Monthly Archives: November, 2012

Keeping Weight Off During the Holidays

The holidays may not be the best time to start a weight loss program, but they are the perfect opportunity to work on maintaining your current weight.  Many Americans gain several pounds in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but you don’t have to be one of them if you follow a few simple strategies for keeping the weight off this holiday season.

  • Limit the amount of alcohol and non-diet sodas you consume.  Both are filled with empty calories and supply zero nutrients.  Instead of calorie-laden, non-nutritious beverages, choose water, 100% fruit juice, or low-fat milk.  Or, alternate between one glass of water and one glass of soda or alcoholic beverage – at least you’ll be cutting your calories in half!
  • When you travel away from home, pack healthy snacks that contain a mix of fiber and protein to keep you feeling satisfied for a long period of time.  Good snacks include fresh-cut fruit or veggies, string cheese and whole grain crackers, granola bars (try to choose ones with less than 10g of sugar), trail mix, and lightly salted nuts.
  • At a holiday dinner or party, fill your plate with only those foods you really enjoy, and don’t go back for seconds.
  • Skip toppings like gravy, cheese, and butter on mashed potatoes, vegetables, and turkey.
  • Send leftovers home with family, friends, or co-workers.
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast so that you’re not starving – and likely to eat anything in sight – when it comes time to party.
  • Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day; take a walk before or after your meal or party at the very least.

When it comes to food choices:

  • White meat turkey has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat
  • Pumpkin pie has fewer calories (one slice contains around 300) and is generally lower in sugar than other pies.
  • Serve stuffing baked outside the turkey; stuffing baked inside the bird has double the calories!
  • Serve baked potatoes instead of candied sweet potatoes to save almost 100 calories.
  • Include at least one item at meals or parties that is very low in fat and calories, such as fruit salad or steamed green beans.

More tips can be found at the WellMASS website, including those contained in the article used as a source for this post:
A Prospective study of holiday weight gain. Yanovski, JA. New England Journal of Medicine. 2000, Issue 342, Edition 12, pp. 861-867.

If your current goal is weight maintenance, but your long-term goal is weight loss, then you may benefit from the upcoming WellMASS weight loss challenge.  Your agency’s Wellness Champion will have more details on this challenge in early January.


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Water

By Guest Blogger Becka Levin, GIC


This week we will feature a very non-traditional ingredient…drum roll please: water! Good old H20 is an oft-forgotten staple of our diets.  Consuming enough water is essential to healthy living and directly contributes to good health – perhaps even more than any of the other ingredients we’ve previously covered.


So you know you need water to survive, but how can it help your diet? When you feel hungry, you may actually just be thirsty. Drinking enough water can both help keep you feeling good and get you back on track after overindulging. Since we are in the midst of the crazy holiday season, here are some easy ways to help you stay healthy with a zero-calorie ingredient.

Recipe For Success



  1. Start off every day with a glass of water. Before your daily cup of coffee, toast, or even before you let the dog out, try to get in the habit of drinking one glass of water as the very first thing you do every day.
  2. If you find yourself getting hungry, drink a glass of water instead of immediately reaching for a snack. Wait ten or fifteen minutes, and if you’re still hungry, then get yourself something healthy to eat!
  3. If you are headed to a holiday party and are likely to indulge in alcoholic beverages, do yourself a favor and alternate each glass of wine or beer with a glass of water. If you have a habitual soda or juice habit, try to employ the same one-for-one rationale.

 Just using these as a starting point is an easy way to make healthy decisions, especially during this busy time of year!

Burning Off Those Thanksgiving Calories

I just read that the average person consumes 2,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner.  This is a scary statistic given that most people should be eating 2,000 calories or less each day.  While I am all for indulging in the occasional treat during the holidays, I also believe that it’s a good idea to try to compensate for certain treats (especially big ones like a 2,500 calorie meal!) by adding a little extra physical activity to your day.  The WellMASS website includes a really handy Calories Burned calculator (Go to Learn & Share > Health Tools & Information > Calculators to find it – and don’t forget to take your health assessment while you’re there!) that you can use to calculate how many calories you burn doing all sorts of physical activity.  I used it to figure out just how much a 150-lb person would need to exercise to burn off some of their Thanksgiving treats.

Calorie information courtesy of  Please note that calories burned calculations are just guidelines, and that someone who weighs less than 150 lbs will burn fewer calories, while someone whose weight is greater than 150 lbs will burn more calories. 

Sweet Potato Casserole

Serving size:  1 cup
Calories:  236
Exercise:  60 minutes of bowling

Mashed Potatoes


Serving Size:  1 cup
Calories:  300
Exercise:  20 minutes of running at 8 min/mile



Serving Size:  3 slices carved turkey breast
Calories:  135
Exercise:  30 minutes of raking leaves


Serving Size:  1 cup
Calories:  320
Exercise:  60 minutes of washing windows or your car

Pecan Pie

File:Pecan pie slice (cropped).jpg

Serving Size: 1 slice (1/8 of a pie)
Calories:  490
Exercise:  60 minutes of tennis

I hope that you can combine eating your favorite foods with a little extra physical activity this holiday season.  Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Blueberries

By Guest Blogger Becka Levin, GIC

The ingredient of the week will be of sweeter fare than those of the past few weeks: blueberries!! While blueberries may make you think of hot summer days, they are just as tasty in the winter. Frozen blueberries are much cheaper at this time of year and maintain all the nutritional benefit of fresh blueberries – find them in the freezer aisle.

Blueberries are considered by many to be a “superfood” – a highly nutrient-dense food that does not pack a lot of calories. These berries are full of antioxidants, which fight free radicals that can cause cancer. Certain compounds that blueberries contain also may lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Blueberries have vitamin C, vitamin K, and your best friend: fiber.

 This fruit makes a quick, easy dessert on its own as well. A handful of blueberries are a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth after a meal. Fruits like blueberries contain much less sugar than most traditional desserts and also have the nutrients we previously mentioned. That said, it is really quite simple to create wonderful dishes of all types with this blue fruit. 


Blueberry Pie Parfait

A great, filling way to start your morning, or a good substitute for your nightly bowl of ice cream!


1 cup plain Greek yogurt (if you don’t like Greek yogurt, try mixing a half cup of Greek yogurt with a half cup of regular low-fat yogurt)

½ to 1 cup blueberries

¼ cup bran cereal or slivered almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Drizzle of honey or pure maple syrup


1. Simply mix all your ingredients in a bowl and enjoy!

One word of caution – be careful with your portion sizes for whatever cereal, nuts, or granola you may add as the calories and sugar add up much quicker than you think.


Chicken and Fruit Salad

This salad is perfect for spicing up your salad routine and easy to throw together for crowds small and large.


1 12-oz. bag fresh spinach

2 grilled (or sautéed) chicken breasts

1 cup blueberries

1 kiwi, sliced

5 strawberries, sliced

2 tablespoons feta or goat cheese

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Raspberry vinaigrette dressing


1. Prepare chicken breast in desired fashion and cut into one inch cubes.

2. Wash spinach and place in large serving bowl.

3. Place diced grilled chicken and fruit on top.

4. Sprinkle cheese and nuts on top.

5. Serve with dressing on the side.


Savory Blueberry Sauce


Some sweetness with a kick, this is the perfect complement to any meat dish, especially salmon or chicken.


½ cup chicken stock

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup orange juice

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon cornstarch

¼ cup chicken stock

1 cup blueberries

2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives


1. Pour 1/2 cup chicken stock, vinegar, orange juice, and honey into a saucepan.

2. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce heat to medium.

3. Dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 cup of chicken stock, and stir into the simmering sauce. Cook and stir until the sauce thickens and turns clear, 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Stir in the blueberries and chives, and keep warm over low heat.


Blueberry-Topped Rice Cakes


The perfect afternoon snack, and quick and easy to prepare.


½ cup ricotta or cottage cheese

2 teaspoons apricot preserves

4 apple-cinnamon flavored rice cakes

1 cup thinly-sliced fresh fruit (such as apple, pear, nectarine or peach)

1 cup fresh blueberries


1. In a small bowl, stir together ricotta and preserves

2. Spoon an equal amount on each of the rice cakes almost to the edge

3. Arrange fruit slices in circles, on top of the ricotta mixture

4. Top each with ¼ cup of the blueberries

5. Serve and enjoy!

Zumba Comes to One Ashburton

Zumba is one of my favorite forms of exercise, for many reasons:  it’s a great high-intensity cardio workout, but you can modify all of its routines to suit your energy level and ability; it supports a welcoming group environment; the music its routines are choreographed to is really fun; and you don’t even realize how many calories you’re burning (over 500 an hour!) because you’re having such a great time dancing.  HRD employee Ivana McGrail also happens to be a Zumba enthusiast, and she was kind enough to offer free classes to Boston employees during the Friday lunch hour in the Ashburton Café conference room.  A love of the music, the desire to show people that you can have fun with exercise, and the opportunity to meet other State employee/co-workers and encourage them to exercise for better health inspired her to share her Zumba expertise.  

A dedicated group of employees participated in these weekly classes, and many of them saw the benefits of an hour of dance aerobics, including Wellness Champion Annette Powell:

My name is Annette, I work at One Ashburton Place, in Boston.  I have committed to the WellMASS Wellness Program from the start.  I am always in suspense wondering, what’s next with the Wellness Team.  This July I had a great experience learning the basics of Zumba one day a week for 6 weeks with 15 other State employees.  I enjoyed being able to move, twist, jump, stretch, and dance during my lunchtime, under the instruction of Ivana McGrail.  Since my enrollment with the WellMASS Wellness Program and my participation in several of its activities, I have dropped two dress sizes and I am looking forward to the next challenge.

GIC employee Liz Layton was also a fan of Ivana’s Zumba classes:

Even though I have two left feet, Ivana always got us all moving in time to the rhythm – salsa, samba, Afro-Brazilian – and really energized for the rest of the day.

Group workouts are a challenging, social, and fun way to get your recommended 45-60 minutes of exercise in each day, while making new friends in the process.  If Zumba or another form of group exercise is offered at or near your worksite, I encourage you to sign up for a class or two.  Ivana is also willing to bring Zumba to your worksite; if you are interested, work in Boston, and have a suitable venue for a lunchtime class, please let me know

Thanks to Ajay Monteiro of the GIC for taking these excellent photos of the class.  All photos are property of Ajay Monteiro.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Sweet Potatoes

By Guest Blogger Becka Levin, GIC

Sweet potatoes are the healthy ingredient we will look at this week. A relative of the good ol’ potato, sweet potatoes pack in more nutrients with a slightly sweeter taste. They are a great substitute if you love those starchy root vegetables, but also great in recipes on their own.

Sweet potatoes are one of the best natural sources of beta carotene, a vitamin that is essential for eyesight and other bodily functions. They are also a good source of vitamin C, a key ingredient of a healthy immune system, and fiber, which we have discussed in depth in previous weeks. Fiber does a great job at keeping you full, helps protect you from intestinal and other cancers, and is also very beneficial to regularity.

Especially with Thanksgiving coming up right around the corner, these recipes can be a great addition to your table. Just like the regular potato, sweet potatoes can be prepared in a large variety of ways: baked, mashed, etcetera, but they stand out on their own in many dishes as well.


Homemade Sweet Potato Fries


2 or 3 large sweet potatoes

Olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350⁰.

2. Cut up the sweet potatoes in long portions (the long way) to desired thickness – think steak fries or more fast food style.

2. Place cut sweet potatoes on a greased baking sheet.

3. Drizzle olive oil over cut sweet potatoes, seasoning with salt, pepper, and any other desired spices.

4. Place baking tray in oven, and bake for roughly 10-20 minutes. Keep a close eye on your fries, because cook time will vary greatly depending on your crispy preference and how thick your sweet potatoes have been cut.


Maple-Pecan Mashed Sweet Potatoes


canola oil cooking spray

3 cups hot sweet potatoes or yams, mashed

3 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon butter or no-trans margarine

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 1 1/2-quart baking dish with the cooking spray.

2. Combine the sweet potatoes, orange juice, butter, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add 1 cup of the marshmallows and beat on medium speed until fluffy. If the marshmallows aren’t melting, microwave the bowl for a minute and resume beating.

3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining marshmallows over the top and bake for about 15 minutes. The marshmallows on top should be lightly browned.

4. Serve and enjoy!


Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup

From The New York Times – Well section


1 tablespoon canola oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 medium-size Yukon gold or russet potato, peeled and diced

6 cups water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock

Salt to taste


1. Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.

2. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the ginger and stir together until fragrant, about 1 minute.

4. Add the squash, sweet potatoes, regular potato, and water or stock, and bring to a simmer.

5. Add salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until all of the ingredients are thoroughly tender.

6. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup (or you can put it through the fine blade of a food mill or use a regular blender, working in batches and placing a kitchen towel over the top to avoid splashing). Return to the pot and stir with a whisk to even out the texture. Heat through, adjust salt and add pepper to taste.


Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes


2 1/2 pounds potatoes, sweet, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)

1/3 cup(s) maple syrup, pure

2 tablespoon butter, melted

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

pepper, to taste


1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. In small bowl, combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes and toss to coat.

3. Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Which Quitting Method is Right for You?

With the Great American Smokeout a week away, it may be time to start thinking about quitting smoking, and finding the right method to help you do so.  The good news is, you have plenty of options when it comes to quitting, and the health benefits of being a quitter will be the same no matter which method you choose:

  • Going cold turkey:  This method involves picking a quit date on which you will stop using tobacco products completely.  If you find the thought of giving up nicotine all at once a little overwhelming, then you may prefer to choose another method.
  • Cutting down gradually:  If you prefer not to stop the use of all tobacco products on your quit date, you can cut down gradually by smoking fewer cigarettes each day or by spacing out the time in between your cigarettes.  Some people may find this method difficult to hold to during stressful situations that compel them to crave tobacco.
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT):  Nicotine substitutes can double the success rate of trying to quit.  If you choose to quit by using NRT,  talk to your health care provider if you are under age 18, pregnant, nursing, smoking fewer than 18 cigarettes per day, or have a medical condition.
              – Gum:  Nicotine gum is available over the counter and provides oral gratification.  You control how often you chew it based on your cravings.
              – Patch:  The nicotine patch is available by prescription or over the counter and provides a steady dose of nicotine throughout the day.
              – Nasal Spray:  Nicotine nasal spray delivers nicotine to the brain faster than the patch or gum, and it is available by prescription only.
              – Inhaler:  The nicotine inhaler delivers nicotine through the membranes of the mouth (rather than through the lungs) and provides a substitute for the hand-t0-mouth gratification previously satisfied by cigarettes.
              – Lozenges:  Nicotine lozenges are similar to gums in that they are available over the counter and deliver nicotine through the mouth on an as-needed basis.
  • Oral medication:  Oral medication has a high success rate when used in combination with NRT.  It works to control chemicals in the brain to reduce nicotine cravings and ease the symptoms of withdrawal.  Due to the side effects associated with oral medication, make sure to talk to your doctor before choosing this quit method.

If you receive your health insurance through the GIC, you can receive additional assistance in quitting through your health plan.  No matter what your quit date or which method you decide to choose, I wish you luck on your journey to becoming a former smoker.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Lentils

By Guest Blogger Becka Levin, GIC

I hope you have enjoyed trying some of the recipes previously posted! Feel free to send any feedback, pictures or suggestions our way; we’d love to hear from you.

The healthy ingredient this week is lentils. Lentils are a member of the legume family and vary in color and size. They are full of protein and fiber, both of which help you feel full for a long period of time. Fiber, which we have discussed previously, also supports regularity, healthy cholesterol levels, and helps prevent certain cancers, particularly those of the intestinal tract. Additionally, certain studies have shown that high fiber consumption is correlated with less incidence of heart disease. Lentils are a good source of iron, a necessary component of healthy red blood cells and important to maintaining high energy levels. There is also a high amount of magnesium in lentils, another mineral that helps decrease your risk of heart disease.

You can buy prepared lentils canned or cook them yourself. Uncooked lentils are usually found in the same aisle as beans. Cooking lentils is very simple: all you need to do is simmer four cups of water on a stove top with one cup of lentils until cooked thoroughly, which should take roughly 25 minutes.

Another gentle reminder that these recipes aren’t binding! If you dislike a certain ingredient, don’t hesitate to switch it for something more appealing.

Lentil and Feta Salad

This dish is incredibly easy to make and is perfect as a delicious side dish.


1 ½ cup lentils (canned or cooked)

½ cup feta cheese

¼ cup red onion, chopped

¼ cup olive oil

Squeeze lemon juice

Salt and pepper, to taste


1. Combine lentils, red onion, and feta in a bowl.

2. In another bowl, add lemon juice to olive oil to your taste preference.

3. Add olive oil dressing to lentils and mix thoroughly, adding salt and pepper to taste.

4. Serve and enjoy!


Vegetarian Wrap with Hummus

A quick and easy weekday lunch recipe


3 Tbs. refrigerated hummus

5 Tbs. refrigerated steamed lentils

1/4 C. chopped tomatoes

1 small handful greens

2 Tbs. plain yogurt

1 whole wheat tortilla

Spiced to taste (try cumin, curry powder, or garlic powder)


1. Place lentils, hummus, tomatoes, and greens down the tortilla.

2. Drizzle yogurt across lentils.

3. Roll tightly and enjoy.


Easy Lentil Soup

A classic! It’s the perfect way to warm up in cold weather.


2 cups dry lentils

2 quarts chicken broth (sub vegetable broth for vegetarian)

1 onion, diced

¼ cup tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ground cumin


1. In a large saucepan combine lentils, broth, onion, tomato paste, garlic and cumin.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are soft, 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.


Vegetarian Lentil Tacos

This is a healthy, meatless version of a family favorite.


4 tortilla taco shells

1 ½ cup cooked lentils

2 cups chopped lettuce

Taco Seasoning, to taste

2 diced medium sized tomatoes

1 avocado, shelled and sliced

(add any other favorite taco toppings)


1. Combine taco seasoning with cooked lentils in a bowl.

2. Place lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and any other toppings in their own bowls.

3. Fill a taco shell with lentils and toppings of your choosing – let everyone fill up their own taco.


Want to increase your calorie burn without increasing the amount of time you work out?  Then HIIT training may be for you.  Whether you overdid it on the Halloween candy this past month or just want to mix up your exercise routine, HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training, is an innovative way to increase the amount of calories you burn without spending a lot of time exercising.  HIIT combines two of the most efficient calorie burning methods – using maximum effort to trick your body into burning calories even after your workout is over, and alternating between bursts of intense and low-effort activity to boost your metabolism and build lean muscle.

The afterburn effect is a key component to HIIT training.  By performing short bursts of high-intensity activity, you’re pushing your muscles to require more oxygen to complete the workout.  The more oxygen your muscles consume, the more calories you are going to burn, as it takes 5 calories to consume 1 liter of oxygen.  In addition, due to this high-intensity activity, your body is going to keep needing to consume oxygen even after your workout has ended – for up to 48 hours!  So, the afterburn effect causes your body to burn calories even after your workout is over.

HIIT training is also effective due to the presence of intervals.  Interval training has been shown to increase metabolism (so you burn more calories) and build muscle mass (muscle is important because it burns more calories than fat) better than a workout of consistent intensity.  By alternating between intervals of high- and low-intensity exercise, you’ll be able to burn calories more efficiently than if you were to just work out at a steady pace for the same period of time. 

So how do you go about performing HIIT?  There are several HIIT programs you can follow, but my favorite is the Little Method.  Under this form of HIIT, you alternate between 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise (i.e. running) and 75 seconds of low-intensity exercise (i.e. walking) for a total of 27 minutes.  Although the general recommendations for exercise are to get 45-60 minutes each day, you’ll be burning the same amount of calories (or more) during 27 minutes of HIIT training as you would by doing a moderate-intensity workout for twice the time.

HIIT is not for everyone, and if you’re interested in trying it, you should read up on or talk to an exercise trainer about it before getting started.  Once you do, though, you’ll really be feeling the burn – and feeling sneaky about burning a lot of calories in a little time!