Thursday, April 1, 2010

Plain yogurt - the staple super food to always have in your fridge

Before this food programme, I rarely ate yogurt - let alone plain yogurt. Yecccchhh! It just tasted sour, runny and way too good for me - talk about diet food!

Somehow over the years, yogurt has infiltrated my fridge and my life to become an absolute staple. I have literally had yogurt at breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert on some days. And it tasted different and delicious each time. The yogurt I am talking about is low-fat, plain and unsweetened.

I have come to realise that yogurt is a super food; it is full of calcium and protein and low in fat. Yogurt is almost magical in its properties. Here is an excellent explanation from the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon:

"Fermentation of milk breaks down casein, or milk protein, one of the most difficult proteins to digest. Culturing restores many of the enzymes destroyed during pasteurization including lactase, which helps digest lactose or milk sugar and numerous enzymes which help the body absorb calcium and other minerals. Lactase produced during the culturing process allows many people who are sensitive to fresh milk to tolerate fermented milk products. Both vitamin B and vitamin C content of milk increase during fermentation.

"Research has shown that regular consumption of cultured dairy products lowers cholesterol and protects against bone loss. In addition, cultured dairy products provide beneficial bacteria and lactic acid to the digestive tract. These friendly creatures and their by-products keep pathogens a bay, guard against infectious illness and aid in the fullest possible digestion of all food we consume. Perhaps this is why so many traditional societies value fermented milk products for their health-promoting properties and insist on giving them to the sick, the aged and nursing mothers."

Unless there is an allergy to dairy, I would urge anyone to incorporate this versatile, healthy food into their diet.

I think what I love most about yogurt is that it is a blank slate of creaminess ready to be married with sweet or savoury foods.

I also love that it is low in fat, so I can use it liberally on this programme - 100g of my plain, reduced fat Easiyo yogurt contains only 1.7g of fat. Woo hoo! (Be sure to check fat content, my son's Greek style yogurt has a whopping four times the amount of fat of my low-fat type - he needs the fat, I don't!)

Here are a few ideas to get you started:


  • Plain yogurt, sprinkled with Stevia powder (my sweet tooth doesn't like 'tart' in the morning!), oats made into porridge and a sliced banana. Delicious and filling!
  • Or try yogurt & a banana in the blender to make a creamy smoothie (this my son's favourite at the moment).


  • Chop up cucumber and a bit of garlic, mix with yogurt and it is a tasty salad dressing - goes great with tomatoes and sauerkraut.


  • Drain 1 litre of yogurt overnight through cheesecloth and you've got a delicious yogurt cream cheese to spread on crackers or dip with carrot and celery sticks.

  • Dollop on top of taco salad instead of sour cream.
  • Stir through hearty beef stew to create a stroganoff flavour.


  • Yogurt with fresh or frozen berries - yum! (don't forget the Stevia if you want it sweet)
  • Yogurt mixed with 2 teaspoons of Milo - an interesting, tangy 'chocolate' fix!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

10 small changes to make when you're not seeing weight loss

Are you eating the right foods and exercising regularly but just not seeing any weight-loss reflected on the scale or in your measurements? Something needs tweaking.

Over the years on this nutrition programme, I've had several stints at losing weight and it hasn't all been plain sailing. There were times when I should have been seeing fat loss but it just wasn't happening. Thankfully, I had my nutritionist to guide me through. Now I can pass on what I have learned.

Here are 10 small changes that can make a big difference:

1. Drink plenty of water - you're not drinking enough water if you're not peeing clear. The kidneys require extra help from the liver when you are not consuming enough water, and it is the liver that burns fat as fuel. So, while the liver is assisting the kidneys, it is not burning fat. Also, if the body has identified a shortage of water, it will retain as much as it can and store it between cells. This shows up as weight retention or even weight gain on the scale.

2. Check your food for any hidden fats - salad dressing has caught me out with this one in the past. I changed to a new brand of 'lite' dressing, but it was not light in fat! I was pouring it over my salad every day at lunch time without realising I was adding about 10 grams of fat to my meal. Checking in with my nutritionist and seeing my fat loss had stalled, she was soon able to pin-point the culprit by observing my food diary. If you're consuming any processed foods as part of your programme, be sure to read the labels and check for fat content.

3. Up your exercise - this point is a reality check (and I have to say I am guilty of this!). Are you really excercising enough? You need to be exercising 4-5 times per week for at least 40-60 minutes. You don't have to run or even power-walk. If 10 is your maximum effort, then you should be exercising at about a 7. This is fat burning mode.

4. Don't overdo the exercise (or get your nutrition checked) - this is an interesting one ... are you actually excercising too much or too intensely? This is what brought me to the nutritionist in the first place. I was following a triathlon training programme which entailed vigorous and extended periods of exercising. But I was not losing an ounce. My nutrition was not supporting this effort. If you are training for an an event or you just like hard, intense exercise it may be wise to visit a dietician or nutritionist to ensure you are feeding your body correctly.

5. Are you having too many calories - it seems obvious, but perhaps your food programme contains too much energy. My nutritionist has me on approximately 1300 calories per day (not including my free meal day of which there are no calorie restrictions). There are guidelines on the internet as to how many calories are required according to your weight, height, age, and sex. I used this one and it said I needed 1430 calories per day to lose 1 pound per week without exercise. This is probably fairly accurate, although I prefer my nutritionist's recommendation of fewer calories per day and then a free meal to keep the metabolism burning fat rather than plateauing.

6. Are you having too few calories - maybe you think you'll lose weight faster if you really cut back those calories. It doesn't work. If you don't get enough calories or energy for your body to maintain all of its functions, it will simply see the lack as a threat and go into storage mode. I have never intentionally done this - I like eating too much! However, when I was training for triathlons, my nutrition was not supporting all the activity, and I wasn't lose weight.

7. Ensure your food is balanced - eating balanced meals and snacks is essential to a nutrition programme that is going to support fat loss. A balanced meal in my terminology is always having protein with carbohydrate. My non-science, simplistic understanding of the importance of this is that if you eat carbohydrates on their own, the body sends out a surge of insulin to move the carb glucose from the blood into the muscles and fat cells for storage. Protein slows down the release of insulin, thus reducing/negating the carb glucose being stored as fat. And in super-simplistic terms - eating protein with carbs will keep you satisfied for three-plus hours whereas carbs on their own will have you craving for food in a short period of time.

8. Eat within 2 hours of rising in the morning - your body has been burning fat while you sleep and will continue to do so in the morning. However, if you wait too long to eat breakfast, your body sees this as a threat, stops burning fat and goes into storage mode. Never skip breakfast.

9. Eating often enough - you need to be eating every three to three-and-a-half hours for your body to maintain its fat-burning mode. If you skip a meal, forget to eat or wait too long for your next meal or snack your body goes into storage mode and the fat-burning stops.

10. Are you adding in small treats - I put on weight doing this. It is amazing what you can convince yourself as being 'ok' when you want treat food! Every few days I was having a 'healthy' biscuit - all organic and wheat free - after lunch. Well, I did that for a few weeks, and I put on a kilogram of fat. My nutritionist told me that if you are adding in small treats of extra calories your body doesn't burn the calories off, they are simply stored.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Staying motivated - is your weight-loss programme working?

Once I had committed a weight-loss programme, I found the best way to stay motivated was to actually be losing weight!

I remember being about two months into this nutrition programme and putting on a skirt I hadn't worn for a while. I put my feet through it, hiked it up to my waist, zipped it up at the back - and it was so loose I was able to turn it completely around my body in a single movement. At first I was a bit shocked. Had I really lost all that weight? Then it sunk in. Yes! Woo hoo! Sure, I'd seen the numbers dropping on the scale, but putting on that skirt and seeing the huge gap between my body and the material was fantastic! My motivation went through the roof, and I had no problem sticking with my programme - and still maintaining to this day.

The proverb (or cliche'): 'Nothing succeeds like success' ... is apt with regard to weight-loss. Success with weight-loss does breed further success. When you start getting the very results you are after, you keep doing what is working.

I think the top reason people lose motivation when they are trying to shed fat is because the programme or diet they are following doesn't work for them. Over the years I have tried countless diets (which I posted in detail about here) and got little or no results. There are only so many weeks or months you can carry on eating a particular way when you are not seeing the results you'd been expecting.

Here are three ways to find out if your weight-loss programme is working:

1. Weigh yourself on a weekly basis. You may not see a loss every week, but you should see a regular downward trend over three to four weeks. On average you should losing 500g of fat each week. The only problem I have with scales is that they often do not show the true picture of what is happening with your body. There may be weeks when the scale actually shows weight gain -but that doesn't mean you've gained fat - it could just be fluid retention. The scale does not show that you could be losing muscle instead of fat. Both scenarios have happened to me, and my nutritionist was able to tweak my programme to assist with getting my body back into fat-burning mode. Still, there is merit in seeing the numbers on the scale.

2. Your clothes start to feel looser. I know, this is pretty obvious. But I have to say, there were times when I could convince myself that I was losing weight, and the reason my jeans were so tight was because they'd just come out of the dryer. Choose an item of clothing you can use as a benchmark - keep it in the closet and use it just to check if your body is indeed shrinking.

3. Keep track of your measurements. Measure your bust, waist, hips, thigh and upper arm with a tailor's tape. These are the areas where you are most likely to store fat - so most likely place for the fat to come off. Measure on a weekly basis and write it down. Stay consistent with the tautness of the tape each time you take your measurements - having it loose one week and tight the next is not going to help you track your results accurately.

If you are not seeing consistent weight loss over a three to four week period using the above ways to track your progress, your programme needs tweaking. I will cover possible problem areas and what might need tweaking in next week's post.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Serious about losing weight? Follow this 5-point checklist

I remember when I wanted to lose weight. I just wanted to lose weight. I was tired of squeezing into my jeans and despairing at the flabby reflection in the mirror. I wanted the fat to be gone. But at that stage, I wasn't willing to make the changes losing weight required. I had no intention of giving up easy dinners of pizza and hamburgers. If my husband was going to have a slice of cake after lunch, then I wanted to enjoy one too. If friends invited us over for dinner I was hardly going to refuse a rich and delicious meal. If I stayed up late at night, then my goodness, I really needed to get my rest the next day - forget exercising.

I was not serious about losing weight.

Years - and many failed diets - later, I got serious. Something clicked. This time I was ready to make all of the lifestyle changes that would support losing weight - and staying slim, fit and healthy. When I look back, I can see clearly what was required to make this happen. Here is my 5-point check-list. Rate yourself - are these statements true for you?

You're serious about losing weight if you:

1. Have a definite, numerical weight-loss goal. If your goal is to fit back into the jeans you wore when you were 16 (or 21 or before the baby!), that's not good enough. You need a number - actually two numbers. First, the number you want to see on the scale when you have lost all the fat you need to lose. Second, the number of pounds or kilograms you need to drop to see the first number on the scale. Both numbers are very important. The first number is your goal weight and the weight that you will maintain. The second number should be divided by 1 pound or 500 grams (which is a healthy, weekly fat-loss average) to give you the number of weeks it is going to take you to reach your goal weight. For example, my goal was to lose 22 pounds. Ideally I would be losing 1 pound a week - so I knew it would take me 22 weeks to lose the weight. That's about five months. By by identifying and writing down these two numbers you can track how your weight-loss is progressing each week and make any changes required. You also get perspective - while you really want to fit back into those jeans, you now know it is going to take you five months.

2. Have someone you're accountable to. If you've done Weight Watchers before (or if you're doing it now!), you can appreciate the importance of the weekly weigh-ins. You have to front up, get weighed and be accountable to your supervisor and the others in the group. What a great system! Enlist yourself with a nutritionist or dietician who can track your progress each week and give you the right nutrition advice. Being accountable to someone other than yourself is a solid way to stay on-track every day. You know you're going to have explain any indescretion - it's much easier to just stick with a clean programme.

3. Have a definitive food plan and keep a food diary. Just planning to 'eat healthy' or 'cut out junk food' will not work. Why? Because our brains are too clever! They find ways of justifying any delicious morsel. You need to spell out exactly what foods you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that are going to support your weight-loss goals. Anything not on that list cannot be eaten. Simple as that. Keep a food diary - write down exactly what you eat every day. I keep my food diary in a handy place so that I can write down what I eat after each meal or snack. Sounds a bit over-the-top, but when you weigh yourself each week and you're not seeing a loss, the food diary becomes a handy reference. It also makes you accountable - I can't tell you how much it pains me to have to write down something that is not on my food programme. The food diary has kept me from 'cheating' a fair few times!

4. Are committed to a clearly-defined exercise programme. Set out exactly when, where, what and how long you are going to exercise for. My exercise goals have changed over the years but here's my current clearly-defined exercise programme: Monday through Friday, walk briskly for 40 minutes in on my neighbourhood streets starting at 6:45 in the morning. I know myself too well, if I just set the goal to 'walk in the morning', I would justify this as having been accomplished if I only walked two mornings in a week at a slow pace.

5. Tell people what you are doing. I don't mean emailing your entire contact list about the weight-loss journey you've set out on. I'm talking about those social situations that often cause people to cave in on their weight-loss commitments such as Friday night drinks after work, morning tea shouts, lunch or dinner with friends. If people ask why you are not indulging in all the food and drinks, just tell them. Don't say that you are 'trying to lose weight' or that you are 'on a diet'. That seems to be an open invitation for people to tell you how you don't need to lose weight or 'just have a little'. The best line I've come up with if people ask is: "I only have treat food once a week and this isn't it." Amazing how this works.

If all of these statements are true for you, congratulations, you are on the road to weight-loss!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My 6 sure-fire tips for weight-loss plus 1!

I notice a lot of my posts are centered around weight maintenance, probably because that is where I am at. This post is a reminder to myself about what it took to lose the weight in the first place. If you have a goal to lose fat, here are my six sure-fire tips (plus 1!) to fat-burning (you'll notice they are very nutrition-based because losing weight is 80% nutrition!):

1. Cut out the fat. Let me be the first to say that fat is extremely important in a healthy diet. However, if you're trying to kick-start your body into burning stored fat - you can't be eating any. That means no butter on toast, no oil in salad dressings, trim milk in tea or coffee, low-fat cottage cheese and yogurt, and lean meats. This isn't forever ... it is just for the first 4-6 weeks to get your metabolism up and running. Then you'll be having fat in a weekly free-meal and you can introduce 1 tablespoon of food fat (I use flaxseed oil) each day.

2. Eat every three to three-and-a-half hours. The body needs regular re-fueling to ensure it does not go into 'starvation and storage' mode.

3. Eat protein and carbohydrates together at meals and snacks. Protein keeps the blood sugar stable while the carbs give you the energy. I'm not an expert on the science but it works! You won't be starving an hour after eating.

4. Do not eat heavy carbohydrates at your evening meal. Carbs such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta get stored as fat if you have them during your evening meal. Unless you are an athlete, you don't need these carbs at dinner.

5. Drink lots of water. You need to be peeing clear.

6. Exercise. I am not talking about training for a marathon - or even slogging it out for an hour at the gym. Just walking 40-60 minutes 4-5 days a week at a moderately brisk pace is all it takes for the body to burn fat.

And here's my extra tip which is the best!

7. Eat a free meal each week. After you've been following the above for approximately four weeks (on average you should be losing 500g or a pound a week) ... add in a free meal. Pig out - anything goes. You need it. It will stop your weight-loss from plateauing. Read more about the coveted free meal.

Sound simple? It is! Truly. I highly recommend visiting a nutritionist/dietician to get your food programme spot-on. However, if you just want an idea of what I ate to lose weight and keep it off, I wrote a post about it here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Eggplant - here are the top 2 ways to mouth-watering perfection!

If you have eaten eggplant in the past and not enjoyed it (join the ranks of my husband), this post may or not be for you. I must say this right now though - how eggplant is cooked makes or breaks it. I will give you my two best cooking methods.

I LOVE eggplant. It is my absolute, number one favourite vegetable. I think it is perfect. I could eat them every day and not get tired of their creamy texture and subtle flavour. What's even better is that eggplant is ideal for my nutrition programme - it is low-carb and fat-free. And to top it all off, they are supremely filling. I slap half an eggplant on my plate at dinner with a side of steak, and I am so full, there is no hankering for any dessert afterwards!

My husband loathes 'aubergine' as he calls them and then performs an eloquent gagging noise. Apparently he was put off them before my time. So, he will happily cook them up to perfection on the barbecue for me but won't ingest them for love nor money. More recently, my three-year-old son has taken a liking to them and, as much as it pains me, I have to hand over a few slices whenever he sees them on my dinner plate.

So, what's the secret to mouth-watering, addictive eggplant??

Here are my top two methods for cooking: (there is no need to salt & rinse eggplant these days - the bitterness has been bred out):

1. Sizzled on the barbecue: Cut eggplant into 1 cm slices - do not remove the skin (any thinner and they will dry up, any thicker and they won't get cooked through before the outside is burnt). Brush lightly with olive oil. Heat barbecue plate to medium heat and cook eggplant slices until they are lightly browned on both sides (turning only once) and squidgy in the middle. Sprinkle with your favourite salt - eat immediately.

2. Baked in the oven: Pre-heat oven to 180 deg Celcius. Cut eggplant in half long-ways. Brush both cut-side halves lightly & thoroughly with olive oil. Place a piece of baking paper on a baking tray, lay eggplant skin-side down (cut-side up). Bake for approximately 35-45 mins depending on the size of the eggplant. It should be quite brown on top and squidgy in the middle. Sprinkle with your favourite salt - eat immediately.

Please try some soon!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Coffee - the alternative to sweets after lunch

The simplest way to put it is: I have a sweet tooth. Maybe there's more to it on the physiological and psychological levels. But really, I love to eat sweet foods - especially cookies, cakes and chocolate. Oh, and then there are slices, pastries and scones. I love them all. I especially enjoy having something sweet after lunch. Before I was on this nutrition programme, the sweet treat after lunch was actually the best part of lunch!! The slice of chocolate cake just seemed to finish it all off.

To lose weight and keep it off, I had to change this habit. I had to reign in my sweet tooth. And I have succeeded - with a replacement. I now finish off my lunch with a satisfying cup of plunger coffee. My favourite brand is Hummingbird coffee, it is fair trade and organic. I make it strong with plenty of trim milk and no sugar. It tastes wonderful!

The coffee really signals the end of the meal for me. It is warming, filling and seems to cut through any lingering peckish-ness for something sweet. It still feels like a treat with its heady aroma and strong flavour. Once I've had the last delicious slurp, I am full and have completely forgotten about trying to sneak in some chocolate-laden morsel.

Monday, January 4, 2010

recipe: meatloaf - no-carb, reduced fat

I use minced beef quite a lot - mainly because it is quick, easy and inexpensive. Mince doesn't have to be fatty. It is simple to brown mince, drain off the fat & rinse under hot water to expel the rest of the fat.

To make this meatloaf no-carb and reduced fat, I omit the breadcrumbs (which just absorb all the fat anyway) and at the end of the baking time, I remove the loaf and immediately drain off all the liquid fat.

500g lean minced beef
1 onion chopped super fine (I use the food processor)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. In a large mixing bowl combine meat and all other ingredients. Mix with a fork until well combined. Place mixture in a glass loaf dish. Press down firmly with a fork. Bake for approximately 50 minutes and the mince is cooked through. Remove from oven and immediately drain off the liquid fat. Serve with your favourite sauce such as ketchup, chutney or minted plain yogurt. Serves 2 with leftovers for 1 lunch.