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Q: Have you always loved food?
Divya: As long as I can remember. I'm Punjabi, and our whole culture is based on eating. As soon as you finish breakfast, you're planning what you're going to have for the next meal. I took cooking classes in college, and moonlighted as a caterer when I was working in the corporate world; finally I switched to food full-time.
Q: Your job revolves around cooking and giving food advice to others. It must be hard for a food lover to avoid overindulgence...
Divya: You have to find a balance. The number one thing I tell people is to stay active. And I don't mean going to the gym. If you have a desk job and you sit all day, then hit the gym after work, you're fighting a losing battle with your weight. You need to stand up from your desk, walk up and down the hall, take a 10-minute walk around the block at lunchtime. Do some jumping jacks in the ladies' room! It's all these little things that add up to staying slim. If you think "I've done an hour at the gym, so now I can just sit all day" you're not going to be happy with the results.
Q: What about when women travel? It's not always easy to find a gym in another city, or to pack all your workout clothes and shoes.
Divya: My solution is to take a light jump rope with me, whenever I'm traveling. It takes up almost no room in my luggage, and I can pull it out in my hotel room and skip rope for 10 minutes. It gets your heart rate up and works your muscles. People think they need to commit to a big workout, but it's these small moments of being active throughout the day that matter most.
Q: What are some other calorie burners?
Divya: Cooking! And really everything around the house -- gardening, pulling weeds, walking to the store, cleaning. It's not about one workout that takes a ton of time and burns all your calories for the day; it's about keeping yourself moving, however you can, all day long.
Q: It's the season when everyone is tired, overworked, feeling stressed -- and that turns into takeout for dinner. How can we avoid the fat traps?
Divya: The biggest problem I see isn't even so much what people order, it's how much of it they eat. You assume the portion you get is the equivalent of a dinner portion. So if a giant container of Chinese noodles arrives, you eat the whole thing. When actually, that could probably have served three people. My husband does this all the time -- he eats the noodles straight from the container, like that's a single serving.
Q: So what should women do instead?
Divya: Remove a small serving from the container onto your plate, leave the container in the kitchen, sit down and enjoy your food. I mean, really enjoy it and savor it and don't be distracted by the TV or cell phone or whatever. Focus on your food and the flavors and how good it is. You're better able to know when you're full if you pay attention to what you're eating.
Q: Are there some menu picks that are better or worse than others?
Divya: Yes. With Chinese food, a lot of it's fried, and a lot of it is in high-cal sauce. Order steamed when you can, and ask for sauce on the side if possible. It's not about skipping the sauce completely -- we know it's tasty! -- but using it as a condiment for dipping rather than having your vegetables drowning in oil and sodium. Also, go for brown rice, which will keep you feeling full longer.
Q: What about another popular takeout choice, Italian food?
Divya: Cheese is one of the biggest offenders in Italian cuisine. And also cream sauce. Stick with marinara sauce and look for meats that are grilled. Fish is another great option if you're ordering Italian.
Q: What's your bottom line for readers in Sexy Women Eat?
Divya: I want women to respect their relationship with food. We live in a country of feast or famine. We're an overweight population, yet many young women have eating disorders. I want women to eat food and enjoy it.
Divya Gugnani's book, Sexy Women Eat (HarperCollins), is now available in stores.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, January 2011.