Muscle Recovery

There is nothing more fulfilling than when you’re in the zone and your workouts make you feel like Thor fighting through the ancient dead before fighting his crazy sister Hela in Ragnarok, you feel unstoppable. In fact, taking a day off seems absurd and you definitely don’t want to stop progress, right? Not exactly, taking a day off really does your body good and you need it.

Muscle recovery is vital to your progress. I know I know, I also said your nutrition is vital to your progress, well guess what? So is your muscle recovery. As a competitive bodybuilder, I understand the importance of rest and recovery and there is more to it than just sleep. Fueling your body, engaging in active recovery, and your nutrition all play vital roles in muscle recovery.

In the following article Muscle Recovery: Essential to Your Next Workout  was originally published on HVMN and dives into consuming, resting, and techniques for recovery. It also highlights the importance of foam rolling and stretching to help reduce the risk of injury. Overall, we have to take care of our bodies in and out of the gym and it starts by empowering yourself with the right knowledge.

Juliana Halloran

5 Ways to Measure Body Composition

What’s the Best Way to Measure Body Composition?

Are you overweight, skinny-fat or just curious about your lean body mass percentage? In physical fitness, body composition is used to describe the percentages of fat, bone, water, and muscle in human bodies. Because muscular tissue takes up less space in our body than fat tissue, our body composition, as well as our weight, determines leanness. Here are 5 common ways to measure – some old and some newer – where you are along with the pros and cons.

Old PARADIGM – Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. It can be mistaken for a marker of health…it’s widely recognized and easy to figure out. It’s not my first choice for measuring body fat and lean mass but still used by many physicians to measure health.

  • Enter your weight and height using standard or metric measures.
  • An indicator of Body Composition, not a precise measure of body fat.

How reliable is BMI?

BMI is determined by dividing a person’s weight in pounds (lbs) by their height in inches (in), squared and then multiplied by 703.

The formula:
BMI = weight / [height (in inches)]2 x 703

Some Problems with BMI

You’ll notice this formula doesn’t take age or gender into consideration. It also doesn’t account for the amount of muscle mass an individual may have; many athletes with a large percentage of muscle mass may measure a high BMI even though they do not have excessive amounts of body fat. Women tend to have more body fat than men (reality). Older people tend to carry more body fat than younger people. Athletes have higher BMI because of increased muscularity.

What does a high BMI mean?

A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy, a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. If you score a BMI of 25 or above means you are at a much higher risk of suffering from a whole host of diseases including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer (breast, colorectal, endometrial and kidney)

However, this testing method isn’t the best way to know if it’s time to lose weight and can actually be wrong if you’re someone who works out regularly or is older in age.

New Paradigm – Body Composition

Thankfully, there are a few better ways to help us understand a little more on how the weight of our body is broken down. Body composition, which is the measure of fat mass to lean tissue (including bone, muscle, ligaments, tendons, and organs), is an important metric that often gets overlooked.

There are dozens of methods to measure body composition, ranging from the quick and (relatively) painless to the incredibly detailed. These measurement techniques can help individuals set baseline values for body composition and goals for later on down the line.

However, with the variation in methods comes a fluctuation in accuracy. One method might nail down your percentage of body fat to within a few decimals, while others leave a wider range of error.

Here are the top five methods for measuring body composition along with the pros and cons of each.

Different Types of Body Composition Measurements

1. Skin Caliper

The most accessible method for measuring body composition, a skinfold assessment can be done using either three, four or seven sites (meaning parts of the body). The technician pinches the skin and then uses the skin caliper device to measure the thickness of the skin fold for each site. After plugging the numbers into a formula, practitioners can estimate body composition.

Pros of the Skin Caliper Test:

Calipers are relatively inexpensive (about $10 per pair). This test is the most easily accessible of all the methods listed here. A proper skinfold assessment can be completed in just a matter of minutes, anytime or place.

Cons of the Skin Caliper Test:

Body fat distribution can factor into the accuracy. Although the test takes a measurement from each main area of the body (including the upper body, midsection and lower body), a participant that holds greater amounts of fat outside of the measured areas might end up with a lower reading. Human error is a factor, depending on the experience and knowledge of the technician and consistency with calipers takes practice, so the key is to practice a lot — or find an expert technician. The most important thing is to use the exact same spots every time. Results can vary depending on the number of sites being measured. In my own experience using the 9 site assessment takes in the most information for a more accurate result.

2. Bioelectrical Impedance

Don’t let the name scare you; users won’t even feel a thing. Bioelectrical impedance scales range from the simple (a normal scale with electrodes under each foot – probably most common and accessible) to the complex (a scale that has handholds with additional electrodes).

Both devices work by sending tiny electrical impulses through the body and measuring how quickly those impulses return. Since lean tissue conducts electrical impulses quicker than fatty tissue, a faster response time is correlated with a leaner physique.

Pros of Bioelectrical Impedance:

Bioelectrical impedance monitors tend to be affordable enough to keep one around the house. Since this technique requires little more than pressing a button, users need little to no previous practice, and measurements can be done in a matter of seconds.

Cons of Bioelectrical Impedance:

Bioelectrical impedance measurements are generally less accurate than other methods. Readings can be greatly affected by variables like hydration levels (since water also conducts electrical impulses), mealtimes (a recent meal can skew results), and workouts (taking a reading directly after exercise leads to a lower body fat reading). For the most consistent reading, take readings at similar times during the day in the same conditions.

3. Hydrostatic Weighing

If the thought of getting dunked underwater suits your fancy, this might be the method for you. Hydrostatic weighing, commonly referred to as underwater weighing, compares a subject’s normal body weight (outside the water) to their body weight while completely submerged. Using these two numbers and the density of the water can accurately nail down the subject’s density. This number is then used to estimate body composition.

Hydrostatic weighing was touted as the gold standard for many years, however, hydrostatic weighing is not able to account for bone density. As a result, hydrostatic tests tend to underestimate body fat in athletic individuals with high bone density and overestimate in older adults who have low bone density. These tests can provide a lot of useful data but many of our clients aren’t sure how to make use of the information.

Pros of Hydrostatic Weighing:

Hydrostatic weighing is an incredibly accurate technique for measuring body composition. The technique uses tried and true variables that feature a low percentage of error.

Cons of Hydrostatic Weighing:

You’re going to have to find a lab or a performance center that offers hydrostatic weighing, which can be a bit inconvenient and more expensive (ranging from $40 to $60) compared to other techniques. Subjects also have to forcefully exhale as much air out of their lungs as possible (to reduce the potential for error) and sit submerged completely underwater, which might be uncomfortable for some individuals.

4. DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry)

Body fat testing is a great way to have an accurate metric for your body composition. There are many ways of getting your body fat tested, but most experts will agree that the DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan is the most accurate testing technology available.

Think X-rays were just for broken bones? A DEXA scan exposes patients to X-ray beams of differing intensities and can be used to measure bone mineral density alongside body composition. Participants lie still on a table while a mechanical arm passes over their entire body, which emits a high- and a low-energy X-ray beam. By measuring the absorption of each beam into parts of the body, technicians can get readings for bone mineral density, lean body mass, and fat mass. And since the machine scans body parts individually, the test can also break down body composition per limb so you can confirm your suspicions that your right leg is indeed just a bit stronger than your left.

Pros of DEXA:

DEXA scans are incredibly accurate at measuring body composition. A DEXA scan is quick, dry and painless, involving simply lying on a table for a few minutes. DEXA has surpassed hydrostatic weighing as the gold standard and is being utilized as the criterion measure in clinical research more so than underwater weighing (hydrostatic).

Cons of DEXA:

Getting a DEXA scan usually involves making an appointment with a medical professional. The high level of accuracy also comes at a relatively high price tag compared to other methods, which will vary based on location.

5. Air-Displacement Plethysmography (BOD Pod)

Air-displacement plethysmography is actually very similar to underwater weighing. First, participants sit in a small machine; then, by measuring how much air is displaced by the individual, technicians can determine body density. Like underwater weighing, the participant’s body density is then used to calculate body composition.

Pros of Air-Displacement Plethysmography:

Since the air-displacement plethysmography method doesn’t involve dunking your head underwater for an extended period of time, many subjects will find it more comfortable. The shape and size of the machine used in this technique, which typically resembles an egg, make it accommodating for persons of almost any age, shape and size.

Cons of Air-Displacement Plethysmography:

Like hydrostatic weighing and DEXA scans, air-displacement plethysmography won’t likely be found in your neighborhood gym. While commercial machines might pop up at select high-level training facilities, locating one near you might be difficult. Plus, the cost (between $45 and $60 per reading) might steer you in the other direction.

Regardless of which method you choose, you should wait at least six to eight weeks before re-measuring body fat percentage and use the same method. Find a method that works for you and stick with it. Though bioelectrical impedance and skin calipers tend to be slightly less accurate than more high-tech methods like underwater weighing, they can still be an incredibly useful tool if you just want to track your loss (fat) and gains (muscle).

And remember, body composition should be just one metric on the road to health and fitness (alongside others like sleep quality, energy levels, and happiness) — not the entire focus of your training.

How to Interpret Your Body Composition Results

Most people are rarely excited with their baseline body fat test. Keep in mind that your body fat percentage should be viewed as a metric in the same way that your total cholesterol or liver enzyme values are metrics of your health. It’s a data point we can track over time… not a measure of your self-worth.

This is where you start to take a look at things such as – lifestyle, diet, supplements, medications, aging, and other factors can begin to affect your health.

Most people have a body composition goal, it can also be useful to have this data point tested again to validate whatever training and nutrition strategy you may be using. However, when it comes to aesthetics, I’d argue how you look and feel is probably far more important than a number on a sheet of paper.

That being said, most people want to know more about where they stand and there are various sources for helping you interpret body fat percentages. One of the most commonly referenced charts is from the American Council on Exercise. You’ve probably seen this as a poster or laminated card on a personal trainer’s desk at your local gym.

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 10.49.53 PM

You’ll notice that women will have a higher body fat percentage at any level compared to men due to biological differences. While the ACE chart is an easy quick reference, it doesn’t account for age and the use of the word “obese” may be a bit extreme in some cases.

Another useful chart is sourced from the research of Dr. Andrew Jackson and M.L. Pollock. Many personal training professionals prefer this chart over the ACE chart as it accounts for both gender differences AND age differences. Simply find your age category in the left-hand column of your respective gender, and then look across to see where you fall in your age group.

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 10.53.20 PM

1.Body fat charts provided by BodyFatCharts.com
2. Data provided courtesy of AccuFitness, LLC

Body fat percentage is only one metric that people tend to fixate on when setting their fitness goals. It also provides another very important number: lean body mass (LBM). Your LBM is simply your body fat subtracted from your total body weight. LBM includes organs, bones, muscle, and everything else in your body besides body fat. Typically, changes in LBM are primarily from increases or decreases in muscle mass. Changes in bone density can affect your LBM as well, however, a DEXA scan will be able to differentiate between the two. Usually, this is listed as Bone Mineral Content (BMC) on a DEXA report. It’s important to note that when viewing a DEXA report, LBM is calculated by adding the “Lean Tissue” and “BMC” measurements together. A hydrostatic test will give you LBM and body fat only.

If your goal is to get leaner, you need to decrease your body fat percentage while maintaining (or increasing) your LBM. It’s important to keep an eye on both numbers as you work towards your goal. Your LBM is also very useful for helping us calculate your daily nutritional requirements.

Things to Consider when Looking at Body Composition Numbers

Body Fat vs Body Muscle

You may have heard the phrase, “Muscle weighs more than fat.” But how true is that? Well, common sense tells us a pound of muscle and a pound of fat have to weigh the same; however, they do differ when it comes to density. This means if you look at five pounds of muscle and five pounds of fat side by side on a table, the fat will take up more volume, or space, than the muscle.

The same holds true with your body; you may look noticeably leaner due to fat loss, but when you add in muscle gain, the weight on the scale could be up five or maybe even ten pounds more than it was before. Most scales can’t tell the difference between what’s fat and what’s muscle, so that added weight could be muscle that you’ve worked so hard to obtain!

If you look and feel leaner but your weight is up on the scale, then a body fat percentage testing method may be a better choice for those who like to set milestone numbers for body composition goals.

You Are Not Defined by a Number

You’ve probably seen this phrase posted on someone’s Facebook or Instagram at some point, as it has become a popular motivational phrase in the fitness community. That doesn’t mean it’s not true, however.

Ask yourselves – at the end of the day, which is more important: how you look, feel and perform, or what the cold-hearted scale tells you whenever you step on it? If you look and feel like a lean, mean beastmode machine, it shouldn’t really matter if you’ve gained a few pounds in the process.  If you’re healthy and you look good, don’t put too much stock in what the scale is telling you.

Obsession Can be a Slippery Slope

It’s no surprise that eating disorders and obsession about our weight have become commonplace in America; almost 30 million Americans (of all ages and genders) suffer from some type of eating disorder [2].

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who weighs themselves is obsessed or will become obsessed at some point; I can only speak from personal experience. There was a time when I wrote down and recorded every single thing that I ate and drank; I also would weigh myself 2-3 times a day. I did both of these things every single day for months at a time; and when I decided I needed a mental break from all of that dedication, I found it to be actually quite hard for me to stop, as weighing myself became a habit – an obsession – that was very hard to break.

For those of you who weigh themselves on a regular basis, I challenge you to hide your scale away and not weigh yourself for seven days. If it’s too difficult of a challenge and you find yourself unable to break the habit, it may be time to set some new goals and create some new habits that will help you towards your goals versus stressing you out about them.

SUGGESTION – weighing yourself only once a week, same time, same place – consistency. Stick to one source.

Bonus Reason just for Females: Hormones

Yes, this reason needs just one word to sum it up. Hormones play a big role in wreaking havoc on the scale for women, even causing their weight to fluctuate from day to day, depending on your time of the month. You may not feel bloated, but you could be retaining fluids. Studies have shown that women hit a peak day of fluid retention at the start of their menstrual cycle, with some women retaining fluids the days leading up the cycle. So if it’s close to your time of the month, don’t put too much stock on what you see on the scale

Remember What’s Important

We all want to be healthy, look great and perform our best in life, both inside and outside of the gym. Obsessing about the weight on a scale can actually get in the way of your body composition goals. If your current goal is weight loss and you constantly find yourself in the scenario described at the beginning of this blog, it may be time for some new goals that don’t revolve around the scale, such as dropping a pants/dress size or using a tape measure instead of the scale to keep track of your growing biceps.

And remember, at the end of the day, your weight is just a number showing the “amount of downward force gravity is exerting upon you” and nothing more.

If you are looking for an online fitness and nutrition coach you can e mail me at feistyfitness@gmail.com

It’s All Mental

Today I started thinking about a comment a member said to me last week. “You’ve got it so easy, you already look amazing.” Although she didn’t intend to make me feel I’d been slapped in the face I still felt the heat on my cheek lingering. Does she honestly believe ‘this’ is easy? Sorry sister, you don’t get to give me a compliment I didn’t even ask for, especially a back handed one. I work for THIS, I workout, for THIS, I eat for THIS, I supplement for THIS, I recover for THIS, I drink a lot of water for THIS, I do cardio for THIS, shall I continue??

Every morning I visualize how my day is going to go and what I want to accomplish.  As a body builder I plan every meal, workout, cardio session, supplement intake, and getting in my gallon of water. A routine I have been perfecting for 10 years and every year I find new ways to improve my strategy of prepping and training to conquer the body I want.  But you don’t have to compete to get the body you want. I compete because it holds me accountable and I look forward to the discipline, consistency, and development of my training along with helping others learn to live a healthier lifestyle.

The will power it takes to accomplish my goals is not easy.  Some days are tougher than others but I know I can do it.  When anyone sets a goal to lose weight, change their body, eat healthier, begin a workout routine, run a marathon, it all starts with the power to decide. You don’t start losing weight or adding muscle because it’s the in thing to do. You do it because something intrinsic has been stirring up inside of you and is ready to express its reality through your body. For some, they believe doing cardio and weight training is enough but do not give nutrition much effort. They aren’t ready for real change and continue doing the same bad habits with little effort to improve their daily eating. You have to be all in to feel and see change. In other words, going from 1-2 meals a day to 3 meals a day is nothing to get excited about if it’s still unhealthy/crappy food. If you are going to add a 3rd meal then make all 3 healthier and part of your plan to a healthier you. Our bodies are complex but when you find the formula that works it becomes easier.

It’s when we give up that we fall short of our accomplishments. You have to see it through til the end. Have patience and stay consistent.

Juliana Halloran

Focus

Focus

Growing up when my mom wanted something done I had to remove all distractions to complete the task or suffer the consequences. The daily tasks she required taught me to focus. Especially in a time crunch.  Don’t get me wrong, I tend to procrastinate on the things I’m not so fond of but when it’s something I love to do or trying to accomplish something important I laser in on what needs to be done.

Every day my schedule requires me to set aside two separate times to train for competition. As I awake I do fasted cardio for 45 minutes. This means getting everything I need for the day and heading to the gym. Since my work day starts as early as 6am my alarm starts screaming at 4:15am. After cardio a shower is desperately needed and my first meal is eaten before training my first client. Later in the day I schedule an hour for strength and weight training. This happens five days out of the week and then I’m back to training clients until 7pm, sometimes as late as 8:30pm.

One can say the days get long but luckily I love what I do and it never feels like ‘work’. Once I’m home I tend to my furry babies then prepare dinner and attempt to enjoy some of the evening with my hubby.  But before I get too comfortable I have to start preparing for the next day. Managing my time is important when I compete. Scheduling times to eat along with clients and my own training can get overwhelming and exhausting.  Staying on track with taking all my supplements throughout the day and drinking at least a gallon of water is a full-time job.  To get my body stage ready I can’t miss a beat.  There’s no wiggle room and forget taking the day off from ‘my comp plan’ because if that box is cracked even a little we might as well bring in the doughnuts because a little taste is never enough.  That is why getting ready for a show requires focus.  If I get distracted then there is a possibility that my plan can start to unravel.  Fortunately for me I am zoned in like a sniper waiting for its next kill.

 

Typical Tuesday…

4:15am Alarm…snooze button

4:24am Alarm… Rise and shine!

4:24-4:45am morning ritual then off to the gym

5:00am-5:45am cardio

5:45am-6:15am shower, get ready for work, scarf down meal 1

6:30am-1:30pm train clients, eat meals 2 and 3, take required supplements, drink at least half-gallon water.

2:00pm-3:30pm workout, eat meal 4

4:00pm-8:30pm train clients, eat meal 5 (dinner)

8:45pm-10:30pm family time and prepare for next day

10:30pm wind down and prepare for bed.  i usually am asleep between 11pm and midnight

 

 

Hit the Restart Button

As we put Christmas behind us with the relief of having some form of control over our lives we still have the last week of the year where most of us like to use  “I’ll start after New Year’s” phrase.  We all know after too many holiday parties followed by Christmas lunch, brunch, dessert, and leftovers the next day we need to tighten the reins and clean up our eating.  The only problem is many of us aren’t ready to give up the foods that have been comforting us the past few weeks and if everyone else gets to start on New Year’s then I guess I’ll jump off a bridge too.  Wait, what?? Look, you’ve already made additional holes in your belt buckle and started wearing elastic banded pants. Why wait till the first when you can get ahead of the rest by starting now?

I know it’s easier said than done, especially coming from someone who eats clean year round but I was in your shoes before and there is nothing worse than trying to restart something you fell off the wagon for and hitting the restart button.  Making changes to becoming healthier and getting in better shape all take planning and preparing and I don’t expect to teach it all to you in one blog.  For now let’s start with the basics and use these simple daily habits to get you going in the right direction.

  1. Eat breakfast everyday.
  2. Eat small meals throughout the day.
  3. Eat a lean protein and complex carbohydrate with every meal.
  4. Eat whole foods instead of processed food.
  5. Drink half your body weight in ounces every day.
  6. Prepare your meals ahead of time.

With the new year less than a week away you have to start planning for a better version of yourself and with the right nutrition and exercise plan you can look forward to a healthy New Year and fitter YOU!

I will be sharing my food diary for those that ask me what I eat most days.  I prepare all my meals.  When I leave the house in a hurry I go to Snap Kitchen where most of the meals are gluten free and portioned perfectly for me.  For future posts I will include all foods not prepared by me and show you how easy it is to eat healthy and delicious foods when on the go or eating out with friends.

Juliana’s Food diary:

Breakfast: 1 whole egg, 2 egg whites, 2 ounces chicken breast all scrambled together with 2 TB salsa, 1 whole grapefruit

Morning snack: medium apple, 4 ounces lean fround turkey

Lunch: 5 oz grilled chicken brest (baked), 5 ounces baked sweet potatos, 1 cup steamed green beans

Afternoon snack: protein shake blended with 1 banana and 2TB almond butter, water, ice, 1 ounce trail mix

Dinner: 5 ounces fround turkey, 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/4 cup black beans, salsa, 1 cup broccoli

Stay Feisty!

Eating Healthy While Dining Out

Eating Healthy While Dining Out

Houston can be a tough city to find healthy meal choices when eating out. Here in Texas we like our southern fried foods and fatty meats and most of us have never met a potato we didn’t like! With our daily schedules, cooking at home is just not an option for a large number of busy professionals, executives, parents, and students. But if you are working toward a fitness goal, or if you have simply put healthy eating at the top of your list of priorities, then you need to know where you can go and what you can order when you can’t make your meals at home. Knowledge is power in this situation, and I hope to arm you with some of my experience and expertise on the matter. Planning ahead…at least a LITTLE BIT Most days you probably run out of the office and hit the road for home (or the gym!) at breakneck speed. Chances are your tummy starts rumbling while you are still sitting in traffic and you find yourself turning in to pick something up for dinner. Or perhaps it is lunchtime and you need something fast. If you have made the conscious decision to eat healthy, fast food is not on the menu. In fact, quite a few standard American choices are ruled out. So what’s a hungry guy or gal to do? The first step to a fool proof healthy eating plan is to do just as the name suggests…and PLAN. Pack your lunch and a few healthy snack options to curb your hunger. But if eating out is a major part of your routine, then you at least need to know where to go and what to order. The easiest way to do this is to know the healthy restaurants in your area (list below) or find it on HealthyDiningFinder.com or a similar site. Then, browse the menus online ahead of time. Many restaurants provide nutrition information online and in stores these days.  When we have goals to accomplish it is important to stick to the plan and eat healthy even when we don’t prepare it ourselves. Lunchtime This one can be tricky when eating out with co workers but if you know where you are going then you can take a sneak peak at the menu on line and plan ahead.  Choose the item you will order while you are sitting at your desk. It is easier to think about and follow through with your healthy choices when you are not rushed by the people behind you or tempted by the table next to you. We live in a time when information is literally at our fingertips. Use your smartphone—most sites have mobile versions—and plan ahead. You can always call ahead as well and ask for special preparations. In fact, calling ahead and ordering your meal for pick up instead of eat in might just save you the temptation of ordering that dessert you saw. Don’t DRINK your calories. This should be a no brainer by now, remember a healthy diet does not include soda or alcohol for that matter.  Many people automatically order a soda or alcoholic beverage with every restaurant meal and the calories can stack up by the hundreds.   It just “goes together” in their mind and this is a thought cycle that will sabotage even the best of healthy eating plans. Choose water or unsweetened tea or coffee instead of regular soft drinks or alcoholic beverages. This will save a lot of calories. This is one more place where ordering your food to go can help you stick to your healthy choices when flying solo.  You are far less likely to order a drink “to go”—it can be a pain to transport it home, and you know you have plenty of drink options in the fridge anyhow. Or better yet, water! Whole Grains Are Your Friend Most restaurants have a whole grain option for their pastas and sandwich breads, and brown rice in place of white. If you MUST order one of these types of starchy items, go for the whole grain varieties. The added fiber will offset some of the carby content at least to some extent.  Let’s not forget our new gluten free friendly menus.  More restaurants and healthy on the go places are catching on to the wheat free trend of eating. Sauces: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly If you’re in the mood for pasta, look for tomato-based sauces rather than cream-based sauces. Tomato-based sauces are lower in fat and calories. In addition, the tomato sauce (or marinara sauce) can count as a vegetable! Another option is to ask for your pasta to be tossed in a small amount of olive oil with steamed veggies and a dash of garlic and salt. Always order sauces and salad dressings on the side. This way, you have control over how much or how little you add.  When choosing a dressing, stay away from cream-based dressings like Ranch and Blue Cheese. These pack a huge punch when it comes to calories and instead choose a vinaigrette. One excellent trick is to ask for “oil and vinegar.” The waiter will bring you a little caddy of olive oil and some kind of vinegar, allowing you to control the amount of oil in the dressing you eat. Sour cream counts as a sauce too. Ask for salsa with a baked potato instead of sour cream, butter, cheese, or bacon. Salsa is very low in calories, tasty,  and a healthy alternative with a lot of spice. Another  tip  is  to ask for reduced-sodium soy sauce. Too much sodium will sabotage your healthy lifestyle in ways far too numerous to list here. Just go easy on the shaker and high sodium sauces like this one. Order sandwiches with mustard rather than mayonnaise or “special sauce.” Mustard adds flavor with virtually no calories. Other sandwich tips are to choose gluten free, whole grain bread, skip the cheese, and add vegetables as toppings. Also keep in mind that chicken salad, tuna salad, and egg salad are made with mayonnaise.  These are calories that can add up and not considered the good kind. Starters Bread and Chips A steaming basket of bread or fresh hot tortilla chips is sure to send your hunger bells into attack mode and innocent snacking on these while you wait for your order can result in hundreds of unhealthy calories offsetting all your hard work at the gym. Request that the waiter NOT bring these items to your table. No need to make it harder on yourself than necessary. Yet another good reason to order it all to go! Soup There have been studies done that show consuming a small cup of low calorie soup before every meal lowers overall caloric intake and will therefore aid in weight loss. Just be sure you choose a broth-based soup over a cream based option. Keep in mind that cream-based soups are higher in fat and calories than broth-based soups. Soup can serve as a great appetizer to a meal, or as an entree. Most soups are low in calories and will fill you up. Salad Salads at many restaurants have been teased and tossed and dressed within an inch of their healthy core. A small pile of iceberg lettuce loaded with grated cheese, bacon or ham, croutons, and smothered in creamy dressing can have as many calories as a cheeseburger! So be sure to ask for the dry Garden salad and dressing on the side. If you think you can’t leave them behind on the plate, request that the croutons and other toppings be left in the kitchen. Where’s The Beef? Or Meat? For meat dishes, look for leaner cuts such as skinless chicken breasts, turkey burgers, pork loin and beef sirloin. Select options that are flavored with spices and fresh herbs, as those items are more likely to have lower fat and sodium content. When ordering grilled fish (or vegetables,) ask that the food either be grilled without butter or oil, or prepared “light,” with little oil or butter. Do I have to tell you that anything battered or fried is out of the question? SIDES Whenever possible order steamed or grilled vegetables rather than anything starchy. If your only choice is potatoes, choose baked or steamed rather than French fries, tots, chips or any kind of fried hash. Always ask for healthy choices, even if there are no healthy options listed. Restaurants often have veggies and fruit available for other dishes that they will be willing to prepare for you as a side dish. FINAL TIPS Keep in mind that eating out, if at all possible, should be something you do only occasionally. Almost everything you make at home is going to be a leaner, healthier option. The hamburger you grill up at home is better than the one you can get at most restaurants when it comes to fat, additives, and other questionable ingredients. Plus no one looks at you funny if you choose to only eat half so that you can afford a french fry or three. Also, asking the waiter to box up half of your meal in the kitchen is increasingly more popular. Or you can ask for a box to be brought at the beginning of the meal and box it up before you dig in. Out of sight, out of mind! Restaurant portions are typically twice what you should have in one sitting in terms of calories and fat. If you get in the habit of only eating half of what is served, you will not only be spreading your calories out properly and avoiding over-indulgence, you will be saving money too, since you have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch (or tonight’s dinner!) HEALTHY EATS IN HOUSTON The following restaurants are a few of my favorite places to eat healthy. Their menus are designed to have less fattening items and will tailor to your requests. Snap Kitchen 3600 Kirby Dr. Houston, TX 77098 (713) 526-5700 http://www.snapkitchen.com Zoe’s Kitchen 3701 S. Shepherd Drive Houston, TX 77098 (713) 522-7447 http://www.zoeskitchen.com Ruggles Green 2311 W Alabama St Houston, TX 77098 (713) 533-0777 http://www.rugglesgreen.com Field of Greens 2320 W Alabama St Houston, TX 77098 (713) 533-0029 http://www.fieldofgreenscuisine.com Pepper Tree Veggie Cuisine Highland Village 3821 Richmond Ave Houston, TX 77027 (713) 621-9488 http://www.ilovepeppertree.com My Fit Foods 5410 Kirby Drive Houston, TX 77005 713-592-9707 http://www.Myfitfoods.com