The Recession Slim-Down to Bulk-Up Plan

dollar_sami-keinanenRecession this, recession that. Everything is about this darned recession lately! Frankly, I try not to dwell on it, but I have to admit that sometimes – just sometimes – I catch myself thinking twice before purchasing something because I should be saving money during “these hard times.”

Today, for instance, I was standing in line at the Starbucks stand in my building, eyeing the pumpkin loaf. Mmmm, pumpkin loaf… As I unzipped my wallet and reached for the dollar bills, my hand stopped, and the thought flashed through my head, I really should save my money.

Like the $1.45 was that significant, since I can honestly say I never purchase the pastries out of the Starbucks case (when I’m at work, at least. *wink*) But then it occurred to me: Hm, this recession thing just might work to my advantage in some ways.

As Leo Babauta would say in his ever-popular uber-blog, Zenhabits.net, “Less is more.” Here are ten ways you can save money during these “tough economic times” while improving and simplifying your life for the better, and maybe even while getting healthier and happier.

1. Cancel your cable. If you’re anything like I was, you’re wasting too much precious time watching celebrity reality shows on VH1 or reruns of Sex and the City. Save yourself 50 to 100 bucks a month, and save your brain from turning to mush. Aren’t there better things you could be doing with your time?

2. Eat more veggies. Eat less meat (the average person usually needs no more than 4-6oz. per meal) and replace it with tons and tons of vegetables! I got a bunch of organic kale for less than $1 the other day, and splurged on exotic veggies like baby bok choy and chayote squash for mere pennies too! Experiment with different kinds, and you won’t get bored. Head down to your local farmers’ market or Asian market and be adventurous!

3. Walk, take the bus, or bike. Save cash on gas, save the earth from your car’s emissions, and save yourself the stress. Instead, get some exercise or read a good book on the bus.

4. Cancel your newspaper subscription. What are you absorbing into your brain on a daily basis? The news is full of cynical, pointless, and depressing stories that only make you believe the world is a horrible place, and we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, so why even try. Try going on a media fast, and you’ll find that you just might be more energized. If you’re the type who absolutely has to know everything that’s going on, try a modified version: Allow yourself to skim the homepage of a news website, but allow yourself to only click on links to positive stories.

5. Learn to cook. The other day I made a healthy, fulfilling meal for about $5 per person: grilled organic free-range chicken in a homemade Asian-inspired sauce, steamed chayote squash, and brown rice. Cooking is so much cheaper than eating out, and you’ll save yourself the artificial ingredients, saturated fat, and sodium you’d get at a restaurant.

6. Just be. What is the cheapest possible form of entertainment? Doing nothing. What do you mean, Julie? How can I do nothing? Sit in a quiet place – somewhere in nature or even your favorite arm chair will do nicely – close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Pay attention to your breathing, quiet your mind, and just be. That’s right – for literally $0 you can reduce stress in your life, get some good oxygen circulating through your body, and get to know yourself!

7. Cut the venti caramel macchiato. Drink tea. Venti caramel macchiato: $4.00, 300 calories, 39 grams of sugar, caffeine jitters. Tall unsweetened green tea: $0.45, 0 calories, antioxidants, minimal caffeine. ‘Nuff said.

8. Play. Instead of paying an arm and a leg at the movie theater to sit in a dark room and not talk to your family or significant other, why not spend some quality time with them by playing in the park, playing a board game, or going for a walk?

9. Get a library card. It’s an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord for your mind – and it’s all FREE FREE FREE! Take advantage of your local library and all the free knowledge, adventures, romance, and laughs that live in its books.

10. Volunteer. Head down to your local homeless shelter, elementary school, or check out United Way for a volunteer opportunity that excites you. In “this economy”, rather than focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have, give thanks for it, and give it freely – whether it’s your time or your money. It’ll come back to you tenfold in ways that you don’t expect.

There you have it – my “Recession Slim-Down to Bulk-Up Plan.” The recession is a great excuse to slim down on things that waste your time or aren’t good for you or the environment, and bulk up on things that feed your mind, body, and spirit.

How are you slimming down to bulk up?

Photo credit: Sami Keinanen

Advertisements

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!

Re-thinking the Pre-Bedtime Snack

What you ingest at night just might make or break you the next morning.

I used to think that only applied to Jaeger bombs and lemon drops, but I think just might go for anything.

A couple weeks ago, I was having a hell of a time getting up in the morning. No matter what time I went to bed, I could not pull myself out from under the covers. I blamed it on the darkness. I blamed it on the weather. I even blamed it on the dog for hogging the blankets.

Then, during a moment of profound contemplation, I began to think through what I ate throughout the day. I’m a big proponent for eating every 2-3 hours. Even if that means you’re eating an hour before going to bed.

Before you eat in the morning, you’ve essentially been fasting for 8 hours. If the last time you eat is at 6 or 7, you’re going for 12 hours without food! For those of you who skip breakfast (shame on you), you could go for 17 hours!

Your body needs nutrients. Feed it. Even if it means eating before going to bed. (Caveat: Don’t eat a huge meal of course. A light snack will do. Unless you like to toss and turn and have psychedelic dreams.)

Anyway, I usually eat dinner around 7, and then go to bed around midnight. That’s 5 hours. Obviously I need another meal or snack in there. I had been lazy, so I had been snacking on multi-grain crackers before going to bed.

Hm, maybe what I’m eating could be making it hard for me to get up, I thought.

I’d always heard that eating starchy carbs before going to bed might affect your sleep. It makes sense, I suppose. While you’re snoozing, you want something that will digest slowly. Starchy carbs digest rather quickly.

So I decided to change up my pre-bedtime snack to include a source of protein to slow down the digestion process. I’ve read that dairy is a great pre-bedtime snack because the casein protein in it digests slowly so it feeds your muscles while you sleep!

Here’s one of my favorite pre-bedtime snacks:

1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1/3 scoop chocolate or vanilla protein powder (for an extra boost of protein)
touch of honey
1/2 tsp natural creamy peanut butter
some flax meal for crunch and fiber (to slow down the digestion process even more)

Be very mindful of the yogurt you get. Make sure it’s plain yogurt and has very little sugars in it. Mainstream yogurts like Danon and Yoplait have almost 20 grams in one serving, which usually come from added sweeteners and totally defeats the purpose. My favorite brand is Nancy’s. You can usually find it in the natural section of your grocery store.

Since changing up my pre-bedtime snack, I no longer feel like I got hit by a truck in the morning. I suppose that means I might be one of those “carb-sensitive” people.

Some people react to certain foods differently. Pay attention to what you eat at night and how it makes you feel in the morning. It could make a world of difference.

The Wonderfully Selfish Act of Giving

What a beautiful weekend. Mother Nature has blessed the Pacific Northwest with something very rare for this time of year – sun and blue skies. My husband and I made our way south to the Oregon Coast for a fun-filled beach weekend with friends. There’s nothing like the view of the vast, blue open sea with a glowing, orange horizon to fill you with inspiration and complete awe at the miracle of life and all the possibilities it brings.

Oregon Coast Moon

Oregon Coast Night

Something about the crisp ocean air and starry skies reminds me that life is so special. Why live life without doing something that matters to you? So many of us go to work every day and go through the motions to get a check at the end of the month. It’s a noble thing to work to provide for your loved ones. But sometimes, do you ever think there’s got to be more?

I’m one of those optimistic thinkers that believes there is. Why can’t I support my family and fulfill my own spirit by doing something that has meaning to me? Something that keeps me alive?

Today we celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There’s someone who was passionate, who stood for something he believed in with his whole being. Who believed in something that was bigger than he was and was willing to pay the ultimate price to see the realization of his dream.

What do you believe in?

I’m fortunate enough to work at a large company that had a special celebratory event commemorating Dr. King, and our keynote speaker echoed this concept. You might remember this guy. He played basketball for some team in L.A. back in the day.

Magic Johnson

In the words of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, “The check won’t wake you up in the morning.” After retiring from the NBA, Magic Johnson could very well have lived the rest of his life on a sunny beach in the Bahamas. Instead, he decided to start the Magic Johnson Foundation, which addresses the health, educational, and social needs of inner-city communities. He saw a need and is passionate about fulfilling it.

What need do you see?

Why not take your strengths (as defined by Marcus Buckingham as something you look forward to doing, lose track of time doing, are usually successful at doing, and feel energized by after doing) and apply those strengths to promoting a cause you believe in? You don’t have to quit your job to do it; volunteer even just a couple hours a month.

Do you love planning parties for your friends? Why not volunteer to help coordinate an event for an organization like the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation? You get to have fun picking out table centerpieces and planning logistics, and help kids with cancer and their families. Do you love being outdoors? Why not volunteer to help clean up a local park or beach? You can enjoy the scenery and make it more beautiful at the same time.

Me? I believe in proactively taking responsibility for your own health. “Pay” for your health now by buying and eating the right foods, exercising, and investing in your mind and spirit, rather than paying for it later in healthcare costs, prescription drugs, and the frustration that your body can’t keep up with you. I believe that there are too many people out there who don’t do this because they don’t know any better. They frankly don’t know what they’re doing to themselves. And in turn, they teach their own bad habits to their children.

I believe the children are our future. (Sorry, I had to quote Whitney Houston…I know that song is in your head now.) Let’s teach them healthy habits at a young age.

So a while back, I decided to take what I love to do (write), and volunteer my writing time and skills to Treeswing, a Pacific Northwest organization that promotes healthy, active lifestlyes in children and their families. I occasionally write for their newsletter and website. It’s selfish in that I get to do what I love and get more experience doing it, but I’m also contributing to an awesome cause at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.

It doesn’t have to take much time. All you have to do is give what you can. Give a few minutes here and there, and if it’s doing what you love, how can you lose? I firmly believe that the more you freely give, the more the universe will return to you in ways you never expected.

There are plenty of organizations out there that are desparate for a helping hand. Check out United Way to find a volunteer opportunity that excites you.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

What matters to you?

P.S. Today I officially started my husband’s Transformation Challenge program. My plan is to blog regularly about the experience. I’m thinking I’ll create a separate page for those blogs. Stay tuned.

Lessons in Failure from William Hung

Ah, American Idol.  One of America’s favorite guilty pleasures.  Despite the fact that it’s practically the same thing year after year – cue cute wholesome 17-year old girl from the south with soulful Etta James/Aretha Franklin voice, funky tatooed pink/blue-haired girl with mediocre voice, and rebel-without-a-cause rocker dude equipped with money chain and guitar – it’s a good lesson in balls-out, put-it-all-on-the-line failure.

Take William Hung for example.  Putting aside the horrible music videos and unfounded fame he somehow managed to take hold of, you might recall his audition.  I don’t know about you, but I liked him.  Here’s this unassuming civil engineering student, bucktooth and all, pursuing his passion on national television in front of megastars that could make or break every dream he’s ever had.  He sings, he dances, and best of all, he demonstrates humility, gratitude, and a genuine love of what he’s doing.

Wow, if only we all could have kahones like that.  So, he didn’t make it through to the next round.  But gosh, look at what he did.  He stepped up there in front of those judges and put his heart and soul on the line.  He went after his dream and did his best, so he has no regrets.

The Fear of Failure

Failure.  It’s a scary word, isn’t it?  Maybe I shouldn’t start a new workout program; I might give up.  Maybe I shouldn’t accept that project; I might not be able to deliver.  Maybe I shouldn’t start that blog; I might be horrible at it.

Three statements I recently said to myself.  Three statements I recently threw out the window. 

I wonder if William Hung said “Maybe I shouldn’t audition; I might make a fool of myself.”  Odds are he did, but he auditioned anyway.  Did he make a fool of himself?  Maybe.  Did people laugh at him?  Of course.  Did he walk away from that audition a better, stronger person?  Absolutely.

I know it’s been preached over and over again, but one thing I recently realized is that fear of failure is never a good excuse. 

For the longest time, I was afraid to start a blog.  The thought of putting myself out there, open to being ridiculed, laughed at, or just told I suck, scared me to death.  But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.  Writing makes me alive.  It pumps the blood through my veins.  And I was about to let fear stand in my way of that?

I did, for years.  Then one day I realized, so what if I fail?  At least I’ll know I tried, and I’ll have no regrets.  I still don’t know if this blog will fail.  But I at least know that I stepped out of my comfort zone and did it despite the fear.  And I can’t tell you how great that feels.

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.” — George Bernard Shaw

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

See, I’ve realized that everyone feels fear.  Notice the difference between the winners’ and the losers’ strategy:

LOSERS:

  1. Feel fear
  2. Do nothing

or

  1. Feel fear
  2. Do it anyway
  3. Fail
  4. Beat up on self

WINNERS:

  1. Feel fear
  2. Do it anyway
  3. Fail
  4. Take note of what didn’t work and what benefits were gained
  5. Apply lessons to next challenge

The key is, feel the fear and do it anyway.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  (Not only a great mantra, but a great perspective-altering book by Susan Jeffers.)   The second key is, accept that failure is a possibility, but learn whatever lessons you can from it.

For instance, I’ve already gained so many things from this blog – I’ve learned about my writing style and what I like to write about, I’ve made a few blogging friends, and I’ve even helped a few people through my posts.  And if this blog fails, I’ll take the lessons I’ve learned from this experience, and I’ll keep writing.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

If you’re going to do it, DO it

Another horrible mistake you can make is to fail while giving only half-assed effort.  If you’re going to fail, do it with all you got.  If you do fail, one of the worst feelings would be if you look back on your experience and think, “If only I tried harder.”

If you want to succeed big, you must be willing to fail big. 

So here I am.  I started that workout program.  I took that project.  I started this blog.  If I succeed, great!  If I don’t, I know I’ve already gained so much anyway.  Do I still feel that fear sometimes?  Of course.  But I’m doing it anyway!

I leave you with one of the greatest commercials ever made from one of the greatest athletes of all time, Michael Jordan…Hm, William Hung and Michael Jordan. They’ve got more in common than you’d think.

Sweeteners Are Everywhere: Look Out for Hidden Sugars!

I was on a grocery store tour with my husband the other day, as he explained the “do’s and don’ts” of shopping for food.  We were on the subject of sweeteners, and were hence looking at honey and agave nectar.  One of his clients mentioned that agave nectar isn’t very sweet, so you usually need a lot to make a difference.

Later that afternoon, my husband and I grabbed a couple of Americano’s at a cute place we like near his work (Pomegranate Bistro, for those of

airmoore
photo credit: airmoore

you in my area).  I love this place because their ingredients are fresh and light.  And their coffee stand offers agave nectar and Sugar in the Raw as a sweetener for your drinks. 

If you recall, I much prefer these natural sweeteners over Pink and Blue Death (Sweet & Low and Equal) or white table sugar any day.

So I squeezed some agave nectar into my coffee.  And remembering my husband’s client’s words, I kept squeezing, even though I knew I shouldn’t.  I took one sip…and bleh!  WAY too sweet.  I just ruined my $1.95 fufu coffee drink.  Well, I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I kept sipping.

About halfway through the 8 ounces, as we strolled through Macy’s bedding department, my stomach started cramping.  Not only was I incredibly unsettled by the fact that I felt a major urge to do something very un-lady-like between the aisles over-priced Egyptian cotton pillowcases and the over-rated silk fitted sheets, I was perplexed by why I thought that agave nectar is way too sweet, even though my husband’s client might think it’s not sweet enough.

As I rushed to the men’s department to find my husband and tell him that it was time to leave, I realized that one person’s sweet is another person’s not-so-sweet.  But why?

Now, I’m not saying this is the case with my husband’s client, but some people are more accustomed to sugars, therefore are less affected by a high dosage.  It’s like if you get headaches often and are always popping Advil, one Advil is going to do nothing for you while it might work worlds of wonders for someone who rarely takes it.

But my husband’s client also eats fairly healthily.  It’s not like she eats Skittles and Nerds every day, so why might she be more accustomed to sugars than I? 

Could it be those crafty hidden sugars?

The Joys of Hidden Sugars

Uwe Hermann
photo credit: Uwe Hermann

Just when you think you’ve eliminated all forms of sugar from your life – you stopped eating candy, you use applesauce in your baking instead of sugar, and you stopped drinking Coke with every meal – little did you know that you’re being sabotaged by all kinds of sugars that you probably don’t even realize are there.

Sugars can go incognito, disguised as many fancy terms you might overlook:

  • cane juice
  • corn syrup (like that nasty high fructose corn syrup)
  • sorghum
  • glucose
  • lactose
  • maltose
  • fructose
  • sucralose
  • xorbitol
  • mannitol

If it ends in “ose” or “ol” it’s most likely a sugar.  And don’t forget that artificial sweetener, aspartame.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s another one of those chemically processed ingredients that pretend to be good for you, but in actuality it’s out to get you.  Hm, kind of reminds me of Rebecca DeMornay’s character in “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.”  Whatever happened to her anyway?

So how are these ingredients hidden?  Well, you’d expect sweeteners to be in candy and other foods that are supposed to be sweet.  But did you know that sugar is in almost everything?  Many of the packaged foods that you buy have some kind of added sweetener in it.  Here are some common ones:

  • bread
  • ketchup
  • spaghetti sauce
  • salad dressing
  • mustard
  • beef jerky
  • peanut butter
  • jams and jellies

So while you think you’re limiting your sugar intake, you may actually still be consuming way more than you should.  Food manufacturers add sweeteners to their products not only because they know that the American pallate prefers sweet, but because the sweeteners increase your craving for the food, so you’ll eat more!

Your best bet is to buy these foods in the natural section of your grocery store.  While they may still have added sweeteners, they’ll at least be in natural forms (evaporated cane juice, brown sugar, organic cane sugar, etc.)  instead of in the artificial forms (high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, corn syrup solids, etc.). 

Always check the nutrition label and the number of sugars in 1 serving.  And remember that 1 package might contain multiple servings!  You should always try to stay below 4 grams, which is the equivalent of 1 packet of sugar.  But of course, the fewer the better.  Try to get the product that lists the sweetener as low on the ingredient list as possible.

Also, be weary of “Lite” and “Low-Fat” choices.  The fat that is taken out is usually replaced with sugar.

Once you’re aware of the presence of these sweeteners, you can begin to take the steps to moderate your intake.  (No, you don’t need a cup of ketchup on your eggs.)  As you decrease your intake, you’ll begin to notice that you just don’t feel the same way about sweet as you used to.  (I could never get through the grande mochas of my past.)

 And hopefully you’ll remember to add agave nectar in small amounts before dumping it into your coffee.  You’ll be glad you did.  Macy’s will be glad too.