Monday, January 30, 2012

Why I Ran the 9th Mile Second

Sometimes, even for a regular runner, there is that workout that looms ahead, being all intimidating and ominous and messing with your head. For me, it was the nine miles I needed to run last weekend in preparation for the Mardi Gras Half Marathon. I've been adding one mile a week for the past month or so, which when you break it down is not that big of a deal. It's, like, two and a half songs. A measly 10 tenths of a mile. About 15 furtive glances at my Garmin, and roughly an extra ten minutes of running. Big whoop. When I look at it in those kinds of terms, it's a lot easier to face. But sometimes I still get nervous and wonder, can I really do that?

The 9-miler was making me nervous. I don't know why, because I had not had any bad runs and in fact had been having some really great workouts. I knew I wanted to stick to an 8-mile route that I had recently had good luck with, and just tack on an extra mile. And that's when I thought of a nifty little way to make my nine miles feel more like 8: I ran the 9th mile second.


I looked at it this way: adding another mile on to an already taxing 8-mile run just seems mean to me. I'd just be thinking about it the whole time anyway, psyching myself out over nothing. Putting it in the middle works better, but about 1.5 miles into my run, there is a good spot to make a quick detour, go out and back for a mile, and get back on the route. I decided to make that my 9th mile. By getting it over with at the beginning of my run, I was quickly back in 8-mile territory, which I was completely comfortable with.

I know, it's a little nutty and delusional. But it worked! I ran the 9th mile second, and the rest of the run was a piece of cake!

It reminded me that most of fitness is mental. Yes, our bodies get stronger and more conditioned and physical changes occur, but the process that gets us to that point is 100% mental. By running that 9th mile while I was still fresh, and convincing myself that it was over and out of the way and I was just on a regular run after that, it freed me from feeling pressured to do anything other than keep putting one foot in front of the next. 

If you have mental hurdles to get over, get creative in the ways you approach them. Do what you can to turn them into bite-sized pieces (one song, six mailboxes to pass, 100 steps, etc.) to make them easier to manage. Or, rearrange your thinking so you do the hard part first and the rest is easy! It worked for me and now 10 miles is something I am looking forward to.

Play some mind games today: get out there and get healthy!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pollen: The Anti-Heather

Dear Pollen: I hate you.
The pollen is here. My car is blanketed in a yellow film of anti-Heather, my head feels like it is being squeezed in a vice, my throat is scratchy, and my ears itch. 

Why do trees hate me so much?  

It started creeping in on Saturday, and by today I am waving the white flag. This morning, during my workout with Roger, I actually stopped, put down my weights, and sat down. After a few minutes of watching Roger exercise all by himself, I went back to bed.

I broke the news gently to the baby that we would not be running today. He was cool with it, but I felt sucky. I have a half marathon in a week and was hoping for five miles today, six tomorrow, and 10 on Saturday before I take a week to taper off. I've got my fingers crossed that if I rest today, I can still salvage at least one of those runs!

A good friend of mine recently recovered from a  killer sinus infection and woefully lamented that she should have, "done what she needed to do when she needed to do it." Meaning, rest when she started feeling sick, not when she was forced to because her body shut down. As a repeat offender of wearing myself down to nothing and then taking three times longer than necessary to recover, I readily agreed. But now that I have to follow that advice myself, it feels like crap!

So, I had a heart to heart with myself this morning. I've been on such a great weight loss and training trend for the past few weeks and slowing down now is the exact opposite of what I want to do. But if the worst thing that happens this week is that I maintain, big whoop. I'll be stronger, faster, and (duh) healthier if I take a knee now and chill. Sucking it up had commenced.

Could it be that I am evolving???

I hope you get out there and get healthy today. And make a mean face at a tree for me!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Alternative to Exercise

As perfectly acceptable for calorie burning as it is to spend an hour on the elliptical machine, it sure is unfulfilling. But, on days when it is 32 degrees outside and I can't bring myself to bundle up my baby and make him sit in a stroller for an hour so I can go running, that's what I am left with. It's cool, because the exercise must happen. The alternative (having two pairs of pants that fit) is unacceptable to me.

I much prefer intense workouts when I can sweat buckets and defy physics and really feel myself work and grow stronger. But, for now I workout at home, and that's okay. The exercise must happen. The alternative (the heart disease, high cholesterol, and increased stress that will find me if I don't) is unacceptable to me.

I don't have one of those naturally lean, muscular bodies that most fitness pros sport. Mine is much more...baroque. 
What my body would look like if left to its own devices.
Except I would not be a man.
So, I have to count every calorie and then sweat them out in order to control my very stubborn will-not-be-contained waistline. So I do it, every single day, because the exercise must happen. The alternative (not being able to breathe when I bend over to tie my shoelaces) is unacceptable to me. 

Which brings me to the issue of the day: finding time to exercise. Last week I made the point that I simply make the time, but I realize that's sometimes easier said than done. 

I mean, I have stuff to do! Waiting around for the baby to take a nap so I can get on the elliptical means that I don't spend that time writing, working, or doing other productive things. But the exercise must happen. The alternative, as you know, is unacceptable to me.

So I don't do other things so I can exercise. I do my strength training and yoga before anyone else wakes up. I have the flexibility to go running in the morning now because I work from home, but when I worked in an office I did it at lunch. I go to bed early so I can accommodate a morning workout, and when I exercised at lunch I did my errands and visited with friends at other times. It was inconvenient sometimes, but I did it anyway. I made the time.

So, yeah, getting on the elliptical machine for an hour is not how I want to spend my time. I'd rather sit at my desk and look at pretty things on Pinterest. But the alternative, a life living in the body I used to inhabit, which was rife with fatigue, stress, and frustration, not to mention three sizes larger, is simply




That is why I make the time.

Get out there and get healthy! You can make the time. The alternative is just unacceptable!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Newsflash: Paula Deen is Not Healthy

I knew something was up when I saw Paula Deen on the Today Show teaching us how to cook healthy.

Now the news that Paula Deen has Type-2 diabetes has hit the press, conveniently at the same time that she launches a new batch of lightened-up recipes and an advertising campaign for the diabetes medication Novo Nordisk. I'm always skeptical when someone makes a sudden about-face in philosophy, in this case going from "you know I love my butter, y'all," to explaining the basics of nutrition, portion control, and healthy cooking. It didn't take long to figure out that either a) her sons sat her down for  a heart-to-heart that convinced her she was part of the nation's obesity problem, or b) she had landed a new endorsement deal. Turns out it was the second one.

Paula Deen is being blasted for not revealing her medical condition to the public, but why should she? It's a personal issue and she doesn't owe us an update on her health status. As a fan of Southern cooking, I'm glad to see her embrace a healthier lifestyle and shift to a message of moderation and portion control. There is no way I would step foot in her restaurant because as an ambassador of health, I can't personally condone a lifestyle of food excess and worship. But if her recipes truly do reflect a lighter interpretation of the decadent meals that have made her famous, then I hope it is a true shift in priorities and not just one for self-promotion.

Southern cooking is often assumed to be unhealthy, probably because we immediately envision ourselves tucking a napkin under our chins to dig into a meal piled high with buttered biscuits, cheese grits, fried chicken, sausage, and of course, decadent desserts. But it doesn't have to be.  I'm a Southerner, and I cook healthy every day. Just check out these healthified Mardi Gras recipes for proof! Almost every single meal that anyone could want can be "healthified." Almost. I still cannot get my mom's buckeye cookies, peanut butter balls rolled in powdered sugar and dipped in chocolate, under 100 calories each! 

Are Paula Deen's new ways going to stick or will her recipes slide backwards in the name of "moderation?" Time will tell. In the meantime, I hope her medical condition raises awareness of the dangers of high-fat eating and helps a few people wake up and stop eating like they're at the state fair every day.

Don't get diabetes. Stop eating fair food and get out there and get healthy! 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another Two Bite the Dust

I'm celebrating another two pounds of baby weight gone! Unfortunately, though, they don't seem to be two pounds from the area of my body where the baby actually was, but whatever. Technicality. I'm happy just to see the 130s in my very near future! 

My baby-belly-blaster plan is simple:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday: run 5 miles and do one of the two strength and conditioning workouts I've pieced together. Each workout has three Exercise TV workouts: one is upper body focused, one is lower body focused, and the third is a total body workout. Cumulatively, it's 30-40 minutes of weights and plyometrics in my living room before anyone else wakes up (hopefully).

Tuesday/Thursday: run 5 miles and do a yoga/stretching/core workout DVD that I love. It's by Karen Voight, who is pretty old school but I love her. It's a good workout and I can get it done in 45 minutes. I feel amazing afterwards! There are two workouts, and I'll usually alternate them.

This is the one I do; it's great! 

Saturday: long run, preferably 7 or 8 miles, which is long for me, to prepare for the Mardi Gras Half Marathon. 

Sunday: rest. Usually. :) I'm getting much better at this!

The best part of this plan is that it is sustainable, and sustainability is one of the fundamentals of a successful exercise program. The best exercise for you is the one you will do every day, consistently, and completely. By varying my workouts I don't get bored, by cross-training I reduce injury from muscle over-use, and by reminding myself how much better I feel after a workout, I get out there and get it done!

People ask me all the time how I find time for so much exercise. My answer is simple: I make it. It's a priority. The time is there, it is always there, and it is waiting for you to show up. Make the time today to get out there and get healthy!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pepped-up Peanut Butter

"Heather, you know, your peanut butter is pretty tasteless." 

"That's because you're used to Skippy, mom. This is real peanut butter, remember, like the kind you used to buy when I was a kid?"

"Well it doesn't taste very good."

When my mom stayed with me for two weeks after my baby was born, we stopped being polite and started getting real about peanut butter. I buy freshly ground peanuts with nothing added, which can be different from the jar of creamy peanut butter with added salt and sugar that you might buy at the store. I personally don't think it is tasteless, I think it tastes great, but my mom didn't agree. It occurred to me that if you want to transition to a cleaner diet but your tastebuds (or those of your kids) are used to the sweeter flavors of commercial peanut butters, making the switch could result in a revolt. My solution? Cinnamon!

I opened my cupboard one day and saw my trusty cinnamon, which I love because it reduces blood sugar and tastes so yummy. I sprinkle it on apples and peaches all the time. On a whim,  I sprinkled it in my natural peanut butter to yummy results. 

I added some ground cloves as well, and stirred it all up. It is so good and I doubt anyone would call my peanut butter tasteless anymore. 

Cinnamon doesn't just pep up my peanut butter. It lowers blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, reduces inflammation, and more. Check out these health benefits of cinnamon and sprinkle some in your life today!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Brain Food: What weight loss programs can teach us

Weight loss commercials abound this month: they're all trying to get us on the hook for a slimmer waistline by summer all while eating brownies and cheeseburgers. But look closely! Even the commercials have fine print, gently reminding us that the results of the celebrity spokesperson are not typical, and that success is contingent on a reduced calorie diet and exercise.  Save your money and learn what these programs are really teaching us:

1. Weight Watchers: Keep a food journal. Weight Watchers is great at teaching accountability, practicality, and the importance of writing it all down. Tracking your points is the same as tracking your food, and research has shown that those of us who record our calorie intake - even to a crazy-insane-detailed level like me - have greater success than those who do not. So, spend money on Weight Watchers if it helps and you enjoy it, or just find a free online tool like and track it yourself.

2. NutriSystem: Portion control. NutriSystem takes the guesswork out of preparing meals by making it for you, but take a close look at the plates in those commercials. They're teeny tiny. That food is way small. What NutriSystem is teaching us is to manage our portions, which you can do at home with a food scale and some honest accountability with yourself. Then, of course, log it all. There you go: Weight Watchers and NutriSystem for free!

3. Food delivery programs: Be prepared. Success favors the prepared mind, and that means having a healthy snack at the ready when you are ready for it. We've all been that ravenous beast foraging for anything remotely edible in a fit of hunger because we either waited too long to eat or just didn't plan ahead. What happens? We eat the first and easiest thing we can find, which is usually something in a wrapper and pressed into a bar, held together with sugar, eaten in about 15 seconds flat and leaving us wanting more more more. Frozen meals claim to make it easier to eat healthy, if you define healthy as eating up a preservative-laden and tasteless bowl of mush. Preparation does take time, but it's worth it. Get yourself some oranges and almonds and make yourself some 100 calorie packs already!

It's a great time to get out there and get healthy, and I would much rather see you spend your hard-earned cash on a great new pair of jeans than on a company to tell you something you already know: log your food, watch your portions, and prepare meals and snacks before you need them. It's just as easy as the commercials promise. 

Promise. :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Living Room Workouts With Roger

I used to workout at the gym, in bright lights with loud music and people talking and laughing (okay, maybe not laughing) around me, and with access to almost any machine, tool, or doohickey that I wanted to use to fashion the best 60 minutes of exercise that I could. With a baby in the house and my early morning hours house-bound, those days are over. Instead, I'm in my living room with Comcast On Demand, working out in the mid-dark with the volume on practically silent, with whatever pitiful dumbbells I've managed to cram into my coffee table/ottoman/toy storage container. 

Weights, blocks, and Risk. It's how we roll.

I get through my 30 or 45 minutes, depending on whether the baby wakes up, and then make my coffee, standing sweaty in my kitchen, panting and drinking water. They're not the intense training sessions I used to enjoy, but we'll get to those again soon. For now, this is a pretty good deal.

Comcast On Demand has a whole slew of workouts, which you probably already knew but I am just now finding out about. My favorites are the 10-minute ones by Roger Dickerman

They're challenging and creative, and I usually supplement them with some of my own work. He makes me do burpees, which I hate but do anyway, and by the end of three or so of his little workouts, I feel like I've done a body good. Then I move on to some Pilates and if I'm lucky, a cup of coffee before everyone wakes up and starts bossing me around.

Someday I'll get back to the gym but for now, this is working great! I've lost two more pounds and when I tried on my shorts this morning it was nice to see a light at the end of the post-baby weight loss tunnel. Just about 10 pounds of baby flab to burn off and I'm ready for the beach! Well, maybe the park and a kid's birthday party.

Exercise is flexible like that - find 10 minutes here and there (about six batches of 10 minutes, that is) and you really can improve your fitness. Or, cram them all together like I do and take your chances when you can!  Either way, Comcast's On Demand workouts are a great way to get out there and get healthy.