Monthly Archives: February, 2014

Nancy Minus 25: Being “Strong, Smart, and Bold”

By Guest Blogger Nancy Ayapan, DCF

One of my first jobs out of college was working for Girls Incorporated of Greater Haverhill; this week I am using their motto of encouraging girls to be, “Strong, Smart, and Bold.” The reason for this is that throughout this week, I have found myself being all of those three words:

STRONG because I have found myself being strong-minded and really staying true to my word – and to myself – by not eating large portions. You see, I don’t know about you, but I have a husband who is skinny, eats whatever he wants without gaining weight, and on top of that he eats snacks late at night (I really don’t like him sometimes). He is also someone who loves his big servings of arroz, habichuelas, y carne (rice and beans with meat) every night for dinner, with a glass of soda and dessert (of course). Well, needless to say, he does not need be on a weight loss diet at this time, but I made it very clear to him that I do (after all why should he be punished?). Even though he is very supportive, I have to tell you that I feel so proud of myself, because not only I am now able to sit and enjoy dinner together, but I can do it with him with his big servings, eating everything he wants and then some, and still be happy with my portioned healthy meal that keeps me feeling full, but also very satisfied.

SMART because I found myself making smart choices when tempted to eat badly. For example, the weekends are extremely difficult for me because I am surrounded by the crazy busy-ness of my children and my nieces and nephews, and nothing is more easy and convenient than going to McDonald’s for lunch or dinner. Let’s face it, how can I resist having a delicious french fry or two or three? However, my sister and I have teamed up in taking care of ourselves, as she has seen the great results I have achieved just by staying away from fast food, so now we are both making better choices for ourselves and our kiddos.

BOLD because I felt confident in saying to my husband, “No honey, I will not have chips and salsa and Oreo cookies for a snack before going to bed.”  And in saying, “No,” as I am being offered bread (from Tripoli Bakery, the best!) or homemade brownies or any other leftover desserts that appear at work from time to time. You see, I work in a place where there are lots of luncheons, baby showers, birthdays, and many other celebrations which are all so nice, but not helpful in losing weight.  However, just last Friday, when I was at a luncheon, I was able to serve myself one plate with healthy choices while feeling that I did not need to go back for seconds and did not need to have more than I could handle, because at the end of the day, I am the only one responsible for what I put in my mouth.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are weekends that I have failed in being Strong, Smart, and Bold; however, this week was a successful week for me, and cheers to many more!


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Barley

Barley, a whole grain, may not be as ubiquitous as rice, but its similar texture and mild taste make it a great substitution for the popular staple.  Barley is a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, making it beneficial to both heart and digestive health.  Barley is also a good source of iron, protein, and the B vitamin niacin.  If you are familiar with barley at all, it may be as an ingredient in soup; I’m here to tell you that the grain has many more delicious uses, including as the base of a popular staple of Southern cuisine.

Barley Hoppin’ John

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup quick-cooking barley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
2 15-ounce cans black-eyed peas, rinsed

1.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper and celery. Cook until the vegetables soften, 3 to
4 minutes.
2.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
3.  Add broth, barley, thyme, lemon juice, crushed red pepper and salt; bring to a boil.
4.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the barley is done, 15 to 20 minutes.
5.  Remove from the heat and stir in black-eyed peas.
6.  Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve hot.  Serves 4 as a main dish; 6-8 as a side dish.

Recipe from Eating Well

Nancy Minus 25: Mother’s Help = A Five-Pound Weight Loss

By Guest Blogger Nancy Ayapan, DCF

Having a strong support system is another key element in being successful in my road to losing weight. The words, “I am not alone,” came to mind as I pondered who my strong supporters are. As you may recall from one of my previous blogs, I talked about my mother and how she is not only one of my biggest supporters, a person who will honestly tell me when I am gaining weight, but also the person who has always been there to help me succeed. Well, this week I am dedicating my success in losing 5 pounds to my mother. It was because of her help that I was able to be successful this week!

I have to be honest and tell you that I have struggled with my weight my entire life. Out of all the people that I consider my biggest fans and my helpers, my mother has been there through all my struggles:  When I could not find a dress like my sister’s (because I was chubbier), when she would catch me eating my sibling’s leftovers, when my pediatrician would tell her that I was “fat” and needed to lose weight, when others (especially family members) would comment on how much chubbier I was than my sister – I could go on and on. The point I am trying to make is that my mother knows the struggles I have gone through, and she is also the solution to help me succeed this time.

Because of my mother’s help, I was able to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into my daily routine this week. I watched her prepare chicken breast (by taking the skin off in order for it to be healthier) for the week, and I noticed that she made sure to prepare different vegetables with every meal. Not only did she help me prepare meals, but she would also pack lunch and snacks for me.  Isn’t she just great?  You see, part of being successful in losing weight is preparation, and taking the time to eat healthy things over eating out or eating unhealthy snacks.

I have to tell you that the way I ate this week, with my mother’s help, completely opened my eyes in that I realized that I need to really focus on spending the time to prepare my meals. It was great to see what she would do to the point that I started to mimic what she was doing and it worked!  You may ask, “Why would I do all this?” The answer is, because this time, I deserve and I am willing to succeed in this battle called weight loss.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Oranges

You probably know that oranges are an excellent source of the antioxidant Vitamin C (a large orange contains over 150% of the Daily Recommended Intake), but their nutritional benefits don’t stop there.  Oranges are also high in fiber and a good source of folate and potassium.  I usually recommend that participants who are trying to lower their blood pressure consume at least one orange or a glass of 100% orange juice every day, as the potassium in oranges helps lower blood pressure (and reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke) by counteracting sodium in the bloodstream.  Oranges make a great quick and easy snack, but your daily consumption shouldn’t have to end there.  Try using oranges to add flavor and depth to your next meal or side dish, as is the case in the following recipe.

 Orange, Raisin, and Pine Nut Cous Cous

2 cups water
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup diced red onions or shallots
½ cup diced carrots
½ cup dried raisins
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
½ teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
10 ounces (or about 1 ¼ cups dry) whole wheat cous cous (Trader Joe’s sells the whole wheat kind – you can find it near the pasta)
1 orange, peeled and segmented
¼ cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh mint or parsley

1.  Combine the water, olive oil, red onion, carrots, raisins, orange zest, and pepper in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Cover, and cook at a slow simmer for 2 minutes.
2.  Remove saucepan from heat and add in the cous cous.  Let sit for 5 minutes.
3.  Add the orange segments, nuts, and mint or parsley, and fluff the cous cous with a fork.  Serve hot as either a meal or side dish.

Recipe adapted from Emeril 20-40-60:  Fresh Food Fast.  Emeril Lagasse.  New York:  Harper Collins, 2009.

The GIC’s Weight Loss Challenge Kicks Off With a Healthy Smoothie Demo

The second annual WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge is in full swing at many state agencies, and I’ve already heard several great examples of how Wellness Champions are getting – and keeping – employees engaged in making the six-week commitment to eat right and exercise more in order to lose weight.  I was able to experience one of these examples first-hand when I was invited by GIC Wellness Champions Margarita Polanco and Liz Layton to participate in a healthy smoothie demo during lunchtime. 

The purpose of the demo was two-fold:  to kick off and drum up excitement for the Weight Loss Challenge, and to teach employees how to make and incorporate healthy smoothies into their daily routines.  Smoothies as they are typically sold in stores or at fast food restaurants are often loaded with sugar and unnecessary ingredients.  The smoothies that were demo-ed at the GIC contained no added sugar, and only whole, natural ingredients.  They also took only minutes to make, proving that it certainly is possible to eat well in a time crunch. 

Participants learned the basics of smoothie-making, including the types of ingredients to include (and exclude) and the proper order for adding them into the blender for optimal taste and texture.  Using this information, Margarita demonstrated how to make three different smoothies, and then invited employees to come up to the blenders to make their own creations using a host of healthy ingredients like frozen fruit, lowfat yogurt, almond milk, flaxmeal, and peanut butter. 

Andrew Stern, the GIC's General Counsel, creates his own healthy smoothie as I look on (approvingly)

Andrew Stern, the GIC’s General Counsel, creates his own healthy smoothie as I look on (approvingly)

The comment I heard most among the 18 employees in attendance was that they never knew smoothies could be so healthy and taste so good (especially without the addition of sugar!).  Everyone in the room realized after the demo that smoothies can make a healthy snack, or, in certain cases (such as with the recipe below) serve as an on-the-go meal replacement.  This newfound knowledge certainly gives employees a leg up in starting their weight loss journey, as they now know how to make tasty, filling meals and snacks that are low in calories and high in nutrients – a key strategy when it comes to losing weight.

Here’s the recipe for the most popular smoothie that Margarita made:

Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie

10 ounces unsweetened soy or almond milk
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
1 medium banana

1.  In a blender, combine all ingredients and mix until smooth. Use 6 ice cubes for a thicker consistency.

Nancy Minus 25: A Simple Tool That Keeps Me Going Every Day

By Guest Blogger Nancy Ayapan, DCF

“IF YOU BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, THEN YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF WHATEVER YOU WANT TO BE.”  This is the way I begin the email I send to the Weight Loss Challenge participants in our office reminding them about our weekly meeting and providing them with information for the week. You see, inspirational quotes and notes, other people’s testimonials, daily affirmations, positive thoughts, and positive reinforcements and comments from others are my biggest motivators in life. Since quotes motivate me to keep going, I love to share them with others. I specifically feel that this applies during this Weight Loss Challenge, because I realized that a big part of being successful at losing weight starts in my mind.

With that being said, when I joined this Challenge, I proposed to myself that decreasing my caffeine intake, decreasing unhealthy snacking, eating more vegetables, and exercising more were key components to losing weight. The big question was, “How do I do these things?” Well, you may think I am crazy, but one of the first things I do when I get up is check Facebook and read the inspirational posts from people like Jack Canfield, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, Living the Law of Attraction / The Secret, and Power of Positivity, and that sets my day and helps keep me focused. I also have to thank my mother for continuing to say, “Wow Nancy, I am so proud of your weight loss thus far; you look great!” Though she is my mother and mothers are sweet as pie and tell us what we want to hear, I know she means it and she is being honest, since she is the first one to let me know when I am gaining weight.

I also keep hearing and reading that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, and even though not drinking 3-4 cups of coffee with sugar and eating crackers with mayonnaise and ketchup (I know it sounds gross, but I love my ketchup with everything) is difficult, I am hoping that creating new habits will come with time. Reading motivational quotes, in combination with having the mantras of “one day at a time”, and “yes I can,” is helping me get through those days when I really want to break down and eat everything in sight. Since I have also realized that I am an emotional eater, I know that being emotionally and mentally well is only going to help me reach my weight loss goal.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Oats

Oatmeal is one of my favorite cold-weather breakfast foods.  It’s thick, warm, and comforting, not to mention filling.  When done right, oatmeal is one of the healthiest breakfast options around, as it’s a good source of fiber (especially the soluble kind that helps lower cholesterol), protein, iron, magnesium, and zinc.  Oatmeal as it is most commonly eaten – out of a packet often containing ingredients other than oats – cannot really be considered a health food, as the flavored instant oatmeal packets many of us know and love are high in sugar and aren’t as filling as oatmeal in its natural form.  The reason instant oatmeal cooks so fast is that the oats are cut thin, which makes them not only heat up faster, but get digested faster as well.  For those of us looking for a breakfast that will keep our blood sugar levels stable and our stomachs full until lunchtime, heavily sweetened and processed instant oatmeal is not the way to go.  For a better breakfast, choose old-fashioned rolled oats or steel cut oats that come in a canister, not a single-serving packet.  Since the only ingredient in old-fashioned oats is, well, oats, you can be assured that you’re getting a wholesome, natural food. 

Even though old-fashioned oats are not advertised as quick-cooking, they can be prepared in the microwave in 3-4 minutes (or on the stovetop in about 5 minutes), which is still pretty fast in my book.  You can also prepare a big batch of oats ahead of time in the slow cooker or on the stovetop so that you can have quick leftovers all week. 

If you prefer your oatmeal on the sweeter side, add 1-2 teaspoons of brown sugar or maple syrup to it after cooking.  Make your oats even more filling by adding a teaspoon of nuts or nut butter, or some cut-up fruit.  If you prefer your breakfast to be on the savory side, try the recipe below for a new spin on oatmeal.

Green Oats

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½  small red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup old-fashioned oats
2 cups water
½  bunch kale, thick stems removed, leaves chopped
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese 

1.  Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
2.  Add onion and garlic; cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3.  Stir in oats and cook until coated.
4.  Add kale a few handfuls at a time, stirring and adding more as the leaves wilt.
5.  Stir in water; bring to a boil.
6.  Cook for 5 minutes, or until oats are soft, stirring occasionally.
7.  Remove from heat and let sit 2-3 minutes.
8.  Serve garnished with Parmesan cheese.  Serves 3-4.

 Recipe adapted from Whole Foods

Nancy Minus 25: Fifteen and Counting…

By Guest Blogger Nancy Ayapan, DCF

Fifteen was the number of people that showed up at our Weight Loss Challenge informational meeting with WellMASS Program Manager Ashley Rasmussen Mason last Wednesday during our lunch time. Now that is commitment and dedication! It tells me that others like me want to make a change and want this year to be different when it comes to our health. What was amazing to me was the fact that there were members of other agencies, not just DCF, in attendance. There were employees from DTA, DMH, DDS, MRC and OCD. Talk about the power of word of mouth!

This year I am very excited about trying something new with our weekly Challenge meetings. That is, having a different speaker each week to help us stay on track, inform us about how to stay healthy, and most importantly, help us stay motivated in achieving our weight loss goals. I was inspired to do this by speaking with a co-worker who has been an aerobics instructor and who said to me, “Nancy, I have taught aerobics classes to children and residents at nursing homes. I have taught them to move, step, jump in place, and use cans of beans or soups as weights for strengthening exercises; it’s that simple.” Then I thought, if they can do it, we can do it – all we need is to show up with our sneakers and an open mind. As a result, our first speaker will be Paula the aerobics instructor. Stay tuned for info on upcoming speakers.

I have to say that I could not have started this alone. I feel that similar to writing a book, I need to acknowledge those that have helped get this challenge off to a great start. Thank you Ashley for your flexibility and always being willing to come to our site and answer any questions we have. Thank you Pam Kelly and Isabel Hernandez, who I know are incredibly busy with work but are always willing to help; it means a lot. Most importantly, I would like to thank those who signed up for the challenge, since they are my motivation to complete this challenge.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Kale

Kale is fast becoming a popular “superfood,” thanks to its abundance of nutrients.  Kale, cousin to such nutritional powerhouses as cabbage and broccoli, is a good source of calcium and an excellent source of Vitamins C, A, and K (one cup of kale contains 134%, 206%, and 684% of the vitamins, respectively!).  Thanks to its dark green color, kale is also high in antioxidant carotenoids and flavonoids.  In addition, kale is a good source of soluble fiber, which keeps you feeling full and helps lower LDL, or bad cholesterol.  I have just recently started making kale a regular part of my diet, and I’m glad I did – not only is one of the most nutritious vegetables in the world, it’s also one of the tastiest.  Kale chips seem to be all the rage lately, so I had to include a simple recipe that can be used to make them at home.  I also wanted to spotlight kale the way my sister prefers to consume it – as part of a sweet, healthy smoothie.

Baked Kale Chips

1 head kale, washed and thoroughly dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt, for sprinkling

1.  Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
2.  Remove the ribs from the kale and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
3.  Lay on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil and salt.
4.  Bake until crisp, turning the leaves halfway through, about 20 minutes.

Recipe from Food Network

Kale-Apple Smoothie

¾ cup chopped kale, ribs and thick stems removed
1 small stalk celery, chopped|
½ banana
½ cup apple juice|
½ cup ice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 

1. Place the kale, celery, banana, apple juice, ice, and lemon juice in a blender.
2. Blend until smooth and frothy.

Recipe from Real Simple