March 12, 2012

Not Without My Wine, Thank You Very Much

If you look at most health or weight-loss sites, one of the first thing they tell you to do is cut out all alcohol. Hmmm. To that I have to say, "thanks,, thanks". I am firm believer in balance, and I think that there is no benefit to being extreme or depriving yourself of, well, a glass of sanity.

That said, if you're looking to stay in shape and live a healthy life, 3 sugar-laden cosmopolitans 3 times a week will really not do you any favors. Besides the sugar and calories, alcohol does slow your recovery from workouts and leaves you dehydrated which is bad for your skin and your overall well-being.

Here are a few tips, then, for including alcohol in your healthy lifestyle. If one too many sips leaves you dancing like a maniac and burning calories without even realizing it - all the better!

1. Ideally, stick to red wine. With the fewest number of calories and the highest potential benefits (anti-oxidants and heart-healthy resveratrol), red wine is the #1 healthies alcoholic drink. If it was good enough for Zeus, it's good enough for me!

2. Beware of Mixers and Chasers. Unless you're a true baller (read: freak of nature) and can drink vodka, tequila, or rum out of a cup straight-up, you are going to need a mixer or a chaser. Avoid margarita mixes, syrups, and colas. Instead, choose to have your poison of choice mixed with club soda and sprinkled with a dash of lime. Delicious, healthy(er), clean. Tequila shots with lime as a chaser are also great since they have limited liquid and limited sugar. I also happen to think they're incredible sexy.. but maybe that's just me.

3. Alternate with Water. This keeps you from getting dehydrated which means that you won't be hungover and you are more likely to be able to get a good workout in the next day.

4. Make it Count. One of the biggest mistakes people make with alcohol and health is not being able to practice moderation. The truth is that alcohol has calories and those calories can add up quickly. In my opinion, two drinks on a night where I'm going out to a bar or a club is much more enjoyable than a beer with my dinner two nights in a row. If the opposite is true for you that's fine, but be conscious of how much you're drinking and how much you're enjoying the experience. Just because you have the option to drink, doesn't mean you have to!

5. Avoid Popular Matching Foods. If friends are going out for pizza and beer, there is no shame in having a salad before you go and just enjoying the beer with friends. Bar food is so often fried, greasy, and unhealthy that it is much worse for you than the alcohol is. Yes, they're a good and tasty combination, but to feel guilt-free about your indulgence you can take a preemptive approach and fill up on healthy snacks before.

6. Move it! If you do make the choice to drink, enjoy the experience. Get up and dance, go mingle around the room, or create some sort of activity. If possible, avoid just sitting, drinking, and going to bed. Moving around helps the alcohol metabolize faster and will make a huge difference in how you feel the morning after.

Yet again, it comes down to balance and education. Don't cut alcohol out of your life completely, but do your research and know how to make the best decisions for you, your body, your workout plan, your health, and your happiness.

What's your favorite way to enjoy a drink guilt-free?



March 2, 2012

Short and Kinda Slow: A Running Guide

After just one season of cross-country in highschool (as a way to get out of PE with no experience in athletics or sports), I made a promise to my body that it would no longer have to hear the words "12-mile-run". I know that some people live for long runs, and to them I say "Kudos and Enjoy!". For us humans, however, it's just not going to happen.

I reckon I'm in pretty good shape, and I feel great after a 3-5 mile run. I suppose if I had more time to train I could work my way up, but I don't. And, to be honest, I would probably rather spend that time in a BodyPump class or watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. with a big bowl of berries and some dark chocolate.

Moreover, I don't think that you have to run miles in the double digits to call yourself a "runner". 3 miles a few times a week is more than enough justification to buy those cool shoes you wanted or to tell your friends about the run you went on that felt so amazing. And you know what else? Even a slow, short jog has infinite benefits for your heart health and overall metabolism. Just do something.

The trap, though, its that if you're running short distances, preparation and fuel needs are slightly different. There's really no need to carbo-load with 3 bowls of pasta the night before, and a jug of Gatorade to replenish lost electrolyties might be a bit unnecessary. I recommend a banana for pre-run fuel and a bowl of cereal with regular or coconut milk as as after-run snack. This has the right amount of sugars, carbs, protein, and potassium without any extras.

If you choose the right healthy fuel foods and don't add to your regular calorie intake, a short run can do wonders for a weight-loss goal. If you burn 100 calories a mile, you need 35 miles to lose a pound. That's only 12 3-mile runs! A longer run might make you much hungrier and you might find yourself eating more calories than normal, slowing down weight loss. Yes, I know, it sounds like an excuse for the short-and-slow running club, but it's pure math!

No one ever said that you can't get a killer workout from a run under 10 miles, anyway. Here are my tips for getting the best out of each mile:

1. Warm-up: Jogging or doing jumping jacks for about 5 minutes and then stretching for another 5 before your run will help your have maximum energy for your run. If your body is warm you'll be able to go faster and move more efficiently without getting sore muscles or cramps. Make sure to stretch after, as well.

2. Intervals: Use the lack of distance to work on speed. This can help raise your heart-rate and it's been repeatedly proven that interval workouts are more effective at beating fat than long, steady workouts. I recommend a 1 minute sprint, 2 minute jog pace.

3. Switch Up Locations: I find that I run faster and with more excitement when I'm running somewhere I've never been (or at least not in a while). Running the same route over and over can get boring and exhausting. You're much more likely to get a good workout if you're inspired to go faster to see what's around the next corner.

4. Add Weight: This can be during your run or after. First of all, if you can manage to run a few miles holding 3 or 5 lb. weights in each hand, power to you. Go for it. It'll tone your arms and help your posture. However, if this sounds dreadful, just do some basic weight-lifting, sit-ups, and push-ups after your run. It can be for as little at 5-10 minutes, but will help improve your overall fitness and make your next runs even easier.

5. Increase Frequency: Rather than running 12 miles one day and feeling out of commission for a week, break it up into smaller runs. Make a mileage goal for the week (say 12-15) and if you're feeling tired one day, just do 2 miles that day and a longer one the next. Running more frequently keeps your metablism higher, as well.

Just have fun with it! Since quitting cross-country, I still really enjoy running when I can and it feels great when I get some good miles in (meaning anything over 4). I know that I will likely never do a marathon, and I'm ok with that. I'm in good shape, I have a healthy heart, and I like a sweaty, rockin' work out as much as the next guy, but when it comes to running I like short distances at a kinda slow pace, and that's ok!

How do you get a good workout from a short run?


February 18, 2012

Accepting the Sunset

Santa Barbara, CA Sunset
First of all, yes, this picture was taken from my backyard. Yes, that's the ocean. Yes, I know I'm incredibly lucky.

Looking at this gorgeous sunset last night made me think about sunsets that we all deal with in life. Yea, literal sunsets are beautiful and colorful and endlessly romantic. However, figurative sunsets, like the end of a friendship or a time in your life, are much harder to accept. If you're anything like me, you have a hard time moving on to new chapters of life, no matter how excited you are for the next "sunrise". 

In my experience, people have lots of different methods for moving on and moving forward. As the end of my college years come creeping forward, I find it interesting to observe how I deal with the end of this are in comparison to how my friends deal with it. 

I worry, I plan, and I do anything to avoid uncertainty. Many people just plan to move home after graduation and figure it out from there. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I can't do it. I need to know that I'll have a job. I need to know that I'll have a plan for moving out. I just need to know.

Sometimes, though, it seems obvious to me that by being so conscious of making sure I know what the next step is, I forget to enjoy the stage I'm in now. The sunset is quickly arriving, but it's not here yet. I have about 4 months to explore the city I live in, run and hike all the surrounding trails, and eat at all the restaurants I've always wanted to try. So, that's what I'm going to try and do, and I'll document some of the gems I find right here on my blog. 

Like everything, moving forward is about balance. Plan a little, enjoy now a little. 

How do you deal with accepting that one stage is over and another is coming? Have you ever gotten any advice that's helped you?


February 16, 2012

Treating Yourself Right - A Valentine's Moment of Weakness

Self control is the ability to eat only one chip. I have none.

There are few things in this world that I love more than food. In all honesty - the main motivator for me to work out is that it allows me to eat more. I can't be alone in this, right? I love breakfast foods like oatmeal and cereal, lunch sandwiches and salads, and warm dinner veggies. And snacks. Oh my, I could snack every minute of every day if I didn't care about needing to fit through doors. But I try limit myself, as we all do I guess, to just a few snacks a day.

Sometimes, though, it's harder to resist than others. One of those times is Valentine's Day. Jeez. With chocolates from my mom, my coworkers, my housemates, and my boss, I feel like I'm living in a world of temptation. Luckily, my very sweet boyfriend got me a Lululemon shirt for Valentine's Day which is much more relevant to my current mission of eating less crap and working out more reguarly. If only everyone else around me could catch on...

However, all this cocoa madness has made me think about how we treat ourselves. I mean this in two ways; how we respect and listen to ourselves and also, well, how we give ourselves treats. Yes, I often feel like one half of me is a nagging dog just BEGGING for treats, while the other half is the voice of reason shouting "No, chocolate chips in your morning oatmeal is unnecessary!"

I strongly believe that moderation is key, but also that letting yourself eat what you crave is a big part of happiness. The truth is that every once in a while it feels SO good to give in. After a 10 minute deliberation about whether or not to stick a pinky finger (or 2) into my almond butter, it just tastes that much better when I decide to just go for it. The same happens with chips and salsa, chocolate chips, and cupcakes. And when you really try to justify eating these things, it's not as hard as you'd think. So, I thought I'd record my most-used justifications, incase any of you out there were looking for a reason to eat those Valentine's candies but couldn't think of a good one. Just once, give in. I promise, it feels so so good.

1. I worked out today.

2. I tried really hard in school/work and my brain was working really hard which burns calories

3. Someone bought it for me, it's rude not to eat it

4. Chocolate has antioxidants

5. I need sugar and carbs to supplement my workout

6. I ate my 5 servings of fruit and veggies today

7. I want to still have boobs so I need at least some fat

8. Chocolate contains milk which is loaded with vitamins

9. Dessert makes me happy which helps me sleep better which is healthy

10. I want it. Who cares?

Happy Valentine's Day to you!


February 5, 2012

Health From A Wealth of Information For All

 With food and fitness, it's often hard to realize that the things that some people take for granted need to be taught to others. Some people learn about healthy living from their parents, others at school, and some are forced to learn due to obesity or other health problems.

No matter how you get your information about health and fitness, there are tons of conflicting opinions and facts, and it can be hard to know what the "right" thing to eat is or how many times a person "should" lift weights per week. I am lucky enough to have a mom that drilled into my mind the fact that happiness came from apples and bananas and I grew up eating whole wheat bread, a variety of vegetables, and a morning dose of English breakfast tea. As I've grown, my interest in nutrition has too, and I've spend a lot of free time researching what food is best for the human body and what exercise if the most beneficial.

I often notice that with learning about health comes judgment. "How could you eat that?!" or "Don't you know that fried food makes you fat?!" are both uttered regularly in the 14-person, sorority-girl house that I live in. The truth is that, while there are a few good-to-stick-by rules, each body is different and some people require different balances of fiber, carbs, dairy, etc. I do feel bad for the people that are constantly trying to be healthy but keep making basic mistakes, because it's unreasonable to assume that all people have had the time or luck to get educated on the importance of health.

So, here is my list of a few health rules that I think everyone should know in order to make the right decisions for themselves and their bodies.
*Note: Make sure to consult a doctor before making any large dietary changes

1. Whenever possible, choose whole wheat bread over white. White flour changes into sugar in your body. Whole wheat keeps you fuller longer because of the fiber and complex carbs. This applies to pasta, rice, pita, crackers, burger buns, EVERYTHING.

2. The more colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet, the better. Often, the color of a fruit or vegetable comes from an antioxidant or a special dietary feature of that food. So, a variety of colors leads to a balance of nutrients. There is no reason to limit the number of fruits or vegetables you consume, and filling up on these helps you avoid eating other, less beneficial foods.

3. Never starve yourself. Eating an extremely low-calorie diet is not healthy because it causes your body to go into starvation mode, causing your body to store fat. This dramatically slows down your metabolism as a survival technique. An ability to burn fat and a fast metabolism are imperative to a healthy weight. So, eat often and well.

4. Get enough Sleep. Your whole body slows down if you don't get at least 7.5 hours a night. If you're tired, you're less likely to have the energy to work out. Also, your body tends to reach for more carbs and sugars if you're tired and needing a serious pick-me-up.

5. Avoid fake sugar. Or, for that matter, Fake anything. Rather, choose real sugar in small doses. While there's nothing wrong with squash mascarading as spaghetti, fake chemicals simulating sugar, chicken, or cheese are never a good option. Our bodies have a much easier time digesting and absorbing natural ingredients.

6. Do cardio exercise  whenever possible. A short walk is better than nothing. A long walk is better than a short walk. Aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. This is important for health health and keeping an efficient metabolism.This can include running, using an elliptical, yoga, or swimming.

7. Lift weights about 3 times a week, never using the same muscles two days in a row. Use light weights with more reps to build leaner, longer muscles, and use heavier weights in order to get stronger, bigger muscles.

8. Moderation. Moderation, balance, and variety. Nothing you love should ever be off-limits. Try and eat as many veggies and fruits as possible as the basis of your meal, but finish your night with a piece of chocolate if that's what it takes to make your soul happy. Also, there is nothing wrong with taking a day off from working out if you're feeling sick or tired.

I hope that these tips help some of you wade out some of the fluff and find some truth behind all the noise in the health and fitness world. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but in my opinion it's the 8 base rules that make choosing what to eat and what not to a little easier.

I believe that no one should be criticized for not knowing basic healthy practices. Instead, I urge all of you amazing health and wellness bloggers to push for education. If we could teach people how to make healthier choices for themselves, I think the world would be happier, healthier, and overall better off. . 

What are your main rules? What would you add?



January 25, 2012

Beating A Sweet Addiction

Obviously addiction is not to be taken lightly. Luckily, the only addiction of my own I've ever had to deal with is an addiction to sugar. If I didn't care at all for the health of my body, I would have pancakes for breakfast, a milkshake with lunch, snack on M&Ms all day, and finish my dinner with ice cream covered in hot chocolate and caramel sauce. Mmmmmm.

However, since I want to stay under 600 lbs, avoid a face full of acne, and live past the age of 30, I don't eat like that. I do let myself have at least one sweet a day (recently it's been 1 or 2 pieces of dark chocolate with real hazelnuts), but it is a constant battle of telling myself "NO!". 

When my mom was diagnosed with pre-diabetes about a year ago, I became even more conscious of my sugar intake. I had no idea how much sugar was in EVERYTHING - from bread to cereal to alcohol. 

Since I am against any artificial sweeteners, I have had to find dessert options that include only limited amounts of sugar. This wasn't easy since by body had learned to crave sugar at the end of every meal and pretty much constantly throughout the day! (Thanks, Grandma and various older cousins... all those candies you fed me as a kid were delicious but really screwed me up over here as an adult!)

The amazing thing is that bodies can be taught and trained. Since paying more attention to how much sugar I eat, I actually crave it a little less. While I will never be able to completely cut sugar out of my diet, I have learned how to handle a lower-sugar diet. So, for you all, I have composed a list of some of my favorite low-sugar treats that pretty much satisfy my seemingly-insatiable sweet tooth. Of course, if you think you do have diabetes or pre-diabetes, see a doctor before listening to anything I or any non-doctor says. For those of you who just want to eat a bit healthier but still need something sweet each day, this is for you.

Lower-Sugar Sweet Treats:
  • Combine unsweetened dried fruits such as dried apricots, banana chips, and dried mangoes
  • Add one square inch of dark chocolate into a bowl of unflavored, unsweetened oatmeal
  • Sprinkle a few mini dark chocolate chips into a 100-calorie bag of unbuttered popcorn 
  • Cut up a fresh apple and dip into a teaspoon worth of a low-sugar cocoa-nut butter (Trader Joe's had a great chocolate almond butter and a small amount is really enough to be satisfying and still healthy)
  • Add a sprinkle of natural sugar to half a grapefruit
  • Heat a cup of hot herbal tea with a splash of natural agave
  • Freeze plain Greek yogurt for 24 hours and eat with variety of berries and bananas
  • Cut up fresh banana and dip into a melted teaspoon of dark chocolate chips
  • Melt a piece of dark chocolate into a cup of warm non-fat milk (almond milk works well, too)
Flavored Herbal Tea is a Great Way Satisfy a Sweet Tooth

 Like everything, sugar intake is about balance. I want my body to be happy and healthy. For me, happiness is chocolate and healthy is slightly less chocolate. I wouldn't say that I've overcome the addiction, but I've definitely made some changes (aka no more ice cream before bed and flavored lattes for breakfast) that have helped me keep my sugar intake under control.

What is your favorite lower-sugar dessert?


January 23, 2012

Small Ode to Grapefruit

I seriously can't get enough grapefruit lately. I get mine from Trader Joe's and they are UNREAL. Sour, sweet, juicy, and the most magnificent deep coral color. I've been having half for dinner and taking the other half to work for breakfast in the mornings (mainly because my lunch pack for work doesn't fit the entire fruit).

Not only is grapefruit delicious and gorgeous, it's so good for you. It increases your metabolism and it has a lot of water content. It has vitamin C to help ward off disease (as do most citrus fruits)... and did I mention it's delicious? Grapefruit's also very low in calories and high in antioxidants. It's been proven to lower risks of colon cancer and kidney stones. Pretty nifty, huh?

For many people, grapefruit is too sour to eat straight-up. Yes, straight-up. Some people sprinkle sugar or honey on their grapefruits, which is completely acceptable. Others make juice out of it or chop it up as part of a fruit salad. Whatever floats your boat. Just try it. You'll love it.

How do you like to eat grapefruit?