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Mindful Cooking: Enjoy Your Time in the Kitchen

Sometimes it seems impossible to drum up the time and energy needed to cook a healthy meal. And what happens to dinner when mommy (or daddy) has had a long day?  In our house, we usually end up ordering a less than nourishing take-out dinner. What if there was a way to embrace cooking, even on the challenging days, and actually find contentment in it?  Recently someone at in my mom's group mentioned Mindful Cooking. My ears perked up! I am a big advocate of mindful eating, so why I had I not thought to bring mindfulness to the kitchen as I prepared the food? As I started to read up on it I realized I already was practicing mindful cooking in many ways.

Mindfulness in its self is the state of being aware and present in the given moment. It is in those moments, when we allow ourselves to let go of that constant babble in the mind, we can find true contentment. “Be here now.” I often repeat this mantra to yoga practitioners when I am teaching. It’s easier said than done, but those moments of mental stillness can help us slow down and appreciate what is right before us. 

The kitchen is the perfect place to practice mindfulness. There are so many opportunities to keep the mind actively engaged in the here and now. By tuning in to the smell of the food, the heat of the oven, the sounds of chopping, and the sight of our creations we can learn to enjoy the experience of cooking. Instead of feeling burdened by a meal, one can actually find it therapeutic and relaxing!

Try these simple exercises in the kitchen.
*Before you get started on any of the exercises below, put all screens and electronic devices out sight. ;)

Express Gratitude:
This one works well if you have a lot of prep involved in your meal. With each ingredient whether you are chopping, seasoning, mixing, try to visuals and acknowledge the origin of that food. Did it grow from the ground? Or in a tree? Did it walk or swim? Breathe? When we see our food as having an existence other than on our plate we can truly appreciate it. Take a moment to express gratitude for the nourishment that each food will provide.

Use Your Senses:
If you are cooking something on the stove or in the oven take a few minutes to sit quietly nearby. Experience the fragrances, sounds, and sights of your food as it cooks. Notice the subtle changes in the room. Notice how those changes affect your body.
If your mind starts to wander off, gently bring it back to your cooking meal without criticism or stress. Allow yourself to appreciate the sensations that the impending meal drums up in your body and mind.

Infuse With Love:
Have you ever noticed that a home cooked meal prepared by a loved one just tastes better? Your mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing?  Or your grandfather's apple pie? It’s almost as if you can taste the love. Many people believe that food can take on the energy of the person preparing it and then be passed along to those who consume it. Next time you are cooking for your family acknowledge how each food will nourish those you love the most in the world. If you want to take it further, create a mantra to go along with it… “I am cooking with love.”

If you are interested in learning more about Mindful Cooking, read "The Mindful Cook: Finding Awareness, Simplicity, and Freedom in the Kitchen"  by Isaac Cronin.

Be a Part-Time Vegetarian

I love me some steak (and chicken, turkey, ham, fish…and BACON!). I always have and always will, but over the last few years I have made a conscious effort to cut down on my meat consumption. I don’t eat meat for breakfast or lunch. I also plan for 1 dinner with meat and 1 dinner with fish each week. Red meat is reserved for a once a month indulgence. Why have I cut back? There are real benefits of eliminating meat from our diets (at least some of the time). For the meat lovers out there like myself it might seem like a daunting task, but being a part-time vegetarian is a good way to help your body, your bank account, and the planet.

Here is why I am a part-time vegetarian…

My Health
People who eat little to no meat have a decreased risk of obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, and certain cancers. Studies of more than 900,000 women done by the Archives of Internal Medicine have shown that women in their 20, 30s, and 40s who ate red meat or processes meat on a daily basis were more likely to develop breast cancer. And even more recently the World Health Organization announced a direct link between processed meats and colon cancer.Although the effects of meat consumption are not thought to be as harmful as say cigarette smoke, the findings are enough to make me cut down, especially with the processed meats! Bye bye bacon.:(

My Finances
Meat consumption can totally break the bank, especially if you are trying to eat organic, grass fed, free range products (the “healthy” meats). Compare a $14 organic chicken breast to a $5 package of tempeh or beans. Or a $29/lb cut of organic beef tenderloin?! If you opted for the plant based protein, you would be cutting out a major chunk of change from the grocery bill. I save a minimum of $50 per week eating the way I do. Sorry, Whole Foods, but you already take enough of my money. I am going to sauté some tempeh tonight!

Our planet
Word is spreading about how the livestock industry is one of the leading causes of global warming on the planet. There are a lot of percentages being thrown around by environmental experts. The facts seem to differ depending on who you talk to, but one thing they all agree on is that meat consumption is harming the planet and will continue to do so if we don’t change our eating habits. According to World Bank environmental advisor Robert Goochland, it has been estimated that up to 15% of the worlds greenhouse gases are produced by livestock and 61% of those gasses come from cows. With a growing population and demand for more food it is estimated that the world’s carbon budget will be exhausted by 2050. What?! That’s terrifying. According the US Department of Agriculture each American eats 125 lbs of meat per year, so I try do my part by making meat a once in a while indulgence. At the risk of sounding super corny and idealistic here… Just think of the difference it would make if we all cut back just a little bit?!

That being said… The part-time vegetarian life style has worked for me so far. Could it work for you?  I have some really great recipes for plant based protein meals if anyone is interested.  Contact me anytime! [email protected]

Mindful Eating or Over Eating: Which will you choose?

Here's the scenario- It’s dinner time. You are starving. The food looks and smells delish. You cannot wait to consume. You take one amazing bite and then another, and next thing you know your plate is empty. Time and your food seemed to have disappeared. Still hungry, you head back for a second helping. Oh, and did I mention that this all happened in the first 10 minutes of an episode of Orange is the New Black?  If this sounds familiar, you might benefit from some Mindful Eating exercises.

Many of us pair up our meals with other activities such as watching TV, working on the computer, reading the Facebook news feed, or shoveling food into the mouths of our babies- ALL things that distract us from the very important act of eating. What happens when we tune in to the food itself and tune out the rest of the world (aka - Mindful Eating)?

Well, studies have shown that people who practice this meditative act are less likely to overeat.  By taking your time and acknowledging the food that nourishes you, you allow your body to send the appropriate signals to your mind. While eating mindfully, one is able to receive the "I'm full" signal well before they decide to go back for seconds. The benefits are vast- smaller waistlines, less guilt and stress surrounding food, and a more enjoyable overall eating experience.

Mindful eating has been gaining popularity over the last few years. There a books, website, studies, classes, and retreats to reshape our thoughts on food and how we consume it. No matter where you are in the world right now you can find help exploring Mindful Eating. The Center for Mindful Eating has a great website with lots of helpful resources. Not ready to give up your nightly dinner and a movie ritual just yet? Try these simple exercises to see if Mindful Eating is for you.

Pick a small piece of food. It could be a raisin, an almond, or a tiny piece of popcorn. Place it in front of you on the table. Before you eat it ask yourself these questions- How does this nourish me? Where did this come from? Who has helped bring this piece of food to my table? What is its texture? What is its smell? What will it taste like? After meditating on those questions. Slowly, indulgently eat the piece of food. Savor it and take note of the taste, texture, and depth. Now tell me that one bite wasn't a more quality experience than usual?

Quiet down:
Sit down to dinner and for the first 5 minutes of the meal do NOTHING but eat. Put away all electronics, turn off the music, and stop all conversations. Concentrate on the food. Again, indulge and savor every bite. Just for 5 minutes. If you enjoy it (and find that you are eating less), maybe increase the time. Maybe try the whole meal in silence!

Chew your food 20 to 30 times with each bite. This way you have time to observe, savor, and contemplate what you are eating. Even if you cannot commit to eating your whole meal this way, try a few bites in the beginning. It will take you longer to eat, and hopefully you will be open to the signals your body may be sending you.

Special thanks to Dr. Tumi Johnson who inspired this Mindful eating blog post. Last month our community event "Achieving and Maintaining Your Ideal Weight: New Perspectives" opened my eyes to this new approach. For more on Tumi visit her website: http://drtumijohnson.com/

PaleO-K, I will give it a try... My experience eating like a Cavewoman.

As I was struggling to lose the last few pounds of baby weight, I kept hearing about the Paleo Diet. Being pregnant and living with a new baby had allowed bad eating habits to creep into my everyday life.  I use to be very disciplined about what I ate, but somehow bringing a baby into the equation left me a little lax when it came to food choices… Dessert use to be a bite of dark chocolate after dinner, but recently I found myself eating half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Fo-Yo at the end of the day. Because I am still breastfeeding, I needed help refocusing in a way that would not restrict my calorie consumption drastically. I don’t believe in “fad diets” anyway, so the Paleo “lifestyle” sounded like a safe way to set some guidelines for myself.

Here are the rules-

You CAN eat:
Meat and Fish
Nuts and Seed
Fruits and Veggies
Healthy Oils

Processed Foods
Beans and Legumes

The idea is to get back to the basics, eating only the foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. When we take out all the junk we don’t need, it ends up being a menu full of protein, fiber, vitamins, and Omega-3 and 6 fats.
By eliminating foods high in carbs (which create spikes in insulin levels and promote weight gain) we are able to improve our overall health. Studies have shown that people who live the Paleo lifestyle are less likely to develop diabetes and heart disease, and they are able to maintain a healthy weight.

I loved the sound of this! It is not very far off from my regular pre-baby diet, so I didn’t think it would be too difficult to stick to the guidelines.  I try to avoid bread and pasta on a regular basis anyway, and my diet is loaded with fruits and veggies.  I eat meat in moderation, but I like it, so not a problem to add a little more to the menu. I decided to try it just for a week thinking it would be a piece of cake!  Mmmm….cake….

After a few days I realized caveman eating was not as easy as I thought it would be. I definitely missed the sweets, and after a long day of taking care of baby I SO wanted that Ben and Jerry’s… But surprisingly, I missed the legumes and dairy more than the sweets.  I am a big fan (and I mean FAN with capital letters) of Greek yogurt.  I was eating it all the time for breakfast.  Beans, soy, tofu, peanut butter and cashews were also staples in our house.  I didn’t think I would miss them as much as I did. 

I stuck with it though, reassuring myself that if by the end of the week I could forgo the Paleo eating if I wanted. It was just a week! Plus, some of the recipes we used were not only a welcomed change from our usual meals, but they were also super delish.  I was excited to plan dinner every day.  A few of our favorites were Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Marinara and Mustard Lime Chicken….YUM.

After that first week the results were in -- I felt great AND I lost the last of my baby weight! Granted, it was only a couple of pounds, but the diet change helped it come off when exercise alone was not doing the trick.
My energy was up, and so was my confidence.  I was able to stay disciplined and see results because of it.  That’s an awesome feeling! 

The hard part will be keeping the lbs off. As soon as I go back to my late night fo-yo binges I will put that weight back on, so I decided to adopt some of the Paleo rules into my lifestyle without being super crazy about it.
I want to be able have my Greek yogurt and put tofu on my salad every now and then. Do I need to do it every day? No. So here are the rules that I set up for myself:

Meghan’s Paleo influenced Guidelines:
1.  I will eat strictly Paleo Monday through Thursday
2.  Friday, Saturday, Sunday I will add in some healthy carbs (beans, whole grains, and yogurt to the mix)
3.  ONE weekend day I will not worry about what I eat.  If I want to have pizza or a burger I will.
(I will probably take an extra long run the next day, but we all need a little splurge sometimes.)

So far it’s working great! Give it a try! Here are some great sites I used to find my recipes:

Overcoming the Weight Loss Hurdle - Kerri's Story

Not only was Kerri one of my very first clients when I moved to New York City, but as it turned out Kerri was (and is) one of my most hard working clients. By changing her diet and staying active 5 to 6 times per week, she initially dropped 20 lbs and several inches from her hips waist and thighs. She had to give away old clothes and buy new ones. She turned in the baggy sweat pants for tight fitting LuLu Lemon attire, and she was able to proudly sport snug cocktail dresses at special events...which of coarse made way for tons of well deserved compliments. It was incredibly exciting to witness her progress. Experiences like these make my job awesomely rewarding.

Her weekly regimen included 2 strength and cardio sessions with me, 2 to 3 interval sessions on the elliptical, and a yoga class. For most people that may sound like a lot of exercise, but she made it part of her everyday life in order to reach her goals, which she did with flying colors.

After some time Kerri's weight loss began to slow down, even though she was staying active and eating right. This is what is called a weight loss plateau, and it is a common bump in the road for many people trying to lose a substantial amount of weight. The body's metabolism readjusts to it's new weight and becomes efficient in the daily exercises. Needless to say, Kerri became frustrated when the scale would not budge. To make it over that hurtle, one must find a way to kick start the body back into weight loss mode, so we decided to plan a 2 week intensive which included an increase in intensity of her workouts and a new set dietary guidelines.

We set a schedule that would have Kerri working out with me almost every day for 2 whole weeks! If you have ever worked out with me you may understand what kind of challenge she was up against. Soon enough we were using the term “hell weeks”... in a loving kind of way. On top of the increase in exercise I sent Kerri a strict set of dietary guidelines which included a 3 day juice cleanse. (If you are curious to learn more about cleansing read my blog post “To Cleanse or not to Cleanse”)

I have never done a 2 week intensive with a client before, so I was a little nervous about the results. I want Kerri to reach her goals just as much as she does, and if we ended up in the same place at the end of the 2 weeks I would have felt awful. BUT, the measurements don't lie! After all her hard work Kerri lost 5.6 pounds, took off an inch from her waist, abdomen, hips, and highs. Yay, Kerri! The hope now is that if Kerri continues with some of the food changes and keeps working out intensely her body will continue to shed the pounds.

See what Kerri had to say about her experience...

"I’ve been working out with Meghan for over two years now and I’ve made some HUGE strides – I don’t remember whose idea it was to do the two week intensive but I do know that both Meghan and I took to the idea like it was the best thing since sliced bread. The premise was simple. Kill me, over a two week period, and oh also not let me eat anything. At least that’s how it felt by the end. But you know what, it was worth it. My biggest takeaways are that 1) you actually can make a noticeable change in two weeks if you’re willing to work out hard and eat healthy and 2) two weeks is a long time when you’re working out hard and eating only healthy. I think the cleanse was really important because it got me into the right mindset, right at the beginning and it really forced healthy food choices. The food stuff was my biggest open question – I eat really healthy for breakfast and lunch but have a tendency to snack at dinner, and even if I’m snacking on stuff that isn’t really “bad” for you, I’m not necessarily eating things that are good either. Meghan was really helpful with this piece of it – she sent me a bunch of recipes and gave me an easy list of items that I could eat as much as I wanted, items I could eat in moderation and items I should avoid if possible. The hardest thing for me to avoid was dairy – I love having cereal for breakfast in the morning and I think cheese is one of the best inventions ever. The easiest thing for me to do was eat all the fruit I could handle. At this point, the big question I think most people would ask is, would you do this again? And the answer is, without a doubt, yes. It’s not easy but it’s worthwhile. I could totally see this being something I would want to do either quarterly or two or three times a year. However, if I were to do it again, I’d make a few changes. Meghan and I built in one day off, about a week into the two week intensive. You’re decreasing your intake and upping your exercise, and your body and mind will notice this and they will be tired. Very tired. If I were to do it again, I’d work out hard for 4-5 days, take a day off, work out hard again for another 4-5 days, another day off and then finish strong with another 4-5 days of working out. I think that would make a huge difference. But that aside, I managed to survive what I quickly dubbed “hell weeks” strongly and managed to meet all my goals. And now I can’t wait to have some ice cream… after all, I’ve earned it! But all kidding aside – I want to maintain my new weight loss but I also want to be able to live which means I now have to balance the ability to go out to dinner and have a glass of wine, or to have some ice cream, with the fact that these are things that I still need to do in moderation. I will also try to maintain some of my workout habits – Meghan came up with some extra difficult workouts that I think we should put into our regular rotation to keep my muscles surprised and constantly working."

In total Kerri has now lost 27.4 pounds...and counting. Take a look at these before and after photos. So inspiring! We will keep you updated on Kerri's progress.

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