How to Make Healthier Choices at Restaurants

healthier choices at restaurants

In a perfect world, I would look at a restaurant menu only to find an option that reads

“Local, pasture-raised delicious with a side of healthy sauce, sure to please anyone with Sam’s exact dietary needs”.

Unfortunately…I haven’t come across that offering yet.

Getting a healthy meal at a restaurant is just plain tough because we don’t know the exact ingredients and amounts that go into the dishes we’re eating, even in the meals that come along with a calorie count! What we do know is that most likely, the food we consume at a restaurant is less healthy or contains more calories than what we would make for ourselves at home. That’s because restaurants are in the business of serving deliciousness, and salt, sugar, and fat are incredibly good at making that happen.

Because restaurant menus aren’t custom-designed for our personal optimal health, how do we make healthier choices at restaurants? It can happen with some preplanning, knowledge, and a few Jedi mind tricks to control your portions. Luckily, I have just the info you need to make a healthier choice below!

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Do I have to eat tofu to be healthy?

healthy soy photo
Photo by Alexandra C. Bertin

When the topic of vegetarianism comes up, the most common complaint I hear is “does that mean I’ll have to eat tofu all day long?” Unfortunately, the idea that vegetarians and vegans live a 90% soy-filled lifestyle is a pretty outdated view of plant-based eating. But even if you do have a meat-friendly diet, should you incorporate soy into your diet for health reasons?

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How much protein do you need? A look at Behavior and Biology

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Some awesome sources of protein: eggs, almonds, giant white beans, and chickpeas!


If we had to name the most beloved macronutrient in our society today, it would have to be protein. Important for building muscle, innocuous for our blood sugar levels, and generally packaged in delicious foods like hamburgers, nuts, and eggs. In contrast to carbohydrates and fat, protein is never demonized by the popular press. A life without protein? No thanks.

That doesn’t mean, however, that protein is the end-all, be-all savior for our health, and that we should eat as much protein as possible every day. For example, our brain, arguably one of our most important internal organs, relies on glucose for fuel! In times of great starvation, yes, it can use some amino acids, the building blocks of protein, for energy, in truth, your brain craves sugar.

And while protein is critical for building our muscles, bone, body tissues, and enzymes to keep our body running, too much protein can do the exact same thing that too many carbs or too much fat can do — turn into excess weight.

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Beat the winter blues


healthy during winter photo
Winter Sunrise photo by Ryan McGuire courtesy of

Hellllooooo Winter.

I spent all of last weekend huddled inside my house because of the freezing temps and some work deadlines. While I enjoyed and needed this break, after 2 days, I was ready to re-enter the world again. The only problem? Even though my brain was ready to get moving, my body was NOT having it. I felt tired and lazy in a way I haven’t felt in a long time…well actually…in a way I hadn’t felt since last winter! We all know it’s true….

It’s hard to be active and exercise during the winter.

No one wants to be out in the cold.  I learned the hard way this week that the winter wind is that much worse when you’re going 10 mph on the bike, and even more importantly, it can be downright dangerous to run or bike in icy conditions. Then there’s that whole daylight savings thing…it’s dark when many of us leave work, which puts a damper on post-work outdoor time.

But it’s not just the weather that’s holding us back. Our body’s seasonal clock and attitudes can dampen our motivation, too.

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Reasons to get vitamins from supplements versus food

Vitamins from food versus supplements pic
Image courtesy of

Today we continue our conversation about a heavily debated topic: “Should I be getting my vitamins from food or from supplements?”

Last week, I discussed some reasons why getting your vitamins from food versus supplements could be beneficial. To recap, consuming your vitamins through food versus supplements may be best:
1. If you have a varied, whole foods diet without large dietary restrictions or special needs.

2. Because the combination of chemicals within food (versus isolated like in supplements) may be important for vitamin absorption and efficacy.

3. Because vitamin supplements are not well regulated, and there are contamination and labeling concerns for many supplements currently on the market.

However, there are a host of reasons why it would be better to get vitamins from supplements versus food:

1. Poor food combinations can actually hinder absorption of essential nutrients.

2. The vitamin composition of foods is far from consistent: it varies according to soil quality, plant source, food processing, and cooking method.

3. If you have a specific dietary restriction or deficiency that needs to be remedied, supplements may be a more efficient way to attain normal vitamin levels.

Let’s look at these reasons to consume vitamins from supplements versus food one at a time. Continue reading…

The benefits of a healthy lifestyle

Benefit of healthy lifestyle photo

The benefits of a healthy lifestyle can seem superficial or self-serving. Living a healthy lifestyle helps you look great, feel stronger, and be more resilient. But it turns out that cultivating healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle is beneficial physically, emotionally, and is important for your interpersonal relationships.

When you look at the causes of anger and frustration, it’s not just from external sources like bad traffic. It turns out that internal or physical forces such as hunger, thirst, bloating, or tiredness can manifest emotionally in the same way that the fear or anger at external sources of stress. Studies have shown that your brain recognizes stress from physical and mental tasks in similar ways, and that hunger can affect likelihood of judges granting parole! And I think we all know what being hangry (angry because you’re hungry) can do for your relationships.

When I first learned about this link between body and mind, I was completely shocked. At the time, I was working as a barista. Most customers were completely lovely, and I enjoyed our daily interactions. However, there were the inevitable negative customers, who at best could be described as cranky. No amount of smiling, customer service, or delicious coffee was ever going to please them. I found that when customers were mean to me, I would then turn around and be less kind to the next customer in line. My negative attitude would follow me back home and infiltrate relationships with friends and family, and it created a chain reaction of negativity!

But then I realized I would sometimes be rude to others for no discernible reason. I found that I was blaming my outbursts on my internal state (like hunger or tiredness), and I got sick of making excuses for why I wasn’t treating others in a kind and generous manner.

After I learned that feeling physically unwell was having the same detrimental effects on my body and relationships as feeling emotionally hurt, I started to take responsibility for how I was feeling emotionally and physically. I began to feed myself right, to get enough sleep, and to diffuse stressful situations.

Because while I may not be able to control how the customer across the counter treats me (or the traffic, the weather, etc etc), I sure as heck can make sure I treat myself well.

If I can stop that chain reaction of negativity just by being kind to my body, it’s my duty to do so!

And from there, my philosophy of “feel good first” was born:

Take care of yourself. Honor your body, listen to it, and do what helps you to grow and shine. And from that place of goodness and strength, nourish others as well. Help them to feel their best and to be happy that they crossed paths with you. It is your gift to others.

As you venture into your work week, how can you elevate your good feelings, so you can bring goodness to others as well? I’d love to hear if you have experienced negative emotions because of physical issues — how do you treat others when you’re not feeling your best?

Lead image courtesy of

Packing for Healthy Travel



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I love traveling. Experiencing the food, culture, and people in a new place always leaves me refreshed, excited, and with tons of new ideas and perspectives swimming through my head.

But, traveling is also tough on my body. A lot of this can be attributed to sleep deprivation and jet lag, but the changes to my diet and activity levels also play a huge role. After a few trips where I found myself sick, tired, and not my usual contented self, I realized that it was time to take matters into my own hands. I had to be prepared when I travel, because “calories don’t count on vacation” simply is not a mantra I can live by.

On a recent trip to South America, I really hit the sweet spot of taking care of my body and mind while on vacation. As I always do when I travel, I worked in some time for morning coffee and yoga to keep me grounded to my usual daily habits. But, I also packed a “healthy travel pack” of food, supplements, and gear to prepare for the inevitable germs, crazy plans, and long flights we would be facing. I was so happy with how the healthy travel pack helped me out during my trip that I wanted to share its contents with you!

What I loved most about my healthy travel pack is that by keeping me feeling good physically, I was able to be present for all of the amazing experiences, sites, and sounds in a foreign country.

What do your travel routines look like? Please share any “must haves” for your travel pack in the comments below! I’m always looking for ways to travel healthier and smarter.

Sam’s Healthy Travel Pack

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Why I don’t meditate during my commute

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Image by Mo Riza

I have a lot of things to occupy my time. Between school work, coaching, my personal yoga practice, and yoga teacher training…not to mention quality time with my boyfriend, friends, and family…my day fills up pretty quickly.

I have been struggling with building a meditation practice for years. I have jumped on and fallen off many times. I try 10 minutes a day. Eyes open. Eyes closed. Guided. Silent. I have a repertoire of strategies I use to try to stick to a consistent practice, but as of yet I haven’t been successful.

As I was pondering my newest strategy to trick myself into maintaining a meditation practice, I suddenly realized “Aha!! I’ll meditate during my commute!” I have a 15-20 minute bus ride to work each day, and I could spend this time in quiet meditation. I have seen this concept touted many times…meditation is one of those things like sodoku, learning a language, or catching up on emails that is supposed to take the wasted time of commuting and make it useful to us (funny how obsessed we are of making everyone moment useful…).
But as I was imagining what my commute meditation practice would look like, I realized that meditating during my commute wouldn’t work.
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Getting healthy with friends

Friends on paddleboard
My sisters and I clowning around on the paddleboard at Lake Erie

Food brings people together. It is used celebrate and share in cultures around the world, and the social aspects of food are a major reason why I got into the nutrition field. However, when I first embarked on my journey of eating and living healthier, I came up against a problem: the only thing I did with my friends was eat.

Building relationships around food is universal – we meet first dates over coffee or a drink. We have friends we regularly meet for ice cream, a glass of wine, or dinner. We are creatures of habit, and it is apparent in where and when we meet with our friends and family.

Having habits or activities you always do with certain friends is not a bad thing! But for me, these habits became an issue once I wanted to stop my weekly ice cream habit, or consume just a little less wine. I realized that if I wanted to keep up my relationships with friends, while still transforming my health routines, I needed to find other activities to do with my friends! Wanting to improve my health was the nudge I needed to get out of my old habits and explore some different options.

So I did! I went to dance and yoga classes, formed a book club, and started making dinner for friends, rather than eating out. A weekly walk with a friend through the neighborhoods of my town became a great way to connect more deeply and to get moving on lazy Sunday mornings. And what did I find?

Making these changes actually improved my relationships with those around me. It seems surprising at first, but by getting out of our comfort zones and doing new things, me and my friends talked about different things, shared new experiences, and laughed quite a lot (particularly in our hip-hop dance class…).

It can be scary to shake up our routines or try something new. But the benefits can be huge. Particularly because you don’t have to choose between meeting your health goals and meeting with your friends. For me, my relationships and health began to support each other, bringing more ease and enjoyment to my daily life. It is really cool.

But what activities do you choose? Here are some ideas of ways you can get some quality time in with your friends without worrying about straying from your health goals.

Activities with Friends:

  • Go to an exercise class together.

    Who else is better to sweat it out with you in yoga, spin, or dance class than your friends? Having a friend in class will make it more fun, and you’ll have lots to talk about afterwards. Find a class that either you or your friend have been wanting to try, or something totally new for both of you!

  • Windowshop.

    Are you a city dweller? How about setting up a date to window shop down the nearest stretch of stores? Browsing, rather than having a dedicated shopping trip, allows you to spend more time together and to keep moving.

  • Join a team.

    Kickball, soccer, dodgeball, ultimate frisbee…adult leagues are popping up all over the country, and is a great activity that can keep you and your good friend seeing each other on the regular. Plus, you get to meet lots of other fun people who like to exercise! (Just watch out for too many post-win beers!)

  • Hit the trails.

    There are bound to be beautiful woods, trails, and parks nearby that you have yet to explore. Get your dose of nature on a beautiful day with a friend.

The key to changing up your routines, as is always the case, is flexibility. It is about expanding your horizons and getting to experience new things with your friends, so you don’t have to choose between following your health plan and spending time with those you love. Of course you are going to still get an iced cream or a beer, or have a date for burgers, and that is great! But by adding in some different activities, it keeps your relationships fresh, and keeps you both healthier.

What are your favorite ways to get active with friends?

Build healthy habits one at a time

Image courtesy of

Looking to jumpstart a daily flossing habit? On the first day, get out your floss, and only floss one tooth. On the second day, you can floss two teeth. The third day – floss three. After a month or so, you are used to getting your floss out every evening, and are getting your entire mouth the good treatment. When I learned about this strategy a few days ago, it reminded me a lot of my own strategy for starting a new healthy habit: I identify an actionable first step and build my health goal around that process. For the example of flossing, this works because for many of us, the issue is getting the floss out in the first place. Once we floss one tooth, it’s a lot easier to take care of all of them.

There’s another reason why this strategy works so well for ingraining your flossing habit:

It leaves you wanting more.

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