Personal training and the new way of eating are mostly going well. I say “mostly” because I think I could be doing a lot more in that department. I haven’t been making the best effort toward my cardio, lazily drifting in the gym maybe twice a week. Also, sometimes I don’t follow the rules I set for myself during the week and eat too many “bad for you” foods. Going out to a restaurant is pretty much a bust every time; even the low-calorie items are either way TOO small portions and those are that are decent size are guaranteed to be packed full of sodium. I find that eating at home during the week and brown-bagging it for lunch works the best for me. This week I didn’t do too well however. Eric took me to a movie and dinner on his night off earlier this week which was excellent; I ordered the reasonable grilled salmon, shrimp, and steamed broccoli but neglected to ask what the dish was grilled WITH. Sure enough, it arrived liberally covered in oil. Come on, is that REALLY necessary? It doesn’t taste good enough without the liquid fat oozing out of it?! We were running too close to movie time for me to send it back, so I ate the broccoli first, then all the shrimp, then about half of the salmon. Then the other night, we had a party for a professional club I help run complete with pizza, cake, and champagne. I was careful to only eat so much of each item, but still way more calories and fat then I normally take in. Of course, if I would work on my cardio a wee bit more, it wouldn’t be a big deal that I ate two little slices of pepperoni pizza! (They really were little – still way high in the fat grams department, but I’m not going to give myself a giant guilt trip over it!)

With the PT, it’s fun to see what I will have to tackle each session. No two sessions are the same and lately we’ve been doing increased “circuits” which involve me rotating through different sets of exercises. I learn new exercises and weight routines every single time. I like my trainer. She’s spunky and sweet and makes me work hard, but at the same time, she can tell when I’m genuinely getting too exhausted (as opposed to just resistant) and she’s careful to make sure I keep proper form so I don’t get hurt.
Sumo is still diabetic, as well as nutty and mischievous. I have to keep adjusting his insulin doses and monitoring bathroom habits so I can administer his glucose tests. He’s at a healthier weight and he’s no longer vomiting every day, a great sign. He’s recently taken to curling up on top of my laptop case. Maybe he would like to earn his keep around here.
Eric and I hoping to go on another drive-in tour soon! We’ll either hit up Hull’s Drive-In in Lexington or head to Baltimore and visit the Bengies.
My 30th birthday is coming up fast! I have put a deposit on my second tandem skydive for the occasion, this time with a different site who seem WAY more organized. 🙂
I’m becoming more domestic! I’ve been embarking on various cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating and organizing projects and enjoying myself. And I’ve even tending to a tomato plant I got from my coworker. Here, let me help you pick your jaws back up off the floor.
And finally, the brand new GIANT is having its grand opening tomorrow morning at 6 AM! I can’t recall ever being this excited about a grocery store opening (or a grocery store, period) in my life. I mean, I’m even considering getting up early and heading over there so I can walk in when the doors open and enjoy my free coupons, samples, and wine and tapas tastings along with other opening day festivities. But I’m hardly alone in my enthusiasm. For WEEKS people have been walking and driving around the new Penrose Square development. A lone bored security guard reads a magazine inside the locked-up store while Giant trucks load the new groceries, as neighbors stand around gossiping and circling like vultures, peering in the windows and leaving breath marks all over the glass. Some days it looks like zombies crowding around. You have to understand that losing the previous Giant (in the same spot) was miserable for ALL OF US. For TWO YEARS we’ve had to either battle nasty traffic and fearless life-gambling jaywalkers all the way up the Pike to get to the Falls Church Giant for the best selection and prices, or take the slow ride through Arlington Ridge neighborhood for the far less well-stocked Glebe Road Giant. Or hey, we can always pay the mega-high prices at our Pentagon Row or North Glebe Harris Teeters, or head all the way over to Rosslyn for the Safeway. Hah, well now I’ll just walk over to my Giant and back, thank you! I’M SO EXCITED.

I Made My Own Chili! and Other Healthful Developments

I rarely cook, because I’m often too disorganized, impatient, and slothful. I’m working on changing all three of these to make life easier, and this week I successfully cooked my own healthful ground turkey chili! It really took no effort at all. Eric helped by chopping some of the veggies, showing me his easy garlic trick (which was simple for me to replicate) and then stirring the turkey and onions while I mixed up the final ingredients. I used a recipe I found at to help me figure out how I wanted to make it, but the final product was my own. I put a big pot on the stove, sprayed the bottom with Pam Olive Oil, and then stirred the turkey around till it was browned. Next I dumped in the onion that Eric chopped. I waited too long to use it so it didn’t have a lot of flavor. While Eric stirred the pot, I smashed a can of kidney beans, then mixed it with a can of diced tomatoes. I got out a clove of garlic and Eric showed me how to easily peel the skin off the clove – just put the knife over the clove, then pound on the knife a few times, then lift it up and the skin comes right off … no Slap-Chop required 😉

I minced a couple of those garlic cloves and mixed them in with the mixture and then I threw it all into the pot along with a cut up New Mexico chili pepper (and just a few of the seeds) and two cups of water. I added salt, black pepper, and some chili powder. Then we covered it and let it sit for 30 minutes. When it was done, we tasted it and it was good but needed a tad more flavor. I’m supposed to be keeping the salt very low during the week so I just added a pinch more and that really did it and brought out all the flavor. It was good enough that Eric delayed going to bed to eat a bowl and then I have two more bowls for ready-to-eat meals! Yay, me! I’m looking forward to cooking up some other goodies; lord knows I have tons and tons and TONS of recipes in this place.

Fitness is going well. My latest personal training session involved more of those horrendous camel walks but I did better this time, although I still hated it. I also had to do a bunch of lifts on these machines where you lie with your chest down and then pull up the weight toward you. I came in there again yesterday and worked on the elliptical for a full hour, burning well over 400 calories at a medium pace. I had my earbuds in and was enjoying the music so I thought, why not just keep going! When I got off I went over to the weight machines and did just a few overhead lifts with 10 pound weights and then a bunch of those standing stomach crunches with that machine. I wanted to do more but there were all these buff dudes over there using the machines and I felt intimidated. I know that was stupid because I’m there for the same reason they are and they probably weren’t even paying any attention to me, but I felt really silly. I’d been there long enough anyway so I just left. I’ll come back today after I run some errands. I need to get an iPod shuffle already. I currently use the Pandora app on my iPhone and it’s great, but I can’t clip it to my waistband and so I have to put it away while I do the strength-training portions. That in turn gets rid of a vital distraction and makes me more aware of all the people around me who look and perform much better than I.