Week 11: Try a GREEN smoothie.

Packed with nutrition, this can be a really easy “meal.”  I often drink this for breakfast, and find that when I do so on a regular basis, it’s much easier to manage my weight!

This comes slightly adapted from the book “Clean,” which focuses on a bi-annual “cleanse” to rid your body of all the toxins that build up throughout the year. While I did find this cleanse incredibly difficult to do, it is a great read! And I have taken several suggestions from this book. One of the most brilliant is this: “Eat 51% of your foods each day raw.”

While I am not advocating for a raw food diet, I do believe in the common sense theory that cooking destroys many nutrients, and we can get the most nutrition out of foods by eating them in their natural form. So, on that theory, if you eat this simple smoothie for breakfast, and maybe a salad for lunch and an apple for a snack, goal met! I also find that even my already-junk-food-addicted two year old will slurp this down… yep, that’s right raw kale and all!

Best-Smoothie-Ever-Recipe
1 handful of raw greens (kale or spinach)
1 tbsp natural peanut butter
1 tbsp raw cocoa powder (this helps cut the “grassiness” of the kale)
1 banana
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tbsp of chia seed or freshly ground flax seed
1/2 c frozen blueberries
1c rice milk or almond milk

Note: Drink while fresh. a) because it has more nutritional value right after it’s mixed and b) because it really starts to get a weird texture if it starts getting warm 😉

Your challenge this week? C’mon… just try it. I promise it will even have the refuse-to-eat-veggie-ers in your house slurping them down!

 

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Week 10: Try Yoga.

There are few people who would not benefit from doing Yoga. 

For me, yoga is one of those exercises I have a lot of trouble making myself do. However, every time I do it, afterward I feel so good, I always think, MAN I need to do that more often! It is one of the most scale-able exercises out there, meaning it has benefit to almost every audience who could possibly be reading this blog.  Read below to find which category you identify most with, and what the possible benefits could be to you?

The “Seasoned Athlete”: For many athletes, especially runners and triathletes, much of the motions you do are repetitive forward motions. This can make your hip flexors very tight. I have run quite consistently since I was 13 (with little stretching), so yoga teachers can usually pick me out of a class lineup because of my inflexible hips. By incorporating Yoga into your workout regimen, you can increase your flexibility, decrease your chance for injury, and learn breathing techniques that can enhance your endurance. 

The “Couch Potato”: If you are doing nothing, Yoga can be a good place to start! If you need any inspiration, watch this short video about how Yoga helped a crippled man walk again. You are likely starting in a better position than he is! There are lots of beginner classes and they are usually taught by really positive, granola-y, happy people that make you feel good just to be alive. If the idea of running makes you want to dive back into bed, yoga may be a much more approachable place to start. Yoga uses your body weight for resistance, encourages movements that increase flexibility, and all of this takes place in an approximately 2’x6’ rectangle. (It also usually ends with a nap if you are like me. I can never make it through the eyes closed relaxation part!) 

The “I once was an athlete but I’ve had some sort of injury that makes me feel like I can’t do what I used to do athlete”: One of the greatest things about Yoga is the ability to tailor it to individual needs. Even in group yoga classes, they usually ask at the beginning if anyone has any injuries, and are able to give you “modifiers” throughout the class to avoid further injury. Again, if you need any further motivation, check out the video mentioned above in the “Couch Potato” section. You are also likely starting off in a better place than he is! 

The “Aging Athlete”:  I am not sure how that 100 year old guy is still running marathons. For most of the athletes that I have known in my life, there comes a time when he recognizes that he “ain’t no spring chicken no mo.” This is an especially hard realization to come to terms with as a runner. Many shift to swimming since it’s one of the softest exercises on your joints. If that works for you, GREAT!  Yoga can also be a good complement and can help increase your flexibility, maintain your mobility, decrease your chance for injury, and learn breathing techniques that can enhance your endurance.

The “Aging Non-Worker-Outer”: A healthy lifestyle can actually prolong your life. Are you noticing a little more fluff around the middle once you passed a certain age? Maybe you used to be able to eat whatever you wanted without exercise and not gain wait, but somehow in recent years it seems to be catching up to you? Maybe you are noticing after you’ve passed 40 it takes a little extra OOFDA (and a small pully system) to get your rear end off of that couch? Or maybe you are noticing that simple things like tying your shoes is getting more difficult than it used to be? Yoga can be a great exercise to ensure that you are maintaining mobility into your “highly experienced” years. That’s right, it can make simple things like tying your shoes or chasing your grand kids possible for longer.

The “Pregnant-Lady”: There are huge benefits to you and the baby if you stay active throughout your pregnancy. While most suggest not to start something new when you first find out you are pregnant, yoga, in my mind can be an exception to that rule simply because it is so low impact. With minor modifications like no backbends, no deep twists, no dangerous inversions, and don’t lay on your stomach you can get a pretty good workout in within a fairly short amount of time. It can also help you practice your breathing, focus and build up endurance for labor! Be aware though that as you get closer to your due date, your body begins to release hormones that actually loosen your ligaments to prepare your hip openings for labor. Care must be taken to not cause injury in your “loosened” state. Those hormones do not fully go away until you are done breastfeeding, so additionally Yoga can be a great way to start getting your post baby body whipped back in shape with less risk for injury. 

A few other suggestions for all of the above groups:

  1. Join a class or yoga studio when you are just beginning. I know it can be expensive, but most yoga places will let you do a trial class, or possibly even a trial week or month. Your best bet is to get proper coaching to start so you know you are doing the poses properly. You may get injured by doing the exercises wrong or possibly just miss getting the full benefit. And who likes wasted time? You can transition to an at home video later, but to start, make sure you are doing it right.
  2. Mix Yoga with something else. Yoga by itself is a great exercise, but I still recommend getting your heart rate up in addition. The danger with yoga (and the nice wide range of skill levels it suits) is that some of the types of exercises are more focused on JUST stretching and relaxation, which by itself may not be enough. By coupling it with at least 20 minutes of cardio a few times a week, you can get the unique benefits of both exercises. Side note: NEVER RUN RIGHT AFTER YOGA. You may be “too loose” and are more prone to injury.
  3. Do Yoga multiple times a week to get the full benefit. If you are a “Couch Potato” bravo for just getting started somewhere! If you are a “Seasoned Athlete” or have an extensive other workout agenda, once a week may also be enough for you. BUT, IF you are looking to get results from yoga, whether your goal is to gain flexibility, mobility or just to get in better shape, you WILL see better results if you can fit it in 3 or more times per week.
  4. Do not be discouraged. Most people suck at Yoga the first time they do it. In fact, it may seem like it’s not much of a workout at all at first. Stick with it. Give yourself a chance! It’s kind of like drinking coffee. Few really love coffee at first, it’s more of an acquired taste. Same with Yoga, and the better you get at it, the more benefits you will feel from it.

So, your health nudge challenge this week? Try Yoga. Better yet, sign up for a month long class! 

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Week 9: Manage your portions.

America is the fattest country in the world, and getting fatter. It’s no secret that portion sizes are increasing while nutritional content is decreasing. If you compare portion sizes and caloric content now versus just 20 years ago, you’ll see we’ve really lost our view of what a “normal” portion is. One serving of meat should be the size of a deck of cards. One pancake should be the size of a CD. Portion sizes are so vital, they can be the difference between being overweight, obese or healthy.

So here are some tips to help get your portion sizes back in check:

1. Ask for a to-go container when you order. This is one technique you have likely heard of, but few of us actually have the willpower to do it. Simply ask for a to-go container when you order, and put half of your portion into the container. I also recommend tying a knot in a plastic bag so you aren’t tempted to “nibble.”

2. Don’t put the vat on the table. When serving food at home, portion the plates without bringing the whole casserole (or whatever) to the table. When faced with temptation (i.e. an entire pan of something delicious) staring at you just a fork’s length away, few will resist. Better yet, put the extra away before you sit down to eat.

3. Individually portion leftovers. This is my favorite “trick” when eating at home. It forces you to dictate portions when you’re not starving. Then, when you come home later in the week and you ARE starving, you’ll just warm up ONE container. Strangely, this is often less overwhelming to me than dishing it out of a larger container, and will keep you from spooning it directly out of the vat of food and into your mouth. Maybe it will even help you opt to eat in over takeout food?

4. Note serving sizes. Often we are tricked by “individual containers” that contain 1.5 servings. Or ridiculous serving sizes (I mean, who really eats .5 cups of ice cream at a time!?)  Be sure with everything that you open, you note how much a serving size truly is. Dish out an appropriate size before you start eating, then sit down to eat it. (i.e. don’t take the entire bag of chips to the table.) Don’t eat standing. Don’t snack in front of the TV. Both make you less aware of what you are putting into your mouth.

Your challenge this week? Become aware of appropriate portion sizes. Set yourself up for success when eating out and eating at home, whether fresh cooked food, leftovers, or snacks. In the words of Rob Schneider, Youu can dooo iiiit! 

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Week 8: Find your work out “style”.

According to the Mayo clinic, Exercise can improve your mood, stamina and sex life. How many more reasons do you need to get moving?

In addition to last week’s “confessional” about how easy accountability can be with some of the aps available now, I also want to be sure to stress two more things: First of all, these changes are NOT part of a diet, or new “program” that you are doing and will be quitting… they have to be a change to your lifestyle! And secondly, you can’t JUST get your eating in check and expect MAJOR changes. While you may see some initial GOOD results, your food intake AND exercise MUST be aligned for GREAT results.

So, I’m going to help you out a little. Let’s identify your work out “style” which will make it easier for you to stick to it. So, to start, please take the below Seventeen-Magazine-Style-Quiz:

1. What motivates you to work out?
A. When I feel like people are watching me, I do better.
B. When I know I am meeting someone, I’m more likely to go.
C. Convenience is key.

2. What’s your biggest challenge to get up and go workout?
A. I MUST get out of my house.
B. I MUST have someone call me, or meet someone there. I really won’t go on my own.
C. If it’s not easy and time efficient, I simply won’t do it.

3. What types of workouts do you enjoy?
A. I love options. Some days the treadmill, other days something new?
B. I love routine. Will someone please just tell me what to do?
C. Something that is over quickly.

4. What are you financially willing to invest in a workout program?
A. Monthly fees are fine. I can commit to a year.
B. Let’s start with one session. I can commit to 6 weeks, and the financial skin in the game will motivate me.
C. I have very little money to spend on this.

Time to tally up your score. In true cheesy magazine style, your answer of course is obvious before you’re even done answering the questions:

Mostly A’s = Gym Rat.
If this is you, join a gym! No, it doesn’t mean you will look like Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of this, it just likely means you are motivated by getting out of the house and physically going to a place specifically designed for working out. Many places now have quite a few classes included with membership, so if you were a combination of A’s and B’s, this could be a great option for you. Many gyms also have complimentary personal trainer sessions when you join. One of the greatest things about the gym is their options for variety in cardio and weight training equipment.

Mostly B’s = Group Therapy.
If this is you? You are likely motivated by the social aspects of working out, or perhaps just someone making it simple by telling you what to do. You could join a local yoga studio, find a local boot camp group, Curves (one of the most effective group programs I have done), or for a lower budget version partner up with a neighbor to walk in your neighborhood. If you have even more of a budget, you can even hire a personal trainer, the ultimate in personal accountability!

Mostly C’s = Homeward Bound.
If this is you, make a small investment in some cheap tools to outfit your home. This CAN be the most cost effective of the options, but do note you will need extra motivation to steer away from the popcorn on the couch in favor of your yoga mat and workout DVD. If you are not a naturally motivated individual, I’d suggest another option! As you likely guessed from my last post, this is me! As a working mama of two, time is of the essence, so I have found working out at home to be one of the best ways to be able to fit it all in. It cuts out all that wasted time driving to the gym, and I can even squeeze it in with napping kids or after bedtime. As you know I have been on a Jillian Michaels video kick, but there are many other video options, on demand workouts, running outside, or a friend of mine even found a great youtube program that was like having a personal trainer on his computer. 

Notice as we walked through all of these options, the questions did not focus on WHAT you do, but what motivates you to do it. There are so many options these days, find what works with your lifestyle. It is vital whether you are a Gym Rat, Group Therapy or Homeward Bound that you mix cardio and weight lifting. Cardio will help you burn calories and lose weight, but weight training will help you build muscle, which means you will be burning more calories even when you are at rest.

Your challenge this week? Find a workout program… wait… No, find a workout LIFESTYLE that fits you!

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Week 7: Just do it.

I know, I know, it’s an over-used old Nike tagline, but it’s true! How many of us have made excuses for not getting healthier? Oh, work is just to crazy to focus on this right now. I’m just too busy. For me it was, I just had a baby and I’m not sure we’re done, so… (Yep, been milking that one for 4 years now…) Whatever your excuse is, drop it.

I have been amazed over the past few weeks. I generally eat healthy… or so I thought. But since I started blogging, I have been following my own advice and increasing my awareness about what I am eating and how much I am exercising. Guess what? I wasn’t eating as well as I thought. And I wasn’t in nearly as good of physical shape as I was in my head!  Could this be you?

On a co-worker’s recommendation I downloaded the “My fitness pal” ap. (That co-worker, by the way, has lost over 30 lbs using the ap.) I must say, it is way easier than my first recommendation of keeping a notebook because it totals everything up for you. But the principle is still the same. Awareness changes behavior. It creates accountability, and affects how you see yourself. It’s like holding up a mirror to your face everyday to show you where you’re great and where you are weak.

As someone who has tried every diet fad in the book (see week 6 post)… I can’t believe how simple this is. All I am doing is counting calories by typing in the foods I eat, tracking portion sizes and logging my exercise. Who knew?!

Now, unfortunately our scale is broken, so I have not weighed myself recently and can’t get you any “official” stats… but I can SEE a physical difference and most importantly I FEEL healthier! I am seeing muscles and toning I haven’t seen since pre-baby #1.  My clothes fit looser, and I already have more energy. I love the quote on the attached image: It takes four weeks for you to see your body changing. (Check! Just completed week four of Jillian Michael’s “ripped in 30”) It takes 8 weeks for friends and family, and it takes 12 weeks for the rest of the world.  KEEP GOING.

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Your challenge this week? KEEP GOING!

 

 

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Week 6: Read the ingredients FIRST.

I have been on the diet roller-coaster before. Maybe some of you have been along with me? First we counted fat. Companies came out with all kinds of low-fat, then no-fat solutions. Then there was counting carbs. Next the Atkins diet where you can’t eat ANY carbs. Again, companies came out with low-carb, no-carb solutions. (And Mr. Atkins is rumored to have died of his own diet, by the way…) Then there was “the Zone” diet and similar South Beach diet where you count your fat, protein AND carbs. (Now THAT was a lot of counting and nutrition fact reading.) And many of us have likely touched the low-sugar or no-sugar craze with fake sweeteners. I have even tried the vegan route, with no-dairy and no-meat options. And the latest is gluten free/wheat free. So if we total that all up, we are supposed to eat no-fat, no-carb, no-sugar, no-meat, no-dairy, no-gluten, no wheat. So what the heck DO we eat?

Whether it’s frustration from all of the roller-coaster diet fads, or trying to figure out what to feed my kids that won’t make them grow a second head, get ADHD or cancer…  I have decided to throw all of it (well, most of it) out the window in favor of common sense. Imagine that. Our food chain has unfortunately become so far removed from the farm to table status, and in some instances so overly processed, we have no idea what we are putting into our bodies anymore.

So, instead of focusing on how many fat, calories, carbs, etc… are listed on the nutrition label, I suggest FIRST reading the ingredients. Focus on foods that have fewer ingredients, words that you recognize/can pronounce, and that are closest in form to how mother nature made them. I try to avoid preservatives, food coloring,  high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. In moderation, perhaps these things can be fine, however I don’t think there is enough research done on the cumulative effects of when these things are in many foods we eat without even realizing it.

So why these items?

  1. Preservatives and food dyes just scare me. Preservatives are believed to cause allergic reactions, birth defects, cancer, and other health problems. So why do we use them? They are designed to keep us from getting food poisoning (a noble cause!) but have become so commonplace that again the cumulative effect can be very negative and is still largely unknown. Not to mention that the whole idea of “preserving food” gets it further and further away from the fresh, farm to table concept. Maybe there’s a reason we shouldn’t eat food that has been dead/picked/harvested for that long? So what do we watch for? The list is ENDLESS, and you can’t possibly memorize this whole thing, so I will pick on food coloring  sodium nitrates and any long unrecognizable words. I have heard personal stories about kids having night terrors that have linked back to allergies to certain food coloring  Also specifically bad in my mind are sodium nitrates, chemicals frequently found in hot dogs,  lunchmeats, and other meats which are known to cause cancer and can be especially dangerous for children and pregnant women. In general, the less preserved a food is (theoretically) the fresher it must be.
  2. High fructose corn syrup. While high fructose corn syrup has gotten an increasingly bad rap lately, the truth is it’s more about how MUCH we eat than whether we eat it. High fructose corn syrup was introduced in the 1970’s offering a low cost sweet alternative to the food industry. And we DO love sweet! To quote a great informative article from gizmodo, “There also happened to be big jump in obesity which started in the 1970s, right around the same time HFCS entered the food and beverage industry, and has continued on the upswing. That might seem like pretty damning evidence. But it’s likely that this cheaper way to make sweets only led to easier, less-expensive access to high sugar foods, which in turn led to a jump in consumption; it doesn’t necessarily mean HFCS is some magic make-you-fat bullet.” There is some evidence that high fructose corn syrup is more difficult for your body to digest than plain sugar, however the overarching case is that the problem lies in the quantity we eat. Ingredients are listed in the order of quantity in your food. So as you look at nutrition labels, if sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or other sweeteners are in the first couple of ingredients on the label (or split up into high fructose corn syrup AND sugar to make it appear less) it’s better to put it back on the shelf, or save your sugar consumption for the places you really “need” it (a.k.a. your “special treats.”) and be sure it’s not the second ingredient listed in all twelve of the different foods you eat in a day.
  3. Artificial sweeteners. (Well, artificial anything, really…).  As we think through all the foods we are potentially supposed to avoid mentioned above, it’s easy to jump to the substitutes. We now have sugar free sugar, fat free fat and carb-free carbohydrates.  So do we really think all of these no-______ substitutes are any better for us? If anyone ever accidentally ate a whole bag of “WOW chips” you will probably agree they can’t possibly be good for us. (I know some of you know what I am talking about!) The substitutes just CAN’T be any better for us. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about which sweeteners are OK and which aren’t. The truth is that in moderation, they probably are OK, but many of us lean on the substitutes to be a magic solution to a food craving we have (insert sugar, carbs, or fatty foods here). According to a 2009 Time article, no evidence indicates that sweeteners cause obesity; people with weight problems simply tend to eat more of it.  So when you replace ____ (Sugar/fat/carbs) with fake ____ (Sugar/fat/carbs) the likelihood that you are consuming in higher-than-moderation levels is where the danger comes in.

So, your challenge this week is to read the ingredients FIRST. You may count calories, carbs, fat, whatever strikes your fancy in addition to this, but FIRST read the label. Be sure you recognize what you are putting into your body! Choose foods with short ingredient lists and recognizable words. If you’re like me when I started doing this… it may be a shocking week!

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Week 5: Define YOUR Healthy Weight.

While this blog is about health, not necessarily about weight loss, it is important to establish our starting point and goals early on. It’s also impossible to ignore weight as a factor in “being healthy.” Hopefully you’ve already got a few weeks under your belt just tracking where you are in food consumption. Hopefully you’ve started drinking more water, and hopefully you are consciously moving a bit more. Our first few weeks really focused on awareness. Now, let’s get serious.

To start, calculate your BMI here.

The same article goes on to give you two options to measure whether your weight is in a healthy zone. For some, BMI is not accurate enough. If measuring BMI is not for you,” including people who have more muscle mass (like athletes), seniors with less muscle mass or people under 5 feet tall.”  Note that this site is put on by the cancer research institute (read: You are at higher risk of Cancer and many other health problems if you are overweight.) Read here for more details about the link to cancer and other diseases. 

Now, were you surprised? Over one third of our country is considered obese and that percentage is climbing. So if you are in the red or orange zone, you are not alone. It’s easy to see how we got to this point. Watch TV and it’s like every restaurant is trying to one-up each other in the “who-has-the-most-delicious-looking-least-nutritious-food” department. Just TRY to make healthy choices at a fast food restaurant… it’s HARD. Restaurants like Panera masquerade themselves as healthy, but it’s almost easier to make unhealthy food choices there because you THINK you are doing better than you probably are! 

Food is a central part of our social structure, seemingly urging us to eat, eat, eat.  It’s just what we do when we get together, right? Additionally, eating rich foods actually triggers a pleasure center in the brain, which, according to a recent New York Times article can become an addiction just like alcohol or substance abuse. And there’s no help for that. People with most addictions can just quit, but people with food issues still have to eat. (Note: I am NOT suggesting ANY addicts have it easy!) Moderation is a tough thing to achieve. 

So, now that we know our starting point, what does your goal to get healthy look like? Is it to lose weight? Are you in the green zone, but want to tone up? Drop that last 5-10 lbs? Based on the BMI calculator, what would a healthy weight for YOU look like?  Your challenge this week: Define your weight goal.  

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