Thursday, July 21

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Howdy, from the Lone Star state!

Texas has never been my favorite place. It’s hot (currently 100 degrees), dusty, flat and enormous. Once inside its borders there’s nothing but cattle, cowboys, oil and heat for 270,000 square miles. (That’s six times bigger than Virginia.) And unfortunately, escaping to greener pastures isn’t an option. With neighbors like Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, well, you might as well stay put.

It’s not all bad of course. Dallas is a shopper’s mecca. You can’t drive 100 feet without encountering a mall. And the Texans’ affinity for guns and God has always intrigued me. They practice their faith and their shooting skills with equal amounts of passion.

But my favorite thing about Texas is the fabulous Mexican cuisine. Good Mexican food uses chilies, limes, cumin, coriander, cilantro, and garlic to spice things up, creating a delicious combination of flavors. 

In celebration of my Texas vacation, here are some tips for making your next Mexican dining experience tasty and healthy.

Switch the chips
I know. The chips and salsa are one of the best parts of the meal. But the chips are loaded with empty calories and it’s impossible to eat just a few. Instead order some guacamole and ask for some cucumber or jicama sticks for dipping. You’ll benefit from the nutrient-dense fiber-rich avocados and never miss the chips. Just watch your portion size, guacamole is high in calories.

Skip the margarita
A typical restaurant margarita can pack a whopping 550 calories (as much as a Big Mac). If you’d like to splurge ask the bartender for a real one, made with tequila, lime juice and triple sec, not one from a mix. Or choose a light beer instead. Corona Light has only 105 calories.

Think outside the tortilla
Move away from the familiar tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, flautas and chimichangas. These dishes are all prepared with flour or corn tortillas (a diet buster!). Instead look for grilled options like pollo asada (grilled marinated chicken) with pico de gallo salsa or grilled skirt steak with onions and chilies. Fajitas are a good choice too, just pass on the tortillas and eat the ingredients.

Switch sides
Refried beans are typically cooked with lard adding a lot of fat and calories. Switch out the traditional refried beans and rice for black beans or a side salad.

Salsa is your friend
Packed with tomatoes and chilies salsa is a great condiment. And with only four or five calories in a tablespoon it’s diet-friendly too. Use it instead of sour cream, guacamole and cheese to add some kick to your dish.

Wednesday, July 13

The Downside of Aging

It’s happening. My joints pop and crack like fireworks on Chinese New Year as I descend the stairs every morning. No longer can I deny that I’m getting older.

As if that wasn’t enough, last January I hurt my right hip.

In an effort to change up my workout routine I started using the elliptical machine. My body was clearly not built for that type of back and forth motion. After two weeks my hip told me to stop, but because I’m an idiot, I continued exercising assuming it would just work itself out. Good plan.

By the end of February, my hip voiced its objections loud enough that I was forced to stop using the machine. But it was too late, the damage was done.

I began a steady regiment of ibuprofen and hope. Not the best treatment plan but like I said, I’m an idiot. You’d think that since I write about health and wellness every week I would know when to seek medical attention. You’d think, right? But living in the Internet age I use Google as my doctor and Dr. Google said I probably had bursitis or tendonitis. Either way, ibuprofen, ice and rest were the standard protocol for care.

Fast-forward to early June. I’m popping ibuprofen like an addict, my hope has faded and the pain is now radiating down from my hip to my knee. It took six months, but finally it was time for action.

Since June I’ve been under the expert care of a massage therapist at The Advanced Wellness Centre and, oh my God, what a difference. My flexibility is coming back and the pain has subsided. I even hiked over four miles this past weekend through Shenandoah National Park, a feat I didn’t think I was going to be able to accomplish.

Most people think of massage as a luxury, a pampering experience you only do on vacation. But research is proving that massage is a real healing therapy.

Even the Mayo Clinic acknowledges that while more research is needed, studies have found massage helpful for:

  • Stress relief
  • Managing anxiety and depression
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Blood pressure control
  • Infant growth
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Boosting immunity
  • Cancer treatment 
Given my recent experience, I now make massage therapy a regular part of my health and wellness plan. 

For more information on the benefits of massage click here.

Finally, don’t be like me. If you're experiencing any persistent health issues talk to your physician. As much as I love Dr. Google, she's no match for face-to-face care.

Tuesday, July 5

Hunger Pains

Two weeks ago Michael and I took the kids to Cape Cod to join some friends for the weekend. We frolicked in the waves, (well at least the kids did, and only up to their ankles, the water was a chilly 68 degrees), biked along the trails of the national seashore, walked the streets of Provincetown, Massachusetts, played games and chatted nonstop for 72 hours, catching up with our friends whom we hadn’t seen in two years.

Our time together was far too short and reluctantly we got up Monday morning and prepared to leave. We grabbed a quick breakfast of bagels and cream cheese in order to get all eight children, four adults and one dog packed up and out the door by check-out time, 9:00 a.m.

With hugs and promises to get together again soon, we hit the road, only 10 minutes late.

Traveling down I-195 my stomach started rumbling about 10:30 a.m. By 11 o'clock I was starving. And I’m not talking just a little bit hungry. It was the kind of hunger that makes me crave a Chick-fil-A sandwich, large waffle fry and extra-large sweet tea. And, standing at the counter with the beautiful pictures of their hand-spun milkshakes glaring at me, I'll order one of those too.

I was having a food crisis.

Thankfully, Chick-fil-A doesn't grow that far north. I guess Yankees aren't big fans of fried chicken sandwiches.

Momentarily saved from my bad food cravings, I began Googling restaurant options on my iPhone plotting exactly where we should eat.

What is wrong with me? I wondered. I’m rarely this famished. Crap, I thought, am I pregnant? (No.) Is it that I'm in such peak physical condition that I burn calories like Michael Phelps? (Uh, no.) Am I just a pig? (Maybe, but not this time.) Then I remembered, I had a bagel for breakfast, that’s what did it. I had unknowingly jumped on the high Glycemic Index (GI) hunger spiral and this was the result.

High GI Foods Hunger Cycle

The glycemic index measures how fast and how much a food raises your blood sugar levels. High GI foods (like bagels, chips, cookies, candy etc.) spike your blood sugar rapidly which leads to the inevitable blood sugar crash. This fluctuation causes increased hunger and cravings for more high GI foods. A vicious cycle of overeating has begun.

Yup. There I was, half-way through the cycle, getting ready to round the bend and pound down some more bad food.

One thing I've learned on this journey toward health and wellness is to listen to my body. Recognizing what was going on, I knew I needed some protein and vegetables to stabilize my blood sugar and get back on track. (If I'd had some nuts in the car that would have been a great snack option, but I didn't.) 

We stopped at the Brick Alley Pub in Newport, Rhode Island. A fabulous little place where I got a bowl of turkey, mushroom and spinach soup plus half a vegetarian panini. Yummy!

My hunger satiated, I was fueled up and ready to explore the mansions of Newport, our activity for the day. (They were extraordinary, by the way. What displays of wealth and extravagance.)

The experience reminded me about the importance of a decent breakfast. As I gear up for more travel at the end of this month, I realize I need to prepare better. I need quick, portable, low GI breakfast options (yogurt, fruit and oatmeal) plus healthy snacks for the car (protein bars and nuts). 

Next time, I'll be prepared. And if not, we'll be traveling to Texas. I think they have Chick-fil-A there.

For more information about the glycemic index see these sites.