Thursday, November 29, 2012

Learning To Love My Muffin Top (okay, maybe not loooooove . . . )

 This photo is of me at about 7 or 8 years old. When I look at this picture, my brain barely registers my silly smirk, the way I am looking confidently right at the camera, or my jaunty pose.  All I see is my muffin top.  This picture was taken right around the time my gymnastics coach told me that I would never be truly competetive as long as I had a fat belly. That one statement has played over and over in my head for the last 30 years. It has changed many times: you won't win dance competitions if you have a fat belly, boys won't like you if you have a fat belly, students aren't going to listen to you if you have a fat belly, your husband won't stay faithful to you if you have a fat belly. The bottom-line message I have been repeating to myself most of my life is that it doesn't matter how smart, loving, fun, accomplished or healthy I am-- I CANNOT consider myself successful if I don't have a perfect body. I realize that my a-hole coach is not entirely responsible for this tape that loops through my head. In our society, we are constantly bombarded by the media and the people around us with the message that our appearances are the most important and defining aspect of our selves (especially for women). Welp, I'm shutting off the tape. I'm making a conscious decision to change my internal dialogue and to contribute positively to the way the people around me feel about their own bodies. To that end I will remember the following lessons.

1. What I say tells my kids how to think about their own bodies and the bodies of the people they love. My daughter is almost 8 years old (same as me in that pic) and we jokingly call her my mini-me. So when I look at this picture, I think of how her experiences right now could shape who she is and how she thinks about herself for the next 10, 30, 50 years. I want her to always know that what she does is much more important than how she looks. That being healthy, smart, kind, loving, resilient, determined and courageous will be the keys to her success. I also want my son to grow up believing that women should be respected and valued for who they are rather than their waist or bra size. If I spend all day talking about how I wish I had a flat stomach or bigger boobs, my children will learn that my physical imperfections are more important than the fact that I am a healthy, happy, and sucessful wife, mother and business woman.

2. What I say tells my friends what I value and can make them feel bad about their own bodies. Sometimes, we try to make our friends feel better by putting ourselves down. Have you ever been part of a conversation like this:

Friend 1:"God, I hate my muffin top."
Friend 2:"Are you kidding? It's barely even noticeable. At least you've got great legs; look at my thunder thighs!"

Now TWO people feel crappy about their bodies! A recent study conducted at Mount Allison University in Canada and published in the research journal Sex Roles, found that after women had a conversation about their bodies with other women, they felt worse about themselves. The researchers believe that when a woman criticizes her own body, she is effectively saying to her friend, "The way my body looks is very important to me and if it is not perfect, then it is unacceptable. Therefore, the way your body looks is also important and if it is not perfect, then you are also unacceptable." I like my friends. I know some really awesome women. The last thing I want to do is make them feel less amazing than they are.

Interestingly, the same study showed that when women talked about exercise, they ended up feeling BETTER about their bodies. So stop comparing body parts and start talking about the Zumba class you're going to take, or how strong your legs are getting in Strength and Stretch, or how flexible you're becoming from taking Yoga, or how your body just made an entire human being from scratch and then pushed it out! If you have to talk about your body, talk about what it can DO and not how it LOOKS.

3. Negative thoughts reinforce neuronal pathways that make me feel bad. By the same token, talking kindly to myself creates new, feel-good pathways. When we learn something new, a new neuronal pathway is created. Every time we rehearse this information the pathway is strengthened. When my coach made his comment about my body, a new pathway was created. For the last 30 years, every time I complained about my muffin top out loud or in my own head, I've strengthened the pathways to those negative thoughts and feelings. It's become automatic that when I look in the mirror, I feel dissatisfied and upset. But if I stop myself, and rehearse positive messages, I can rewire my brain. So instead of berating myself, I will find good things to say about my body. 

My body can:
1. Lift my children into a tree
2. Carry heavy objects and move furniture
3. Coach my son's soccer team
4. Show my daughter how to do a cartwheel (pointed toes and all)
5. Do crazy-fun stuff like take a flying trapeze class
6. Take hikes and explore nature with my family
7. Walk with friends
8. Engage in a career that I absolutely LOVE!
9. Hug my family and friends

What's on your body-loving list?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf (Gluten-Free!!!!)

This is my son's plate from dinner tonight
I usually make a double batch of this recipe in the hopes of having leftovers. This is one of maybe 4 recipes I make that the kids (and Dwayne) actually cheer for when they find out it's for dinner. I found the original recipe on

1/4 cup quinoa (I use the red but the white is fine)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped (Cuisinart!)
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 (20 oz) package of ground turkey (I use Jennie-O, lean)
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. hot pepper sauce (I usually use Frank's Red Hot; if you have a family member who's sensitive to spicy food you might want to use less or omit all together.)
2 Tbs. A1 sauce (the original recipe called for Worscestershire but I didn't have any so I subbed A1 and it was delicious!)
1 egg or egg replacer
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp A1
1 tsp water

1. I use my rice cooker to pre-cook the quinoa and follow the directions for brown rice. Here's how to cook the quinoa stove-top: Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender, and the water has been absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Set aside to cool. If you purchase raw quinoa, you will want to rinse it first. Quinoa in the box should be ready to go.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute; remove from heat to cool.

4. Stir the turkey, cooked quinoa, onions, tomato paste, hot sauce, 2 Tbs. A1, egg, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until well combined (I put surgical gloves on the kids and have them help with this step). The original recipe has you form this into a loose loaf on a baking sheet. I actually make something more like meatballs in a muffin tin. It doesn't take as long to cook and it makes portion control simpler

5. The original recipe calls for mixing the brown sugar, 2 tsp. A1, and 1 tsp water in a small bowl and then rubbing it over the top of the meatloaf. I actually skip this step as the meatballs taste great and I figure "why add the extra sugar?" If you make it once and feel it needs a little extra sumthin', try adding the glaze next time.

6. Bake in the preheated oven until no longer pink in the center, about 50 minutes for a loaf, about 15-25 minutes for balls, depending on size.

When I put this into the Weight Watchers recipe builder a few months ago it came back with 2 points for a muffin-tin sized ball. If you are tracking points, you should make a batch and figure out how many servings you end up with because the size of the balls can vary so much. I'll be interested to hear what other people get when they enter the recipe into the recipe builder. I have not figured out the exact nutrition information and I wouldn't use the original recipe as a guide because that author used fattier ground turkey and I changed a few of the ingredients. But I can tell you that it's got lots of great nutrition and is a yummy dish that will hopefully please your whole family the way it does mine!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Italian Bean Dip

This is a recipe I've made for a few parties and people seem to really enjoy it. It's great as a dip for veggies and would be fantastic as a sandwich spread. I put a TJ next to the ingredients I got at Trader Joes. I'm sure most are easily available at other stores as well. I "cook with love", which is the lazy cook's way of saying, "I don't measure ingredients". You might need to taste as you go and play around with it.

1 -- 15 oz. can Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed TJ
1 -- 14 oz. can of Artichoke Hearts in water, drained TJ
1 -- 12 oz. jar of Fire Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers, drained TJ
1/2 -- bag of Sun-Dried Tomatoes (in a bag, NOT a jar of oil!) TJ
3 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar (splurge on the good stuff, it's worth it!)
3 Tbs. Olive Oil
Fresh Herbs to taste: Basil, Oregano, Sage
Can add garlic to taste (definitely more yummy, but also more smelly!)

All you do is throw the ingredients into a food processor and whirl away.

The recipe makes about 3 1/2 cups total. For a 1/4 cup serving it is 2 Weight Watchers Points Plus. It has fiber, protein, healthy fat, and above all, it's yummy, yummy, yummy, and easy, easy, easy! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Rock Me" Zumba Demo

If you'd like to see a routine we do in my Zumba and Boogie Body classes, click here. The song is "Rock Me" by the Bastard Winos and is available on iTunes. So get up and dance!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

4 Healthy Swaps for Cravings

Cravings suck. They can be induced by

1. Environmental triggers:
  • Seeing a photo of food or a commercial on t.v. -- I've heard the Food Network described as food porn.
  • A certain time of day -- "It's time for Grey's Anatomy and a glass of wine"
  • Something you just ate -- I always crave something sweet after I have something salty and spicy (like chips and salsa)
2. Emotional triggers:
  • You come home after a hard day at work and feel like you "deserve" certain foods
  • You are angry or sad about something and believe that food will help you feel better
  • For me, my cravings are sometimes not even about a specific food but about finding MORE food to eat. I don't get a chance to sit very often so sometimes, when I'm wiped out, I eat past satiety because it gives me an excuse to keep sitting. Hello binge.
3. Hormones:
  • Do I really need to explain?
So how do we deal with them? There are a lot of great answers to this. In The Beck Diet Solution, Judith Beck suggests distracting yourself or telling yourself forcefully, "No Choice!". She believes that if you tell yourself the food is absolutely off-limits, your brain will soon focus on something else and the craving will go away. Unfortunately for me, my brain is sometimes a petulant child and it doesn't like to follow directions. So in those instances, my trick is to substitute a better alternative for what I'm craving. Here are my personal swaps:

1.Salty/Crunchy/Filling: Rather than reach for a bag of chips, I pop some air-pop popcorn. I usually spray grapeseed oil with a mister over the popcorn. The grapeseed oil is a healthy fat, has very little of it's own taste, and gets "stuff" to stick to the popcorn. The mister ensures I don't use a lot. Weight Watchers even has a sprayer that measures out 1 Points Plus worth of oil. Depending on whether or not I'm watching my sodium, I use Hawaiian Salt, a BBQ seasoning, or some of the Mrs. Dash salt-free blends (I particularly like Fiesta Lime and Carribean Citrus) to add flavor. This usually takes care of the craving and I can eat enough to feel full and satisfied. Popcorn also has health benefits such as being high in fiber and packed with polyphenols, antioxidants that help battle all kinds of icky stuff our bodies are exposed to every day. Most of the antioxidants are in the hull, so make sure you're eating that part as well (at least the ones that don't get stuck in your teeth!).

2.  Sweet: Extra Sugar Free Dessert Delights gums. They have a wide range of flavors like Strawberry Shortcake, Orange Creme Pop, Rainbow Sherbet, Key Lime Pie, and Apple Pie (better than it sounds, I swear!). My personal favorites are Mint Chocolate Chip and Root Beer Float. They satisfy my craving for something sweet and my desire to chew. I know there are concerns about artificial sweeteners and I do try to avoid them, but I'm willing to indulge on some sugar free gum if it keeps me from eating a tub of frosting ;)

3. Just want MORE: Ginormous salads. I've been known to fill a large mixing bowl with spinach, spring mix lettuce, and a variety of veggies. Some of my favorite toppings are: roasted bell peppers, artichoke hearts packed in water, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, beets, snap peas, corn, grilled zucchini, asparagus tips, and avocado. If I actually want a meal, I might add beans, lentils, or meat such as grilled chicken, tuna salad or steak. I try to use oil-based salad dressings and sometimes I just mix up good balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I either dip my fork before I spear some salad, or I pour a measured amount on the salad and toss it really well. It takes a long time to eat a salad that big and by the time I'm done even MY jabber-jaw is too tired to chew anything else. Plus, I've just given my body lots of good nutrition!

4. Night-time snacking: Yogi Bedtime Tea and Angry Birds. The tea gives me something warm to put in my mouth and Angry Birds on my phone keeps my hands busy.

How do YOU deal with cravings?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Victory Is Yours!

Our 60 days of the Healthier You Challenge have come and gone. How did you do? Most of you are probably like me: I made some good progress but didn't consistently meet all of my challenges. I assessed and tweaked along the way. I patted myself on the back some and kicked myself in the butt some. I didn't achieve major physical transformations but I do feel like I learned some valuable lessons and adopted some good behaviors along the way.

The challenges you set for yourself will largely determine how you assess your progress. Hopefully you wrote out your challenges so you can look back at them now to review what you've accomplished. Your challenges were supposed to be process-oriented rather than goal-oriented but you also stated desired outcomes. These are generally how we measure our success.

Here are a few of the responses I've gotten from people about the outcomes they've earned by challenging themselves to adopt healthy behaviors like quitting smoking, drinking more water, eating a healthier diet, exercising, taking vitamins, and sleeping more: 
  • Look younger
  • Breathe easier
  • Sleep better
  • Better digestion, fewer stomach aches
  • Less moody
  • Improved overall mood
  • Reduced stress
  • Fewer headaches
  • Improved relationships
  • Able to get things done more easily (housework, yardwork, etc)
  • Clothes fit better
  • Improved blood sugar levels
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Fewer falls
  • More independent (have the strength and agility to lift, bend, carry, etc.)
  • Can put on underwear without holding on to the dresser (still my personal favorite!)
For any and all improvements in health behaviors, people generally find that they experience emotional changes as well. Many of us feel:
  • More confident
  • More competent
  • More energetic
  • Happier
  • More optimistic
When you change a health behavior successfully and feel the emotions above, you might also feel more able to take on other challenges in your life. The tools I've given you during the Healthier You Challenge can be applied to virtually any area of your life. Are you stressed about money? Do you feel rushed and anxious a lot? Are you afraid to have anyone over because your house is always messy? Are you unhappy with your performance at work? Why not set some challenges in these areas? Remember these key steps:
  1. State challenges in the positive
  2. Make your challenges process-oriented rather than goal oriented
  3. Make challenges Specific, Measurable, and Achievable
  4. Scaffold and Hook behaviors
  5. Log your behaviors
  6. Reassess and Tweak as needed
  7. Give yourself credit
  8. Keep challenging yourself in new ways as you maintain the behaviors you've already changed
  9. Make a fresh start if you need to
You can always refer back to previous posts if you need a refresher on any of these steps.

I'd love to hear from all of you about the changes you made, the benefits you earned, and what new challenges you are planning. Your experiences might help other people change their lives too!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is FOMO Holding You Back?

A few months ago I read an article about FOMO -- Fear of Missing Out. The author argued that one impact of social media has been that we now overextend ourselves because we're so afraid of missing an opportunity. She used examples like seeing a friend post fun photos on Facebook of a dinner out that you couldn't attend. The result of having a few experiences like that leads us to say "yes" too often, wreaking havoc on our schedules, our bodies and our minds which all need some rest. As I read the article, I kept thinking about how for most of my life, being healthy was fraught with FOMO moments. Here are a few FOMO inducing situations and how you might be able to deal with them:

1. FOMO: Social Events -- In our culture, socializing and celebrating often revolve around food and alcohol. Sometimes, we feel like the only way to stick to healthy behavior changes is to avoid social situations where we will be challenged. Rather than feel like you are missing out, can you change the way you and your social circle spend time together? Here are a few ideas: 

Invite friends and coworkers for a walk or hike.

Instead of a dinner-out with your spouse, try a new fitness class together (like, maybe Zumba? wink-wink). Couples who take on new challenges together tend to be happier. Plus, studies show that when you work out, dopamine levels in your brain increase which makes you feel more loving toward your partner. Double-Bonus!

I will be teaching Stroller Strides soon and one of the aspects of the program I like best is that it gives parents a chance to socialize with each other and to build a community while everyone is getting fit! Much better than Moms and Muffins (or Moms and Margaritas).

Maybe exercise is not part of your Healthier You Challenge. Maybe you are trying to eat healthier foods, quit drinking alcohol, or quit smoking. What if you learned something new with your friends that didn't revolve around eating, drinking, or smoking? Take up knitting, or woodworking, or photography.
Maybe you are trying to get more sleep but you stay up late with your partner, or friends, or on social media like facebook. It may not be a matter then of changing your environment or activity but of setting clear boundaries with the people in your life and explaining those boundaries to them. "Hey, _________, I really love our late night chats but I'm trying to get more sleep. Could we get together for a walk twice a week instead?" If your social network is not on board with your healthy changes, it may be time to find some new friends. That may sound harsh, and I don't mean cut people out of your life entirely, but you may benefit from finding people who already engage in the healthy behaviors you are trying to adopt. Hang out with them, learn from them, be inspired by them. Create your own social events that incorporate your new, healthier lifestyle. You won't have FOMO because you'll be too busy having fun in different ways!
2. FOMO: Food --  For some of us, the only way to control what we eat is to control our environments and avoid being around certain foods that we tend to over-eat. You might be like me in that once I eat things like cookies or chips, I want to keep eating them, at that moment, and for the foreseeable future. I find that I have to pretty much eliminate high-calorie, low-nutrient foods to keep my weight stable (crackers, chips, sweets, ice cream). I found out a couple of years ago that I am allergic to gluten, eggs, and all dairy. While it is challenging to avoid these foods, I find I don't miss them as much as I thought I would. I use substitutions and I remind myself how awful I feel when I eat them. It almost always works. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that food is just food and that we really can live without eating certain things. Maybe not peanut butter. But just about everything else we can live without.

What provokes FOMO for you? How can you fill that space with something that will help you with your behavior challenges? Take some time this week to think about it and plan ahead for those FOMO moments!

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Make a Fresh Start

Random funny picture someone posted on Facebook

SCHOOL STARTED!!!!! I have very mixed feelings about this. My daughter started second grade today and my son started Kindergarten. While it was difficult to see my kids take one more step away from me in the whole growing up process, I'm so excited to have more time for my business and myself. And no more preschool tuition!!! Whoo-hoo!!! I've decided to channel all of my angst about my kids into new focus and dedication to achieving my own goals. With school (and soccer season) comes a lot of routine and scheduling. My plan is to build my personal challenges into THEIR routine as much as possible.

My desired outcomes in this Healthier You Challenge have been to increase my muscle strength and flexibility, and to reduce my body fat percentage. I've been hit or miss on following through with the challenges that would get me there. I struggled all summer to get into a weight lifting routine. Other than teaching my Zumba classes, I didn't really fit in much exercise. It seemed like every time I'd get into a groove doing strength training and yoga, something would come along and blow it to smithereens. So I decided that with this fresh start, I would make my health a priority. I've committed to walking the kids to school (1 mile each way). I will work up to running the parts that I'm alone. Today I did 3 round trips. I also bought a month of unlimited classes at The Bar Method. I plan to go to classes there 3-4 times a week, starting next week. I push myself much harder when I'm taking a class so I'm very excited to fit this in! These actions, in addition to teaching my regular classes, should help me reach my desired outcomes. After this month, I will reassess and possibly find a new kind of class to try (Crossfit, here I come!). Or maybe I'll be able to keep those times for working out at home with my suspension straps. So far, this is the only action they are getting:

So my focus right now is not so much what I'm actually doing with my body, but to get myself into a routine that allows me to fit in fitness while I continue to work, to spend time with my family, to help coach my son's soccer team, to do laundry, to go to the grocery store, etc., etc. A bonus is that I have time to chat with my kids as we walk to and from school (sometimes they even let me hold their hands!). And I have a couple of friends who will also be doing The Bar Method classes so I can pretend I have a social life!

Even if back-to-school isn't a relevant time marker for you, use this opportunity to evaluate your routine. Fall is coming and with it will come changes in the length of the day, the types of fruits and vegetables available, the kinds of clothes you are wearing, your ability to workout outside. Some of those changes may be ones you welcome and are excited about; some may pose a challenge. Take some time now to shake things up or to plan ahead for the changes you'll be facing. You can give yourself a fresh start any day. You can even buy yourself a new backpack for it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Giving Credit When Credit Is Due

Since it's back to school time, I have a little test for you:

1. Have you fulfilled your challenges?
    A. 100% perfectly the entire Challenge thus far.
    B. Mostly. I've had a few slip-ups or had to make some
        changes, but I'm doing pretty well.
    C. It's been a major struggle and I've barely made any changes.
    D. I gave up the first day and just eat Nutter Butters while I read the Blog

Hopefully you answered "B". If you answered "A" you are probably either delusional or a robot. If you answered "C", re-read some of the previous posts and see if there are some tweaks you can make either in how you articulate your challenges or how you structure your life in relation to them. If you answered "D", you should probably call me to set up a one-on-one session. Soon ;)

Interestingly, whether you answered "B" or "C" may have less to do with the percentage of change you actually made and more to do with your attitude toward yourself and your behaviors. Many times when we attempt behavior change, we pay a disproportionate amount of time beating ourselves up for "messing up" and very little time congratulating ourselves when we do well. If you've kept a log of your challenges this whole time, review it objectively and ask yourself how you would react if a friend or loved one showed you the same log. Would you berate them for the times they didn't follow through perfectly? Or would you congratulate them on their efforts and achievements thus far and encourage them to do better? Maybe you'd even have a conversation with them about the struggles they've had and try to help them problem solve. If you wouldn't have a log to show someone because you haven't been keeping track of your behaviors, START NOW!

I spent a lot of time last week thinking about this and paying attention to how I talk to myself about my behaviors. It was hard to force myself to give little mental pats on the back every time I made a good choice but even in just a few days, I got more comfortable with it. One day last week I was tired and busy and hungry. I had a Costco sized jar of peanut butter that was calling my name. I really wanted to sit on the couch just me, that jar of peanut butter and the Property Brothers. But I didn't! I cut up some melon, grabbed some turkey breast, and sat down at the dining room table with the kids while they ate their lunch. I was very proud of myself. Later that evening, I was hungry again and REALLY wanted peanut butter. So I spooned some out into a bowl and poured in a bunch of blueberries. I ate the mixture while I watched So You Think You Can Dance. It was more than a single serving of peanut butter and I know I shouldn't watch t.v. while I eat, but it was a reasonable amount and still better than sitting down with the whole jar (and possibly a carton of chocolate soy ice cream). So, baby steps. I finished the day feeling fairly positive about the choices I'd made and I felt like I'd strengthened my willpower muscle.

If you have a hard time giving yourself credit when you make a good choice, here are some ideas to make it a more conscious process.
  1. A chart with squares. Each time you make a good choice, put a sticker in a square or make a check mark.
  2. A clicker like the kind they use at the entrance to events. Click each time you make a good choice.
  3. A string you keep in your purse or pocket. Make a knot each time you make a good choice.
  4. A marble jar. Each time you make a good choice, drop a marble in the jar.
  5. Pennies in your pocket. Start the day with all of the pennies in one pocket and then transfer one to the other pocket each time you make a good choice.
  6. Use something on your smart phone. There has to be an app for that! (If not, please create one and give me royalties!)
Don't be afraid to give yourself credit for the little things or even for partial improvement. Something is better than nothing! After doing this for a few days, you should feel proud, encouraged, hopeful and more in control. I know I do.

Do you have any suggestions for how you can give yourself credit in a conscious way? Share them here please!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Losing Focus?

This is about the time in many people's drive for change when they start to really lose focus. The novelty is wearing off and they may not be seeing big results yet. This is when it is MOST important to get excited again!

I've said before that part of creating a challenge is to articulate how changing your behavior will improve your life. In The Beck Diet Solution, Psychologist Judith Beck calls it stating "the advantages". She suggests writing the advantages of your behavior change on index cards or even using the list as your computer screensaver. You should then review the list multiple times a day to maintain your focus and enthusiasm. Reminding yourself why you are changing the behaviors should make you more likely to actually change them.

Another way to keep it fresh is to add new challenges. Now that you've tweaked your plan and gained some momentum, you should be able to pick something that's a little harder. And remember not to beat yourself up if you haven't been perfectly consistent. I've had ups and downs the last few weeks and while I try not to make excuses, I also realize that real-life sometimes gets in the way of the best laid plans. If I'm doing better than I was before I started the challenge, I choose to see it as success. Try to pick something fun for your new challenge. I'm replacing one day of weight lifting with a workout using my new suspension straps (okay, I hear some of you saying, "really, that's fun?"). I get really amped about new exercise gadgets so now that I finally have the straps mounted in my workout room, I'm eager to try them.

If you feel like you're not getting anywhere, take a hard look at what's going on in your life and what behaviors you are trying to change. Maybe the benefits don't outweigh the difficulty right now. It's okay to not be ready to change. But if it's important to you, you CAN find a way to make it work. It might take more planning, or finding an incentive that really excites you, or changing your methods. If you believe that your behavior changes will improve your life, isn't it worth making them a priority? So bust out those index cards or find some other way to remind yourself why you are engaging in this challenge. And remember, I'm always here as a sounding board and problem solver!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Diet or Exercise?

I have heard a lot of discussion lately about a recent study regarding physical activity, metabolism, and weight. Researchers studied a group of 30 hunter-gatherers in an effort to determine how their physical activity affected their metabolisms. The basic finding was that their metabolisms adjusted to their high level of activity and low calorie consumption. They did not burn significantly more calories daily than most people living in developed societies who sit at a desk all day.

What some people are taking away from this is that exercise is not an effective tool for weight loss; that only what we eat makes a difference. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! Even the authors of the study stated that, "Physical activity has important, positive effects on health, and increased physical activity has been shown to play an important role in weight loss and weight-maintenance programs."

If you are trying to lose weight, you should not be asking the question, "should I exercise or change my eating habits?" BOTH are important for weight management. One of my favorite quotes is, "You can't compete with what you eat." You can work your butt off in Zumba with me but if you leave and drink 2 margaritas you've probably just consumed more calories than you burned in class. Does that mean that class was a waste of time? Does it mean that you can't ever have a margarita again without feeling guilty? Of course not.

When we think about the food/exercise balance, we shouldn't think about exercise as a way to compensate for what we eat. In Zumba class one day, I really pushed myself hard. About halfway through class, one of the students asked, "What did you eat this weekend that you feel so guilty about?" This question made me laugh because my intensity wasn't about "burning off" anything I'd eaten, it was about working harder as part of a challenge I had set for myself. But there have been many times in my life where that is exactly what would have been going on. The sad thing is that it was never effective. I would severely restrict my diet, feel deprived, engage in gargantuan binges, then exercise excessively to try to "make up" for what I had eaten. But that was impossible. While I was engaging in that behavior I was overweight. And my weight fluctuated all the time. And I hated my body. And I felt like a total failure. Even long, hard exercise sessions couldn't burn the number of calories I was eating in those binges. And because the focus of those workouts was guilty feelings, I stopped enjoying exercise.

I saw a demonstration of this kind of thinking on a weight loss reality show once. A participant was struggling to change his eating habits and was still engaging in behaviors like bingeing on Oreos. The trainer had him hold two Oreo cookies in his hands as he walked up and down a flight of stairs. He wore a device that measured the calories he was expending and she had him keep going until he had burned the same number of calories as the two Oreos contained. He was at it for a LONG time! He said he had learned a valuable lesson and was going to ditch the Oreos. But I don't think that's the lesson we need. We have to be aware of the calories in, calories out equation, but we can't think of activity solely as a way to burn off those Oreos. We can eat the Oreos in moderation as long as we fit them into our overall target calorie consumption. And exercise should not be punishment or compensation for what we eat. If you're eating a generally healthy diet with a calorie intake that is less than your expenditure, you should be able to eat a couple of cookies here and there and still lose weight. 

A related note we can take from the Hunter-Gatherer study is that exercise can't be a green light to eat whatever we want. Part of the metabolism equation for the study participants was their very low calorie consumption. I have a new Zumba student who mentioned that since she started exercising more, and harder, she felt hungry, "ALL the time!". That is a pretty common experience. I cautioned her to eat when she felt hungry but to try to be sure that the foods she chose were healthy and nutritious and to keep an eye on the overall amount she was eating. It is awful to work hard at exercise and feel like we are not getting the results we're looking for. So really, anyone looking to achieve or maintain a healthy weight should engage in a consistent exercise routine AND have good eating habits.

The hunter-gatherer study reinforced that our bodies seek homeostasis. If you exercise, your body will adapt. If you cut your food consumption, your body will adapt. Our bodies are amazing, complicated machines. I will explore adaptation more in future posts. For now, eat healthy foods because they are yummy and they fuel your body. Exercise because it is good for you in many, many ways (and can be a lot of fun!).

So this week's challenge is to look critically at the way you think about the food/exercise equation. Do you need to change your thinking about why you eat the food you eat? About the feelings you have after you eat? About why you exercise? If so, now's a great time to practice! Permanent behavior change requires changing our thinking. Write down those negative thoughts and feelings and try to rewrite them with a healthier view. You can even post them here and I can help!

To read the entire article on the hunter-gatherer study, click here

Monday, July 30, 2012

Healthier You Challenge Week 3: Be a Tweaker

Now that we're three weeks in, you can start to assess and modify your plans if necessary. How is it going so far? I've spoken with quite a few of you who are participating *silently* and I know that some are struggling with motivation or with fully completing your behavior challenges. Here is where we figure out what's working, what's not, and how you can tweak your plan to be more successful.

If you have done well, but not perfectly, you should still be proud of yourself. Is it easy to identify why you were not able to fully complete your challenge? Two weeks ago I skipped one day of strength training because I didn't do it first thing in the morning and told myself I'd do it "later". The problem was, that day and the next were packed minute by minute so there really was no way to get it in. This reinforced that I am much more consistent when I workout in the morning before my family gets up. So my plan last week was to be up at 5:30 M/W/F to lift weights. Unfortunately, I had to schedule two last minute early appointments so my plan was out the window. Because I learned from the previous week that I couldn't just promise myself I'd do it "later", I scheduled a specific time those evenings to do them. It worked and I felt so proud that I didn't let myself make excuses. If you can figure out what thwarted your efforts, try to brainstorm alternatives. Don't come up with just one, try to figure out a plan B, C, D, etc. If you can't stick to your plan, adjust your plan. If you are flexible in your thinking and can get right back up when you stumble, you'll stay on the right track in the long term.

Part of a behavior challenge is keeping track of your behaviors. I've been using the irunurun app (note: you don't have to have a smart phone, you can log in from your computer). I like it because they send me an e-mail reminding me to update my log. If I haven't done something, the reminder is a good nudge to get it done so I can mark it off. If you haven't been logging your challenges, that might be the first tweak to make. One of the participants told me that even though she was a little frustrated that she didn't do as well as she'd hoped the second week, she was able to see that she'd improved from the first week which encouraged her.

If you're struggling to get started, go back to the beginning and pick something easy to gain some momentum. I started with drinking water before my coffee because I knew I needed a "win" in the beginning. What is a small change you can make this week? Could you replace one calorie-laden drink with water? Could you move more even if you're not ready for a long, structured workout routine? Could you write down what you eat? Even if you don't measure portions or figure out calories, your eating will probably change by the sheer fact of having to write it down. Two of my personal training clients who've been struggling to do more than their workout with me once a week just agreed to join Weight Watchers (you know who you are and I WILL be waiting at the door!). So for them, just showing up, and signing up, will be a big move in the right direction. Maybe you're moving along fantastically and you're ready for a new challenge this week. But if you aren't where you'd hoped to be, change things up. You can make small tweaks to the challenges you've had the last two weeks or you can chuck them completely and start over again with a new challenge. You are in control and you make the choices that move you forward or hold you back. You will need to be flexible because there will always be obstacles. It's up to you whether they are roadblocks or detours.

How are you going to tweak this week?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Healthier You Challenge: Week 2

Now that you've finished your first week of the Healthier You Challenge, it's time to assess how you did and plan your next week. If you did a fantastic job last week, you are ready to add a new challenge. Here are some guidelines to help choose your challenge for week 2: 

Hook desired behaviors onto current activities – Choose a behavior that you do without having to think about it and attach the new, desired behavior to the existing one. I need to drink more water so I’m drinking 24 oz. in the mornings before I have my coffee. You can use this same thinking to avoid behaviors you are trying to eliminate. If you usually eat late at night in front of the t.v., head to a different room and try reading instead. You may find that changing a neutral behavior will help change your target behavior with very little effort.

Scaffold your behaviors - Lay a foundation and build from there. Maybe your challenge for the first week is to take two Zumba Fitness classes. After two weeks of that routine, you add two days of strength training. In the fifth week, you add in a hike. Once you have the routine you desire, you can start changing up your activities to keep your forward momentum. Remember, we are not working toward a goal. We are engaging in challenges. Once you feel like you've "accomplished your goal", it's easy to start sliding backward. In order to avoid plateaus or the kind of attitude that leads to yo-yo dieting, you have to think of this as a journey without end. Focus on the job at hand but always think about how you will challenge yourself next.  The great thing is, once you've made the bigger lifestyle changes, your challenges can get more and more fun!

If you didn't do as well as you had hoped last week, use this as a time to reflect and learn. My challenge for last week was to complete three strength training sessions. I only managed two, so I need to figure out how to do better this week. I am going to keep up my challenges of drinking water before my coffee, taking vitamins every day, and completing three strength training sessions. I realize that the best way to guarantee getting those in is to wake up before my family gets up for the day. I will hook the strength training to checking my computer. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will complete my routine before I turn on the computer. Hopefully, this week will go smoothly and next week I'll be ready to add another challenge behavior.

What will your challenge be this week?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Healthier You Challenge Week 1-- Pick Your Challenge

How to craft an effective behavior challenge:

1. Focus on the Positive— You're trying to change behaviors to make your life better. Stating your challenge in a positive way makes you feel like you are striving toward something, rather than depriving yourself. You want to feel optimistic and excited about making your life better. 

Negative: “I won’t snack at night”
Positive: “A healthy dinner will be my last food for the day.”

Negative: "I won't drink my coffee until I've had 24 oz. of water."
Positive: "I will drink 24 oz. of water before I drink my coffee"

Negative: "I won't stay up too late"
Positive: "I will be in bed, ready for sleep by __:__"

2. Choose behavior that is Specific and Measurable– At the end of a day, you should be able to answer "yes" or "no" to the simple question, did I fulfill my behavior challenge today? Here are two possible challenge statements:

Statement 1: “I will eat healthier.”
Statement 2: “I will eat 5 servings of vegetables a day”

The second statement is much more powerful because it clearly lays out exactly what you expect of yourself and makes it easy to check your progress. If it's the afternoon and you're about to have a snack, check how many servings of vegetables you've already had and eat accordingly.

3. Make sure the behavior is Achievable – If you're a basically sedentary person, stating that you will run 5 miles a day this week is not realistic. We all have lofty goals and believing in your ability to take on a challenge is very important to your success. Think carefully, however, about how big a challenge you are actually prepared for. Too often we bite off more than we can chew, get discouraged, and give up. Make sure your challenge is something you are truly ready to take on and that you have the resources you need in place. 

4. Use terms that are Process-oriented rather than outcome-oriented – I would imagine you've had times that you did everything "right" and still didn't get the outcome you wanted. It's frustrating and discouraging, and sometimes, it makes us want to give up. We can't control all of the variables that affect our lives, but we can control our own choices and behaviors. Focus your challenge on your behavior and the outcome should follow. Again, two examples:

Statement 1: “I will lose 5 lbs.”
Statement 2:“I will follow my eating and exercise plan”

I've weighed on my own scale and the scales at Weight Watchers often enough to know that my body does crazy things when it comes to weight. If my measure of success came only from the number on the scale each week, I'd have given up a long time ago. Statement 1 above sets you up for frustration. What if you lose 4.5 lbs? Does that mean that you failed? The second statement is something that you control completely. At the end of each day you can simply state "yes" or "no" to the question, "did I follow my eating and exercise plan".

Now that you've learned how to state your behavior challenge, you need to decide how you will log each day. There are many options for keeping track of your progress. Here are a few I've used:

Spreadsheet: Make a chart to track your challenge(s). You can keep it on your computer or print it out. I am a big fan of charts; especially when marked off with glittery happy face stickers. Make sure it is in a place where you will see it often!

Calendar: I simply chose a different color marker for each behavior and made a star on my calendar when I'd completed that challenge for the day.

irunurun app: The first "greatness" app. If you are a smart phone user, this app is perfect for tracking your challenge behaviors. You can check it out here. 

Now your task is to choose ONE behavior to focus on this week. Think about the following:

1. A challenge statement that is Positive, Specific and Measurable, Achievable and Process-Oriented.

2. What are possible obstacles to engaging in the desired behavior? How will you handle those obstacles?

3. How will this behavior positively impact your life (and maybe even the lives of those around you)?

Now you can share your challenge with the rest of us so we can cheer you on this week. Feel free to check in as often as you'd like for encouragement and ideas. I'll be checking the post and responding as frequently as possible but this should be a group effort. Think of yourselves as a team working together and cheering each other on!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Maintaining Control

It can be very difficult to choose healthy behaviors in a world that is constantly tempting you with sugary, salty, fatty, super-sized food, and addictive, sedentary activities like watching t.v. and playing electronic games. How many times have you thought, “If I just had more willpower I could finally ______” (lose weight? get my blood pressure under control? see the abs Brooke keeps yelling about in Zumba class?). It may not just be a matter of trying harder; you’ve got to try smarter.

According to research conducted by Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, willpower acts like a muscle; the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. We exercise it every time we, “ignore temporary pleasure or discomfort to pursue a longer-term goal.” (IDEA Fitness Journal, March 2009)  But it also fatigues just like our physical muscles.  So every time we deny ourselves in the present situation, we are depleting our resources and increasing our chances of losing control later. And since we have to exercise our willpower muscle a gazillion times a day, we risk losing control a lot. Here’s one example; this is what would go through my head if I was walking around a mall:
“Oooooh, those shoes are so cute and they’d look great with so many of my sundresses, but they’d probably hurt as soon as I stood in them so I will have to stick to sad looking orthopedic shoes for my screwed up feet. Oooooh, if I had a smaller iPod it would be so much easier to choreograph my Zumba routines when my family is trying to find out who’ll be the next to be Chopped, but I’ll just have to deal with my big iPod classic floppin’ around on my arm. And Oooooh, there’s a silver sequin fedora just like Makayla keeps asking for and she really would look soooooooooo cute in it, but she’d probably lose it as soon as she walked out of the door and really, who needs to spend $25 on a fedora for a 7 year old? And seriously, could those Cinnabons smell any better? But they have gluten and are about a gazillion Points Plus so it’s not worth it. And geez I really wish I still had my Hot Dog On A Stick uniform because it would be the greatest Halloween costume.”  (yes, I really did work there, and yes, I really did wear the hat).

And then I see it; the beautiful black letters on an illuminated white sign. My Weight Watchers leader, Suzanne, talks about insane things like going into See’s Candies and buying ONE piece of chocolate and then walking out. What? I am a binger. Like, a champion binger. If bingeing was an Olympic sport, I’d be on my way to London. So if I step through that door, I will be having my own little orgy with a pound of California Brittle, Molasses Chips and Milk Chocolate Bordeaux.

This scenario is why you won’t find me at the mall unless somebody gives me a gift card that can’t be used online. You have to control your environment as much as possible. As much as possible, you must plan and prepare so that you don’t have to make a lot of choices in the situation. If you’re going to a work meeting and you know they’ll have tons of treats, bring a healthy alternative to share. If you know all of your friends are going to ask you to go out for drinks on Friday, preempt them by asking them to do something active like going for a walk or a taking a dance class. Have healthy snacks in your home so that those Cheetos you bought “for the kids” don’t make their way into your belly.

This leads to the next point:  pick your battles.  If those Cheetos or the ice cream in the freezer are constantly calling to you, maybe you need to get them out of the house completely. But maybe your family’s reaction to removing treats is more stressful to you than walking by the pantry and telling yourself, “no Cheetos”. You need to figure out for yourself how to control your environment and which battles you are capable of fighting now. Don’t try to control or change every behavior at once. I will deal with this more in another post, but for now, try to prioritize and choose the most important times to flex your willpower muscle.

Sometimes, no matter how well you plan, prepare, and prioritize, you will still slip up. On Sunday, I was at an event celebrating my grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary (you read it right folks, 65 years). I knew there would be a lot of yummy treats since the women in my family are all incredibly talented cooks, especially when it comes to desserts. I planned ahead.  I had a healthy breakfast, and even brought a nut bar so I’d have a snack if I got hungry. My willpower muscle had been taxed a lot that weekend and it finally cried “Uncle”.  As I’ve already said, I’m a binger. The issues in this situation were compounded by the fact that everything there had gluten in it (I am "sensitive" to gluten). So my oh-so-smart brain said, “If I’m going to break from my eating plan AND have a gluten hangover the next two days, I’m going to make it worthwhile!” I ate like it was my last meal on earth. I can’t even begin to estimate how many Points Plus it was. And the gluten hangover was monumental; I could hardly function Monday afternoon. Now, I could have walked away from that thinking “I am so weak. I’ll never get this bingeing thing under control. I’m just not someone who can control what I stuff in my face and I’ll never be able to reach my ideal weight and stay there.” But because I know that willpower is a muscle and that mine finally gave out on me that day, I was able to think, “Wow! That was a pretty stupid thing I just did. Now it’s time to get refocused on my goals and my plan.” And then I spent some time trying to figure out what I could have done differently so that maybe I would have been able to handle that situation better. Next time, I will bring a true treat that is safe for my food allergies but also feels indulgent enough that I don't feel like I'm missing out. I also reminded myself that while I slip up occasionally, I have come a long way in my relationship with food. And ultimately, none of this defines who I am. Forgive yourself, learn, and move on.

Another action I think may have made a difference on Sunday would have been to nourish my willpower muscle before we left, or promised myself a different sort of treat for afterward. If I had promised myself that upon returning home I’d get one hour of something relaxing like reading or snuggling with my kids, I may have been better able to skip indulging in Gluten-Fest 2012. Maybe when you feel your willpower muscle fatiguing, it’s time to treat yourself in a healthy way. It might mean a short walk outside, or 15 minutes of reading, or watching a few funny videos on YouTube. Your willpower muscle needs to recover just as your other muscles do. Sleep, healthy food, and activities that exercise your brain and body will all help you keep your willpower muscle strong.

My mom and I were talking about this whole willpower muscle concept the other day and she had a pretty genius insight. She said, “I wonder if that’s part of why moms are so exhausted all the time. They constantly have to say no to their kids when it would be so much easier in the short-term to just let the kids have, and do, what they want.” YES!!! Not only do we have to constantly deny ourselves, we are also flexing our willpower muscles in defense of our children’s little brains and bodies. And to thank us for this service they roll their eyes, whine, and make us feel like ogres! That prompts another willpower exercise (because really, when my daughter stomps her feet at me, what goes on in my head and what I actually do are usually two very different things). So recognize all of the ways that you DO control your behavior every minute of every day. At home, at work, in the car as you drive by In-N-Out, at the grocery store, etc., etc., etc. Pat yourself on the back each time you make a good choice instead of beating yourself up every time you give in.

So if you want to strengthen your willpower muscle:

1.      Plan, Prepare, Prioritize

2.      Forgive yourself when you slip

3.      Nourish your willpower muscle

4.      Give yourself credit
Don't forget that the Healthier You Challenge starts Monday. Feel free to leave your introduction here if you didn't already leave it on the first post!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Welcome to the Healthier You Challenge!

Those of you who already know me, know that I am a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers. While I have reached a healthy weight and am generally fit, I still struggle in my relationship with food and would like to further improve my fitness level. As I believe is true of most people, I function best when I have clear goals, a well-defined plan, and lots of support. That's where this challenge comes in. My intention is to give all of us a chance to identify our own challenges, provide support for each other, keep each other motivated, and celebrate each other's successes. The challenge will officially start Monday, July 16th and will run for 60 days. Each week I will share information on how to formulate your challenges and plans as well as tips to stay motivated. I'll be cheering you on every step of the way.

I'm sure you're raring to go and want to start the challenge immediately, but I want you to take the time to set yourself up for success. The first step in doing so is to clearly define your desired outcome(s). The second is to choose challenges which result in the behaviors that will help you achieve your desired outcome. The third step is to engineer a well-defined and realistic plan. The final steps are to stay motivated throughout the challenge and to celebrate your success!

Before we begin, I'd like you to take this week to think about your desired outcome and what behaviors you'll need to change. I ask you to practice thinking in the following terms throughout the week.

Behavior: The way you act in response to a particular situation or stimulus. Think of behaviors as "desirable" or "undesirable".

Challenge: The process by which you consciously control your environment and alter your behaviors to reach a desirable outcome.

Outcome: The end-goal. What do you hope to accomplish? What will be measurably different at the end of this challenge?

Here's where the fun starts:
Task 1: Brainstorm desirable outcomes. Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to increase your fitness indicators? Do you want to have more energy? Do you want to have an organized house? Do you want to get more sleep? Do you want to improve medical indicators such as blood pressure and cholesterol?
Try to be very specific about your desired outcomes. Now try to think of them in terms of process, rather than outcome. Instead of the outcome "lose weight", think about what you'd need to DO in order to lose weight. Maybe you need to stop snacking at night. Maybe you need to stop drinking your calories. Maybe you need to come to more Zumba classes ;)

Task 2: Brainstorm behaviors. Write down all of the behaviors you either want to stop or start. Then, copy them into two columns: Desirable or Undesirable. Try to pair up opposite behaviors. To me, tracking my food and eating mindlessly are opposite behaviors. Try to focus on engaging in Desirable behaviors and making them a habit. Instead of stating my weekly challenge as "I'm going to stop eating mindlessly", I'd state that, "I'm going to track everything I eat and drink." Stating challenges positively helps in many ways, including creating a sense of forward movement and optimism.

Next week we'll work on creating a plan for success. For now, use the comments section to introduce yourself, share your behaviors, ask for ideas, refine your list, and practice using our challenge terms.

I'll start:
I'm Brooke. I'm a 37-year old Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. I'm married to a very supportive man, and am "Mom" two young children who are bright, funny, and completely exhausting. I am scatter-brained, very chatty, and a bit of a drama queen. I struggle with finding moderation in any aspect of my behavior. I'd like to improve my body-composition and fitness level in a way that is realistic and sustainable. My brainstorm list is:
  • Drink more water
  • Measure and track food and drink
  • Engage in a consistent and structured Strength Training routine
  • Take vitamins every day
  • Stretch every day
  • Do high intensity interval training
  • Eat only when I'm hungry and only until I'm satisfied
  • Engage in some sort of mindfulness or meditative process every day (this one is soooo hard for me!)
Remember, this is just the brainstorming step. We'll have plenty of time to tweak and refine!

Your turn! (click below where it says #comments to join in the conversation)