Thursday, December 29

My 10 Commandments for 2012

As we close in on New Year's Eve I've been thinking about my resolution for 2012 and what I keep going back to is this—I hate New Year's resolutions. No matter how well-intended I am, no matter how precisely I articulate my goal, I never keep them. And then I feel like a failure.

Happy Freakin' New Year. You know what I mean?

So, this year I've decided to do something different. Instead of making a half-hearted attempt at some goal I really have no intention of keeping, I've decided to develop 10 commandments for a healthy life. Things that if I follow, will by default, keep me on the right path. So here goes.

Dianna's 10 Commandments for Healthy Living

1. I shall celebrate the small successes. For example, the times I actually make it to the gym, remember to do my deep breathing exercises and successfully walk past the freezer knowing that frozen chocolate chip cookie dough is inside.

2. I shall indulge my obsession with Chick Fil A's half sweet/half unsweet tea only once a week. (This one's going to be tough.)

3. I shall do more outdoor activities.

4. I shall strive to exercise three times a week.

5. I shall incorporate deep breathing into my daily life.

6. I shall continue to prepare healthy meals for my family no matter how much they complain and beg me to buy Doritos and Twinkies.

7. I shall remember to be patient with my picky eating third grader and rejoice in the small steps she makes. (e.g., "Yay, you ate broccoli. Good job!")

8. I shall allow my husband and children their indulgences and refrain from giving them the eye of shame and a sneer of disgust. Moderation is the key, not perfection.

9. I shall take time for me and not feel guilty about it.

10. I shall not be so self critical. (See number one if negative self talk is creeping in.)


See you all next year!

Wednesday, December 21

Twas the Night Before Christmas and I Got the Flu

A couple of years ago I came down with the flu on Christmas Eve. Yup, Christmas Eve. I of course, didn’t get a flu shot that year because I arrogantly assumed, “I never get the flu.” Uh huh. Well, here’s my story, in poetic verse. It’s a cautionary tale that will hopefully inspire you to take care of yourself this holiday season so you don’t end up like me.

Twas the night before Christmas and I got the flu
With presents to wrap and folks to entertain, what was I to do?

The relatives arrived all merry and gay
I secretly wished they’d all go away

With sweat on my brow and aches in my body
I slapped on a smile and downed a hot toddy

Christmas Eve festivities droned on and on
I sat on the couch trying to stifle a yawn

Finally, our children were tucked in nice and tight
But Michael and I still had a long night

Up and down the stairs we did go
Delivering gifts to the Christmas tree below

Finally collapsing onto my warm, soft bed
My eyes shut for a moment before screams of, “Santa’s been here!” echoed in my head

Forcing a smile and nodding with feigned delight
I felt like a truck had run over me last night

Whispering to Michael, “I’m not sure I can make it. I feel like hell.”
His eyes sympathetic, he nodded, “Yeah, I can tell.”

Perplexed he asked, “What about the turkey and stuffing? What will you do?”
Christmas was here. It did not stop for the flu.

I rallied once more to cook for my crew
My face taking on a pasty white hue

The turkey was roasted and the potatoes mashed
I sat down for dinner on the verge of collapse

With glassy eyes and a fever of one hundred and three
I was tapped out. I hadn't an ounce of glee.

The feast was blessed and our crystal glasses clinked in the air
All the while I tried to steady myself in the chair

Waving to my family as they drove out of sight
“Thank God that’s over,” I said, “I thought they’d be here all night.”

Tissues and Nyquil in hand, I slogged off to bed
Visions of Cold-Eeze danced in my head

Enveloped in my cocoon of Kleenex and blankets
I sweated and tossed and turned for ages

Emerging three days later I’d found
My illness had made me lose seven pounds

“Hey, not bad,” I thought with a slow smile
Now maybe I won’t have to diet for a while

Yeah, nice thought, but that wasn’t the case
The pounds reappeared at an alarming pace

A week later I was back to feeling almost new
But I’d missed the joy of Christmas because of the flu

A Word about Flu Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get a yearly flu shot. It is especially important for those in high risk groups—young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

In addition to the flu shot, other preventative tips include:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Avoid touching your face. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Practice healthy habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

I wish you all a happy, healthy holiday and best wishes for 2012!

Tuesday, December 13

Not One More Thing

Sitting in my home office, hurrying to check things off my to-do list before the kids scream in the door after school, the phone rang.

“Hi, this is Eric’s mom,” the cheery voice said on the other end of the line. “Eric was wondering if Grant would like to join his LEGO robotics team? They’ve discussed it in school and apparently Grant is really excited about it….”

“I’m sorry. What is this exactly?” I asked, completely confused. As usual, Grant hadn’t informed me about this new activity.

“The kids build robots together…we meet for an hour a week at my house…blah blah blah…,” she explained.

As she talked I thought about the logistics of adding this to my schedule. So, every Tuesday Grant will get home, quickly do homework, I’ll race him over to the robotics team thing, then we’ll race back home put on his soccer gear and drive over to indoor soccer training. I'll get home just after 5:00 pm, throw something on the table for dinner and race back to pick him up from soccer practice.

And that didn’t account for anything going on with my two daughters, myself or my husband. And that’s just Tuesday. The other six days of the week are equally ridiculous.

Shaking my head and in a voice more forceful than I meant it to be, I said, “No. I can’t do it. I can’t do one more thing.”

“Well, it wouldn’t take up a lot of time. It’s just an hour…” she continued.

“No,” I reiterated. “I’m sorry. I just can’t. My schedule is crazy. Grant's got winter soccer. Amanda's got field hockey. If I commit to one more thing I think I might have a breakdown.”

“Oh,” she said, pausing before adding. “Eric was really looking forward to having Grant on the team.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I just can’t.”

Hanging up the phone I placed my head in my hands and rested for a minute. To-do list items careened around my brain—social commitments, kid activities, work deadlines. I could feel my heart racing, my breathing becoming faster and more shallow.

Adding to my already elevated stress level is the holiday season. With shopping, shipping, wrapping and entertaining added to my already packed schedule, this girl is ready for the psych ward—for its soothing white décor, hushed voices, padded walls and the mildly restrictive white jacket. If I could request a straight jacket in black (black’s more slimming, you know) I think I’d admit myself.

Since I really don’t have time for a nervous breakdown, I did the next best thing.

Breathe. Just breathe.

One of the basic tenets of the In8 program is to incorporate meditation into your everyday life. While I struggle to find the time for a full 20-30 minute daily session, I have found that taking time to breathe deeply gives me a sense of calm.

I’ve posted about Dr. Andrew Weil’s relaxation breathing technique before, but I think it bears repeating. This takes five minutes. FIVE MINUTES! I do it in the car at a stop light, sitting at my desk, even waiting in line at the grocery store. It's fabulous.

Here it is:

The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

Sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.

·      Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
·      Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
·      Hold your breath for a count of seven.
·      Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
·      This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

As you venture out to join the mall crowds or try to tackle that neverending to-do list, take a few minutes and just breathe. It’ll calm your nerves, lower your heart rate and help you accomplish those commitments in a calmer, more relaxed manner.

Friday, December 2

The Aftermath

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you didn’t do so well with your healthy eating plan last week. Let’s say, for example, that you stood next to the spinach dip and devoured about a pound of it. With chips. Those really salty thin pretzel things. And—I’m just guessing here, throwing things out off the top of my head—let’s say you had one too many drinks. Like maybe a dozen. And to top things off you buried your face in your sister’s apple crisp, your mom’s sausage stuffing and took down the mountain of mashed potatoes all by yourself. You know, hypothetically. Let’s say that’s what your weekend looked like.

What do you do now?

To quote my wonderful New York friend and neighbor, “fahgettaboudit.”

It’s over. Banish the guilt. You can’t un-eat or un-drink anything so the best thing to do is just move on. It’s a new day. Time to get back on track.

Actually, getting back on track is one of the key skills nutritionists cite as being part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Everyone indulges on occasion, that's normal. What differentiates those that are successful at managing their weight from those that aren’t is the ability to get back to healthy habits immediately. The times you indulge should be the exception, not the rule.

So, what should you do now, exactly?

1) Stop freaking out. One (or two) days of overindulgence won’t ruin your hard work. The key is to make sure you don’t continue overindulging. That will definitely sabotage your healthy habits.

2) Drink plenty of water. That bloated feeling is probably not real weight, but extra water caused by the excess salt you ingested. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. That’ll help rid your body of the excess sodium and reduce the bloat.

3) Get moving. Jump back into your normal exercise routine. Exercise boosts your mood too so you’ll not only be doing something good for your body, but you’ll feel better too.

4) Eat five small meals a day. Resume your healthy eating habits. Lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and two small snacks a day. For example:

-       Breakfast: Low-fat yogurt and berries.
-       Mid-morning snack: A piece of fruit and an ounce of low-fat cheese
-       Lunch: A big salad with lean protein such as fish or chicken
-       Afternoon snack: A handful of almonds
-       Dinner: A piece of fish and plenty of vegetables

5) Restart your food journal. When I feel like I’m out of control I start writing everything down. There’s nothing like documenting everything I eat and drink to make me more mindful of my choices. MyPlate at is a great tool for this.

Wednesday, November 23

Surviving the Holidays

Tomorrow, turkeys will be roasting, pies will be baking and elastic waistbands will be expanding all over America.

It is possible to enjoy the holidays without wrecking your healthy habits, but it takes some planning.

Below are my favorite holiday tips. Advice I’ve gleaned from experts over the years that help me enjoy the holidays and keep my fat pants where they belong, buried in the back of the closet.

  • Shift into weight maintenance mode. Losing weight during the holidays is unbelievably difficult, so shift your focus to simply not gaining weight. Maintain the status quo, i.e., exercise when you can, opt for healthy snacks and meals and pick up the weight loss goal when the holiday goodies and parties have disappeared.  Do this and you’ll be way ahead of most people in January. The typical weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is five pounds.
  • Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. The party invites have started to pour in. That’s good, and bad. As I noted in last week’s blog, beverages are a huge source of hidden calories. To keep the calories to a minimum, after enjoying an alcoholic beverage have a zero-calorie nonalcoholic drink. I like to alternate with a glass of water. This keeps me hydrated and prevents me from over-consuming at the buffet table. A side effect of a little too much alcohol. 
  • Prepare to party. Before heading out to the cocktail party or happy hour, decide what you’re going to indulge in and cut back on calories during the day in anticipation. And stick to your plan! 
  • Eat and drink before you go. Don’t ever show up to a party hungry. That’s like taking a sex addict to a brothel. The temptation to indulge is overwhelming. Eat a light snack before you go, ideally something with protein and/or fiber so you’ll feel full. (e.g., a cup of Greek yogurt or apple slices with peanut butter or veggies and hummus) And chase it with a tall glass of water. You’ll arrive hydrated and satiated and be less likely to slam down the first drink and dive into the spinach and artichoke dip.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not stand next to the buffet table. It’s absolutely impossible to stand next to a table of food and not graze. You’ll munch mindlessly, devouring a bowl of M&Ms before you know it. Don’t put yourself in this position. Get a plate, choose what you want and walk away. Far, far away.
  • Channel your inner toddler. If you really think about holiday food, most of it isn’t that good. Store bought cookies and cakes, ho hum. Green bean casserole, no thank you. Be a food critic. Take a little bite, if it’s not stupendous, pass. Save your calories for the things you absolutely love and pass on all the stuff that’s just “okay.”
  • Move, move, move. With holiday shopping gearing up, gym attendance typically goes down. Don’t let that translate into no movement at all. Find little ways to increase your movement throughout the day. Take the stairs, park far away from store entrances or go for a walk after meals. Every bit of activity will help burn those extra calories.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 18

Dear God, It’s Eggnog Season

Pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint mochas and eggnog, oh my!

As we welcome the season of thanks, we begin the most challenging time of year to maintain healthy habits.

Homemade goodies magically appear in the break room. Favorite recipes, handed down from generations, flood the buffet table. As if that wasn’t tempting enough, restaurants and bars whip out their holiday menus enticing us to “get in the spirit of the season” and “eat, drink and be merry” with their calorie-laden treats.

I’m all for eating, drinking and merriment, but the extra pounds that go with it, no thank you.

So, how do you survive without going up a pant size?

For starters, know thy enemy.

One of the season’s biggest calorie busters is beverages.

Picture this…you’re at the mall, shopping for gifts, feeling festive and joyful (or crabby and tired, depending on the crowds), either way what you really want is a little pick-me-up. Stopping in the local Starbucks you see their beautiful print ad for a peppermint mocha. Well, doesn’t that sound just perfect, you think. “Would you like whipped cream with that?” the cute little tattooed and pierced barrista asks.

“Why yes I would,” you reply. Why not, right? It’s the holidays.

You leave Starbucks, holding a steaming cup of peppermint goodness and wander down to Nordstrom to drool over their shoe inventory. Ah, pure bliss. Right?

Yes, except for the 470 calories you just ingested. Yup. A 16-oz peppermint mocha with all the trimming has almost as many calories and fat as a McDonald’s Quarter-pounder with cheese. (The quarter-pounder has 510 calories.)

Take a look at these holiday beverages and their calorie count.

Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino—470 calories and 13 grams of fat in a 16-ounce serving.
Hot Buttered Rum—418 calories and 17 grams of fat per serving.
Pumpkin Spice Latte—410 calories and 17 grams of fat per 16-ounce serving.
Eggnog—350 calories and 19 grams of fat per 8-ounce serving.
Hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps—380 calories

Yikes! So, what’s a good plan of attack?

1) Skip the eggnog, mochas and spice lattes altogether, which I realize is easy for me to say since I don’t like them anyway, but this is really your best option.

2) If the lattes are your traditional holiday indulgence, then at least make them skinny, e.g., order them with sugar-free syrups, nonfat milk and forego the whipped cream. For comparison, a 16-ounce skinny peppermint mocha has only 130 calories. That's much better than the 470 calories in the full-fat, full-sugar version.

3) Same goes for the eggnog, at least get the light version, although it really doesn’t help much.  It reduces the total calories to 280 per cup versus 350 for the full fat version. Your best bet here is to drink it sparingly.

4) Finally, if you are going to drink alcohol, skip the mixed drinks, instead choose light beer, red wine or a wine spritzer made with club soda. (A typical wine spritzer has only 100 calories.) 

The holidays don't have to sabotage your healthy habits. Arm yourself with information and continue to make good choices.

Thursday, November 10

Food Spotlight: Quinoa

I have recently been introduced to the whole grain quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, not qwin-oh-ah, which I learned the hard way.

I asked for qwin-oh-ah at the grocery store. The store employee cocked her head to the side and gave me the same confused look my dog Snickers does when I ask her where her ball is. Staring at the Kroger employee I repeated my request, “Can you tell me where to find qwin-oh-ah?”

The employee’s befuddled look remained so I added, “It’s a grain. Supposed to be really healthy for you.”

“Oh,” she responded, recognition finally settling in. “It’s called keen-wah, by the way, and you can find it in the bulk bin area,” she added with a chuckle.

As a writer I like to think that I have a fairly decent command of the English language. Apparently not.

So, the correct pronunciation of quinoa is my early Christmas gift to you, to save you from embarrassment at the hands of a grocery store clerk.

You’re welcome.

What exactly is quinoa?

It looks like a grain, it’s cooked like rice, but it’s actually the seed of the Chenopodium quinoa plant which is related to beets, Swiss chard and spinach. Because of this close relation to green leafy vegetables it’s loaded with nutrients—manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.

But the real news is that quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids that make up a protein. This is fabulous news for vegetarians who are concerned about protein intake. Typically vegetarians need to ingest different types of protein throughout the day to ensure they get all the different amino acids they need. Quinoa supplies everything they need, so no food combining is necessary. The only other plant food with a complete protein profile is soybeans.

One cup of cooked quinoa supplies 8 grams of protein, that’s more protein than in an egg.

Quinoa also has a much lower glycemic index rating than other carbohydrates such as white rice or white potatoes. Making it a great substitute for those items.

So, you get the benefits of a whole grain, i.e. high fiber content, and the satiety of a protein. Win-win!

Where to find it?

I found it at Kroger in the bulk food area. You can also look for it in the aisle with other grain-like products, rice, cous cous etc.

How to prepare it?

While it could easily be an entrée, I typically serve it as a side dish. Think of it as a substitute for rice. And like rice, you should rinse it before you use it. Quinoa has a bitter-tasting substance on it called saponin, a natural plant chemical. Most of the saponin is removed before it hits your grocer’s shelf, but just to be sure, give it a good rinse under cold water. I put it in a fine mesh metal strainer and run it under cold water for several minutes.

Here’s my favorite weekday preparation of it. I made it the other night and served it along with some broiled mahi mahi. We started the meal with the butternut squash soup recipe from last week. Yum!

And here’s a recipe that sounded interesting, but I haven’t tried it. It’s from the Cooking Quinoa website and apparently the author’s favorite quinoa recipe. She wrote an entire cookbook on quinoa so you’d think this one would be good.

Balsamic Quinoa Salad
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ – ½ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil (depending on if you are watching calories)
  • 2 Tbls Dijon mustard
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 ½ cups quinoa
  • Bouillon cube
  • 5 Sun Dried Tomatoes (Not in oil)
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 4 oz blue cheese
  • 1 can black beans


·      Make dressing by combining vinegar, mustard, garlic, shallots and olive oil.  Season to taste.
·      Add quinoa and bouillon to three cups of boiling water.  Boil for 10 minutes.
·      Rinse quinoa with cool water and place in a fine mesh colander.  Boil more water and place quinoa and sun dried tomatoes in the colander over the water.  Cover with a kitchen towel and lid.  Steam for 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
·      Cook red pepper in a small skillet until tender.
·      Combine red pepper, blue cheese and black beans with quinoa. Add dressing and toss. 

Enjoy your qwin-oh-ah…I mean, keen-wah!

Saturday, November 5

Butternut Squash Soup

Before moving to Richmond, Michael and I lived in Chicago. There are certainly things I don't miss about the Windy City—the hour-and-half commute to work, gray gloomy days that last for months, and of course, the bone chilling cold. But there are a lot of fabulous things about Chicago too—the world-class museums, the vibrancy of a big city, and most of all, the restaurants. Chicago is a great food town.

I worked in a downtown highrise not far from the Sears Tower and on the ground floor was a little Italian eatery where I ate almost daily. Partly because I didn't have to leave the building and believe me, in February when the wind is blowing and snow is swirling around the streets, not venturing outside was a huge benefit. Frankly, they could have served dog food and I would have eaten it for lunch. But they didn't. They had the most fabulous salads and sandwiches and my absolute favorite was their butternut squash soup. Creamy, rich, and with a hint of curry, oh my God, it was truly divine. I've been looking for a recipe to replicate that soup for the last 15 years. I've tried countless homemade recipes, sampled canned butternut squash soup and even tried the fancier boxed organic versions and nothing comes close. They all leave me disappointed.

Until now.

While the following recipe still doesn't quite replicate my Chicago favorite, it's the closest thing I've found. With the leaves turning and winter approaching, this is the perfect companion on a chilly autumn night. And it happens to be squash and pear season, so you can use the freshest ingredients available.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup (from Dave Lieberman and


  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 medium butternut squash peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 pears, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 quart low sodium chicken stock, or enough to cover the squash and pears in a sauce pan
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Heavy cream
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper and granulated sugar


  • In a 4-quart saucepan melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sweat them for a few minutes.
  • Add squash and pears and sweat those too.
  • Pour in the stock, enough to cover the squash and pears.
  • Add the sprig of rosemary and bring to a simmer.
  • Cook until the squash is fork tender, about 15 to 18 minutes.
  • Remove the rosemary.
  • Puree the soup with an immersion blender. (If you don't have one, just puree it in batches in a regular blender.)
  • Add a touch of cream and season to taste.


Thursday, October 27

A Lesson from Snickers

Snickers playing dress-up with Janelle

My third-grader Janelle is studying animal behaviors in school. Quizzing her yesterday I asked, “What’s instinctual mean?”

“It’s like the Loggerhead sea turtle,” she said. “They’re born and they just know the right thing to do. They’re like, Aaaah, I got to get in the water! Get me to the ocean!”

Perhaps due to our daily drills on the peculiarities of animals I’ve starting paying attention to my dog Snickers’ behavior. And here’s something I noticed.

Every morning, after she jumps down from our bed (yes, we’re those kind of people), she immediately goes into full on yoga-dog mode. Her front legs straight, she pushes them forward while simultaneously dropping her chest to the floor and hiking her butt in the air. A perfect “down dog” posture. Now the name makes sense. (This reminds me of the time I realized why a ponytail was called a ponytail. Staring at a horse’s butt, it hit me, Hey, that’s exactly how my hair looks when I put it in a ponytail. Duh. Sometimes my stupidity surprises even me. But I digress.)

After her "down-dog" stretch, she goes into this one.
I call it "The Superman."
Snickers stretches instinctually. Every morning. I certainly didn’t teach her that. If I was going to train her to do something in the morning it’d be how to make a pot of coffee. She stretches on her own.

Observing her throughout the day I see that she stretches every time she’s been in the same position for a while. How about that. 

My lovely personal trainer from the In8 program, Will, is constantly reminding me to stretch. I leave every session with him calling after me, “Drink plenty of water and stretch, stretch, STRETCH!”

“Okay,” I call back knowing full well I’ll do none of it.

I don’t know why, but stretching just isn’t part of my day. But now, I’m thinking, Snickers might be on to something!

As we age our range of motion decreases and our muscles tighten, making every day activities more difficult. Stretching helps lengthen the muscles and improve flexibility and range of motion. Plus, it reduces the risk of injury to joints muscles and tendons and reduces muscle soreness and tension. And best of all, it feels good!

So this morning I stretched with Snickers and she rewarded my efforts with an energetic face-licking. And, taking another cue from my brilliant canine, I've been stetching after sitting at my desk for a decent length of time.

Snickers has succeeded in breaking through to me where my trainer has failed. What can I say? If Will had big brown eyes, velvety ears and looked at me as if I hung the moon, maybe I’d listen to him too.

Will—you reading this? That whole, worship-your-client look could be a new training technique for you. Just sayin’.

Here are a couple of Web sites that list some good stretches and have photos to guide you.

Basic Stretches

More Advanced Stretches

Happy Stretching! Love, Snickers

Friday, October 21

But, I don’t have time to exercise. Really.

This weekend I’m a single parent. Michael and Janelle, off on their biannual camping trip for the Indian Princess program, are ditching me for a cabin in the woods.

Better him than me, I say. I hate camping. Nothing is more miserable to me than waking up outside in freezing weather. If I lived in prehistoric times, I would have been the biggest diva cavewoman in the tribe. And most likely killed by my own clan for excessive whining. So I gladly wave and kiss them good-bye as I stay snuggly and warm in my 21st century abode.

But that leaves all chauffeuring responsibilities to me this weekend and between the school dance, soccer, a bar mitzvah, a birthday party and field hockey tryouts, I’m not sure I can get it all in. Plus, somewhere in there I’m supposed to find time to exercise. When exactly is that supposed to happen? The only time I have free is between 10 pm and 6 am and I kind of plan on sleeping then.

My dilemma reminded me of a study I recently read about the amount of exercise that’s required to be healthy.

Federal guidelines suggest getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, and that’s still the goal. BUT, according to Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), even small amounts of aerobic exercise help lower coronary heart disease risk.

Jacob Sattelmair, author of the AHA study said, "Even a little bit of activity makes a significant difference." And by a little bit, he means 10 to 15 minutes a day.

Thus while we still need to try and get our required 150 minutes in, on the weeks where life intervenes, doing something, even a small activity is still beneficial.

This is fabulous news. For some reason I tend to think of exercise as a one-hour gym experience and if my schedule doesn’t accommodate that kind of time, I don’t do it at all. And what this new study suggests is that even if you do a little exercise, you’re still impacting your health in a good way.

So, while I might struggle to carve out two hours of gym-time this weekend, I can squeeze in a quick walk with Snickers around the neighborhood and stroll around the soccer field while simultaneously watching Grant’s game. (Which I’m going to have to do to keep warm because the game is at 8 o’clock in the morning. Who makes up these schedules anyway? A polar bear?) 

Exercise isn’t an all-or-nothing concept. Every little bit does help.

Friday, October 14

EUI: Eating Under the Influence

I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not talking about gorging on nachos and cheesy fries after consuming alcohol. I’m talking about eating under the influence of friends.

A recent study by researchers Nicholas Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Harvard University and James Fowler, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, alleges that obesity is contagious. That’s right. These scientists are suggesting that you can catch it from your friends, just like you catch the flu.

Sound preposterous? Here’s their theory.

After analyzing data from 12,067 subjects over a 32-year time frame, the scientists found that friends, and friends of friends, had similar levels of obesity.

They proposed three theories for why this might happen:

  • One is homophily—the tendency to choose friends like oneself. (The whole “birds of a feather flock together” idea.)
  • The second explanation is, when people share the same environment they’re affected similarly.
  • The third explanation is that obesity is contagious. Their rationale is that a person’s idea of an acceptable weight or portion size changes when he sees how big his friends are or how much they eat. Thus people alter their own behavior to match their friends.

Specifically, Christakis and Fowler said, “We find that a person’s chances of becoming obese increase by 57% if they have a friend who becomes obese, 40% if they have a sibling who becomes obese, and 37% if a spouse becomes obese.”

Additionally, they noted that, “Mutual friends more than triple the risk to each other. If one of the two [mutual friends] becomes obese, the chance for the other to follow suit goes up 171%.”

Taking their theory to an extreme, they’re suggesting that a small group of individuals started the whole obesity epidemic.

Well, you can imagine the firestorm of criticism that has come their way since the study’s publication. Behavioral scientists argued that their methodology was “flawed” and that you can’t draw those kind of conclusions based on mere observations of how people behave. And then the statisticians got involved, stating that it is mathematically impossible to separate the three explanations, they are too intertwined.

I’m no scholar, so I’ll let those smarter than me debate the study’s accuracy.

I don’t subscribe to their “obesity is contagious” theory. I believe we have more control over our personal behavior and I don’t think you can blame the obesity epidemic on the obese. There are a myriad of factors in our society that contribute to the problem. That seems like a lot of unnecessary finger pointing to me. But the study did make me think about the influence of friends and specifically when I tend to overindulge.

For me, certain environments, not people, are the issue. My trigger environment is a party. Being around friends and family having a good time, eating and drinking is a tempting situation for me. I want to join the fun, have one more glass of wine or indulge in some sinful sugary concoction if everyone else is doing it.

When I think about the question, “If your friends were all jumping off a cliff would you do it too?”

My answer is, “If there was a party at the bottom, you betcha!”

So how do you stop temptation from taking over? From letting these situations sabotage your weight goals?

I fall back on a couple of basic In8 principals:

1) Self-awareness. You have to know what environments and situations are difficult for you and have a plan to address them.

2) Eat every three to four hours. If I have a healthy snack I’m much less likely to overindulge, regardless of what’s in front of me or what environment I’m in.

3) Stay hydrated. Experts suggest that oftentimes we mistake hunger for thirst. If you stay hydrated you’re likely to eat less.

4) Write it down. Whenever I feel like I’m going off track I restart my food journal. There’s nothing like writing down exactly what you’re consuming to highlight your bad choices and get you back into healthier habits.

In the end we’re in control of our life. We choose every day what to focus on, what makes our priority list. And hanging out with friends is always high on the list for me. I just need to snack and drink some water before I go!

Tuesday, October 11

Carter Mountain Orchard

Last week I wrote about apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville. Since we had a three-day weekend and the weather was spectacular, we headed there on Sunday.

A word of warning: the crowd is insane. It's absolute chaos. If you're headed there on a weekend just relax and practice your meditative breathing as you sit in a long line of cars up the mountain road to the Apple Barn. It is worth it though. The scenery is wonderful and the apples are so delicious. We came home with Fuji, Golden Delicious and Stayman varieties and a gallon of yummy cider.

What a beautiful way to spend the afternoon. Check out the photos from our adventure below.

Apples ripe on the vine. I can't remember the variety.
My best guess is Stayman.

This is why I love this place. You have a beautiful view west
toward the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Arriving at the Apple Barn. I'm in pink, Amanda's in red,
Grant is in blue and Janelle's holding my hand.

Looking for some low hanging Golden Delicious apples.
There were none, unless you wanted the rotten ones
on the ground.

The elusive Golden Delicious. 

Without an apple picker (a long pole with a basket
on the end) this is the only way to get
some of the apples.

Thursday, October 6

Food Spotlight: Apple

First, a moment of silence to honor Steve Jobs, the co-founder, visionary and technological whiz that created Apple Computer, who died yesterday.

Like many people, Apple products fill our house. I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro. I have Apple TV, an iPhone, iPod and all my kids have an iTouch. We are such fans of all-things-Apple that we have numerous older versions of iPods scattered around the house like dirty socks, stuffed in drawers, old gym bags and in between the cushions of the sofa. I love the products he created, I admire his vision and passion and am deeply saddened by his passing.

As a small tribute, I dedicate this blog to him. The topic of course, is the apple.

The end of summer marks the end of berry season—a sad moment indeed. But luckily, apple season is in full swing.

Apples have been around since, well, since Adam and Eve. Maybe it’s because of this history, this ancient reputation and familiarity that they fell out of favor. The media, always looking for splashy new headlines, has recently been espousing the attributes of more exotic fruits like pomegranate, acai berry and goji berry.

Sometimes old stuff is really just that, old and tired, like my stirrup pants and big hair. Those relics belong in the past never to be seen again. But sometimes, old stuff is a classic, like the little black dress and Chanel No. 5. The apple might not be fancy, but it’s a classic. One that has a plethora of health benefits deserving of its adage at keeping the doctor away.

A recent study found that eating apples lowers cholesterol levels, plaque and inflammation in artery walls. Another study published by Dianne A. Hyson, PhD, RD, a nutritionist and researcher at the University of California at Davis, states that “in addition to their cardiovascular benefits, there’s some evidence that apples help regulate blood sugar and control appetite, protect against cancer and safeguard the lungs.”

And they’re full of fiber, Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, Vitamin A, thiamin, magnesium and phosphorus.

Huh. And here I thought they were just a simple, easy snack to throw in my kid’s lunchbox.

Since we’re in the heart of apple season might I suggest an outing this weekend? Apple picking. We love Carter Mountain Orchard outside Charlottesville. On a sunny day it’s absolutely beautiful and there’s something about gathering your own food, seeing how it’s grown and enjoying the outdoors that make this a fun, family activity.

Carter Mountain is Open Daily from 9:00 am — 6:00 pm. (Extended hours on Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 am – 7:00 pm). Click here for directions.

Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Fuji, Granny Smith, Stayman, York and Winesap varieties are ready now. (My favs are Golden Delicious, Jonagold and Fuji).

If you’re not quite sure what to do with all those apples, try making homemade applesauce. It’s really easy and if you select sweeter varieties you don’t need to add sugar. E.g., sweet apples are Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Winesap, McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady. Use a mix of apple varieties for a really flavorful dish.

Here’s a quick and easy applesauce recipe.

                1 teaspoon cinnamon
                4 apples, cored, peeled and chopped
                ½ teaspoon nutmeg
                2 tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until apples become very tender, about 30 minutes. Puree in a food processor or mash with a potato masher.


Wednesday, September 28

Aging, Schmaging

With age comes wisdom
                                          — Oscar Wilde

“...and crappy eyesight, weight gain, menopause and a pillbox that looks like a candy store.”
                                         — Dianna Stiles

This November I’ll have a milestone birthday, 45, and honestly, I’m kind of freaking out. Up until now I could say, “I’m 40-ish” or “early 40s.” But now, 50 is looming.

I try and rationalize with myself. “Remember how young, inexperienced and scared you were in your 20s (and 30s), Dianna? You’re so much stronger now, more confident, more in control.” I reassure myself.

Yes, I definitely wouldn’t want to go back there mentally, but physically…you betcha!

Just last week I told my personal trainer Will, “I would love to go back to my 20s but with the mind of my 40s.”

That, my friends, would be something.

Of course it’s just a fantasy. My time travel machine isn’t up and running yet. (I’m having trouble procuring enriched uranium from my Iranian contacts.) So I’m stuck here, with my almost 45-year-old brain and body. And I swear, I’m deteriorating at the speed of light.

You know how kids grow in spurts? I’m wondering, do we degenerate in spurts too?

Since last year, I can’t read the dosage requirements on a medicine bottle unless there’s so much light in the room you’d think I was standing on the sun. My Lasik surgery that I had years ago is starting to wane as I need glasses to drive at night. Even though my eating and exercise habits have been stable over the last 12 months I put on a couple of pounds. And I’m always, always cold. I’m going to be one of those old ladies that wears a down parka in Florida.

You’d think that all of this would get me down. And sometimes it does. There are days when I want to throw in the towel, plop down on the couch with a Costco-sized bag of Cheetos, a box of Kleenex and a dozen chick flicks. But I don't. 

I’ve decided that my new motto is: “With age comes belligerence.”

If aging wants to try and bring me down, then fine, give it your best shot.

I’ve just loaded up my yellow pillbox with a multi-vitamin. I’m stepping up my number of weekly workouts. I’ve got a 32 oz cup of water next to my desk to remind me to hydrate. And I’m thinking about getting one of those big, bouncy exercise balls to sit on instead of my desk chair.

I will not go quietly into the night. I might be almost-45, but I’m still full of energy, and anger, yeah, mostly anger. But that rage fuels me.

If you’re struggling to maintain your healthy habits, if the process of aging makes you feel like you can’t win, don’t give up. Just get belligerent. You can do this. You can kick aging’s butt too.

Friday, September 23

Reward Yourself

You just nailed a difficult presentation. Made a tough sale. Negotiated a raise. Or got your picky toddler to eat carrots. Woo hoo! It’s time to celebrate. What do you choose?

Pop the cork on some nice vino? Splurge with dinner and dessert at your favorite restaurant? Or, skip dinner and just go for dessert?

When I think of rewarding myself it’s always with food. Why is that?

Just yesterday, I caught myself in the following internal dialogue. I had just completed a hour-long cycle class and on the drive home said to myself,  “Wow, you did  a great job, probably burned a lot of calories. You should stop by Chick Fil A and grab your favorite drink—a large half-sweet, half-unsweetened iced tea. You’ve earned it.”

You might be thinking, so what? Right. How can one big ol’ tea hurt?

Well, I know from experience that once I start that kind of self-talk, I end up in the drive-thru lane every day for about a week. And my workout schedule does not compensate for the huge amounts of tea I will drink. Thank God Chick Fil A is closed on Sunday, that usually breaks the spell.

I’m learning to reward myself differently. I’m trying (sometimes not so successfully) to break this cycle because it’s sabotaging my healthy habits.

If you’re struggling with the same issue, here are some ideas on non-food related rewards.

     Schedule and hour-long massage or other spa service
     Get a manicure or pedicure at your favorite salon
     Buy some new exercise clothes
     Buy a new shade of lipstick (Or for the boys, a new cologne. I guess boys can buy lipstick too. I would just stick to a clear matte finish. Just sayin’.)
     Purchase some new jewelry or other fun accessories (belts, purses and oh my God, shoes! New shoes are the best.)
     Download some new music
     Plan an active weekend getaway (Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway are less than two hours away and beautiful!)
     Go to a sporting event (just steer clear of the nachos and beer. And the hot dogs. And burgers.)

Got any to add to the list? I’m always looking for new ideas.

Friday, September 16

Life Support, We All Need It to be Successful

A couple of studies were just released stating that commercial weight loss programs (like In8) were more successful at getting people to lose weight than simply following a doctor’s advice.
I hate to be flip, but, duh.
Doctors can’t mandate change. When’s the last time a doctor said, “You should quit smoking” and the patient responded, “Oh my God! That’s a great idea. I’ll quit now,” and it worked? If it was that simple we wouldn’t have obesity, addiction problems or a host of other lifestyle illnesses.
We know what we should be doing, the struggle is how to do it.
And primary care doctors are not really in a position to help us. They don’t have the time, or frankly the bedside manner, to assist someone through a lifestyle change.
That’s why commercial programs are better. When you’re trying to make a significant change in your life—quit smoking, lose weight, eat better, increase your physical activity—you need to be surrounded by people that are encouraging, informed and hold you accountable. It’s like boot camp or being in the trenches of war. You bond through adversity, celebrating successes, picking each other up after you fall down and providing encouragment when you need it most. A well-timed, "You can do this." or "I believe in you."goes a long way.
Everyone needs that kind of life support.

One of the key components of my success in the In8 program has been their personal trainer, Marq Mckenney. He has the unique gift of pushing me right to the edge of my abilities but never lets me fail. His constant support and encouragement have kept me motivated for over a year. I’ve never stuck with anything that long! Well, except my marriage, but that’s a legal contract so I’m not sure that counts.

Unfortunately for me and the other members of the In8 program, Marq is leaving us. With the impending addition of a baby boy, he’s accepted a position that will allow him to spend more time with his growing family. (I’ve told him how selfish that is but he’s steadfast on putting his family first.)

While I will miss him, I’m excited to welcome Will Parker, Marq’s replacement. Young and energetic, Will has already said he’s got plans for me. Something to do with kettlebells? (Dear God help me!)

To start things off right, I figure I’ll give Will a little hazing. After all, he’s got some big shoes to fill.

For my first trick, I’ve developed a list of exercises I’m incapable of doing. And by “incapable” I mean, “I hate them and would really prefer not to do them.” I’ll make something up for Will about why I can’t do these (sore shoulder, weak heart, bad hair day), but listed below are the real reasons I hate them.

Why I’m “incapable” of doing them

Jump squats
They make my heart beat faster than a hummingbird’s. I’m sure they’re a pre-cursor to a heart attack.

Ball pass
The constant contraction of my abdominal muscles causes them to seize up. That can’t be a good thing.

Reverse pull-up
These are just mean.

Fast feet
See excuse under “jump squats.”

I’ve had three children. You cannot make me jump up and down repeatedly without prior warning. And a trip to the bathroom.

Dear Will, my young apprentice, take note. You’ve got your hands full with me. I will test the boundaries of your supportiveness. Good luck.