Friday, September 30, 2011

The Business of Food

The USDA Plate vs. the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate.
Chocolate milk as an after-workout recovery drink.
Sugar is sugar: high fructose corn syrup is perfectly fine to eat!
And today's message: how sugar is more additive than cocaine.

These messages and more clog the airways every week with some new breaking news about what we should really be eating. For real this time. No, seriously, this is the real truth. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

They all have an element of truth, and we all believe at least a little bit of them. Navigating food has become a high-contact sport and relying on "research" to justify our nutrition choices makes it easier to decide which fork in the road to take: is dairy really bad? Is natural organic sugar really better? I don't know, I just want a sandwich! Is that okay anymore?

Honestly, I'm not a scientist or a nutritionist so I can't tell you anything more than my opinion based on my experience, which is this:

1. I used to get caught in the web of confusing food rules (and sometimes still do) and it all got a lot easier for me when I tuned it out and started eating primarily fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains in moderation.  I was happier, healthier, wealthier, and much less stressed out.

2. When I ate 99.999% "perfect" and did two hours of insane workouts every day I had a kick-ass body and was in excellent, excellent shape.  It was awesome. When I started eating dessert once in a while and drinking a glass or two of wine on the weekends, I gained a little back but was nicer to the people around me. That was awesome too. You just have to choose the kind of awesome that is right for you.

3. Food is a business, and most people's minds are for sale. When I dig around behind the scenes of articles like the ones above, I usually find the motive - a food lobbying group that funds research to prop up whatever idea they want to convince us of. That's not to say the research is faulty or that every funding group is up to no good. It's just a reminder that it's there. Most research has a motive, and it is not always in your best interest.

If you're lost in the web today, there are some quick ways to get out. First, ask yourself whether you are eating in a way that is sustainable for the long haul. Can you live without an entire food group for your entire life? Can you eat in restaurants with your friends on occassion without feeling like you need to "splurge"? If those answers are "no," then you are not sustainable. Second, assess whether you are being true to yourself. Are you walking one way and talking another? If you're eating one way in public and another way at home, check yourself before you wreck yourself. And third, are you happy with how you feel? You're the only one who lives in your body 24/7, so be honest: does the food you put into that machine make you run like a race car or a clunker? How does that feel at the end of the day?

Research, marketing, fad diets, and promises made on late-night television cannot erase how you feel when you eat. Dump the hype and do what you know is truly, really, honestly healthy: eating clean, from the earth, healthy food that doesn't necessarily come with a marketing budget.

Get out there and get healthy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What a great workout! Now for my chocolate milk!

I'm seeing it, and you're probably seeing it too: chocolate milk being praised as an after-workout recovery drink. I've been skeptical about this for a while now, and even scoffed at it last year in a blog post, but when I read it in Runner's World I decided to investigate and find out just what was up with it. After all, I like chocolate milk just as much as you do.

But there is a time and a place for chocolate milk. Both of those would fall into the "practically never," category for me because 1) I don't like to drink calories, 2) I don't like to drink or eat sugar, and 3) there is no such thing as one glass of chocolate milk for me. I know my limits!

So I started doing some research. Okay, googling. And as I suspected, chocolate milk has indeed been found to be helpful as a recovery drink after a vigorous workout. Please note the word, "vigorous." Milk and sugar are digested quickly, which means they provide a rapid replenishment of glucose to your fatigued muscles. You can read all about it here:

But look for the fine print!  There are two things I want to point out to you:

1. Chocolate milk is helpful as a recovery drink after a strenuous endurance workout. A strenuous endurance workout is not a jog. It's running 10 miles. It's being completely worn out, depleted, covered in sweat, and unable to move at the end. It's going to the max and then some. Then, I guess you can have some chocolate milk if you must. Not a gallon. Some.

2. The studies that were done to prove the superiority of chocolate milk as a fitness drink were funded by the Nutrition and Dairy Council. Just sayin'. Food is a business y'all.  

Will I be drinking chocolate milk after a run? I hope not! I've found that drinking sugary drinks leads to nothing good so that would be a slippery slope for me. I want to get out there and get healthy, and chocolate milk doesn't really have that much appeal for me when stacked against the hassle factor of dealing with sugar cravings afterwards. So thanks, but I'll pass.

Get out there and get healthy today!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

USDA vs Harvard: Which Plate Do You Choose?

A few months ago the USDA released updated nutritional guidelines, doing away with the pyramid and instead presenting us with The Plate, which looks kinda like a cateteria-style tray with little spots so our food doesn't touch each other. This is what it looks like in case you forgot:

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Now, the good men at Hahvad have come up with their own version, which they're calling the Healthy Eating Plate. It looks like this:

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The main diff? The Harvard School of Public Health recommends drinking water instead of milk, eating more veggies than fruit, and includes a little bottle of oil to represent healthy fats.  According to this article on Life Hacker,  Harvard contends that their plate is free of the politics that generated the USDA's plate, and therefore more credible. Personally, I'm a fan of the second, partly because I enjoy conspiracy theories and partly because I think it is actually better. I like the inclusion of water over milk, the smaller emphasis on grains, the little guy running in the corner, and the liquid representation of healthy fats. It's also less of a sell-out to the food industries. Of course, it might be a sell-out to someone else, I don't know.

Regardless of the plate you choose, they have most of their messages in common: eat real food, be sane about it, and get out there and get healthy!  What do you think? Which do you choose?  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Juicing: Is it worth the squeeze?
I recently became the proud owner of a juicer. It's so pretty.  I admire it every day as it sits gleaming on my kitchen counter. I think about all of the wonderful, nutritious, fortifying juice I'll be making and adjust my little "nutritional honor student" badge just in case anyone is looking.  And then, I decide to do that tomorrow.  The first batch of juice I made was so incredibly gross I've been afraid to make any more!

Granted, I didn't follow a recipe and I didn't put much thought into it. Like a kid on Christmas, I wanted to play with my new toy right away. So I opened the fridge and juiced what I had: a cucumber, some celery, and an apple. Woah. Ever drink a cucumber?  Yeah, don't.  I can actually still taste it just telling you about it now, and now my taste buds are ticked.

That was over a month ago, and since then I've gotten online and looked up some actual recipes.  It took a few more weeks for me to actually work up the nerve to try some. First I juiced an apple and gave it to my 5 year old, but he wasn't playing. He said he wants apple juice "from the store."  "This is from the store!" I said. "I bought this apple from the store." Not convinced, he went back to his Legos.

My next recipe was oranges and carrots, which tasted pretty good, but I added a peach to thicken it.  It was pretty darn good!  I would totally drink that.  But as I was happily sipping on my orange cocktail (which my kiddo did taste a tiny bit of and then spit out...into my husband's glass of water, ew) a thought occurred to me:

I am drinking two carrots, an orange, and a peach.  I could be eating two carrots, an orange, and a peach.  I could be chewing!

I call it the Chew Factor, and it's important to me.  I don't like to drink my calories. Shakes, coffee drinks, and most smoothies are a complete waste of calories to me because when they're gone, I don't feel like I really ate anything. If I am going to use my precious calories on something, I want to chew.  But I wasn't chewing. Suddenly my juicer wasn't looking so pretty.

I suspected there was some kind of science attached to juicing so I turned to one of my favorite sources for nutritional information: Joy McCarthy, Holistic Nutritionist. I asked her, what's so great about drinking veggies? Why should I drink them versus eat them?  She really helped me feel better about my penchant for chewing: while she recommends juicing (using an 80% veggie/20% fruit ratio for therapeutic purposes), it doesn't take the place of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.  Joy says the advantage of juicing is simply a, "mega-watt dose of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals."  She also referred me to this article she wrote on juicing, which I recommend you read, too!

Thanks Joy!

My license to chew restored, I've decided to keep trying out my juicer but focus on the fruits and veggies that I wouldn't normally chew anyway. Like, beets. Love 'em. Never eat 'em. Hey, I'll juice 'em!

And maybe turn them into a smoothie. :)

Do you juice? What's your favorite recipe?  Have you ever juiced a cucumber?  Don't.

I'll let you know how it goes.  And in the mean know what I'm gonna say...get out there and get healthy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pop Quiz: What's your state body fat percentage?

We're getting a big fat F in health, ya'll.  Emphasis on, "fat."

A recent report from the Trust for America's Health has some sobering data about our national health. Try this on for (plus) size:
  • 12 states now have obesity rates over 30% (that's 11 more than four years ago, btw).
  • Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the nation...and that prize is only because they're under 25%.
  • Diabetes rates have doubled in eight states, and hypertension has increased in every single state.
Click here to read the full report, check the stats for your state, and learn about recommendations made for changing this scary trend.

This news is like a knife in my heart. I know there are resources out there to help spread knowledge and provide education about living healthier lives because some of you have shared your local champions with me.  A few examples:

Feeding South Florida, a mobile food pantry that travels the streets of South Florida to help end hunger and poor nutrition.  Thanks to Ellen for this resource!

Mississippi in Motion, a 12-week fitness program sponsored by the Mississippi State University Extension Office

Whole Child Leon, an online community designed to help let children thrive in their health. They created the 95210 philosophy, which I adopted into my family in June.

These are three examples of communities taking back their health, but I want more. Send them to me, and I will compile them so we can refer our friends, neighbors, and community leaders to outlets near them that can help.

The only people who really change the world are those who are just crazy enough to believe they can. Let change start with us. Leave me a comment with a link to a local resource working to end obesity in your community. Please, let's make change happen!

Get out there and get healthy!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pregnancy Fitness: The Final Countdown

It's the final countdown...well, kinda. I technically have a month left. But, every morning when my alarm goes off and I roll (literally) out of bed, I wonder if this will be my last trip to the gym. I waddle off to brush my teeth, nearly suffocate trying to tie my shoes, and then make my way to the gym where I set the elliptical on level 5 and mosey through 30 minutes of cardio. Then it's off to weights.  As one of my workout partners slams through pull-ups, speed work, bench presses, and who knows what else, I take it easy with seated free weights: bicep curls, lateral raises, lat pull-downs, cable's all good and it's what I can do right now.  I feel very lucky that I have made it this far.

Then I waddle back to my car, and within 90 minutes I am at my desk, exhausted. Like, completely pooped, ready to take a nap under my desk at 8:30 in the morning. And I wonder, should I stop going to the gym and sleep more? 

I knew there would come a time when I'd have to stop, but I'm so close!  I can handle the workouts, it's the fatigue during the rest of the day that is getting me down.  I'm honestly not sure what I will do, but one thing is for sure: I am so glad I've been active during this pregnancy and feel so incredibly lucky to have gotten to exercise this long.  Here's why:

1. Staying active has made it so much easier for me to maintain proper nutrition. With my first pregnancy, I wasn't able to exercise, which made me depressed, which made me eat sour cream on everything. It wasn't pretty. This time I've been eating well and it has made a huge difference in how I approach everything else.  When you fuel with fresh, everything is better. Even a head-butt in the bladder.

2. I've only gained about 27 lbs and am on track for about 33 lbs by the end of it, which is spot-on for a healthy pregnancy. At first I was worried I wasn't gaining enough, but it turns out that gaining 27 lbs in the first trimester, like I did last time, was actually a little bit frowned upon. Okay, a lot frowned upon.  As a result of my manageable weight gain, I have more mobility and energy than I did last time, which makes me glad that all bad memories of being pregnant, delivering a child, and having a newborn are magically erased from our brains over time because I must have been m-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e.

3. It will make getting back into shape so much easier. I might not be lifting much weight or running sprints, but at nine months preggo I'm still doing more than the average American does for physical fitness.  That's pretty sad. But, I'm glad I won't be starting from scratch when I go out to reclaim my past self.

Pregnancy is a blessing, and I feel very lucky to have gotten to experience it twice.  If I do take a knee on the remainder of my pregnancy, it will be worth it.  I'll have to repeat that about a million times a day to convince myself that it's true. :)  Get out there and get healthy today! 

And if you hear someone snoring, just keep walking. :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to Eat (Really)

I'm a Dr. Oz fan, and not because Oprah told me to be one. I like him because of YOU: On a Diet, the book that opened my eyes to the simplicity of clean eating and helped me realize that if I just ate fruit, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains with simple ingredients (and as few as possible) I would never have to worry about whether to eat low fat, low carb, low protein, according to my blood type or my ancestry or my aura or any of the rest of it.  I had clogged my brain with so much confusing mumbo jumbo that I actually thought that fruit made me fat. For real, y'all, I thought that eating apples and pears was making me fat.  

That's nuts. 

When the latest issue of Time landed in my mailbox touting an article by Dr. Oz called, "What to Eat Now," I opened it with apprehension. I didn't want to find that he had somehow managed to turn plain old healthy eating into a new "diet," reducing the concept of healthy eating to packaged meal plans and a quick-slim gimmick.

"Clean eating" has become a buzzword these days, but it's really just eating. It's tempting to package it like a diet, but it's not one. It's just healthy eating, the way we should have been doing all this time!  Then it dawned on me: clean eating is a simple concept, but in the world we live in today, it's not always simple to employ. Mixed up in all of the weight loss messages that swirl around us each day, the simple concept of eating natural foods seems almost too simple. 

"Just eating," is easier said than done, I know. We've been conditioned to stop thinking about what we eat and robotically follow a plan that someone else has created for us. That's what makes clean eating so hard - it relies on us actually learning how to eat. I've been traveling that road for a long time, and while I've made great strides in portion control, learning about healthier ingredients, dumping processed foods, and understanding cravings, I still struggle with things like moderation.  It's a simple concept, but not simple to do.

Luckily, he didn't go all Hollywood with clean eating, he kept it real, nice and boring. :) I've searched the internet to find a link to the article that I can share with you but apparently they want you to buy it for yourself. It's worth it!  A healthier life is within your reach, you just have to take the initiative to remind yourself how simple it can really be.

Check it out and make some clean-eating swaps this week.  And, whether you're a simple eater or simply eating, get out there and get healthy!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rule of the Belly: The Eating Vacation

A friend of mine just gleefully announced that the two pounds she gained on her vacation were already gone a mere week after she got back.  I love hearing stuff like that, by the way! Brag to me all day long; it makes me so happy to hear about people connecting the dots of their health! Anyway, I wasn't surprised about her fast weight loss: as long as your vacation-style eating ends when the vacation does, that weight you gained will disappear in about as much time as it takes for the reality of post-vacay laundry to smack you in the face. It's when vacation eating extends beyond the vacation that the problem creeps up.  So kudos to Sue for first making decent choices on vacation and letting vacation food stay in its rightful spot!  I'm proud of you!

It made me start thinking about the way I've been eating while pregnant related to vacation eating. Granted, just one week of vacation eating makes me cranky, but I've definitely relaxed my usual rules while I've had a few hundred extra calories to play with each day.  I've had to employ my three rules of cravings a few times and yeah, there have been some downright sketchy choices, but all in all I feel like I'm kind of in vacation mode: healthy cause I wanna be but definitely not what I would be eating for weight maintenance, muscle development, or training for an athletic event. After the baby is here, it's back to my standard egg whites, spinach, berries, and chicken so I can love on my muscles and really get into some hard training again.  Until then, if a bowl of gluten-free cereal sounds like breakfast (or lunch or dinner) to me, well that is just what I am gonna do! Go ahead and judge me, I don't feel bad!
Vacation eating and pregnancy eating are alike: they're both temporary, a welcome break from the usual routine, and feel a little scandalous. What's important to remember, however, is the first part - they're temporary!  When you start with the end in mind - that is, a plan to get back to "normal" - you can embrace that kind of diversion and enjoy it!  Here's how:

1. Make a plan. Duh, isn't this almost always my first step of anything?  Health success favors the prepared mind, so go into your pregnancy with a plan to stay healthy cause you wanna be, and know in advance where you plan to splurge. If you have a fancy dinner planned, scale back the rest of the day just like you would when you're not pregnant. If you have a hankering for frozen yogurt (like I do just about every dang day), read the ingredients to make sure you're eating something that's not loaded with junk and try not to eat it directly out of the container (I know, it's hard). That is, if a splurge is even part of your plan, which brings me to...

2. Stay true to yourself.  Remember, diverted eating does not have to be a calorie-coma. Being healthy or unhealthy is a choice. There is absolutely no rule anywhere that says you have to eat stuff you normally wouldn't just because you're pregnant or because people are telling you to "enjoy yourself."  Personally, eating crap is not enjoyable to me in the slightest.  You don't have to divert if you don't want to.  Unless you usually eat crap anyway and then you totally should.

For the next six weeks (OMG JUST SIX WEEKS) I'll be trying my best to strike the balance between eating well - fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein - and enjoying my little vacation from uber-strategic eating. I hope you'll do the same: get out there and get healthy!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Healthy Cause I Wanna Be

I follow a spunky gal on Twitter who goes by the name @healthyeveryday.  I've been following her health journey in the lovely way that Twitter allows (which is pretty much socially-accepted stalking) and her spirit is really refreshing!  Yesterday she tweeted something that resonated with me: venting the frustration that people feel when it's assumed that we exercise or eat healthy with weight loss as our primary goal.

Dude, been there. It's so annoying!

I call this my "healthy cause I wanna be," position.  There was definitely a time when weight loss was the paramount purpose behind working out and watching my calories. But eventually it dawned on me that I even though I had been busting my butt for years to achieve this idealized body, I never had. I wanted to give up, and for a while I did, before I had another epiphany: I liked being healthy. Even if I never achieved that (unrealistic) ideal, the way I felt when I was working out and eating clean far surpassed how I felt when I wasn't.  So, it was pretty clear to me: I'm healthy cause I wanna be!

I used to participate in a weight loss community called CyberDiet, back in the day of message boards and forums. I met so many wonderful women who were struggling with their weight, and it's where I first started hearing the call of wellness coaching. I would remind them that even though their efforts to become healthier might not be showing up on the scale right away, their bodies were already feeling the difference. Their hearts, lungs, joints, blood, and minds were in better shape, even if they didn't feel like they were achieving "health" yet!  Eventually I turned that advice on myself too and realized that I might not have that magazine-perfect physique, but I was way healthier than I had been a few years before and that was better than being skinny!  Sometimes I still have to remind myself; we're all works in progress.

So, chillax people. It's possible to actually strive for better health just for health alone, and I think it's actually healthier that way. When better health is your goal, the body follows. I had to bang my head against the wall before I was able to reprioritize enough to experience that, and @healthyeveryday reminded me yesterday how thankful I am that I did!

A couple of years ago I went on a rant about this, Exercise Alone Won't Make You Thin, and I still feel the same way. Be healthy cause you wanna be. Be healthy cause it's better!

And get out there and GET HEALTHY!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Shambala / Goodbye Skip

"Shambala" is a word that is used to mean a place where someone gets peace and security. It's usually connected to tranquility, meditation, and what I call my reset button. It's also the name of my all-time favorite song, which I originally discovered as performed by my all-time favorite band, Three Dog Night, and has been a recurring theme in my workouts for a very long time. No running playlist is complete without it.

From time to time I sing the praises of Skip Orem, a voiceover professional who turned his passion for fitness into a free podcast chock full of great workouts. My favorites are the high intensity interval training, which propelled me through many a tough training session getting ready for the Ultimate Fitness Challenge. Skip, even though we have never met, made me a better runner and more dynamic athlete just from his inspirational and motivating presence. Skip has announced his retirement from the GetFitPod, which puts a tiny little hole in my life. But, he has passed the torch to Jonathan Tilley, who will take over the podcast.

It's personally appropriate that Skip begins his last episode by playing "Shambala". I love this song, and it never fails to cheer me up no matter what. Hearing it in connection with the departure of someone I admire makes it bittersweet, but I'm glad to have another element with which appreciate it. "Shambala" has been an anthem throughout my life, and always symbolizes rebirth and new energy for me. It's ironic to me that Skip chose this song for his last podcast.

Take a listen to Podcast #177 and see what you think of Jonathan. I'm looking forward to the workouts; he sounds like someone that will keep me motivated and I can relate to his endorphin addiction!  He sounds like a well-rounded athlete with an appreciation for cross-training, which is important to me.So, check out the podcast, and enjoy "Shambala" by my favorite band! Turn it up LOUD and I dare you to not want to run!

Skip, I will miss you. You've been a great trainer and virtual friend. Jonathan, let's get to work!

Now get out there and get healthy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Funny: The Poo Chi Workout

After a big topic on Wednesday, some fun and laughter on Friday! This cracked me up when a friend sent it to me and I had to share. Not only can I - and likely most women I know - relate, it shows someone who is so comfortable with her body that I'm inspired. Watch, laugh, and have a great weekend getting out there and getting healthy!