Last year, I ran a half-marathon. Along with, “have you seen my pink tutu?” and “how many King Cakes do we need to buy for next week’s parades?” are all words I never thought I’d say or write, but since moving to New Orleans here we are. One of the reasons I returned to my running habit after several years off was to lose some of the “NOLA 15” I gained when we moved here six-and-a-half years ago. By 15, I mean 35. I really love food, y’all. Exercise was always a way for me to have my Zapp’s Crawtator chips and eat them too, but at 47, as I inch ever closer to 50, those days are over and something had to give — because try as I might my jeans (and various tutus) were not giving another inch.
In January, I started using Noom, the popular weight loss app that uses cognitive behavioral therapy and the good old fashioned, unglamorous, non-trendy, but effective calories in calories out method to help you drop those L-B’s safely and for good. Today, I’m about five or six (depending on the day) pounds away from my goal weight — which is the weight I was when we moved to New Orleans and suddenly had 24/7, 365-day-a-year access to beignets — and the app has helped me change some bad habits, most notably portion control — which had definitely careened out of control — and beignet consumption management, despite my good habit of eating healthy 80 percent of the time. Also, I no longer feel so sluggish all of the time. When picking and choosing the structure of my Noom program, I went with the option of three snacks per day, because again, I really love food. But with a finite number of calories per day (1,200 until my program ends in two weeks and it increases to maintenance levels), I wanted tasty, nutritious snacks that were low in calories, but high in satisfaction. I usually try to work protein into the mix, because it helps keep you full longer.
If you too are trying to lose your NOLA 15 (or or 30 or 60 — it’s real people!) or just looking for nutritious snack ideas, here are three that have become my go-tos.
Cream Cheese with Everything Bagel Seasoning and Celery Sticks (Pictured Above)
I should have saved this one for last, but when it comes to snacks, I want the best out of the gate. One tablespoon of cream cheese is a mere 34 calories, so I go with two tablespoons for this tasty treat. It has protein and vitamins A and B2. Spoon out the first one and shake as much everything bagel seasoning on it as your heart desires because it has no calories. Then scoop out another tablespoon and add more. Seriously go for it. I love this with celery or carrot sticks, which of course have loads of nutritional value, but also often smear it on a slice of Dave’s Killer Bread (thin, 21 whole grains and seeds variety). Oh boy is it delicious either way.
Hard-Boiled Egg and Fruit
I could eat a hard-boiled egg any time of day. It’s the ultimate portable snack. Most of the time I’ll enjoy it with seasonal fruit or an ounce of cheddar cheese. At 77 calories and packed with protein and amino acids, you can’t go wrong. One cup of antioxidant rich strawberries has 53 calories and is loaded with vitamins and minerals. But really any fruit, especially those that have low-caloric density (think lots of water like berries and melon) will help fill you up while bringing a little sweetness to your snack. I like to add a little salt and pepper to my egg or maybe some Crystal hot sauce. If you go with cheese instead of fruit, you are increasing the calories quite a bit at about 113 per ounce, but it’s cheese so it’s worth it!
Savory, Oil Popped Popcorn
In the afternoon, I often crave savory and crunchy options. Popcorn does the trick. I pop mine on the stove in extra virgin olive oil, then add a sprinkle of garlic powder and paprika. Rosemary and garlic is another favorite combination. Keep it really simple and just add a little Tony Chachere’s. You could also add cinnamon and sugar if you are looking to satisfy a sweet tooth. A cup of oil-popped popcorn is about 35 calories and you’ll be getting a good dose of fiber and a little protein (about 1 gram per cup).
Because I live to eat, giving up any certain food or food group (or happy hour) did not appeal to me. The above is what my snacks look like most days, but dark chocolate, those Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators, cake or a serving of cookies are all still in the mix as well. But as I have learned, one cannot live on those things for too long without suffering consequences like your favorite jeans splitting right down the back. True story. Or, worse yet, not being able to shimmy into your fluffy pink tutu during Carnival season. But I’ve learned if I stick to my healthy snacks and reasonable portions and, instead of a chunk of King Cake every day, I opt for one every few days during Carnival, I feel better and my tutus fit.