Social Eating is Overrated

As someone who has not always been a healthy eater, I still struggle everyday, every meal, with making the right choices. Recently, I have come to view food in a whole new light. I have tried to stop looking at food as a social excuse. For example, in the past, if I was meeting friends at a Mexican restaurant for dinner, the first thing I would have thought of (besides that I am excited to see my friends), is how much I am looking forward to eating chips and salsa, nachos with cheese and drinking margaritas. Wrong. I should have just been looking forward to seeing my friends and then I should have thought about what healthy foods I will eat. The reason for a night out should not always be the food, sometimes, yes. Sometimes food is the focal point of the night or the reason why people are getting together, but it should not be the norm.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that lacks religious meaning, yet the message about giving thanks and being grateful for what we have is clear. And yes, the food is part of the spirit of the holiday; turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes- are part of the tradition, along with watching football on t.v. We go out with friends, dates, acquaintances, to see people, to connect, to socialize. The food we will eat should not be a priority of the night. I am a very social person and I love going out with my husband and friends and eating and drinking. But I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter if I eat cheese quesadillas with sour cream or a salad with grilled chicken. What matters when I socialize is that I am spending time with people I care about and enjoying their company. It will not make the night better or worse if I end it with a piece of chocolate cake. Yes- sometimes that will make the night better, but it should not be the normal course of events. With a little planning, before I go to a restaurant, I can stick to eating healthy. Sometimes I will order that chocolate mousse for dessert but it will be a calculated choice and not an impulsive decision. For those times when I crave something sweet at home, I’ve created a quick and easy recipe for low calorie chocolate chip meringue cookies.

Paleo Meringue Cookies

Ingredients:

3 egg whites- room temperature (must be clear of any yolk)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon honey
8 drops French vanilla stevia extract
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (Paleo approved)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line baking sheets with baking parchment paper. Combine all ingredients, except chips, in a deep mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Ingredients should form a peak when you lift the beaters out of the bowl. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon batter with a heaping teaspoon onto baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until honey brown. Store in airtight container. Makes 36 cookies.

A variation of this recipe with nutritional information can be found in a fabulous Paleo cookbook, “500 Paleo Recipes” by Dana Carpender.

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If you are like me, then this holiday season, try to make your gatherings be about thepeople or the event and not about the food.

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What Does Being Fit Mean To you?

Should being fit be defined by what kind of activity you do? How long you do the activity? Or what level of intensity you do it? According to Medical News Today, being fit is comprised of five components (keeping your heart rate elevated at a safe level for a sustained length of time), muscular strength (the ability of the muscle to exert force during an activity), muscular endurance (the ability of the muscle to continue to perform without fatigue), body composition (the relative amount of muscle, fat, bone and other vital parts of the body) and flexibility (the range of motion around a joint).

According to the Surgeon General, adults should engage in physical activity for at least 30 minutes, five times per week. My son has always been active in sports and my daughter was too, until she grew older. When she became a teenager, activities like cooking and musical theater occupied her time. My husband and I have always encouraged our daughter to do some type of activity where your heart is elevated (at a safe level), you are sweating and your breath is labored (in a good way). She was reluctant to engage in any type of activity until she realized that we would not give up. Everyday I suggested some new fitness activity- hip-hop dance/jazz class, rock climbing, roller blading, swimming, tennis, even kayaking in the summer. She finally relented and started to use the elliptical machine in our house while she watched movies and television shows. I reiterated what her doctor had said, that some form of physical activity is extremely important and vital to overall health. These suggestions to my daughter made me realize that there are other types of fitness activities that I wanted to explore.

My husband and I decided to try yoga. None of our friends had taken yoga classes before so I found a local yoga studio and we took a class that I thought would be perfect for us- “Hot Yoga.” We assumed Hot Yoga was a class for cool, happening people. We were looking forward to a relaxing, soothing and restful class. We showed up for class with a small bottle of water and a change of clothes to go to dinner afterwards. Wow. For those of you who don’t know, Hot Yoga- or Bikram Yoga- is a set of 26 positions practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees. 105 degrees for an hour and a half!! We had no idea. We were dripping the entire class- sweating in places that I didn’t even know had sweat glands. The class was terrific; it was exhausting, invigorating and relaxing. The only real problem we faced during the class was trying to contain our laughter every time we looked at each other- hysterical upon realizing what a mistake we had made. We have since become regulars at Namaste The Yoga Spa in Plainview, ntyspa.com Some of the benefits I received from practicing hot yoga have been enhanced flexibility, successful recovery from injury and the flushing of toxins due to increased perspiration, not to mention all the calories burned (300-600 calories).

Fantastic news! I will be participating in the New York City Triathlon! It takes place on August 3, 2014 and consists of 1500m (about 1 mile) swim; 40k (about 25 miles) bike and a 10k (about 6 miles) run. I will probably start training in January. Look for my posts- any encouragement will be greatly appreciated.

Healthy Eating As A Way Of Life

As I said in my earlier blog posts, I have not always been a healhty eater but I have had a passion for fitness for over 20 years. It started when I was first married and there was a gym in our building that was open until midnight. I became addicted to the elliptical machine and then jogging on the teradmill when I only had 40 minutes to workout. Running 4 miles on a treadmill gave me a mental high that 40 minutes on an elliptical machine could not. I found the mental high, the release of endorphins that comes with high intensity aerobic activity, to be addicting. A Harvard Medical School study on the effects of exercise and depression found that exercise enhances the action of endorphins, which may improve mood. A “runner’s high”, the feeling that follows a run or a workout may be accompanied by a positive and invigorated outlook on life.  It did not matter that I ate two slices of pizza, French fries and 2 candy bars that day- if I ran 6 miles, all would be right with the world. I have come to learn that it is not healthy to try to make up for bad eating with intense exercise. Running 6 miles and then biking 10 miles on a weekend should not be the remedy to erase the junk food I ate all week. The saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” can be applied to many situations. I realized that eating healthy for five or six weeks could not be a quick fix. I would lose the weight and then I would revert right back to eating unhealthy. I finally realized that eating healthy is a way of life.

If I want to truly be healthy and have the body that I want, then I have to be focused and determined. The yo-yo dieting that I have done my entire life is damaging in many ways. With that said, I have been trying to eat super healthy again, eating only one carb a day and eating one cheat meal each week. I have just finished preparing my meals and snacks for tomorrow. Whew! It took only three hours this time. I’m kidding. But all the food prep is time consuming; packaging and labeling my meals, preparing the freezer packs because I will be out of the office all day and counting the precise ratio of almonds to M&Ms. For breakfast tomorrow, I will have turkey on one slice of reduced calorie whole wheat bread; almonds and M&Ms for a snack; for lunch- salad and grilled chicken with baby carrots; afternoon snack- sliced strawberries and a protein shake (I like Jay Robb chocolate Whey protein mixed with 12 ounces of water); for dinner- a piece of rotisserie chicken with steamed broccoli and half of a banana with a teaspoon of fat-free chocolate syrup for dessert. For me, eating healthy is difficult all the time- I’m sure I am not the only one who feels this way. I have to practically force myself to eat chicken, meat and vegetables. Since I don’t eat fish, seafood, beans or eggs, I am always looking for protein alternatives and foods that will keep me interested in eating healthy. I’m still waiting for the recipe that can turn cauliflower into chocolate mousse.

Finding The Right Fitness For You

The hardest thing for an athlete to cope with is dealing with an injury. Athletes don’t like to rest or take time off to heal- it’s not in our nature. I am just coming off a 3-week sabbatical of no lower body workouts and no lifting. The Crossfit trainers have been helpful in tailoring what workouts I could and could not do during my “rest” time. That meant weeks of push-ups, weighted sit-ups and finally working on mastering my pull-ups. Honestly, some days I skipped the gym and did the same workout at home because it was a bit depressing watching everyone do all the things that I couldn’t do. Belonging to Crossfit means you have a personal trainer whenever you are at the gym. The trainers are constantly watching you, checking your form and looking at the weights you are using. The trainers are readily available to answer questions and are extremely patient, even with someone like me, who after ten months, is still asking, “Is my form ok? Am I squatting low enough?” The Crossfit trainers will encourage you to add more weight or to go faster with your workout but only if you want to be pushed. Contrary to a lot of rumors, the Crossfit I belong to does not promote pushing someone to a dangerous level or to a level that you feel is unattainable. But it’s not only the trainers who inspire, help and motivate, its the men and women at the gym. We all push each other. The guys and girls may have a friendly competition to encourage each other to squat more weight or bench press more reps. But it’s all in good fun to help motivate. At this point, although I can’t lift a considerable amount of weight, I know my strength lies in my cardio ability; to run faster, run longer and do more burpees. Most Crossfitters hate all forms of cardio, especially running. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. Find yours. Belonging to a gym, any gym, is not the only way a person can get fit and stay fit. There are many creative options for physical exercise. Push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and squats can be done anywhere. An inexpensive form of cardio that can be done almost anywhere is with a jump rope. Buy an inexpensive one and start using it. The jump rope I bought is from rxsmartgear.com and I have heard good feedback about the jump ropes from againfaster.com. Jumping rope is also a fast, fun way to burn calories and increase cardio strength. A jump rope is great for traveling because you can take it anywhere. Once you become proficient at jumping rope, you can try double unders. A double under is done on a jump rope where the rope makes two passes per jump instead of just one. It is much more effective than a single jump rope pass because it allows for higher work capacity- much more effort. Warning: the double under takes a great deal of coordination and determination to master- I am still struggling to get one.

Eating Healthy is Hard Work!

photo-2My entire life I have been picky eater, disliking all fish, seafood, salad and most chicken. I have always lost weight exercising and counting calories, even if my daily food intake consisted of popcorn and candy bars. I knew this is not a healthy way of eating yet I could not bring myself to eat salads with grilled chicken. When it came to drastically changing my eating habits, I have my son to thank. In December 2012, my then 16 year old son and I were eating dinner at a restaurant in Texas. I had just moved him into a house where he would live with a host family for the reminder of the hockey season while he played on a team in the NAHL. I was careful not to let my kids know about all the foods that I didn’t like yet somehow he was a naturally finicky eater. Being a competitive hockey player, my son realized that he had to eat certain foods in order to grow and build muscle. The past few years his diet expanded to include all types of meat, chicken, fish, salad and protein shakes. At the restaurant, he ordered a steak, grilled chicken and a salad. I ordered ribs dripping in barbecue sauce with french fries. As he was eating his chicken, I asked him how he does it. How can he force himself to eat grilled chicken if he really doesn’t like it? He replied, “I have to eat chicken and salad and other foods that I don’t like if I want to gain muscle and have the body that I want. I just do it.” I said that I really don’t like grilled chicken so its hard for me to eat it. He said, “I like my body the way it is when I eat healthy, so eating crappy foods and tons of carbs and sugar isn’t worth it.” Listening to my 16 year old son talk about why he changed his eating habits just blew me away. After dinner, I swore to myself that if he can change, so could I. In January 2013, I joined Crossfit to change up my workout routine and I embarked on a campaign of healthy eating. My husband, who at that point, had been eating healthy for almost a year was completely supportive and encouraging. Crossfit emphasizes a paleolithic (Paleo) diet which is a diet based on foods that cavemen ate; fish, meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits (limited) and nuts and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt & sugar and processed oils. My husband embraced his new diet, shunning carbs and sugar 80% of the time. At home, we cooked chicken,hamburgers, steaks, pork chops, vegetables and low fat chicken meatballs (see recipe below). Every Sunday I made my menu for the week consisting of three meals and two snacks, consuming no more than 1200 calories each day. For snacks, I prepared small bags of almonds, sliced berries and grapefruit. I usually ate one carb a day and tried to eat protein at every meal. Sticking to the diet was time consuming; buying the food, cooking the food, packaging the meals to take to work, sometimes in cold packs, prepping snacks. I followed this diet religiously adding one cheat day each week, where I would eat whatever I wanted. It was when I started to have more cheat days than healthy days that the weight started to creep up. At this time, I am trying hard once again to be disciplined with my diet and committed to eating healthy most of the time. Next blog learn about the girls and guys at Crossfit.

Lowfat Chicken Meatballs

Ingredients:
1 pound 99% fat free ground chicken breast
1 cup breadcrumbs (panko, regular or whole wheat- Paleo alternative is 1/2 cup coconut flour mixed with 1/2 cup water)
1 tbsp crushed or minced garlic
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 large egg
small jar of spaghetti sauce

Directions:
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well (I use my clean hands). Form into balls (14 average size or 56 small meatballs) and brown in a frying pan. Add spaghetti sauce and simmer until fully cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Each of the 14 meatballs has approximately 55 calories, 0.5g of fat, 4.3g carbohydrates and 8g protein.

Change Your Workout, Change Your Life

Do you think that just by changing your workout routine that you can change your life? You can. And that’s exactly what I did last January 2013. Late December 2012, I had an epiphany, an ah-ha moment. I was in a rut with my workouts, my weight, and frustrated with my lack of discipline when it came to healthy eating. My husband and I had been arguing off and on, bickering more than ever. Something, that in our 22 years of marriage, we never did. I decided to make a change in my life to eat better and change my workout. I have working out at home, for 15 years; with an exercise bike, elliptical machine and treadmill. But my workouts had become uninspired and stagnant. My husband had been trying unsuccessfully for the past year to convince me to try Crossfit. Crossfit is defined as constant varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity. Basically, Crossfit workouts combine olympic weightlifting with workouts that include pull-ups, push-ups, burpees, kettlebell swings, box jumps, sit-ups/abdominal machine, running, rowing and more. Plus, all of the workouts are timed with the participants recording their scores on a giant screen for all to see. Not too enticing. I jumped in head first and I’ve never looked back. Although I was in shape aerobically, the bench presses, power cleans and dead lifts proved a real challenge as I had never lifted a weight in my life. The coaches at the Crossfit I joined (Crossfit Central L.I. – crossfitcentralli.comIMG_1325) could not have been nicer, more informative or patient than they were with me. I still kept up my biking, elliptical and running when I could as I was afraid that I was not burning enough calories to lose the weight I wanted. I decided not to always record the weight I lifted or the time I finished the workout.  I was racing against myself, doing these workouts for me. No one at Crossfit cared what weight I lifted or how many burpees I finished in four minutes. During this time I also drastically changed my diet which I will discuss in my next bog entry. My eating habits were such a deviation from my norm that my husband, who has known me for 28 years, was floored when he saw what I was and was not eating. I lost 17 pounds and 3 sizes in four months, which is a noticeable change on a 4’11” person.  My body was in the best shape of my life and I felt fantastic. Unfortunately, ten months later, due to a fabulously fun summer of drinking and intense socializing, I have gained half of the weight back. As I write this, I am fighting hard to get back to where I was. That I find myself in this situation is no surprise to me as I have been a yo-yo dieter my entire life. However, I am desperately hoping to break this vicious cycle. Why did I change my workout, my eating and my way of thinking about food? A variety of reasons. One reason is that for a year, I saw my husband drop some weight, gain a great deal of muscle, eat healthy and become a genuinely happier person. He tried to casually, nicely, tell me that if I was not losing the weight that I wanted or that if my body is not in the shape that I wanted, then maybe I should cut out carbs in my diet or deviate my workout with interval training. Two years ago, I was not ready to hear it and I rebelled. I ate as many carbs and junk food that I wanted but eating together was not fun anymore and I felt his eyes searing at me when I ate bread and sugar. Perhaps part of my paranoia was imagined but I started to feel that if I did not make a change to a healthier lifestyle, maybe in time we would grow apart. Maybe he would not want to be with a carb eating, salad hating, narrow minded slacker. In losing the weight, I realized that I loved my new body but eating healthy was a continuous struggle. My husband loved my new body and he was beyond impressed with my will power and discipline. But our bickering stopped not because I lost weight but because we had an honest talk about being nicer, more considerate and more respectful of each other. If you treat each other as you did in the beginning of the relationship, it will never end.