Monthly Archives: August 2010

Is my Jewish grandmother making me fat?

Last night, D and I went to dinner with a dear family friend who is practically like a grandmother to me.  She is probably one of the most vibrant women I know — at 87 she is full of life — she tap dances several times a week, does pilates, goes to work every day and attends plays, Broadway shows, and has a warm and caring family.  Talk about having it all!

As we were eating, she kept asking D “eat more!  You must be hungry!  Try some of this…are you full?”  It was very cute, and even though D was stuffed from his huge steak, he managed to polish off some of her food too.  But it got me to thinking, most of us do not have the freakish metabolism that D has (seriously it makes me SO jealous!) and can eat a steak that is the equivalent of small football field every night… so what do the rest of us do when we’re put in this kind of situation?  I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been at dinners or family events and had food pushed on me by family members.  I don’t want to be rude…but I also don’t want to feel guilty about not cleaning my plate.  It’s a delicate balance, but here are some good tips I’ve picked up along the way that quell even the pushiest of relatives!

  • Just say no

If you’re really full or you just don’t want to eat dessert, try just saying a firm “no”.  Not only does this strengthen your own willpower but often a simply no or a “you know what, this meal was so delicious I don’t think I possibly have any more room!”  Let them down nicely, but make sure that the “No” is heard.

  • Honesty is your best policy

Sometimes a simple “no” doesn’t work.  Example: “How can you not want dessert?  Look at you…you are so skinny!  Eat something!”  Let’s face it, a lot of grandparents/relatives/parents get enjoyment out of nourishing their kids.  It comes from a place of love, but sometimes it can be really hard to face, especially when you’re watching what you’re eating and trying to be healthy.  In these instances, it’s best to just be honest.  Say to grandma “You know what, that dessert looks truly amazing, but I’m really trying to watch what I’m eating these days, so I’ll have to pass.”  Or ask for just a sliver if you’re in the mood or some fruit or tea instead.

  • Offer to help out with the cooking/meal planning

A lot of times when I go home, my mom will ask me what food I want to have in the house or want to have for dinner.  I think this is really great because she knows that I’m pretty health conscious (and picky!) so it makes me really feel at home and cared for.  But you don’t need an invitation to do this.  Offer to bring a healthy dish with you such as salad or a light dessert.  Not only does it make your host feel appreciative of your efforts — you can bring something that you know is healthy as part of the meal.

  • Suggest doing activities that don’t just center around food

A lot of times, especially around the holidays, I feel like every family get together is all about the food (as in, let’s all stuff our faces until we have to unbuckle our jeans).  Try to switch things up a bit…suggest a game of football in the park, go for a walk around town, grab a coffee, play frisbee, go for a long bike ride.  These are all fun activities you can do with your family that aren’t centered around food and are great bonding opportunities.

  • Don’t fall into the guilt trap

This is a tough one…but you should never feel guilty for not cleaning your plate.  If you’re full you’re full.  Starving children in Africa would not be able to eat your food anyways — it’s already been made – it’s not like you can ship it over or something!  You do yourself a disservice by not listening to your body and your needs.  You are taking care of yourself by realizing when you’re full and doing something about it!  Even the pushiest grandma can’t argue with that!


I could go on and on all day about the benefits of exercise.  It promotes good health in so many ways — combatting diseases, improving your mood and sleep, managing your weight, boosting energy levels….but one area that people rarely talk about when it comes to exercise is that dirty word — SEX.  Just another reason to get your bum in gear — exercise can not only improve your general health, it can also VASTLY improve your sex life.

So how exactly does it do this??  According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, doctors at UC San Diego tested 78 healthy but sedentary middle-aged men to document changes in their sex lives when they began to exercise 3-4 times a week.  According to this study “the former couch potatoes reported more reliable sexual functioning, more frequent sexual activity and orgasms, and greater satisfaction”.  A study done by the University of British Columbia found that just 20 minutes of exercise spurred greater sexual response in women participants compared with no exercise at all.

Physically, exercise helps to increase your endurance, aerobic capabilities and muscle strength.  Exercise gets the heart pumping and increases bloodflow to all the organs in your body, including sex organs.  Exercise also helps to release those little happy hormones called endorphins.  Endorphins promote relaxation and reduce performance anxiety, which will definitely help you in the sack.  Another interesting finding, is that in men, exercise promotes weight loss, which is a good thing because obesity has been linked to erectile dysfunction.

Internally, exercise does a lot for your mood and self confidence.  Let’s face it, when we feel that we look great, we’re happier, more confident, and feel…well…plain old sexy.  Exercise, by improving your physical appearance, in turn does amazing things for your confidence levels and body awareness, which by extension, can make your sex life that much better.

And if that doesn’t get you booking it to your gym ASAP…well, I don’t know WHAT will!

Cooks I love…

I have to admit…I’m a big fan of the Food Network.  Nothing makes me happier than curling up on the couch with a cup of tea, and watching the Barefoot Contessa whip up something delicious.  As a culinary enthusiast, I love watching cooking shows because it always gives me great new ideas on different preparation, seasonings, and exciting new flavors.  At the same time, I have one BIG gripe about some of the shows on the food network.  HOLY BUTTER!  Ok…if you’re trying to be healthy…these shows definitely do not promote it AT ALL.  Every show, from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, to Home Cooking with Paula, to even my dear Barefoot Contessa use recipes that often call for sticks and sticks of butter or cups of olive oil.  However, there is one Food Network star that I would love to highlight for her beautiful, vibrant, veggie-ful cuisine that doesn’t rely simply on fat for flavor.  Giada De Laurentiis’ food is like a breath of fresh air in a sea of butter.  Her bubbly personality is fun to watch and her food is full of healthy ingredients that would make any nutritionist happy!  And yes…she’s also very pretty (according to D)…haha

Here are my take on a couple of recipes that would be perfect for a light summer dinner with friends, with some slight modifications to make as healthy as possible!

Skewered Greek Salad



  • 24 grape or small cherry tomatoes
  • 3 ounces feta cheese, cut into 12 (1/2-inch) cubes
  • 12 pitted kalamata olives
  • 1/2 small red or sweet onion, cut into 12 (1/2-inch) pieces
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • Special equipment: 12 (6-inch) bamboo or wood skewers


  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Skewers: Thread the skewers starting with a tomato, then a piece of feta cheese, an olive, a piece of onion and finish with another tomato. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

For the Vinaigrette: In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, red wine vinegar and oregano. Whisk in the olive oil until the mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Arrange the skewers on a serving platter. Spoon the vinaigrette over the skewers and sprinkle with the chopped oregano.

Grilled Salmon with Citrus Salsa Verde


2 large oranges
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil — I might use 1/8 cup instead of 1/4, see how it tastes though
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 scallions, finely sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable or canola oil, for oiling the grill
4 (4 to 5-ounce) center cut salmon fillets, skinned, each about 3-inches square
2 tablespoons amber agave nectar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa: Peel and trim the ends from each orange. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and add them to a medium bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, scallions, mint, capers, orange zest, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Toss lightly and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

For the salmon: Put a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Brush the grilling rack with vegetable oil to keep the salmon from sticking. Brush the salmon on both sides with the agave nectar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Grill until the fish flakes easily and is cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the salmon to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Spoon the salsa verde on top of the salmon or serve on the side as an accompaniment.

And for dessert……

Shaved Melon Salad with Mint Sugar

This salad looks like tricolor pappardelle pasta, with vibrant ribbons of pink, green, and orange melon. If you don’t want to bother making the melon shavings, just use a melon baller or cut the fruit into cubes—the salad will still be beautiful.

1/2 small seedless watermelon (about 1 lb)
1/2 honeydew melon, seeds removed (about 1 lb)
1/2 cantaloupe melon, seeds removed (about 1 lb)
1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, plus mint sprigs, for garnish
1/2 cup turbinado or other coarse sugar  — I would use 1/4 cup instead of 1/2 here!

1. Cut each melon lengthwise into inch-wide slices. Hold melon slices at the peel end and use a sharp vegetable peeler to shave long ribbons of melon flesh into a large serving bowl.
2. In a small bowl, combine mint leaves and sugar. Add mint sugar to the shaved melon and gently toss.
3. Arrange melon salad on individual salad plates. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs and serve.
Makes 4 to 6 servings

Secret Eating

I’m taking this post to address something that we ALL do….whether we admit it or not, particularly women.  This is a little something called “secret eating”.  Secret eating, simply defined, is when we eat something in secret, or hide eating it because we feel ashamed or feel that we might be judged.  It can be something as simple as grabbing a spoonful of peanut butter when no one is looking, to more serious late night binges.  I want to take the time to address this because I’ll admit, I’m as guilty of it as anyone else.  There have definitely been moments when I’ll steal to the kitchen at midnight while D isn’t looking to grab a spoonful of ice cream or a piece of chocolate.  But ultimately, this behavior isn’t healthy and leads to a bad cycle of shameful eating.

For anyone who is watching what they eat, there are definitely foods that we avoid more than others: sweets, fried foods, salty foods, soda, etc…  Secret eating, I would argue, is the fulfillment of eating foods that are “off limits”.  It feels sneaky, dangerous, and a little fun to do this, and of course…if no one is looking, it doesn’t count!  But ultimately, if it becomes a regular thing, secret eating can sabotage your health in more ways than one…because guess what??  Unfortunately, EVERYTHING counts.

A lot of secret eating is psychological.  We eat to comfort ourselves, and food can be particularly soothing in times of depression or stress.  We eat in secret because the food is naughty and we feel guilty for eating it.  After we eat it, we feel even MORE guilty or deny having done it at all.  This leads to a really bad cycle of guilt and shame around eating foods that are less healthy.  So how do you break the cycle??

First, don’t put any food “off limits”.  This is easier said than done, but really, this is the reason I am so against diets.  Any time you deprive yourself of something, it gives the food a certain “naughty” mystique.  It makes you crave the food even more than you would regularly.  So quit it already!

Second, don’t eat in the dark!  After you’re done with dinner, have a piece of gum or brush your teeth.  I have found that this makes me less likely to go back to the kitchen for a little treat and more likely to forget that I have a craving for something at all.  If you have a craving, also drinking a glass of water or sitting for 5 minutes helps to take my mind off of it, and before you know it, the craving is completely gone.

Eat your food on a plate.  This signifies to your brain that you are eating a filling, balanced meal and makes you ultimately feel more satisfied.  This move also helps eliminate all the little bites of things, nibbles, etc…  that we all do when we’re hungry.

Finally, dont feel guilty!  If you do slip up and eat something in secret, remember it is just a one time thing and cut yourself some slack.  No one is perfect and tomorrow is a new day!

The truth about the Glycemic Index

This Sunday I got an interesting question from a friend that had me totally stumped.

The question was about the South Beach diet.  Many of you have probably heard about this diet which has a line of products in the grocery store.  Basically, the South Beach diet was created by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatson as a way to help his patients lose weight.  Unlike the Atkins diet, which cuts out all carbohydrates, the South Beach diet cuts out carbohydrates such as potatoes, fruit, bread, cereal, rice, pasta, beets, carrots, and corn for the first two weeks and then gradually reintroduces some of these foods.  These carbs are higher on the Glycemic Index scale.

Basically, the glycemic index is a ranking of foods based on how these foods raise blood glucose.  A baked potato ranks high in on the list, while cashews and cherries (for example) are low GI foods.  According to this diet “bad carbs” are those that raise blood sugar, causing energy levels to soar and then crash.

However, the Glycemic Index may be an oversimplification of how your body responds to certain foods.  For example, pure table sugar and sodas rank moderately on the GI index, but whole-grain rice and carrots rank relatively high.  I don’t know anyone who ever got fat from eating too much brown rice and carrots, but I definitely know people who have packed on the pounds with too many Big Gulps full of sprite.  Furthermore, according to experts, a lot of the initial weight lost on the South Beach diet is excess water weight, not actual fat.

My take?  The South Beach diet may help you lose weight rapidly, but most of it is water weight, and ultimately, the weight loss may not be sustainable.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t some positive aspects to this diet, for example, it encourages eating vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and healthy fats.  I think the induction phase in particular may be tough for some people, and it paints certain foods as being “bad”, which is never good in my book.  When you ban certain foods, you always end up craving them even more, and cravings lead to binges (which is the WORST thing you can do for your body).

The bottom line if you’re looking to lose weight and keep it off is calories in, calories out.  No matter what foods you are eating, you have to expend more calories than you are taking in if you want to lose weight (exercise counts toward expending calories, but ultimately you have to watch portion sizes and take a good hard look at what you’re eating).  A pound is about 3500 calories.  So if you cut out 300 calories a day (two glasses of wine for example), and run for half an hour each day, you can burn 600 calories a day, and lose about a pound a week (depending on your energy needs and build).  Some of the biggest sources of calories are alcohol, sugary drinks, and sweets.  I would also take a good hard look at portion sizes – a place in which a lot of people struggle.  Learn what constitutes a normal portion — 1/2 cup of rice is one portion of grains, 4 oz of chicken is one portion of meat, etc…  There is no quick fix for weight loss (as nice as that would be!).  The best thing you can do to yourself is treat your body like a temple — feed it nourishing, healthy foods, exercise regularly, and have patience!  If you want your weight loss to be sustainable, your body has to do it gradually –rapid weight loss just doesn’t work in the long run.

Surviving the Office Munchies

It’s Friday.  You’re sitting at your desk working on an email when all the sudden….the delicious smell of pizza comes wafting through the office as your boss booms “Free Pizza!!  Come to the conference room!”  Now the nice turkey sandwich on whole grain bread looks absolutely WIMPY in comparison.  What do you do?  Grab a slice or two (and feel guilty about it the rest of the day?).  Resist the urge and get picked on by your coworkers for being no fun?  Here are my suggestions for how to manage  the office food fest and come out in one slim piece without feeling deprived.

Scenario 1:

Free pizza in the office.  You’re hungry.  You REALLY REALLY want a slice but you don’t want to wreck your whole day eating-wise.

My advice?  Go for it.  Have one slice – or two if the pizza is cut in small pieces (if there is a veggie pizza then that’s definitely my top pick, followed by plain cheese — stay away from pepperoni which is high in saturated fat and sodium).  If the pizza looks greesy definitely blot it with a napkin.  Try to have a salad or a piece of fruit to fill you up a little more and balance your less healthy choice with something a little more wholesome.  Remember that your diet is your bank account – so since you ate something a little unhealthy, try to balance it with healthy choices the rest of the day.

Scenario 2:

It’s 3 o’clock.  You’re exhausted and craving sweets and it’s someone birthday today.  Half eaten cake is sitting in the office kitchen just screaming “Eat me!!”.

Resist the urge.  You’re not really hungry, and you’re probably just needing a little energy.  Instead, take a little breather from work, go outside and take a walk and grab yourself an iced coffee with skim milk.  The fresh air will help wake you up and the coffee will give you a little extra boost to push through the rest of your day.

Scenario 3:

You’re at an office meeting for the entire day and for lunch everyone decided they want to order pad thai from the favorite office spot.

Usually takeout in New York is 4 times what a normal serving should be.  Pad thai is an OK choice (not the best on the menu).  Instead, try to order a lighter stir fry dish with extra veggies and chicken, shrimp or tofu and light on the sauce (i love spicy basil stir fry or ginger stir fry — they offer at most thai places and it’s relatively light and flavorful), steamed shrimp spring rolls are also a great choice.  If that’s not possible, or you’re really craving pad thai – try to split an entree with a colleague, that way not only will you not eat WAY too much, you’ll also save a buck or two!

Remember — no matter what the office situation, there are always healthy options around, you just have to be creative!  And if you do slip up and have the slice of birthday cake — don’t worry about it and feel guilty, just make sure that you eat healthier the rest of the day.

A Different Date Night

As many of you know, I’m always on the prowl for new date spots, particularly hot, new restaurants in the city.  However, the dinner and a movie date can get a little old after a while!  Lucky for you, I came up with some great date ideas that are good for you!  Here are my picks for great dates that are fun and keep you fit!

  • Rock Climbing at Brooklyn Boulders

At this indoor rock climbing spot in Brooklyn where you can climb a 30-ft replica of the Brooklyn Bridge.  This 18,000 sq. foot climbing gym offers challenges for every level so don’t worry if you’re not a regular climber!  Day passes run at $20 bucks.  Nothing like a little teamwork and danger to put some oomph in your date night!

  • Bike the West Side Highway

This is a great day date.  You can rent bikes at a bunch of places in the city depending on where you are located.  Grab a bike (or a tandem) and ride on the gorgeous West Side Highway.  Pack a healthy picnic and lounge on the many green lawns on the way!

  • Get a couples massage

Ok so this isn’t an “active” date, but I thought it deserved mentioning.  What better way to relax after a long week than getting a couples massage with your honey!  Massage is a great way to reduce stress, increase circulation, and soothe sore muscles (maybe due to all the rock climbing you were doing!)  One place to check out in the city is Silk Day Spa on 13th Street and 5th ave.  D and I went for our anniversary last year and it was fabulous (aka me drooling on the massage table), plus they let us relax in their lounge afterwards for as long as we wanted…A+ in my book.

  • Show your competitive streak at Brooklyn Bowl!

Ok…bowling isn’t typically considered a “workout”, but as a particularly competitive bowler I know things can definitely get sweaty in the heat of competition!  Brooklyn Bowl is a great bowling spot with live music.  It’s a super fun and lively atmosphere – but be warned, it can get CROWDED on the weekends so make sure to get there early.  It’s a particularly fun place to go with a group or an awesome double date.  What better way to show your love than to kick your partner’s butt!!

Those are my picks…what are your favorite date ideas that are off the beaten path??