December 2008 Archives

Losing Your Holiday Pounds

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Once you have all the appropriate tools and you’re cooking for yourself, you may, like me, wish to slough off a few pounds you have accumulated over the year. When I decided to fit back into my jeans, I first started just trying to cut back a little—no desserts, eating healthier meals, and exercising more. After about a month of that, I had lost no weight. One day I was too lazy to cook, and stumbled onto Jack’s “program.” Jack lost a ton of weight skipping breakfast, eating something very small at lunch, and then having a typical (for him) dinner. I had always thought it was a dangerous diet and that it didn’t create the habits one needed to maintain weight loss, but Jack is alive and kicking and quite fit several years later, so I decided to keep going on my own version.

After some experimentation, this is what I came up with.
1) Eat breakfast. Skipping it is easy, but bad for building long-term habits. Have a bowl of oatmeal made with 1/3 c old-fashioned oats (2/3 c water & 3 min. in the microwave). It’s only 100 calories, and you can add sugar-free Splenda syrup or cinnamon for calorie-free flavor.
2) For lunch, have something small: leftovers, a piece of fruit and cheese, soup & salad, or half a sandwich. Usually, I can keep lunch under 300 calories, though yours might be larger.
3) Dinner is normal, though I try to only use whole-grain, high-protein, or high-fiber carbohydrates. I like to stick to Sonoma Diet-like proportions: one half plate vegetables, one fourth plate meat, and one fourth plate carbs.
4) No dessert. It’s crucial for me to get away from eating sugar & high-glycemic index carbohydrates. They are my Achilles heel. Since going cold turkey is too cruel, I allow myself dark chocolate. It’s dense enough to be satisfying in small quantities. Additionally, it has raised my standards for dessert—now I want a lot more flavor and less butter/sugar. I also think The Finer Things Club is helping. There’s no shortage of dessert to look forward to in my life, so it makes it easier to put off until then.
5) I also avoid alcohol, though I’ll have a drink at a party (no mixers).
6) On the weekends, I eat what the boyfriend’s eating, which is usually healthy, but if it’s not, I don’t stress. It slows the weight loss, but keeps me from feeling like I’m depriving myself. Getting back on the program on Monday is hard, but easier if I focus on eating just the three meals. My choices get healthier as the week goes on.
7) Exercising while on a low-calorie diet is difficult. What works best for me is wearing a pedometer during the day, then going for a walk in the evening that gets my daily total up to 10,000 steps (usually a 20 minute constitutional around Dolores Park is just right).

There are days I’m sure I have less than a thousand calories, but I don’t think I’m managing it consistently (which is good). However, aiming at less than a thousand seems to let me actually lose weight instead of aiming at twelve hundred and ending up at fourteen or sixteen hundred. I don’t think I’m losing at an unhealthy rate—in a month I’ve lost about six pounds.

After a few more pounds, I will go back to my healthy eating plan. Because I’m not crazy about cooking, I designed it so that I make a double-batch of lunch one day, then a double-batch of dinner the next. That way I only have to cook once a day, and there is always something healthy available.

All of this is to say that losing weight is hard, and getting too hung up on rules (“never go below 1000 calories a day,” “no carbs,” “don’t break with the plan”), can make it harder. My theory is that when you start by doing all the things you know you’re supposed to, you can break a few rules.

Cooking Tools

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Once I started cooking, I discovered that certain tools are necessary, while others mostly clutter up my cabinet. After spending more than I really needed to on some items and recalling the bewilderment that accompanied me to the Macy’s Home department when I first moved out, I set out to see how inexpensively you could equip a fully functioning kitchen. I think you can do it for around $200 (prices are, of course, subject to change). Here’s what I came up with (after the jump):

Better Than Takeout

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Now that the fashion makeover is taken care of, and you’re all looking fabulous, I thought it time to share with you my other recent project: cooking. Last year, my job was quite stressful and required working till eight or nine two days a week. The three other weekdays, I was in no mood to deal with grocery shopping or cooking, so I did what we all love to—Takeout! It was fabulous, in a way… delicious food, often bought by my wonderful boyfriend, pizza every week, plenty of leftovers for the late nights, and lunch in ready-made packages every morning from the grocery store. Meanwhile, I watched my waistline and my budget balloon. So when I finally managed to free myself from my miserable job, I set out to learn how to cook. My criteria were (as always) numerous:
1) I needed to be able to make things in 30 minutes or less, because I come home hungry.
2) Recipes needed to be simple and foolproof--no temperamental souffles for me.
2) I did not want to go to the grocery store more than once a week.
3) Meals needed to be low-calorie and nutritious to stop the ballooning. Hello, vegetables!
4) Food should be delicious, so everything had to taste good.
5) Ingredients needed to be affordable, better yet, cheap. No exotic pastes that needed to be tracked down in specialty markets.
6) Variety. Who wants to eat the same thing all the time?

So that was it. I wanted cheap, easy, quick, delicious, healthy food—in essence, takeout from my kitchen, but better. I started by making a list of thirty things that the boyfriend and I like to eat (Variety—check!). Then, I got recipes for those dishes on my favorite website,, (Delicious—check!). Then I compared those to the recipes in the Cooking Light cookbook, and added more vegetables and lean protein to trim down the calories (Healthy—check!). In order to make the recipes less daunting, I re-formatted them to list instructions and ingredients just once, to make times easier to track, and to let me know what pans and temperatures to use right at the top (Easy--check!). Anything that took longer than half an hour got simplified or cut out (at first, I tried to make some exceptions to this rule, but I still haven’t made those dishes, so… Quick—Check!). The last part anyone born after 1965 will find totally crazy—inconceivably, I planned my meals for the month.
That’s right, I made a calendar of meals for thirty days. I grouped together things that used the same fresh ingredients. It allowed me to figure out what basics I could keep in the cupboard or freezer, and what I could shop for fresh once a week. With a finite shopping list, it was easy to stock up and then go to the grocery store just once a week (check!). And from there, it was easy to find the cheapest grocery stores (which I’ll talk about more later).
In case you’re looking for a similar situation, you can see what I came up with here.

Your Own Makeover, Bargain Hunting

Since I have you all excited about shopping now, I thought it best to let you in on the best places (and times) to find a deal. After reading Just Try It On! (an otherwise useless book), I made a list that parallels the wardrobe checklist and notes when each style arrives in stores each year. Go when things arrive for the most selection. Wait 6-8 weeks for the clearance sales. The other list is my favorite shops for finding a discount. Remember: go with a list; buy only things that make you look fabulous. You are building your wardrobe over time. Happy shopping!

Bonus: Check for all the latest sale info.

Your Own Makeover, Hair

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Hair is more complicated than makeup. I tried to get away from the “What Not to Wear” crew, but every review said Nick Arrojo's book, Great Hairwas hands-down the best, and having read it, I now agree. His main argument is that you must work with the hair you have instead of spending hours and hundreds of dollars going against it to get someone else's look.

So, first you must know your hair texture—-fine, thick, or medium smooth. Fine hair is delicate, fragile, and seems ready to break. You can usually see the scalp on someone with fine hair both at the part and beyond. Fine hair lays flat against your scalp. Thick hair has a wider shaft and feels a touch coarse or wiry when running your fingers through it. It tends to take a long time to air-dry (an hour or more) and puffs up and out. Medium Smooth hair is everybody in between. Then, you must know your hair shape—straight, wavy, or curly. Hair shape can change on the same head of hair. Many women have more wave below the crown.

Once you know your hair texture and hair shape, you can start to choose a haircut that works with your hair, requiring less styling. I don't really have room or time to discuss all the best haircuts for each hair type, but his book does a pretty good job. Unfortunately, it doesn’t list a whole lot of shoulder-length or longer cuts (maybe because they're all pretty much the same). Fine, thick, and curly heads are the least flexible in terms of styling, so a cut that works is more important. If you have medium-smooth, straight, or wavy hair, you can do most anything, which means, you can focus on framing your face. Bangs are a huge help at this. Short hair that comes to your chin can also do this quite dramatically.

Finally, I learned quite a bit about products and was quite heartened to learn that most hair problems can be solved with the right products and proper technique. He has a chart of products that is very helpful if you don’t know what kind of products would help you style your hair. I had never heard of “Thermal Protector” or “Blow Dry Setting Spray” (both turn out to be crucial for a frizz-free blow-dry). Did you know you are never supposed to rub your hair? It creates frizz. Most all products should be worked into your hair from just below the roots down. Allure Magazine puts out a Best of Beauty Hall of Fame for useful products that have been winners year after year. Feel free to add yours in the comments section:
Sunsilk ThermaShine Conditioner
John Frieda Frizz-Ease Hair Serum (try the Thermal Protection Formula)
Phytodefrisant Botanical Hair Relaxing Balm
Conair Infiniti Tourmaline Hair Designer (I recently tried this, and was amazed at how fast it dried my hair. It was also much straighter than usual, but not smooth & shiny right away)
Wella Liquid Hair Brilliant Spray Gel

All in all, it is a book well worth checking out of the library. I have yet to find the styling regimen that leaves my hair looking great in 20 minutes a day or less, but I no longer believe it is because my hair is impossible--rather, I expect I just need to learn how to style it well (and get bangs!).

Your Own Makeover, Makeup

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I am no expert here, so I consulted books by Bobbi Brown, Kevin Aucoin, and Carmindy (from TLC's "What Not to Wear") and assembled the following list. I tried to include affordable recommended versions for each product. You probably need pictures to get this right, but the essentials seem to be (in the order they should be applied):

Foundation—Use for spot coverage along the center of the face and as a base for eye shadow on eyelids (it will help keep it in place). Carmindy says to use liquid foundation for our age group (try L’Oreal Paris True Match Super-Blendable Makeup) or tinted moisturizer if you have dry, flawless skin (like Neutrogena Healthy Skin Enhancer). Bobbi Brown likes a stick foundation for carrying in her bag. Modern women don’t wear as much foundation as they used to, so it doesn’t have to be such an investment—you just need the color to match. Walk outside into the daylight and check in your compact before buying.

Concealer—Bobbi Brown’s number one product for brightening a face, and the one place she says to invest (maybe that's why she makes such good ones). Buy this somewhere where you can try them on before buying. Multiple shades are fine. Your skin changes color throughout the year, some are good for blemishes (like Stila Cover-Up Stick and Revlon Color Stay Concealer), some for under eyes. Always put this over foundation to prevent overloading on it and getting cakey. Carmindy likes light-reflective concealer sticks for under eyes and on the inside of the nose (like The Body Shop Concealer Pencil or Benefit Eye Bright), and says they look more natural. Under-eye concealer should be a shade lighter than your foundation.

*Any cream highlighters or blushes should be applied before powder.*

Powder—to set makeup down your nose, across your chin, over cheeks and eyelids, and under eyelids if necessary to set concealer. Try Cover Girl Clean Pressed Powder or Mac Blot Powder if you don’t already own any.

Highlighter—Use a powder pearly shimmer under your eyebrows, on the inside corners of your eyes, and the tops of your cheekbones by the outer half of your eye. This is Carmindy’s go-to, better-than-shadow makeup trick. It’s certainly quicker and easier to carry, though for my time, I'll take shadow.

Blush or Bronzer—apply to apples of cheeks with a face powder brush for a seamless finish.

Eyeliner—brown pencil works on everyone. Work it down into the lash line and smudge with a q-tip. Alternatively, you can use a dark shadow and skinny brush, which Carmindy usually does on the show. Start one fourth of the way out from your inner eye to keep it looking light.

Mascara—Apply one coat to top lashes only (classic Maybelline Lash Discovery—-waterproof smears less). I like to put this on before anything else because I always get black spots somewhere and have to wipe them off and start over. Nonetheless, I’m leaving this here because that’s how Carmindy says to do it. If you use mascara, you will need an oil/silicone-based makeup remover, such as Bi-Facils.

Lip Color—surely you have many of these already. One you may not have thought of is just all-over pencil with lip balm.

If you have time, eye shadow makes for a more made-up look. Smoky eyes are sexier than bold lip color for an evening out. To make more of your eye color, use hues that are the opposite, blue eyes=brown shadow, green eyes=purple, hazel=green, brown=blue or green.

Do not run out to buy products unless you have NONE of these at home. If you are at all like me, you have a lifetime supply of these already. Try them back out (especially after using your new self-tanner) before spending your hard-earned money. Label them “summer,” “winter,” etc. Mix heavy or cakey formulations with some lotion. Add a few drops of rubbing alcohol to broken powders and press them back into shape (when the rubbing alcohol evaporates, they’ll be back to pressed). Organize eye shadows and lipsticks into “going out,” “work,” “natural,” and “summer” groups so you can grab them easily and remember what goes together to make a look. You will probably have some things you simply don’t like and never really used. Have a makeup party with girlfriends and see if anyone else wants your products before casting them into the landfill (this is perfect for all those sample size things and lipsticks that come free with purchase). If you must go buy something, check the drug-store circular where you shop for specials and coupons (or check, which has discounts and free shipping over $25). Makeup is fantastically over-priced and the discounts can be substantial. Buy department store cosmetics at gift time or when you can get a makeover from a professional makeup artist who will show you how to apply it.

See lists after the jump.


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Your Own Makeover, Skincare & Grooming

So, once you’re putting together fabulous outfits, the next step is hair and makeup. For this I reviewed books by Carmindy and Bobbi Brown, and can recommend both, though your average beauty magazine will probably tell you the same thing (except for the part about eyebrows--I hadn't seen that before). I actually think 90% of beauty is a healthy glow, the confidence that comes from being happy with ourselves, and a genuine smile. So you should spend most of your efforts on getting enough sleep, coping with and removing stress, eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables, and getting enough exercise. I know, easier said than done. The things that most help after that are clear, moisturized skin, white teeth, and an appropriate eyebrow shape/color. That means the most important part of your morning makeup routine is actually washing your face, putting on moisturizer with sunscreen, and brushing your teeth.

You should choose your skin care products based on your skin type. If you have oily skin, use foaming gel cleanser (like L’Oreal Ideal Balance) and an oil-free lotion with SPF 15 or higher. You must use lotion to keep your skin from compensating and producing more oil. Lotions with Alpha Hydroxy Acids will help exfoliate skin and keep pores clear. If you have normal skin, you probably actually have combination skin, and need to choose products from the “oily” and “dry” categories as they meet your needs. If you have dry skin, use a creamy cleanser (like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser) and a moisturizing cream with SPF 15 or higher. If skin feels tight five minutes after applying moisturizer, your formula isn’t rich enough. Try using a humidifier in winter for extra moisture. Once you are consistently wearing a moisturizer with SPF, you will need a self-tanner. I hate extra steps, so I wanted a daily moisturizer with SPF and tanning lotion all-in-one. I found:
Jergens Natural Glow Face Moisturizer (which Carmindy recommends), Neutrogena Summer Glow,
Olay Regenerist Touch of Sun UV Regenerating Lotion, and
Olay Complete Touch of Sun.
If none of those is moisturizing enough, you can add some super-moisturizing cream and shake it up (try a small mix first to make sure they play well together).

The only other skin product that people are really insistent on at our age is eye cream. If you have puffiness, look for formulas that firm (like Neutrogena Healthy Skin Eye Cream). If, like me, you have dark circles under your eyes, you need to accept that concealer will probably do more for you than anything else. If you have allergies, sometimes getting allergy shots to reduce your reaction can help. When looking for dark circle products, find ones with vitamin K and that DO NOT address puffiness—they can thin the skin making circles appear darker. Shea butter and beeswax are ultra-hydrating at night, but in general, what works during the day should work during the night. Amazon reviewers see results from:
Vita-K solutions,
Neutrogena Radiance Boost Eye Cream, and
Skin-Ceuticals Eye Cream.

If you want more contoured and tanned limbs, body lotion is also a must. Olay makes a Body Touch of Sun without SPF that might be good for legs and arms in the winter. Otherwise, you can make your own. Buy unscented lotion from the drugstore, then mix in essential oils (like coconut, jasmine, or rose), and liquid shimmer (try Sephora Luminizer, Neutrogena Shimmer Sheer, LORAC TANtalizer, Stila All Over Shimmer, or Laura Geller Illuminizing Color Wash).

As for teeth, I think bleaching your teeth sounds scary, so either chat with your dentist or try a whitening toothpaste (such as Colgate Simply White Advanced Whitening). If you’re feeling adventurous, there are many varieties of whitening strips that can be used with strengthening toothpaste.

Perfect brow-shaping:
Carmindy gives the most concrete description I have ever seen of how to shape your brows, and it’s worth checking the book out of the library just to see the pictures.
1) She starts with brushing brows up and trimming any extra-long hairs.
2) Then, you must identify where the brow should begin—she says to rest a brow brush along the side of your nose, and where the brow brush crosses your brow is where your brow should start (or even a tiny bit closer to your nose, according to the picture). Pluck right after your shower for the least pain. Remove any stray hairs in between brows.
3) Your arch should be where the brush crosses your brow when lined up with the outside of your lip and the outer edge of the iris. Pluck hairs under the arch to make it taper more clearly.
4) Your endpoint should be where the brush crosses your brow and is lined up with your nostril and the outer corner of your eye. Pluck any that stray beyond.
In general, err on the side of fuller brows, since they look more youthful.
Interestingly, most models and celebrities dye their brows to both make their hair color more believable and to make their eyes pop. Darker eyebrows give eyes definition, lighter brows soften your look. You lighten them with plain drug-store hair bleach. Take it off in 5-minute intervals your first time until you have a sense of how long to leave it on.

Once you have all of those down, you should be able to do makeup in five quick minutes.

Your Own Makeover, Part II

There is one important part of the clothing makeover that I left out before—style. Previously, I was just aiming to not look bad as inexpensively as possible. However, for many people, there is another level—a personal style. Tim Gunn discusses the need to acquaint yourself with particular looks and choose a style mentor. He lists many women and several common styles, but because his book doesn’t have pictures, I had sort of skipped over that part. The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style fills in the gap with MANY pictures, lists of key items, shots of iconic wardrobes, and lists of stores to shop at to get the look (most are very expensive). It covers ten styles:
1) Euro Chic (early Catherine DeNeuve, Carine Roitfeld, Charlotte Gainsbourg)
2) California Casual (Faye Dunaway)
3) Rock and Roll (Debbie Harry)
4) Posh Eclectic (Kate Winslett, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett)
5) Mod (Selma Blair, Zooey Deschanel, see “Austin Powers” movies)
6) American Classic (Grace Kelley, Katherine Hepburn, Jackie Onassis)
7) Bombshell (Marilyn Monroe, Ditta Von Teese, Sophia Loren, Scarlett Johanssen)
8) Arty Slick (Tilda Swinton, Bjork)
9) Bohemian (Ali MacGraw, Stevie Nicks)
10) Gamine (Audrey Hepburn, Sofia Coppola, Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst)
It also has a limited “Mix and Match” section at the end.

This book is a real departure from The One Hundred’s simple philosophy that owning a number of classic can’t-go-wrong pieces would allow you to assemble “classic” looks that are uniquely you. It is a book about “looks” someone else made famous and that a million other people are all trying to copy better than the next person. While I believe fashion to be a kind of language, and that you need to learn the vocabulary, I doubt this book is the best way to do it. It is filled with too many pictures of “essentials” disembodied from people, making it difficult to see what makes them essential or how they would go together in an outfit. In short, it can lead to that junior high mentality of deciding who the cool girls are and then trying to get their clothes. The best part about it is that by seeing other people’s wardrobes and hearing them talk about their choices, you begin to be able to see yourself in more daring styles. However, that could probably be better accomplished by watching iconic women in the films that created the styles. In Tim Gunn’s book, he lists a movie for most of the looks he identifies:
1) Euro Chic?/Les Francaises—Catherine DeNeuve in “Belle de Jour”
2) Masculin/Feminin—Katharine Hepburn, Coco Chanel “Masculin/Feminin”, “Desk Set” ”, “Last Year at Marienbad” (Costumed by Coco Chanel)
3) Risk Takers—Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chloe Sevigny, “Sex in the City” *Tim Gunn notes that you should only borrow one piece from any outfit of theirs.
4) Rock and Roll—Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Cat Power, or your favorite rockstar.
5) Bohemians—Beatrice Wood, Donna Karan, Edith Bouvier Beale, “Grey Gardens”
6) Les Doyennes—Deeda Blair, Pauline de Rothschild, Lee Radziwell
7) Power Brokers—Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Vanessa Redgrave “Blow Up,” “The Devil Wears Prada”
8) American Classic—Anything with Grace Kelly or Katharine Hepburn. “The Philadelphia Story”, “Rear Window”, “To Catch a Thief”
9) Bombshell— “L’Avventura”, “Il Grido”, “How to Marry a Millionaire”
10) Siren—Angelina Jolie, Nigella Lawson, Julie Christie “Dr. Zhivago”, “Darling”, “The Go-Between”, “Shampoo”
11) Gamine (the Audrey Hepburn “waif” look)—“Funny Face” or “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” more recently, “Amelie.”

So queue up the NetFlix and settle on the styles you like. The goal is to get a clearer picture of how clothes can help you achieve particular looks and to fall in love with pieces that could make your signature look. If you need a little extra help, our friend Tracy does fashion consulting. She helped me five years ago when I had no idea what to do. In about five hours, I went from having four items of clothing to having an entire wardrobe. Having her hand me something I thought was crazy and then seeing how chic it looked on gave me the courage to move away from "cute" to "professional and hip." Sometimes another point of view is what you really need to remake your style.

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