Dining Out – How to Make Healthier Menu Choices

health choice at restaurantIn today’s society we are eating at restaurants more than ever before where almost half (47.9%) of our food dollars are spent away from the home.  This is problematic for a couple of reasons.  First, research shows that just one meal away from the house can add an additional 134 calories to one’s daily caloric intake.  Compound that by the multiple of times we visit restaurants per week and the pounds can start adding up quickly.  Second, research has also found that foods consumed away from home tend to be lower in nutritional quality due to its higher fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt content while having a significant reduction in the amount of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables that are necessary for a healthy diet.

However, when armed with the right information, eating out can in fact be done in a manner that is both enjoyable to your palate and good to your waistline.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is to start using the power of information available on the internet.  Healthy Dining Finder located at http://www.healthydiningfinder.com is an excellent source by providing low calorie and healthy menu choices from thousands of participating restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining.  Each suggested menu item is approved by a registered dietitian and contains corresponding nutrition information.  All you have to do is enter in your zipcode and they will provide a list of participating restaurants in your area.  Other sites that may helpful are Cooking Light’s Menu Navigator located at http://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/smart-choices/restaurant-navigator-00400000062083/ as well as food databases such as CalorieKing at http://www.calorieking.com.

Can’t find the information you are looking for on the internet?  No worries, here are some guidelines that can help you navigate your menu choices:

  • Choose items that are grilled, broiled, steamed, poached, baked, roasted, or braised.
  • Try to avoid meals that are fried, battered, and scalloped or food containing high calorie contents such as butter, creams, gravy, and regular cheese.
  • Look for dishes flavored with herbs and spices instead of the high calorie items listed above.
  • Think portion control by choosing a small” or “medium” version of main and side dishes.
  • Watch out for extra calories coming from beverages.  Obviously look out for beverages containing lots of added sugar.  If you are going to have alcohol with your meal, take a moment to read my blog on “How to Curb Alcohol Calories”.
  • Ask for salad dressing to be served on the side and then use intelligently.
  • Select main dishes that include lots of vegetables.

In sum, eating out doesn’t have to be a discouraging or stingy experience.  With just a few modifications, one can rein in the calories while enjoying meals that are both flavorful and nutritious.  Happy eating!


Megan Senger, “Navigating Restaurant Menus”, IDEA Fitness Journal (September 2012)

Jessica E. Todd, Lisa Mancino, and Biing-Hwan Lin“The Impact of Food Away From Home on Adult Diet Quality”, USDA Economic Research Service (February 2010)


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When Choosing a Personal Trainer All Certifications are not Created Equal

Working with a personal trainer can be a rewarding experience that can significantly increase your odds of achieving your long term fitness goals. In fact, one university study showed a 57% increase in individuals’ attitudes regarding physical activity after a 10-week program with a trainer. This outcome will most likely lead to greater physical activity for the participants over longer periods of time.

When choosing a personal trainer one should take many factors into consideration such as the trainer’s education, experience level, demonstrable ability to produce results, and personal chemistry. However, a crucial consideration is the organization from which the trainer is certified. The personal training industry is highly unregulated where out of many hundreds of certifying agencies there are only a handful that are considered legitimate by serious fitness professionals. Some of the low quality organizations offer certifications after just a brief internet correspondence course. On the other hand, the top tier organizations are much more rigorous and require months if not years of study in practical knowledge areas to pass the certification exam. Additionally, these higher quality organizations often require verifiable continuing education credits and an up-to-date CPR certification to maintain the accreditation. Some of the more reputable organizations include: National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and American Council on Exercise (ACE).

The Certified Personal Trainer designation that I hold is through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) regarded by many professionals to be the “Gold Standard” and has one of the most rigorous credentialing exams in the industry. In addition, I hold a Corrective Exercise Specialist designation through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).


Steven R. McClaran, “The Effectiveness of Personal Training on Changing Attitudes Towards Physical Activity,” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (March 2003)

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Are You Getting Good Fitness Advice

Fitness AdviceEvery day we are constantly bombarded with an endless stream of so called expert advice on everything from dating to improving our educational system.  The latest fitness and overall health trends are no exception as declarations from their proponents appear to be wildly popular within the media and general public.  With this constant onslaught of information, how does one determine what advice to listen to as we have all fallen victim to bogus guidance at one time or another even when it has come from sources with high distinction.  I just got through reading the book Wrong: Why experts keep failing us and how to know when not to trust them by David H. Freeman that adroitly describes the complex web of issues (e.g. career pumping, statistical error, and cognitive bias just to name a few) that cause us to be mislead by flawed advice.  Although I would recommend that you read the book to get a grasp of these issues, here is a sample of takeaway points from the book on how to discern the characteristics of less trustworthy expert advice:

It’s simplistic, universal, and definitive. When a claim promises broad benefits and is declared in a sound bite or headline, for a multitude of reasons this advice is usually flawed.

It’s supported by only a single study, or many small or less careful ones, or animal studies. Research findings that are based entirely upon animal studies have a high probability of being refuted once the research is conducted on humans.  Although a series of large, well constructed studies can occasionally be wrong, they typically are your best bet in finding a better conclusion.

It’s groundbreaking. A novel finding is usually based upon one study or a small subset of less rigorous studies.  Bigger, well constructed studies are almost never undertaken until smaller ones pave the way.

It’s pushed by people or organizations that stand to benefit from its acceptance.

It’s geared toward preventing a future occurrence of a prominent recent failure or crisis. Hindsight is 20/20.  Doing in the present what we should have done before a crisis erupts doesn’t necessarily lead to the best outcome.

You can order this book from Amazon.com by clicking the link below:

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How to Find Your Target Heart Rate Range

In the prior post titled “Cardiovascular Exercise – How to Start a Program” the need for one to take a phased approach to physical conditioning was discussed. Using a progressive system utilizing a targeted range of heart rates that is appropriate for your particular stage of condition is a smart approach. You can calculate these ranges from the Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) method also known as the Karvonen method. To calculate your range, follow these steps:

1. Go to the following website: http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/TargetHeartRate.html

2. Enter your upper range percentage in Heart Rate A.

3. Enter your lower range percentage in Heart Rate B.

4. Enter your age.

5. Enter your resting heart rate. To find this use a heart rate monitor and observe your heart rate in a rested state (i.e. seated in chair). Don’t have a heart rate monitor? Purchase a Heart Rate Monitor Here

Here’s an example. For a deconditioned 43 year old that has a target intensity range of 50 – 60% and a resting heart rate of 77 would yield the following target heart rate ranges:

Target Heart Rate (upper end of range) = 137 beats per minute

Target Heart Rate (lower end of range) = 127 beats per minute

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Cardiovascular Exercise – How to Start a Program

I see it all the time, someone begins a cardio program only to be burned out or injured only after a few short weeks.  Many times this is because they try to exercise as hard as they can from the “get-go” with the hopes that they will burn more calories and get into shape faster.  However, a deconditioned body often can not handle this approach and before long will fight back with symptoms of severe fatigue or tendonitis (overuse injury) in the joints.  A smarter way is to take a phased approach utilizing targeted ranges of heart rate that are appropriate for the particular stage of condition that you are in. The following are some suggestions on how you might incrementally improve your cardiovascular conditioning based upon American College of Sports Medicine guidelines.  These suggestions are for participants that are apparently healthy and have medical clearance to engage in exercise.

Any activity that uses large muscle groups in a rhythmic fashion over a prolonged period of time can be considered cardiovascular exercise.  Examples include walking, running, hiking, stair climbing, elliptical activity, cycling, swimming, rowing, skating, etc…  Chose any cardio exercise for the guidelines below.  Begin each workout session with a 5 to 10 minute warm up which is basically engaging in the cardio activity at a lower intensity than what you will be targeting.  For example, you may walk briskly for 5 minutes before you jog.  Conduct a cool down at the end of your workout which again will be about 5 minutes of lower intensity exercise followed by static stretches.  Click the following link for examples of a post workout stretch routine:  Basic Stretching Program.  Don’t forget to include strength training on the off days.

Initial Stage

This phase lasts 1 to 4 weeks during which you’ll want to start out with just 15 minutes of targeted exercise and progress towards 30 minutes in the later weeks.  The appropriate intensity is between 40% – 60% using the heart rate reserve method (HHR).  Click the following link for info on how to calculate your target heart rate using this method: Find your target heart rate range.  You can start with an intensity range of 40% – 50% and progress to a range of 50% – 60%.  The duration of this phase can be extended if needed.


The purpose of this stage is to gradually improve your conditioning to the point that you can handle and eventually maintain an advanced level of exercise intensity.  It lasts approximately 4 months with an exercise duration ranging from 30 to 40 minutes in length and intensity incrementally improving from 60% to 85%.  The duration of this phase can be extended to 8 months or more if needed.


At this point you are maintaining the fitness level you achieved from your hard work during the previous stage.  To progress you may want to study advanced techniques.  For example, to improve your running times you can employ interval, pace/tempo, or Fartlek methods to your training.

Please contact me if you’d like a customized exercise plan.

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Choosing the Right Running Shoe

running shoes

A good running shoe should be designed to assist with three major functions:  to provide a cushion for shock absorption, to support the foot by effectively distributing impact forces, and to supply a barrier to protect against outside elements.  Finding the right shoe that accomplishes these factors requires some insight into your own running mechanics which, fortunately, can be easily determined.  First, you’ll need to observe your degree of pronation (the inward rolling of the foot when it comes into complete contact with the ground).  The  article “Pronation, Explained” does a fantastic job of demonstrating the different pronation types.  Runners that have issues with excessive pronation which is common among those with low to flat arches should choose a stability or “motion control” shoe containing rigid devices around the heel and arch.  Runners that have high arches typically have issues with underpronation that require a shoe with more cushioning,  A combination shoe containing some stability and a moderate degree of cushioning will work best for those with normal pronation and no apparent mechanical abnormalities.  What is your degree of pronation?  You can determine this by simply visiting a running specialty store that has staff trained in determining your type.  If you want to go it alone, you can make an informed decision by using a Wet Footprint Test as described in the article “Take the Wet Test: Learn Your Foot Type”.  Another aspect to consider is your body weight.  Heavier runners will be best served with a bulkier, sturdier shoe.  Make sure to try out many different models in the store to find a shoe that immediately feels comfortable as they should not have to be broken in.  As a final point, make certain that you leave about a half inch between your toes and the front of the shoe as extra space allows for shifting that occurs when running downhill.  Happy running!

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Timing of the Pre-Exercise Meal


A common question I receive is whether one should eat prior to exercise. First of all, it goes without saying that eating a balanced diet consisting of multiple meals (about 4 – 6) throughout the day is essential to keeping your body fueled and ready for action. Although everyone is different, the digestion of a regular meal can take up to 4 hours, so you should allow plenty of time to digest a meal before engaging in physical activity. However, you may consider having a small snack about 30 to 90 minutes prior to exercise for the following reasons:

  • provides additional fuel for prolonged stamina
  • helps decrease exercise induced breakdown of muscle protein, thus, preserving lean muscle tissues
  • may prevent the distracting symptoms of hunger
  • helps avert symptoms from low blood sugar which can include dizziness, nausea, and headaches

Preferably, a pre-exercise snack should consist of 200-400 calories including mostly carbohydrates (about 60%) with some amount of fat and protein.
Choose carbohydrates that are easily digested such as pasta, fruits, breads, energy bars and drinks.

You can find examples of some pre-exercise meals at the following link:


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How Much Exercise Should You Get?


The answer wholly depends on your time constraints and specific goals. In fitness there exists a principle of Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID). In other words, this principle asserts that the human body will adapt to the physical stress, whether biomechanical or neurological, that is placed upon it. Fortunately, a qualified Personal Trainer can assist you in determining what exercises to employ and how much is required to meet your fitness goals whether they be to improve muscular balance and coordination, increase cardiovascular function, enhance strength, or other needs. However, from a general conditioning standpoint the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine in conjunction with the American Heart Association provide the following exercise recommendations for healthy adults under the age of 65:

moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week


vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week
eight to 10 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week.

For those that want to just “feel good” and work toward a healthy body weight, these recommendations will work well. Visit the ACSM site for

Physical Activity and Public Health Guidelines for more info.

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Keeping a Diet Journal, not as Hard as You Think

diet journal One of the key success factors that weight loss experts tout is keeping a diet journal. This fact is backed up by decades of research including a significant finding in the August 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showing that dieters that track what they eat lose twice as much weight as those who don’t. Why is it effective? Because it helps one get a handle on what a normal serving size is, facilitates with understanding whether too much or not enough calories are being consumed, provides accountability, ensures fundamental nutrition, and identifies emotional or environmental barriers involved in making better food choices. You are probably thinking… “How can anyone with a life find time to do this?” Fortunately, systems such as Weight Watchers, the Exchange System, and the Food Guide Pyramid have been developed for meal planning so that one can quickly estimate their calorie consumption while providing a framework for meeting nutritional needs. For more information on meal planning visit my website at

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How to Curb Alcohol Calories

holiday cocktail

Okay, I don’t want to be the diet Scrooge during the Holidays as I certainly hope you enjoy these times with family and friends to the fullest. However, some of you that drink may be able to lessen the holiday blow to your diet by making wiser choices that really aren’t much of a sacrifice. Take a gander at the following link containing calorie counts for some the more popular alcoholic beverages: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/custom/2005/12/19/CU2005121900285.html As you can see, there is a wide disparity among the calorie counts. The reason for the disparity is attributed to many factors such as the number of alcohol servings in the drink (1 gram of alcohol has 7 calories compared with only 4 calories for a gram of carbohydrate), the proof of the alcohol, the size of the drink, and most importantly, the type of mixer used. Therefore as a general rule of thumb, try to stick with wine, light beer, simple cocktails made with low-calorie mixers, or have your favorite spirit on the rocks. Doing so may help some of you curb the holiday impact and start the New Year with a fresh recognition that making better diet choices isn’t much of a sacrifice after all. The following is a great article from WebMD with more detail on this subject: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/low-calorie-cocktails. Happy Holidays!

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