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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Where Good Health and Weight Loss Diverge

A couple weeks ago, Liz and I got sick. We weren’t SICK sick—we didn’t have anything serious, just the annual coughs, congested chests and noses, and general lousy feeling common to cold Midwest winters.

We spent all of our energy just being functional, responsible adults. We didn’t miss any time at work and still tended to household business like cleaning and running errands. But we had no energy to exercise. Hell, we had no energy to stay awake past eight o’clock.

We weren’t eating much at all either. I suppose our taste buds got sick too, because everything we ate tasted how cardboard looks—plain. Besides, when you can’t breathe through your nose, the last thing you want to do is shut your mouth for minutes at a time while you chew food. Needless to say, cereal was on the menu several nights that week.

But a funny thing happened. We each lost about five pounds. This isn’t gloating; it’s confusion. We weren’t healthy, but we had lost weight.

I have heard people—usually women on daytime talk shows—say, “Just because you are skinny doesn’t mean you are healthy.” These women were usually overweight and masking their disappointment with bravado. I could never make this comment compute; I would always roll my eyes out of cognitive dissonance. Isn’t that like saying “Just because you are tall doesn’t mean you can reach things on high shelves”?

But I guess there is something to it. Lethargy and weakness made it difficult for us to shower, let alone get our hearts pumping, but we shed a few pounds in spite of ourselves. This unintentional weight loss is not a good thing.

Good health is about more than the numbers on the scale, it is about a feeling. We would rather have those five pounds back (and we do. Merry Christmas.) and have the energy to workout, socialize with friends, and feel like human beings. Sure, dropping weight is nice, but we would prefer to do it on our terms.

Remember this on your own fitness journey. Being healthy is more important than hitting a number. Only you can decide on the happy medium between feeling good and reaching a goal weight, and maybe you don’t have to choose at all.

But consider this: What good is a fit body if you don’t have the energy to go out and show it off?

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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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Brain Food: Hot Dogs, A Little Marketing, and A Lot of Fun by Mike Rudd

My friend and college roommate Mike Rudd wrote a book recently. Part memoir, part marketing trade book, Hot Dogs, A Little Marketing, and A Lot of Fun, contains food for thought that you can apply to whatever line of business you are in, and more relevantly, your life. You can also apply it to your fitness routine. Here are some takeaways, or “Carry Out” items as Mike calls them in the book, that you can use to live a healthier, happier life.

Challenge Yourself to be Remarkable. Mike, who works for a sports talk radio station in Columbus, Ohio, writes about giving his clients innovative, creative marketing campaigns. He uses the metaphor of “climbing a mountain with no peak” to illustrate how he pushes himself to be better every day. We need to have the same attitude when it comes to fitness and weight loss. Look to the horizon, and we you reach it, look to the next horizon. Set goals, accomplish them, and set new ones. We can all push ourselves to run a faster mile, lift heavier weights, do more pushups. Everyone has to room to improve.

Follow Your Passion. When describing how he chose where to intern, Mike writes of targeting companies that interested him instead of companies that would build a nice, shiny resume. Thus, he snagged a position at an alternative rock station. You can burn calories doing exercises you actually enjoy! If trail running gets you juiced, go for it! If you have always wanted to participate in a 5K or tried CrossFit, give it a shot. You don’t have to limit your workouts to the elliptical or the treadmill just because they are convenient. If you have fun, you’ll look forward to working out, and will have better results. Which brings me to my next takeaway…

The Power of Positivity. Mike is one of the most positive, enthusiastic people I know. He is a one-man pep band. His attitude is infectious and influences everyone he meets. Like your wallet or cell phone, positivity is something you should take with you everywhere. Don’t think “I hope I can get through this workout,” but tell yourself “I’m about to crush this routine!” Look in the mirror and say, “I am going to lose weight!” Then, make it happen.

A breezy, lighthearted, accessible read, Hot Dogs, A Little Marketing, and A Lot of Fun is available in paperback and electronically on Amazon. Do yourself a favor, and pick it up today. It will inspire you to approach everything you do with a new level of enthusiasm. And you will probably have a hankering for hot dogs.