Monthly Archives: December 2008

Breathe, Stretch and Be Merry!


Christmas may be over but there’s still plenty of reasons to keep on being merry. There are leftovers to eat, presents to put away, and New Year’s to plan for. Yes, it’s a great time to be merry, but in between all the holiday cheer, don’t forget to breath. Thus, I bring you this guest post from Heather Ashare.

Heather has been a dedicated practitioner and instructor of Ashtanga yoga for several years. As the yoga expert at, she shares simple and effective ways to make yoga a part of your life for greater fitness and wellness. also provides healthy recipes, weight loss tools, nutrition and health guidance in the Diet Blog and reviews of nearly 650 diet plans.

The holidays are one of the most festive and joyous times of the year but they are also jam-packed with stress, anxiety and lots of running around. Before the holiday cheer sidelines you into a frenetic tailspin, make some time for a few minutes of yoga therapy each day so that you can embrace the full splendor of the season.

  1. Breathe: You’ve heard it before but deep breathing is one of the simplest yet effective ways to calm your senses. As your stress levels reach mistletoe heights as you stand in mile-long lines at the mall, try this simple standing meditation to quell your anxiety:

    Take five full breaths through your nose. Allow each inhale to rise up through the front of your chest, inflating it like a balloon. Then as you exhale, keep breathing out until your lower belly starts to curl in slightly. As you do this, relax your shoulders and keep your eyes focused on something steady like the carpet beneath you or a shiny holiday decoration in front of you.

  2. Bend, Stretch and Move: Exercise is one of the best ways to keep stress at bay. If you know that you have a day ahead of you filled with shopping, cooking and parties, get up early enough to squeeze in a yoga practice. If you can make it to an early morning class, great! If that is just not possible, roll out your yoga mat in a quiet place and do 10 Sun Salutations. This invigorating breathing and movement system will give you the energy to get through your entire to-do- list and the peace of mind to complete it calmly.
  3. Eat Mindfully: Stress and overeating are a disastrous combination. Even though there is an abundance of food during the holiday season, be mindful about what you put into your mouth. Rather than feeling panicked about all the food available to you and the pressure to eat it, perform the above breathing exercise before you head to the buffet or the dessert table. Remaining present about your eating behaviors will curtail the temptation to overdo it.

Applying both the physical and mental practices of yoga to your holiday season will keep you feeling in control of your emotions and body. And remember, whether it’s a few deep breaths, a round of sun salutations, or a bite of pecan pie, a little goes a very long way.

Happy Holidays!

Image courtesy of tanakawho.

Travel Challenges: Keeping up with a food plan

Massive Avocados

It’s been 17 days since I set off from London for my eight-week trip to the States. I’m already amazed by all of the things I’ve seen and done so far. There’s Chicago, of course – my hometown and where half of my extended family lives – but I’ve also taken a few side trips. I went to stay in my mom’s “cabin in the woods” for a couple nights, then went up north to Milwaukee to visit friends, then south to Champaign-Urbana to visit more friends. Now I’m in Lancaster, Ohio visiting my dad’s side of the family.

All of this traveling has had a few food-related effects: I haven’t been keeping up with my usual food diary posts, I’ve been eating out way more than I ever do in London, and I’ve been eating foods that I don’t normally eat given the choice between, say, instant oatmeal and Bircher muesli.

True, I expected this. When planning this trip, I was worried what eight weeks away from my trusty routine would do to my general health.
In London, I swim every other day, I walk at least a mile per day (usually more), I commute by bicycle, I cook most of my meals at home, I eat mostly vegan foods… traveling has thrown all this out the window. Need I go on the perils of eating while traveling? The roadside buffets? The portion sides? The vast availability of fried food, soda pop, and corn syrup? The woeful lack of fresh, healthy, whole food?

There was a time in my life when all of these challenges caused me a great amount of stress. I would become so anxious about eating weird foods and gaining weight that I would fail to actually enjoy myself and my well-earned holiday. This time, things are a bit different.

Despite any initial worries I had before leaving London, I’ve so far managed to avoid stressing out about food. I’ve also avoided gaining weight, even with the extra influx of pumpkin pie and holiday cookies. I suspect there are lots of reasons for this – maintaining good habits all year long, learning to eat slowly, letting go of my reigns of control and learning to relax. But these are all kind of fuzzy reasons that probably only make sense to me.

Here are a few specific ways I’ve been keeping up with my food “plan”. It’s not the kind of food plan that tells you exactly what to eat and of how much. It’s more of a plan to deal with all of the food surprises that occur when traveling, especially during the holidays.

  • Maintain a food diary – Though my posts have been few and far between this December, I still keep taking pictures of all the foods I eat. Part of this is pure addiction – I just can’t help taking pictures of food! But it also keeps me honest and forces me to be thoughtful about the food I eat. I notice that when I take pictures of my meals, I think a little bit more about what my plate looks like, which makes me think a little bit more about what I’m eating. The bonus: I rarely find myself mindlessly stuffing my face with food. I bet a written diary would be similarly effective, though I like the photo diary because it’s easy, fun and even kind of social.
  • Ask for a doggy bag – This one probably seems obvious, but it needs to be said. Usually, when I’m eating out and am given a plate of food, I can tell just by looking at it how much I should eat. So I try to stick to that and take the rest home.
  • Share meals – When I’m lucky enough to eat out with someone who shares my tastes, I like to split a main dish. My mom and I have done this a few times – one of us will order a salad and the other a main, then we’ll split the two between us. I like this because I generally don’t have trouble finishing the meal. I know some people love leftovers but I find them kind of oppressive, especially if the food is a little greasier, cheesier, or just not as tasty as I would have liked. Then I’m left with a bunch of leftovers from a meal that I would rather leave behind.
  • Snack on veggies, fresh fruit and nuts – I don’t bother with snack bars; I think they’re a waste of money and generally crap. Instead, I usually pack an apple or a banana with me and a small container of emergency nuts. If I’m feeling ambitious, I might also do sliced veggies like carrots, celery, jicama and peppers. Plus, this guarantees I get some fresh, whole food in my diet, just in case other food opportunities end up being lame.
  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast – I don’t know about you, but I eat better and feel better when I start the day with a nourishing breakfast. When I travel, I usually cater my own breakfast rather than eating out. In addition to being healthier, self-catered breakfasts save lots of time and money. Things that pack well? Oatmeal, fruit, nuts, bread, peanut butter… many hotels these days have microwaves and refrigerators, so you can have milk and cereal or hot oatmeal.
  • Eat slowly – I’ve been honing my skills at eating slowly for a few years and this really comes in handy during the holidays. I started eating slowly to keep from eating too much, but there’s an added benefit to this: when I eat slowly I actually enjoy my food more. And I’m so glad I do because there’s so much delicious food to be savored during the holidays.
  • Say no to the complimentary corn chips and bread rolls – I actually haven’t done this yet because it’s such a novelty (and I love salsa), but it’s a tactic worth mentioning. Back in Austin, Tim and I used to curse ourselves for ruining our dinners by eating too many complimentary corn chips and salsa (if you’ve been to Trudy’s, you know why – their salsa is superb). So we started refusing the free chips. If a waiter or waitress came by with corn chips, we’d say “no thanks.” It was hard at first, but it was totally worth it when the spicy black bean tacos arrived and I actually had room to eat them!
  • Let it go – Let’s face it, sometimes when traveling you’re going to be stuck with fewer food choices than you would have at home. Sometimes it sucks, like when you end up at a restaurant and the only vegetarian options are cheese sticks and french fries. But sometimes its cool, like when your uncle makes a pineapple upside down cake, or your mom makes pumpkin pie with real whipped cream. In either case, traveling means you might have to give up some of your control. And this isn’t the end of the world. Learn to let go and enjoy the unexpected. Or get used to self catering.

What about you guys? Do you stick to a food plan when you travel? How do you do it?

One Dollar Diet Project


Here’s a couple who are stretching their budget to the extreme… Two “social justice teachers” spent 30 days feeding themselves with $1 a day. Their blog, the One Dollar Diet Project, chronicles their experiment. It’s pretty fascinating, and tempts me to try something similar. Here’s an excerpt from Day 20:

Eating on a dollar a day once seemed impossible, now it seems ordinary. To think that we typically spent $150 a week on food is difficult to understand at this point. I guess we bought a lot of high ticket items like frozen rolled tacos, and soy dairy products, but even those aren’t that expensive compared to many of the foods sold in conventional grocery stores.

I guess what it comes down to is really making a commitment to eating wholesome unprocessed foods, eating smaller portions, buying in bulk, and putting some thought into menu planning. It seems easy enough, but until now we hadn’t committed to it.

Start reading from from Day One.

Thanks Jim!

Fast and Easy Spinach Souffle

Spinach Souffle

Protein people? This one’s for you.

I don’t know what to call this recipe. “Spinach and egg bake” just doesn’t sound as nice as “spinach souffle.” But unlike souffle, this recipe does not require whipping the egg whites separately. Instead, everything gets mixed in a bowl, poured in a pan and baked until done. It’s an easy way to a tasty meal packed with loads of high quality protein. And with a full pound of iron-rich spinach thrown into the mix, that’s some serious green goodness. Enjoy!

Spinach Souffle

Serves 4

1 lb spinach, finely chopped
3 eggs
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
crushed garlic
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup parmesan
1 Tbsp flour
dash of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400. Combine all of the above and pour into a casserole/lasagna type pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Shorabat Addas: Lemony Red Lentil Soup

Shorabat Addas - Lemony Red Lentil Soup

Red lentils are a staple food of mine – they’re quick cooking, high in protein, and make delicious dals. They also make a great soup, as this recipe for Shorabat Addas proves. My mom introduced me to this Middle Eastern soup a few years ago and it’s become a staple of mine for its ease of preparation and seriously maxed out nourishment. You can bump up the “healthy” quotient by adding some greens to this – spinach and curly kale are great. My mom also sometimes adds finely diced sweet potato or rice for those days when you really need something filling.

Shorabat Addas – Lemony Red Lentil Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 8 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • cayenne, salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Optional garnishes: Paprika, cayenne, bebere, piment d’espelette, chopped parsley or cilantro, yoghurt


  1. Wash lentils. Combine them with water or stock and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until lentils are tender.
  2. Meanwhile, saute garlic and onion in the olive oil over a low heat until transparent. Add the spices, onion and garlic to the cooked lentils.
  3. Add lemon juice just before serving.
  4. Garnish as desired and serve.

Shorabat Addas - Lemony Red Lentil Soup

Here are some more luscious healthy comforting soup recipes from around the web, inspired by the #jumpstart15 crew.

Staying Fit Without the Gym… and in the Freezing Cold Weather

chicago weather - Google Search.jpg

Being here in the Chicago burbs makes me appreciate two things about London:

  1. It’s rarely cold enough in London to deter me from cycling or walking outdoors.
  2. London requires lots of walking and cycling just to get around, making it much easier to stay fit, even without deliberately exercising.

This is not to say that I begrudge my time here in the States. In fact, I’m loving it – home cooking, quiet nights, white snow, cleaner streets, just to name a few small pleasures of being back home. And given that most of you are also in the States, this is a great opportunity for me to get to know your food and fitness challenges a bit better.

As some of you know, I’m all about staying fit without the gym, but being here in icy Chicago makes me realize how hard this will be in a place that’s actually freezing cold. Still, I’m up for the challenge.

Here are a few ideas for staying fit in the freezing cold without investing in any major equipment:

  • Yoga – Morning yoga is something I started in London which I can easily do here. Equipment needed: yoga mat.
  • Floor exercises – I’ll be doing a variation of my core workout plan, plus some leg exercises I was given by my physiotherapist. Equipment needed: none.
  • One hundred pushup challenge – I was doing this for a while in London but took a break in recent weeks. Now I’m back to it, starting on week three, column two. Equipment needed: none.
  • Walking – It’s all about layers, right? Equipment needed: shoes, warm clothes.
  • Hiking – I’m not sure how often I’ll find myself in the woods, but I love the idea of hiking in the snow. Plus, walking in the snow is hard work. Equipment needed: boots, warm clothes.
  • Running – I probably won’t be doing this given my shin splints, but for those of you with happy legs, running is a pretty solid way to stay fit and warm at the same time. Sign up for a fun run to keep you motivated. Equipment needed: running shoes, warm clothes.
  • Jump rope – I LOVE this idea posted by Jason on Get Fit Slowly. Equipment needed: rope.

How do you guys keep your fitness up in the winter? I’m open to suggestions, the cheaper the better!

Food Diary: Home Cookin’

TabboulehI’m very lucky to come from a family who loves food as much as I do. Even though Chicago is full of great restaurants catering to almost any type of cuisine, the food I look forward to the most is my family’s home cooking.

Our food traditions have changed over the years. I have dim memories of ground beef, jello, and chicken kiev. But since then, dad discovered Indian food, corn syrup was declared the devil, and me, my mom and my sister became vegetarians. Most importantly, perhaps, we’ve been learning from cultures who have food traditions deeper than our own.

Recently, my mom’s been learning to cook Mediterranean food from an Assyrian friend who apparently has quite a way with lentils. For my homecoming dinner, my mom made a delicious lemony lentil soup that she served with tabbouleh, hummus, salad and pita. It was the perfect meal for after a long flight – light, refreshing, and even better the next day for lunch.

Food Diary for Wednesday, December 3, 2008

  • Breakfast: Toast with almond butter, plain yogurt with cinnamon, an orange and a cup of tea
  • Lunch: Leftover lentil soup with tabbouleh, hummus, salad and pita bread, plus a few of my mom’s pickled green beans
  • Dinner: Curried chickpeas, brown basmati rice, roasted cauliflower, raita


Yummy Leftovers for Lunch

Lentil Soup

Roasted Cauliflower

Channa Masala with Raita, Roasted Cauliflower and Basmati Rice

Plane Food

Veggie Travel Bento For OneAfter a whirlwind week of sightseeing, rambling, and pub-hopping around London, my dad returned to Chicago yesterday. But our parting did not bring sweet sorrow – I will see him again tomorrow back in his neck of the woods. In just a few hours I fly to Chicago for a very long and much anticipated visit with family and friends. I’ll be there for four weeks and am crossing my fingers for a white Christmas. After that, I’m going to L.A. to see my sis for the whole month of January. After a dark winter in London and a cold Christmas in Chicago, I’m sure I’ll be ready for the sun.

So basically, the next few weeks are going to be pretty crazy with lots of travel and very little routine. Ordinarily, this would have my stomach in knots – how will I get in my exercise? where will I get my bircher muesli fix? – but this time I’m too excited to worry. I’m trying to view it all as a fun challenge, a chance to try something new and be creative. I’m also looking forward to writing about it on SmarterFitter!

My first challenge is the plane ride. Call me crazy but I kind of like these long flights. It’s one of the rare times I actually feel like it’s okay to do nothing. I write letters, I read for pleasure, I brainstorm on all the little schemes I feel like I don’t have time for during the usual week… I also pack a lunch.

We all know airplane food is typically pretty bad, especially for veggies, so I always bring my own food on the plane. Some people pack their own sandwiches, though I tend to avoid this for fear of a soggy bread situation. I try to stick with simple, light foods that are easy on the ol’ digestive system:

  • Raw vegetables: carrots, celery, cucumber, baby tomatoes, jicama, bell pepper
  • Cooked vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, green beans
  • Dips for veggies: hummus, avocado
  • Edamame
  • Yogurt
  • Fresh fruit: apples, bananas, clementines, grapes
  • Crusty bread, baguette, pita
  • Firm cheese
  • Bean salads
  • Dark chocolate
  • Raw nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Veggie sushi

I’m fairly pleased with this trip’s airplane bento (even if the scrambled tofu does look a little nasty).

Veggie Travel Bento For One

  • A slice of whole wheat no knead bread
  • Raw veggies: cucumber, carrot, broccoli, tomatoes, avocado
  • Scrambled tofu
  • Plain yogurt
  • Clementine oranges (for dipping into the yogurt!)

When I’m not eating, I’ll be drinking lots of water (and feeling very happy I chose an aisle seat).

What about you? Do you pack food for the plane? Any tips?