The time is now. For many years, she’s put her own health at the bottom of her priority list. “I went back to work three months after each of my two kids was born, and I made a bargain with myself that all my free time would go to them,” says former Working Mother Editorial Director Jennifer Owens. “Now I see I’ve let my own needs slide. While I did power walk every other morning after my first was born, that slowly ebbed with the birth of my second child, the advancement in my career and economic changes that left me with more financial responsibility.”
Jennifer has a close-knit family and a job she loves, but the years of neglecting her well-being have left her overweight, frequently tired and concerned about the example she’s setting. “I can’t put it off any longer. I need to show my kids that personal health is important. I haven’t always been a good role model for that,” she admits. “It would be an amazing gift to my family to create a lifestyle in which healthy eating and exercise are as ingrained as brushing teeth and reading every night.”
To the rescue: a realistic food and fitness plan that fits Jennifer’s nonstop schedule (can you relate?), designed with top getting fit experts: nutritionist Elizabeth DeRobertis, MS, RD, director of the Nutrition Center at Scarsdale Medical Group in Scarsdale, NY, and fitness trainer Liz Neporent, co-author of The Thin in 10 Weight-Loss Plan and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. Not a quick fix, this is a can-do program for the long haul. These strategies will help Jennifer swap out bad habits for smart choices that can become automatic and lifelong and allow her to achieve three goals: lose weight and keep it off; become more fit, more energetic and less tired; and make healthy eating and exercise a natural lifestyle for her family.
Food That Works
As part of her getting fit plan, Jennifer should aim to lose about a pound per week by consuming 1,200 to 1,400 calories a day. Or she can reduce her current daily intake by 500 calories (or by 300 calories and exercising off the other 200). “You can’t rely on willpower,” says DeRobertis. “Healthy-weight adults don’t have more willpower than overweight people. Rather, they put an effective plan in place.” DeRobertis targeted the problem spots in Jennifer’s day that thwart good eating and devised plan-ahead solutions.
Problem Spot 1: The Morning Rush
Jennifer gets up at 7 a.m. and gets herself ready for work and everyone out the door by 8:30, when she walks her kids three blocks to school and then hops on the subway to her office. She eats nothing until about 10 a.m., when she has a chai tea and sometimes a greek yogurt at her desk.
Solution: Eat earlier and spread out your calories. “Women who skip breakfast often have trouble with food the rest of the day, often eating too much after dinner,” says Derobertis. One way to eat less later on is to eat something in the morning. Greek yogurt is a good choice because it’s rich in protein, and many find they eat healthier overall when they start the day with protein. Jennifer needs to eat before she gets to work (even just a cheese stick or hard-boiled egg), have the Greek yogurt at 11 a.m. and then eat something every few hours throughout the day to keep her metabolism going and control her appetite.
Problem Spot 2: Skipping Lunch
Because her workday is nonstop, Jennifer has programmed her work calendar with the reminder “Don’t forget to eat lunch.” Still, it’s often 3 p.m. by the time she realizes she hasn’t. By then she’s ravenous and prone to making poor food choices.
Solution: Pack lunch and snacks. “Bringing your food to work is the top change you can make,” says Derobertis. “It can offer the best weight control results because it stops you from getting too hungry and making bad food choices under stress.” One good choice: a basic sandwich with lean turkey, ham, roast beef or chicken. “One slice of these proteins has about 15 calories,” says DeRobertis. “Put three or four slices on two slices of 50- or 60-calorie bread, add mustard or a 35-calorie cheese spread (such as Laughing cow), and you’ve got a satisfying lunch for about 200 calories.” Ordering in or eating out? Start with a broth-based soup, then have a lettuce-veggie salad with a baked or broiled protein like chicken, salmon or shrimp, a fat-free dressing and, if you want, one “fun” topping like croutons, sunflower seeds or shredded cheese. Try to start lunch by 1 p.m.
Problem Spot 3: Afternoon Snack Attack
By midafternoon, Jennifer feels she not only needs a snack (especially if she’s skipped lunch), but she deserves one as a treat for the stress she’s faced. The vending machine and corner bakery beckon with snacks she might down with a diet cola.
Solution: Snack strategically. In her lunch pack, Jennifer should include three or four healthy, pre-portioned snacks with 130 or fewer calories (see below). In addition to a midmorning snack, if lunch was at 1, she should have a snack around 3 p.m., another at 4:30 and, if she’s working late, another at 6. “Choose pre-portioned foods and avoid handfuls of anything, because one handful quickly becomes many, and you lose track of your calories,” says DeRobertis. One sweet snack like a 100-calorie bag of cookies can be okay, but Jennifer should monitor how she feels when she eats it. If it acts as a trigger to eat more sweets, she should stick with healthier choices. Diet cola may also stimulate appetite, says DeRobertis. Water and flavored seltzer are better choices.
Problem Spot 4: Mindless Munching
When Jennifer gets home, her second shift begins: making dinner for her kids, helping them with homework, reading logs and baths, packing lunches for the next day—all before she and her husband eat their own dinner around 9:30 p.m. Both she and her kids are hungry and need something to munch on while all of this activity is going on.
Solution: Beware of BLTs (bites, licks and tastes). “The snacking you do when you first get home or while preparing or cleaning up dinner adds up,” says DeRobertis. If you’re all hungry, eat foods in order from lowest calories to highest calories. Heat a cup of soup, microwave a bag of low-fat popcorn or put out a plate of raw veggies and fat-free dip, hummus or portion-controlled guacamole for you and the kids to munch on before dinner.
Problem Spot 5: Eating Late
On a typical work night, Jennifer and her husband eat dinner at 9:30. She’s often still hungry after and may snack while they watch television together.
Solution: Think green and lean. “There’s no magical cutoff time to stop eating at night,” says DeRobertis. “If you eat carefully, you can have a late dinner and still lose weight. But you need to avoid foods that are easy to overeat, such as pasta, rice and bread. Instead have one lean protein, such as broiled or baked chicken or fish, and two vegetables.” After-dinner snack? “That’s probably more habit than hunger,” says DeRobertis, who suggests eating more protein and vegetables at dinner if it’s really hunger. If late snacking is a habit, change your routine: Sit in a different room; do something other than watching television. Still want a snack? Think 100 calories.
On the Move
Fridays are Jennifer’s “perfect days.” She works at home. after walking her kids to school, she works out for 40 minutes at the gym, comes home, eats breakfast, showers and dresses and is at her desk by 9:30. The rest of her workweek? Not so perfect. “Mondays through Thursdays are stress, stress, stress,” she admits. “I can’t exercise in the morning because I’m tired and need my sleep, and the office is non-stop work until i get home, sometimes not until 9 at night, when I want to collapse on the couch. Fitting in a workout is just unrealistic.”
Solution? Exercise in short spurts throughout the day. “There are advantages to working out in small bursts,” says Neporent. “You can exercise anywhere and not need to change clothes or shower. It boosts your mood. Research shows you burn more calories per minute with several 10-minute bursts of exercise than one longer one. and you may eat less. People who do one-hour workouts often feel ‘I burned it; I earned it.’ But with 5- or 10-minute workouts, people don’t feel that sense of entitlement because they’ve ‘only’ done 5 or 10 minutes. It’s a psychological advantage.” Neporent’s plan to get Jennifer moving while maintaining her schedule:
Mondays Through Thursdays: “Start each day with a chart divided into four sections of 5 minutes each,” suggests Neporent. “Your goal is 20 minutes of extra activity each day, in whatever spurts you can. You’ll burn at least as many calories as doing 20 minutes all at once and rev your metabolism each time.” Before work: get off the subway one stop before your usual one and walk to your office. Check off your first 5-minute block of the day.
At work: Check off 5 or 10 minutes of activity by doing any combination of the following:
- While talking on the phone, stand up and pace or do squats, leg lifts or toe raises.
- Sitting in your chair, increase flexibility and core strength with roll-ups: Sit up tall; bend forward slowly, a vertebrae at a time, until you’re hanging down. Slowly roll up a vertebra at a time until you’re sitting straight in your chair again.
- Squeeze a ball while reading through emails or manuscripts to strengthen your hands.
- Walk to co-workers’ desks rather than emailing or calling. “you save time because you accomplish something in one conversation rather than 16 emails,” says Neporent, “and you move more.”
- Walk and talk. meeting with one or two others? Do a walking meeting instead of sitting around a table.
In the evening: Do a 10-minute DVD workout. Get a DVD that offers five 10-minute workouts and cue it up on Sunday night so it’s ready when you walk in the door on Monday. “Let that workout help you decompress from work to home, and let your kids see you exercising on a daily basis,” says Neporent. Some DVDs to try: the “10-Minute Solution” series, “Exhale Core Fusion” series, “10 Pounds Down” or “Thin in 10.”
Fridays: Stick with your usual workout that includes a combination of cardio (treadmill, bike or elliptical machine) and using weight machines.
The Weekend: Exercise as a family. you want to have fun with your family and raise your heart rate with sustained aerobic activity. Suggestions:
- Take a one-hour urban family hike.
- Jump rope. It burns about 15 calories per minute. “alternate with your kids doing 5 or 10 jumps each; after 15 minutes it will be a better workout than going to the gym,” says Neporent.
- Go to a playground and do everything your kids do.
- Scooter, which Jennifer’s kids love. “Get an adult scooter with four wheels and a helmet and scooter with them,” suggests Neporent. “You’ll get a great workout, and your kids will think you’re the coolest mom around.”
The ultimate key to getting fit and staying healthy? Turning on your internal GPS. “Eating well and exercising is not about being perfect all the time. It’s about how you respond when things don’t go perfectly,” says Derobertis. “If you take a wrong turn in your car, your GPS tells you to recalculate and puts you back on track. It doesn’t raise its voice and reprimand you. your internal GPS should do the same. If you have an occasional slip, don’t give up and think, I blew it. I might as well eat whatever I want now. Get back on track that same day, and you will reach your goal.” Go team Jennifer!
10 Healthy 100-Calorie Snacks
1. Any fresh fruit. Two cups of blueberries have fewer than 100 calories.
2. Any steamed or raw vegetable, served alone or with fat-free dip, a 100-calorie serving of hummus or a 100-calorie serving of guacamole.
3. A single-portion serving of cottage cheese, a cheese stick or one small plastic- wrapped cheese (such as Babybel).
4. A 100-calorie single serving of microwave popcorn.
5. A 100-calorie serving of nuts.
6. A 100-calorie pack of pretzels, baked chips or cookies (limit: one per day).
7. A small yogurt.
8. A hard-boiled egg.
9. A granola bar (check the label for calories).
10. A frozen treat like Arctic Zero bar, Jala Frozen Yogurt Bar or Skinny Cow Low Fat Fudge Bar.