All posts by Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T.

Eat for Your Body, Not Your Bikini: How to Love Your Summer Body

Summer is around the corner, and while many look forward to the joys this season brings — vacations, more time spent outside, time off from school and work — just as many dread it thanks to media marketing around getting “the perfect bikini body” and photo-shopped models painting an unrealistic ideal. Along with the “beach body” marketing comes an onslaught of ridiculous fad diets and expensive schemes that ultimately lead to long-term weight gain…not to mention lower self-esteem, anxiety and preoccupation with food. This summer, try eating for your body, instead of that bikini and implement these practices to cultivate body respect and kindness.

 

Intuitive Eating

Ever wonder how a toddler knows exactly what and how much he/she wants to eat? We’re all born with an innate ability to know what food our body needs and when we’re satisfied. But unfortunately, somewhere along the way, a family member, friend, health professional, or the media told us what we should and shouldn’t eat and we lost touch with that inner voice. The good news is that inner wisdom still lives within each of us, and intuitive eating is a practice that helps us strengthen that voice by tuning into our body to honor our hunger and feel when we’re full. The work involves making peace with food by ditching the diet culture mentality, telling the food police to shove it, and finding pleasure and satisfaction from eating. This summer, rather than asking yourself “what should I eat right now?”, which comes from a place of fear, guilt and shame, empower your internal wisdom and flex that self-trust muscle by asking, “what do I want to eat right now?”

 

Social Media “Diet”

The only “diet” that may be of some value to follow this summer is one where you control the media you take in. Marci Evans, registered dietitian and eating disorder expert in Cambridge, MA, helps her clients block unhelpful people on Facebook, un-follow provoking Instagram accounts, toss out triggering magazines and carefully curate the blogs they read. “Then we have fun filling their feeds with information that inspires them to be their healthiest and most authentic self in mind, body, and spirit. It’s a picture of health that is taken from the inside, rather than the outside,” Evans says. Not sure where to start? Evans recommends to “try searching for people who promote body positivity, body acceptance, intuitive eating, and non-dieting.” Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, author of Body Kindness, says we need to filter our social media feeds so we can see pictures of people in larger bodies having fun. “The reality is 67% of American women are a size 14 or higher. Why can’t we see more representation of what people really look like? Exposure to size diversity helps us all.”

 

Ban Body Bashing

Negative body talk is all around us; in fact, many women bond over complaining about their bodies. But if we don’t like our bodies, guess what, we’re not going to treat them very well. It’s time to change the dialogue because our thoughts affect our behaviors and if we want to start treating our bodies better, we need to start with shifting the dialogue from negative to positive. Scritchfield suggests trying to focus on all the wonderful things our bodies do for us. “Write a ‘love letter’ to yourself. Put positive post-its where you get dressed and feel naked and vulnerable and see if the self-love note helps you feel a little less body shame.” She also says it’s pretty powerful to “write down your ‘critic’ thoughts and ask ‘would I say this to a little girl’?”. Evans recommends getting your girlfriends in on the change. “Let your friends know that you want your friendships to foster support and encouragement, not body bashing.”

 

Feel Good in Your Here and Now Body

The reality is that many aspects of our bodies are out of our control, and the more we try to manipulate them to fit a certain size or reach a number on the scale, the more if backfires and we feel worse. The best thing we can do is to treat our bodies with respect because health is more about behaviors than it is about a size. Rather than waiting to treat yourself until you reach that “number,” start working today to feel good in your here-and-now body. Evans recommends trying things like a fun pair of sunglasses, a new nail polish, a fresh haircut and hydrating your skin with lotion. “You deserve to treat your body with warmth and kindness today! Turns out we treat things we like better than we treat things we hate. So start treating your body as if you like it, and your health just might thank you for it!”

 

Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., is a nutrition coach, yoga teacher and self-proclaimed foodie. She is a recipe developer, food photographer, writer and spokeswoman. Her food and healthy living blog, The Foodie Dietitian, features seasonal vegetarian recipes and simple strategies to bring more mindfulness and yoga into your life.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Want to Eat More Mindfully? Yoga May Help

The practice of yoga is nothing new; in fact, it’s been around for over 5,000 years, but only recently has it gained popularity in the United States. A 2016 Yoga in America market research study, conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, found that the number of yoga practitioners in the U.S. had increased to 36 million, up from 20.4 million in 2012. The awareness of the practice has grown as well; today, 95% of Americans are aware of yoga, up from 75% in 2012. Why the explosion of an ancient practice in the past four years? There’s a rising interest in health and wellness and consumers are looking for alternative therapies. And let’s face it — stress levels are at an all-time high and yoga has been shown to calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety. But what if there were other reasons to hop on your yoga mat beyond improving flexibility and reducing stress? What if yoga could help heal your relationship with food? Preliminary research shows that this mind-body practice may support mindful eating and disordered eating treatment.

 

Yoga and Mindful Eating

Yoga is much more than downward-facing dogs and sun salutations. In fact, the physical (asana) practice is just one tiny piece of what yoga is according to ancient yogic texts. Yoga also includes meditation, concentration, breath work (pranayama) among many other practices (known as the eight limbs of yoga). When we think about yoga in this holistic way as a mindfulness-based practice, it makes sense that yoga practitioners report improved self-attunement, awareness of feelings and a heightened attention to eating patterns.

A 2013 study looked at 87 adults who practiced yoga at a facility at least once per week and found that yoga tenure significantly correlated with mindful eating and fruit and vegetable consumption. The longer the students had practiced yoga, the more likely they were to engage in mindful eating. Students reported eating more slowly, paying attention to food portions, and being more conscious, disciplined and mindful with nutrition.

Anu Kaur, a Registered Dietitian, Wellness Coach and Yoga Teacher, says yoga “brings us to the ‘present’ experience and we learn to cultivate an attitude of openness, acceptance and curiosity. This process allows for the mind to build its capacity to observe thoughts and emotions as they arise, free of judgment. Over time, as we practice this self-acceptance ‘on the mat’ we can learn to do it ‘off the mat’ like with our eating.” One technique Kaur teaches her clients is how to practice deep breathing for three minutes before starting a meal. “If one practices following their breath and then slowing their breath down, there is a calmness that settles into the body. This experience of the relaxation response can be applied to mindful eating.”

 

Yoga and Eating Disorders

In the U.S., approximately 30 million people suffer from a clinical eating disorder at some point in their life, and many more struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating. Body dysmorphia and body image concerns go hand-in-hand with disordered eating and yoga allows the opportunity to reconnect with one’s body, promoting body appreciation, respect and attunement.

A 2010 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health looked at 50 adolescents in outpatient treatment for eating disorders. They divided the participants into two groups — one receiving standard care and the intervention group, which included standard care in addition to private yoga sessions twice a week for twelve weeks. Both groups saw reductions in depression and anxiety but the yoga intervention group had significantly improved eating disorder behaviors, including lower food preoccupation.

Another study, conducted in 2009, looked at 50 women with binge eating disorder and the women who received a weekly yoga class plus encouraged daily home practice saw significant improvements in binge eating behaviors compared to the control group, which only received mindful eating education.

Diana Dugan Richards, Registered Dietitian and Yoga Therapist, suggests that yoga allows a client with disordered eating to experience being in the discomfort that usually turns them to food to cope. “Yoga encourages being in the chaos and intensity of physical sensation in a mindful and very present way. It involves intentionally slowing of breath, and being with the sensation, emotion, or feeling that is so intense they usually turn to food to numb or silence it. Then understanding, in time, the transient nature of the craving for food or desire to purge a feeling can be met with the steadiness of self-compassion.” Dugan Richards also notes that the effectiveness of yoga as an adjunct therapy really depends on the level of disordered eating and the person’s cognitive function.

 

Practicing Yoga

Yoga is not just what we see in the magazines. It’s not just for thin women with flat abs who can balance on her fingertips or place her foot behind their head. That’s not even close to what yoga truly is. And yet, the picture of yoga that gets painted in the media can create a sense of trepidation and deter people away from the practice. It’s important for people to know that yoga is for everyone and comes in all different shapes and sizes, just like we as humans do. If you’re not ready for the physical (asana) practice of yoga, try practicing meditation or deep breathing. Or, try a restorative yoga class where you hold poses for long periods of time while being fully supported by props, eliciting the relaxation response.

Many people report first trying yoga using an app, DVD or at the gym. Kaur recommends working with a yoga teacher one-on-one, especially if it’s your first time or if you have specific medical conditions. If you’re not able to do a private session, Kaur suggests trying a few yoga classes at a yoga studio first. “The environment, the community and often the intention of the teacher can offer support at another level. I always say that if the teacher or studio did not resonate with you, explore other yoga studios in your area. More likely than not they will find a place that could be a positive support system.”

 

Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., is a nutrition coach, yoga teacher and self-proclaimed foodie. She is a recipe developer, food photographer, writer and spokeswoman. Her food and healthy living blog, The Foodie Dietitian, features seasonal vegetarian recipes and simple strategies to bring more mindfulness and yoga into your life.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

4 Delicious Ways to Start Eating More Vietnamese Food

While Thai food has become mainstream in the U.S., we often overlook the fresh, colorful and healthful cuisine of another Southeast Asia country, Vietnam. Sure, many Americans have at least heard of or tried pho (a Vietnamese rice noodle soup) so it’s not uncharted food territory. But we’re still not fully aware of the cuisine’s staple ingredients, cooking methods, dishes and nutrition benefits. Having recently taste-tested my way through Vietnam, I discovered a refreshing food culture that’s abundant in fresh herbs and vegetables, clean flavors and light, nourishing dishes.

 

A Unique Food Culture

“What I like about Vietnamese food is its very clean flavors. Other cuisines in the [Southeast Asia] region may use similar ingredients, but are doing different things with them,” says Marc Lowerson, Owner of Hanoi Street Food Tours in Vietnam. Lowerson explains that it’s rare to find in a dish in Vietnam that tastes rich, too spicy or overly sweet. “The Vietnamese are not pounding their own curry pastes or using coconut milk in savory dishes like the Thais do. There is little use of dry spices: the level of hot spice in the food is rarely in the cooking process, and is most often managed by the individual with condiments on the table.”

 

A Model for Nourished Eating 

Vietnamese lack the food, nutrition and health preoccupation that is so prevalent in the U.S. today; however, they provide an intuitive and mindful model for nourishing their bodies that is worth taking a lesson from. Lowerson tells us, “The cuisine is, in general, a very good model for moderation. While meat is part of almost every meal, it is eaten in small proportions. Vegetables — especially in home cooking — are eaten in large volume. There is little dairy, and hardly any palate for rich and/or processed foods.”

Rather than prescribe to a certain regimen for health (eat this food for this ailment), the Vietnamese use their intuition and the wisdom of their bodies to guide eating habits for health. “They are often eating or avoiding foods according to how their bodies feel. They subscribe to the yin/yang, cooling/heating properties of food, which extends to simple things like, if you’ve got a cold, don’t drink cold water, drink warm water.”

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Vietnamese food culture right at home, try cooking one of the five staple dishes below and using their model for nourished eating. Perhaps practice asking your body which meal it needs first.

 

Pho

Pronounced “fuh”, pho is probably the most well known Vietnamese dish in the U.S. While the base of pho is rice noodles and a flavorful broth, accompaniments vary from beef (pho bo) to chicken (pho ga) and vegetarian options in-between. In Northern Vietnam, pho is left unadorned and the flavor of antioxidant-packed dry spices like star anise, cassia bark, black cardamom, cloves and coriander seeds shine through. In the South, pho is piled high with bean sprouts, fresh herbs like cilantro and condiments like hoisin sauce, lime and chilies.

 

Cha Ca

Fresh seafood is abundant in Vietnam and this staple dish highlights it beautifully. Cha ca la vong is grilled local fish marinated in antioxidant-rich turmeric, ginger, garlic and shrimp paste and cooked tableside with a ton of fresh dill and green onion. On the table you have your choice of accompaniments: rice vermicelli, fish sauce, fresh herbs, chilies and peanuts.

 

Ga Tan Soup

Considered to be a medicinal dish by Vietnamese, ga tan is characterized by its dark, herbal broth made flavorful and nutritious with ingredients like antioxidant-packed goji berries, lotus seeds, angelica root (touted for its medicinal benefits), and chrysanthemum greens, which are high in vitamins A and C, iron and potassium. Add chicken for protein and you’ve got yourself a good ol’ cup of chicken soup for the soul.

 

Banh Xeo

This Vietnamese-style crepe made with rice flour, turmeric and scallion is traditionally filled with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts and served with a sweet and salty dipping sauce (nuoc cham). Banh Xeo is a perfect example of Vietnamese practices of balance and moderation. The protein-packed dish isn’t eaten alone; it’s served with fresh herbs and vegetables like mint, cilantro, Thai basil, mustard greens, sorrel and lettuce, adding extra fiber and vitamins and minerals to the meal.

 

Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., is a nutrition coach, yoga teacher and self-proclaimed foodie. She is a recipe developer, food photographer, writer and spokeswoman. Her food and healthy living blog, The Foodie Dietitian, features seasonal vegetarian recipes and simple strategies to bring more mindfulness and yoga into your life.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Middle Eastern Spiced Quinoa Salad with Eggplant and Pomegranate


When I think of delicious Middle Eastern food, I think of the Israeli-born British chef Yotam Ottolenghi. Ottolenghi captured my heart and taste buds years ago with that gorgeous photo of roasted eggplant with buttermilk and pomegranate on the cover of Plenty, and now my kitchen shelves are lined with his cookbooks. That eggplant dish was the first recipe of his I made, and it was the first time I’d ever used za’atar spice.

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice made up of dried thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, sumac and salt. Deliciously nutty, it’s perfect sprinkled on roasted vegetables and meats or on yogurt or olive oil as a dip for pita.

Inspired by Ottolenghi and the upcoming holidays, I decided to make a Middle Eastern spiced quinoa salad, complete with eggplant, pomegranate and pistachios, topped with a lemony za’atar vinaigrette. This dish is vegan friendly and gluten-free to accommodate all your holiday guests. Looking for a creamy, salty component to round out the dish? Add some crumbled feta cheese on top for a vegetarian version.

Your family and friends will appreciate this flavorful, lightened-up holiday side dish. Packed with plant-based protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants like vitamin C, this salad is brimming with nutrition and flavor. Plus, it’s easy to make the day before to save you time and sanity on the actual holiday.

Middle Eastern Spiced Quinoa Salad with Eggplant and Pomegranate

Makes 6 servings

 

Ingredients

For the salad:

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

3/4 cup pomegranate seeds (about 1 pomegranate)

1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

Optional: 1/3 cup feta cheese

For the dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon)

1 tablespoon lemon zest (from one lemon)

1 1/2 teaspoons za’atar

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Directions

For the salad:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Spread eggplant onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roast eggplant, turning once, for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and tender. Let cool.

Meanwhile, place quinoa and water in a 1.5 quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed and grain appears soft and translucent.

Transfer quinoa to serving bowl. Add eggplant, pomegranate seeds and pistachios (and optional feta), and toss to combine.

Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat.

 

For the dressing:

In a small mixing bowl whisk olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, za’atar, honey and salt until combined.

Per serving (6 servings, including optional feta cheese): Calories 300; Fat 19 g (Saturated 3 g); Cholesterol 5 mg; Sodium 280 mg; Carbohydrate 28 g; Fiber 5 g; Sugars 6 g; Protein 7 g

Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, yoga teacher and self-proclaimed foodie. She is the author of Nourish Your Namaste: How Nutrition and Yoga Can Support Digestion, Immunity, Energy and Relaxation and The Foodie Dietitian Blog, which features seasonal vegetarian and vegan recipes and simple strategies to bring more mindfulness and yoga into your life.

Kung Pao Eggplant

Who doesn’t love a good Chinese takeout meal? The savory, umami flavors and bit of heat have us crawling back each and every time. But what if I told you that you could easily re-create Chinese takeout at home for a fraction of the calories and fat?

That’s right: Today I have a recipe that will be ready in less time than it takes to wait around for takeout. Enter Kung Pao Eggplant. Substituting eggplant for chicken, you add another serving of vegetables to the plate, not to mention additional nutrients like fiber. This version is vegetarian (and vegan!) friendly and can be made gluten-free by using tamari in place of soy sauce and arrowroot flour instead of cornstarch.

This recipe is bursting with flavor — it’s rich and savory with a hint of spice from the ginger and a kick of heat from the dried chiles. It’s so tasty that you can toss out the takeout menu stuck to your fridge for good.

Kung Pao Eggplant

 Serves 4

 

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons coconut oil, divided

6 dried red chiles, cut in half

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

1/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts

2 scallions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish

4 cups cooked brown rice

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar (or substitute 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar plus 1 tablespoon rice vinegar)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons coconut sugar

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cornstarch

 

Directions:

Place eggplant in a large mixing bowl, add marinade ingredients and toss together until fully coated. Set aside.

To make the sauce, add black vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic and cornstarch to a small mixing bowl, then whisk to combine.

In a wok or large saute pan, melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil on high heat. Add eggplant and cook until lightly golden brown and tender, about 8 minutes, deglazing the pan as needed. Transfer cooked eggplant back to the large mixing bowl and set aside.

Turn heat down to medium-high. Add remaining coconut oil to the pan; add dried chiles and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the bell pepper and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until just tender. Add the cooked eggplant, peanuts, scallions and sauce, then toss to coat. Cook for 60 seconds, or until sauce is thickened.

Serve immediately with brown rice and additional scallions for garnish.

Per serving: Calories: 410; Fat 14 g (Saturated 8 g); Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 950 mg; Carbohydrate 62 g; Fiber 8 g; Sugars 16 g; Protein 9 g

 

Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, yoga teacher and self-proclaimed foodie. She is the author of Nourish Your Namaste: How Nutrition and Yoga Can Support Digestion, Immunity, Energy and Relaxation and The Foodie Dietitian Blog, which features seasonal vegetarian and vegan recipes and simple strategies to bring more mindfulness and yoga into your life.