Tag Archives: food tracking

Deciding on a Balanced Diet

Eating a Balanced Diet

Focusing on a balanced diet is one of the best ways to make healthy eating a part of your life.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The USDA sets Dietary Guidelines for Americans regularly to help guide balanced diet choices. While these guidelines can seem complicated, there are key takeaways from them you should know.

The Importance of Healthy Eating

Healthy eating helps prevent and slow the onset of diseases, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Include in a Balanced Diet

A healthy and balanced diet, which for most people is around 2,000 calories a day, includes a variety of:

  • Vegetables, including a variety of dark green, red, and orange veggies, legumes, which include beans and peas, and starchy veggies, like corn and potatoes.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits, like apples and oranges, which are the perfect serving  size.
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy (like milk, yogurt, and cheese) or appropriate substitutes.
  • A variety of foods high in protein, like lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans,  soy-based products (like tofu), nuts and seeds.
  • Oils (like canola, olive, peanut, and soybean) or naturally occurring oils in nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados.

Limit in a Balanced Diet

  • Added sugars should make up less than 10% of your daily calories, which can be hidden in processed and prepared foods, like soda, cereal, cookies, and more.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats, which should make up less than 10% of your daily calories. Foods high in these include butter, whole milk, and palm oil. Replace with unsaturated fats, like canola and olive oil whenever you can.
  • Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day. Processed foods, like pizza, and canned soup and sauces can be high in this salt.

A Balanced Diet with MyPlate

MyPlate replaced the food pyramid as the guide to making sense of servings. It helps you look at your plate and strike a balance with each meal.

This chart can help you divide your own plates appropriately: MyPlate

Fruits and veggies should make up about half of your plate, with just over a quarter filled with whole grains, and protein should be under a quarter. (A few ounces of meat, a piece about the size of the palm of your hand, is a good serving size for most people.) Also work in a small serving of dairy through milk, cheese, or yogurt to round out your meal.

Making Smart Choices

Combine these guidelines with smart choices, and you’ll be well on your way to eating a balanced diet. And making these smart choices doesn’t have to be difficult. There are lots of tips and tricks that can help you make a balanced diet a part of your daily life.

Tracking Your Food

Then, you can target the number of servings you should be getting of the different food groups.

These can help you figure out calorie counts and limit sodium and sugar.

This can help you understand how balanced your diet and food servings are and set and reach food goals.

Making and Meeting Food Goals

  • Start small.

Making small changes in your eating habits can have long-term effects:

  • Switch to high fiber, low-sugar cereals.
  • Give up soda with flavored sparkling waters.
  • When you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water before you eat something.
  • Plan for all of the places you go in life:
    • Instead of eating out for lunch at work, start planning and meal-prepping ahead of time, and avoid the vending machines.
    • If you know your kids aren’t making great food choices at school, get them involved in packing lunches they’ll love ahead of time.
    • When you know you’ll spend the day at the mall, carry snacks and a water bottle, eat a healthy breakfast or snack before you head out, and skip the food court. If you just can’t avoid a meal or a snack while you’re out, find the healthiest option. Load up a sandwich with veggies, get frozen yogurt without all kinds of extra sweet toppings instead of ice cream, and choose hot tea or unsweetened iced tea instead of a frappachino.
    • Check menus for calorie counts when you’re eating out. Ask for salad dressings and sauces on the side, avoid fried foods, and keep in mind that alcoholic drinks can be full of calories.
    • Many communities have community gardens. Join in and help out to get moving and to grow things your whole family can enjoy in meals.

Results and Rewards

  • Don’t beat yourself up when you have missteps.

Everyone struggles with giving up the foods full of sugar and salt that they love, so it’s important to stay positive and get back on track.

  • Plan your cheat day.

Many people have found that planning a weekly cheat day can help them stay on course knowing they can treat themselves later. And once you get used to a balanced diet, you’ll find that you’ll cheat in smaller and smaller ways, even on the day you’re allowed to.

  • Find healthy ways to treat yourself.

For example, do you love watermelon or raspberries? Splurge on the healthy treats you love. Enjoy a piece of dark chocolate each day or a glass of red wine each week. Another option, reward meeting your goals with a treat that isn’t food-related, like a new outfit, book, or manicure.

Up Next:

Now that you know the value of a balanced diet, learn to prepare before you go grocery shopping and shop smart to meet your goals.

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Holiday Cookie Eating

Chasing Health: My Ho-Ho-Horrible Holiday Eating & Exercise Habits

I love the holiday season. In the fall and early winter, it seems like there is something special to celebrate nearly every other week. The list goes on and on, and I can’t get enough of it.

As a holiday enthusiast, I appreciate it all, from decorating, baking, and gift-buying to curling up and watching holiday-themed movies, not to mention mouth-watering smells, twinkling lights, and feeling like you’re in a magical snow globe at the first sight of flurries. Seems innocent enough, right?

Well, when I’m not watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Home Alone 2 for the 80th time, tearing up when “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” comes on the radio, or obsessing over the placement of ornaments on my tree (perfectionism strikes again), you can probably find me eating all the delicious holiday goodies that come along this time of year.

On top of turkey, ham, and the wide selection of casseroles, you get fudge, cookies, cheeseball, cheese dips, and pretty much any other finger food you can imagine. It’s amazing.

This is the time of year a lot of people take a break from their diets and indulge. It’s also the time of year when the days are short and cold, and your couch and TV seem to call your name the minute you walk through your door. (“Nicole, come catch up on The Walking Dead for the next five hours. I already set out your favorite blanket.”) It’s not a good combination.

But there is hope. Whether you overeat because your stress from the holiday grind has reached Clark Griswold level or (like me) you’ve waited all year for your mom’s chocolate crinkle cookies, you don’t have to put your healthy eating and exercise on hold.

I realize it’s hard to control yourself when you’re surrounded by fabulous snacks in every direction. I go into my family’s celebration with the same strategy every year, and it’s not a healthy one.

On Christmas Eve, I skip breakfast, make ham-and-cheese pinwheels (my decade-and-a-half-long contribution to our family’s party), nibble on the ones that don’t quite make the cut, and consider that my lunch.

An hour or two later when I’m extra hungry from skipping two meals, I help my mom set out all our delicious cookies. I’m an expert in taste-testing.

Cookie pic 2
My mom is in charge of chocolate crinkles (my all-time favorite!), peanut butter, and molasses. I’m in charge of the iced sugar cookies.

Once my aunt’s cheeseball and grandma’s fudge arrive, it’s game over. I’m usually not even hungry by the time my dad’s secret-recipe glazed ham is ready. But I somehow rally like a true holiday-eating champion and get through that meal and an equally delicious meal the next day with the other side of my family.

How does the two-day affair almost always end? With a stomachache and a tinge of regret.

Here is the fabulous spread of delicious goodies. Notice the salad and bowl of oranges. Not everything is unhealthy! Full disclosure, I skip right over both of those.
Here is the fabulous spread of delicious goodies. Notice the salad and bowl of oranges. Not everything is unhealthy! Full disclosure, I skip right over both of those.

Holidays don’t have to end in stomachaches or regret. Here are some tips based on my own worst holiday habits to help you stay on track this holiday season.

  • Don’t cut back on sleep before the big celebration. I like to stay up late any chance I get, whether there’s a special occasion or I’m just watching Netflix by myself. I’m no better than the millions of kids staying up to wait for Santa. But research shows that not getting enough sleep can make you crave the not-so-healthy foods, which isn’t good when the not-so-healthy foods are everywhere.
  • Don’t skip meals to overeat at the party later. Sometimes I think skipping breakfast and lunch gives me a free pass to fill my body with chocolate. It doesn’t. It not only puts me in the wrong mindset, but an Ohio State study suggests that doing this regularly can also affect how your body gains belly fat.
  • Don’t stand around the snack table. This is my favorite place to camp out for the afternoon, but it makes snacking a little too convenient. I probably don’t need a 10th piece of fudge, but who’s counting? (This brings me to my next point.)
  • Keep track of what you’re eating. I started tracking what I eat at the beginning of December as part of a headache diary for my migraines, and my snacking has fallen way off since then. I can only imagine how much this tracking system will help me through the holidays. Any kind of food diary can help you see how healthy or unhealthy your eating habits are.
  • Eat something healthy. Sadly, despite what Buddy the Elf tells us, the main food groups are not “candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.” Mix some fruits and veggies into your holiday meals and snacking options, and eat the unhealthier options in moderation.
  • Keep yourself busy with something other than food. Play games (my brother and I are quite the Catch Phrase duo) or set up a tournament. My cousins and I have hosted all kinds of championship events, everything from table tennis to Guitar Hero to rock-paper-scissors (we must have been feeling either really bored or hyper-competitive that year). The more physically active and farther from the food, the better.
  • Keep up your exercise routine (or something close to it). If you fall off, don’t feel discouraged (and don’t eat more cookies to console yourself). Just start exercising again. It’s easy to make excuses, but if you’re like me, you’ll feel better physically and mentally if you don’t ditch the physical activity.

I hope to follow at least some of these tips this holiday season and hope you do, too. I’ve already tried pretending celery is chocolate. It didn’t go so well, but I have high hopes for these other more reasonable tips.

Happy holidays!

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Fresh Beginning

My Healthy Journey: Beginning Fresh

I don’t normally make resolutions for New Years. But this year, in the spirit of My Healthy Journey, I’m beginning fresh with goals that I both think I can succeed with and that would make me really happy for 2015.

  • Try yoga. It’s good exercise, and can help my back, which I have some problems with. Plus the meditation and stress relief would be great. Starting small with podcasts and free videos counts! I want to get comfortable doing it before I consider being seen by innocent people passing by.
  • Cook at home. I’ve gotten much better about this the last six months, but I want to keep it up, so it is definitely a big goal for 2015.
  • Finish writing my book. I have been working on a novel since my junior year of college, and I’m about half way done with it. Now that I have a job where I have a set schedule and free time, I’m determined to finish it in 2015. (This is one that is such a personal goal that I know it’s hard to see in your own life. But think about something you’re passionate about that you want to do or finish this year. Finish knitting a blanket? Learn to build furniture? There’s so many possibilities for you to make this sort of goal your own!)
  • Read more. In college, I got to read fiction all the time. I still take in news all the time, but I don’t get around to books enough. This year, I need to read more!
  • Spend less time on my phone and computer when I’m not working. All I do at work is look at screens, websites, and social media. When I leave work, I still spend about an hour of my time reading my own social media feeds each day. I really want to cut this back, and replace it with things like the books above.
  • Be active with my dog. I can swear this won’t happen until it’s warmer out, (because I am cold when it’s 70 degrees in my house.) But once we change seasons again, I really want to get out there with my dog. She would love it, and it will help me get off the couch and keep us both healthy.
  • Save money from every paycheck. While working at Starbucks, I started saving my tips, about $40 a week, and after 9 months, I had the down payment for my car. I never really noticed not spending that money, but it added up really fast! I want to continue this good habit.
  • Mark one thing off my bucket list. I saw this idea online, and I think it’s a great one. I can’t promise you which thing it will be, but this year, I will go somewhere or do something I’ve always wanted to.
  • Use my food tracking to eat healthier. I want to build it into a habit that helps me make healthier choices based on what I’m actually doing.
  • Treat myself! I spend a lot of time running around, working, being stressed out, and then trying to recover by cuddling with my dog in my bed. But this year, I want to make a special effort to boost my mood with special things, even if it’s just making an effort to get my favorite coffee once in a while.  For example, in January, I have plans for how I’m going to make my bed super cozy (all courtesy of this Buzzfeed article,) that I am really looking forward to, so I can improve my dog cuddling time.

See my other post Resolutions You Can Actually Do to get some fun and useful ideas for your own resolutions.

Choosing Missions Like Reading a Book

My Healthy Journey: New Missions

I have finished a mission people!

I finished the food tracking mission on Monday by completing 4 weeks of it!  Then it gave me the option to continue, and, while I still haven’t found a food tracking app I love yet, I decided keeping it up was probably a good idea.

My next goal with this is to start actually counting calories. As I suspected it would, food tracking shows what an inconsistent eater I am. Hopefully, if I can find a good way to start counting, I can actually see how bad my diet is for me.

Dancing on the other hand, is likely abandoned. Now we know, not my exercise. This, with the end of the 19-Day Arm Challenge means that I’m ready to pick some new missions! And this time, I’ve actually chosen a lot, but they will each help me focus on different things.

The first is diet related. Besides food tracking, I’m going to try to do two sugar-free days each week. Its description:

Sugar is dehydrating, a big source of empty calories – and all over the place. Check the labels and try to avoid added or processed sugars for a whole day (natural sugars in fruit and milk are fine). 

Then, for exercise, because I think yoga would be a really good activity to learn over the cold winter months, and good for my back problems, I will start forcing myself into a yoga routine by stretching every day and meditating for 20 minutes a day (which I’ve never tried before and sounds interesting.)

Can’t touch your toes? Try daily stretches to increase flexibility, prevent exercise-related injuries, and get blood flowing to your muscles. About 10 minutes should be plenty.

Find your bliss, whether it’s meditation, prayer, or art… that mental calm and focus can help your body too, reducing stress hormones and even lowering blood pressure.

Then, on the mental and stress health fronts, I’m going to try to read for 20 minutes every day, an activity I don’t do nearly enough, and have a bedtime ritual, which will also be great for my newly increased dental routine.

Recapture the lost art of winding down: read a book or magazine before you turn off the lights. (It also qualifies writing where you log activity, but I will have to contain myself on this front and not cheat by counting writing for work!)

If you have trouble falling asleep, your body may be too wired. Turn off the screens an hour before bed (they reduce sleep-inducing melatonin) and try a wind-down bath, book, or herbal tea ritual.

I’ve never been a deep sleeper, and I rarely get enough of it, so I’ve been thinking a more solid routine before bed might be exactly what I need to start getting a better night’s sleep. Plus, reading beforehand will be such a calming form of reward.

So I know I’ve chosen a lot of things this time, and I’m not promising they’re all going to work out well at the same time, but I think together they will give me a nice level of activity each day towards different goals for different categories of health.

If you’re following along with me, you too should think about winter activities. I’ve started all of this at a time that not a lot of outdoor workouts are doable for much longer (or not at all with the rain in Illinois!) Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can prepare myself this winter and avoid entering my standard hibernation mode. I think improving my diet and starting to work on my muscle strength and flexibility are likely my best options. What about you?

I will report back soon!

Dental Adventures During the Arm Challenge

My Healthy Journey: Dental Adventures

So I know I was ready for my new week on Monday, but so far this week is not off to a much better start than the last.

I hate going to the dentist, and I hadn’t since before I went to college. Well, this weekend, I chipped a tooth and I had to suck it up and go. Which has resulted in more than 6 hours of lots of different dental work on Monday and Tuesday.

Because of the dental work, my food log is going pretty poorly so far, mostly because I haven’t eaten much this week. Also, all I’ve been doing in my spare time is lying on the right side of my face to help with the pain. But I’m going back to being a fully-functioning person today!

So even though my week’s new start is happening at a new time, I am happy that with my healthy journey, I also have newly healthy teeth!

So back to the 19-Day Arm Challenge it is!

For Day 5 on the beginner’s track, you will do:

12 Bicep Curls, Overhead Tricep Extensions, Lateral Shoulder Raises, Front Shoulder Raises, Bent Over Rows, Shoulder Presses, and 10 Push-Ups.

For Day 5 on the advanced track, you will do the same as Day 4:

14 Bicep Curls, Overhead Tricep Extensions, Lateral Shoulder Raises, Front Shoulder Raises, Bent Over Rows, and Shoulder Presses, and 12 Push-Ups.

For Day 6 on both tracks, you will take a rest day.

Don’t forget, the exercises are here if you need them: My Healthy Journey: The 19-Day Arm Challenge, Day 1.

(And make sure you take care of your teeth and visit your dentist! Or you will regret it, like my face currently does. )

Avoiding Missteps with the Arm Challenge

My Healthy Journey: Missteps

So far, my healthy journey isn’t going that well. Missteps seem impossible to avoid. Sometimes, life feels so busy that it gets in the way, and that has been the last week for me.

On the web team, this is literally our busiest, craziest time of year. Combine that with simple, but necessary errands, and suddenly I’m not home until 7 o’clock at night once in the last week. By the time I am (sometimes) done with cooking, eating, and catching up on our social media, I am almost falling into bed.

This means, that the arm challenge halted in its tracks, and there was no post-dinner dancing to be had. Yes, I know, measly effort.

But I did track my food! I started with pictures, but by Friday had forgotten entirely, so instead, I will just list them for last week.

Tuesday:
Cup of coffee with vanilla creamer
Cherry Nutri-Grain Bar
Plate of green beans and potatoes with ham leftovers
Applesauce cup with cinnamon
Turkey and swiss sandwich on wheat with tortilla chips
Glass of red wine
One deviled-egg half
A Reese’s Peanut Butter cup, a small Laffy Taffy and one of those Halloween caramel-apple suckers
Half a microwave package of kettle corn popcorn

Wednesday:
Cup of coffee with vanilla creamer
Lemon Herb Chicken Piccata frozen meal
Drumstick ice cream cone
Can of cherry Coke
Ham and pineapple frozen pizza
One Redd’s apple ale
A Reese’s Peanut Butter cup and a small Laffy Taffy
The other half of the microwave popcorn

Thursday:
Cup of coffee with vanilla creamer
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Bowl of Kashi oat flakes and blueberry clusters
Homemade chicken stir-fry with edamame, carrots, red pepper, pineapple and scrambled egg over rice and sesame peanut noodle combo.
Oven-baked pineapple and cream cheese wontons with soy sesame dipping sauce
One Redd’s apple ale

Friday:
Black Dog pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries
Glass of Pepsi
Leftover stir-fry
One Redd’s apple ale

Saturday:
Cup of coffee with vanilla creamer
Some candy (I wasn’t keeping track)
A can of Coke
Chips and salsa
S’mores graham cracker bar
One mojito
Bowl of cornflakes

Sunday:
Cup of coffee with vanilla creamer
Glass of orange-mango juice
Two over-easy eggs, two pieces of bacon, two frozen waffles with syrup
Can of cherry Coke
Peanut butter cup, Tootsie pop and two small Laffy Taffy
Chips and salsa and sour cream
Grilled cheese sandwich with one piece of leftover bacon

As you can see, balanced eating is not my strong point. And I swing wildly from eating a lot on Tuesday to eating very little other days.

But it is a new week and I am determined to do better! This next week, I’m going to try an app called Eatly for your iPhone (it does cost $1.99,) that allows you take pictures of your food and get them rated by health. I will also be keeping a list though, because I’m sure there’s no point in taking a picture of a Coke.

I also hope you hadn’t all started and were waiting desperately for more of the arm challenge, since I am just now giving you day 3 and 4, but that means you have had plenty of time to think about it and get on board!

For Day 3 for both tracks, you rest.

For Day 4 on the beginner’s track, you will do:

12 Bicep Curls and Overhead Tricep Extensions, and 10 Lateral Shoulder Raises, Front Shoulder Raises, Bent Over Rows, Shoulder Presses, and Push-Ups.

For Day 4 on the advanced track, you will do:

14 Bicep Curls, Overhead Tricep Extensions, Lateral Shoulder Raises, Front Shoulder Raises, Bent Over Rows, and Shoulder Presses, and 12 Push-Ups.

Good luck! And don’t beat yourself up when you get off to a rough start, there’s always a new week or day. That’s what I’m trying to tell myself at least. Check back on Wednesday for more arm challenge (I promise!)

Bond Missions

My Healthy Journey: Your Missions, Should You Choose to Accept It…

We’re diving back into Rally this week, and I’m picking my missions. But first, an overview of some of the things that you can do once you’ve registered on Rally.

Once you’ve taken your health assessment and are in Rally, there are four major categories to explore.

The first is missions. Missions are little challenges meant to help you make healthier life choices. There are really amazing options on here, and they’re still making more. Based on your assessment, some are recommended for you specifically, and then there’s a whole list of other ones you can explore.

Missions cover a wide range of options. From eating or exercising, to managing your medicines, cutting your tobacco use, getting enough sleep, to having a healthy and fulfilling social and personal life. This is great because it means you don’t have to start too big! It means that maybe you start exercising by stretching or dancing during the week. Or maybe you try going meatless on certain days, or using a smaller plate before you dive into a diet.

The second category is challenges. Challenges are when you compete against other Rally users. They move you along virtual courses and let you unlock achievements and earn coins (we’ll get to those.) Right now, there is a challenge going on called SF Stomp. As you keep track of your steps, you travel a virtual course across San Francisco. Leaders reveal interesting facts on a real-time map. If you’re a competitive person, this is a fun way to get started being active.

The next part is the communities. Communities are a place you can talk to others about causes and treatments for issues and to just get support. There are ones for depression, women’s health, pregnancy, parenting, diabetes, smoking, and many more. It is always comforting to know that others know what you’re going through, even if they can’t actually help. I’ve struggled with depression in the past, and it’s nice to know that if I need someone to talk to, I just have to hop online.

The last category is the fun one, rewards. Every time you log on and work on missions, even when you take your assessment, you can earn coins. Once you have coins, you can use them to enter sweepstakes for real prizes. Right now there are gift cards for Whole Foods and Amazon available, or the UP by Jawbone, which is a wristband that tracks your movement, and sleep with an app, or even an iPod nano to keep you moving while you workout.

So now that you have a good idea of how everything works, I’m going to tell you about what missions were recommended for me. Rally recommended that I focus on fruits or vegetables, avoid processed foods, cook at home more, run 30 minutes, walk three miles a day, work up a sweat three times a week, dance anytime, or bike for 20 minutes a day. These all sound great, but so do a lot of the ones that weren’t recommended for me.

I’m going to pick two to start working through. Because I’m also working on some other things, I’ve decided to start small with one that was recommended for me and one that wasn’t, each lasting for a month. This way I feel set up for success. If I feel really comfortable before that time’s up, I will start adding to them.

The first one I’m going to do is Dance Anytime. Its description: As the saying goes, if you can walk, you can dance! It’s awesome cardio, feels great, and you can do it anytime – try putting on music and moving for 20 minutes after dinner!

I chose this one for a few reasons. First of all, my dance moves could really use some work. I also didn’t want to start with too big of a fitness mission and fail miserably. But right now is also an extremely busy season for the Communications department at Health Alliance, so I also wanted to do something that was going to decrease my stress, not add to it. And I’m sure it will drive my dog crazy, so I will probably get a good dose of laughter in too.

The second mission I’m choosing is Track What You Eat. Its description: Are you aware of everything you are eating? Track it! You can take pictures of meals with your phone, jot down notes in a little book, or use an app. The results might surprise you.

Even though I think I could’ve handled adding more fruits and vegetables to my plate, I chose this one first for a reason. I rarely eat real meals. I usually eat a real lunch. Usually. The rest of the time, I munch. I eat a breakfast bar here, a smoothie there, a thing of candy as a snack, and when I worked at Starbucks I lived on straight coffee and milk. I have been this way for years, and it’s a real problem. I will consciously skip eating dinner if I know it means I can have a cupcake later. Instead of rewarding myself once in a while, I deprive myself so I can have things that are bad for me anytime I want.

This is not a good system! Not only am I hungry a lot of the time, I also probably don’t save myself very many calories in the long run, and I skip healthy foods not because I don’t like them, but because they aren’t as snackable.

So I’m hoping that by keeping track of what I’m eating every day, I will be forced to think about that instinctive bag of chips instead of justifying it later by skipping a meal. And once I see it all written out, I bet I will realize that I’m still eating just as much by skipping meals, but more of it is bad for me. I fully expect to be a little horrified.

I’m also going to try a different method of tracking my meals each week. So while I can test out which method works best for me, maybe that can help you if you start your own food tracking in the future.

So starting tomorrow, I’m keeping track and I’m dancing, and I will be keeping you updated every step of the way. Join me on my healthy journey.