Monthly Archives: August 2013

How to Keep The Cheesecake Factory a Healthy Option

After millenia of waiting, our metropolitan area has just gotten a Cheesecake Factory. This makes my family quite happy, since up until now we’ve only had the pleasure of going there when visiting out-of-state family.

The Cheesecake Factory is one of those places that has the potential to sabotage healthy eating or to fit right into a nutritionally sound plan. Luckily, the restaurant does a super job of acommodating requests.

One of the potential dietary pitfalls presents itself before you’re even seated: when you wait a long time for a table, you can get really hungry. When you’re really hungry, you tend to order differently than you would if you weren’t quite so ravenous. Before heading to the restaurant, it helps to eat a low-fat cheese stick or a dozen almonds or a tomato or a few slices of apple. In addition to preventing you from super-hungry-ordering, it also helps protect you from the next potential dietary downfall: that bread basket.

Those warm, soft-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside loaves of yumminess are really hard not to plow right through when you’re famished. One of the loaves is whole wheat and the other is sourdough, both reasonalbly healthy choices as far as bread goes, but in moderation. And it’s quite difficult to be moderate when it’s sitting right in front of you. Ask your server to please not bring the bread until your meal arrives.

Order a glass of water or an unsweetened iced tea as you sit down at the table. Their regular iced tea is really good, as are the fruit-flavored ones (I especially like the passionfruit). Ask for a wedge of lemon or orange to go with your drink. The liquid will quench your thirst and make you feel less hungry as you peruse the menu.

And what a menu it is! Not quite as thick as a phone book, but it could use an index or table of contents. Their lower-calorie, lower-fat, higher-vegetable-content options are listed on their “SkinnyLicious” menu. I personally feel kind of like an idiot when I use that word, so I tend to point to the item in the menu as I’m ordering so I don’t actually have to say it. The items on this menu are here because of calorie count – many still contain sugar and refined carbohydrates. They are very good about substituting (regardless of what part of the menu you order from), so you can easily ask them to skip the rice and add extra veggies if you want your carbohydrate splurge to be a piece or two of the bread. By the way, if you haven’t tried it – the Tuscan Chicken is very good.

One of the things I love about The Cheesecake Factory is that they have excellent (and very big) salads. Again, they are very accommodating with requests, so it’s easy to substitute a little extra of one of the vegetables instead of the bacon, and to go light on the cheese, etc. They will also bring you olive oil and vinegar/lemon wedges/lime wedges instead of whatever high-salt, high-sugar dressing normally comes with it. And they’ll add basil, oregano, cilantro, or other herbs or spices if you’d like. Added bonus – since the olive oil is at the table, you can use it to dip your bread in rather than using butter, so you get healthy monounsaturated fats. On non-salad orders, ask for broccoli or mixed vegetables instead of mashed potatoes.

This is one of those restaurants where they definitely don’t skimp on portion size. Ask for a box to be brought to the table as soon as your meal arrives. Separate the portion of food you want to consume at this particular meal and put the rest in the box. This way you will get another meal out of it, you won’t accidentally eat until your stomach hurts, and your dollar will be stretched.

And now we get to the end of the meal and the subject for which the restaurant was named. They have good-tasting desserts, but they’re not really the healthiest choices. If you absolutely must have a piece of cake, order one piece and a fork for everyone at the table, and order some berries to go with it. Cut the cake into several pieces so that everyone can have a taste. If there is only you or one or two other people at the table, ask them to bring a small (half-sized or quarter-sized) piece. If the piece they bring is too big, take a two-or-three-bite sized piece for each person and ask them to take away the rest. Savor the bites. This helps your body stay used to portion control on this type of food.

Savor the tastes and textures of your meal and the voices and company of the people with you. Bon appetite.

Insurance Irritations

I was speaking with someone the other day who suggested I write about dealing with health insurance companies. He had just had a frustrating morning on the phone.

I’ve been there, on both the doctor’s side and the patient’s side of the phone call, albeit never on the insurer’s side. Fewer activities are more maddening, but in my personal experience they have tended to work out ok.

In general, I would rather get sunscreen in my eyes than have to call my health insurance carrier. However, since I’m really not given a choice between the phone call and the sunscreen, I have to make the call. There are some ways to make the experience a little better.

First, it always helps to be prepared. Have your insurance card with you so you have quick access to all the numbers you might need (contract number, group code, plan code, ID number, etc.). Also make sure you know the last four digits of the social security number of the primary enrollee (i.e. the person through whom you obtain your insurance – your self, your spouse, your parent…) since the person who eventually answers your call may not talk to you if you can’t confirm who you are with this number. They may also ask you to confirm your address, but most of us don’t find this too difficult to remember (unless, of course, we have steam coming out of our ears because we’ve been on hold for an hour…).

Why are you calling your health insurance company? Write down your questions and leave space between them to write down answers later. If your issue is that something was not covered that you had thought would be, have your EOB (Explanation of Benefits) statement from the insurance company in front of you that has the code or explanation on it regarding the issue of concern. Also have your billing statement from your doctor’s office or the hospital/clinic/etc. for this particular issue in front of you as well. Make sure the dates of service match, and you know what your bill was for in the first place. Many times, a quick call to your doctor’s office (or doctor’s biller) will clear things up, and they may be able to explain your insurance company’s response and figure out what the problem is. Write down the name of the person to whom you’ve spoken and what she has said regarding the situation. Date these notes.

If you still have not had your question answered or problem resolved after speaking with your doctor’s/hospital’s billing office, ask them the name of the specific person to whom you should refer your insurance company’s representative. Then it’s time to call your insurance company.

Never make that phone call to the insurance associates when you only have a few minutes before you need to leave for a meeting. You will never be done within a few minutes. Know that you will be sitting on hold for a long time and plan accordingly. Put your telephone on speaker phone and as you dial, put your relevant papers close by and hop on your treadmill or exercise bike. Work on other paperwork. Gather a few puzzles and work on them. Open another window on your computer and read through old DocThoughts blogs. Watch Youtube videos of puppies. Listen to some TED talks. After you’ve punched in your contract/ID number and made a few menu choices, you will be making good use of the time that you are stuck on hold.

It’s amazing the difference this makes in your blood pressure and overall ability to speak coherently once someone answers.

Speaking of someone answering, write down the name of the person who picks up your call. Ask each of your written questions and write down the answers that the insurance representative gives you. Ask for clarification of anything that is not crystal clear. If you are not receiving a satisfactory response to your questions or concerns, ask to be put through to a supervisor and then write down the name of the supervisor with whom you speak. Ask for and write down the name of any person with whom your doctor’s office needs to speak.

Medical billing is remarkably complicated. Do not feel stupid if you don’t understand it. Breathe deeply, and stay calm while you talk. Don’t view the person on the other end of the phone as your enemy – yes, your insurance company makes money, but it does so through providing help to its customers. Consider the person on the phone to be your ally – it will show through in your voice, the conversation will go more smoothly and pleasantly, and the person to whom you are speaking will be more genuinely interested in assisting you.

After you have received all of the relevant information from your insurance carrier, report it back to the appropriate person in your doctor’s office/hospital/etc.. In the rare cases that concerns or disputes are not able to be resolved, it may be helpful to engage the services of someone who specializes in such matters.

But most of the time, facilitating good communication among the involved parties will resolve your issues.

Hee Hees Over ZZZs

You don’t have to have a medical degree to know that people need to get enough sleep. It’s important for memory function, for problem solving ability, for the general ability to function, for children to grow and develop optimally, and for overall good health. It’s really important.

So why does my house, filled with growing teenagers and parents who need their minds to function well, have lights on later than anyone else on our block?

It’s not like we sleep in. We have places to go and things to do. Work, meetings, cross country practice, marching band camp, drama camp. And in a few weeks everything will start even earlier and stretch later.

During the school year, the lights are on late at night because of all the homework that needs to be completed after school, sports practices and meets, music practicing, music lessons, school concerts, rehearsals, meetings…

And then there are some nights when the obligations are over, and our family could catch up on a little of that precious sleep. Like tonight.

But I’m not telling my kids to hit the sack. The giggles coming from the living room, where my husband and our three boys are playing Euchre, are more precious than sleep.

I have no problem, late at night, telling the kids to get off of Facebook and go to bed. But I find it really difficult to tell them to stop making music together, either with their instruments or with their laughter.

They may end up an inch or two shorter than they would have if they had a childhood of adequate sleep. They may have a point or two lower on their ACTs.

But they will have the closeness with one another that I wish for them more than anything else in the world.

I have an early meeting tomorrow, so I’m going to stop writing. I’m going to go join my men in the living room – maybe I can talk them into a few hands of Hearts.

On the Air Today at Noon!

For those of you who may be interested, I am being interviewed by Health Reporter Sean Lee from WWJ, the CBS affiliate radio station in Detroit. today, sometime between noon and 1 p.m.. So listen in on 950 AM radio, or through their website (click the watch/listen tab and then click on the WWJ 950 button) at

I’ll be talking about how to protect yourself and make sure you’re receiving appropriate medical treatments. I’ll update with more detail after today’s show.


Pricey and Priceless

My family and I have recently discovered a ridiculously overpriced but delicious and healthy luxury food enterprise: gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar stores.  You walk into these places and see dozens of little tanks filled with different flavors of the oils and vinegars, and stacks of tiny plastic cups to use for tasting.  You can taste each plain, or combine them to test how they pair.

There are some nice, subtle flavors.  There are some knock-your-socks-off bold flavors.  Some that you’d expect (like a garlic olive oil), and some I wouldn’t have thought of (like a chocolate balsamic vinegar – the woman in the store said it works beautifully served over berries).

I’ve discovered a coconut white balsamic vinegar that I now do not ever want to do without in my kitchen.  Cook up chichen breast or ground turkey breast in it with some tomatoes, crushed garlic, and chopped fresh cilantro.  Squeeze some lime over it when it’s done – to die for.  It works on fish.  And in soups.  It’s just amazing.

So today I had a tired afternoon.  I hadn’t slept well last night, and by late afternoon it caught up with me.  I flopped onto my bed and drifted in and out of a light nap state.  Not one of those refreshing naps, but more the kind that saps out of you whatever energy you may have started with.  So when the family started discussing what we’d do for dinner this evening, I suggested either cereal or eating straight out of a packet of tuna.

Son Number 2 said, “Mom, I’ll make dinner.”

About 20 minutes later, I dragged myself into the kitchen, following the lovely scent of chicken simmering in white wine.  The lemons were sliced and ready to squeeze into the pan.  Our son was also mixing up a batch of fresh quacamole and preparing rice.  We sat down soon after to a delightful meal, accompanied by an arugala salad which was topped with walnut oil and black cherry balsamic vinegar – absolutely perfect.  The flavors awoke my senses (and the rest of me).

Dinner was significantly better than my earlier suggestions would have been.

So keep good ingredients on hand, even if a couple of them cost a little more.  And I highly recommend keeping teenage chefs in the house as well.