Countdown to New Year’s: No-Resolutions Resolution Week 3
It's the third installment of our No-Resolutions Resolution plan, and this week we're turning our attention toward the relationship between calories consumed and calories burned. How can you keep the calorie count down so you have a zero-sum game? Start with manageable modifications. A little adjustment here and a little tweak there can really amount to a lot by week’s end. Here are six tips to get you started:
Sure you could add some exercise to your routine — we all could. But signing up for a gym membership with the expectation you’re going to work out at the crack of dawn every day isn’t realistic. Can you really get to the pool before the kids go to school each morning or just once a week? "I like to ask my clients on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 not at all, 10 no doubt), how confident are they that they can achieve the target," says registered sports dietitian Jason Machowsky. "Research shows 7+ is the best place to be. Lower than a 7, adjust the goal until they get up to a 7." What are some of the habits you could genuinely stick to? Try sneaking in exercise where it never was before. One day a week, skip the ride to the train and walk to and from the station. Committing to running outdoors in the winter may be a struggle. Why not stay inside and throw an impromptu dance party with your kids? Depending on how much you bust a move, you can burn upward of 250 calories per hour. "If you don’t think what you’re doing is making a difference, remember: Small wins add up like a snowball rolling down a hill," says Machowsky.
Did you know that standing burns calories? Your metabolism is actually more active when standing than sitting. Think of all the time during the day when you’re sitting when it isn’t even necessary. Try standing when you’re chatting on the phone, or better yet, make calls while taking a walk outside. Set a timer so you take a break every two to three hours and get your legs moving. When commuting, skip the seat and offer it up to someone who really needs it. Sitting is not just a lost opportunity for burning calories, it can be very damaging to your posture. "If we sit all day and then go to the gym,” says Machowsky, "we may be performing exercises in poor posture and form, which may actually speed us toward injury rather than fitness." For people who sit for prolonged periods of time, Machowsky recommends a proper warmup and movement-maintenance program.
If caloric, sugary drinks, like soda, are already in your daily rotation, then you've not been listening to the news. A 12-ounce bottle of soda has roughly 150 calories — that's more than 1,000 extra calories in your diet per week. Ideally, replace any calorie-laden beverages with water. If you are someone who craves sweetness to cut through savory meals, don't think juice is a good replacement either. Fresh juice is, of course, best and offers other nutrients. To cut down on the natural sugars, but still get in some goodness, fill an 8-ounce glass only partially and add water to make up the difference. Limited-time-offer beverages, like Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, tip the scales at 420 calories for a whole-milk, 16-ounce grande. You must have your yearly fix, ask for skim-milk version and order a smaller serving. An 8-ounce cup cuts those calories down by more than half. What to do when hitting the party circuit? "The best thing to stick with is wine," says Lisa Sasson, clinical associate professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University. “Cocktails have a lot of calories. Drink with a meal and limit yourself to just one."
Rather than say to yourself, "Self, I'm not going to eat pasta all month," or "I ban thee sweets for eternity," change up your techniques. Skip sauteing vegetables in olive oil in a pasta primavera and instead toss them into the boiling pasta water (which also makes for one-pot cleanup). Bake your breaded chicken cutlets using just enough cooking spray so they still crisp up. Invest in a steamer, which can be used for fish, seafood, veggies and dumplings, a party favorite. And you'd be surprised how tender asparagus cooks up in the microwave; follow Alton Brown’s method to do it best.
Haven't yet caught Sriracha fever? One little squirt (equal to a teaspoon) of the hot chili sauce is just 5 calories. Add it to veggie bowls with brown rice and tofu, use it as a dipping sauce on baked chicken wings, and use it as a replacement topper for ketchup, which has four times the number of calories per teaspoon.
Think in terms of moderation, not deprivation. That may mean moderation for the week versus one single meal. If you go overboard at a holiday party, don’t beat yourself up. Aim to make a recovery at your next dinner by substituting fish in place of meat, or have a vegan dinner. The next time you can’t resist the urge for pie, take a small slice, but skip the dollop of whipped cream. Remember, slow and steady wins the race, especially when you’re playing a long game.
Kiri Tannenbaum is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris and holds an M.A. in food studies from New York University where she is currently an adjunct professor. When her schedule allows, she leads culinary walking tours in New York City and is currently at work on her first book.