Getting SwimSuit Slim

Though all the holiday merriment is great fun, there’s only so much drinking and eating you can do before the pounds start showing up. And isn’t January the time when we all promise to do better with our eating and exercise habits? So, to give you some perspective on how we healthy up here in Key West, this following story appeared in Flavors a fabulous food magazine published out of Atlanta. My good friend and dietitian colleague, Carolyn O’Neil (who, by the way, was CNN’s first food and nutrition reporter) interviewed me for this story while visiting Key West last year and it seemed appropriate to share with all of you at this time of year. For all of you hiding under that flannel and fleece up north…better work on it now because summer and swimsuits will be here before you know it.

Keys to a Healthy Vacation By Carolyn O’Neil

Remember when beach vacations were all about eating too much, drinking too much, partying until dawn and lying in the hot sun doing nothing? Well, it turns out that many people today are using their vacation time to do just the opposite. With precious days away from a hectic work schedule that robs personal time to attend to health goals, the vacation is emerging as an opportune time to focus on fitness. Registered dietitian Donna Shields has noticed this emerging health trend in her conversations with locals and visitors in Key West, Fla., where she is a self-professed “southernmost nutritionist” and “diet coach to the beach bums. So, let’s go to the Keys to learn the keys to a healthy vacation from fellow dietitian Donna Shields.

Article originally published in Flavors Magazine.

Carolyn: Vacations used to mean dropping out of everything including fitness goals, but today it seems that busy folks want to use their time off to take care of themselves. What simple things can they do to stay fit on vacation?

Donna: Leave the car keys in the hotel room and start walking everywhere. This is simple to do in a small town, like Key West, where it’s flat and accessible, but even if you’re in a more remote resort location and need to cab to places, you can still make it work. Even fishing can be strenuous if you’re going after big tarpon or sailfish. On a more realistic note, check out where the locals go for exercise classes. Find out from the concierge where the neighborhood yoga or dance studio is located. It’s a good way to mix ‘n’ mingle with non-tourists and get the skinny on the town. And don’t forget about yoga classes on the beach. Bet you can’t do that at home!

Carolyn: In the Keys, it seems everyone rides a bike instead of renting a car. What can bike riding do for you?

Donna: Biking in Key West is what I would call “functional” exercise. It’s practical, quick, and very green; there’s no hassle or cost of parking. It’s great for the quadriceps muscles, which don’t get much use if you’re used to sitting at a desk all week. The town is completely flat (highest point is 13 feet above sea level), so it’s easy, even if you haven’t been on a two-wheeler for 20 years. It’s the ideal way to check out the little lanes and dead-end streets that go unnoticed when whizzing by in a car. Using pedal-power to get around is good for your body and the planet.

Carolyn: Beach towns bring to mind fresh fish and tropical fruit...but of course, there’s plenty of French fries and beer. What kinds of foods do you recommend for people to focus on during vacation?

Donna: Order the local seafood. In our case, it’s often Key West Pinks (shrimp), dolphin (often called mahi-mahi), grouper and conch (also the nickname of Key West locals). Order it blackened, grilled, pan sautéed or anything but fried. Conch seviche will have little, if any, added fat as it’s a very fresh preparation of lime juice, onion, usually some habañero peppers. The acid of the lime juice actually cooks and helps tenderize the conch muscle. Mango and other tropical fruit salsas can be a healthy accompaniment to an entrée or as a sandwich topping, giving lots of fresh flavor, few calories and a nutritious choice. And when you do want that over-the-top-dish, share it with your traveling companion, add an appetizer or two and you’re set.

Carolyn: OK...I’m at the pool at Key West’s historic and recently renovated Casa Marina Resort and the waiter comes by with a tray of cocktails. Which one should I get...Mimosa, Piña Colada, Mojito, or the Strawberry Daiquiri?

Donna: The Mimosa is probably the best bet. The orange juice at least provides some vitamin C. And the Mojito would also be a good choice, although it will contain some simple syrup or sugar; most of this rum beverage is club soda, which is calorie-free. Frozen blended drinks such as the famous Key West Margaritas are usually loaded with sugar, made from presweetened mixes. Piña Coladas are a double whammy in that they also can be fairly high in fat due to the cream of coconut.

Carolyn: What are the health benefits of walking on the beach and just relaxing?

Donna: Feeling healthy can take different forms for different people and while having fun on vacation is important, doing something nice for yourself can also make you feel better. If you never, ever get a chance to read a book, then lying in a hammock, swinging under a palm tree with a good read might just be the thing you need to do. It’s the little, unexpected, unannounced moments that make a vacation healthy for body, mind and spirit.

The food of the islands has its own special charm and aiming to take the fear out of the feasting, dietician and culinary instructor Donna Shields has penned Caribbean Light, a healthy romp through the kitchens of our West Indian neighbors. This and many other down island delicacies are available through Caribbean Light.

To order a signed copy of Caribbean Light click here.

About Donna Shields

Donna Shields, our new culinary contributor, is an expert on many food topics but especially on the flavors of the islands. Not only is she a long time Key West resident with lots of good stories to tell, but the girl is qualified to talk food. She’s a former instructor from the Culinary Institute of America, a recipe developer and nutrition spokesperson for major food companies, food writer and cookbook author of Caribbean Light, 2008.