The Case of the Missing Blogger: How One Fitness Wife Got Inspired

The Case of the Missing Blogger. No, it’s not a Nancy Drew book or Scooby Doo cartoon. Although Scrappy Doo was pretty kick-ass. It’s me. I’ve been MIA for, like, a week. I make no excuses, but I do apologize for leaving you, my faithful readers, hanging for so long.

So where have I been? I’ve been going through my days, going to work, coming home, cooking dinner for my husband, cleaning the kitchen, going to bed, and doing it all over again. And somewhere in between all that, I’ve been thinking about blogging. But every time I think about it, it’s immediately followed by another thought: “I”m not inspired to blog right now. I don’t know what to write about.”

The Case of the Missing Blogger was actually The Case of the Uninspired Blogger.

meditation_hape-geraInspiration. For anyone who dares to do what they love, or are on a quest to discover if what they do is what they truly love, regardless of how much they love it, they still occasionally find themselves coming up short in the inspiration category. You know how it is – you have that project that you know you should start. But sometimes the idea of starting – especially when you’re starting something from scratch – is just too daunting. For no good reason whatsoever.

So you search for inspiration. High and low, near and far. How have I been trying to get inspired? Let’s take a look:

Meditation

Some people are down with the “om”. Personally, I make an honest effort to pray and meditate regularly. Meditation has been shown to increase awareness and connectedness with a higher purpose. Not to mention it has some great health benefits as far as being aware of your body and your breathing.

But sometimes just the act of sitting and quieting your mind will somehow clear the way for thoughts and ideas you’ve had tucked away, but have never bubbled to the surface before. If prayer is a way for you to talk to God, meditation is God’s way to talk to you.

It’s an interesting practice to sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and quiet your mind, and just observe the thoughts as they enter your mind. As with anything, the more you practice the better you’ll get at it, but it does take some patience. Start slowly, even 5 minutes to begin with. Observe what enters your mind, and you might get some good ideas for whatever your next project is.

Free Writing

I discovered this when I was at a Women’s Conference for work. The CEO of the Oxygen Network, Geraldin Laybourne, also one of the executives during the glory days of Nickelodeon in the 90’s, said she got some of her greatest ideas – like the show Clarissa Explains It All – from free writing.

Here’s a how free writing works. Right when you wake up in the morning, even before brushing your teeth, get out a journal and start writing about whatever enters your mind as it enters your mind. It should be a stream of consciousness. Let your pen do all the work. Don’t stop writing for 10 full minutes. If your mind draws a blank, just scribble. Just write. It doesn’t even have to make sense.

If anything, even if you don’t get that great idea for your next novel or for the next shammy invention you want to sell “as seen on TV”, you’ll get some great insight into your thought patterns and what kind of thoughts you really keep inside.

Immerse Yourself

Some people immerse themselves in the subject matter or surround themselves with like-minded individuals. I wanted inspiration to write, so I went to an Elizabeth Gilbert lecture, hoping to meet other writers. I met one, but unfortunately for the most part the lecture was mostly just filled with Eat Pray Love fans. (Elizabeth Gilbert is a riot, btw.)

Want inspiration to start working out? Try joining a class, or even subscribing to a fitness blog. Buy a nutrition book, or try hanging up a poster of someone whose level of fitness you admire.

Do anything and everything you can to surround yourself with what you’re trying to do. Just getting your mind to start thinking about the subject matter can spark ideas that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Or it can push that button that you needed pushed to get started.

Just Do It (No copyright infringement intended, I swear.)

Nike was on to something. Just start it. Start anything. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do the thing and you will get the energy to do the thing.”

I propose that you do the thing and you will get the ideas and inspiration to do the thing. Just get started. And if it doesn’t come, step away for a little bit, and start again.

So how did I get the inspiration I needed? I sat down and started typing. And somehow the words eventually came. Of course, I’m always surrounding myself with fitness and nutrition – hello, I’m married to a trainer, remember? – so that always helps. But when it comes down to it, the inspiration really comes when I just do it.

What do you keep putting off? Isn’t it time you get inspired and get to it?

Photo courtesy of HaPe Gera.

Celery vs. Burrito: Can Real Food Really Taste Any Good?

Matthew McVickar
photo credit: Matthew McVickar

In this corner, nutritious but bland, fibrous but tasteless, hailing all the way from your local farmer’s market…it’s green. It’s healthy…CELERY!

Stu Spivack
photo credit: Stu Spivack

And in the other corner, filling but fattening, satiating but engorging, from the Mexican joint around the corner…it’s plump. It’s comforting…BURRITO!

Let’s Get Ready to Rummmblllle!

I was on my way to work the other day and passed a huge Taco Del Mar billboard. A giant burrito jumped out at me from the sign, in all its ooey, gooey glory – spicy chicken, tangy pico de gallo, fluffy Mexican rice, all of it brought together in one big symphony by melty, gooey cheesy goodness.

And in big letters next to this image that made my arteries scream in delightful pain: “Because celery tastes like celery.”

Hm. Anyone in their right mind would of course choose this handsome blasphemous ode to Mexican cuisine over stringy, bland celery, right?

The more I ate it, the more I craved it

It was not long ago – maybe about 6 years – that I basked in the glories of fast food almost daily. I could down a Whopper, medium fries, and Coke in about twenty minutes. I could gobble up a Mexican Pizza, two chicken soft tacos, Mexi-fries, and a Sprite in just as much time.

The more I ate it, the more I craved it. The more my mouth would water when I saw billboards like this one.

Now, I see this billboard, and the choice isn’t as obvious as it would have been back then – burrito or celery?

Okay, I’d be lying if I said that my preferences are leaning heavily in the celery’s corner of the ring. Yes, if I were stuck on a desserted island and had a stalk of celery and a juicy burrito in front of me, it would probably take about 0.2 seconds for me to reach for the burrito.

But on some days, in the real world and not in some hypothetical Gilligan’s Island/Lost scenario, I would actually choose the celery.

Case in point: My husband and I were watching the Super Bowl. What goes hand-in-hand with Super Bowl viewing? Salty snacks! Did I go buy a bag of potato chips? Nope! I made kale chips!

That’s right, people, KALE chips. A lot of you are probably saying, “What the f**k is kale?”

That Blonde Girl
photo credit: That Blonde Girl

Often used simply as a garnish, kale is a dark leafy green, high in vitamins and minerals such as vitamins K and C, manganese, and calcium, and is a great source of fiber and antioxidants. Tough when raw, great when steamed, and even greater when baked with some kosher salt sprinkled on top.

Ask that girl from 6 years ago, whose idea of a vegetable was a french fry, and she’d tell you she’d rather eat foot fungus than something like kale chips. No thank you, I’m not “granola” like that, she’d say.

Your Preferences Just Might Change

Okay, so what’s my point? My point is that your preferences change, your tastes change as you become more adjusted to eating “real” food. Real food has nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in it. Real food has protein, fiber, and water in it.

The stuff on that billboard may look like real food, may smell like real food, but when it comes down to it, it’s just not real food. The highly processed, overly-saturated-fat-laden foods from fast food joints and the inner aisles of your grocery stores are empty calories. Through all the processing, the foods have been stripped of much of their nutritional value.

I’m in the middle of a book called Integrative Nutrition by Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the largest nutrition school in the country. He describes it like this: Your body tells you “I’m hungry. I need nutritients.” So you reach for the burrito. You eat the burrito. Your stomach is full, but your body is still lacking the nutrients it craved. So it tells you it needs more nutrients by sending you the craving signal. So you reach for the burrito again. But it’s still not giving your body the nutrients it needs. So you reach for it again. And again. And again.

Your body is screaming for nutrients, but you’re feeding it with nutrient-deficient foods.

As I began incorporating real food into my life, I began enjoying things I never would have before – the tartness of plain yogurt, the natural sweetness of carrots, the roughness of real, whole oats, and yes, the crisp stringiness of celery.

Give it a shot – try adding some real food to your life. I think you’ll find down the road that kale – and even celery – shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly.

And, because I know some of you will ask, here is my recipe for kale chips, slightly modified from a recipe on the Integrative Nutrition website:

Kale Chips

1 to 2 bunches of kale
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Remove kale from the thick part of the stalk, leaving the leaves in big pieces.

Place a little bit of olive oil in a bowl, dip your fingers in it, and rub a light coat of oil on both sides of each leaf.

Place in single layer on baking sheet and bake for 4-5 minutes or until it starts to turn a bit brown.

Turn leaves over and bake for another 4-5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it because it burns very quickly!

Sprinkle lightly with salt and any other seasoning your heart desires! (Cayenne, cumin, curry powder, or just pepper would do nicely. May favorite is just plain old salt.)

This makes for a nice, crispy, slighly salty, and healthy snack! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Enjoy!

National Law Would Require Nutritional Information at Chain Restaurants

fast-food

It amazes me sometimes how a lot of people are totally clueless when it comes to what they’re putting in their bodies. My last post, for instance, demonstrated the evils of fast food, but so many people still eat that crap on a regular basis.

I think this population falls into three general categories: 1) Those that know what they’re doing but don’t care, 2) those that know but don’t think it really matters (i.e. “The chemicals are good for my immune system”), and 3) those that don’t know.

Of all of these, it’s those in #1 that are the hardest to “convert” to a healthy lifestyle. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. Those in #2 are doable, but it might take shock factor like a day watching Dr. Oz parade around dead, diseased body organs on Oprah. Those in #3 are the ones that need the most attention, and those that I frankly feel the most compassion for.

Somehow, though, I don’t think it would be taken very well if I went up behind them in the McDonald’s checkout line and smacked them upside the head, or did a running interception of their fish ‘n chips, clam chowder, and Coke before it touched down on their table.

I’d love to be able to educate or at least make all these people aware of what’s really in their food. But alas, I’m only one person, and I can only do so much.

So I was very pleased when I was recently in New York eating at Hard Rock Cafe and noticed that the nutritional information for every single item was printed on the menu. My co-worker and I sat down, perused the menu, and found that our selections were influenced by the calories, fats, proteins, carbs, etc. instead of solely by what our cravings were compelling us to to eat.

The salads that naturally many people would assume are healthy just because they’re salads, were clearly marked as having way more calories and fats than things like pulled pork sandwiches – surprising to most people that don’t realize that Caesar salads are not health food.

Btw-the pulled pork sandwich wasn’t bad, as long as you get the BBQ sauce on the side and side salad instead of fries, with vinaigrette dressing on the side. Even better if you can just ask for olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Anyway, I noticed all the big chains printed the nutritional info right on the menus. Even Starbucks clearly marked the little signs in front of the espresso brownies and pumpkin loaves.

Finally, I thought. People will have a little more awareness of what they’re actually eating.

I discovered later that this was the result of a law that was passed in New York which requires caloric information to be disclosed on chain restaurant menus. Some have gone farther and are disclosing detailed nutritional information as well. California was the first to pass a state-wide law that will require calorie counts for standard dishes to be disclosed on menus and menu boards as of July 1st. (Go Arnold!)

menuApparently a similar law was passed in Seattle, but either I’m totally oblivious or they haven’t begun enforcing it yet because I haven’t really seen it, besides at one or two restaurants. (Of those of you in Seattle, have you seen this happening? And if you’re not in Seattle, does your state, city, or county have a similar law?)

There is currently no national law that regulates whether chain restaurants disclose nutritional information, let alone standards around how it is disclosed. The result is a “patchwork” of different laws and rules, ultimately confusing the consumer. Hence, Congress is considering passing the “LEAN (Labeling Education And Nutrition) Act.”

According to the Coalition for Responsible Nutrition Information, the LEAN Act “would require restaurants, grocery stores and other food service establishments that serve prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to disclose in writing calories contained in each menu item directly on the menu, menu board or in designated alternative ways, such as a menu insert or a sign directly next to the menu board.”

I believe the law would also require more detailed nutritional information such as fats, trans fats, sodium, carbs, protein, etc.

It seems more and more people are concerned about what they’re putting into their bodies. This act is intended to help mitigate the obesity epidemic. While this probably won’t help the people in Category #1 (know but don’t care) or Category #2 (know but don’t think it matters), it’ll hopefully convert those in Category #3 (just don’t know) to my category: People who are becoming more and more aware of what they’re putting into their bodies and want to make smart decisions.

Would seeing detailed nutritional information on restaurant menus change the way you order?

The 4-Year-Old Burger: What on Earth Have We Been Eating?

Some of my fondest memories growing up are of my weekend trips with my dad to McDonald’s. I used to order a Happy Meal with a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke. I think I still have some of the nifty Fraggle Rock toys stowed away somewhere.

McDonalds Fraggle Cars

As I got older, I branched out to chicken fajitas, 20-piece chicken McNuggets, and even an occasional Big Mac. I always ordered fries however, as I proudly proclaimed that McDonald’s fries were my french fries of choice.

My “health makeover” – as I’ve just now decided to term my personal relevation and conversion to a healthier lifestyle of physical activity, spiritual connection, and whole, balanced nutrition – has since squelched this debauchery. But as I pass the Golden Arches, I still occasionally feel like I’m six years old, and I’m on my way to an afternoon of Happy Meals and playtime.

Since my health makeover, I’m much more aware of the fats and artificial ingredients that fast food, especially McDonald’s food, is loaded with. But I didn’t get the extent of it until I watched this video from diet.com:

It can’t be real food.

In response to accusations like this, McDonald’s has recently proudly proclaimed that they now “use 100% beef in every burger.”

My question is: What the &#!* was I eating in the first place?

No wonder my generation is so sick and obese.

Their website says, “We use 100% beef in every burger,” which has a whole different meaning than saying, “We use only 100% beef in our burgers” or “Our burgers are 100% beef.” My suspicion is that fillers and extenders are added to the 100% beef that cause the kind of “burger immortality” portrayed in this video.

And we’re feeding this stuff to our kids? Hm, maybe eating immortal burgers will make me and my kids immortal! eating fat, filler, and preservative-laden food isn’t good for us.

My response is: No duh.

By the way, I made an awesome power dinner tonight: grilled, all-natural grass-fed buffalo (from Fred Meyer, $6 for .94lbs), organic roasted sweet potatoes (from Whole Foods, $3 for 1.5lbs), and steamed kale (from Fred Meyer, less than $1 for 1 bunch).

The total cost per person? About $5. Time to cook? Only 30 minutes.

For less than the cost of a McDonald’s value meal, I had a healthy, homecooked meal. Yes, it took me 15 minutes longer than it would have taken me to get in the car and get through the drive-thru. Is 15 minutes of my time a price worthy to pay for my health?

My answer is: Abso-frickin’-lutely.

Beware of Hidden Trans Fats…They’re Everywhere!

Whoa, really? But why? Nuh-huh. That’s just ridiculous! They’re EVERYWHERE!

Such was my reaction to the beautiful rib roast my mom cooked for my birthday celebration.

It was lovely. She pulled this beautiful rack of meat from the oven, almost as if in slow motion. The steam wafted from the surface, crispy on the outside, but tender on the inside. My mouth watered in anticipation, as my eyes and nose beheld the beauty that would soon be introduced to my taste buds.

Then my sister butchered it. Apparently there’s a specific way you have to slice a rib roast. She pretty much hacked it to pieces, so once it got to the table, it looked like random slabs of flesh. But hey, it still tasted good.

It was juicy, succulent, and perfectly seasoned. I naturally asked my mom what she used to season it, and she pulled out a container of pre-mixed steak seasoning from the cupboard. Innocent enough, I thought. I flipped it over to read the ingredients: salt, pepper, coriander seed, dill seed, red pepper, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, paprika for coloring…

Whoa, hang on. Back up. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil? In my steak seasoning?

I won’t get into all the science behind partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and why the process of “partially hydrogenating” any oil creates trans fats, which we all know are evil and wreaks havoc on your cardiovascular health. Food manufactures use it to extend shelf life and flavor stability. Needless to say, it’s something that should be completely avoided at all costs.

Later that week, I was grilling up a steak for a salad and reached into the cupboard for my steak seasoning. I hadn’t used it in a few months, so remembering the rib roast, I flipped it over to read the ingredients. Sure enough, partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Steak Seasoning Steak Seasoning Ingredient List

Wow, I thought. This stuff is everywhere.

Almost every pre-packaged food has it or another form of partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil. Even though a food label says “0 trans fats”, that means that 1 serving contains an amount below the limit that is legally required for the manufacturer to disclose the amount of trans fats. Right now that limit is 0.5 grams. It might not sound like a lot, but if eaten on a regular basis, it’ll add up to a very significant amount with a very significant impact on your body.

Seriously though, in my steak seasoning?

So, before tossing the seasoning in the trash, I took note of the spices in it. I had every single spice in my cupboard. There was no reason I couldn’t just make the seasoning myself. It took about thirty more seconds for me to make it myself than it took for me to use the pre-mixed stuff. Quite an insignificant difference in return for keeping my body healthy.

Bottom line? Check your labels, people. Even on the most unassuming foods. Those pesky artificial ingredients are everywhere!

And because I loved it so much, I thought I’d share the recipe for the salad I made. It’s a variation of a recipe I found on the Food Network by Robin Miller.

Steak Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette and Cilantro

Steak Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette and Cilantro

Natural, hormone-free flank steak
Organic mixed greens
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Peanut Sauce (I use Trader Joe’s Peanut Satay Sauce)
Chopped dry, roasted peanuts (optional)
Seasonings: kosher or sea salt, pepper, ground coriander, dried dill weed, crushed red pepper

Sprinkle steak lightly with salt, dill weed, and crushed red pepper. Sprinkle generously with pepper and coriander. (Adjust according to tastes.) Rub seasonings into the steak.

Cook steak on hot grill, about 4-5 minutes per side depending on desired wellness.

While the steak cooks, place mixed greens and handful of chopped cilantro in bowl and toss. Place on plate or in bowl.

Whisk together peanut sauce and juice of one lime. (I like a ratio of about 1 tsp of peanut sauce to juice of 1/2 a lime. Adjust according to taste. This amount should be good for one serving.) Set aside.

When steaks are done, remove from grill and let stand a couple minutes before slicing against the grain into 1/2 inch strips. Place steak on top of salad, drizzle with peanut vinaigrette, and top with more fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts if desired.

Enjoy!