Welcome to "52 Weeks to a Healthier You"....

Are you thinking about making changes in your life to become a healthier person but don't quite know how to get started? Perhaps your doctor has suggested eating healthier, exercising and losing weight, but it all seems so overwhelming. Many of us already know what we should be doing, but implementing all of those pieces of information can be quite a challenge. Too often we embark on a new diet or exercise plan only to give up after a few days or weeks because it seems too difficult. Well, worry no more. You have arrived at the ideal place to help you make those changes. We are going to develop new habits, one week at a time. Health, exercise, and nutritional goals have been broken down into small, manageable steps. Each week you will add one new habit and have seven full days to perfect it before moving on to the next one. This is not a traditional diet and exercise plan, but rather a journey towards a permanent healthy lifestyle. The steps may seem small at first, but collectively they add up to major improvements in one's overall well-being. In just 52 short weeks, you will be amazed and proud of the changes you have made. You will look back and see just how far you've come on your quest to be a healthier YOU. Now, scroll down in the archives to January 2011/Week 1 and let's get started.... Then, follow each week's tip to a healthier YOU!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Week 1 -- Fill up with a healthy breakfast

This week we are kicking off our new healthy habits with one of the most important things you can do for your health--eating a healthy breakfast. Breakfast is often one of the most overlooked meals of the day. And that is unfortunate because it is also the meal that is probably the easiest to control and ensure optimal nutritional intake. Unlike lunch and dinner where we are often busy with our day and "on the go", most of us are home in the morning surrounded by all of the healthy choices in our fridge and pantry.

What does the word "breakfast" mean? Quite literally, it means to break a fast. In the morning, your body has been resting (fasting) without food for 7-8 hours. Most of us close our eyes at night, wake up in the morning, and never give a second thought to all that is happening in our bodies "behind the scenes" while we are sleeping. Sleep is the time when our body builds up the immune system's components and repairs the damage caused by pollutants and toxins during the day. During sleep, our body undergoes an anabolic (building up) phase which is the exact opposite of the catabolic (breaking down) phase during the day (1). The anabolic phase builds our body up again to its normal state or condition, repairing muscle, building new bone, healing wounds, calming inflammation, etc. Even at rest the brain is still working hard to run all the organ systems; digestion, respiration, kidney function, immune system, along with others. The brain demands fuel for these activities and will take stored glycogen from muscles and fat.

The average person burns about 60 calories per hour during sleep. So after a good night's rest, that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 400-500 calories! It is VERY important to replenish the depleted energy stores when you wake. Your body is already in a caloric deficit at this point, and it is vital to make those healthy nutrients available as quickly as possible.

Many people skip breakfast, especially if they are watching their waistline. They want to save those calories for later in the day. Also, many people claim they just aren't hungry in the morning or feel nauseous when they eat too early. This is one of the worst mistakes you can make! Studies show that people who eat a balanced breakfast are far more successful at maintaining their weight than those who don't. Women in particular tend to nibble on less nutritious items like toast or a small bagel along with their morning coffee. While temporarily filling, these items are poor choices because they are too carb-heavy, offering nothing in the way of proteins or healthy fats. Carbohydrates convert quickly to sugar causing our blood sugar to rise and fall rapidly and setting us up for more cravings a short while later. It is much better to choose a substantial (350-400 calories) breakfast that is a balanced combination of carbs, proteins, and fat (yes, fat too!)  It is especially important to get adequate protein if you are participating in any kind of strength training program. A good rule of thumb for meal planning is 40-50% carbohydrate, 20-30% protein, 20-30% fat.

Here are some ideas for healthy, balanced, filling breakfasts:

1. Oatmeal with fruit and nuts
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking oats) (150 cals)
1 cup low fat milk (100 cals)
1/2 banana (40 cals)
1/4 cup blueberries (20 cals)
1/8 cup walnuts-about 7 halves, chopped (90 cals)

Place oats in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl (do not use a cereal bowl, oatmeal will overflow!) Pour about 3/4 cup of milk in the bowl -- save the rest for thinning to desired consistency after cooking. Be sure to drink any extra milk so you can get your full cup with 8 grams of protein. Cook on high for approximately 3-1/2 minutes, more or less depending on your microwave. Sweeten lightly if desired with Truvia, Splenda, sugar or honey (be mindful of extra calories from sugar or honey). Top with fruit and nuts.

This is a nutrition-packed meal which provides 400 calories and 15 grams of protein.  This will keep you full for hours!

2.  Greek yogurt with natural granola
1 carton 2%-fat Greek yogurt (130 calories)
1/4 cup natural granola (120 calories)
1 piece of fruit (80-100 cals)

Any brand of Greek yogurt is fine, but be sure to choose the plain variety over the flavored.  Use a little of your own sweetener if desired.  My personal favorite Greek yogurt is Fage (pronounced fay-ah) and it is available at most grocery stores.  This has a whopping 17 grams of protein vs. only 5-6 grams in the more popular brands (Yoplait, Dannon).  Greek yogurt is definitely an acquired taste; it almost has the consistency of sour cream.  Some people choose to thin it out with just a splash of milk.  Play around with sweeteners, fruit and granola to get it just the way you like it.

For the granola, again, any brand is fine.  Check ingredients carefully and choose the most natural version you can find.  Personally, my favorite is Udi's which is available at most specialty grocery stores and online at Udi's Granola.

This meal provides approximately 350 calories and 20 grams of protein.

3. Omelette with vegetables
1-2 eggs (70-140 cals)
1/2 cup egg whites (60 cals)
1 teaspoon olive oil (45 cals)
Fresh chopped veggies such as peppers, onion, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes (20 cals)
1 piece hearty whole grain toast (100 cals)
1/2 cup fruit (40 cals)

Spray omelette pan lightly with PAM and add a teaspoon of olive oil.  Beat an egg or two along with eggwhites.  Pour into heated pan. (An omelette pan with a hinge works great!) Allow eggs to set, toss in a heaping handful of fresh veggies, add a pinch of cheese if desired.  Close the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes, until eggs are cooked through.

This meal provides 335-405 calories and 20-27 grams of protein depending on how many eggs you use.

4. Swedish Muesli
1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli
1/2 cup Fage 0% or 2% Greek Yogurt
1/2 cup Skim milk
1/2 tbsp Agave Nectar
1/2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract

Mix all other ingredients together and refrigerate overnight. Enjoy!
This delicious breakfast provides 245 calories with 18 grams of protein.  Add a hardboiled egg (70 cals) and top with fresh fruit (40-60 cals) for a total of 350-375 calories and 24 grams of protein.

5. Hearty whole grain toast with natural peanut butter
1 slice hearty whole grain bread such as Great Harvest Dakota Low Carb (120 cals)
1 Tbs all natural peanut butter such as Krema (100 cals)
1 piece of lowfat string cheese (60 cals) or glass of lowfat milk (100 cals)
1 piece fresh fruit (60-80 cals)

This breakfast provides approximately 360-400 calories and a whopping 19 grams of protein to keep you full for hours.

6. Protein Breakfast Smoothie
1 cup lowfat milk (100 cals)
1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder (110 cals)
1-1/2 cups frozen fruit (70-100 cals)
1 tsp flaxseed oil (45 cals)

Mix milk with protein powder until well dissolved.  Pour into blender, add frozen fruit and 1 teaspoon flaxseed oil.  Blend until smooth and frothy.

This delicious concoction supplies about 350 calories with a whopping 28-35 grams of protein, depending on the brand of whey protein powder.

These are just a few ideas to get you started.  The possibilities for healthy breakfasts are endless!  Just use your imagination to come up with interesting combinations of carbs, proteins and fats.  Always try to add fresh fruits or vegetables to your selections, and don't be afraid to add nuts and/or healthy oils such as olive oil or flaxseed oil to boost the calories and healthy fats up to the desired level.

"Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper."

1. Why We Need Good Sleep, http://www.articlesnatch.com/Article/Why-We-Need-Good-Sleep/1230689


  1. Thanks so very much, Karen, for a beautifully comprehensive and detailed explanation of Tip #1. The recipes are very helpful. I am headed to Meijer in the AM to get the requisite ingredients. Here's my question. If I get up at 6AM and don't walk until 9AM, do I eat 200 calories at 6AM and another 200 calories at 8:30? And how do you personally eat like a pauper at dinner when you are preparing a meal for your family?

  2. Thanks for the positive feedback! You could certainly break up the calories as you suggested, but personally I would eat ALL of the breakfast calories when you get up at 6:00. Then, walk at 9:00 and follow up with a healthy snack around 10:00. Ideally, we will divide your total daily calories by 4 or 5 (three meals plus one or two healthy snacks) so it would look something like this: breakfast at 6, snack at 9 or 10, lunch at 1, snack at 3:30, dinner at 6:30. Seem like a lot of eating? Don't worry--it's really not! It's just a way of manipulating your calories so you are eating smaller meals more frequently, about every
    3 hours. This will rev up your metabolism and prevent hunger throughout the day.

    Many women (myself included for many years) are chronic under eaters and simply don't realize how efficient our metabolisms can run if we would only keep them revved up with fuel! The average daily caloric need for women who are just trying to maintain their weight (not trying to lose weight) is somewhere around 1800-2000 calories. Many women I know are eating far below that level!

    As for eating like a pauper in the evening, I generally don't eat many starchy foods during the dinner hour. I will mostly eat lean protein and plenty of vegetables. This significantly cuts those evening calories, and I find I sleep much better when my stomach isn't working all night to digest a heavy meal. If I know my dinner will contain starchy carbs, then I go much lighter on the carbs during the day.

  3. Thanks for your well-considered answer, Karen. However, if I ate 1800 to 2000 calories daily without changing my exercise level, I would immediately gain weight. Alas, the aging process slows down one's metabolism. You just haven't reached this stage yet! But I will try to eat more in the AM since I love your great food suggestions/recipes.

  4. I agree that if you suddenly start eating 1800-2000 calories when your body is used to consuming far less, you would probably see a slight weight gain. But since the goal for many of us is to repair our sluggish metabolisms :) the ideal method is to start with one meal at a time and slowly build up our calories to their proper level. Basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories needed in a day just to stay alive) is somewhere around 1000-1200 calories for most women. That's the calories needed to fuel the brain and organ systems if you just sat in a chair all day and didn't move! So add on top of that all of the activity you normally do -- walking, yardwork, climbing stairs, walking the dogs, etc. and the caloric demand goes up. There are many methods of calculating your BMR and total daily caloric needs including the Harris-Benedict formula, the Katch-McCardle formula, or the very accurate method of actually having your BMR tested via a special machine.

    Remember, baby steps! We're not adding very many calories all at once, just breakfast.

  5. This is a great idea. Thanks so much! I'm gonna pin this!