8 Components of a Healthy Lunch

What would I recommend for lunch to someone who’s looking to loose weight and boost his or her health? Pretty much the same thing that a healthy person at their ideal weight might eat. Clients often ask for specific recommendations. What follows isn’t a meal plan, but provides some guidelines for assembling a nutritious, fresh lunch that won’t show up on the scale.

You’re on the right track when your meals hit just about all of the following eight notes. As an example, I’ll use my own lunch to illustrate these points.

Today I enjoyed Suzie’s Whole Grain Thin Cakes (found them at Whole Foods and am trying them for the first time – good!), topped with roasted red pepper hummus, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and dill pickles.

Fat – Although the Thin Cakes are fat free, both the hummus and avocado contain a nice dose of healthy fats – about 5 grams from the hummus and 13 grams from the ½ avocado. That’s plenty to fuel the body for the rest of the afternoon and provide satiety now.

lunchFiber – Every ingredient — veggies, cracker and hummus — offers plant-based fiber which helps us feel full and our digestive system run smoothly. The avocado alone has 8 grams of fiber.

Protein – The Thin Cakes are made with corn, quinoa, and sesame, so five thin crackers have almost 3 grams of protein. The hummus added 2 and the avocado 3 grams. The veggies contribute some as well. NB: a plant-based meal can provide plenty of protein.

Carbohydrates – Key for energy, and in this meal, they are complex carbs; none are refined. The avocado has 8 grams, tomatoes 10, and the hummus 6.

Vitamins & Minerals
Iron – avocado
Potassium – avocado
Sodium – pickles and hummus
Vitamin A – hummus and tomatoes
Vitamin C – tomatoes, avocado
Vitamin B6 – avocado

Missing from the meal are, among other things, calcium and vitamin D – something to think about when choosing foods for the rest of the day.

Taste & Texture – This meal has crunch from the crackers and pickles, creamy richness from the hummus and avocado, a burst of juicy flavor from the tomatoes. It tasted wonderful and was completely satisfying.

Color – An easy rule of thumb I share with clients is to create meals with deep, rich colors. The more variety and intensity usually indicates the meal contains a bunch of vital nutrients. Compare the color of a fresh garden tomato to its pale winter cousin in the grocery store. Or notice the deep orange yolk of an organic, free range egg.

Quick & Easy – The ingredients were all fresh and available. When packing a similar concoction for school or work, use separate containers and prepare it when you’re ready to eat.


What Gandhi Taught Me About Diet and Exercise

“Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment. ― Mahatma Gandhi

GandhiAs I read this quote this morning, it seemed to encapsulate the answer to something I’ve been puzzling over.

Why do some people who want to drop unhealthy habits lack the power to turn the desire into action?

If only I could find the answer to this question, surely my impact as a health coach would go through the roof! Yet I realized that I already know the answer. Gandhi just did a great job of expressing it – even if he wasn’t actually referring to diet and exercise.

The essential difference between those that talk about positive change and maybe take a stab at it now and then, and those that decide to do it, and succeed is the source of their motivation, or to use Gandhi’s term, the source of their “power.”

Many of my clients, and it’s safe to say a big percentage of Americans, so often try to eat less or start an exercise program because they know they should. “Yeah, yeah. I know that I should…” I hear that phrase ALL. THE. TIME.

What I’m also hearing is a lot of negative emotions, starting with fear of change. Change means going outside of our comfort zone, forming new routines, and abandoning time-worn patterns. Shame is often in the mix, maybe in the form of a perceived finger wag from our doctor or loved one –“Shame on you!” Similarly, we might feel ashamed of our less-than-perfect appearance. Then there’s waving goodbye to the way things used to be. We’ve lost our youth and vitality and mourn that we can no longer do things we once enjoyed like climbing a mountain, or riding bikes with our kids.

On the other hand, people who successfully improve their lifestyle do so out of positive emotions. We feel respect and gratitude for the one body we have – with all its imperfections — and realize the importance of self-care. Self-compassion instead of self-loathing arises in the face of challenges; the unwanted pounds, the busy schedule that precludes regular exercise, and the effort it takes to change eating habits. Pride in our appearance is a goal, and last but certainly not least, we are hopeful that change is possible.

So allow me to rephrase Gandhi’s insightful words to zero in on motivation:

Motivation to change based on self-love is a thousand times more effective, permanent, and joyful than motivation based on negativity and fear.

Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

Wellness Tips for Leaders

The following is adapted from the section on wellness for leaders that I contributed to the newly published What Exceptional Leaders Know, High Impact Skills, Strategies and Ideas for Leaders, by Tracy Spears and Wally Schmader. Whether you’re a CEO, sales team manager, parent, coach or teacher, you’ll discover useful information on wellness and more. Here’s just a sampling: 

Wellness, as a term, gets tossed around a lot these days. But what does it really mean? According to the National Wellness Institute, “Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” I like this definition because it reminds us that we are each responsible for our own success as a person. No one can do it for us. We have to want to take that close look at ourselves, and then accept the self-knowledge that results.

Next we commit to making changes and envision how these look moving forward. It’s an “active” and ongoing process, with no formula that works for everyone. Each of us is unique in our challenges, yet wellness is available to all of us who actively participate in the journey.

What Exceptional Leaders KnowThe authors of What Exceptional Leaders Know have done a great job of outlining a 30-day reboot that fits our definition of optimal wellness. They lead us through an Energy Audit and a Neglect Review. Together these tools boost our awareness of what’s working and what’s not.

Next, readers use information from the Audit and Review to create change in the Managed Goals Workshop. When reviewing your own behaviors, be sure a few of your health concerns make it into the exercise. Without our health, we have nothing. You know this all too well if you’ve had a health scare or suffer from a chronic condition. Lucky you if this seems like just another platitude, but someday it’s meaning will be crystal clear. Don’t wait for that day. Don’t fall prey to the mindset of, “yeah but, that won’t happen to me.” Just like everything else relating to personal success and wellness, good health involves awareness (no denial here) and consistent good choices.

My Top Suggestions

In addition to your list of goals that result from your Personal Reboot, I offer three suggestions that every exceptional leader will benefit from. In my practice as a health coach, without exception my clients need reinforcement in at least one of these areas. Even though my suggestions are undeniably basic — the first two you’ve surely heard hundreds of times — they bear repeating because they allow for the strongest, healthiest and most robust platform from which all or your energy, ideas, and talents as a leader flow.


Adequate sleep is elusive to many of us, especially leaders. Two reasons seem to be at the root. The first is that we are taught that go-getters don’t have time for sleep. Sleep is for lazy, unproductive folk with little motivation. We hear about movers and shakers who only require about 4 hours a night (think Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and Donald Trump). Remember, these folks are anomalies. They represent only 1-3% of the population. If you’re not regularly logging 7-9 hours (1/3 of us sleep fewer than 6 hours each night), you are accumulating a sleep debt that has far-reaching negative effects on the body and mind.

The second reason we don’t get enough shuteye is that many of us fall into a cycle of bad habits that undermine our ability to get a sound night’s sleep. Poor sleep quality is often blamed on age or chalked up to stress, but there are ways to improve our sleep.

– Why Sleep is Vital

The first step in improving your sleep is to understand why it’s so important to our health and our overall success. Our bodies contain a delicate mix of biochemicals, which regulate how we feel and behave. These brain chemicals become depleted throughout the day, particularly by stress. Sleep is when our bodies restore this important balance.

  • Mentally, sleep deprivation makes us more forgetful, less able to process new information and leaves us vulnerable to depression and anxiety. More sleep keeps cortisol (the stress hormone) in check while boosting our natural mood enhancer, serotonin.
  • Insufficient sleep lowers cortisol and leptin, making us more likely to crave and overindulge in fatty, crispy, salty, and sweet comfort foods.
  • Physically, sleep debt hijacks our immune system, raising the risk of hypertension and heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and stroke.

– Tips for Getting a Great Night’s Sleep

Now that you’re convinced of the fundamental importance of a good night sleep, there are a few things you can do to help you get it.

  • Charge electronic devices outside of the bedroom, or completely silence them. Beeps, hums, and chirps are disruptive.
  • Cover as many of the light sources in your bedroom as possible – that red light on the TV (a piece of black tape), the glow from your alarm clock (turn it around), the street light streaming in past your shades (invest in better window treatments).
  • Kennel your pets at night, or have them sleep outside of your bedroom. I know I sound hard-hearted, but as comforting and sweet as they are, they wake us up a lot. We need lengthy periods of deep sleep that aren’t possible if we are repeatedly awoken by our bedmates.
  • Have a bedtime routine that doesn’t involve electronics. At least a half hour before bed, dim the lights, step away from the computer, turn off the TV, and do something quiet and relaxing. Make this a habit so that your body comes to know the signals that sleep is imminent.

– If you wake at night and have trouble getting back to sleep

  • Take a look at your exercise level during the day. Is your mind worn out but your body under exercised?
  • Are you anxious about a problem or upcoming event? Keep a pen and paper next to your bed, and take 5-10 minutes to jot down ideas, to dos, even worries. The simple act of putting them on paper will help you rest more easily.
  • Is heartburn an issue? Try eating an earlier dinner, elevate your head and shoulders while you sleep, and avoid foods that trigger indigestion. If that doesn’t help, see your doctor.
  • If you drink alcohol, resist the urge to have a nightcap. Wine or whiskey may help you nod off faster, but as the alcohol is metabolized, it becomes harder to stay asleep and sleep well.
  • Are your mattress, sheets, pillows and PJs comfortable? How’s the temperature in the bedroom?

Most people don’t realize they’re sleep deprived. They don’t tie their irritability, lack of self-discipline or difficulty concentrating to sleep debt. Try some of the suggestions above and take notice of other changes that result.

More Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

That fruits and vegetables are healthy is nothing new. But I have a strategy for anyone trying to improve his or her eating habits. Don’t spend energy counting calories. Forget about denying yourself right and left. Banish the word “diet” from your vocabulary. Simply eat more fruits and vegetables.

By eating more fiber-rich, vitamin-packed fresh produce, you will be crowding out some of the less healthy choices in your day. Keep in mind you can enjoy an enormous vegetable-laden salad and not come close to the fat and calorie count in a burger and fries. And since we’re not denying ourselves, go ahead and have a few fries, but chances are you won’t want nearly as many.

Go for variety. Try new things. If you’re taste buds are somewhat challenged at the thought of veggies, set a goal of trying at least one new fruit or vegetable each day for a week. Another helpful “rule” is to limit any after-dinner snacking to fruit only. You’ll be surprised at the awareness this raises around the difference between true hunger and a craving for something sweet.

Fruits and vegetables are also nature’s best source for vitamins and minerals. Increasing your intake will provide your body with more of the nutrients necessary for robust health. When you consider everything you put in your mouth as opportunity to nourish your body, you’ll eat more mindfully and be less likely to use food for comfort.

Less Sitting

My third suggestion isn’t quite as obvious as sleeping more and eating better. But being sedentary for long periods of time is somewhat of an epidemic, especially among those working in mid- to upper-level jobs. We tend to sit in long meetings, travel by air and car frequently, plant ourselves in front of the computer for hours on end. On average, Americans are seated for 9 hours each day! In 2013, the American Heart Association stated that too much sitting is as dangerous to our health as smoking.

Even regular exercise won’t offset the negative impact of sitting for long periods of time. What does help is incremental movements throughout the day, something Mayo Clinic physician, J.A. Levine, has termed NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). NEAT encompasses any energy expended throughout the day — from sleeping to fidgeting to climbing stairs — that is not done for exercise. Levine and others have found these activities add up, and have a significant impact on our metabolic rate.

Be more mindful about the length of time you spend sitting still. When doing computer work, set a reminder on your phone to stand and stretch every 15 minutes. Take the stairs, all the time! Consider scheduling a walking meeting as opposed to discussing business over lunch. When on a conference call, put on your headset and pace around the room. You can even add in some deep knee bends and no one on the call will be the wiser.

Wearing a pedometer or using a smart phone app to track your movements is hands down the best way to track your movement. Leaders know you manage what you measure, so why not measure your daily activities in order to increase them.

Standing desks or treadmill desks are becoming more common in the workplace. Some companies invest in one or two, allowing employees to rotate through the workstation throughout the day. Certainly, investing in the health of your employees is a remarkable way to gain their trust and respect.

Your Reach as a Leader Includes Creating a Wellness Culture

As much as you endeavor to improve your health and habits for yourself and your personal success, remember that as a leader you set the tone for many others. In the lingo of positive psychology you are an “influencer.” By practicing and embodying good self-care habits, you inspire those around you. As a leader, you’re in a position to model good habits, reward healthy choices, and spark constructive change. In essence creating a culture of wellness for you and those you manage is a powerfully productive leadership skill.

A wellness culture will not take hold if leaders don’t invest personally in the health-promoting ideas and the tools. If it’s not good enough for the boss, then the team probably won’t spend the time. Employees sense a wellness program that is primarily concerned with improving the bottom line through fewer absences and less expensive health insurance costs. But when a company fully supports the wellbeing of its employees, a zeitgeist forms and builds upon itself to strengthen the company, its employees and its leaders.

– from What Exceptional Leaders Know by Tracy Spears and Wally Schmader —available on Amazon

Protein Powders – What Young Men Need to Know

Many young men want the muscular physique that signifies masculine strength and virility. They may also be seeking a bigger presence on the football field or more power behind their faster pitch on the baseball mound.

But chasing after bulky muscles flexed by professional athletes is akin to the starvation diets favored by young women wanting to look like a super model. Our children are measuring themselves against an unrealistic ideal, and potentially harming their health in the process.

is-protein-powder-necessaryWith youth comes hubris as well as short-term thinking. What adolescent or even 20-30 year old gives much thought to their long-term health? As we all did, they take their youth and vitality for granted.

We all know the drill. The favored method teenage boys use to bulk up involves hitting the gym, hard. Weight lifting tears down muscle fiber. When it rebuilds, the tissue becomes stronger, denser and for males with testosterone, larger.

Yet there’s a new piece in the equation – protein supplements, usually in the form of protein powder. Sure, growing boys require a lot of calories, much of it coming from meat. But the thinking now veers toward “the more protein the bigger I’ll get.” This simply isn’t true and is a dangerous way of thinking.

We are all getting plenty of protein. Consuming more protein will not increase the size of our muscles. Exercise is the mechanism that increases muscle mass and strengthens bones. As we replenish the calories burned during exercise, protein from our food provides the amino acids we need for our muscle tissue to repair and grow.

According to “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,” protein should make up 25 percent of your daily calories, which translates to 136-170 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound person. If you’re an endurance athlete, you’ll be consuming more calories, but the ratio of protein to overall calories remains the same.

Protein powders are highly processed food supplements that can be sold without FDA approval for safety or effectiveness. Whenever a food source is highly processed in order to isolate a single nutrient (protein), the result is a product devoid of most other nutrients, particularly fiber, and one that is high in calorie, particularly when sweetened or flavored. Some brands add fiber back in, but again, it’s usually a processed source when getting your fiber naturally along with other nutrients inherent in that food is the best way to go.

The best recommendation I’ve heard from personal trainers is replenishing the body with a protein-rich meal or snack one-two hours post workout, This will maximize your body’s efficiency in using the protein to repair the muscles post –workout.

If you’re still a fan of protein powder, I recommend checking out your favorite brand on the app Fooducate. See how it scores for artificial ingredients, processing, added sugars, fiber, etc. If the findings are less than good, see what better options this helpful app suggests.

If you are trying to cut back on animal products avoid whey protein (derived from cow’s milk). Try vegetable based proteins like hemp, pea or the Vega Sport brand that mixes various vegetable protein sources. Dr. Joel Furhman recommends avoiding soy protein powders because they are unnaturally concentrated sources of soy protein and are highly processed leaving little of soy’s natural nutritional properties intact. Eating actual soybeans, edamame, tempeh, tofu and unsweetened soy milk are smarter options to obtain soy protein.

Excess Protein and Disease

In response to consuming protein, especially animal protein, our bodies produce IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor). Early in life, this hormone is crucial to our growth, but once we’ve stopped growing, IGF-1 promotes aging, and has been linked to the proliferation of cancer cells in the body. This is underscored by the growing evidence published by T. Colin Campbell, John McDougal, and Joel Furhman and many others, that animal products are disease promoting.

When we eat more protein than our bodies can use, we don’t store it, it is either converted to fat or eliminated through the kidneys. This causes our higher concentrations of calcium to be excreted in our urine, which can lead to lower levels in our bones as well as kidney stones.





The Many Benefits of Resistance Training

We all lose muscle as we age, and we’re not talking the decline of middle age. Muscle mass begins to wane as early as 20. The fast-twitch goes first, followed by the slow-twitch, which makes sense since most of us are better at endurance than speed as we get older.

In an effort to lose weight, many of us think cardio is best, and give less of our attention to resistance or weight training. But it’s important to stay strong, and reap added benefits to our waistline and health.

Here are some reasons why:We Can Do It!

  • As we age, when we gain weight, we gain it as fat. When we lose weight, half of what older adults lose is muscle.
  • Research has shown that strength training is more effective than cardio at melting away intra-abdominal fat (aka belly fat that surrounds our organs). Besides being aesthetically undesirable, belly fat is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
  • When we stop exercising we lose muscle rapidly. The good news is that we can gain most of it back in as little as 3 months.
  • Strength training boosts metabolism. Since muscle is metabolically active tissue, the more muscle you have, the more calories you can consume without gaining weight. (For every 10 lbs. of lean muscle, you’ll burn an additional 25-50 calories a day.) The shift in metabolism some see as they age is partly due to gradual muscle loss.
  • Joint pain and connective tissue problems (aching knees, shoulders, ankles, hips) are pretty common complaints. When we build muscle we also strengthen our connective tissues, keeping our bodies balanced, strong and less susceptible to aches and pains.
  • Resistance training combats bone loss because weight-bearing exercise increases bone mineral density. In fact, exercise is better than osteoporosis drugs for offsetting bone loss. This is true for athletes as well as sedentary folks. Since falls are a growing concern as we age, staying strong protects our bones if we topple.

Now for the HOW:

In order to maintain your current level of strength, you only need to do resistance training one day a week. To build strength, give your muscles a workout 3x a week. Do 3 sets with 8 reps each set, lifting enough weight to bring your muscles to exhaustion. Better to not be able to finish your sets than to breeze through them because you’re not challenging your body.

You may be thinking this all sounds too complicated. You don’t know how to use those  machines. Maybe the weight room intimidates you, or you don’t belong to a gym. Sorry to say those excuses won’t fly, because you can fit ten minutes of strength training into your day almost anywhere with little or no equipment.

plankIf you’re just beginning or if you’re short on time, start with plank. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this move. It’s the single most effective exercise to strengthen abs, shoulders, arms, legs and glutes,

Support your body on your toes and forearms, keeping your shoulders directly above your elbows, and arms shoulder-width apart. Your head, neck, back and legs should form a flat, straight line. Keep your core and legs engaged and hold the position for 30 seconds, breathing normally.

Repeat every day, increasing the time little by little. By challenging your body, you’ll be impressed how quickly your plank time increases. Muscles worked are primarily the abdominals and the erector spinae (running the full length of your back), Shoulders, chest, and the thighs also benefit.

Remember, small changes stick. Don’t revamp your routine all at once. Instead add or increase strength training bit by bit. Stay strong and live long!



American College of  Sports Medicine, Resistance Training and Injury Prevention.

American Fitness, “Getting Older, Day by Day,” by Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD. March, April 2014.

Women’s Health Magazine. The Best Strength Training for Women: You may be missing out on the best body shaper exercises out there. by Lauren Aaronson. March 9, 2009.