#Saturday, September 05, 2009

Because there are so many sneakers to choose from, it’s important that you pick the right shoe type for your foot and the activity you’ll be engaging in.
First it’s important to have your foot evaluated properly by a professional.  Luckily, there are a variety of shoe stores that now offer to watch you walk to determine your gait as well as evaluate your arch in addition to standard measurements as part of their services to help you find the best shoe.
It’s also important to pick the right shoe for the “job” or the exercise you’ll be doing.  For example, if you are a long distance walker or walking is your main form of cardio, you will want to use a Walking Shoe.  Walking shoes offer good arch support, are lightweight and have the right amount of cushioning for a serious walker.

If you are a runner, a Running Shoe is your best bet.  Running shoes are generally light weight and have built in shock absorbers to help ease the stress off your joints with each pounding movement.  They are typically lightweight and provide the essential support a runner needs. 

Cross Trainers are ideal for someone who participates in light impact activities like aerobic classes, walking or weight training.  They are not recommended for running because they lack the support necessary to absorb major impact. 

Tennis shoes are built to support side-to-side movements for racket-based sports players. 

Casual sneakers are very trendy right now and fine for lounging around or a leisurely walk or shopping but should not be used while working out because they lack any real support.

Our best,

The Venice Nutrition Team

*information derived from FitSugar

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Though it’s true that nuts are a natural source of protein from plants, you may be surprised to learn that they are not your best protein option.  Why?  Because in order to stabilize your blood sugar, it’s critical to include a complete protein from an animal source such as dairy products, chicken, fish, eggs, beef, lamb, and turkey.  Soy products are also considered complete proteins.  What makes a protein “complete”?  Complete proteins like the ones listed above contain all of the essential amino acids that the body cannot create on its own.  Because the body cannot synthesize these amino acids, it’s essential to include a complete protein (that contains these amino acids) in every meal.

Incomplete protein sources like nuts, seeds, beans and grains are foods that contain protein yet lack the essential amino acids or do not contain enough of them.

Because amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are responsible for building and maintaining the tissues of the body as well as promote the breakdown of fat, complete sources of protein are superior to incomplete proteins like nuts.

So should nuts be included in a healthy, balanced diet?  Of course!  Nuts are an excellent source of antioxidants, fiber and omega 3 fats (also known as “heart healthy fats”) and most definitely should be included as a regular part of your diet, as long as you are not allergic to them.  The best way to incorporate nuts is to consider them the fat in your meal.  Simply add a carbohydrate along with a complete source of protein in the correct amounts according to your nutritional parameters, and you’ve got a perfectly balanced meal.

Eat well!

Our best,

The Venice Nutrition team

#Sunday, August 23, 2009

These days, parents are busier than ever.  Getting a house full of children dressed, fed and off to school in the morning can be a challenge.  You already know how important it is that your kids eat breakfast before they leave the house.  But do you know how to feed them something that is nutritious, FAST and balanced enough to maintain their energy levels throughout the school day?  Our team of Nutrition Experts understand how busy you are and came together to offer their favorite “kid-friendly”, healthy and fast breakfast solutions.

First, it’s important to remember that a breakfast that is balanced in protein, carbohydrate and fat is ideal for you AND your child as well!   A balanced breakfast will help to stabilize your child’s blood sugar which is important to maintain a healthy body weight, prevent fatigue and keep their minds sharp during a long school day. 
Here are some of our favorite breakfasts that take only a few minutes or less to prepare and can be eaten on the go:

Protein Bar- It doesn’t get any easier than this.  Rather than the standard, sugar filled breakfast bar or pop tart, aim for a protein bar that has a good balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat.  Some brands to try: Detour, Zone, Balance Bar, or Cliff Pro Builder.  If you want a balanced protein bar made with only natural ingredients, try Greens Plus Protein Bars.

Fage Greek Yogurt Parfait- Combine low fat or fat free Fage Greek Yogurt (a high protein, low sugar yogurt found in some grocery stores and any specialty market like Whole Foods), fresh fruit like berries, Splenda or Stevia to sweeten and a touch of vanilla extract.  Top with nuts like slivered almonds or chopped walnuts for healthy fat.

Egg and Cheese Roll-up-If you’re pressed for time in the morning, try scrambling enough egg beaters or scrambled eggs to last a few days.  Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  When ready to eat, top a scoop of the eggs with cheddar cheese and microwave for 20-30 seconds.  Put egg and cheese mixture in a whole wheat roll up and wrap in foil to go.  Or you can serve the eggs with whole grain toast if your kids have time to sit down and eat.

Protein Smoothie- In a blender combine whey or soy protein powder, skim or low fat milk, fruit like banana or berries (or both), a small scoop of natural peanut butter or flax oil (for healthy fat) and ice.  Blend until frosty and smooth.

Cereal to go- In a “shaker” cup with a lid, combine low fat or skim milk with vanilla protein powder and shake until smooth.  Pour over a whole grain, high fiber, low sugar cereal.  Top with nuts for heart healthy fat.

As Nutrition Experts, we get asked this question a lot.   It is a misconception that late night eating will cause excessive fat storage and because of this, so many people go to bed hungry.  The question is, should you eat at night and if so, what should you eat?

The answer is “yes”, you should eat at night!  In order to stabilize blood sugar and prevent over-eating the next day, a late night, balanced meal is critical.  How many meals you eat in a day or whether or not you need a late night meal at all depends on how many hours you are awake during the day.  It helps to think of your body as a machine.  As long as you are awake, you should be fueling every few hours with a meal balanced in protein, carbohydrate and fat.

We recommend that you eat one hour within waking and every three to four hours until you go to sleep at night.  For example, if you eat dinner at 6 pm, and you don’t go to sleep until 10 pm, it’s important to grab a balanced meal or snack around 9 pm.  This will prevent blood sugar levels from dropping too low while you “fast” (or sleep) at night.  If you skip your last meal of the night, you run the risk of waking up very hungry because blood sugar levels can plummet too low.  This will cause your metabolism to slow down and may cause over-eating and carbohydrate cravings later in the day.  If you happen to have your dinner meal at 7 pm and you go to bed at 8 or 8:30 pm, you don’t need to worry about eating again.  Just catch some zzzz’s and make sure to eat one hour within waking. 

If you find that you’re not physically hungry for the last meal of the night (which is often the case), it’s important to eat anyways!  We recommend that you choose any one of the balanced meals on your plan and cut each ingredient in half or even in thirds to make a mini-meal that still has the correct ratios of protein, carbohydrate and fat.   If you’re not hungry before bed, a simple solution is to have a few bites of a protein bar to keep your blood sugar stable and your metabolism high.   

Remember, the key to achieving all of your nutrition and fitness goals is to stabilize blood sugar and keep your body in balance.  Eating a balanced meal or snack at night can help!

Excellent Video with detailed explanation by Venice Nutrition's creator and CEO Mark Macdonald:

#Saturday, August 15, 2009

Between a slow economy and the challenges of everyday life, stress is at an all time high.  You may have noticed that despite your best efforts, you are gaining weight or have hit a complete plateau in your results.  Could stress be to blame?  According to experts, the answer is yes.
So how exactly does stress affect our weight and sabotage our goals?  When you are under stress, your body automatically send your “fight or flight response” into full swing.  This response releases certain hormones, specifically cortisol (also known as the “Stress Hormone”).  When there’s an over-release of cortisol due to stress, your metabolism (or your body’s ability to turn food into energy) slows dramatically.
How else does stress affect your weight?  When you are stressed, you are more likely to reach for your favorite comfort foods like ice cream and chips.  Foods that are loaded with carbohydrates (sugar), fat and sodium make us feel happy and satisfied temporarily but only lead to more intense cravings and snacking later in the day.   Not only do many of us reach for the unhealthy stuff when stressed, we usually reach for more food in general.   Thus, the cycle of snacking on the wrong foods, over eating and weight gain continues. 

Chronic stress can also lead to changes in blood sugar.  As you know by now, in order to create balance within your body, increase metabolism and burn fat consistently, it’s critical to maintain stable blood sugar levels.    Stress throws your blood sugar levels out of whack and may cause fatigue, lack of energy and even mood swings.  And when you are not feeling well, your entire health structure suffers including your quality of sleep, and your motivation to exercise and eat well. 

So what can you do?  The first step is becoming aware of how much stress you do have and what’s causing it.  Often times we are so stressed for so long that it becomes the “norm” and this kind of thinking leads to chronic stress.  Acknowledging the stress in your life and identifying the stressors (or causes of stress) is a necessary step in order to managing them.   Once you’ve pinpointed all of the areas that are causing stress, you can begin to create solutions to easing the stress in these areas. 

As a Venice Nutrition Coach who has worked with countless clients struggling with stress, I’ve learned a thing or two about managing it.  Here are a few tips that may help you to mellow out and get your body back in balance again.

1.  As described above, start identifying the areas of stress, causes and then solutions.  It may help to make a list.

2.  Take at least 30 minutes of “me time” every day.  Whether you use this time to read a favorite novel, meet a friend to catch up, exercise or just meditate, the key is to clear your mind and shut off for a little while.

3.  Pay careful attention to your health structure including your sleep, nutrition, exercise, water, and supplementation.  In times of stress, there are bound to be some “offs” somewhere in your structure and it’s important to identify and correct them as soon as possible.  Your body can only be in balance when all of the components of your health structure are optimized.

4.  Try massage.  Not only will you recover faster from workouts and release stored toxins , you’ll also lose a lot of stress.

5.  If you find you can’t manage your stress on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone for help.   Sometimes an outsider’s point of view is exactly what you need to make changes.  Whether it’s a friend, sibling or even a professional therapist, find what works for you.

Live well!

My best,
Valerie Cogswell
Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

*stress facts derived from

#Sunday, August 09, 2009
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Sunday, August 09, 2009

If you’re wondering how to make the most out of your next summer meal, seasonal fruit and vegetables are the way to go. Both provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber for better health, reduced risk of many diseases, and increased energy and weight loss.  Even if you always take a multivitamin, filling your diet with whole fruit and vegetables is the best way to ensure you’re receiving the nutrition you need.  Not to mention sampling a variety of this season’s colorful, juicy and fresh produce can be a delicious way to break out of your same-old food routine.

Best of all? Seasonal fruit and vegetables cost less than out of season produce, a huge benefit to those of us trying to eat healthy in today’s economy.  It may surprise you to learn that fruit and vegetables in season take very little effort to produce, so less labor is necessary, thus drastically reducing the price.  So which fruit and vegetables are in season and ripe for the picking? 

Green Beans

Looking for creative ways to incorporate fresh summer veggies into your next meal?  Try a vegetable stir-fry sautéed with extra virgin olive oil and fresh garlic.  Or chop vegetables in large chunks, toss with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill until slightly charred.  Try tossing together a robust salad with as many vegetables as you can.

Want to add more seasonal fruit to your diet?  Try topping your cereal, oatmeal, and even salads with fresh fruit.  A fruit salad or protein and fruit smoothie are delicious and refreshing treats this time of year.  And a great way to enjoy peaches ?  Try them slightly grilled.

No matter what, always enjoy your fruit and vegetables with high quality protein and fat for a balanced meal and to keep blood sugar stable.  Eat well! 

Our best,

The Venice Nutrition Team

#Sunday, August 02, 2009

As a tea drinker who relies on her morning cup to kick start her day, I understand the need for caffeine.  For me, there’s nothing better than enjoying my morning with a warm beverage to wake up and begin my hectic day.  As a Nutrition Coach, I have worked with countless clients who drink caffeine and I am frequently asked the same question, “How much is too much?”  

How much caffeine is beneficial to your body and how does it affect you?   Is your caffeine intake the reason you toss and turn at night, struggling to fall asleep?   After much research, I was surprised by the answers and you may be too.

One of the most astounding facts I’ve learned is that caffeine is hidden in a number of seemingly innocent products!  In addition to the obvious sources such as coffee, tea and soda, caffeine is also found in chocolate, “coffee drinks”, many energy/ performance drinks and various pain killers, cold medications, diet pills and even some gum products and juice drinks!  The truth is, you may just be taking in a lot more caffeine than you bargained for.

According to experts, caffeine is in fact a stimulant to the central nervous system and may cause dependency.  Though no doubt less harmful than drugs and alcohol, I have witnessed many intense dependencies on caffeine from my clients and it never fails to concern me as their Nutrition Coach.  I distinctly remember one gentleman I worked with years ago.  When I asked him how much coffee he drinks in a day, he replied, “About two or three.”  Imagine my surprise when I dug a little deeper and realized he meant two or three “pots” of coffee, not “cups”!
So how much is too much?  According to experts, approximately 300 milligrams of caffeine per day is fine for most healthy adults.  That’s the equivalent of about 3 cups of coffee.    For older adults or those suffering from high blood pressure, 300 milligrams may be too much and an appropriate amount of caffeine per day should be discussed with your doctor.  Experts do agree that the power of caffeine affects each of us differently, meaning that for even healthy adults, that three cups a day may be too much.  

After all, if someone drinks 3 cups of coffee or caffeinated beverages per day, at least one of those beverages would typically be consumed in the afternoon or at night.  I have found that my clients who drink caffeine in the latter part of the afternoon, typically have major sleeping issues.  Luckily enough, the remedy is always simple.  Slowly reduce the amount of caffeine over time to help release the body naturally from the dependency.   (For tips on how to reduce caffeine successfully, keep reading!). 

Though not conclusive, caffeine does appear to have some benefits.  Caffeine gives a burst of mental alertness and energy and is a must for many of us first thing in the morning (myself included!).   Other studies suggest that caffeine helps to boost the immune system and may aid in some allergic reactions by reducing histamines. 

So, what are the downfalls of caffeine?   Caffeine may in fact cause restlessness and insomnia in certain people.   It actually takes 8-10 hours for 75% of the caffeine in your coffee to be eliminated from your body!  Yes, you read that correctly……eight to ten hours!  That is why a morning cup of joe most likely won’t affect your sleep but a cup in the afternoon likely will, especially if your sensitive to caffeine.  Now restless sleep in itself may not seem like such a bad thing at first but if you really think about it, a lack of sleep can be incredibly detrimental to your health.  A lack of sleep causes anxiety, crankiness, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain and possibly an increased risk for many diseases.  So that small cup of coffee in the afternoon is in fact having BIG consequences. 

What are some of the other adverse side effects?  For those people with caffeine sensitivities, nervousness or gastrointestinal disturbances are common.    In larger amounts (about 700 plus milligrams) there is an increased loss of calcium and magnesium from the urine, though new research suggests that as long as you have an adequate calcium intake through diet, you are not at a higher risk for osteoporosis.    Experts do recommend that you add a few tablespoons of milk to your coffee.  For older adults, there may be an increased risk of fractures and it’s very important to speak to your doctor about how much caffeine is safe for you.  Anyone with high blood pressure should also speak to their doctor about their caffeine intake because it may cause a small rise in heart rate and blood pressure.  For pregnant women or those who are trying, the March of Dimes recommends no more than 200 milligrams per day and to consult one’s physician for personal caffeine parameters.

So what’s the bottom line?  Essentially a small amount of caffeine, in the morning or very early in the afternoon is okay for most healthy adults.    If you are currently consuming more than you should and would like to cut back for health reasons or to improve your quality of sleep, there are a number of ways to do so.  Here’s some tips that will help:

1.  Start reading food and drink labels to get an idea of just how much caffeine you are taking in on a daily basis.   

2.  Never quit cold-turkey!  Caffeine withdrawal can be severe for some people.  A better solution is to cut back slowly.  For example, if you’re used to having a big cup of coffee in the morning followed by a diet coke for a pick-me-up in the afternoon, start with small steps. Fill your coffee cup only ¾ or ½ of the way or order ½ regular, ½ decaf.  Instead of a full can of diet coke, cut it back to half.  You’ll find that you still feel the same because your body is still getting the caffeine.  Slowly work on eliminating caffeine in the later afternoon (the key word is slowly!).

3.  Try finding substitutions.  I used to work at a coffee shop as a teenager and lived on flavored ice coffees.  I decided to make the switch to black tea instead because of the extra antioxidants and because tea has less caffeine than coffee.  In the morning, I have one cup of tea.  In the afternoon, I now opt for decaf green tea for a it’s antioxidant and metabolism boosting effects.

Remember, like many things in life, a little goes a long way.    Live well!

Valerie Cogswell
Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

*all information derived from

#Saturday, July 18, 2009

A few days ago, a friend of mine (who swears she’s allergic to her kitchen) called me in a panic.  Her in-laws were coming to dinner and she had promised to impress with a gourmet meal.  The trouble was, the only “gourmet meal” my friend knows how to cook is instant brown rice and ground turkey (hey, she’s a health nut!).  Needless to say, her lack of culinary skills had her sweating.  And that’s why she called me.

As Head Chef for Venice Nutrition, and a Certified Nutrition Coach for many years, my goal has always been to teach our members how to create food that helps to stabilize blood sugar, tastes absolutely delicious, and most of all…….is simple enough that anyone can make!  I have had so many wonderful clients over the years that stick to the same boring food over and over (hello, baked chicken!) because they claim they “just can’t cook”.  What I have come to find is anyone can cook a great meal….the key is learning the basics and stepping outside of your culinary comfort zone to try something new.

So , how did I get started?  Yes, I did go to culinary school but I’m truly convinced that though I learned some wonderful skills there, I have learned just as much on my own!  The confidence I possess today as a cook is not from my formal education, but from the experiments and culinary endeavors (and disasters!) that took place in my very own kitchen.  Below are some tips that have helped me to become a confident cook and create meals that I’m proud of. 

Start by practicing with a basic recipe that can help to teach you proper seasoning, different cooking techniques and flavor profiles.   A great example would be to find a recipe for a soup or chili that appeals to you.  Soup and chili are very easy to make, and you can experiment without worrying about drying the dish out or overcooking it.  You can slowly add seasoning and “taste-test” it as you go to make sure it’s to your liking.  You’ll also gain a great understanding about different flavor combinations of herbs and spices that work well together.

 Once you have successfully made one chili or soup, it will help to give you the confidence to make some adjustments.  Perhaps in place of a roasted butternut squash soup, you decide to use sweet potatoes instead.  Maybe you add a little diced apple to the pot to add a subtle sweet note.  Or maybe you toss in a small spoonful of cayenne pepper to add some heat.   Maybe in the next chili you create, you skip the ground beef and black beans and try ground chicken and white beans instead.    Noticing a pattern yet?  By successfully managing a basic soup or chili recipe, you’ll have the confidence to switch it up and make it your own, or try a new soup or chili recipe altogether. 

Other simple, basic recipes that I would recommend you try to master?  Roast chicken with lemon, garlic cloves and fresh herbs is sure to impress and will feed an entire family.  Salads are simply chop, toss and serve and the options are endless.  Vegetables drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper and roasted or grilled go with everything.  A baked or grilled fish like salmon with lemon, fresh herbs and olive oil is a great starter recipe for all seafood.   Find a recipe for that particular dish and then use those culinary techniques to explore and master new recipes.
I like to find culinary inspiration in many sources.   After all, we can all learn something from somebody. When I go to a restaurant and enjoy a creative or delicious dish that stands out, I’ll try to remember what was in it and re-create it at home.  For example, I once had a butter lettuce, pistachio, cheddar and sliced apple salad with a vinaigrette at a very fancy restaurant in Boston.  I was able to re-create this dish at home and give it a healthy spin by reducing the amount of cheese in the recipe and preparing a low-fat vinaigrette.  I served it with grilled fish on the side and enjoyed my simple but restaurant-worthy meal without the big check and tip! 

I’m also a huge fan of the Food Network.  If you’ve never watched this channel before and have any interest in cooking, I highly recommend that you tune in.  It’s fun, exciting and designed to teach home cooks how to well…..become cooks!   The Food Network has truly changed the way people view the culinary world, myself included.  Because there are so many types of culinary professionals teaching their point of view and techniques they’ve developed and perfected over the years, these shows appeal to so many home cooks.  It’s an unintimidating and inspirational way to learn to love to cook.  I have learned so much and helped to perfect my own culinary skills and point of view from watching the Food Network.  When I see a recipe I love, I’ll brainstorm on ways to lighten it up and many times figure out how to simplify it as well.  I’ll then test the dish in my kitchen at home and put a creative spin on the recipe to make it my own.

Other ways to find inspiration?  When you are done reading this blog, stand up and head to your kitchen.  Open up your kitchen cabinet.  I can guarantee you have a few cookbooks on hand that have collected dust over the years.  Peruse the pages and keep an open mind.  What recipe catches your eye?  What picture makes your mouth water?  That’s the recipe you should create next!  Book mark that page, copy down the ingredients to your grocery shopping list and get cooking!  Better yet, log in to your Venice Nutrition software program and click on the Recipe Tab.  I can personally guaranatee you that everyone of those recipes are balanced, delicious and incredibly easy to make.

Do you have a friend or family member who always manages to wow his or her dinner guests?  You know who I’m talking about.   The friend who makes the stickiest, fall –off- the bone BBQ chicken on the grill or the aunt whose famous pasta and meatballs are to die for.   Ask them to teach you one or two of their favorite recipes in your kitchen. Offer to purchase all of the ingredients and invite them to stay for dinner.  People that love to cook also love to show off their culinary skills and would more than likely be happy to help.  Observe, take notes and ask a lot of questions.  Pretty soon it will be your dish everyone is raving about.

Cooking is a skill that can be learned, perfected and mastered.  The key is putting yourself out there and trying something new.  The old saying, “practice makes perfect” may be a cliché but it’s true, especially when it comes to being confident in the kitchen.  Try something new and before you know it, you will be a confident cook who is not afraid to wow your own dinner guests.  Eat well.


#Sunday, July 05, 2009
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Sunday, July 05, 2009

If you are anything like us, you’ve been waiting all year for the summer! The sun is shining on your morning walk.  The balmy nights are perfectly relaxing.  And there’s nothing better than joining your best friends for delicious food and a cold drink at a summer cookout.   So why is this blog titled “Surviving” Summer BBQ’s?  What’s not to love?   Well, for many people who have made the effort to eat right, a BBQ can cause a little anxiety.   You may worry that you’ll fall off the “health wagon” and lose the habits that you’ve worked so hard on all year long.  After all, it’s an all-day event that involves loads of not- so- healthy food, tons of alcohol, and friends and family who may not live the lifestyle we do.   Not to worry!  Below are some tried and true tips, as well as a few smart recipe ideas our team has developed to help you enjoy your next BBQ without compromising your healthy lifestyle. 

1.Remember, balance is the key to a healthy lifestyle.  There will be times in life when you may overindulge; an extra glass of your favorite wine, a heaping scoop of ice cream or maybe even a pile of fall –off- the bone ribs at a cookout.   Taking part in the occasional treat is normal, in fact it’s great!  Because if you can live a healthy lifestyle while still allowing yourself the occasional treat, you’ve truly mastered balance and that leads to permanent change! The lesson to be learned here?  A little indulgence is good for you and keeps you from craving or feeling deprived.  Just make sure to get right back on track with a balanced meal at the next opportunity to get your metabolism moving in the right direction again.

2.Plan for the event.  If you know that you have a summer cookout planned for this Saturday, aim to be extra consistent with your nutrition and fitness routine all week long.  Acknowledge the fact that you may overindulge at this Saturday’s BBQ, and actually plan the “off” meal into your week.  Use this “system” of acknowledging the “off” meal and planning it to help you to make extra effort all week to eat clean, balanced meals every few hours.  Let the fact that you’ll be indulging on Saturday spur you to kick butt at the gym and make the most of every workout all week long.  The process here is both physical and mental.  By working extra hard all week to make room for this Saturday’s fiesta, you’ll physically be in prime fat burning mode by the time the party rolls around.  Mentally, you’ll be able to let go of any guilt you may normally have (see Tip #1 above as a reminder about the importance of balance).  After all, you’ve worked hard all week and you’ve planned to relax and indulge a bit with your friends and family.  It’s a win, win situation!

3.Believe it or not, it’s a bad idea to deprive yourself all day Saturday to save “room” and “calories” for the big event.  If you walk into a BBQ with every type of food imaginable at your fingertips and you haven’t eaten all day, you are heading for disaster!  Always eat balanced meals one hour within waking and every 3 hours before a cookout.  This way your mind is in control of your food choices, not your empty stomach!  It’s a smart idea to also eat one hour before the event.  Try snacking on a protein bar before the party to help keep blood sugar stable and allow you to make conscious food choices when you arrive.

4.And lastly, it doesn’t hurt to bring along some healthy and delicious choices, or at least know how to identify them at a cookout.   Do your best to build a balanced plate with some protein and carbohydrates and keep in mind that most dishes offered at a BBQ will have more than enough fat (way more actually!).   Whether you are hosting the event or attending, the following list makes for delectable (and healthy) party food that everyone will enjoy.

-Try Marinated or BBQ grilled chicken breasts, shrimp (skewered with tails on), pork tenderloin, salmon steaks, large sea scallops, or filet mignon (the leanest red meat) on the grill.  Meat, poultry or seafood and vegetable kabobs are also healthy and a fun change of pace.

-Instead of regular hamburgers, try using 97% lean ground beef.   Serve with all the regular toppings and whole wheat buns.

-Chop a mixture of your favorite vegetables in large chunks (corn, tomato, zucchini, red onion, bell peppers) or try whole asparagus with the bottom of the stalk cut off.  Toss in a bowl with quality extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.  Grill until slightly charred to really bring out the flavors.

-Instead of plain old pasta salad with a few veggies tossed in for good measure, go in the opposite direction.  Use your favorite pasta salad recipe only make a few adjustments.  Triple the vegetable content (and vary it up- grape tomatoes, fresh bell pepper, onion, cucumber, banana peppers, etc.) and use the pasta as the filler, not the main event.  Use a reduced fat version of your favorite dressing such as low fat Italian dressing in place of regular.  If using a mayo based dressing, try cutting the amount of mayo in half and replacing the rest with plain, low fat yogurt- it will add a little tang and a lot of flavor.   Lastly fresh herbs like parsley or basil really make a dish stand out from the crowd.

-Try whipping up a low fat dip like hummus or mango salsa (combine chopped mango, red onion, a small amount of minced garlic and jalapeno with a splash of lime juice and good olive oil.  Toss with fresh cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper).  Serve with home -made baked whole wheat pita chips.  (Hint- Mango salsa also works beautifully on grilled meat, poultry and seafood.)

-Fresh fruit platters are always well received and a perfectly sweet way to complete a meal.    Try serving a variety of fruit with a home-made dip of Plain Yogurt, vanilla extract, honey and lemon zest.

#Friday, June 26, 2009

As a Certified Venice Nutrition Coach with seven years of experience teaching others on how to become their healthiest and achieve their optimal physique, my friends turn to me for all of their nutrition and fitness advice.  This past weekend was no exception.  While sitting at the pool with a few girlfriends, the conversation inevitably turned to our worrisome body woes as well as what works and what doesn’t to fix them.  As you can guess, cellulite was top on the list.    What is cellulite?  Why do so many women have it?  And most importantly, what can be done about it?  As I looked around the pool, my friends had a point.  Even the fittest and leanest women flaunting in body revealing bikinis had varying degrees of cellulite.   And truthfully, even at my leanest and fittest, I’ve always had it myself.  So I decided to do a little digging and share the facts for all of you women out there with cellulite questions.   The good news?  Though you can never completely banish cellulite, there’s a lot you can do to minimize its appearance (and keep it from ruining your day at the pool!).

What is Cellulite?  Why do I have it?

According to experts cellulite is essentially fat that produces a dimply appearance typically on the thighs,  hips, buttocks, and occasionally the stomach.  Over 85% of women have cellulite, mainly because underneath our skin, we have fibrous bands of tissue that follow almost a jagged pattern.  As fat accumulates, it pushes through the fibrous bands, causing the cottage cheese like affect that so many of us dread.    Males have these fibrous bands too, only the pattern is in even rows, so as they accumulate body fat, it’s less likely to create a dimpled appearance.    In addition, men have thicker skin, which hides any imperfections underneath.  Though the majority of women have cellulite, its severity is largely genetic.  That helps to explain why even lean, fit women can have more cellulite than someone who isn’t as lean or fit.  Thanks mom!
So how can I get rid of my cellulite?

Because there are a number of ways to reduce cellulite, I decided to examine the issue from  many angles.  I’ll begin with ways I know help to diminish cellulite naturally (read: inexpensively!) that have worked for me and many of my female clients.

It all begins with your nutrition.  By stabilizing your blood sugar (eating small, frequent meals every 3 to 4 hours that have the right balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat), you can help to release stored body fat.  Remember, cellulite is essentially fat!  As you lower your body fat percentage, the appearance of cellulite will improve as well.  Please note that counting calories, eliminating whole food groups like carbs or following any fad diet just won’t cut it.  You’ve got to stabilize blood sugar to truly change the way your body handles fat.  You either burn fat or store it, and stabilizing blood sugar is the best way to burn it.

It even goes a step further.  The next step is to focus on including as many whole, natural foods (read: not processed) into your daily diet.  I can’t begin to explain the importance of “eating clean” while trying to fine tune your physique and reduce cellulite; it truly makes all of the difference.  I recommend that you visit your Help/Support tab and locate your Online Manual.  Take some time to review your Quality of Food Chart so you can identify the natural, un-processed foods.  Consuming these high quality, natural foods (think oatmeal in place of bread) helps to stabilize your blood sugar longer and better so you can burn more fat.  Other benefits include more energy and less bloating due to the lack of sodium and artificial ingredients in natural foods.  In addition to eating clean, drinking a minimum of 64 oz. of water (and this is the bare mininum!) a day will help to flush out water weight and give you a leaner appearance.    Avoiding sodium will also have the same positive, bloat-free effect.

As you probably already know by now, exercise is critical to burning body fat.  As a Certified Venice Nutrition Coach, I’m always explaining to others the physiology of the human body and how to exercise correctly to build lean muscle.  Remember one pound of lean muscle burns an extra 50 fat calories a day, even while at rest!  I have found in my seven years in this industry that the majority of people, (even some personal trainers I have come across in the past) do not know the fundamentals of correct exercise.  I personally have Mark MacDonald to thank for teaching me the right to work out.  As a member of Venice Nutrition, you have access to his expertise on exercise as well.  I recommend that you visit your Exercise Tab in your program to learn his tips; you won’t be disappointed!  A combination of white fiber and red fiber cardiovascular exercise, along with a balanced strength training routine is most effective for changing your body (and greatly reducing your cellulite).

I’ll admit that in addition to eating clean and exercising, I have spent hundreds of dollars of hard earned cash on countless cellulite creams and potions.  The result?  I’m still on the fence about this one.  I religiously apply a basic cellulite cream every day and still have some cellulite.  Because I’ve never gone long without it, I’m not sure how my body would look without it.   That’s why I did a little research to see what the experts had to say on these “magic” creams.    According to a well known Dermatologist who provided her expertise on the subject at,  these lotions are not all they are promoted to be.  She advises patients to “not waste money or time on creams”.  That being said, she does acknowledge that the caffeine found in many of these creams, as well as the actual massaging motion of applying them, can help to temporarily improve the appearance of cellulite.   As I continued my research, I found that the majority of experts hold the same opinion.  Basically they don’t recommend creams to their patients, but if a patient wants to try one, they are fine with it.  One particular expert commented that if you are going to invest in a cellulite fighting cream, make it a cheap one from the drug store.  The fancy expensive versions generally have the same ingredients as the drug store varieties, only with a much higher price tag.  In my non-expert opinion on this particular solution, I think that experimenting with an inexpensive cellulite cream may not be a bad idea.   Just don’t set your expectations too high. 

Another trick I rely on to help camouflage my cellulite is to use self tanner.   A tan (specifically a fake tan) provides a healthy glow and helps to hide ripples and dimples.  I’m a big fan of the spray tan machines and even the hand sprayed tanning salons that have become so popular.  Once you find a place that does a great job, you might be hooked too.   A self-applied cream version that I am fond of?  I like Banana Boat Medium/ Dark self tanner.  Not only is it creamy in texture and easy to apply, it’s pretty inexpensive and can be found at any drug store.

The verdict is still out on the use of supplements as a means to reduce cellulite.  There is one well known dermatologist and cellulite expert in particular who regularly advises the use of a combination of anti-inflammatory amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  Though many experts disagree that supplements can improve cellulite, it is proven however that many of these supplements are exceptional for improving overall health.  The way I see it is because the right vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids are proven ways to benefit health, why not try them?   And if by chance they help to minimize the appearance of your cellulite, well that’s great too!  It’s important to always talk to your Nutrition Coach or an expert before taking any supplementation.  

So what about all of the new magic devices that are being used at high end spas to treat cellulite?   There are a lot of options out there but I found an overall theme in my research.  According to experts, if you have the disposable income and are very patient some of these methods may provide effective yet temporary results.  They warned though that not everyone will get results, most people will need to continue treatment for as long as they wish to see results and worse, some of these treatments (such as injections) may be harmful.  Every expert highly recommended that if considering any of these options, you do extensive research and speak to a dermatologist or professional with knowledge on the particular method.  A few years back, I tried Endermologie and did have pleasant results, but only for as long as I could afford the treatments (this is before the economy crashed and I had disposable income!).  What attracted me to the procedure was the fact that it was relatively safe.  Would I do it again?  No, probably not.  I don’t have the time or money or patience to invest in something like that but I can honestly say that I did see results. 

 In short, there are quite a few ways to diminish or hide your cellulite.  You will notice as I have after all of my research that good old- fashioned nutrition and regular exercise are the most effective solutions.  This is obviously great news considering both are natural, inexpensive, and provide countless other benefits to our health (benefits much more important than hiding cellulite!).  Though I was happy to dig up some research on cellulite to share, writing this article also opened up my eyes.  Why are we women so eager to shell out so much money and frustration on a few dimples that over 85% of us have?   Of course, I will continue to eat well, exercise, drink water and use the inexpensive cream or lotion.  In my quest to conquer cellulite, I’ve come to the realization that no matter how hard I try, I most likely will always have it.  And you know what?  For once in my life, I think I’m okay with that.  The next time I’m at the pool, I’m going to make it my goal to not worry about a few dimples.  I recommend you do the same.  After all, if we are worrying about cellulite, we are not truly letting go and enjoying ourselves, and where’s the fun in that?   Enjoy your summer!

Valerie Cogswell
Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef