skinnyfats

A blog about life after weight loss.


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Sweet Potato Lies, or Lance Armstrong is in My Freezer

Photo courtesy of the Gawker.

Photo courtesy of the Gawker.

We have been had, tricked, bamboozled, duped. No, I am not talking about Lance Armstrong. I am talking about the scoundrels and swindlers at Alexia, who have fooled us for the better part of a year. We are outraged at their conniving, underhanded tactics. Alert the villagers! Light the torches! Raid! Raid!

Ok, that was too far. I am sure the people at Alexia are neither scoundrels nor swindlers, but kind, well-meaning folks who work hard to feed their families and provide the grocery-buying public with all-natural frozen foods and side dishes. But they seriously need to update their packaging.

We have been gleefully eating Alexia’s spicy sweet potato fries for quite some time. Sweet potato fries, while not really a vegetable, are a healthy alternative to regular fries, potato chips, and other carb-y side dishes. I can’t tell you how many Friday nights Liz and I have come home from the gym, fired up the oven for some sweet potato fries, grilled some strip steak, and settled in for an episode of Shark Tank.

We chose Alexia’s sweet potato fries because according to their packaging, they gave us the most nutritious bang for our buck. The nutritional information on the bag claims that one serving is three ounces or 30 pieces for just 130 calories. 30 fries! That’s a restaurant portion at home-cooked calories. It was too good to be true, but it must be so! It says it right there on the package!

Our photo evidence. Sorry about the wrinkles.

Our photo evidence. Sorry about the wrinkles.

Still, something never quite added up for me about the serving sizes. The same bag that we blindly trusted also told us each package contains seven servings, so if you do the math we should have been able to stretch the bag of over three meals each with some left for a rainy day, but we were cashing out our sweet potato fries in just two meals.

This always puzzled me, but I looked the other way because I wanted to. The deliciousness of this healthy side dish blinded my judgment until last Friday.

To find out how they packed so few calories into so many fries, I checked Alexia’s website. What I found brought all the pieces together and solved the serving-size mystery for good. Their website lists a serving as 12 fries, and you can imagine our surprise when we learned we were eating two-and-a-half times the actual serving size for a whopping 325 calories a plate. Liz sent Alexia’s customer service department a politely stern email recommending they update their packaging so they don’t leave loyal customers like us feeling betrayed. And guilty.

We own some of the blame here. I should have gone on my little fact-finding mission the first time I thought something was amiss about the serving size, but like I said, I was swept up by the idea that I could eat that much for so few calories. We should have known better.

Wait. Maybe I am talking about Lance Armstrong. I think there is a loose, albeit imperfect, connection here. Follow me, if you will.

If a bag of all-natural sweet potato fries tells you can eat 30 fries for 130 calories, it’s too good to be true.

If a diet promises you that you will lose weight without making any lifestyle changes, it’s too good to be true.

If you receive a poorly crafted email from a little-known African prince who wants to give you millions of dollars for virtually nothing in return, it’s too good to be true.

If a cyclist wins seven Tour de France titles after beating cancer without using PEDs in the dirtiest neighborhood in the filthy world of sports, it’s too good to be true.

As consumers of anything—food or otherwise—we always need to exercise common sense. When it comes to the sweet potato fries, we failed to do that. We won’t make that mistake again.

To put a nice, clean ribbon on this story, the customer service department at Conagra, Alexia’s parent company, sent Liz an email this evening saying they will be updating their packaging to clear up the serving size discrepancy. And they are sending us some coupons. Put out the torches. Call off the raid.


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Snack On This!

One of our favorite bands is California-based quartet Cold War Kids, a band that layers its influences to create a moody, energetic sound. Their lyrics are eloquent and often metaphoric–think an anti-Taylor Swift–and open to interpretation. My favorite Cold War Kid lyrical diamond comes from “Golden Gate Jumpers,” the melodic tale of a man saving a woman from diving from the famous San Francisco bridge to a watery grave. The song changes from a choppy, disjointed barroom-piano heavy narrative to a dreamily serene musing on the thoughts of the suicidal.

This is the song’s final lyric, the one that will haunt you if you let it:

If shark’s don’t get you first, the crabs will have their way with you.”

In the context of the song, the sharks and crabs likely represent problems and crises–if the big ones don’t drag you down, little ones can add up and torment you. Naturally, I apply the sharks and crabs metaphor to food.

We all know to avoid the sharks: big, heavy meals rich with calories and trans fats. The crabs, in this metaphor I am twisting for my own purposes, represent snacks. Eat too many snacks, or just a little of the wrong ones, and your fitness suffers.

Photo via htwm.com

Photo via htwm.com

If you are trying to lose weight or stay fit, snacks can be your frienemy. The conventional fitness wisdom of our time is “eat little, eat often” and this axiom makes sense. Eating little and eating often keeps your metabolism revving without leaving you feeling stuffed and slow as you might after a big meal. To steal a line from ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, if you stay hungry, you stay fit. But the margin between healthy snacking and overeating is slim–if you aren’t judicious about your choices and your portions, snacking will impede your fitness goals.

We recently made a change in the way we approach snacking at work. Like most of you, a day at the office means being shackled to a desk, so we chose our snacks based on convenience. Our snack of choice was Balance Bars because they could be stored and accessed quickly. Plus, at 15 grams of protein per bar, we thought they were a better choice than say a sleeve of crackers. However, we found ourselves with nightly sweet tooths. (Sweet teeth?) As it turns out, Balance Bars are sweeter than a One Direction pop anthem, with 17 grams of sugar per serving.

ostrim

So we made a swap. We ordered Ostrims, a combination of ostrich and beef jerky. Not only does the Ostrim have fewer calories, but also more protein. As an added bonus, it is fun to resurrect your Randy “Macho Man” Savage impersonation by taking a bite and exclaiming “Oooh yeah! Snap into it!” Trust me, your co-workers will love it.

We also bought instant oatA-bowl-of-oatmealmeal. Making oatmeal at work is far from a trouble, but it does require you to leave your desk. But, oatmeal is listed as a healthy food by every publication worth reading and makes you feel full despite being a low-calorie snack.

You can master your dietary sharks and crabs, but you have to take stock of the snacks you regularly eat. Be honest about how often you snack and how much you eat when you do. Spend a minute re-examining the nutrition labels and think of ways you can do better. I suggest listening to the Cold War Kids while you do.

Weigh In: What healthy snacks do you recommend?


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Thanksgiving Fitness Survival Guide

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and while everyone enjoys time with friends and family, and a couple of days off work, if you are trying to lose weight or stay fit, the annual feast can be intimidating. To help you make it through Thursday without a food coma, here is your Thanksgiving Fitness Survival Guide!

Skip the morning parade and hit the gym. Be honest; you don’t really want to spend your Thursday morning watching giant cartoon character balloons and C-list celebs tie up traffic in New York City, so why not use this time to sneak in a workout? Many gyms are open, albeit briefly, on Thanksgiving, and a little morning exercise will get your metabolism going and create a nice last-minute calorie deficiency before you belly up to the big kid table.

If you are out of town for Thanksgiving, exercising can be a bit trickier as you don’t have the familiar confines of your regular gym at your disposal. Weather permitting, you can visit your or your spouse’s old high school and jog around the track. Not only will this burn calories but also the trip down memory lane will conjure up memories for the two of you to talk about.

Snowed in? We’ve got you covered. Find a nice open area. With extended family loitering around, this task might be a touch difficult, but an empty basement or even bedroom will do. Alternate between bodyweight squats and pushups, doing three to five sets of as many reps as you can.

Turkey Day Tip: If you want to amp it up a notch, find some household items like a bottle of liquid laundry detergent to hold while you do your squats.

Eat a healthy pre-feast snack. This might seem counterintuitive to eat before you eat, but hear us out. Lots of people don’t eat all day, knowing that they have an avalanche of food in their future. The problem with this method is that your body goes into starvation mode and when it comes time for Thanksgiving dinner, you feed your face until your pants are too tight and you nod off on a recliner while your nieces and nephews draw all over your hands and face with every colored marker in the box. Trust me, I’ve been there.

If you allow yourself a nutritious snack like a bowl of fruit, a plate of veggies, or a cup of yogurt and a banana before the big show, you will be less likely to overeat. Plus, there is the snowball effect. Starting the day with healthy choices establishes momentum for more healthy choices. As an added bonus, you won’t wake up with a rainbow on your face.

Eat pilgrim portions. Fight the impulse to stack turkey on top of turkey, build a mountain of mashed potatoes, and scoop helping after heaving helping of stuffing on your plate. Take a cue from the times of the first Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims and Indians didn’t have the luxury of riding horseback to Wal-Mart or any other grocery superstore to buy in bulk. Take just enough to satisfy you, not stuff you. When it comes to turkey, one serving is 2-3 ounces, about the weight of a deck of cards. For your sides, use the eye test. You know how much is too much. Once you have cleaned your plate…

…Play the waiting game. After you have finished your reasonably sized plate, wait a while. Watch some football. Help clean. Talk to your great Aunt Gert about her hip replacement. Give your body some time to digest instead of immediately filling your plate again. If you are still hungry after 15 minutes or so, go ahead and eat a little more, but commit to eating less food than you put on your first plate.

Draft Your Dessert. We are not going to tell you to skip dessert, we aren’t. As a matter of fact, we are looking forward to dessert the most. Treat your dessert choice like you are drafting a fantasy football team—take the best player available. If you are dying for a slice of pumpkin pie, have one. If cookies are more your thing, by all means, eat one. But here’s the catch. Your fantasy dessert draft has only one round. Pick the treat you like the best and eat one helping of it. Leave the rest alone. They might taste fantastic and give you the sugar-rush you need to avoid a Thanksgiving nap, but they won’t be worth the time it takes to burn off the calories on Black Friday.

You can do this. If you follow these guidelines, Turkey Day will just be a speed bump on your fitness journey, not a complete detour. Make healthy choices so you don’t have to put a bigger pair of pants on your Christmas wish list.

Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!


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Low-Calorie Tailgate Snacks! Score!

We are squarely in the middle of the NFL season, and for many people that means one thing: tailgating. Football fans across America—ourselves included—will wake up early on a Sunday (of all days) to get a good buzz going before cheering their hometown team.

On its painted face, tailgating is silly. Think about it. We wake up to an alarm on one of the two days every week that we don’t have to, only to eat copious fatty foods and get a little drunk. In some cases, a lot drunk. It just doesn’t make sense.

Here we are going to watch some of the best athletes in the world compete against each, but we can’t do it until our senses are properly dulled. We are about to witness something special, but we don’t want to be all there for it. No one preps for a marathon by staying up for two days drinking Mountain Dew and eating Sour Patch Kids. Just sayin’.

So why do we do it? The answer is simple: Tailgating is a hell of a lot of fun. You go outdoors with your friends, throw some corn hole bags, and have a good time on a Sunday afternoon. What’s wrong with that?

Still, you don’t want a few hours of tailgating to reverse several days of eating healthy and exercising. Whether or not you drink is up to you. We do. But know that beer and liquor are just empty calories, and to keep hydrated and make sure you are with it for the whole game, mix in some water. You’ll take some ribbing, but you’ll thank us for it.

As far as food goes, we have a low-calorie recipe for mini caprese salads that is delicious and way more nutritious than normal tailgate fare. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 block of soft mozzarella cheese
  • 1 container basil leaves
  • 1 container cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bag of garlic parmesan Pretzel Crisps
  • 1 bottle balsamic vinegar

Making these delightful little snacks is easier than explaining the false start penalty. Place a nickel-sized hunk of cheese on a pretzel crisp, followed by basil, followed by half a cherry tomato. Sprinkle on balsamic vinegar and you have a snack with flavor more explosive than a last-second touchdown! Happy tailgating!

Our most recent tailgate buffet.