Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How to look and feel fabulous this summer

Have you looked at the calendar lately? There are less than 60 days to Memorial Day weekend! 30 and 40° weather will soon be a memory, and we’ll be basking in 80° sunshine. If your New Year resolutions slipped away in the past few weeks, buried by cold weather, snow, work and family responsibilities, don’t worry: there’s still time to get healthy, fit and lean for summer!

Stress and work productivity
Some of us work better under stress. Give me a deadline, and my creative juices start to flow! The Yerkes-Dawson law states that as stress increases, so does efficiency and production – to a point. At some level, stress becomes too much for us, and burn-out grinds performance and efficiency to a halt.

Stress also has a food connection. Chronic stress actually increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that makes us crave rich, sweet, pleasurable foods. Cortisol demands food high in fat and carbohydrate such as potato chips, donuts, and ice cream to provide a steady source of energy in case we need escape from raging saber-tooth tigers, or deal with escalating work requirements. Cortisol also tells our body to store those extra calories as fat cells in our abdomen, which then turns off the stress hormones.

What do you do when your stress levels zoom through the ceiling? After 9/11, a survey by the American Institute for Cancer Research found that 20% of people were eating more comfort foods such as mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese. 19% sought out sugar to reduce their stress, reaching for cookies and ice cream. Comfort foods such as cookies, snack crackers, and donuts may make us think we feel better. But that feeling only lasts for a few minutes, and then reality kicks in. We feel physically terrible because our blood sugar is dropping like a rocket. We feel emotionally drained because we ate far more than we anticipated. Our stress levels go even higher because we feel like we just can’t cope and meet our health goals at the same time.

A 3-step approach for success
Don’t let your hectic work, social, and travel schedule get in the way of meeting your health and fitness goals. In my new book, The Wall Street Diet, I outline numerous strategies to reaching your goals. Instead of increasing your stress levels by adding yet another project – a diet – to your already jam-packed life, put these three simple yet effective tips into place.

Tip 1: Prioritize
Maybe you have 5, 10, or more items on your to-do list to get your body health-and-fitness-ready for summer. Prioritize that list, and focus on just one weak area. If you try to do everything at once, you’re going to increase your stress levels, which typically leads to inactivity and failure. Each week pick one primary goal for the week, and stick with it.

For example, you might decide to start with alcohol consumption. Alcohol is the fastest way to add empty calories, and it weakens your resolve to choose healthier foods. The average serving of 1.5 ounces of 80-proof alcohol contains about 90 calories before adding mixers. There’s no need to abstain from alcohol completely. Instead, you might choose to drink only one mixed drink per day. Or you might decide to stick with a glass of wine and forgo high calorie mixers. Try drinking mineral water with a slice of lime at a cocktail party instead of alcohol.

By prioritizing your to-do list, you’ll keep your goals manageable and feel successful. Each small success breeds even more success, and before you know it you’ll make progress in every area on that list.

Tip #2: Prepare
Preparation trumps will power every time. Plan out what you’re going to eat for breakfast and lunch. Limit yourself to one or two breakfast choices, and just a few lunch options to keep it simple and hassle-free. Plan for at least three days per week where you have a finite lunch and dinner, such as a turkey sandwich from the corner deli or a frozen meal for dinner. Pick one or two snacks to bring with you each day. A 6-ounce container of Dannon Lite and Fit yogurt, a Kashi TLC granola bar, an apple, or a Babybel light cheese are satisfying, healthy snacks that won’t increase your stress levels.

Plan ahead for a weekly massage to work away stress. Take a 5 minute walk outside in the middle of the day to let the sunshine revive your spirits. Before you step into a stressful meeting or pick up the phone to call a difficult client, take 5-10 deep, slow breaths. Let the air fill your lungs and energize your body, and exhale away stress and tension.

#3: Recover
If you view any slipup as a defeat instead of a bump in the road, or you demand perfection in your eating habits, you’re more likely to increase your stress levels and strike out on your health and fitness goals. Resetting yourself by doing something active and concrete helps you restructure your thinking so you avoid an all-or-nothing attitude that cripples your success.

Use a Protein Day after a day filled with eating disasters to get right back on track. Base your meals and snacks around protein: eggs or egg whites for breakfast, grilled chicken or fish in a salad for lunch and with steamed vegetables for dinner, and canned tuna or sliced turkey for snacks. A Protein Day gives your body a break from carbohydrates and breaks the cycle of overeating and then feeling terrible.

Another recovery tool is a Veggie Night, where you microwave a white or sweet potato and two cups of vegetables. In less than 10 minutes you have a satisfying meal that helps erase the earlier lapses of the day. Enjoying a Veggie Night helps you regroup, so you wake up the next morning feeling light and ready for a balanced breakfast.

Two months and counting!
Enjoy the warmer weather, sunnier days, and longer periods of daylight as we move through Spring into Memorial Day Weekend. With the tips outlined here, you’ll be beach-ready before you know it!

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