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Archive of ‘Health & Weight Loss’ category

How adopting an “Endurance Mindset” can power you to reach your goals

IMG_4782Today I hit another PR, or personal record. At the gym, we had a couple of challenges going to see who could rack up the longest session on the Jacob’s Ladder machine as well as accumulate enough total steps to have climbed to the peak of Mount Everest. Today was the day I decided to wrap up both of those challenges in one fell swoop. The swoop took about three hours and fifteen minutes, however. Not exactly one of those quick errands to cross off your to-do list for the day. It required a bit of planning, some mindset training and perseverance to take it all the way to the finish.

This activity got me thinking about mindsets and favorable perspectives that help us in achieving goals. Most people stare at me in disbelief when they hear the amount of time I’ve been able to stay on the Jacob’s Ladder for. A couple of months ago, I broke the endurance record by 30 minutes at 2 hours even. Since then another challenger beat it by 15 minutes and today I was able to put in a healthy margin at 3 hours and fifteen. Most people cannot do more than 5 or 10 minutes on the machine at one time, so the concept of working it for endurance is absolutely alien.

So back to mindset.

Historically, my athletic activities have been endurance based. I’m familiar and comfortable with performing high intense activity for over an hour. I’ve run two marathons, competed in several multi sport races and some running relays and obstacle courses. Knowing at the outset that you are in it for the long haul keeps you focused on the process and not focused on the finish. Of course, we all think about what it will be like when this thing is over, but when you sign on for an endurance event, you know right away that it’s only a form of self torture to be thinking about your activity being over when you have hours to go. The best thing you can do is entertain yourself while you do it. You’ve got to find your joy in the process.

Is “joyful” the best word…

to choose to describe my mindset during endurance events? Maybe not, but it suggests the need to shift to a positive focus of wanting to be “here and now.” Knowing that there has to be a certain amount of investment and training to reap the rewards is a realistic perspective to keep. There was a month of training and practical preparations to consider, such as sports drinks, audio entertainment, shoe inserts and gloves to help improve the experience.

So what does all this have to do with reaching goals?

It’s all about understanding what it takes to ultimately achieve a goal, which is patience and persistence. Some people may invoke the quality of “grit” for when the going gets tough to help you get past those hurdles (or obstacles if it’s a Spartan race). But understanding that most of our goals are long term achievements, we need to nurture our spirit of endurance and willingness to say “Yes- I’m going the distance. I’m going to finish this. I will make it to the end, even if it get uncomfortable for long periods of time.” There’s no making it go any faster. there’s no shortcuts. It comes down to an understanding and agreeing to doing the work to enjoy the rewards that come with completion.

What are you most memorable finishes?

Do you have any special events (athletic or otherwise) that you are proud of accomplishing that took a long time to see through? Was it worth the effort?

My secrets to never getting sick

DeathtoStock_Clementine10I’m sure it seems like quite a bold claim to say that I haven’t ever been sick. That’s not exactly what I’m saying. I have been sick in my life, but not very often. As an adult, I would typically come down with a head cold about once a year, either in the dead of winter or early spring. I’ve met several people who could say the same thing. They don’t get sick often, but usually suffer from one malady that sets them back at least once or twice a year. I was rather proud of this accomplishment. Even when I got sick, it would only last for a few days, nothing dire like the flu or bronchitis.

The Mysterious Trend of Perfect Health?

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Something has changed. I’ve started a new streak of good health. I haven’t been sick at all in three years. No Kleenex, no antibiotics, no cold medicine or sick visits to the doctor. I can hardly believe it myself! I had to double check the calendar to be sure it has actually been three years! So what has changed?

Previously when I was rarely getting sick, I had some really good habits. I would exercise regularly, eat plenty of nutritious foods without a lot of junk, and try to keep good sleep habits. The times I would end up coming down with something it would be after I hadn’t had adequate rest, or had been on a sugar binge, like the type of indulging that happens during the holidays. I may have been having some insomina and then would have to get up early and get ready for work. It was usually a combination of factors, but surprisingly I’ve stayed well while my husband had the flu and other colds.

Not Living in a Bubble

Maybe you’re thinking that I don’t get exposed to many germs. I used to work in an outpatient clinic at the hospital for four years and would get exposed to a variety of nasty germs in that environment. Then afterwards, I worked in onsite health clinics in corporate America, where employees would frequently come by to share their illnesses with our staff. Then, I’m a regular member of my gym, attending group fitness and using the equipment that everyone else is touching, so I know I was getting my fair share of exposure. Also my husband works at the hospital and surely comes home after being exposed to some nasty bugs there. The one thing I can say I don’t have is very young children in daycare, so there’s that. But I seem to be getting my fair share of exposure from other areas.

Had Certain Advantages in my Youth

So I’ve always had a healthy and robust immune system. I supposed I was blessed with a few factors in my favor. I had an excellent start to life that allowed me to develop a solid microbiome (gut flora). From a natural birth and breast feeding as an infant, I then played in the dirt as a kid, had dogs and cats and never had allergies.  As an adult I’ve maintained a healthy diet and exercise routine and don’t slack on sleep as a regular habit. But despite all of these contributing factors, I was still searching for the explainable difference between getting sick one year and not getting sick for three years? Could it be possible to make it 5 years or 10 without a cold?

The Defining Factors

Sleep

Over the past 3 years, I had made the decision to start my own business and leave a job that had lots of time and travel demands. I was able to set my own schedule. I had some commitments that I had to keep, but for the most part, I could decide when I wanted to see clients and I eventually got around to setting up late morning appointment as a habit. This let me sleep in if I needed it as well as get my morning exercise in most days of the week.

Stress

Having to work less hours along with commuting and traveling less and not getting frustrated working for someone else dramatically decreased the stress in my life. I used to have a bad habit of chewing insane amounts of sugar free gum at work (my version of smoking, I suppose) but this habit disappeared once I left my job. Being able to wake up naturally without an alarm starts my day without a jolt of the stress hormone cortisol and my body feels more relaxed and naturally energized. Sure self employment comes with its own set of stressors, but it’s much different than the day to day stress of commuting to work and balancing home life after working all week.

Food Quality

Having more time to spend at home permitted me to be able to prepare balanced meals as well. I’ve always managed to cook even when I was working full time, but occasionally I would grab some processed snacks when I was at work, enjoy the treats coworkers would bring in, settle for the semi-healthy meals when I was traveling out of town, more frequently grab some take out to feed the family like Indian or Vietnamese (which could have been worse). Most of the time, and I mean 90 percent of the time, most of the meals are made and eaten at home with wholesome, natural ingredients.

Happiness

Ultimately, I think the defining factor in the past 3 years comes down to a variable of mind-body connection. After the last time I was sick, it was only a few months later when I decided to make a change in the way I was living my life. I thought it was going to be a gradual shift, but it ended up taking on a life of its own. I set off to start a business and 6 months later I had opened my own practice and left my job 3 months after that. Just to be clear, I don’t think you have to quit your job to be as healthy as possible. For me, it was a way that I could get a few more hours of sleep and less daily stress, but the effect it had on my overall happiness was measurable in booming immunity. I felt so free and independent, to have control over my career, my work and how I spent my time. I felt so inspired, challenged, enterprising, and successful. It made me happy. And the research is strong in this area, that happiness is strongly linked to good health. I may be a statistic of this, but it’s one area of science where I’m proud to provide a contribution.

What’s your longest streak?

Have you experienced anything similar in your health or immunity? What’s the longest you’ve gone without getting sick?

Artisanal Eating: a food lover’s approach to health and happiness

IMG_5360One of my favorite ways to enjoy food more is to change my perspective from being a nutrition “expert” to appreciating the artistic qualities of food. Instead of seeing tomatoes as sources of “fiber, antioxidants and vitamins” I see red luscious orbs packed with vital energy that will nourish me and taste delicious because they grew out of my garden. At my house, the gardens are located in the front yard because there is better sun exposure and these tomatoes were actually planted around the mailbox. Maybe the mailman will need a snack one day! We got rid of the bushes under the windows, dug up the hostas and planted tomatoes, greens, sweet potatoes and onions instead.

I am smitten with using the word “artisanal” to describe the relationship I prefer to have with food. It evokes a sense of pride, quality craftsmanship, and hints at a process that takes invested time to complete. It reminds me that there is an important personal connection to one’s food, as though I put my personal touch on something. Artisanal also implies that there is unique variety. There are no mass produced, identically perfect tomatoes in my garden. I love observing the unique beauty in each fruit, even if these tomatoes in my hand were “supposed to be” much larger. Taking an artisanal approach to gardening lets me appreciate the fruits of my labor no matter what they are.

adelyn turnipSometimes you get totally surprised and grow something giant or discover a hybrid of a couple of vegetables planted next to each other. Whatever the outcome, it’s a result of my own (actually, mostly my husband’s) hard word. Check out my niece holding a gigantic turnip! Harvesting your own food is a joy that persists across generations and can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Thinking of food as an artisanal experience lets us slow down and be in the moment. It reduces stress. We are present with all of our senses and be part of the whole process from food procurement to the preparation to the social gathering to those last few bites on the plate. It becomes less about getting from hungry to full as fast as possible and more about how we choose to experience life as a whole. Are we willing to take the time to peel and chop some cucumbers for a snack? In reality, this step only take 2 minutes. We have the time!

Summer time is a good opportunity to practice adding a few more steps to our meal preparation process. We are bombarded with messages that we “deserve to treat ourselves” or “shouldn’t need to bother with cooking” or “have the fastest ready made dinner,” none of these options satisfies our deepest hunger. As humans, we actually WANT to feel more satisfaction, have more meaning and purpose in our lives, be proud of our work (in the garden & kitchen) and be part of a natural cycle of growth and sustainability that many generations have already experienced. Gardening and preparing our own food, artisanal eating, satisfies that hunger.

Even if you aren’t sure you can tackle starting a garden, there are many other options that can still give you the experience of artisanal eating. You may start with a container garden or potted herb garden to keep the size and time investment manageable. Another reasonable alternative is to source your food as locally as possible. When was the last time you picked up some summer produce from the country farm stand? There’s nothing like the flavor of fresh and locally grown seasonal food. By the way, it’s a bargain! The last time I picked up turnip greens at the farmer’s market, I walked away with 2 overstuffed grocery bags for $3!

IMG_5344Another way to “go artisan” is to experiment with preserving your garden harvest. This year my bumper crop was cucumbers and I probably made at least 5 kinds of pickles and relishes, and I’m not done yet! I have absolutely no experience canning or preserving foods, so I found a few recipes online, and get advice from friends and family. At first glance it seems like “ain’t nobody got time for that!” but in reality, I put together this small batch of pickles in the hour and a half I had between appointments. It didn’t take up my entire afternoon or mess up my whole kitchen. It’s really do-able, I swear! Just don’t hold me to this time frame when you’re trying to pickle 20 pounds of cukes.

At the end of the day, when I’m putting homemade garlic dill relish on my plate, washing the dirt off of the kale to whip up a kale salad, there is a deep satisfaction in me that “I did this myself.”  And not only am I proud of doing the work, but it tastes better. The richness of flavors actually indicates that there are a higher concentration of nutrients in the food. Sorry, you can’t add salt, sugar and fat to food and make this same claim. But it’s true when you taste the rich flavor of a real homegrown tomato, you can be sure it’s way more nourishing than any store bought tomato purchased in the dead of winter, picked green and artificially ripened.

Appreciating the beauty of the harvest, savoring the amazing seasonal flavors, celebrating the fruits of one’s labor, taking time to slow down and enjoy the process from farm to plate….THIS is artisanal eating. And this entire experience is what creates health and happiness. Healthy eating is more than just getting the “right” vitamins or “ideal” diet, folks. It’s a way of living to sustain our entire being.

 

 

Two new health trackers for heart rate and metabolism: Fitbit Charge HR and Breezing Metabolism Review

 

Fitbit-Charge-HR-black

Ok I’ll admit I’m a bit of a gadget head. Not an uber-techie, but I do love novel new devices. There’s a lot to be said about cool new toys and I actually wrote a post about the benefits of novelty here.  Around Christmas time I was creating a wish list, and at the top I had a Fitbit wristband tracker with the new Heart Rate monitor. I’ve used the Fitbit Zip a couple of years ago and sadly lost it while hiking. (I even went back and hiked the same trail a second day in a row to find it, but to no avail.) I loved that it was a simple way to stay mindful about daily activity. It wasn’t until I started wearing a pedometer device that I realized how sedentary I was at my office desk job. Halfway through the day I would look down at my Fitbit and realize I’d barely taken over a thousand steps. A simple goal I would set for myself and with my clients is to hit a target number of steps per day. Wearing a device that tracks this accurately and easily makes this kind of a goal kinda fun.

Fitbit makes health and fitness tracking fun and interactive

So now the game just got more interesting. In addition to tracking steps, newer Fitbit models allow you track your movement and translate that into measuring distance traveled, flights climbed, sleep quality, calories burned and even heart rate. I used to wear a heart rate monitor when I exercised to aid with my training and felt like it was cumbersome to use. The strap always got loose and the batteries needed replacing too frequently. Sometimes the transmitters just started being unpredictable, even after changing batteries. I wanted to try something new. And the Fitbit Charge HR seemed to fit the bill of what I was looking for- a way to keep tabs on my daily activity, keep an eye on my sleep quality and track my heart rate at rest as well as during exercise -which is very useful for high intensity interval training. You can even connect to other friend using Fitbit if you want to make it a social affair.

In my experience using the HR Charge constantly for 2 weeks, I can say I’m pleased with the overall picture I’m getting of my health status. It keeps a nice 30 day average of my resting heart rate and captures an eye-opening recording of my movements during sleep. I used to wonder if I was getting quality sound sleep and now I have a record that verifies this-I’m a restless sleeper. It’s great to track trends. The only drawbacks I see in this device is that the heart rate isn’t super duper accurate during high intensity exercise, when the heart rate can fluctuate quite a bit. It seems to take a bit of time to register changes in the wrist sensor, as compared to a chest strap heart rate monitor. The other thing is more of a style issue. I find the wristband a little thick and often it gets caught in my sleeve. Other than that there are some super cool features like caller ID and vibrating alarm settings that make this particualar model worth buying.

So I’m still wearing it! And I log into the interactive dashboard and play around for fun. Sometimes I track my food, but not all the time. The option is there if you want it. And the inventory for food data is the  most robust I’ve seen. I like the heart rate graphs that get recorded during exercise. But possibly my favorite reason to wear my Fitbit is to help me hit my 10,000 steps per day goal. It’s definitely helping me to consciously avoid being too sedentary without realizing it.

Measuring Metabolism just got more Personal: My Breezing Review

Breezing-FeaturedThe other device I’m thrilled to tell you about is the newest portable indirect calorimeter called Breezing. It’s a handheld device that measures your resting metabolic rate via your breath. Usually you would have to go to a training center, metabolic lab, hospital or college sports facility to have access to a test like this. You would typically wear a face mask that is hooked up to a machine and would breath for 10-20 minutes while the machine analyzes the CO2 expired in your breath. (As similar to the image below.) What Breezing has done is taken this technology and shrunk it to the size of the palm of your hand. This makes the test portable and virtually accessible to anyone with a smartphone or ipad.  More Info on their website: Breezing.com.

metabolic testI’ve been trying out the device on myself and clients to get a feel for how it operates, the ease of use and of course to assess individual variability. According to tried and true metabolic equations, my personal resting metabolic rate is estimated around 1300 calories based on my height, weight and age. When I did an actual measurement with Breezing, it measured my RMR at 2150 calories- a tremendous difference! One of the major lifestyle factors I think accounted for this was that I had been ramping up my HIIT (High intensity Interval Training) for the past 6 weeks. I had also exercised for 3 consecutive days previous to my measurement. I did a second measurement a couple of days later, after 2 rest days without exercise. The second RMR measured at 1870. A notable decrease but still quite higher than my estimated baseline from the metabolic equation I would typically use estimate calorie requirements for clients.

Metabolism Fluctuates- A Lot!

I think it’s fascinating to note how variable one’s metabolism is. Anytime one speaks with a dietitian or personal trainer, or even use an app like Fitbit or My Fitness Pal, the metabolism is always an estimated number. How many calories do you need? Well, based on your height, weight and age and activity level, it should be this (XYZ). This would be a great tool to use if you work with people and weight management. But it would also be great for personal use if you are trying to overcome a slow metabolism. Likewise, if you had an abnormally fast metabolism it could help with targeting the appropriate calorie intake to support weight gain. For one client we discovered although he was underweight, he actually did not have an elevated metabolism, he was just completely unaware that he was under-eating. Using this device takes the guesswork and the maybes out of the way. If you’re not losing weight and your metabolism is not below average, it could be highly likely that you eat more calories than you think. If you track your intake with an app, maybe your portion estimates are off. The device interfaces with an app that lets your customize your goals for weight management and factors in exercise and diet as well.

There have been similar devices to measure metabolism put out by other companies, but they were a little clunkier to use, had no iOS interface and were quite cost prohibitive. The Breezing metabolism tracker is more intuitive, the set up is simple and the test takes under 2 minutes to complete. Amazingly the cost of the Breezing Metabolism tracker is not cost prohibitive. For the price of a couple of specialist visits ($350), you can have your own at home (or in-office) metabolism tracker. The sensor cartridges are additional but you can get 2 FREE 5-Packs (a $50 value) if you order using the (reusable) Breezing coupon code AMY10 after adding the sensor cartridges to the cart. I am an enthusiastic affiliate of Breezing and hope that personal metabolism tracking can help many people get past the frustrations of weight loss plateaus and bring about a better understanding of how one’s own metabolism changes over time.

Health Tracking Devices Work if it’s Fun

The whole point of using these devices is to make following a healthy lifestyle fun by personalizing it with your own data. Having more information and feedback on your progress or tracking changes makes your journey more special because it’s no longer a one size fits all approach. It’s customized to you! It’s great to get the feedback from my Fitbit that I hit my 10,000 step goal when my wristband buzzes and lights up. It’s just one more positive feedback system that keeps me engaged and excited about the changes I’m making. I love helping clients understand their metabolism better and customizing a goal that is based on a biological assessment instead of an estimate. It’s eye-opening to track and follow changes over time and see what impact different interventions have.

What’s your opinion on health and fitness tracking devices?

Do you use one? Do you have a favorite? Do you think they would help you in reaching your health and fitness goals? I’d love to know if you’ve tried one and how it worked for you.

 

Why New Year’s Goals and Resolutions for Weight Loss Backfire & What to Do Instead

Untitled design

It’s tempting to start off the near year by mustering up all of your willpower and setting your sights high on the goals you want to achieve. Have you been known to write up an ambitious “to-do” list at the beginning of the year? It might be a list of the things you won’t do again (resolutions) or a tidy list of achievements you hope to attain? In either case, goals and resolutions have the potential to backfire, which can feel quite defeating.

How so? According to Edward Desi in the book “Why We Do What We Do” people are more motivated by autonomy and choice than they are by external motivators like New Year’s resolutions. Even though you may have chosen the goal to lose weight, it’s actually setting you up to follow specific behaviors (like dieting, exercising regularly, avoiding splurges and treats) in order to achieve the weight loss goal. Every time you think I “have to” do this or that because of my goal, you are taking away your own autonomy. You aren’t the boss anymore, but your weight loss goal is. And every time you fail to reach a goal or the steps you believe are required to reach the goal, you feel like a failure yourself.

Are there more effective ways to lose weight than setting a goal? To answer that, you need to look at the WHY behind your desire to lose weight. The weird thing about excess weight is that it can be disguising the real issue. If you’ve ever thought “my life will be so much better/happier/exciting/successful when I finally reach my goal weight” you are experiencing exactly what I’m talking about. Instead of tackling weight, it’s actually more effective to work in reverse and tackle what’s behind the desire to lose weight first. Then, you will find that the weight starts to come off without trying so hard. This is exactly what happened to Sheila Viers, read about here weight loss story here.

Let’s look at 3 alternatives to setting a weight loss and see how much more enjoyable these approaches are.

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Smoked turkey leg with sweet potato, kale and shiitakes- a hearty winter soup

smoked turkey soupWhat is that perfect winter soup that you crave? Do you have a favorite? Love some chili or hearty beef stew. This weekend I sort of invented a new favorite. My husband and I had a table set up in our local farmer’s market craft fair (see the crafty goods here) and by afternoon we were ready for some vendor eats! I was surprised and delighted to find out that one of the food trucks had smoked turkey legs. Have you seen those things? Huge! It was more than enough meat for both of us to share awkwardly between prospective customers. Not too easy to eat with a plastic fork either. But anyway, I told him “hold onto that leg- I’m going to make a soup out of that bone!” And so there you have it- the beginnings of a new favorite recipe…

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The Most Important Ingredient for a Long, Healthy Life

IMG_4376We’re obsessed in our society with the newest superfood. I personally love keeping up with the newest trends. But which one is the best? Is it coconut oil? Acai berry or Maca root that will save us and preserve our health until the ripe old age of 100? You know when super food ingredients start showing up in granola bars, smoothies and multivitamins that a serious trend is dominating our health consciousness. I wonder, are superfoods really that essential to long-lived health?

I might be playing devil’s advocate a bit here, but what if food isn’t the most important factor in living a long healthy life? Are we spending too much time fretting and over-analyzing the perfect ratio of calories and carbs in our diet only to miss out on life’s other treasures? Do we care more about getting in our essential vitamins and nutrients from a power smoothie than we do about sitting down at the table to eat a meal with all of our senses? Could we be depriving our health even if the nutrition is on-track?

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Try This not That for the Holidays

veggie crockReady for quick swap out for some notorious holiday favorites? It’s not just food, but many holiday traditions that can lead to us feeling lethargic, unenergized and uninspired.

It’s easy to get caught up in celebrations, but some simple changes can keep the holiday spirit alive as well as support your health. Can you make this year the one where you don’t get indigestion, avoid getting sick, and stay awake after the big meal? Try out some of these holiday celebration alternatives to keep your season alive and bright!

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Instantly Boost Your Motivation with a New Pair of Shoes

shoesHow many times has it happened that you’ve made the decision to go to the gym for your usual morning workout and you go to put on your typical exercise outfit when you suddenly feel completely unmotivated to take another step towards the door. Probably more than you’re willing to admit, am I right? You’ve become bored by your routine, your exercise and maybe even your outfit.

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Are you doing too much or too little? How to know the difference.

tea bagSometimes it gets confusing when striving for a “balanced life.” Whether it’s eating in moderation or going with the flow, we start to make progress, then suddenly we are taking a few steps back. In either case, we desire to be somewhere else than where we actually are.
When we get stuck in one place for too long, we start to second guess our efforts. “Am I doing this right?” “Maybe I’m doing too much X, or not enough Y?” If we want to break through a weight loss plateau, we usually step on the gas, but what if the brake would be the better choice? Same goes for motivating ourselves out of inertia. Should we be pushing harder or would taking a break be more effective?

The image in the post is from a tea tag that I’ve saved for 20 years. It’s a little hard to read but says “Happiness is a way station between too little and too much.” I love the subtle reminder that even though we get frustrated with being stuck in the middle, it’s usually where we are happiest. Perhaps this is why we find it difficult to break plateaus, start new habits and begin big projects. But despite where happiness may lay, we desire to escape the middle ground at some point. How do you know which side you need to lean towards to create momentum to do this?

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