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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Toning Shoes - yep, they're a scam. :(

I actually own a pair of Skechers Shape-Ups. They cost me $89, which is the most I've ever paid for a pair of shoes. I knew right from the start that it was a dumb idea, but I found the super-cute Mary-Jane style ones that would be easy to step in and out of for karate classes, were very comfortable, and well, I knew better, but what if there really was some weird fitness voodoo involved that would actually allow the shoes to deliver on their promises of a better backside?

Many, many women I know have been seduced by these promises, and some of them have been inspired by the shoes to walk more, which gets them results! Good for them, sincerely. I won't rain on anyone's parade if they're convinced the shoes are the key. But if anyone's still on the fence, tempted by the ads of every shoe company that's jumped on the toning bandwagon in the last year, here is one article from the American Council on Exercise, which investigates new exercise gimmicks and reports on their efficacy and safety. There are others like it; feel free to Google.

The basic problem is that the body adapts to slight challenges like those posed by the toning shoes very quickly. The shoes are supposed to slightly increase the motion of each step and create a balance challenge that the leg muscles need to adjust to, and adjust they do! I was a tiny bit sore the first time I walked with the shoes, and never again. My body had learned to walk with this new challenge, the muscles quickly adapted, and that was that. No further change occurs because the body, in general, wants to stay the way it is. Changing takes resources and the body is an efficient machine. In order to create change in the body, it must be continually challenged. That's why slow, prolonged exercise produces very little in terms of weight-loss. While it may make us healthier overall and decrease our risk for heart disease and diabetes, significant weight loss will not occur with this type of slow, repetitive exercise unless food intake changes drastically as well. We now know that techniques such as interval training and concepts such as muscle confusion are much more effective in producing significant weight loss than strapping ourselves onto a treadmill and walking for hours at a time.

So anyway, consider spending your money on a good cross-training or running shoe and mixing up your workouts (perhaps a session or two with a personal trainer?). Toning shoes aren't magic, unfortunately, and unless you want to spend a ton on what is otherwise a cheap most-purpose tennis shoe, you're probably better off passing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to handle Thanksgiving...

without feeling bloated, guilty, and unhappy:


Thanksgiving can be a bad time for anyone watching what they eat, and anyone with "food issues". I know - I used to have more than my fair share.

But with some planning, an open mind and some self-compassion, we can enjoy the holiday without overindulging and regrets.

First, remember that this is a holiday and if we choose to, it's ok to indulge a bit. That doesn't mean announcing "screw it" and gorging on leftovers all week, but it does mean if I really like mashed potatos and it's something I usually avoid, I can have a reasonable sized portion of mashed potatos!

In planning ahead, try to envision the foods you really enjoy versus the foods you tend to eat "just because they're there" or because beloved Aunt Millie would be devastated if you didn't. Choose to eat reasonable portions of the foods you will truly enjoy, and savor them. Just say no to the stuff you don't actually care if you have to wait until next year to eat again.

Families get together for Thanksgiving, and families tend to trot out all their craziness at holidays. If you're feeling nervous because of an old feud with your mom, or you're dreading the political fights between Uncle Fred and Grandpa or really don't want to listen to the constant backstabbing from your sister-in-law, acknowledge these fears and discomforts, if only to yourself. You might journal about them or confide in a friend outside the family who won't be personally involved in the situation (just make sure it's not someone who will spread it as gossip). Regardless, commit to yourself that you won't use food as a crutch to deal with these painful or annoying situations. Do your best to avoid the situations you know will crop up and try to spend the most time around the people whose company you *do* enjoy. When you find yourself wanting to chew just for a way to keep your mind off the problem, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this will not actually help. See if you can do some creative problem solving. You might even get brave enough to speak up and tell whomever that while they're family and you love them, you'd rather not listen to their opinions about the fact that you're 35 and unmarried. Or whatever.

Try not to arrive to the family get-together starving. Some people try to "save up" all their calories by eating nothing before dinner. Unfortunately, this will just muck up your metabolism and ensure than you binge on all the goodies. In the grand scheme of things one day of this behavior all year is not an enormous deal, but it's not terribly comfortable physically or mentally. Instead of starving / binging, try eating small portions of balanced foods before the big meal - get a little protein and some good carbs (examples are yogurt, whole wheat toast with peanut butter or an apple with some string cheese). That way, when you are faced with the feast, you can make wise and yummy choices instead of gong into vaccuum-cleaner mode.

Try to get some exercise early in the day if you can. This not only offsets the calories you're about to consume, but it will put you in a better state of mind; more able to stave off stress and remain positive. This, too, will help you make healthier choices at dinner. Don't try to overdo it and run 5 miles when you normally can't run one - be realistic. But do something that gets your heart pumping and your breathing faster.

There are the traditonal tips and tricks that do help: wear fitted clothes instead of sweats so you're more conscious of how much you're consuming and when you start to feel uncomfortably full. Stay physically as far away from the food as possible (unless you're actually sitting down to dinner) so you're not constantly tempted to keep refilling your plate. Drink plenty of water throughout the day - it's not only good for you, but it will help you not to consume quite as much.

If you have any control over the cooking of the meal, you can try some healthier versions of the traditional fare - mix some mashed cauliflour wih the potatos, use a little honey instead of covering the sweet potatos with marshmallow fluff, and choose smaller pies instead of giant ones with extra-huge pieces, pumpkin instead of the calorie-dense pecan.

When it comes to leftovers, if you're in charge of cooking, try not to produce many. That means careful planning, not trying to guilt your family into eating more than they really want. Maybe a 15-pound turkey would be sufficient instead of a 20-pounder. Maybe you only really need half the mashed potatos you usually make, because there's always a ton left. If you like having leftovers and are savvy enough to be wise with them and eat them slowly over the next week, go for it. But try not to produce so much that you and everyone else is faced with a frige full of tempting goodies in large quantities for the next week. If you're not the cook and are asked to take home leftovers, take only what you know you can happily use without feeling bad about it. Know that half a pie is going to be hard to resist? Take only a piece, or don't take it home at all.

Finally, recognize that you're a human being, deserve to indulge once in awhile, and forgive yourself for whatever imagined wrongs you may think you've committed over the holiday. Beating ourselves up only inevitably leads to more binging as we continue to comfort ourselves with extra food. Don't give in to the viscious cycle. Commit to doing what is good for you physically, mentally and emotionally - which means providing yourself with balance.

Good luck, everyone, and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Nutrition Philosophy

My nutrition philosophy seems like an odd mix at first, but I think it is one of the best ways to eat for a sustainable, healthy and delicious lifestyle.

Two systems inspire my philosophy. The first, and the one I think it is important to start with, is called Intuitive Eating (see to learn more). According to Intuitive Eating, there are no forbidden foods except any that make you feel physically sick, those that are medically contraindicated for you, and those that you hate eating. This philosophy requires that you discard all conventional thinking about "good" and "bad" food. It requires that you trust yourself and your body to know what your physical needs are and to fill them. Once you are used to trust and acceptance of your own wants and needs in the context of food, and separating these from judgments and unrelated emotional states, you'll begin to be able to feed yourself as you need to be fed for health, enjoyment and satiety (fullness).

The second system that inspires my nutrition philosophy is the Clean Eating Diet ( for more information). Despite its name, which is unfortunate, it's not really a diet. It's more like a set of preferences for eating. It advocates eating every 2-3 hours to avoid spikes in hunger that lead to ravenous eating and out-of-balance blood sugar and hormones. It recommends avoiding over-processed foods, white flour and sugar, chemicals and artificial sweeteners. The most useful concept, in my opinion, is that of planning ahead and packing a cooler full of healthy and tasty foods for use throughout the day. This way there's no snack attack at 3pm leading to stale candy bars from the vending machine that make you feel physically and emotionally crappy, leading to more unhealthful eating that continues to make you feel crappy physically and emotionally.

I do recommend reading more about both systems. The most important concept running through both is thinking of good nutrition as a permanent change, not a temporary "diet" that's miserable and to be ended as soon as a goal is reached (or when you can no longer stand it). Numerous studies have proven that dieting in cycles does not work when the dieter eventually returns to previous ways of eating. Any weight lost is put back on, and then some, causing feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem while being hard on the body.

No one likes dieting. It means eating less than you want, feeling hungry, cutting out foods you take pleasure in. Good nutrition as a lifestyle does not mean dieting. It means making consistent good choices that outweigh occasional "bad" choices. It means accepting your individual needs and preferences, and accepting the shape and weight your body naturally settles into at the peak of health. That does not mean you have to accept being obese - this is not a healthy state for the body to be in. It does mean that if you're at your healthiest weight and still have big hips (like me) that you don't try to diet yourself down to skin and bones chasing the "perfect body" image you have in your head.

Changing your lifestyle when it comes to food means eating enough but not too much, making good decisions most of the time and eating for both health and enjoyment. It means that you aren't caught up in the endless deprive / binge cycle. It takes awhile to perfect the eating habits that work best for you - and that's ok, because you literally have the rest of your life to figure it out.

Following is a list of my most recommended behaviors when it comes to eating for health, vitality and optimum body composition (which for many, means weight loss and maintenance). Try them and embrace what works for you. You can try one or more at a time. Don't try to do everything right away. Small steps lead to sustainable change and a better outcome than allowing yourself to become overwhelmed with too many changes at once.

1) Keep a food diary. Carry it with you throughout the day rather than trying to remember everything at night. You can use your smartphone if you hate using paper. Or your computer. Or whatever works for you. Record the date, time, what you ate, quantity, and if you like, calories, fat, or whatever other nutrition info you want to keep track of. Record on a scale of 1-10 how hungry / full you were before you ate and immediately after. Then, record any observations or feelings you have when you eat. I.e. "I was starving because I hadn't eaten for 6 hours" or "I was ticked off and wanted something to crunch on." Look over what you've written at the end of each day and figure out how you can improve your eating experience. If you're eating emotionally, figure out what you need to do to get those needs met without using food as a crutch. If you're not planning well and it's leading to binges, figure out how you can do better. Learn what works and what doesn't. Keep the diary for as long as you want, but for at least 2 weeks.

2) Get a small cooler (but not too small!). In the morning before you leave the house, or the night before if your mornings are hectic, fill the cooler with meals and snacks that you will eat throughout the day. Every week, think about what you want to eat that week, make a shopping list, and get what you need so you have tasty, convenient things to put in your cooler each day.

3) Eat breakfast, and eat often enough that you don't feel famished at any point in the day. Some nutritionists recommend eating 5 or 6 times a day and some people are put off by this. Try not to go more than 4 hours without eating something - going longer makes the metabolism sluggish. Think of it like a fire - you want it to burn hot and steady. That means putting a couple logs on as often as needed, not a bunch of logs on first and the waiting for it to die down before adding more.

4) Drink water throughout the day and aim for at least 64 oz. It keeps you feeling more satisfied, boosts metabolism, flushes out toxins and keeps everything lubed and running smoothly.

5) Each time you eat, try to get some protein, some healthy fat (unsaturated) and some healthy carbohydrates (whole grains and veggies rather than refined sugars and flours and items made with them). Ideally, the balance throughout the day should be approximately 20% protein, 20-30% healthy fats and 50-60% healthy carbohydrates.

6) When you are tempted to eat something you know is not nutritious for your body, ask yourself why you want it and how you will feel after you eat it. If you decide to eat it, check in with yourself often to see if you've had enough instead of automatically eating however much you have available.

7) Practice self-forgiveness. Don't freak out if you eat things you don't intend to. Learn what you can from the situation and move on. Ruminating and self-blame only leads to further poor eating choices.

8) As much as possible, shift to whole grains, brown or jasmine rice, veggies and small, waxy potatoes (instead of big, floury potatoes) as carbohydrate sources. If you don't like these things at first, try mixing them - i.e. half brown rice with half white rice. Shift to healthier fat sources by cooking with olive and canola oil and olive or canola oil based cooking spray and avoiding hydrogenated oils in your margarine peanut butter and other foods (this stuff turns to trans fat in your body which wreaks havoc on your arteries). Overall, avoid packaged cookies, cakes and snacks as these tend to contain lots of white flour, sugar, hydrogenated oils and salt. (Once in awhile is ok... just not every day).

9) Don't go crazy on the salt. Much of our food has salt in it to begin with. Adding more at the table doesn't help. Start with shaking a little less if the idea makes you shudder.

10) Try to build your social life on experiences other than food. Most gatherings involve a meal, snacks, cocktails, etc. Start planning events that center less on food and more on fun (even active!) activities.

I hope these help you start to consider your eating habits and how they can be improved without feeling you have to go on a deprivation diet. For more info, besides the websites above, here are some good resources on creating positive change in your food choices for life:

The Eat-Clean Diet by Tosca Reno
Overcoming Overeating by Hirschmann & Munter
Intuitive Eating by Tribole & Resch

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Exercising while sick

I have a troublesome autumn cold right now. Thanks, Doug. :P

I started taking zinc lozenges as soon as it started, and I think it's less severe than if I hadn't. The thing I haven't had a chance to do is go for a good run.

I remember reading an article by a health expert who said he swears by exercise to help him ward off colds. Our bodies sometimes respond to illness by raising our temperatures to kill germs: this is what a fever is. Exercise does the same thing, and if we do it early enough it's before the body has to resort to such drastic measures on its own.

I've always noticed that when I run with a respiratory illness, my airways tend to be clearer than if I don't. I think it's because the body responds to the increased exertion by laying off the mucous production to keep the airways clear and able to process lots of oxygen.

The thing to not do is overexert while sick - don't go for great new heights or anything. The body needs its resources to fend off infection and it can't do that when exhausted. But working up a good sweat if you're generally fit anyway can't hurt, and often helps.

Never exercise with a fever, though. At that point raising the body temperature further can be harmful. And make sure to drink even more fluids than normal before, during and after exercise while ill. This helps the body flush itself of germs.

As for me, I'm going to go for a good run, now. :)

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I was between water sessions at my the rec center pool last week and observed a couple of kids splashing and playing in the water. They were having a fabulous time, jumping, diving, chucking and dodging floating toys, laughing and shrieking with delight. They also had totally toned little tummies and bodies. I started to think that if all of us could start moving for the joy of it like some of us did when we were kids, we would all be much happier and healthier!

Young kids don't exercise to get fit, lose weight or "tone up". They don't do it because they're worried about their blood pressure or cancer risks. They do it because it's fun! If you ever watch little kids running around being silly and crazy, you know that there's not a serious thought in their heads. They are completely caught in the moment, loving the feeling they get from it.

Adults tend to view movement as a chore and something to be avoided if possible. This is not only detrimental to our health, but just plain sad!

There are million ways we can recapture the joy we used to take in movement, or to claim it if we were never active even as children. For one thing, try playing with some kids! They are great teachers. Try lots of different things until you find a few you really like doing. Play sports, dance around like crazy, fly a kite, go swimming at the lake and play volleyball in the sand. Go gallavanting through the woods, spend time in the backyard with some waterguns or a hose, or play in the snow. Ask some kids what they like doing. They like video games, but they also love to run around and soak up the world at 1000 miles per hour.

Stop taking yourself seriously for a little while and reclaim the love of moving that is yours by right as a human being. You'll be healthier for it, but you'll also have a ton of fun!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Help! My Partner is Sabotaging my Diet and Exercise Plans!!

The easiest way to get healthier, lose weight, etc. is to do it with support, especially from those closest to you. If you're ready to get healthy and your partner isn't, though, no amount of nagging or pleading will get them involved in a wholehearted, healthy way.

All too often, I hear frustrated husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends complain about getting no support at all, or worse, active sabotage from their partners in their efforts to get healthier.

Romantic relationships are complex and generally delicately balanced. There are several different things that could be happening if you feel like your partner is wrecking your efforts. Here are some things to think about.

1) You may need to take a hard look at whether you are using your partner as an excuse not to do what you know you need to in order to achieve your goals. I know I've fallen into the trap of eating junk food simply because I see my boyfriend doing it, or skipping my evening workout because snuggling on the couch in front of the tv seems so much more appealing. In this case, take a good hard look at your goals and ask yourself if you're really ready to commit to them. If the answer is yes, talk with your partner and let them know you're having a hard time sticking to your goals and ask for their help. Let them know when you plan to exercise and ask for their encouragement. Have them keep their junk food somewhere you don't often tread, or somewhere you don't know about (and aren't likely to find). It's unrealistic to ask that your shared home be completely free of triggers, but you can ask that they be minimized as much as possible. Remind yourself that you're doing this for yourself, and that your partner and other loved ones will benefit from a healthier, happier, more energetic you too. Reaffirm your commitment as often as necessary and when you have a setback, get right back on track.

2) Is your partner feeling threatened or insecure about your fitness plans? Perhaps they feel that if you get fit and look better, you will seek out another mate. If this might be going through your partner's head and causing them to offer you junk food or pout / throw a tantrum when you go to exercise, you need to reassure them, and probably more than once. Tell them you want to be around for a long, healthy life with them and that you have no plans to seek greener pastures. Now, if you ARE looking to get out of your relationship, using fitness as an exit route is not the most direct or healthiest way to go. Talk, be honest and straightforward, and go from there.

3) Does your partner feel bad about him or herself and feel reminded of his or her own faults while you improve yourself? If this is the case, again, you need to communicate. Let them know that you need them to stop projecting their insecurities onto you and start focusing on what they need to do to feel better about themselves. Support them in whatever way you can, but as I've said before, don't nag. It doesn't work and usually only makes people feel worse and more driven to hide from their problems.

4) If communicating just isn't working, you may need to seek professional help in the form of couples counseling (or individual counseling if your partner will not consider it). Above all, don't give up on your goals. In a healthy relationship, both parties feel free to grow and improve themselves without fear that this will destroy the connection.

Reaching your health and fitness goals without the support of your loved ones is difficult and discouraging, but it can be done. Do what you can to get the support you need and deserve; beyond that, persevere.

Good luck!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Party Time!

It's the 4th of July and that means parties and picnics! Fun stuff, but deadly to diets. Fortunately, if you have a good strategy, you can get through the day without overloading yourself with stuff that makes you feel lousy. Planning ahead is key. Try these strategies to maintain your healthy intentions without feeling deprived.

1) Plan for extra calories during your party or picnic, but don't arrive starving. Skipping breakfast and lunch so you can have an indulgent dinner just ensures you'll go crazy and eat everything in sight. Plus, your metabolism will be sluggish and less able to deal with the overload. You'll probably also feel physically crappy, which is no way to plan to enjoy a party. So eat reasonable amounts leading up to party time, especially fiber and water-rich foods like fruits and veggies to help you feel full without loading up on calories.

2) While you're there, don't hang out next to the food. Occupy yourself with conversation or activities so you're not constantly thinking about the apple pie that's sitting over there.

3) Before you start noshing, take a survey of what's around and ask yourself what you'd really like to eat. If you absolutely love ribs and chocolate chip cookies, go ahead and have some. Don't try to avoid them, start munching on everything else, and then give up and have a double serving of ribs and cookies anyway. Give yourself what you really want and enjoy it slowly, savoring. Then, when you're done, unless you get physically hungry again, you're done.

4) Don't let other people guilt you into eating something you don't really want. You don't actually have to try Aunt Sally's newest lemon merengue recipe unless you really want to. If you don't, explain that you're stuffed and just couldn't enjoy it. If she pushes, ask to take some home with you, then bring it to work or wherever and give it away.

5) Ask for support. This might be from a friend, relative or spouse who is able to be supportive without being negative. It might be someone who is also trying to be healthier and change their eating habits, or it might be someone who's already good at these things who's sympathetic to your goals. When you're feeling anxious because you're worried about overeating, or you find yourself eating the whole bag of pretzels that you don't really even want, or you just need a distraction so you can stop being bored and going back to the food table, go to your pre-arranged support person and have them listen, talk, give you a hug or whatever you need.

6) If you're going to drink, alternate your drinks with water. This will prevent hangovers and probably have you drinking less than you otherwise would. Some alocoholic drinks are CRAZY full of calories. Certain mixed drinks can have up to 800 calories a pop!! Here is a page for calories content of many drinks (Pay attention to the serving sizes - you're probably going to be having more than a fluid ounce of whatever you're drinking).

7) If you go overboard, take some deep breaths, forgive yourself, and move on. It does NOT mean your day, week or whatever is ruined; it does not mean you're a failure; it does not mean you should give up. You're a human being and are going to have setbacks. Learn what you can from the experience and move on. Dwelling only causes pain and is not going to fix what has already happened. You have control only over what you choose to do in the present, so choose to laugh it off and try again.

I hope you all have a great Independence Day!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Indulge Yourself; Be Healthier!

Talk about fitness tends to be all about what you have to give up or the grueling work you have to do to get in shape. Some fitness habits seem downright indulgent though! Here are a few to think about:

1) Get enough sleep. Adults need 6-8 hours a night to function best. Getting less not only makes you cranky and less productive; it can also hamper weight loss by depriving you of essential hormones that are released while you sleep.

2) Get a massage. Massages can help ease muscle soreness caused by working out, assist in mitigating physical imbalances, and just help you feel healthy, full of vitality and ready to conquer the world.

3) Eat high quality food. Fresh, juicy fruits, lean meats and veggies cooked to perfection and small amounts of dark chocolate are all good for you and delicious! Eat the best quality food you can. Your body and your taste buds will thank you.

4) Make exercise your "you time". Yoga and tai chi are relaxing and de-stressing. Running and walking can be a stress-free, solitary time. Team sports can be a ton of fun. Whatever your preference, find something you enjoy and focus on your enjoyment while you're being physical. Exercise will stop being a task and start being something you can look forward to.

Who's taking care of you?

One of the things I hear constantly, especially from women, is that they can't take the time to exercise, eat right or take care of themselves in general because they're too busy taking care of everyone else. Children, aging parents, needy spouses or demanding jobs always take precedence over personal needs, because as women we are supposed to be everything to everyone and if we're not, we're somehow failures. Here's the problem with this. If we take care of everyone else all the time and never get our own needs met, we are setting ourselves up for total system failure. Whether physically, mentally or emotionally, something eventually gives, no matter how strong we are. At that point, we're in no position to care for anyone else until our own lives are rebalanced. Even if you manage to give yourself enough self-care not to break down but still constantly short yourself on needs like sleep, proper nutrition and exercise, you'll never be at your best. If you're not at your best, then what you have to offer is reduced. We can take the best care of out obligations and the people in our lives when we are at our healthiest and happiest. Thus, it is ESSENTIAL that we make the time to care for ourselves. That might mean learning to say no to some obligations. It may mean asking for help sometimes. It may mean admitting that we can't be everything to everyone. At the same time, it will mean being the best versions of ourselves that we can be, making the relationships and tasks we choose to spend our time and energy on are much better than if we weren't somewhat selective. So if you want to improve your relationships, job, parenting or whatever and have been neglecting yourself to make it work, try shifting your focus and meeting some of your own needs for once. This will almost always improve everything else in your life along the way.

40 miles into the woods, 40 miles out

My boyfriend is a martial arts and kickboxing instructor and this is one of his favorite phrases. When he's talking to people who come to his class and work hard for a few weeks only to get frustrated by their lack of immediate progress, he gives them this speech. "40 miles into the woods; 40 miles out. It took you how long to get out of shape? Probably years. Don't expect to get yourself into shape in a few weeks."

One of my personal favorite phrases is a quote from Aristotle. "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." So too with fitness. We can't make an epic effort for a short period of time and be fit. We have to make a sustainable effort for a long period of time. We have to be consistent. Our bodies and health will reflect our long term habits.

So don't give up if you're only 5 miles along on your trip out of the woods. Keep going. You'll get there.

Weight Loss After Menopause

I have had lots of women in their 50s comes to me saying "I've just started gaining all this weight, and it's in my stomach now - I've never gained weight in my stomach before! And I just can't seem to lose it!"

Weight gain at menopause freaks women out. Their bodies don't react the way they used to. It's like going through puberty all over again, but with consequences that threaten not only their self-view, but their heath and well-being. You've probably heard the bally fat contributes to diabetes, hypertension, some cancers including breast cancer and heart disease. Scary stuff!

Hormone replacement therapy is an option some women choose to pursue, and can be helpful in many cases. But many women can't or don't want to take this step. That doesn't mean you're doomed to gain a lot of weight or feel horrible all the time. Here are some steps to take.

1) Reduce your calories, within reason. I'm always cautioning people not to eat too little (under 1200 calories per day) because it will stall the metabolism, making your body into a fat-hoarding system. But as we age, we need fewer calories, and most women do not take this into account around the age of menopause. Take a good look at your diet and how much you're really consuming. Use a food diary to help you, and acquaint yourself with portion sizes. Even too much of something healthy can cause weight gain! You may have been able to get away with a lot of indulgences when you were younger - that doesn't mean you won't see the effects now. That doesn't mean you should never have a treat. Just plan for it and don't go overboard. Pay attention to how food makes you feel. If you feel guilty or physically sick after a treat, how much of a treat is it, really?

There's an awesome calorie needs calculator here that takes your age and activity level into account. Check what you should be getting and start adjusting if you're been getting too much (or too little!!).

2) Women tend to exercise less as they get older, when we need it more than ever! You've got to move if you want to maintain a healthy weight past menopause. This can take the form of things you like doing, like gardening, riding your bike, walking, bowling, golfing, tai chi (try it, it's awesome!), yoga... whatever you like to do that involves moving, do more of it! Weight training will also help. Muscle burns more than fat even when you're not moving, so keeping your muscles working will help you keep the fat off. It will also help you maintain a healthy bone density. Don't worry about getting bulky. Women have to work a lot harder than men to get big muscles, and more than likely you won't be embarking on a hardcore weight training regimen. Just start doing some strength training 2-3 times a week. You should try to get in some form of exercise every day. Yes, every day, whether it's taking a walk, strength training, doing an activity you enjoy, or something more high intensity like the elliptical machine. We're made to move, so stop thinking of exercise as something you only have to do 3 times a week. Move as much as you can and learn to love what your body can do!

3) Eat better foods. If you're limiting your calories but constantly eating crap, your body will continue to have metabolic problems, resulting in being unable to lose weight or even continuing to gain weight. So: eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Increase your fiber intake. Avoid packaged foods and foods high in fat and processed sugar. Lay off the caffeine. Drink plenty of water.

4) Adjust your attitude. Menopause is often a time of depression, of self-doubt, of "giving up" on health and vitality. It doesn't have to be that way! Get support from family and friends and spend time every day thinking positively about your life and what you want to get from it. If necessary, get professional help from a counselor or life coach. Consider hiring a personal trainer to help you get your fitness goals on track. Reexamine what you're doing that makes you happy, or not, and start moving toward the things and behaviors that bring you joy. Happier people are healthier people, so figure out what you need to be happy, and pursue that!

Weight gain during menopause can be frustrating and disheartening, but it can be dealt with. Take a good look at your lifestyle and make changes where needed. You've got the rest of your life to look forward to, so make it good!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Long Haul

What I'm doing now is a great example of what NOT to do. I started this blog challenge on June 1st with the best of intentions which petered out around June 20th (just short of my "new habit" goal). Now that it's June 29th and I have 20 entries in June, if I want to finish I need 10 blog entries for two days. I can do it, but it won't be fun, and it probably won't be as good as it would have been if I'd done it once entry per day. I used to do this kind of thing in college all the time. In fact, I started writing papers at the last minute purposely, believing I did better work under pressure. Sometimes, I really did! Unfortunately, working under pressure all the time is not sustainable. I've had to re-learn this lesson a lot in my life, and I still have trouble keeping it straight.

I turned 30 last Tuesday and it has me thinking a lot about the long term. Where my life is going, what I want to make of my business, my relationships, my hobbies and ambitions. I'll be starting a retirement account later today, in fact. I don't have a ton of money to put into it, but the hope is that if I put a little in every week or month for the next... well, at least 35 years, by the end I'll have something I can retire on. I've heard many, many disheartening stories about people waiting too long to start saving and never being able to retire. According to all of the financial experts, I should have started saving in my 20s. Well, I didn't, but I'm not letting that stop me from starting now.

Where is this long ramble heading and how does it relate to fitness? Our bodies are kind of the same as retirement accounts. The more we invest in it and the longer we do so, the better off we will be throughout our lives. You might be a young person thinking about looking hot in a bikini right now, but what about when you're 70? You probably want to be able to get up the stairs at that point, right? It's never too late to start, because something is always better than nothing, but the earlier you start, the better. And your efforts need to be steady, sustainable and constant for the best results. You can't play frantic catchup and hope everything will work out ok, like going on crazy crash diets for your high school reunion and doing nothing for your health and fitness most of the time. This just doesn't help, and eventually will leave you worse off than if you hadn't done it.

So, beyond what you want to look like or fit into next week or next month or next year, give some thought to the long haul and how your lifestyle is gong to contribute to your health in the years to come. You'll start to understand that crazy diets and unsustainable exercise programs are not going to do it. Change has to be sustainable throughout a lifetime, and for that kind of change, slow and steady wins the race.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Intensity: the key to faster weight loss

If you're trying to lose weight, which about 50% of the American population is doing at any given point, you probably already know that exercise and diet are key. You might not know that just *any* exercise will not necessarily get your the results you want.

Numerous studies have shown that the old way of thinking about cardiovascular exercise - slow, sustained activity at 65% of max heart rate for optimum effectiveness - cannot hold a candle to interval training, which mixes very high intensity with lower intensity recovery periods. The problem with high intensity interval training is that not everyone can do it. However, more people can do it than think they can. Even if you are significantly overweight, as long as you don't have uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart disease or some other health problem that would contraindicate vigorous exercise, you can probably work much harder than you think you can. The reality shows such as Biggest Loser are proving that even very obese people can work much harder and longer than previously thought. Do ask your doctor if you are at all concerned about your ability to perform intense exercise, but if your health is good other than your extra weight, it's probably time to try a more intense approach to exercise.

Another piece of the older thinking about intensity is the max heart rate calculation. According to the equation, your max heart rate should equal 220 - your age in years. For example, if you are 50 years old, that would make your max heart rate 170. The problem with this is that everyone is different, and the research has found that everyone is different enough regarding max heart rate that the equation means very little. I think it's a great idea to keep track of your heart rate while you exercise, but only as a tool to help you keep your intensity high. The combination of old thinking about the "fat-burn zone" existing at 65% of the maximum heart rate and fears of heart attacks, etc, seem to combine to make people want to keep their heart rate low and panic when it rises. A higher heart rate in most cases is a good thing! It means you are working harder and burning more calories overall, and thus more fat than if you were to work at the lower rate for sustained periods of time.

Rather than focusing on heart rate, fitness professionals are turning more and more on the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). On a scale of 1-10, 1 being lying in bed relaxing and 10 being afraid of impending death due to exertion, how do you feel when you exercise? If the answer is generally between 1 and 5, you would do well to get in at least a fewer intervals that bring you up to 7, 8 or 9.

Higher intensity not only increases your calorie burn during exercise, but also for hours afterward. This is known as the afterburn effect. Slow, sustained exercise has very little afterburn. High intensity exercise has a considerable afterburn, meaning you will keep burning calories at an increased rate even hours after your workout ends. This makes higher intensity much more effective than slow, sustained exercise by a LOT.

Basically, the rule of thumb is this. If your body is comfortable, it will not change. Your body generally wants to stay in the state it's in - it got into that state for a reason. Higher intensity exercise is not very comfortable. Because the body is working harder than normal, it will respond by changing; dropping body fat and building lean muscle (as long as you are getting proper nutrition and not a starvation diet). If this is what you want, you're going to have to push it.

Again, ask your doctor first if you have any cause for concern about high intensity exercises. Try starting with one of these 1-3 times per week and see your body begin to respond:

Major Muscle Training Intervals:

Warm up for 5 minutes by walking or jogging.

Run or Jog for 1 minute.
Sprint (run as fast as you can) for 15 seconds.
Perform 10 pushups, 10 situps or crunches and 10 squats.
Repeat 5-8 times.

Cool down for about 5 minutes by walking or jogging slowly. Stretch when done.

Cardio Machine Intervals: (bike, elliptical, treadmill, etc.)

Warm up for 5 minutes with a RPE (rate of perceived exertion) of about 3.

Go for two minutes with a RPE of around 5.
Go for 30 seconds with a RPE of around 7-9.
Repeat 6-10 times. (Increase the number of intervals as you become more fit).

Cool down for about 5 minutes by walking or jogging slowly. Stretch when done.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gym Etiquette

Here are some basic rules of thumb in order to get along with everyone in the gym and not make the trainer working on the other side of the room boil with barely surpressed annoyance. :)

Basically, it's all about the golden rule. Be considerate and respectful of others.

1) Wipe the machines. Even if you don't sweat all over everything, it's just a nice thing to do.

2) Don't sit on a machine doing nothing. Someone is probably waiting for it whether you realize it or not. This includes taking really long rest times between sets. Your workout will be ineffective anyway if you wait 5 minutes between working.

3)If someone asks if they can "work in", they want to know if they can use the machine during your rest periods. It's like playing through slower players on the golf course. If it's completely impractical, politely decline, but when possible, share.

4) Observe time limits on cardio machines when people are waiting. You wouldn't want to be on the other end, waiting for someone who keeps going for another 10 minutes.

5) Don't grunt, sing or talk on your cell phone while you're working out in a room full of people trying to focus on what they're doing.

Play nice, and everyone's workout will be more enjoyable. Happy exercisers get better results!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

All-or-nothing thinking gets you NOTHING

I see this all the time. A client comes to me, excited and ready to go. This is the time they will finally get everything together and get in amazing shape! They will work out for an hour and a half every day (even though they've been a couch potato for the last 3 years), survive on lettuce and cottage cheese (even though they currently have a major fast food addiction) and in no time at all, they will have the Perfect Body (TM). This, by the way, will solve all of their problems and make them Happy (TM).

I talk to them a little and find out that this is not the first time they've made such a resolution. It's a familiar pattern, because for many years, I lived it.

Here's what happens. We are dissatisfied with the way things are and decide we need to change it. We want instant gratification, so we decide to take massive action and change all of our habits at once, rabidly pursuing what we think we need to do to get the perfect version of what we want. We write or plan out elaborate schemes and get very excited about the whole prospect. For a short period of time, we are all over it. We work out daily and eat nothing but whole grains, veggies and lean protein. Then, after a few days, or a week or two, it catches up to us. We're too tired or sore to do a workout. The girls are going out for martinis and we just can't stand it anymore. A hiccup occurs in the plan, and we are horrified. We have just blown the whole thing! We will never be able to change, we are just lazy, gross and will be fat and out of shape forevvaaarrr. Our plan is derailed and we feel like absolute failures, so we say "screw it, I may as well eat anything I want, and screw exercise, it's not like I can change anyway."

This is all-or-nothing thinking. If we could step outside ourselves for a moment and observe the thought and behavior patterns, we would think it came from an overdramatic teenager! We need to grow up a little here and reform our unrealistic expectations. We need to be able to live with imperfection, because it's part of being human. Human beings don't change instantly. It takes time, and patience, and self-forgiveness when we mess things up.

If you're contemplating a new nutrition or fitness plan, think about sustainability. Is it something you can live with? Are you trying to make everything happen at once? Look at your past behavior. Have you often started a new plan only to wash your hands of it in frustration in a few days or weeks?

The only way to truly build sustainable health and fitness is to get past all-or-nothing thinking. Don't expect yourself not to make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, let it go and get back to your goals as soon as possible. Recognize that you don't want to live your life without pleasure and that you shouldn't try to deprive yourself of everything you enjoy in the pursuit of some unattainable perfect you.

Believe me, I've been there, and I don't want to go back anytime soon. Besides being miserable, I was terribly unhealthy.

Eventually, with some patience and support from the people close to me, I got over myself and learned to take small steps to improve over time, working through setbacks without beating myself up. The less all-or-nothing thinking I do, the happier and healthier I am.

That's not to say I don't still do it sometimes. All-or-nothing thinking is a hard habit to break, and society reinforces it constantly.

But with patience, self-forgiveness, and small steps, I've managed to banish it from my life most of the time. If you decide to, I know you can too. :)

The importance of SMART goals

I tell all my clients to make SMART goals. This is a well-known acronym standing for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely (or Time-Bound). I tell people this because the vague statement of "I want to lose weight" or any similar statement tends to yield no results. When we actually think and plan out SMART goals, things start getting done.

I ran smack-dab into a personal example a couple days ago when I picked up my bridesmaid dress for a friend's wedding, which is happening in July. Because the bride is awesome, I got to pick my own dress, as did all her bridesmaids. It's a subtle blue strapless stunner. And it doesn't fit. :P

Due to depression and a number of things, I slacked off on my own diet and exercise program over the winter and gained weight because of it. Not a ridiculous amount, but enough that I've been meaning to go on the offensive with my program for awhile. Until I had a firm deadline, though, I was putting it off. There were a lot of "I'll start tomorrow"s, and "eh, I'm busy today, it's not a huge deal if I don't get my run in." Now that I have a firm deadline in mind, it's actually easier for me to consistently make the right choices to get there. I'm not freaked out about it; just focused. I haven't gone on a crash diet; just adjusted in a sane way and am making sure to get in my cardio every day and working harder on the strength training. This reminds me of how important the components of the SMART goal are.

Specific means you have to know what you're going for. Don't be vague. If it's about weight loss make it a number of pounds or a clothing size. If it's about strength, specify exactly what you want to be able to do. If it's a functional goal, state how many miles you want to be able to walk or run, or whatever.

Measurable means you can quantify it. If you just want to feel better, how will you know when you're there?

Achievable means it has to be possible. Don't set yourself up for failure by making an impossible goal, for example losing 30 pounds in a week.

Realistic means you have to think about how likely you are to follow through and achieve this goal. Even if the goal is possible, like getting ready for a marathon in 2 months, you may not actually be willing to put in the amount of work it would take to achieve it. Think about what you're willing to put into your goal and adjust accordingly.

Timely or Time-Bound was what I was missing. Deadlines help us not to put things off continuously. If there's no event coming up, try picking an artificial deadline. It helps when we have something to hang the deadline on, though. Otherwise we can just keep moving it back.

Try writing your goals out and testing them by these criteria. If they don't fit, tweak them until they do. Then, post them somewhere you can see them so that you can make good decisions and make a little progress each day. Go for it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Busting out of a plateau

Ok, so you've been following your workout plan for awhile now, and getting results. But suddenly, the scale is stuck, or your clothes just aren't fitting any better, or you're not seeing any more definition. What do you do?

The answer is, perhaps obviously, change. Once you've hit a plateau, it means your body has adjusted to whatever you're doing and become efficient at it. It doesn't need to physically change to keep it up, so it doesn't.

So the question is what to change? You have several options.

1) Up the intensity. If you've been taking leaisurely walks, try speed walking or tackling hills. If you've been at a level 3 ramp on the treadmill, bring it up to 4 or 5. Go faster and harder for whatever cardio activity you've been doing. And if you're not doing intervals yet, now is the time to start. (Intervals means working at alternating intensities - for example, very hard for 1 minute, medium for 2, repeat. This has been shown to be the most efficient way to lose fat thus far.)

2) Increase the weight you're lifting. Women: don't be afraid to get bulky. Long lean, toned bodies are built by lifting heavy weights, not doing 30 reps of a light weight. Really. Choose a weight you can lift with good form 8-10 times before you become completely worn out and unable to continue. Then do 2-3 sets with about 30 seconds of rest in between. Or do circuit training, where you do a different exercise right away instead of resting, then going back to the original exercise for additional sets. This way you make the most of your workout time and increase your calorie burn. As the weight you're using becomes easier to lift, increase it.

3) Do something entirely different. If you've been on the elliptical exclusively, try the treadmill and bike to switch things up. Try body weight or free weight exercises instead of weight machines (if you're not sure what to do, do the research, ask someone who knows, or hire a trainer). Try a new sport, martial art, or other physical activity. Make your body start to adapat to something new. This is how you get physical change.

4) Change your diet. You may need to decrease your calorie intake. Believe it or not, if you've been on a very low calorie diet, you meay need to eat more. Don't skip meals. Drink lots of water, 64+ ounces daily. You may need to increase your protein intake, or even your complex carbs. Watch your fat intake and try to get mainly the "good" unsaturated fats rather than saturated or trans fats (clue: anything that says hydrogenated oils has trans fat whether the label lists it or not, because it turns to trans fat in your body). If you're just not sure what to change or are completely overwhelmed, try seeing a nutritionist or dietician.

5) Take a break. If you're feeling sluggish, sore, injured or just not into your workout anymore despite doing lots of exercise, you might need a rest. Once you're able to tackle your workouts with a recovered body, you may start seeing good results again. People who are avid exercisers or athletes need to take about a week off every six months or so to fully recover and start fresh.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A trainer's review of P90X

P90X, if you haven't heard the hype, is a heavily marketed hardcore fitness program in the form of a big set of DVDs. It is supposed to be a 90 day total body transformation program, complete with nutrition program.

A lot of people ask me what I think of this program, so here is a rundown of the positives and negatives.


-The workouts are actually really good with a lot of original exercises that really do the job. I particularly like the "Ab Ripper," a 15 minute ab segment that works every part of your abdominal muscles. The concept of "muscle confusion" - working the muscles in different ways each workout so as not to hit a plateau - is a good one and will get results.

-The plyometrics, cardio and strength training really will jumpstart your metabolism. This is a very complete program, with heart-pumping cardio, strength training and flexibility work.

-There is very little equipment necessary. You will want a pullup bar and some resistance tubes. You can get everything you need besides the DVDs for around $50.


-This program is being marketed to the average out of shape Joe and Jane, which can be dangerous. You should NOT try to do this program right off the bat if you've never exercised or are restarting after a period of being sedentary. That's a good way to get injured. Even if you don't, it's likely you will give up after not too long because of the difficulty of the workouts.

-This takes a lot of time. I like the program a lot but would like it even better if the workouts were not mostly hour-long ones. That said, the intensity it would take to get similar results in shorter workouts would be even higher.

Is the program worth the $100+ you'll spend on it? Yes, but only if you're already in decent shape and 100% dedicated. Otherwise you'll do a few workouts and put it on the shelf like so much other unused exercise equipment.

This is a great program, but certainly not for everyone.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Could personal training benefit you?

Most people are looking to improve their health and fitness at any given time and are peripherally aware that personal trainers exist, but don't really contemplate hiring one. Recently, I did a drawing for 3 free personal training sessions and when I notified the winner, she asked me exactly what a personal trainer does. I realized that lots of people probably have no idea what a personal trainer actually does; in fact before I started doing research into the health and fitness industry I really didn't know myself. So, here is a rundown of what trainers do and some of the benefits you might get from working with one.

1) Personal trainers educate people about exercise appropriate for their goals, strengths and limitations. If you're just not sure what to do to get where you want to be, a trainer can help you figure out a plan.

2) Personal trainers design exercise plans based on individual needs. A trainer can teach you specific exercises designed to get specific results and tell you how many, how often and how hard or heavy to do them.

3) Personal trainers help people create appropriate goals. "I want to lose weight" is a vague goal that is hard to quantify and is usually never achived. A trainer can help you figure out how much weight is appropriate for you to lose if that's what you're looking for, or how long it will take you to get ready for your marathon, or how many times you need to work out in a week to improve your health.

4) Personal trainers help motivate people. We can remind you of why you want to achieve your goals and of the steps you have already taken and need to take to get there. We can give you kicks in the butt when you need them. We can't make the decision for you to give it your all, though, and if you're at a place where you haven't yet decided to do what it takes to get results, a personal trainer can't make you follow through.

5) Personal trainers help you show up. If you have an appointment, you're less likely to miss your workout than if you were exercising on your own.

6) Personal trainers help you track your progress. Through fitness tests, body measurements, weight and body fat testing, we can help you figure out if what you're doing is getting the results you want, and if not, waht to do about it.

7) If you're in a rut, have hit a plateau or are just bored with your workouts, a trainer can help you blast out of it with new exercises, modifications or entirely new programs. It's important to be constantly changing your workouts, because when your body adapts to any given thing, you stop getting good results.

There also seems to be a lot of confusion about how often or how long one should meet with a personal trainer. That all depends on you, your goals, your needs, your schedule and to a certain extent, your budget.

If you're quite self-directed and just need to know what to do, a few sessions with a trainer might be all you need, with an occasional meeting to tune up your workouts or change the exercises so you don't get bored or stop getting results.

If you're able to stick to a plan pretty well but need support on the way, longer-term weekly trainer sessions might be the way to go. You can get a good workout in with the trainer and get a plan for the rest of the week, with the trainer checking in with you to help hold you accountable.

If you're having trouble sticking to a plan, or just don't feel you can push yourself as hard as a trainer will, you may want to meet with your trainer several times per week. If this is difficult for you to afford, think about group personal training. This way, you still get good personal attention and a hard trainer-led workout, but you'll be sharing the cost with others.

As to how long you meet with your trainer, some people meet for a few weeks or months to get in the habit of exercising and learn what they need to know. Others stay for years because they continue to find value in training. It's a way to stay on track and constantly update your workouts as your goals and body evolve.

Whatever your fitness goals, an experienced and certified trainer can probably add value to your journey. How you utilize that relationship to your benefit is mainly up to you.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Equipment-free exercise

There are a million fitness gadgets, machines and pieces of equipment out there. Some are in gyms and fitness centers. Some in the sports equipment store for home use. Some are on late-night tv, enticing us with fitness models and logical-sounding claims.

Sometimes, you need to just step back and return to the basics. Machines, dumbbells, kettlebells, stability balls, BOSU trainers, treadmills, rowing machines, etc. are great tools for helping us forge the fit, toned bodies we want. But they are tools. We don't NEED any of them.

Equipment free exercises are great for traveling, but they're also a good staple for our regular workout routines. If you start your day with a few equipment free strength training exercises, you're ahead of the game, and if you're worried about not having time to get to the gym, you can certainly do without! I prefer some body weight exercises over their machine counterparts because they work more muscles at once and provide a greater challenge!

Here are some excellent exercises you can do with nothing but your own body.


March in place (bring your knees up high and swing your arms)
Jump: straight up, or side to side, or any variation you like

Leg strength:

Lunges (stay tuned for posts on how to do these spot-on)
Calf raises
Standing leg extensions
Duck walks & bear walks

Upper body strength:

Pushups (see previous post for tips)
Dips (for the triceps - use a chair or the floor and push yourself up with your elbows behind you)
Crab walks

Core strength:

Planks & side planks
Bicycle crunches
and a million variations....

There is a nearly endless variety of things you can do without equipment - the above are just a few of my favorites. Enjoy!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pushups: an awesome exercise most people get wrong

Pushups are some of the best exercises there are. They require no equipment and work multiple muscles and joints. Depending on your strength, you can do them standing and pushing against a wall (easiest), from the knees (medium) or from the feet on the floor (hardest). There are many variations that add challenge and emphasize different muscles. Unfortunately, most people don't know how to do them correctly and either get a lousy workout or worse, hurt themselves. Here is what you need to know.

Pushups work your arms, chest and core, with a supporting role from almost everything else in your body. To do a correct pushup:

-Keep your body in a straight line. This applies whether you're working from your knees, from your feet, or standing up and pushing off a wall or counter. The hips should be in line with the knees and the head / neck. Don't let the positions of either change as you move up and down. Keeping your stomach muscles tight throughout the exercise will help you hold the position. Using a mirror is very helpful.

-Keep your hands under your shoulders and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. If they are out under your head or even further, this exercise will be much harder and will probably hurt your shoulders.

-When you bend the elbows to come down, don't keep them out paralell to your shoulders. Bring them back at about a 45 degree angle from your body to avoid rotator cuff problems.

-Come down as low to the floor as you can while still supporting your own weight. Technically, a "proper" pushup means coming down close enough to the floor with your chest (not with you head - that should be higher than your chest, in line with the rest of your spine) to touch a fist placed below your chest's center. If you can't get down that far yet, just get as close as you can.

-If you are too tired to hold the correct position, stop and rest instead of trying to continue with bad form. This goes for pretty much any strength training exercise out there. It is better to do 10 pushups with perfect form that 20 that are out of alignment and sloppy.

-If you are having problems with your wrist hurting during pushups, try standard pushup handles or the "perfect pushup" rotating handles. With either, hold your wrist straight instead of letting them bend at the same angle they would if your hand were flat on the ground. Keeping the wrists straight and "neutral" will take the extreme stretching off the muscles and tendons in this small and vulnerable area of the body.

Good luck!

How to snap out of a "I don't wanna" mood

You're drained after a long day, or not ready to get out of bed. You're just not feeling it. At. All.

How do you get your butt off the couch or out of bed and working out like you planned? Moreover, how do you get yourself to look forward to it instead of dreading it?

One key is consistency. The more you exercise, the better it feels. For the first couple of weeks you're doing it, if you've been inactive, it's probably going to feel uncomfortable and you're probably going to feel worn out afterward. What's all this about exercise increasing energy? Depending on how deconditioned you are before you start, at first it might just make you feel pooped. Don't let that stop you. If you're consistent and start doing a little something preferably every day without overdoing it, you'll start feeling the benefits of increased vitality and energy with little bursts of exercise induced endorphins ("happy hormones"). Once you start feeling better, it's easier to keep at it.

Sometimes that's not enough. We get into these arguments with ourselves. "I'm tired, I deserve a break, I don't feel like it today, I'm too busy..." etc. etc. etc. We view exercise as a chore, and so we do mental backflips to avoid it. We need to start viewing exercise as something fun and valuable. Lots of people who enjoy exercise view it as "me time", to focus on and care for themselves. Taking the time to care for yourself means you're better able to care for others and fulfill your responsibilities. Plus it makes for happier people. Still dubious? Try something new you haven't tried before. Zumba is cardio dance and seems more like a dance party than exercise. There are lots of team sports you can try - check programs in your area. Martial arts are fun and active and can really help if you're feeling frustrated. After all, you get to go beat on punching bags for awhile. Find something you like, and try different things until you figure out what that is. Make exercise social if that works for you - work out with friends or groups of people. Get outside if you like being there. Get in the water if you like to swim. Find some aspect you like and start thinking of exercise as something you're lucky to be able to do.

Okay, so those are long-term attitude adjustments to work on. How do you get out of a short term slump and get your workout in right now?

1) Imagine how you will feel afterward. Accomplished. Alive and awake. Energized. Relaxed after a great stretch. I love the feeling of getting into the shower after a good sweat. Whatever makes you feel great after you've just gotten done with exercise, visualize that with every detail you can, and crave it like you would a piece of chocolate.

2) Bargain with yourself, but don't make your reward food. Maybe if you get your workout in, you can then take the rest of the evening off and watch a favorite tv show. Or go window shopping at your favorite store. Or whatever slight indulgence you want to look forward to but that won't sabotage your efforts.

3) Decide. With a capital D. Remember that you are in control of your life and your outcomes, and that success is the sum of the decisions you make for many days in a row. Make the conscious choice to succeed today.

4) Switch things up. If you'd planned on going on the treadmill and can't stand the thought, try playing basketball with a friend or trying that new kickboxing class or whatever. Do something different, equally beneficial, that you can stand the thought of a little better.

5) Call up your acountability partner. You have to plan ahead for this one and ask someone to help you keep yourself on track. Then when you're wavering, you call them and they talk you into it. If you don't have a formal partnership set up, call your most encouraging friend and tell them you need some firing up. Then listen to them.

I hope these help. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I get so sick of hearing and seeing variations on the phrase "weight loss secrets."

Secrets? Really? Is there some super weight-loss cult out there plotting and hiding this information from the rest of us? And Glamour Magazine, or whatever product is boasting the "Secrets" headline is our only hope of getting this amazing, magic information that will make us instantly slim and perky?

First, I object to the wording. There are no weight loss secrets. There is so much information freely available on the topic floating around on the internet among other sources that one could never hope to wade through it all. Some information is more reliable and relevent, but trust me, none of it is kept under wraps, and no magazine or website writer has "inside info" on this stuff. They research the information that's available, maybe talk to an expert or two, and give an opinion on what they think will help the most. Somehow, using the word "secret" seems to sell magazines and DVDs, so it's used as often as humanly possible.

More importantly, I object to the idea. Everyone is aware of the very basic principles of losing weight. Eat in moderation and exercise often. Sure, there are ways to go about this more efficiently and there are things that might affect your outcome such as hormones and there are things that can help to an extent like thermogenic drugs. But without at least one, and preferably both of those two foundations, significant weight loss will not occur. Both concepts represent having to put effort into changing our habits, and we hate that! So, we keep reading up on these so-called "Secrets" and hope that something will eventually tell us we don't have to eat right or exercise and it'll actually work.

In the meantime, we don't take the small steps that, if taken each day, will eventually, slowly and steadily (and we hate that too, in our society of instant gratification) get us to the weight and level of health where we want to be.

My advise as a fitness professional is to stop waiting for some mystical weight loss secret and start doing something small each day to get where you visualize yourself wanting to be. Take a walk. Put half your restaurant meal in a doggie bag for later. Meet a friend for a game of tennis or chat on the elliptical machine for 20 minutes. The more you do them, the more ingrained these habits will become, and you won't have to worry about it all so much, because slowly and steadily, you'll get there!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Shake Weight: Product Review

Okay. You have to have seen this thing. A woman with gorgeous, toned arms shaking the daylights out of a small, white dumbbell that obligingly moves up and down in her hands. Once you get over the fact that this looks dirty as all get-out, you begin to wonder if the claims that you can get those buff, toned arms in just 6 minutes a day might be true. After all, $19.95 isn't that much....

Well, here's my professional opinion. Save your $20 and buy some real dumbbells!

First off, the thing weighs 2.5 pounds. That is a weight I might use in training a beginner who is frail and elderly, or someone with an injury that prevents them from lifting heavier weights. Most beginners will start with 3 pound weights in both hands, minimum, and will move up from there quickly. So, to get any results, one would have to use it with one hand, not the two often pictured, and even in one hand you would adapt to the exercise very quickly, getting very little in the way of results.

Second: The minimal range of motion necessitated by the shaking motion trains only a very small portion of the muscles used. Do you want a really buff quarter inch of muscle, or a tight, toned, long and lean upper arm? To get the latter, you must train in a larger range of motion, provided by traditional exercises such as bicep curls and tricep kickbacks.

Third: most women looking to use this type of contraption are looking for one thing: to get rid of their "bat wings" (fat deposits above the triceps area that tend to flap when moved). You can tone the triceps, and that will help. But getting rid of this accumulated fat is not going to happen with strength training alone. It is a continued myth that "spot reduction" is possible. Training a muscle will tone the muscle, not get rid of the fat in that specific area. To get rid of fat we must combine full body strength training with regular cardiovascular exercise and proper diet. Additionally, the loose skin that remains over the triceps may only get worse with fat loss - our skin loses elasticity and the ability to "bounce back" as we age. In some cases the only option to lose this floppy skin is surgery. The Shake Weight will provide minimal tricep toning, but will not provide the kind of tightening that women who buy the product are looking for.

Fourth: the 6 minute claim: yes, studies have shown that short boughts of high intensity exercise for as little as 6 minutes, a few times during the day, can net big results. The key here is high intensity
, using more than one muscle group and getting you sweating and exerting effort. The Shake weight does not fit the bill, and even if it did you'd have to do a few 6-minute sessions a day to get results.

If you don't want to take my word for it, here is another opinion by a trainer who actually went out and bought the thing.

Tight, toned arms are a great goal, but there are MUCH better ways to go about it. Pushups, bicep curls, tricep kickbacks and dumbbell rows are just a few of the exercises that will help, and if you have 6 minutes, you'll get much more bang for your buck with these.

My loved one won't exercise. What can I do?

Here's the deal. Nagging does not work. It just doesn't. And no matter how gentle your comments, your loved one will probably see it as nagging. The major thing you have to accept here is that your loved one is not you, and you can't make him or her do anything they truly don't want to. I watched my parents struggle with their smoking habits for years. My mother would quit, Dad wouldn't, and soon Mom was back to smoking again. Dad wasn't going to do it until he really wanted to; until he had a reason that spoke to him and gave him the will to follow through and keep following through. My mother got breast cancer and finally, they both quit, together, and have been smoke free for a couple of years now (Mom is also currently cancer-free). No matter what any of us said or did before that, Dad didn't really want to quit, and so he didn't. He would try half-heartedly now and again, but he didn't really want it and so he always fell back into it.

There are some things you can do to help a loved one reach that motivation point when they have the will, desire and follow-through to change their health habits, but first accept that it may not happen right away, or for a long time, or possibly ever. Remember why you love the person and focus on that. You might even tell them some version of "It drives me absolutely crazy that you don't seem to care about this and it makes me worry about you. But I love you no matter what." Oddly enough, sometimes this reassurance is all someone needs.

Some things you can try:

-ask the person to exercise with you. Make sure you're doing something that's reasonable for them, I.e. if you're a marathoner and your spouse is a couch potato, try walking with them, not suicide sprints.

-if they have expressed interest in exercise but haven't followed through, ask if they would like to work with a professional to figure out what to do and get in the habit. Then encourage them to work with a trainer, or purchase a package with a trainer as a gift. (Don't do this is the person is resistant; it will just be a waste of money if they are not ready to commit.)

-try to help the person find something they will enjoy. For example, there are several video games for fitness out there, like the Wii-Fit. If your loved one hates organized exercise but likes video games, maybe this will help. If they hate treadmills but love basketball, encourage them to join a team, join one with them, or start playing with them.

-if your loved one feels too frazzled and you can help, do so. Example - if they feel too busy with the kids, volunteer to watch them while they head for the gym.

-if you're looking for help and support in your own health journey, let your loved one know that. Sometimes we will go further to help our loved ones out than to help ourselves.

Remember, you want your loved one to exercise because you care about them. Be patient and understanding, as you would want them to be about your own faults and bad habits. Change happens gradually, not overnight.

Good luck!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Buying cardio equipment

Cardio equipment is expensive stuff. It can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and too often ends up as a really costly clothing rack. Here are some things to think about before making the investment.

1. Is whatever piece of equipment you're considering what you really need? Recently, my aunt purchased a Total Gym. Total Gyms are ok for many people, but my aunt is very heavy and almost none of the exercises worked for her when she asked me to come over and show her how to use it. Luckily, she was able to return it, but it would have been easier if she had done the research and understood it was not the right piece of equipment for her in the first place. Think about the type of exercise you need and what, if any, limitations you have. If you have bad knees you might choose an elliptical machine over a treadmill. If you want to run, make sure the treadmill you're looking at is not just suited to walking. If it's difficult for you to stand for long periods, you may need a stationary bike instead of an elliptical or treadmill, and if you have a bad back you might need a recumbent bike instead of an upright.

2. Will you use equipment at home or do you need the motivation of actually going out to the gym (and being around other exercising people) to get your exercise done?

3. Do you actually need a piece of cardio equipment? A wii-fit or other fitness video games, an aerobic step (or your own stairs) and exercise videos are all less expensive options that may net you the same results as your own treadmill, bike or elliptical machine.

4. Can you get what you want used? A family member may have the treadmill you want malingering in their basement and might give it to you for free! Or, check craigslist, Play It Again Sports, garage sales or your local newspaper's classifieds. Do beware and make sure you check any used equipment for functionality. Make sure nothing's broken or unsafe. Much of the time, you can get a very functional and lightly used piece of cardio equipment for much less that you would pay for new.

5. Before buying any piece of equipment, new or used, try it and and make sure it's a comfortable fit for your body. Personally, I can't stand certain elliptical machines because the stride feels all wrong, and I can't imagine spending half an hour on them. I bought a used Tony Little Gazelle walker a few years ago wanting something to use indoors in the winter without having to trek to the gym. The thing felt awful and I used it twice. Make sure you're getting something you can use in relative comfort.

I you've asked yourself all the right questions, purchasing a piece of cardio equipment can be a great way to add to your fitness routine. Like anything else, check your impulses, make a smart decision, and enjoy the results!

Emotional Eating Alternatives

To an extent, we are all emotional eaters. From the day we are born, food is linked with love, comfort and safety. As we get older, our families and culture implant ideas about food and celebrations, food and feelings, food and guilt. It is impossible to completely separate food from the things it is besides fuel for our bodies, and really, we wouldn't want to. Taste, touch and smell and sight are all engaged by our food, and eating well is a wonderful experience, as long as we don't convince ourselves to feel bad about it.

However, many of us use food in inappropriate ways, mistakenly trying to meet our emotional needs with physical food. This leaves us feeling badly and impacts our health negatively. It becomes an vicious cycle: we eat, we feel bad about it, we eat more to stop feeling bad, etc.

The first step to stopping this cycle is conscious thought. When suddenly hit with a food craving that's not physical hunger, we need to stop long enough to recognize that it's not food we really need or want in that moment. Then, we need to supply ourselves with an alternative outlet for filling whatever emotional need is behind the urge to eat.

Here are some ideas. It's best to sit down and write your own list, and experiment to figure out what works best for you. Remember, if you end up not being able to avoid the urge to eat at first, treat yourself with compassion. Getting angry at yourself only furthers the vicious cycle and leaves you back where you were: feeling badly and not knowing what to do about it except eat.

Think about trying these:

When you're feeling anxious and in need of comfort:

-write your feelings down.
-call a friend and talk about what's bothering you.
-take a walk and breathe deeply.
-get a hug from someone you trust.
-problem-solve whatever is going on - figure out a step by step plan to fix the problem or prevent whatever you're worried about.
-turn on some soothing music.
-try a warm shower or bath.

When you're feeling devastated or sad:

-see all of the above.
-count your blessings - write a list.
-go ahead and let yourself cry.
-call your mom or a friend who will listen and commiserate with you.

When you're feeling angry or frustrated:

-see many of the above.
-punch a pillow or punching bag, or shadow box. Get all your frustrations out. Picture your problem or the person causing your problem and punch them in the face! (In your imagination, of course.)
-Write a letter you never intend to send airing all your anger. Then tear it up or burn it.
-turn on angry music and stomp around your house.
-channel your anger into something productive that you've been putting off, like cleaning. You'll have enough energy to get it done and barely notice the task.

When you're feeling happy and accomplished (and want to eat to celebrate):

-get some friends together to do something non food related but fun: shopping, bowling, rollerskating, whatever!
-use your happy energy to exercise.
-turn on upbeat music and dance.
-call your friends and tell them all about your success.
-do a random act of kindness for someone.

When you're feeling bored:

-Get out an old project you've been putting off.
-Research something you've been curious about.
-Find a new video game, iPod app, or something to play with.
-Read a book or watch something you've been wanting to.
-Play with a child.
-Try a new exercise or workout (videos are a great source for this).
-Try a new (or old) hobby like playing a musical instrument, making art, etc.

Again, brainstorm and think of things you think will work well for you. Keep your list handy so you'll have it when you need ideas. New habits take awhile to stick, so don't worry if changing the way you react to emotions is slow to change. Keep at it, and eventually your new coping skills will become ingrained.

Friday, June 4, 2010


This is my friend Rose, in her zombie costume.

A friend sent me this link this morning. ZombieFit. These guys have it EXACTLY right.

They take principles from Crossfit and Parjour, and add ZOMBIES.

Crossfit is a system of exercise that belives in major "muscle confusion". Do something different, interesting, and difficult each day, and you'll build an awesome body with very few weaknesses.

Parkour is a sport developed in France and spreading over the world. It is a system of movement that states there are no barriers, only obstacles, all of which can be overcome. People jump, flip, roll and mount objects like rails, stairs, walls, etc, making the urban environment a playground and an amazing training ground for the "flight" part of "fight or flight."

ZombieFit takes these concepts and combines them into a system that promises optimum fitness for when the zombie apocolypse comes and we need to run, jump, fight and survive in a world of flesh-eating animated corpses. I haven't attended a class, but I imagine there's a huge amount of crazy fun involved. In the area of extreme fitness, it's a great new concept, and I can't wait to experiment with it!

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Planning is important. If you don’t have a plan, you don’t know how you’re going to get from point A to point B, and you risk not getting there at all.

However, sometimes we get so caught up in making the perfect plan that we never really start the journey. Or we wait for the conditions to be just right in order to begin. We have to “feel like it,” be “in the right headspace,” have every resource available, have the answer to every question before we are ready to move forward.

This is a recipe for never getting anywhere at all. I can be a control freak at times. One of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn is that there is no perfect time to start anything, and while preparing and planning are positive things, they can impede us just as much as they help us. Am I implying that you should skip planning and preparation altogether and go after what you want completely blind? Of course not.

But stop waiting for the perfect time, the perfect day, the perfect plan. Stop derailing yourself and starting over completely because something didn’t go the way you thought it should. Adapt. Move forward. You’ll never get where you want to be by standing around and thinking about how you’re going to do it. Life is messy and uncertain. Get over it. Act. Choose not to be a bystander on the sidelines of your own life. The only way you will get anything like the life you want is by taking action every day to get there.

Good luck!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Today, boys and girls, we are going to talk about excuses.

Excuses sabotage everything our "best" selves intend for us. They're part of human nature. When we don't really want to do something, our very intelligent brains come up with dozens of reasons why we can't or shouldn't. The dumb thing is, we tend to spend more time futzing around with excuses and thinking and getting mad at ourselves and then soothing ourselves... we might as well have saved ourselves the time and trouble and gone ahead and done whatever we should have in the first place!

I'm going to use exercise as an example because it's what I hear the most excuses about, but you can apply this to whatever you tend to make excuses not to do. Try the following strategies to steamroll right over your excuses and create the habits you really want.

1. Problem-solve.
Many excuses are logistical in nature. "Lynda, I don't exercise because I don't have any time." Yes, you may be very busy. But everyone has a few minutes stashed here and there. It's a matter of figuring out where they are and how you can harness them. We make time for the things that are important to us. You don't have to exercise for one uninterrupted hour each day - that might well be unrealistic for you. But can you take a 10 minute walk on your lunch break, take the stairs at work, take your kids to play frisbee in the park while you're watching them, march in place while your working on dinner? Actually, once you actually go through your day, you probably have more time than you think. Don't take your excuses at face value. Think it through and find a way.

2. Argue with your negative thoughts.
"I can't exercise because I'm embarrassed, I look like hell, it hurts to move, I'm clumsy and feel like a dork." We're so mean to ourselves! You wouldn't say those things to a friend, or even a stranger, but chances are you have your own torturous way of thinking about yourself that holds you back from the things you really want to do, especially when it comes to exercise. Argue with those thoughts! What would you say to a friend who had heard these insults? You'd probably get mad on their behalf. Get mad at your own inner demons, and set out to prove them wrong!

3. Trick yourself.
"I really don't feel like exercising today." If you've made a commitment to yourself to exercise, you should try to follow through. Tell yourself "I'll do it for 5 minutes, and if I still don't feel like it, I'll stop." by the time you've gotten dressed and started working out, it'll feel kind of silly to stop after 5 minutes. Tell yourself "5 more, just to make it worth it." By this time, you're probably done whining anyway and just focused on getting it done.

4. Distract yourself.
Work out with a friend and chat while you do. Listen to music. Have a tv on in the background or a magazine on the treadmill. You need to focus to a certain extent, but we tend to get bored easily in our overstimulated world. Have something to hold your interest while you get the work done.

5. Enlist an accountability partner.
Make a deal with a friend, relative or coworker. Each of you will commit to the habits you're tying to create, and give each other regular status reports. If you missed a workout, you have to explain why. Make it someone who will call you on your crap, and do the same favor for them.

6. Focus on the results, not the task.
Okay, so you don't really want to exercise. But your probably DO want the benefits that come with it - increased energy, reduced stress, feeling good in your own skin, etc. The long-term results are hard to focus on, but you can also focus on the immediate feeling of accomplishment that always comes after you've fulfilled a promise to yourself to take action on something at any given time. Think how good you're going to feel after that swim class, and go do it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

21 days to make a habit

Studies have shown that it takes about 21 days to break or form a new habit. Personally, I think 30 days is a good, round number, and gets any last stubborn resistance out. :) Think about that. 30 days from now, you could have a new habit you've been talking or thinking about forever and not really doing anything about. It just takes a little bit of action every day. Chris McCombs, a self-styled fitness business mentor, talks about taking "massive action". That's awesome, and hey, if you can do that, go for it. Personally, I believe in small, sustainable steps. Trying to do too much all at once tends to result in getting overwhelmed and backtracking as fast as possible to return to one's comfort zone - the old habits you've been stuck in forever. So aim for balance. Challenge yourself, but don't expect to reach perfection in 30 days.

I'm thinking about this concept because I'm participating in Jeanette Cates' 30 Day Blog Challenge. I'm supposed to write a new blog post every day of 150 or more words and then post it to Twitter. I've had this blog for awhile and it's not like it's *hard* for me to write - I was an English major! (Don't use that to judge my grammatical errors and typos, please!) I just haven't made a conscious effort to form the habit of writing in it on a daily or almost daily basis. By doing this I hope to get some good, informative writing done, make more connections and ultimately identify some more people who can benefit from training with me and want to take that step. So, while I'm working on this blog thing, why don't you think about trying to form a habit over the next 30 days. Maybe it's drinking your 8 glasses of water, or walking for 20 minutes a day, or changing the way you talk about your body from negative to positive. Maybe it's increasing your endurance until you can finally run an entire mile without stopping. Or maybe it's replacing a big bowl of ice cream for dessert with fruit. Maybe it has nothing to do with your physical health and fitness, and that's fine too. But pick something you've been meaning to do for awhile and take a little action on it every day for the next month. You've got nothing to lose, and plenty to gain!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Healthy Convenience Foods for People Who Hate to Cook

For those who love to cook, there’s never a shortage of great, cheap, healthy recipe ideas.

Personally, I hate to cook.

I get home at night and want my yummy, healthy dinner *now*, not 45 minutes of cooking from now. I hate the “easy” recipes that involve 20 different ingredients. I hate scrubbing out the slow cooker. Even the George Foreman grill, with its runnels of grease, is a nightmare to me.

Sometimes, my wonderful boyfriend cooks for us both. Sometimes (VERY rarely), I suck it up and cook something. The rest of the time, I count on a variety of healthy pre-made foods marketed to the uber-busy or lazy health conscious person. Here are some staples I count on in my kitchen:

1. Jimmy Dean “D’lights” breakfast sandwiches. These are under 300 calories, use egg whites, turkey bacon and whole grain English muffins, and taste really good. They’re ready in 2 minutes in the microwave, and are cooked wrapped in paper towel instead of the plastic wrapper, for those concerned about possible carcinogens.

2. Amy’s frozen meals. These tend to be more expensive than regular frozen meals, but if you find a sale, stock up. They have a great selection of organic, nutritious, delicious entrees. My favorites are the Stuffed Shell Pasta Bowl, the Teriyaki Bowl, and the Mushroom and Olive Pizza (the single serve version has 450 calories, which is great for a satisfying and not diet-busting lunch or dinner). I also have to mention the Toaster Pops, which taste like mini pies and have twice the protein, 50 fewer calories and 6 fewer grams of sugar than unfrosted Pop Tarts!

3. No-Pudge! Fat Free Brownies. Okay, this is a delicious dessert that is fat free and only 120 calories per serving (vs. 190 in Betty Crocker Fudge Brownies from mix, prepared). Plus, you only have to mix in one item – fat-free vanilla yogurt. And this is the best part: for a single serving, all you have to do is stir two tablespoons of the mix and one tablespoon of yogurt into a small bowl and microwave it for a minute. Easy!

4. Kroger Meals Made Simple Fully Cooked Turkey Bacon. You can microwave the strips or serve them cold, by themselves or on simple sandwiches. They provide 40 calories and 3 grams of fat per 2 strips, vs. 104 calories and 9 grams of fat in regular bacon. They taste good, too.

5. Dr. Praeger’s Veggie Burgers. I like veggie burgers that don’t actually try to taste like meat – there’s something creepy about that. These veggie burgers know they’re veggie burgers and taste good as veggie burgers. At 100 calories per patty and a couple minutes in the microwave to prep, they win for me.

6. Birdseye Steamfresh Veggies. They’re veggies you stick in the microwave and they steam right in the bag. There’s some concern over cooking in plastic and the nutritional content of frozen vs. fresh veggies (though several respected sources do state that frozen is fine). For now, I think any veggies are better than none, and these are very convenient in helping the lazy or busy cook include them in their diet.

7. Trader Joes Organic Jasmine Rice and Organic Brown Rice. This rice is really, really good and microwaves in 3 minutes. For anyone who’s cooked rice, especially brown rice, you know how much of a time saver that is. Jasmine rice, by the way, is one of the healthier white rices, with a lower glycemic index than regular white rice.

8. Trader Joes Turkey Meatballs. Trader Joes is full of awesome and nutritious easy frozen stuff. These frozen meatballs are low in fat and calories and high in protein, and they taste great. I toss them on top of the microwaveable rice and toss some veggies and a little teriyaki sauce on top. Good stuff.

Know some other great healthy convenience foods? I’m always on the lookout, so let me know!