Eating in a Pickle: What to do when you need something quick and easy.

Well, I can honestly say I enjoyed my pumpkin pie last Thursday.  There was no leche flan or kare-kare, so that was a little disappointing.  But I did have plenty of cassava cake.

In Filipino culture, it’s customary for all your guests to help themselves to the leftovers after the party is over.  So as the host, you better make plenty of extra food so they can have food to take home.  Our guests definitely got their share; we’ve already run out of leftover turkey and green beans, and it’s only Saturday!

So now I’m searching for something to eat for lunch.  We’ll probably end up going out to eat, so I was reminded of a comment that Rachel left on my post about HFCS.  She asked:

“I appreciate the alternatives you mentioned for HFCS. I find, however, that it’s VERY difficult to find foods without fake sugar of corn syrup in them. Yes, clean eating is ideal, but what do you do when those are not an option? We all want to be able to plan ahead and pack our food so we’re not caught in a pickle – but what do you do when you inevitably are in that pickle? What are the best options?”

Rachel is exactly right.  Sometimes life gets in the way of planning ahead and packing all our food.  And sometimes you don’t want to bring a sack lunch to certain occasions – business lunches, weddings, dinner with a friend, etc.  Or sometimes you just don’t have time to make your own food.  Like me right now.

So I’m going to talk about a couple different scenarios where you might feel like you’re “in a pickle” and what I do when I find myself there.

SCENARIO #1:

You’re at home, and you need to grab something quick to eat before you pick the kids up from school or before Grey’s Anatomy starts.  But you don’t have time to cook anything.  What are your options?  Well, you can always pick up the phone and order a pizza or Chinese takeout, or you can make a quick run to the McDonald’s drive-through for a quarter pounder with cheese and small fries from the dollar menu.  Or you can do one of the following:

Option #1: You can throw together something small and quick.  I like to keep my freezer stocked with emergency food in cases just like this.  In my freezer you’ll always find turkey meatballs, heat-and-eat edamame, and frozen berries.  In my fridge you’ll always find a jar of almond butter and flax seeds.  So with this emergency stash, you have two options:

    1. You can have a tasty and healthy meal of turkey meatballs and edamame.  Just heat and serve!  You can find both in Trader Joe’s freezer section.  There are also plenty of other emergency freezer goodies in that section, like grilled chicken and buffalo burgers (lean and high in protein).
    2. You can throw together a quick shake.  Just throw some rice or soy milk into a blender with a scoop of chocolate protein powder, a handful of frozen berries, a teaspoon or two of almond butter, and a tablespoon or two of flax seeds for added fiber.

Option #2: You can go out to eat.  There are plenty of quick and easy food options near where I live: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, sushi, pasta and pizza, Subway, Trader Joe’s, QFC, Thai food, Chinese, etc.  So how do I decide?  When I’m looking for something quick and easy, I’ll keep the following guidelines in mind:

    • The meal must include some kind of lean protein and fibrous carb (fruits and vegetables).  If it includes a starchy carb, it must be either made from whole grains or there shouldn’t be too much of it. 
    • Nothing fried
    • No creamy or cheesy sauces, minimal butter and cheese
    • Stay away from the places that are likely to use MSG, overload with sodium, or use plenty of artificial ingredients.

That usually rules out the fast food places and many Chinese restaurants.

My husband and I will usually go to Subway for a turkey sandwich on wheat, loads of veggies, and dijon mustard. (Skip the mayo and heavy sauces!) Or we’ll run to Trader Joe’s for a chicken wrap, to QFC for a custom turkey or roast beef sandwich on whole wheat with a cup of non-cream-based soup (like a chicken noodle soup, vegetable soup, or tomato soup).  And on those occasions we feel like something fancier, we’ll get some sushi for some omega-3s from the fish.  However, we’ll eat the fried variations in moderation and we always use the low-sodium soy sauce.

So, to address Rachel’s point that it’s hard to find food without corn syrup or fake sugar in them, all I can say is do the best you can.  When you stock up your fridge with your emergency food, do your shopping at places like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods – grocery stores that are known to use whole, natural ingredients. 

When you decide to go out to eat, choose the places that are more likely to have “real” ingredients.  Alwyn Cosgrove, author of The New Rules of Lifting and The New Rules of Lifting for Women, calls this Three Degrees of Clean Eating.  “If you can’t visualize it roaming, growing, or being extracted from something that is roaming or growing, you probably shouldn’t eat it.”  You may not always know exactly what’s in everything (Subway’s bread might have HFCS in it), but you can do your best to minimize the amount you’re ingesting.  When you find yourself in a pickle, it’s the best you can do.

In my next post, I’ll talk about Scenario #2: You’re out to eat with a client, colleague, or friend, and you want more than just a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.  What do you do?  I’ll list some of my favorite restaurants and what I choose to eat there when I’m in a pickle.

Now, off to Subway…

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Everything Is a Gift – Even the Pimple on My Chin

I hate it when people ask me, “What are you grateful for?”  Not because I’m not grateful for anything, but because there truly are so many things – yes, including the pimple on my chin.  (More on that crazy statement later.)

It’s hard to pinpoint everything that I’m grateful for.  I feel like if I limit myself to one list that fits on a piece of paper (or on a blog post of a reasonable length) I’m not hitting on everything that’s worthy of being called out.

Peruse some of the other blogs out there that were posted today and over the past few days, and you’ll find many a “What I’m Grateful For” posts, most of which list “my family, my friends, my home, my health, etc.”

I by no means discredit any of these things because they are definitely some of the most important things in life.  But there are two issues I have with these types of list.

Firstly, some people call out only those things that they view as being great because they compare them to things that they view as not-so-great.

For example, one of my friends hates her job.  You probably won’t find “I’m thankful for my job” on her list. 

But if she were to really step back and look at her situation, she’d realize that she should be thankful for her job 1) because she has one, 2) because she has actually met some interesting people there, and 3) because the situation she is in has been the trigger for her to start re-evaluating her career so she can finally figure out what she truly enjoys.

There is always something to be grateful for in any situation.  Every adversity or failure carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” – Napoleon Hill

Secondly, some people overlook some of the simple, yet quite significant things in life.

Life is a series of events.  Some events seem more significant than others, but they’re all events that shape you into who you are.  I’m a true believer that we’re all connected and that everything is a gift.  I believe that everything and everyone we encounter touches our lives whether we like it or not, and we in turn touch other lives whether we like it or not.

The beautiful sunrise on the way to work, although at face value might seem insignificant and irrelevant, might put me in a better mood, and so when I get to work I smile at the stranger passing in the hall, which makes his day a little brighter, so he treats his co-worker amicably, so she in turn does her job better that day which allows her company to service their customers better, so their customers are in a better mood and treat their spouses better, and so on and so forth.

You see, it all matters.  Everything is a gift.

This is why I sometimes feel overwhelmed when people ask me what I’m grateful for.  There is so much. 

But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and to jump on the “What are you grateful for?” blogging bandwagon, I’ll attempt to list the first five that pop into my head, in no particular order.  I’ll group together the obvious ones in #1.

  1. I’m thankful for a) my husband for supporting me and all my strengths, weaknesses, and quirks, b) my family and friends for being there and being themselves, c) my health because it allows me to be me and pursue my dreams, d) my job for for allowing me to grow as a person and expand my skills and comfort zone, e) my home for sheltering me and my husband and for being a place of sanctuary.
  2. I’m thankful for my car because it reminds me that I am blessed with financial security and abundance.  I’m thankful that I have the choice to ride in a car, take the bus, or walk.  I’m also thankful for the seat warmers because my butt likes to be toasty warm in the morning.
  3. I’m thankful for the huge pimple that is currently on my chin.  It has reminded me to drink more water which will be good for my overall health, to take my fish oils which will help with my hair, skin, heart, and brain health, and to start eating more cleanly again.  This pimple will help me stay healthy!
  4. I’m thankful for my crazy dog, who makes me smile every single day. 
  5. I’m thankful for the argument I had with my husband last weekend when I asked him to turn the car around because I forgot something at home.  It helped us both to learn to be more patient with each other and to think before reacting and lashing out at each other.  And even though it will more than likely happen again, it might help us down the road when the argument isn’t quite as petty.
  6. I’m thankful for each of you, who allow me to do what I love – write about stuff I care about and that I think might be helpful for others – who actually listen to what I have to say, and who allow me to share a piece of myself with you.  You’ve truly been a part of my growth and happiness these past couple of months.  I only hope that I’ve impacted you in even a minute way.

Okay, I lied.  I know that was 6 and not 5.  I just couldn’t stop at 5!  There are so many more, but I would have to make this a book if I listed them all.

As do many of the other blogs, I too challenge you to write down what you’re thankful for.  You might be surprised how many you can come up with if you really let down your guard and open yourself up to the possibility that everything is in some way a blessing.

Here’s to you and yours this Thanksgiving.  May we all be truly grateful!

Yummy, Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes

So I know my last post was all about indulging this Thanksgiving.  And although I still say you should go for it IF you can uphold the three points I mentioned – 1) moderation is key, 2) remember there are consequences to your indulgence and accept them fully, and 3) promise yourself that it’s for Thanksgiving Day ONLY – there are still some of you who want to make your Thanksgiving meal a healthy one.  If you’re one of those people, props to you!

In fact, even though I still plan on eating pumpkin pie with whipped cream, leche flan, and creamy mashed potatoes, I think I’ll help my mom with the cooking this year by trying out a few healthy Thanksgiving recipes. 

For this post I’ve compiled some ideas that I found all over the place.  Some are from other blogs, some are from food and nutrition sites, and some are floating around in my head.  After you’ve let the food digest after Thanksgiving dinner, add a comment and let me know how some of these recipes worked out for you.  Enjoy!

Salads

  • Arugula and Pear Salad* – I love any salad with fruit on it.  Especially pears.  If you don’t like the bitterness of the arugula, even though the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar should even it out nicely, I’m sure you could nix it and just go with the butterhead lettuce. 
  • Spinach Salad with Dried Cranberries, Walnuts, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette^ – I personally would substitute the dried cranberries with fresh pomegranate seeds since it’s kind of hard to find unsweetened dried cranberries and since pomegranates are in season.  This salad is a triple whammy – three power foods in one: spinach, packed with vitamins A, C, and folate; walnuts, packed with omega-3 fatty acids (good for your heart); and pomegranate, packed with antioxidants.

Main Course

  • Roasted Turkey – You gotta have this one.  And turkey is probably one of the healthiest items on the menu as it is.  As an article called Substitutions Make Holiday Fare Healthier suggests, instead of basting it with butter, baste the turkey with its own juices and consider removing the skin after cooking.  Oh, and oven roast the thing; don’t deep fry it.  It’ll be much less fatty, and you significantly decrease the chance of burning your house down.

Side Dishes

  • Roasted and Pureed Cauliflower^ – If you’re starchy carb conscious, try this alternative to mashed potatoes.  It’s quite garlicky and yummy.  Just keep in mind that it’s cauliflower – not potatoes – so don’t expect it to taste like potatoes.  Also, try using non-fat or low-fat milk instead of whole.
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes – And if you just can’t live without the potatoes, try sweet potatoes instead.  They’re packed with all kinds of vitamins and minerals, higher in fiber, and lower in calories.  Slice ‘em up, toss them with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and whatever herbs you like.  Throw them in the oven at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.  I personally like to drizzle white truffle oil over them.  Mmmmm….
  • Stir-Fried Green Beans with Lemon, Parmesan, and Pine Nuts** – Try this instead of green bean casserole.  Because let’s face it – who actually likes that stuff?  Be sure not to get too carried away with the oil and parmesan though.  You don’t want overly oily and salty green beans.  This dish should be light and refreshing.
  • Whole Wheat Stuffing with Sage, Italian Sausage, and Pears** – I don’t know about you, but stuffing is a must-have on my Thanksgiving table.  Try this alternative with whole wheat bread and turkey sausage.  Oh, and don’t cook it in the turkey.  It’ll just end up absorbing all the fat from the turkey, and in order to cook the stuffing, you’ll probably end up overcooking the turkey.  (Yuck, who wants dry turkey?)

Desserts

  • Pear Crumble* – This one sounds good and nice and easy to make.  Try to go a little easy on the brown sugar and maple syrup though. 
  • Squash Cheesecake Bars* – Surprisingly low in calories, fat, and carbs for a cheesecake recipe.

Beverages

And for some great ideas on what to do with all that leftover turkey, check out my husband’s latest blog, Creative Fat-Blasting Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes.

Happy Healthy Thanksgiving!

 

*   Taken from EatingWell
** Taken from Kalyn’sKitchen
^  Taken from Food Network
^^Taken from Natural Health Magazine

Let’s Indulge this Thanksgiving!

Ah, Thanksgiving.  My favorite holiday of the year.  Every November I look forward to waking up to the smell of turkey roasting in the oven, the sound of my mom clanging around in the kitchen, and the sight of my dad thumbing through the newspaper while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade plays on the TV.

It brings a certain warm and fuzzy feeling.  You know the one – the one that makes you feel like you’re six years old again.  It’s a Thursday, and there’s no school.  The countdown to Christmas is finally starting.  And you’re about to eat the biggest meal of the entire year.

Succulent Thanksgivingturkey, creamy mashed potatoes, tangy cranberry sauce.  Savory stuffing, crisp green beans, decadent pumpkin pie with whipped cream.  And since I’m Filipino, fluffy white puto, peanut buttery kare kare, silky leche flan.  My mouth is already watering just thinking about it.

Food is an amazing thing.  Not only does it nourish your body, it brings family and friends together.  It satisfies your palate and your stomach.  And it has the ability to bring back nostalgia and memories.  It’s truly magical.

So what I’m about to say just may get me blacklisted in the fitness blog community, and my husband just might yell at me.

I propose that we all indulge this Thanksgiving.

[Screech!] Whoa, what?!?!  You want me to eat all that stuff?  What about my goals?  What about eating healthy?  What about steering away from the desserts, carbs, cocktails, and sticking to one plateful of food?

Okay, okay.  I don’t propose that you stuff yourself into a coma.  Until you couldn’t possibly move from the couch after you undo the top button of your pants, and you feel so sick to your stomach as you pass out for the rest of the night.  Because let’s face it – that actually ain’t all that fun.

I’m simply saying, enjoy yourself.  Thanksgiving comes but once a year.  Yes, it’s about giving thanks.  Yes, it’s about family.  But let’s be honest.  It’s about the food too.  Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the banquet.  If you, like me, are fortunate enough to have a table spilling over with food on this blessed day, you should enjoy it.  Enjoy that God gave you the gift of enjoying the savor, the sweet, the salty, the crunchy, and the creamy.  Enjoy the memories of festive parades and family football games that pumpkin pie and candied yams bring.

So while most fitness experts will tell you to skip the sugary desserts, drink fruit juice instead of cocktails, and load your plate up with salad so there is minimal room left for the mashed potatoes and stuffing, I’m telling you the opposite.  Enjoy the pumpkin pie, sip a martini, and make sure to get your fair share of the mashed potatoes and stuffing before your 15-year-old nephew hoards it all.

I will give you a few things to keep in mind however:

  1. Moderation is key.  Like I said, don’t stuff yourself for goodness sakes.  You’ll just end up feeling uncomfortable and sleepy.  Yes, eat a slice of pumpkin pie, but it shouldn’t be a full quarter of the entire thing!  Remember that it takes 20 minutes for your body to feel full.
  2. Remember there are consequences to your indulgence and accept them fully.  You just may feel like crap the next day.  If you do decide to eat all those goodies, understand that and accept it as a consequence.  Take responsibility the next few days to eat clean, drink plenty of water, and push yourself especially hard during your workouts.  (Skipping any workouts is NOT an option!)
  3. Promise yourself that it’s for Thanksgiving Day ONLY.  Most people make the horrible mistake of eating like crap for the entire holiday season.  It especially starts with Thanksgiving.  That’s when all the Christmas cookies start showing up at work, the cafeteria features gingerbread cake almost every day, and your weekend schedule is jammed with friends’ holiday cocktail hour. Don’t fall into that trap!  You’ll only hate yourself when the New Year rolls around.

So, this can be a tricky thing.  Allowing yourself to indulge for that one day can easily lead to moments of weakness throughout the holiday season.  You must have a strong mindset, discipline, and a strong commitment to yourself.  But if you truly feel confident enough to make it work, I say go for it.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!  I know I will.   Pumpkin pie, here I come!

Pumpkin Pie

*Obligatory disclaimer that my husband asked me to post: The opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the opinion of Element 5 Fitness or the Element 5 Fitness staff. They are solely the responsibility of the author. (That’s me!) I am not a personal trainer nor a nutrition expert. I am merely sharing with you my thoughts, opinions, and what has worked for me. [End Disclaimer]

High Fructose Corn Syrup: A Modern-Day Food Dilemma

High fructose corn syrup (or HFCS) is quite the buzz word these days.  Similarly to trans fats, HFCS has become ultra taboo to mainstream America. 

Various studies have controversially linked HFCS with the recent rise in obesity and diabetes.  It’s cheaper and sweeter than sugar, easier to transport, and extends the shelf-life of various popular food products.   

Go to the grocery store these days, and you can find it pretty much anywhere: ketchup, soft drinks, bread, even children’s vitamins!  Since sugar is so expensive, let’s sweeten everything with this highly processed compound!  Sounds like a good idea!

Poor HFCS, getting such a bad rap.

But it’s made out of corn, isn’t it?  Yes, it’s derived from corn.  So why not call it a vegetable?  (BTW, corn is not a vegetable; it’s a grain.)  But everything is derived from some sort of naturally-occurring ingredient.  Then some are heated, twisted, wringed out, spliced, and osmosis-ized into something else so it vaguely resembles anything even close to its original form.  Such is HFCS.

Time magazine quoted Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, saying, “High-fructose corn syrup starts out as cornstarch, which is chemically or enzymatically degraded to glucose and some short polymers of glucose. Another enzyme is then used to convert varying fractions of glucose into fructose…High-fructose corn syrup just doesn’t exist in nature.”

Now the Corn Refiners Association is trying to say HFCS isn’t as bad as it sounds.  (Hm, does clearing up HFCS’s bad rap sound like it would be in their self-interest?  I wonder…):

HFCS Ad

So maybe it has the same number of calories as table sugar.  So maybe when it comes to pure calorie-counting, it’s not so bad.  But to me, it still doesn’t sound like something I care to have in my body. 

I’m no nutrition expert, but I do know one thing – our bodies are intelligent machines. However, throw something in there that’s been totally morphed into something crazy like HFCS, and it won’t know how to react to it.  So it’ll react in a not-so-favorable way.

This is why I always prefer Sugar in the Raw, agave nector, or natural pure cane sugar over Sweet & Low, Equal (lovingly referred to as “Pink and Blue Death”) or Splenda.  Your body is a naturally-occurring mechanism.  Feed it with fuel that’s as close as you can get to its naturally-occurring state.

Do your own research.  And decide for yourself whether or not you want to feed HFCS to your children.  As for me, I plan on feeding my body, and the bodies of my future children, something that hasn’t been treated with something highly processed – or “osmosis-ized”, my new favorite word (yes I made it up) – like HFCS.

Do What You Gotta Do…Then Make It Work for You

My last entry got me thinking more about “cheating.” Why am I so concerned about “cheating”? Some of you might be thinking, “That’s no way to live – always having to stop yourself from eating something you enjoy.” That reminded me of a conversation I recently had with one of my good friends who is currently on a mission to lose some weight.

My friend is a very social individual. One night she’s out with one friend, and the next night she’s out with another. The common factor is a bottle of wine and dinner at some fancy restaurant. Besides the fact that she was spending WAY too much money on eating out, she was not eating very healthy, which didn’t help her at all when it came to her fitness goals.

She felt that there was no way her lifestyle and social calendar could uphold any type of “diet”, and she didn’t think that depriving herself from eating the food she enjoys was any way to live.

This is where we get into the whole “diet” vs. “lifestyle change” issue. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say it: “Diets don’t work. Lifestyle changes do.” Which is easier to do? Change how you eat for a month, or change how you eat for the rest of your life? I put my money on #1. The problem is, any results you saw from that diet will soon disappear, and you’ll be left at square one.

So I believe that to have any kind of lasting results, you must change your eating habits, or your lifestyle with regards to food and nutrition. However, what kind of lifestyle do you want to live? What is acceptable to you?

You’ve heard me talk about the 90% rule. Allow yourself a “cheat meal” only 10% of the time. Seems kind of strict, doesn’t it? Who wants to keep count of all their meals and how many of them were “compliant”? And who wants to wants to keep track of all the “compliance” rules?

This is where I blur the lines between a “diet” and a “lifestyle change.” I think if you’re going for a specific goal – to lose X pounds, to decrease bodyfat by X%, to fit into your old cocktail dress in time for your girlfriend’s wedding – you have to play full on. If you want more than snail-paced progress, you have to bear down, make sacrifices, and adhere to your “compliance rules”. You need to prioritize and say for example, “Right now this goal is more important than going out to dinner with my friends every night.” Do what you gotta do.

Once you obtain your goal, then if you want to maintain those results you have to take what you did and make it work for you in the long term. Go into maintenance mode, so to say. So maybe that means you don’t count your calories anymore, or you allow yourself starchy carbs even though you haven’t worked out. Or maybe you allow yourself a moderate “cheat meal” more than 10% of the time.

But you won’t go back to eating creamy pasta every night, making a run to the golden arches for lunch every other day, or eating a chocolate lava cake for dessert every single weekend. You have new habits and operate under new knowledge, so you can’t go back. “Man’s mind stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.” — Oliver Wendall Holmes

What I’m saying is, do what needs to be done to get to your goal. Once you get there, it’s okay to take it back a notch or two. Understand, however there are consequences. You might experience a slight decrease in energy, you might not feel as lean or rock hard. You might even gain a little bit of bodyfat back. But it’s all about tradeoffs. To enjoy life, if you truly feel you need to take it back a notch, then I propose you do it. Make it work for you. But keep in mind the consequences and what consequences are really, truly worth it to you. I highly doubt after accomplishing your health and fitness goal, you’ll think going back to your original unhealthy ways would be worth it. At least, I hope not.

So yes, while I was trying to achieve my goals, I was religious about the 90% rule. I logged my food, I watched my calories, I made sure I always ate a protein with a fibrous carb at every “eating opportunity.” Now that I’ve gotten there, I don’t pay as close attention, but I am ALWAYS cognizant of what I’m putting into my body and how it’s affecting me. I still make healthy choices, but I don’t freak out if I occasionally eat a snack without a source of lean protein. And I occasionally allow myself the pleasure of a warm, chocolate lava cake.

So what happened to my friend? She made a sacrifice, stopped eating out every night, and limits herself to one glass of wine every other week. She logs her food, eats plenty of vegetables and lean protein, and limits her sugar intake. She’s well on her way to her fitness goals. But once she gets there, I have a strong feeling she’ll stop logging her food and she’ll probably drink more than one glass of wine every other week. And that’s fine because to her, it’s worth it. (What is worth it, and if it’s truly worth it is another conversation.)

You know yourself better than anyone else. You know what’s important to you. Live life to the fullest. To you, if that means occasionally enjoying a bottle of wine with an old friend, more power to you.

Like/dislike what you read? Can you relate? Have a reaction? Add a comment!

When the Cat’s Away…

I am a cheater. My husband has been out of town for the past week, and while he’s been gone, I’ve been cheating. About a year ago, he regularly went out of town once a month for work, and I cheated back then too. I cheated in the kitchen, I cheated in the bedroom, I cheated in the car, and I even cheated in my office.

It’s not something I’m proud of. This weakness of the flesh is a sore reminder that I’m human with carnal urges. How can I say no when temptation is staring me in the face? When I can feel the intense yearning deep within me…

Whoa, stop me before I get carried away and start talking about something totally unrelated to what I really mean to talk about: Snickers bars, chocolate covered pretzels, McDonald’s french fries, and hot fudge sundaes. Mmm…

*Sigh* So I know I’ve talked about the 90% rule and allowing yourself a cheat meal 10% of the time. And I admit that this is probably easier to uphold when your husband is your personal trainer. Here’s a secret: when my husband is away, the temptation to cheat is, like, 500% greater.

No one is here to slap my hand. I’m like the kid after trick-or-treating who is stuffing her face with the candy her mom told her to put away because she turned away for two seconds.

What about personal accountability, you say? I know, I know. Hey, just because I’m a trainer’s wife, and just because I have chosen to start living a healthier lifestyle doesn’t mean I stop having all urges to indulge. Especially when no one is watching.

But I’m watching. I’m watching, and I have to live with myself afterwards. I’ve heard about a few strategies to stop yourself from reaching for the food that you know shouldn’t come anywhere near your mouth. Things like saying, “Oh well, it’s not part of my plan” and moving on from the tempting situation, or saying, “Thank you that I have food, but not this food.”

What tends to work for me – when I truly apply myself to doing this – is to just quiet my mind. Because usually while I’m reaching for the chocolate chip cookie, thoughts are churning through my mind like a whirlwind: “Mmm…chocolate. I love chocolate. But I shouldn’t eat this. Think about how you’ll feel after you eat it. But it’s just one cookie, it can’t hurt. But one cookie will lead to another cookie. And I didn’t even work out today, so I didn’t even earn it. But chocolate is so goooood…”

So the trick is to cut it off at the “Mmm…” or as soon as you can. Some have described this as the “chatterbox” in your head. And then move your body away from the cookie. As Alton Brown says, “Step away. Just step away.” (Well, that’s usually in the context of over mixing wet ingredients with dry ingredients when baking, but it works for my purposes too.) And then occupy your mind with something else. Like updating your status on Facebook or something useless like that. Or finishing that email you meant to send to your co-worker before lunch.

Okay, so tonight my method didn’t really work for me. I knew I should have eaten the salad with grilled chicken and balsamic vinaigrette, but the Panino Italiano with prosciutto and hot coppa was just crying out to me.

At least I’ve moved on from the hot fudge sundaes, Take 5’s, and Whopper Juniors from the cheating days of my past. This is progress. Next business trip he takes, maybe I’ll take the cheating down another notch. Probably a good idea.

Breaking Free

In my last post, I revealed that before I started working out regularly, I went through seven years of trying and failing. A vicious cycle that got me zero results and got me pretty down on myself. I was finally able to break free from that cycle, or the “thermostat”, about ten months ago. So how did I break free?

Before I get into that, I have to throw in a little disclaimer: I am not a therapist. I am not a personal trainer. I’m merely a person who’s also struggled with having the discipline and motivation to work towards her fitness goals. I can only share with you what I know – what worked for me. Everyone is wired differently. Everyone has a different background, different lifestyle, different situation in life, etc. Take what you need from what I say, make it work for you, or just leave all of it.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here goes.

The turning point came for me one night over dinner. My husband was telling me about his FitCamp program. It’s a 12-week program that includes group personal training classes, a nutrition program, before and after photos, progress tracking, etc. To qualify for the program, you have to go through an interview so they can get a feel for what your goals are and why you want to transform your life.

That got me thinking. What are my motivators? Why have I been trying to go to the gym for the past seven years? On a superficial level, it was always just to “look good.” I never really took the time to dig deep and figure out the real “whys.”

So after some soul-searching, I realized that it wasn’t about “looking good.” It was about more than that. Firstly, I didn’t just want to “look good.” I actually wanted to be the type of person who is healthy and fit. In other words, I wanted that feeling of achievement knowing that I reached the goal I’d been striving towards for seven years. I wanted to know that I grew as a person and was therefore able to get there and uphold a way of life I’ve always wanted to. Secondly, I’ve always wanted to help my husband grow his business. How could I represent his company in any way without “walking the walk”? And lastly, I wanted to be an example to my future children. How could I teach them to live healthy lifestyles if I’m not living one myself?

These were the true “whys”. Only after I identified them did I finally have a deep, emotional drive to achieve my health and fitness goals.

I met with my husband, and I told him that I wanted to join his FitCamp. Before that, I had never taken any kind of group fitness class. So this was stepping way out of my comfort zone. But I realized that I needed to hold myself accountable. For me, what better way to do that than to make it visible to other people when I’m not pushing myself hard enough or when I get lazy and skip class.

I interviewed with my husband told him all the reasons why this time I was serious about making a lifestyle change. I also set a timeline for myself – my cousin’s wedding in Vegas in four months.

Then the work began. It wasn’t easy, but I got there. I didn’t reach my goal by my cousin’s Vegas wedding, but that’s okay. I didn’t give up, and about a month later, I did get there. I knew I would.

The FitCamp was the jumpstart I needed. When the 12-week program ended, I continued to focus on the progress I had made, and I never wanted to risk losing it. I’ve found that once you get over the initial hump, it gets much easier. I stopped craving all the bad food (the bad food didn’t taste as good anymore either), and working out became less of a choice and more of a way of life.

Some days I’m still tempted to skip the workout, and yes sometimes I do. But I forgive myself, move on, and know that I’ll do better the next day.

So in summary, here’s how I broke free from my thermostat:

1) I took the time to do some soul searching and uncovered the real, deeply emotionally compelling reasons I wanted to reach my fitness goals.

2) I said these reasons out loud to someone else to hold myself accountable.

3) I set myself up in a situation to hold me accountable – the FitCamp. The key for me was that I made my quest visible to other people, surrounded myself with people who were also working towards similar goals, and made it fun.

4) I set a timeline.

5) I knew I would get there.

6) I was patient with myself.

So there you go. Like I said, take what you need from this and make it work for you. Hopefully I gave you some ideas about how you can break free from your thermostat. I think the most important things are to find the deep, emotionally compelling reasons behind your goals, be patient with yourself, and know you’ll get there. I mean really KNOW it. And you will.

Best wishes on your journey!

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It Just Kept Pulling Me Back

Believe it or not, there was a point in my life when I had never set foot in a gym.  At least, not by direction from my middle school P.E. teacher.  I had never played sports – again, not when it wasn’t a requirement to pass the 8th grade.  And I never ran or participated in any outdoor cardiovascular activity – unless I was chasing my dog across the park after he decided to ditch the collar around his neck.

So when I met my husband, and I reluctantly agreed that partaking in some kind of physical activity would be a good thing, I knew I was in for something that was way out of my comfort zone.

That was 2001.  Today, I can proudly say that I exercise regularly.  However, what might shock some of you is that I’ve only been exercising regularly for about ten months.  [GASP!]

In the words of Dr. Meredith Grey, “Seriously?”  Seriously.  Oh, there were streaks of a good two or three months when I was religiously going to the gym every week.  But for the most part, I was going in streaks of three weeks here and there, take two weeks off, go for another two weeks, one week off, and so on.  There were times when I wouldn’t go for months.

Needless to say, with the exception of the three-month streak, I never got any good results with such inconsistency.  I would get all gung-ho about it, lose interest, and then make up some excuse as to why I had to take a “three-week break.”

When I look back on that seven-year cycle of trying and failing, I think I can now see what was going on.  I’ve heard it best described as a thermostat.  I first heard this idea from James Ray, author, philosopher, and entrepeneur, and recently was reminded of it when I read a former colleague’s blog, “When your Mind is Stuck.”  (I highly encourage you to check it out.)

I described the termostat effect in my comment on his blog:

“Your mind is like a thermostat, where the temperature you set it to (usually a comforable 72 degrees) is your comfort zone. Every time you step away from that 72 degrees, it wants to pull you back. Back to what is safe and what it’s used to. When you carry out actions that are outside what you normally do, it will do everything it can to pull you back to what resonates with your current programming (limiting beliefs, values, etc. that serve that bad habit).

Breaking free of this pull is perhaps one of the toughest things to do. You must acknowledge the programming that is pulling you back, and re-adjust your programming to something that serves you (much easier said than done)…you can start small, but the most important thing is to just start. The more often you step away from that 72 degrees, the weaker the thermostat’s pull will become.

This is something I by no means have mastered, but every day I try to be ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable.'”

You see, over the course of those seven years, I was constantly being pulled back to what I was used to – a life of physical inactivity. Although I knew in my head that it was an unhealthy way to live, my past programming and unspoken limiting beliefs – that I’m not coordinated enough, that I’ll never have the figure I want, that people in my family just don’t work out, that I just don’t have time – were dictating my actions (or lack thereof).

It wasn’t just that I was lazy, it was that breaking free of any bad habit that supports that past programming is a freakin’ hard thing to do. It takes a vision of what you want to accomplish, compelling reasons driving that vision, a serious commitment to accomplish that vision, and it takes a shift in those unspoken beliefs that are holding you back. 

First step is to figure out what those beliefs are.  Then replace them with your vision and know that the vision will come to fruition.  (If you’ve read the book Eat, Pray, Love – another read I highly recommend – understand that your vision is your tree calling to you.)  Focus intensely on that vision, shut up the chatterbox in your head (more on the pesky “chatterbox” later), and just act.  The thermostat’s pull will eventually weaken.

Whew, I think I’m getting a little too deep, even for my standards right now.  Bottom line, recognizing why you keep going back to your comfort zone, i.e. recognizing the thermostat’s pull, is the first step in breaking the cycle. Like I said, this is not an easy thing to do, and is easier for some than for others. (Sciences have been dedicated to studying why this is and how to conquer it. Check out a blog on my husband’s website about Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.)

In my next post, I’ll share with you how I broke free from my thermostat. Until then I ask you, “What’s pulling you back?”

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Survival of the Fittest

I took a self-defense class today.  A good investment for a rainy, Sunday afternoon if you ask me. 

My husband and I like to hit and wrestle each other (not hard, and playfully of course)…actually, more like he likes to show me whatever cool lock GSP had on whatever UFC fighter he contended with the other night.  [Sigh]…GSP…What a hottie…Oh, sorry.  Got lost in a dream world for a bit. 

Anyway, even though we just play around, he sometimes grabs me and then asks me, “What would you do if some guy grabbed you like this?  How would you get out of it?”  And all I can do is flail my arms around and squirm.  Not very effective.  And I know, this is not a good thing.  Hence, the self-defense class today.

We learned about being aware of our environment, aware of verbal and non-verbal cues from others, and aware of what tips us off.  We also learned some very useful ways to get out of certain grips and situations when being threatened by an attacker.

I’m a petite person.  If a 6’2″ monster is grabbing me by the shoulders, there is no way in hell I am going to be able to get all J-Lo in “Enough” on his ass.  Nor should I expect or try to.  The point is to “stun and run.”  Get out of the grip, hit or kick him where it counts, and get the hell out of there to safety. 

As was taught to us, it’s not about strength, but about being simple and smart.  But, if there are any factors that can work towards my favor should I ever find myself in the situation where I need to defend myself or my loved ones, I’m going to make damn sure I do what I need to do to get those factors working in my favor.  What I’m trying to say is, as J-Lo did, I’m going to become as strong as I can be.  I’m going to become as fast as I can be.  I’m going to become as alert and alive as I can be.

I’m going to prepare myself.  Not that I expect or want to attract being in that situation.  But I should have the tools, the knowledge, and the awareness should I ever need it. 

This weekend I recognized another reason I do what I do – another reason I try to eat well, exercise regularly, and take care of my body in general.  Not just to look good, not just so I can run a marathon if I choose to, and not just so I can have a sense of achievement.  So I can hit hard, so I can kick hard, and so I can run like hell to protect myself.

Whatever your reasons are, add that one to your list.

*If you live in the Seattle Metropolitan area and are interested in taking a self-defense course, contact Kamara’s Harmonizing Martial Arts at 206-265-2957 or hma@guardup.org.

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