Jacked: Trash Your Diet – A Twist to Going Green

Trash your dietOften when someone is told to ‘go green’ we think of the usual: hybrid cars, bicycling to work, clothing made of hemp, eating organic food. Here’s a new idea – go green with your trash! If you want to lose weight and get healthy, a great place for you to start isn’t necessarily with what’s in your cabinets or fridge but what’s in your trash can.

There’s that old adage of “you are what you eat.” Yet, often we’re afraid to look at what we’re eating. When we toss something away, we’re done with it. It’s out of our hands, no longer of interest to us, has no value anymore. Ah, but so you think! What ends up in our trash cans is a direct reflection of who we are and what we’re consuming. What would someone find if they went through your kitchen trash can today? Perhaps leftovers over the course of the week; discarded cereal boxes or candy wrappers; spoiled fruit. If you’re trying to lose weight but feel overwhelmed and confused about where to start, head to your trash can and take a look at what’s inside.

Your trash is often a reflection of your diet and your living lifestyle. Is your trash nothing but frozen food boxes, potato chip packages, candy wrappers? Then obviously the question is where is all the natural, living, healthy food? If your trash is full of spoiled food and leftovers you never consumed, then the question should be why did that much food go to waste? Was it a bad recipe, was it that your eyes were bigger than your belly, the knowledge that what you were eating was too much for you or that you didn’t even want it to begin with? Your trash is far more valuable than you realize in terms of getting healthy. To figure out where you need to go with your weight loss and nutrition plan, first you must honestly acknowledge where you are today.

Trash is disgusting and often times nasty. That’s why we often turn our noses to it, look away and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s also very intimate and revealing, a part of our self and our lives we wouldn’t dare want a stranger to waddle through. I’ve found that people hate reading nutrition labels not so much because it’s a chore but because it reveals the truth: we KNOW we don’t need 800 mg of sodium or that high fructose corn syrup is what’s giving us that bulge and cottage cheese thighs. Trash is the same way. If you examine what’s in your trash bins, you’ll find it reveals that you want to think that you’re healthy but your ‘diet’ consists of frozen foods pumped full of chemicals, fattening agents, calories and salt; it reveals that you’d like people to think of you as a health nut but the ratio of organic produce to canned veggies drenched in salt and syrups; that basic everyday products you use aren’t all that natural because they’re formed and created in a dark lab somewhere and contain chemicals you can’t pronounce let alone reveal what they are doing to your body.

So, step away from the computer and spend some time sorting through your trash. I actually did an experiment for a week where I kept two trash bags in the kitchen area: one for anything food or produce, another for everything else. During that first week, the bag for produce and vegetables was heavy: it contained cantaloupe rinds, asparagus stalks, some pasta that had gone bad due to a bad recipe that made it a bit disgusting to eat. The ‘other’ bag had some coco puffs cereal boxes, plastic produce bags from the grocery store, junk mail. The bag full of discarded produce and food was heavy but it wasn’t really wasted food – it was stalks of vegetables, rinds of fruit, apple cores.

If the food in your trash can is actual food and meals, ask yourself why that meal was wasted. This is how you modify your diet to fit your weight loss needs. Was it just too much for you? Often, due to a lack of portion control, we fix more than is needed. We waste food and ingredients due to a lack of planning. If you’re single, why are you carrying out a recipe fit for 2 or 3 servings? Why aren’t you automatically making your own frozen food meal by dividing the portions and freezing what you aren’t eating? You should take one day (an hour or two) figuring out what sort of meals you’d like for the week. Get the ingredients together, cook your meals, package/freeze them so that everything is ready for you to eat for the week rather than you having to come in and cook each day after work. This would probably transform your trash can: no longer would it be full of frozen food cartons or fast food trash – it’d be full of healthier food.

If your trash is lacking in vegetables and fruit, change it. Don’t rely on juices to get your daily quota of fruit of vegetables – check the trash for a juice container and check the label. Does that label say you’re drinking 100% juice? In most cases, it doesn’t, and the first ingredient is usually water or something from concentrate.  Make this a game or mission – it’s extreme Garbage Makeover! You’ve got two bags, just 7 days, and the bag designated for food/produce trash must be more than the bag for all other trash. You want to reduce the amount of fast food trash, soda bottles, frozen dinner cartons in your trash. You want heft to your garbage, but not waste – you want vegetable stalks and skins, fruit peels and cores, evidence that not only did your week involve eating fruit but you actually ATE it and didn’t waste it.

If you really want to give this trash diet plan a green twist, see how much you can reduce your trash and how much your ‘trash’ becomes organic waste. Then take that organic waste and turn it into compost. What would you do with compost? You’d construct a small raised bed behind your home and grow your own vegetables there! So your trash would therefore bring you more ‘green’ because you could reduce how much money you’re spending in the grocery store! See, there’s value in what you’re used to throwing away.

Stop being ignorant when it comes to having no idea what you’re eating. Your trash is a good place to start when trying to get healthy. You want more organic waste in your trash and less paper and packages – why? Because most processed, bad food, comes in packages with the exception of frozen vegetables. You don’t even want a lot of cleaning bottles, aerosol cans, products with long lists of hard-to-understand chemicals in your trash. Why? Because these are items you use throughout your living space and the more chemicals you use, the more toxins and chemicals you’re exposed to. Being exposed to too many toxins and chemicals leads to ill feelings, insomnia, nausea, head aches and even weight gains. Reduce the products you use and opt for more organic, ‘green’ options that will reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. Your body and wallet (in terms of the money you spend on health and wellness each year and doctor visits) will thank you.

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Jacked: Unconventional methods of losing weight, shedding fat

Today, weather wise, was  a glorious day here in North Carolina. Blue skies, temperatures in the high 6os, shirtless hot male runners abound. Let’s face it, folks. Though parts of the country are bracing for more winter weather, we’re nearing close to Spring which means we’ll be giving the finger to all of this snow, frigid temps and saying hello to warmer temps, shorts, shirtless runs and skin-baring outfits. Or will we?

The problem many guys face this time of year is the realization that we’ve really let ourselves go over the past few months. At the end of summer you may have had an awesome body from all the outdoors running you did, how well you ate, the motivation you had to stay fit so that you could rock that awesome gym bod you worked hard for … just to hit the winter and the holidays to let it all go. First came Thanksgiving when you eased up a bit to make room for all the turkey and trimmings; then came Christmas with all the parties and festivities and to top everything, you let your entire fitness plan drop like the ball on New Year’s Eve. Now here we are at the end of January, approaching a new month, and getting closer to that season where we’re going to baring skin and showing off for all the hot boys (or girls for those bi guys).

So, we all know that February is the shortest month of the year. Really, it’ll be here and gone before you know it and March will bring with it more warmer days as spring officially starts. So, is it too late for you to reclaim that awesome pre-holiday body by the time spring starts in March? Yes. You could easily start eating better, slash carbs, cut out sugars and basically be a tad bit miserable for the next few weeks or you could get a bit experimental and try some new tricks that may jump start your weight loss and fitness plan. You may or may not have heard about a controversial new book by Tim Ferriss titled The 4-Hour Body. In the book Ferriss writes about some uncommon things you can do to speed your fat-loss that’ll lead to a healthier you. I haven’t read the book but I have seen Ferriss make his rounds on the talk shows to talk about his book and different tips. He was recently on The Dr. Oz Show where Dr. Oz looked closely at three of Ferriss’ recommendations and somewhat endorsed them. So, it’s clear we don’t have much time to get our body in order and perhaps Ferriss’ speedy fat loss method will suit our needs. Here are some interesting, uncommon methods that could help you shed that winter weight and get the body you’ll want to show off in a few weeks:

1) Eat 30 grams of protein within 3o minutes of waking up. It’s always been recommended that you eat breakfast every morning and that you eat it soon after waking up to stoke your metabolism. Eating 30 grams of protein hasn’t been a common recommendation because that could translate into eating something like 5 eggs, which many would consider a heart-attack waiting to happen. Eating protein early in the day not only revs up your metabolism (leading to more calories being burned) but will give you a shot of energy that you’ll benefit from throughout the day. Know how you feel sluggish after lunch? It’s probably due to a lack of protein. The protein you consume at breakfast doesn’t have to be from eggs. Re-think breakfast and look at it as your first chance to fuel your body and muscles. You could easily consume a protein shake (whey) or even eat some tuna. Yes, these aren’t necessarily seen as breakfast staples but don’t you want a faster metabolism, less fat covering your abs and more muscle to impress all the boys in the yard? Thought so.

2) Ice Therapy. One of a guy’s favorite phrases seems to be “chillin'” and if you take that phrase literally, you could actually lose weight! You can trigger hormones in your body that are responsible for fat burning by lowering your body temperature. The colder you are, the more work and effort it takes your body to do simple tasks. Think about the summer and how easy it is for you to run and sweat. Now think about running during the winter. You don’t sweat as much, but you’re cold and you probably think you’re burning fewer calories. Wrong! The colder you are, the more calories you’ll burn when you work out because the (brown) fat in your body will work harder to keep you warm. Ice therapy can be done in a variety of ways including placing and holding ice packs on your upper back, cold showers and by taking ice baths. Ferriss recommends saving ice baths for later on in your ice therapy routines and limiting them to 10 minutes, 3 times a week.

3) Pig out once a week. This is the most controversial of Ferriss’ recommendations. He says you should allow yourself one day out of each week to let go, eat whatever the heck you want regardless of its nutritional value and that by pigging out once a week, you’ll actually lose weight. You may scratch your head at that but there’s some validity to it. Spiking your calories once a week if you’re eating healthy the other 6 days out of the week isn’t going to wreck your fitness plan is actually a common recommendation. I know, I know. There are guys you’ll encounter in the gym who will say they eat healthy every fricken day of the week, every month, every year and have sworn off anything that has sugar or fat in it and they’ll look ripped and will make you green with envy. Then there are guys who look ripped and have rippling abs who will tell you that they eat everything from McDonalds to cake and ice cream and yet it doesn’t show. What gives? It’s allowing yourself to eat the foods you crave that’ll actually benefit your diet plan. Many people find it hard to eat healthy because they think the commitment has to last a lifetime. Then they cave, they indulge, and give up on eating healthy ever again. Sound like your last relationship?

Indulge. It’s good for you. But do it in moderation and include  a “cheat” day in your week. My recommendation is to have your cheat day land on a weekday rather than a weekend because if you allow yourself to indulge on a Saturday, you’ll carry it over and give yourself a pass to indulge on a Sunday and the bad eating will snowball into the week. Unlike Ferriss, I don’t recommend or endorse an entire day of pigging out. I am behind a “pig out” meal once a week including a somewhat unhealthy appetizer, main course and dessert. It’s also found that before you pig out you can help direct where the calories from the meal will go – either to your muscles as fuel or to fat, by drinking a little grapefruit juice before your pig out meal and doing a bit of exercise after your bad meal within an hour of consuming it. Did you slip up during the week? Do body squats for a minute. This simple move can help you use the calories from the cheat meal as fuel rather than having it store on your body as fat.

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Jacked: 6 Nutrition Tricks to Burn Fat, Build Muscle

If you’re a gay guy you probably see it all too often on sites like Manhunt or Grindr – guys who claim to have a muscular build who are really robust and fat. If you’re in the gym you may also notice all the guys who seem to live in the gym but hardly look like it. What gives? You see, guys are really good about working out and lifting weights. They are also really dumb when it comes to nutrition and what they’re putting into their bodies.

If you’re hoping to get ripped and think you can do it with just exercise, you’re not going to get the results you want. Hell, you’re really just wasting your time and venturing to the gym to cruise and check out guys in their jocks in the locker room. If you’re serious about getting into shape and living a healthy lifestyle, you need to wisen up about what you’re consuming. You would be surprised how something as simple as your choice of beverage can impact everything from the fat that covers your abs to how many added years you have tact on to the end of your life to enjoy. Below are 6 tips and easy tricks that will have you not only shedding some heavy weight but will also leave you feeling energized and ready to tackle whatever life throws at you. You want to burn fat and see muscle without having to spend hours in the gym, right? Of course. Then make these minor tweaks to your daily habits to see impressive results:

1. Ditch coffee and switch to green tea. You probably think tea is for real queens but green tea is for anyone looking to speed up their weight loss. There are dozens of studies and sites hyping the greatness of green tea and for the most part, you should believe them all. A study done last year reported that a combination of green tea extract and caffeine resulted in more weight loss than just caffeine alone. A lot of muscle guys and studies will quickly tell you that caffeine is great for you but few will tell you that the caffeine in tea, green tea specifically, can rev up your metabolism naturally. Oh, and did I mention green tea will boost your immune system, keeping you healthy all year long and will cut your risk of various diseases? Drink 3-4 cups each day. The Benefit: You’ll burn an additional 3,500-10,000 calories each month if you do this daily.

2. Boost your testosterone with supplements. Yes, lifting weight does naturally boost your testosterone and you may feel quite manly as you lift and squat for the boys in the gym but you still aren’t getting enough testosterone flowing. University of Connecticut has done research and recommends taking 2 grams of L-carnitine each day before your lift. Why? It can increase the number of testosterone receptors in your body by 13%. The more receptors you have, the better your testosterone will be able to help you recover and grow more muscle.

3. Drink a protein shake before you workout. The standard has been to workout and then you enjoy a protein shake afterward. Wrong. To give your body a boost of energy that will help you workout better and perform your exercises with more vigor, drink that shake before you workout. Your body will be thankful for the boost of nutrients and while working out will better use them than if you were to consume them afterward. This simple move increases the uptake of amino acids in your body by 79% and it’s those amino acids that are used by your body to build muscle, not the weight you’re lifting.

4. Weigh in often. Oh, don’t be a little gurly man – step up on the scale and do it often. You shouldn’t be weighing yourself for the sake of comparing your weight to other guys but as a way to track your progress. Listen guys, everyone is a different height and therefore there’s no real standard of what’s skinny and what’s fat. Weighing yourself helps you figure out if you’re packing on pounds or if you’re slimming down. Tracking your weight, and what you eat for that matter, makes you feel more accountable. A 2008 study revealed that both women and men lost more weight when they weighed themselves at least once a month. I say weigh yourself once a week as a reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish with your health and training.

5. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Gay or straight, guys tend to think that eating steaks and meets is a good diet.  A guy will quickly run out for a burger or pizza but will often times forget to balance that diet with fruits and vegetables. You need to eat and for the most part, you need to eat often and lots of food to keep yourself fueled. Cut back on the meat for once and start deep throating some vegetables and fruits. Penn State did a study on people who ate a diet of mostly fruits and vegetables for 12 months and found that they lost more weight than those who followed so-called “low-fat” diets. Need more incentive? Doing this could help you lose 5-10 pounds each year.

6. Take creatine and beta-alanine for muscle growth and strength. Yes, creatine gives you an energy boost that you can use to pound out more sets in the gym but you’ll be able to do even more in the gym when you take creatine with beta-alanine. This will help you tire less easily when you’re training hard and so you’ll do more, and you’ll see greater results. Take 6 grams of beta-alanine along with your creatine each day you workout.

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Vegetarian 101: The All-Day Eating Plan

It’s funny; in today’s culture, we all want and seek quick fixes but big problems. How many times have you’ve heard of someone who wants to lose weight fast but yet they aren’t entirely willing to go the distance and get discouraged to find that really there’s no quick fix. When it comes to losing weight, and maintaining your weight after you’ve lost it, there IS a quick fix – vegetarianism. Oh, I know, the eye-rolls, the sighs, the thought of PETA and hippies trying to lecture you on the feelings of animals. Let’s skip that.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been dishing out the basics on vegetarianism. Let’s just say it gets a bad rep. People think that being a vegetarian isn’t all that much fun. They think all you have to eat is, well, vegetables. Bland, tasteless, raw vegetables. Who wants to eat that when there’s a world of great smelling, tasty, fatty meats and chemical-laden syrups and chemical experiments?

Well, I already covered how a vegetarian can tackle breakfast. There’s of course two other main meals of the day, not to mention the necessary re-fueling snacks to keep you going throughout the day. So, what’s lunch and dinner like for a vegetarian? Pretty boring? Not so. I found that becoming a vegetarian actually requires you to put MORE thought into what you eat, how you prepare it and what you’re eating. You see, the great thing about being vegetarian is that you should be eating healthier. You should be using more whole foods, natural foods, real foods instead of boxed, processed, “fake” foods.

Lunch actually starts long before mid-day. Here’s the issue with most people’s lunches: it’s their first meal of the day! Yes, people think breakfast is unnecessary or that they’re too pressed for time to indulge. So, lunch becomes the first meal of the day and people think that’s ok. They think it’s their time to indulge and go overboard because they, they haven’t eaten all day! Wrong. You’re wrecking yourself  by skipping breakfast and I wrote an entire post about breakfast and how to tackle it when you’re ditching meat for vegetables.

So, the first step in how to lunch as a vegetarian is to eat breakfast. Why? You’ll have food in your system and so lunch will be just another meal. If you’ve starved yourself all day until your lunch break, you’re likely to give into all your cravings and temptations. This means when you’re going out, McDonald’s and tons of other fast food options will look mighty desirable. If you are eating on a regular schedule throughout the day, not only will you feel satisfied and fuller through the day but you’ll rev up your metabolism and will burn more calories (and fat) throughout the day. Seems easy enough, doesn’t it?

People really underestimate the power of snacking. Snacking isn’t just for kids and grazing isn’t just for cows. Snacking is a fun break from the vegetables you should be eating during the main three meals of the day. This is when you may want to go for some healthy fats: avocados, nuts, olive oils. All of these fats will help you to feel fuller, contain essential vitamins and minerals, and fibers. Basically, you could easily snack and include fats in your diet and really not get fat by eating them! The problem with many freshman vegetarians is that they are scared of fats and deny themselves to the point of failure. Treat yourself with healthy snacks throughout the day like peanut butter, raw nuts, air-popped pop corn, carrot sticks and fruit and you’ll feel fuller throughout the day and wont go overboard at lunch or dinner.

If you’ve eaten breakfast and have snacked throughout the morning and early afternoon, lunch shouldn’t feel intimidating or that much of an ordeal. Have fun at lunch but don’t think you need to completely let loose to feel full. First, avoid fast food. Even these salads sold at places like Wendy’s at McDonalds can be calorie and waistline bombs. So, fix your own lunches. Salads seem like the go-to choice for vegetarians, which is fine. Buy romaine lettuce, mix in a variety of other green leafy vegetables such as spinach, add some raw nuts or sesame seeds and toss in some vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and broccoli and voila, you’ve got yourself a healthy, huge, low calorie lunch. Make your own salad dressing by mixing a little olive oil with any variety of vinaigrette to spare yourself the fat that’s packed into dressings like ranch.

There are of course other options for lunch. Try soups. The content is mostly water and it allows for you to enjoy some vegetables and a little pasta without over indulging. Another option could be the go-to meal of a veggie burger, but honestly, I’d avoid the veggie burger and save it for dinner. You can also keep healthy by having a peanut butter (all natural) sandwich coupled with a piece of fruit. My biggest tip for lunching as a vegetarian is to stop thinking of it as a meal that needs to be huge. It doesn’t have to be a large meal, it doesn’t need to be loaded with calories or fat, it doesn’t need to be complex or 3-courses. Think of lunch as a pit stop of the day. Breakfast is the starting line and lunch is when you stop to re-gas and get your tires checked up.

What happens after lunch? Again, keep lunch small and manageable and just as you should go into lunch having eaten a snack, you need to follow lunch with a snack before dinner. Snacking isn’t at all about indulging your cravings or your sweet tooth; snacking is about helping you to feel full so not to overcompensate or over eat at any given meal. So, again, fruit, nuts, peanut butter or even a healthy (note, healthy) smoothie is a great choice.

For me, dinner is the time to be a little indulgent. Breakfast through lunch you’ve eaten wisely and modestly. You’ve hopefully chosen meals and snacks that aren’t packed with calories or fat. For most people, dinner is the meal that comes with the most calories and fat. Earlier I suggested staying away from things like veggie burgers until you get to dinner. That’s because you should train yourself not to feel like every meal has to be big, huge and elaborate. If you start thinking of your meals as refueling opportunities to help sustain you rather than simple “meals” when you eat “just because”, you’ll start eating healthier and will choose your meals wisely.

So, are vegetables the only thing left for a vegetarian dinner? Yes and no. The key to going vegetarian and maintaining it is all in the spices. Think about it. When you eat meat, what’s so appealing about it? Could you eat chicken prepared the same way for weeks on end without getting bored? No, you’d vary it up – you’d bake it, fry it, grill it. You’d marinate it, saute it, season it. Think of your vegetables in the same way. Vegetables are very versatile and will take to seasonings very well. Crave Mexican food? Look up recipes for Mexican (or Chinese, Italian, Indian)  and what ingredients will go into your favorite dishes and simply use vegetables as the “meat” of the dish. Mushrooms are very versatile but don’t count out some less common vegetables: daikon, leeks, sweet potatoes, green onions and even fruits can all provide a burst of color and flavor to your dishes.

Unlike breakfast or lunch, dinner is when you can include a couple courses in your meal. Whole grains and whole wheats are good at dinner. Some recommend saving your carbs for dinner, which means you could pair your vegetables with pastas (again, whole wheat, none of that unhealthy white stuff). You’ll also want some fiber during your dinner – eat lentils and beans! These will help you maintain a healthy GI tract and will help your body to naturally flush out toxins and waste. Along with fiber comes protein and that’s when things like veggie burgers come in handy. I’d recommend checking out Morningstar Farms’ product line. They offer “veggie” options of some of your favorite meats – burgers, chik’n, turk’y … you’ll honestly grow so used to these healthy options that you’ll feel like you’re still eating meat. Check out Smart Options as well – they offer protein links (veggie hot dogs) and vegetarian versions of lunch meats, bbq and more. There are a host of other brands that also have produced healthy vegetarian-friendly versions of meats that come with less fats, fewer calories but increased fiber and protein.

So, what’s a vegetarian dinner look like? Well, it can be small or it can include more than one dish. You want variety here – a vegetarian “meat” option like a veggie burger, chik’n patty or turk’y; whole grains and wheat (pastas, bread); vegetables (beans, leafy greens, peppers, onions etc.). If you’ve eaten wisely throughout the day as you should you shouldn’t have the desire or need to go overboard at dinner. One serving of each should do it for you. Still hungry after dinner? SNACK. I cannot say it enough how important snacking is to eating wisely. Great late-night snacks include nuts, a mashed up avocado paired with whole grain chips, air-popped pop corn and for non-vegans, yogurt. Of course, a piece of fruit wouldn’t hurt you either.

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Vegetarian 101: Fighting Temptations

Over the past few days I’ve dedicated a few blog posts to the world of vegetarianism. I dealt with what being a vegetarian is and isn’t with my post “A Crash Course for Skeptics and Beginners” and then tackled the trickiest meal of the day with “Rethinking Breakfast”. At first, the next logical piece in the puzzle seemed to be a post about how to lunch (which is still in the works) but then it came to me: there’s another hurdle other than meal planning that keeps people out of the vegetarian and vegan world: staying committed.

People always ask me, when I choose to openly share that I’m vegetarian, if it’s hard. It’s the number one question other than “why?” and is usually followed with a stern declaration, “Well, I could never do it. Oh no, no way, I could never give up meat!” So when discussing or dealing with being or remaining a vegetarian, the biggest issue many people run into is fighting their cravings and temptations for “bad” food. Let’s say you’ve never tried being a vegetarian before. You don’t even know a vegetarian and you’re a bit afraid to ask around your circle of connections and friends because of what people will think. You believe they’ll think you’re on a diet, you think you’re fat, you want to starve yourself, you’re going to turn into a granola popping, hemp milk chugging hippie. Let’s face it: being an “out” vegetarian just isn’t what it’s made out to be. So what’s a girl or guy to do?

Well, here’s the first problem: you try to go vegetarian on the down low, in secret. This is a major misstep on your part. Who is going to hold you accountable? Who is going to help you stay on track and remind you of your commitment to a healthier eating style? Becoming a vegetarian in secret without informing anyone is like trying to move to a different state without letting your co-workers, friends and family know – they’ll notice you’re a bit ‘off’ and that something is going on with you and by the end you’ll realize you needed their help, and or them to be in the know, to help you make that move. So the first step in avoiding jumping ship is simply “outing” yourself as a vegetarian. Do it. It’s not easy, it’s a bit hard but if you want to have others supporting you, they need to know what you’re doing.

Here are other ways to avoid “bad” cravings and temptations:
1. Get real. I really despise books and experts that preach extremism. They want you to eat healthy by encouraging unhealthy habits! You need to accept that few people declare they are vegetarian and stay that way for the rest of their lives. Yes, it’s possible and perhaps to some it’s even ideal, but is it necessary? No. Understand, and accept, that there are going to be days when you simply have a little meat in one meal or so. If you’re invited to dinner at your parents or a birthday party, are you seriously going to be “that” person who makes everyone else uncomfortable by lecturing them on why you’re eating nothing because there’s meat involved or you’re afraid the meat contaminated the vegetables?
Deal with it: Try to go most of the weak being vegetarian eating “whole” foods. Eat fresh produce, frozen vegetables, fruit. Allow yourself a cheat meal during the weekend or if that’s too restricting or too little, allow yourself an entire cheat day to eat what you want, within reason. If you avoid some of the food you crave like say a burger, or steak, then the moment you “accidentally” go off course, you’ll never go back on. You’ll be such in a state of bliss and bathed in euphoria from caving into your craving that you’ll always seek that feeling and going back to the “extreme” will never be appealing. Allow yourself to cheat, within reason, occasionally and it’ll be easier to upkeep your healthy eating lifestyle.

2. Fight fire with a little flame. So, you crave a burger. You want a whopper, or a Big Mac. You want fries, you crave pizza. All of these things seem very unhealthy and not so vegetarian. Or … are they? One way to fight temptation is to satisfy it with something healthy and a bit less damaging to your waistline. So, you crave pizza, huh? Fine, get a slice of pizza. Find a place that sells it by the slice and instead of getting one topped with tons of greasy meats, get one loaded with vegetables. Want a Big Mac? Google a recipe for one, serve yourself a veggie burger and simply find a way to make the Big Mac sauce using healthy ingredients.
Deal with it: In other words, take your temptation and satisfy them with imitation. I think that being vegetarian can make you a better cook. Why? Because to stick to your healthy eating lifestyle, you’ll need to do your research and experimenting in the kitchen to find healthy alternatives to the “bad” food that’s been dragging you down. The more cooking you do, the more money you’ll save by not having to satisfy cravings with fast food. The more money you save, the more calories you save because most of the food you buy prepared for you is loaded with unnecessary calories and fat. You shouldn’t ignore your cravings – satisfy them! Just satisfy them within reason with a healthy alternative. If you don’t, believe me, you’ll cave to temptations and will find it harder and harder to get back on track.

3. The Sweet Escape. For many people, it’ll take 2 or 3 weeks of eating in a vegetarian way for your taste buds to change and click with your decision to give up meat. Meat will surprisingly not be as satisfying and will, in many ways, leave you feeling a bit sick. The one set of cravings that aren’t as easy to change however is your cravings for sweets. You want your cake, ice cream, sugar and everything in between, too. And guess what – you can have it. Just go vegan. Some of you may have done a double take. Understand that what makes cakes and cookies mostly unhealthy is the ingredients – eggs, tons of sugar, globs of vegetable oil. You could be a great vegetarian with a wide waist due just to what you’re treating yourself to during dessert.
Deal with it: Anything you want dessert-wise can be made over in a vegan way. Why would you want to go vegan in your deserts? Well, because that means you wont be consuming dairy and dairy is really where all the fat and calories comes from. Vegan desserts are far more easier to make and healthier for you than their counterparts. Do you know you can, in some recipes, substitute applesauce or flaxseed for eggs? Or substitute wheat flour for half of the white flour in recipes without much of a difference? How about using fresh fruit in your recipes rather than whatever the heck is contained in some boxed mixes? Believe me, whatever you crave, there’s a vegan way to make it with far fewer calories and fat. Do you like ice cream? Ever tried a non-dairy ice cream? So’ Delicious makes some and you honestly can’t tell the difference.

4. Do you see what I see? The overall missing link in sticking to a vegetarian lifestyle as opposed to joining the masses of non-believers is simply perception. Do you want to conquer your cravings? Then you need 20/20 vision when it comes to your food. Look at pizza. To a non-vegan or vegetarian, it’s a delicious, drool-inducing smelling, tasty treat. To a vegetarian however a pizza can be a slab of solidified fat known as “cheese” caked onto a processed sheet of baked white flour topped with morsels of fattening meats. In other words, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Deal with it: Educate yourself about what you’re eating. People are afraid of reading the nutritional labels because of what it often reveals: you aren’t really eating food, you’re eating a collection of chemicals and science experiments molded into looking like, and imitating foods. If what you’re consuming has an ingredients list that reads like a high school science fair project, you should be wary of what it’s doing to your body. Seek and eat foods with as few ingredients as possible. Why? Because those are whole and they probably have more nutrients for you than boxed or “easy to prepare” kits sold in grocery stores. Need convincing not to eat meat? Just read books like “Skinny Bitch” and “Skinny Bastard” or Google “how are hot dogs made” and you’ll be scared vegetarian in no time.

5. Don’t listen to haters. Remember the ’80s drug commercials where the bully would try to convince the little kid to smoke dope and the little kid would channel his inner Nancy Reagan and say no? Well, you need to get tough. Being a vegetarian means you’re constantly going to be faced and confronted by people telling you that you’re wrong, that being vegetarian is unhealthy, that “give it a few days … you’ll quit”. Often times, being vegetarian means you’ll be going at something alone. It’s okay, you’re tough, you’ll manage. Read any magazine, book, commercial cooking show – they’ll do their best to convince you that eating meat is necessary “or else”. Not the case at all. Most of these media outlets, and even government studies, tooting the necessity to eat meat are funded by the meat or dairy industries! No surprise there. There are definitely healthy people from all walks of life, young and old, athletes and blue collar types, who are vegetarian and just as healthy (but usually healthier) than those who have a meat-heavy diet.
Deal with it: Be courteous, listen, but ignore haters. I suggest you read up on being a vegetarian. Learn what foods you need since you aren’t eating meat or dairy, what different vegetables will offer you in terms of health benefits, what exercises you can do to stay healthy and what’s wrong with some of your favorite foods and how you can possible make them healthier. Part of being unhealthy, or a bad vegetarian, comes from a lack of personal knowledge and investment. Learn about being a vegetarian! If you go at it blindly with no idea what you’re doing or why you’re eating what you’re eating, you’ll make foolish decisions based on what’s tempting you rather than what’s good for you.

Is being a vegetarian easy? Yes and no. At the start, you’ll have to withdraw yourself from your temptations and cravings for fat, sugar and calorie-loaded foods. After a month or two of eating in a vegetarian manner, it’ll be easy. You’ll even be able to eat out with a group of friends or family without being tossed into a nervous fit over sticking to your eating plan. Educate yourself; don’t give in to peer pressure; learn how to cook for yourself and every so often, indulge – this is how you’ll go from experimenting with vegetarian ways to being a card carrying lifetime member.

Follow me on Twitter @Decaptain

Vegetarian 101: Rethinking Breakfast

Eggs, ham, pork sausage, sausage patties, biscuits and gravy, bacon, milk, coffee with cream, cheese grits … all of these things seem to be the staple of the typical breakfast in America and abroad. Yet, for vegetarians, breakfast isn’t so easy. What happens when your eating lifestyle doesn’t include meat or what if it doesn’t even include dairy products? Does it mean you’re simply left out of the breakfast club? Not at all! Vegetarians and vegans, like everyone else, must eat breakfast. It’s a meal that many people skip because they say they don’t have time to fix or make it or they think it’s okay to make-up for it by eating donuts at work or a hefty lunch. Not so fast.

Breakfast is your first chance to refuel for the day. Imagine yourself preparing to run a marathon without having spent a day or week running and preparing yourself for the run. How do you think you’d do? Not very well, and the same happens when you choose to skip breakfast. Despite what people think, eating throughout the day – and eating healthy things – is how you lose weight, not by skipping meals or starving yourself. So breakfast is necessary if you want to perform well in school or at work, be sharp mentally, able to deal with problem and if you’re wanting to keep your metabolism churning throughout the day.

What’s a vegetarian or vegan to do if meat and dairy are not a part of their lives? Well, you re-think breakfast and eating in general. Each meal of the day, including breakfast, isn’t necessarily about eating for the sake of indulging and pleasing yourself. Meals are meant to provide you with the necessary minerals, vitamins and nutrients you need to be healthy during the day and beyond. Once you accept this mindset, you begin to see meals like breakfast differently. Suddenly the fat-laden meats, sugary syrups and processed pop tarts aren’t all that appetizing. What are they really doing for you beyond expanding your waist and making you feel sluggish and a bit sick? Not much. So here’s how to tackle breakfast the healthy vegetarian (and vegan) way so that you’ll feel satisfied and will keep your weight and waisline in check at the same time:

1. Go green. Stop thinking that you can only have leafy-green vegetables at dinner. Do you want to load up on much needed vitamins that will improve the way your body works and help you shed unwanted fat? Then treat yourself to a bowl of collards, kale or mustard greens in the morning for breakfast. These vegetables will give you a big dose of vitamin C without all of the sugar that comes with drinking orange juice. They also provide your body with needed nutrients and minerals like iron (without the saturated fat that comes with eating meat), various vitamin Bs, copper, calcium (yes, without having to chug milk). Leafy greens should be part of your breakfast if you’re really aiming to feel and look like a champ.

2. Think outside the box. Boxed breakfast foods are not necessarily good for you. Think of all the boxed “foods” you can buy for breakfast: cereals loaded with sugar, waffles, pancake mixes that contains chemicals you can’t pronounce, pop tarts. Do any of these things really do much for you? No. As with any food item, the boxed ones come with more than you need or want: chemicals, by-products, things with no nutritional value whatsoever. So as a general rule, if it comes in a box – skip it. Get back to the basics – fresh produce. Again, leafy-green vegetables would be a good choice but so would things like beans (black or pinto, dry or canned – but wash and rinse if they’re canned), other vegetables like squash and the big one – fruit! Bananas have potassium, oranges and kiwis have vitamin c. You get the point? Whole foods closest to their natural forms will be the best for you.

3. Get toasted. Have you heard of sprouted bread? If not, look into it. They don’t contain highly processed flours and have more vitamins and nutrients than even wheat bread because the sprouted breads are made from seeds as they first begin to sprout (you’ll also see or read this type of bread as being ‘live’ do to this). Eating sprouted bread will give you some much needed fiber which is good for your digestive track. Toast it up or spread natural peanut butter or some vegan/healthy buttery spread on it.

4. The water works. People are seriously dehydrated most of the time. Sometimes you mistake hunger for actually being thirsty. The moment you wake up, change this by drinking water. For most people, they get up and need their coffee to wake up or their orange juice, milk or other type of juice. First of all, are you really drinking juice or sugar-flavored water? Check the label. If it doesn’t read “100% juice”, you’re drinking a tonic of water, flavors, food coloring, sugar and chemicals with an aroma of fruit. Not good at all. If you eat healthy – beans, greens, fiber – water is the key that brings everything together. People often talk about going on cleanses to rid their body of toxins and starving themselves for weeks. This isn’t necessary. Just drink water! It’ll naturally flush your system, keep your muscles pumped up (yes guys, meaning if you’re working out and want to look ripped but often don’t, you’re probably dehydrated and need more water) and make you feel more satisfied.

5. The spreads and fillers. Let’s face it, sometimes you go off course and have hashbrowns and need your ketchup – or you have pancakes and need your toppings. Fine, but look into natural substitutes. If you like coffee, So’ Delicious makes a coffee creamer made of coconut milk! No, it doesn’t taste or even smell like coconut. You’ll be consuming healthy fats, won’t be going off the vegan course and you’ll never know the difference. Look into maple syrup for your waffles and pancakes or even into making your own toppings by using fruit. Condiments and spreads are gut busters that we often overlook. If you’re worried about keeping fit and your gut in check, make sure you aren’t consuming sugar-packed condiments.

6. Have your cake and eat it too. So, perhaps none of the above sounds appealing to you. You know you’ll never be able to eat vegetables for breakfast and it all seems a bit extreme. You have a family, a significant other, have breakfast with friends and you don’t want to be the odd person out not having what looks normal. Well, did you know there are vegetarian versions of your meats in stores? Morningstar Farms makes everything from sausage links to bacon strips that are, get this, purely vegetarian! Yes, they taste a bit different at first (because they aren’t packed with fat and hormones that gives the original its flavor) but after a week, the non-vegetarian versions of these foods won’t even taste the same. It may be a good starting point for those wary of going full vegetarian.

My last tip – start the morning off with water and a daily vitamin. Let’s face it – do any of us get the full 100% recommended daily value of any of the various vitamins and nutrients? No. A simple daily vitamin can help fill in the gaps from your diet and you should take it early in the day so that it can be absorbed and used by your body. Do you work out in the mornings? A good time to take a multivitamin is actually after you’ve worked out: your muscles will be more likely to absorb it better and pass along its contents to the rest of your body.

Bottom line – just because your vegetarian doesn’t mean breakfast isn’t for you! You have tons of options, more so than those who are fixated on the usual and expected. Start your day off by nourishing your body with foods that will benefit it and make it stronger, not with foods full of fat, antibodies, pollutants and hormones that are used to feed and prime meat for slaughter and consumption.

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Vegetarian 101: A Crash Course for Skeptics and Beginners

I tried staying fit throughout the winter so that come spring and summer, I wouldn’t have much work to do for the ‘shirtless’ season. Weight wise, I was about eight pounds over my usual weight. Yes, being near 120 lbs isn’t bad – most people would kill to see that number on the scale – but for me, 110 or so is normal and anything more than that sends my nerves on end. So, what’d I do? I resorted back to being mostly vegetarian because that’s how I managed to go from being overweight with a high BMI with an expanding waistline to a slimmer, leaner, healthier me over the course of two years.

Yes, being vegetarian is not easy. When you think of being one, the images of being starved, deprived and skin-and-bones comes to mind. Is it doable though? Yes. The hardest part of being vegetarian is simply getting started, enduring the criticism from your peers and family and sticking to it.

So, you’ve probably clicked on this article because you’re curious, skeptical and want to secretly become vegetarian yourself. Great! The best way to start is to understand what it’s all about. The basics – if you’re a vegetarian, you’re mostly eating naturally. You’re going to have an eating lifestyle that’s centered around fruits and vegetables and is devoid or skimpy on meats. Now, you’ve probably heard or have thought a lot about what it means to actually be a vegetarian. It does not mean you have to be a card-carrying member of PETA. It does not mean that you can never ever in your life eat meat. Being vegetarian means you need, and accept the challenge, to be more mindful of what you eat.

People are always looking for quick ways to lose weight, slim down and look great. They will spend tons of money on special products, weird exercise equipment and ‘cleanses’ to drop one or two pounds and then will go back to bad habits because to their “surprise” (it’s expected, thus the quotes) their “diet” didn’t work, they’ve wasted their time and money so why bother? People … the easiest way for you to lose weight healthily, quickly and with ease is to go vegetarian. Why? Because most people have no idea how fatty their diets are. Milk, cheese, creams, sodas (even diet), bacon, steaks and other meats and products coming from animals are fatty. Yet, most of us shun vegetables because we think they’re disgusting and nasty. Really?

As with any food, the key to not being bored or turned off by vegetables is seasoning. Get creative! Do you crave sweet and sour chicken? Then look up a recipe for how to make a healthy sweet & sour sauce yourself and mix it with tons of hardy vegetables like snap peas, mushrooms and carrots. Like Mexican dishes? Well, cut up a zucchini and tuck it into a quesedilla in place of the chicken and top with some salsa and black beans. The possibilities really are endless and you can eat all day without packing on the pounds.

There’s also the myth that once you go vegetarian, you can’t ever have meat again in your life. This will be a controversial statement, but not true. The problem with most people’s ways of eating is that it’s heavy on fatty foods and drinks like dairy and meat and barren of healthy options like fruits and vegetables. Make the biggest portion of your meal vegetables, and eat those first, and you’ll find that you’ll need and will want less and less meat. Or, treat yourself to one meal or one day of eating anything while eating vegetables and fruits the other 6 days of the week. There’s various degrees of being vegetarian, find one that suits you.

Do you really want to shed pounds quickly without having to do much work? Take it a step further and go vegan. Vegan is all about avoiding dairy. Some choose to do it because the thought of a cow or other animal being mistreated makes their skin crawl. Others do it out of necessity: they are lactose intolerant. Why should you be a vegan? Because a lot of dairy, though you’ve been told it’s good for you, is fattening. You can get calcium from green leafy vegetables and supplements, vitamin D from sunlight, other necessary nutrients and minerals from eating a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables. There are some non-dairy alternatives to everything from the creamer you put in your coffee to the cheese you top your salads with, made from anything from nuts to tofu. Try some non-dairy options for a week and you’ll see how easy it is.

So, do you want to lose weight, improve your skin, boost your immune system and all without having to exercise much at all? Then adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. You’ll naturally load your body with minerals, vitamins and nutrients and will naturally flush your body of the toxins and hormones pumped into animals that end up on your plate.

Follow me on Twitter @Decaptain

How Saying “No!” Can Improve Your Health

Of all of my memories of the 1980s, I firmly remember the massive Saturday morning cartoon event titled ‘Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue’ which was about drugs and featured all of the popular cartoon characters of the day (Muppet Babies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Smurfs, Duck Tales, Alf, Looney Tunes … just to name a few) and a cartoon Nancy Reagan all leading the good fight against drugs. Most of the ’80s featured anti-drug messages and campaigns and a slogan that really was simple but resonates into today:

“Just say no!”

Funny, but the older I get, the more I find this Nancy Reagan advice ringing true about many things in adulthood. How many of us really are comfortable with saying no? I’m not talking about when offered drugs or alcohol, I’m talking about whenever we’re faced with anything we know isn’t good for us such as being over burdened at work, taking on too much at home, in trying to please others and putting ourselves last. Why the heck are we not saying ‘no’?

When talking about health, I often expand on the subject. We’ve gotten to the point of simplifying health and well-being far too much. No longer is being healthy just about eating right and exercising. We know that being healthy has a lot to do with our lifestyle and all that goes with it. Many people, despite valiant efforts, are unhealthy because they are unable to say ‘no’. We’ve become a society of guilt and blame: we can’t do anything for ourselves because we must think about others; because your neighbor’s life sucks, even if you’ve done your best, you’re still to blame; stock market crash? – your fault, global warming – your fault because you can’t convince everyone in your family to go green. Do you see the point? People become overweight and unhealthy due to the burdens they carry and consume and it’s not always about the food you eat – it’s also about the emotional baggage you take on.

Over the past few years, it’s become very clear that people have a hard time doing one very healthy thing: taking it easy. We don’t relax anymore, we don’t take our full lunch breaks, we don’t travel for fun, we don’t even use all of our vacation time! Why not? Usually it’s because we’re afraid to just say NO. Now, I know – people think saying no at work is dangerous in this economy. I disagree. If you’re a good worker, someone who has his or her hands in every area of your office, you’re essential. Especially in this economy, you may be performing the duties and work that 2-3 people used to years (or even months) ago. We’re all working harder in these days which is why we need to take the time out to recuperate, regenerate and relax. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ sometimes – you need to. Saying yes doesn’t always lead to great things at work these days. Remember when people would get raises, earn bonuses, other perks? These days it seems like the only bonus or perks people earn is having a job to come back to each day and health care. So, do your job to the best of your abilities and reward yourself with vacations, down-time or time off to either rest or do something that you really want or need to do. Haven’t you heard that other well-spoken phrase of you’ve only got “one life to live?”

Saying no goes beyond work. At home people are afraid to say no. Spouses either expect their opposite to agree to everything they ask of them, leading to issues, or are on the receiving end of being expected to do everything without argument. For your sanity and the health of your relationship, know when it’s appropriate to say no. Otherwise, you’re never going to put yourself first and your health is bound to suffer.

Saying ‘no’ of course applies to fitness and exercise. At times you have to decline offers to hang out or refuse to spend countless hours behind a desk for the sake of your health. You make the excuse that work gets in the way of you getting out to run, or that you’re just too busy to hit the gym. Really, is that true? Maybe you just haven’t learned to say ‘no’ for the sake of your health.

“Just say no” is something we need to start re-applying to our lives today. We can’t continue on this ‘yes i can; yes I will’ path out of fear of what will happen if we dare speak up for ourselves. Saying no is something I learned to do at the start of my health and fitness kick. I learned to say no to junk food, even when I was surrounded by it or offered it at no charge by an event or family. I learned to say no to meat or dairy when I wanted to go vegetarian and vegan. I learned to silence my conscious and say ‘no’ when I didn’t feel like working out but got out and did a run or some other form of exercise. What have I learned over the year? Saying no opens a lot more doors than saying yes! It’s empowering when you simply spit out the words – it prevents you from being someone else’s doormat and usually helps you figure out what’s really important to you and where all the stress of your life comes from. So take a tip from America’s former First Lady and learn to “just say ‘no!'”

Indulge A Little: Treat Yourself To Lose Weight

It’s something people rarely think about or consider when they’re trying to lose weight: indulging. Sure, you may consider it but it’s all “I’ve indulged too much so I must now deny myself of anything enjoyable.” This leads to real ‘die-ting’. Dieting is no fun; it’s all about denying yourself to the point where you feel as if you truly are dying. Diets don’t work because they’re often all about extremes rather than variety and at some point, you being human is going to lead to a breakdown where you’re going to be prone to indulging … and you’ll go overboard. You’ll indulge so much in your breakdown period that you’ll feel ashamed and you’ll probably quit the diet.

Don’t diet. Indulge a little. It’s advice that you probably don’t hear often but it works. You see, you don’t need a diet; if you want to lose weight, you need a change in lifestyle. You need to eat, and you need to eat all day. We’re talking 6 or so meals a day, a mix of the standard 3 meals with healthy snacks mixed in. You need to eat breakfast every morning, even if it’s just whole wheat toast and some tea; you need to practice portion control; you need to start reading labels and avoiding anything with ‘hydrogenated oil’ which should simply read as trans fat, ditch anything processed with enriched flour, limit your consumption of too much sugar and salt. These aren’t at all things that are ‘dieting’ it’s just a change in your eating habits. A healthy eating lifestyle is all about indulging! For example, you can eat all of the vegetables you want as long as they aren’t fried or breaded and really don’t have to worry about counting calories or consider fat. You can include some fats in your meals, including olive oils and nuts, because there are some good fats that include omega-3 fats (brain boosting, good for your heart). There are even recipes out there that strip the fat and calories from your favorite comfort foods like mac n’ cheese and chocolate chip cookies.

I’m not a fan of extremes in the context of food or dieting. There’s research out there that’s examined this whole idea of indulging. Those who deny themselves of certain foods while practicing some diet end up in a very bad position because they always indulge but end up going overboard when they do so. It doesn’t help you to deny yourself of something you’re craving and then suddenly you go overboard and ruin all of your hard work. That’s where many make their mistake. You also shouldn’t indulge everyday to the point where you’re working against yourself. They key is to indulge but to do so in a healthy manner. Craving a late night snack? Instead of gorging on Cheetos or chips, have some air-popped corn. Just stick some pop corn kernels in a brown back, nuke it in the microwave on high for a minute or so. No oil needed. Poof, you’ve indulged and haven’t blown your diet. Have a sweet tooth? Well, that bowl of ice cream isn’t going to do your hips and waistline any favors unless it’s vegan and dairy free, which doesn’t seem worth the effort. So always have fruit on hand – it’s sweet, a bowl can really fill you you up. An hour after dinner as I’m sitting down to indulge in some prime time television, instead of stuffing myself with cookies or cake I enjoy a nice, sweet fruit salad – strawberries, bananas, cantaloupe and some grapes or apples makes for a very fulfilling healthy snack. If you like milkshakes then switch to smoothies full of fruit, flax seeds and get a little crazy and experimental and blend in a little spinach and yogurt with it. You won’t taste the spinach but you’ll benefit from the added iron you’ll get from it.

Indulging is human; it’s easy and all about taking what you like and finding a way to treat yourself without going overboard. Here’s my advice on indulging while still losing or keeping the weight off:

1. Read the label. The reason so many people tend to get fat from snack foods is because no one reads the label. You need to look at the label for different reason. First, how much is one serving? You’d be surprised to find that the foods and drink you’re buying aren’t meant to be one serving. A small G2 Gatorade? It’s 4 servings! A pack of M&Ms is usually 2 servings, so half a bag. Chips are usually just 7-8 chips, not the entire bag. So after you’ve checked the serving size, look at everything else that label reveals about what you’re about to eat. How many calories and grams of fat does 1 serving have? Yeah, A LOT. Now multiply those numbers by the serving amount contained in the whole bag or carton. If you indulge too much and eat that whole bag in one setting, you’re eating 2 or 3 if not more times more than you’re supposed to! No wonder you’re having a problem shedding that fat.

2. Learn what not to eat. The labels reveal a lot about the food. Here’s a good rule of thumb with most snacks: if it has more than 3 ingredients or something you can’t pronounce or need a degree in chemistry to identify, you don’t really want to eat it. I know, that eliminate a lot of the yummy stuff but if you’re fixated on getting healthy, you need to stay away from overly processed foods. You don’t want anything with trans fats (that includes hydrogenated oils, vegetable oils), you don’t want saturated fat (usually a by-product of four-legged animals), no enriched flour (that means at one point it was pure and healthy and they stripped out everything good and you’re left with something that has the nutritional value of chalk or baby powder). If you want a potato chip, go for something baked. Nothing fried is good for you. It’s like eating something dipped in toilet water. Sound appetizing? Thought not.

3. Embrace ‘whole’ foods. There’s a way to snack all day without having to worry about counting calories or reading labels. Madonna once sang, “You can eat all you want and you won’t get fat; now where else can you go for a meal like that?” Easy – whole foods! Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. We’re talking vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole wheat. Check the label – what’s the first ingredient labeled? It should be something that’s grown in nature, not made up in a lab (ahem, high fructose corn syrup)! If the thought of eating raw veggies makes you ill, then just pair it with something like a vinaigrette (any salad dressing that contains vinegar is a good choice over the other creamy alternatives. Cream = fat).  Always have fruits on stand by – an apple is awfully sweet and full of fiber if you keep the peel on. You can pair it (or even celery) with peanut butter. Speaking of peanut butter, did you know that if you’re craving chocolate it could mean your body is deficient in and actually craving magnesium? Peanut butter (all natural) is another healthy snack to keep in stock and close by.

4. Find an alternative to your favorite snack. It’s really simple; just as you’d find a short cut to a destination where the usual path is blocked or full of obstacles, you need to find alternative routes to your cravings. You can eat all of the foods you like and love if you find a different path to them. Like french fries? Try baking them instead of deep frying them. Want to go in a different direction all together? Try making your own sweet potato fries – they’re tasty and chocked full of minerals and vitamins. Like potato chips? Make your own. There are tons of recipes out there on how to easily make your own at home. The best part of making your own chips, or any snack food for that matter? You know what’s going in there and it’ll have fewer chemicals and fat. A lot of what goes into snack foods sold in grocery stores isn’t there because it’s needed; it’s there to make the food more addictive or to give the food a longer shelf life. So have your cake … just make it out of whole wheat flour and make your own frosting. Look for low-fat recipes or even vegan (dairy-less) options. You’ll really slash the calories and fat and will be able to enjoy your foods more. Check out sources like www.vegweb.com for tons of healthy recipes or cookbooks by cooks like Rocco Dispirito who came up with 150 comfort foods that are all under 350 calories in his latest book ‘Now Eat This‘.

5. Get busy doing something other than eating. This is a really simple trick to curb your appetite: when you crave something, pair it with activity other than eating. Huh? When do you eat or indulge too much? Is it when you’re watching television? Then when you’re watching t.v., busy your hands with lifting weights or doing pushups. Is it when you get in from work? Then the moment you get in, take a moment to regain your composure and then head out for a walk or jog. Busying your bad habit triggers with good habits will really change your life. You’ll start realizing you’ve been lazy and laziness leads to a lot of time wasted that could be devoted to self improvement. Also, indulge some cravings with healthier habits. Need to chew something? Instead of chewing on grease-filled chips and fries, chew on gum. I keep gum around and usually have a ‘chew break’ late at night when I used to sit around and gorge on junk food. It keeps my mouth busy and is comforting and keeps me from indulging in bad food and habits. Another secret in my ammo – peppermint mints. I keep starlight mints around like a little old lady and allot out a max of 3 per day. That’s just 80 calories and I usually don’t eat 3 in one day. But, if I’m craving something and need to find a quick fix, I pop a mint. Again, it keeps your mouth busy. If you’re into alcohol and need to cut  back to spare the calories and carbs, then keep water or fruit juice nearby. So have your drink – it’s just not going to be the unhealthy one you’re used to.

Indulging is okay! If you don’t indulge from time to time, you’re going to either go crazy or you’re going to snap and regret the aftermath.  The key is to find healthier ways to indulge your cravings. This idea can be applied to many areas of your life: money, celebrations, vacation, self-improvement. You can’t spend or waste your life with denials and abstaining: enjoy your life, find a way to enjoy each day and feed all of your little cravings. The great thing about indulging your cravings is that there’s rarely one option: there’s often times a healthier option that’s better suited for your needs.

Follow me on Twitter @Decaptain

Say It Loud, Say It Proud, “I’m a Vegetarian!”

A couple weeks ago I posted about coming out at as a vegetarian. Since then I’ve had a few conversations with people about being a vegetarian and questions that I thought I’d address.

At church there was a luncheon after service and somehow (as usual) the topic of discussion was how I’m vegetarian. People always seem surprised to find that there’s a vegetarian among them. Really. I mean, you could be a token (the only Black, Asian or some other ethnicity in a crowd of predominantly white people), homosexual, a Southerner among yankees but the one thing people are always taken back by or surprised to hear is that you don’t consume meat. Oh, and be a vegan on top of that (no dairy) and you’re like the 8th world wonder! When I first decided to go vegetarian a year or two ago, I tried not to make a big deal about it. So what, who cares? I don’t eat meat. WELL, I found that by keeping it to myself, I would be inclined to ‘blend in’ by not always adhering to my vegetarian lifestyle. It happens, which brings me to this post …

If you’re a vegetarian, TELL THE WORLD! The biggest mistake I see vegetarians or vegans making is that it’s kept a secret. Who is going to be hurt by you eating vegetables or staying away from meat and dairy? Are you going to be disowned, thrown out on the street, strung up in the town’s square? People, you don’t need to feel guilty about eating healthy. Anything that’s worth keeping a secret usually isn’t worth it in the end. You need to tell your family you’re vegetarian. You need to tell your friends and co-workers you’re vegetarian. Why? Because these are the people and groups you spend your time with and by telling them and making them aware of your dietary needs, you’re taking the shock value away and letting them into your circle. In most cases, after the usual ‘that’s unhealthy’ and ‘what’s not good for you’ speeches, they’ll concede. You’ll be their uber-healthy eating friend and you’ll be just fine.

It always gets me how people turn food into a private and secret act. This is what leads to food abuse, obesity and eating disorders. Think about it. You have the one group who sneaks junk food (cookies, candy bars, cakes) into their homes after proclaiming a week before that they’re going on a diet. Then behind closed doors or when they’re alone, they pig out and go overboard. Or you have the people who so desperately want to look a certain way or be viewed as skinny that they engage in unhealthy and dangerous acts to make sure the food they eat doesn’t lead to a single pound on their body frame. And really, where does being a vegetarian or vegan fit into either of those situations?

It doesn’t and it shouldn’t. Yes, if you don’t educate yourself in regards to the vitamins, minerals and nutritional needs your body requires to stay healthy, then even as a vegetarian you’ll slip into dangerous territory. But if you fill your fridge with a wide range of colorful vegetables, whole grain, fruits and increase your fiber and water intake, you’ll  be fine. Want to be even safer? Then take a multivitamin. It’ll fill in the gaps for what you don’t consume with regular food.

I get asked if it’s hard to be vegetarian. No. The hardest part is usually deciding to do it and then breaking it to those I encounter that I don’t eat meat. Also, as I said a few weeks ago, there are different levels of vegetarian. I am not a fan of extremes: meaning, if you’re a practicing vegetarian and every once in a while you want some grilled chicken or turkey or just want a McDonalds big mac … then by all means, indulge, treat yourself! The point of vegetarianism is to weight down your eating with vegetables rather than with meat. I know some vegetarians will jump on me for encouraging meat eating but as I said, some people go at it hardcore and eliminate all meat and dairy from their life, some just eliminate meat and keep the dairy, some will have meat once or twice a week … there’s variation and to tell you that once you go vegetarian you must never let a piece of meat touch your mouth again at the risk of execution is foolish.

So, there’s no national coming out week for vegetarians and vegans. So don’t wait for any special occasion to arise to tell everyone around you that you’re vegetarian. Coming out as a vegetarian and letting those around you know about your switch to vegetables will help keep you accountable (say you’re vegetarian and the next time you’re out with your buddies, someone will remind you ‘Hey, I thought you didn’t eat meat!’ when you’re eyeballing something unhealthy in the food court. I promise you, they will). Plus, being vegetarian or vegan is nothing scandalous or worth keeping a secret. For the sake of your health, say it loud, say it proud, “I’m a vegetarian!”