How to talk to your daughter about her body

How you talk about yourself and feel about yourself and your body directly influences your children’s self worth. I know I, like most women, carry the burden of my mothers own insecurities, adopting them as my own without any real reason other than the fact that she is my mother and the person who holds all the answers, wisdom, and reasons for the universe. Though it will be an uphill battle, I want to be different for my future kids, whether I have boys or girls. I want them to believe in their strengths and recognize the importance of their internal beauty before their external appearance. Their lives are too important to not make this a priority. I encourage others to think about this as well.

I AM BACK

IM THE WORST.

 

THE WORST, I TELL YOU.

 

OK, let me explain.

 

Last time I posted, I was living as an au pair in a suburb outside of Paris. I had way too much free time (apparently) and way too many boring meals to take pictures of. I fell off the face of the earth at the beginning of July and I have pretty much been MIA ever since… until now.

What happened?

Well, in just a few words: I got a job really suddenly back in California, had to switch my flights to come home 2 weeks early, packed up my entire life, said goodbye to friends and host family, and took the worst trip ever to get back to the U-S-of-A. I had layovers in Newark and Dallas, only to reach Washington DC to meet up with my boyfriend so we could move him from there to California with me in his Jeep. We drove across the country and made it just in time to start my new job, where I have now been working for almost 2 weeks…

Phew. Wrap your mind around that.

So, needless to say, among the airport food in traveling, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and lack of sincerely healthy options (or efforts) on the road back to California… lets just say, I let myself go a little bit. Now that I’m at my new job (actually at the company I worked for before France), all our food is provided for us, for free, all day every day, and it’s delicious. Time spent adjusting to my new life back home (yes, living with my parents again… for now), being with my boyfriend again after all this time apart, bonding with my new team over free lunch, and nights out drinking or eating while catching up with friends from home…. needless to say, it has taken a toll.

But I haven’t disappeared. Not at all! I was just on a forced hiatus, and I’m determined to be back now, with struggles that started in France as an au pair, and now continue in California as an employed and functional member of society. I naively thought it would be easy back in America to be healthy, given all the options and access to fresh produce (at least in California, the agricultural paradise), but I’ve already started to remember my struggles from being in this place last year – its not that easy. Being at this company is fabulous and I’m so lucky to be so well fed every day, but staying fit, healthy, and slim is now an entirely new challenge that I’m relearning how to deal with. Here’s to hoping that I can reach my goals… once and for all.

 

It’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to keep on trying!

 

Thanks for staying tuned. You’ll be hearing from me on the regular once again.

Feels so good to be home!

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How to Not Die (Before You Need To)

I just got back from an awesome and quick workout and I feel a million times better than I felt yesterday after not exercising. Why is it so easy to forget how magical exercise is? Just a few days without it and I already was starting to fall into a slump, and with one good workout, I feel rejuvenated (and sore… I guess that happens when you’re a turd and don’t work out for several days). If you exercise regularly, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, you’re missing out man! Pretty much anyone can exercise, so really you have no excuse. If you have a body, you can move it, and you should, and if you don’t, you’ll probably die like, 20 years sooner than everyone else, leaving behind your spouse and children to mourn your unhealthy life and unhealthy death.

Um, ok sorry. Sometimes I get really morbidly existential about health and exercise. BUT ITS TRUE, OKAY! If you don’t exercise and if you eat unhealthy food, YOU WILL DIE. I mean, we all are going to die, but its how and when you die, and more importantly, how you LIVE, that you have some control over. Some factors you can’t fully control, like pollution (lies, you CAN control this) or second hand smoke, and those things can cause all sorts of awful deadly cancers, BUT if you exercise regularly and stop eating crap and start eating organic whole foods from the earth, you can avoid so many more deadly cancers and diseases that are entirely lifestyle-related. Yes, I know, easier said than done, but (and I’m saying this to myself too), stop the excuses and just do it.

So… A few tips on how to NOT DIE BEFORE YOU NEED TO:

Start small if you’re new. Try one (and only one) of these changes for a week. Start gradually… by swapping one or two things a day, and slowly grow, week by week. Set small goals. See how it goes:

Food

  • If you’re still drinking soda (really? are you still 7 years old?? I guess easy for me to say because I’ve never liked soda), drink sparkling water with fresh lemon or lime in it.
  • If you like juice, find one thats 100% fruit, without added sugars or any of that bullshit that I can’t pronounce.
  • If you like sweets, eat fruit, or heck, just eat half of the damn cake and not the whole thing. Share it with another fatty friend who also is trying to be less of a fatty. Just start somewhere. (This is the hardest one for me. I fail constantly, but I’ve gotten better.)
  • If you like chips, go for tortilla chips instead of Lays or potato chips or any of that greasy nonsense. (Also easy for me to say… I’m not big on chips. Unless they’re tortilla chips, with guac, and then I’m done for.)
  • If you want a burger, eat half. Or take off the top of the bun. Or get a whole wheat bun. Or get chicken instead of beef. Or a veggie burger. Or turkey. So. Many. Options.
  • If you like cereal and milk, try oatmeal or Kashi cereals instead. (Or something natural, organic, and as close to raw as possible. Add raisins for sweetness, if you must.) And try almond milk or soy milk.
  • If you go to McDonalds or ANY other place where your food takes less than 10 minutes to make, DON’T. Like really, do you live in a cave? Has no one ever told you that these places are pretty much the worst thing you could EVER POSSIBLY DO TO YOUR BODY?! Like, why don’t you just shoot up heroin in an ally with a rusty shared needle or fucking go skydiving without a parachute. You might be better off. Fuck, at least skydiving is fun. But really. McDonalds? There is NOTHING WORSE. Plus if you’re like me and have sensitive skin, you’ll just become pepperoni face girl and it’ll be age 16 all over again, or you’ll be muffin top boy or man-boobs man or mom-arms lady and your stomach will hurt and you’ll probably have diharrea and you’ll feel lethargic and stoned and also cracked out because there is literally crack (and by literally I mean figuratively) in everything they serve you and you’ll hate your life afterwards and really, its just never a good idea. If you’re broke and are starving for calories, buy a jar of almond butter and a bag of carrots for like, $5 and you’ll pretty much have enough food for the whole day. Like literally if you’re starving. But if money isn’t the issue and its just that you don’t know any better or that you actually like the taste of a mediocre soggy burger, then listen to these words: IF YOU EAT FAST FOOD, YOU CAN START SAYING YOUR GOODBYES NOW.

I am totes serious about that.

  • OK but without the sass, here’s a more gentle solution. Craving fast food? OK, I know if you’re in the habit of going to a fast-food restaurant every so often, then it might be a hard habit to break. (I’m the queen of struggling to break bad habits.) Often you don’t know what other choice you have, or you don’t know how bad it is, or you really love the food. I get that. I’ve never liked fast food (I’ve probably eaten McDonalds less than 10 times in my life), but I fucking LOVE dessert, so I get the appeal. My suggestion is to go to McDonalds or whatever your poison of choice is, and choose something “healthier” off the menu, like a fruit and a salad or something. Or if what you want is a burger, just don’t go to McDonalds and splurge a little on a nicer burger at a restaurant! At least it’ll be more satisfying and probably slightly healthier. There are solutions. You just have to care enough to find them.

Exercise

  • When it comes to exercise, its the same idea. Start small. Try walking 20 minutes a day for a week. After a week, move it up to 30 minutes. After a month (or when you’re ready), try power walking. Looks silly, but gets your heart rate up and burns more calories. Give it a few more weeks and when you’re ready, go for a short run. 10 minutes, and you can take as many breaks as you need. Even if you weigh 300 pounds, YOU CAN RUN. Please, please, please, do it… for me??
  • After you’ve been walking, power walking, and jogging lightly for a few weeks or months, I challenge you to sign up for a 5k race. It should take you 30-45 minutes (or however long you need) and I promise you, it will change your life. If it doesn’t, you can come back here and smack me for being a liar.
  • Don’t be intimidated by a gym. I realize a lot of people avoid gyms because they think they won’t know how to exercise, or people will stare at them, or they’ll feel pathetic next to the beefy dudes or the skinny women, but remember what is important and just push through it. The first step is the hardest, and it will get easier with time. People that exercise frequently are usually so excited to help someone start exercising (like me!), so you might be surprised… you might find that people would be really happy to show you how to use the treadmill, or the stationary bike, or how to properly do a bicep curl. And if you have a friend who can go with you, even better! The point is, don’t be afraid. You are worthy, just like everyone else, of going to a gym and doing what’s best for you. So do it!
  • If you’re still too embarrassed or don’t have the money, try exercise videos. There are so many resources online… all it takes is a very quick google search and you’ll have access to some of the best trainers in the world, for free! This has been my saving grace for my broke ass here in Paris, since gyms are super expensive and difficult to find. Try Zuzana Light or Jillian Michaels to start, then explore to see what other videos or styles you like.
  • Try yoga. Anyone can do yoga and while it might not give you the intense cardio that you need for your heart and to burn calories, it gives you something much deeper and more powerful. It gives you awareness and appreciation for your body, confidence, and a sense of calm (among many other benefits). And, if done enough, it will transform your body. Try yoga once a week, then slowly increase. If you can do 15 minutes in the morning, every morning, you will feel better all day long. Promise.

***

If you’re not a n00b anymore and you’re already more established on the road to a healthy life, which is where I think I am, I think these are the things that work for me, or that I should work on more.

  • Portion control. I know this is really vague because, especially in America, our idea of portions is entirely skewed, but start small and eat off of a smaller plate, or share a dish at a restaurant with a friend, or measure out your servings when you’re at home. This is a struggle for me, but I’m trying.
  • Lessen carbs. They’re the bain of my love handle existence. It’s amazing how quickly the weight comes off when the carbs are gone. That means less bread, less potatoes, less cereal… and sadly for me, less oatmeal. But little by little, it gets easier. And avoid AT ALL COSTS any refined carbs (anything white, like bread, pasta, rice, etc).
  • Lessen dairy, especially cheese. Its fatty. Enough said.
  • Cut out red meat. Cholesterol and saturated fat up the ass.
  • Eat more greens. Spinach and green beans are my go-to, because I’m picky and I hate broccoli, asparagus, and pretty much all other green veggies. Half of the plate should be green. Personal rule of thumb.
  • Drink more water. Not a problem for me because water is all I drink (I don’t like anything else, oddly), but some people (I’ve noticed French people in particular) don’t drink water! Aren’t you thirsty!??
  • Drink more green tea between meals when the hunger pangs arrive. Apparently helps curb the appetite for a little. I’m a monster snacker so this might help me stay away from the temptations when its not meal time.
  • Experiment in the kitchen making healthy swaps for your favorite meals, like instead of spaghetti with meatballs made out of ground beef, use whole wheat spaghetti (if you must) or even better, spaghetti squash with turkey or tofu meat balls. This is actually one of me and my moms favorite things to make when we’re lazy. Trader joes has awesome meat-less meatballs that have tons of protein, with a little homemade pasta sauce and spaghetti squash… YUM. I really have no need for regular pasta again.
  • Eat fruit as dessert.
  • Eat nuts as a snack. Who doesn’t like nuts in their mouth??! !!@?#!@$ [Sorry, I’m tacky.]
  • Learn about calories and nutrition basics. Don’t obsess over the numbers, but be aware. Like when you sit down at dinner time, you’ll know that your piece of salmon has X amount of calories and not Y as you used to think. We tend to underestimate our calories consumed and overestimate calories burned, so use an app (I use MyFitnessPal) to get you started.
  • As for exercise… amp up the exercise to 45 minutes (or more) a day, 4-6 times a week. And if you’re really intense, you can do 2-a-days, with light cardio or yoga in the morning (for 20-30 minutes) and a real workout in the afternoon, doing weight training or HIIT routines. Mix it up, so your body doesn’t get bored. Learn to crave the soreness and the sweat.

And if you’re a pro… well you can tell me what I need to do WHEN I get there, because it’s happening, someday.

***

Other things that might help everyone get a healthier life started:

  • Keep a journal or a blog! Writing how you feel about food and exercise and health helps you stay accountable and helps you see the progress you’ve made. Seeing what you ate in any given day can really be enlightening.
  • Keep inspirational images or quotes in a visible place. Sounds cheesy and guess what, IT IS CHEESY. But guess what else? It reminds you of your strength and power to change and grow, every single day. And at the end of the day, haters gon’ hate. But wear your badge proud, and put up a cheesy little poster in your room to remind you of what your goals are. I did this, and it helped.
  • Tell your friends about your goals. Don’t keep it private. Part of my reason for starting this blog is for this very reason… I know that if I don’t tell anyone that I’m trying to make a change, then no one will know that I “failed” if and when I did “fail.” It essentially gives you a green light to give up before you even start. But telling someone and having them hold you accountable makes a big difference in your motivation to succeed.
  • Ask for help. So many of us are in the same boat. I am so far from perfect, and me writing this list isn’t me giving you all the answers, as if I’ve already found them. This is encouragement for me and for you to seek each other out, find help, and work together. I don’t want to feel alone in my struggle, and I know you don’t either.
  • Get rid of all the haters. People don’t like it when their friends try to get healthy if they aren’t on the same path themselves. They might not know it, but its a reminder to them that their choices are not the best, and they react in disapproval, they mock, they try to get you to eat the burrito that you’re trying so hard to resist because you are showing them something they are not ready to accept about themselves. I am FAR TOO FAMILIAR with this. Its frustrating and alienating when your closest friends make fun of you, judge you, or just simply don’t understand you (and don’t try to) for wanting to improve your life. Find friends that encourage you, that respect your choices, and that maybe even want to join in on the fun, because they know how much it means to you. Find friends that will be selfless, even if they’re not ready to make a change in their own lives. People are resistant to change and people don’t want to be made aware of their own lifestyle if they somewhere, deep down, know that it could be better. Find people who boost you up and make you better. Get rid of the rest.

Lastly, for now… remember this: YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE. You are beautiful just as you are today. There is no standard of beauty that you need to adhere to. This isn’t even a question of beauty at all. It’s about your health, your life, your family, your future, and your self respect. You are worthy and perfect right now, today, yesterday, tomorrow, and always. You are capable of so, so, so much more than you think. It’s a long journey, and it never ends, but all you need to do is take the first step. One little step is closer than yesterday. You are powerful beyond measure. Know this at the deepest core of your being. And you deserve nothing but the best.

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HIIT and Kickboxing and Salad Day

My motivation and inspiration has been rather low lately. I’ve been less consistent with my postings (sorry!) likely because I’ve been stressed and busy, though I know that’s never a good excuse – we’re all stressed and busy. Yesterday I had a particularly awful day with the kids (misbehaving, fighting, yelling, etc) and with other current worries, like job-searching and the feeling of being totally over my current life as an au pair and life abroad, and worries about being pretty much broke, and homesick, and of course I haven’t really had time to exercise as much as I would have liked, so I think the stress and anxiety got the best of me last night and I nearly lost it.

You know that feeling when you just really want to punch the living shit out of something/someone? Well, I was at that point yesterday and that’s when I remembered the beauty of kickboxing! There really is no better feeling than punching or kicking a big heavy bag with all of your power, letting go of all of your frustration and rage and stress in the most cathartic and liberating way. Before moving to Paris, I did kickboxing about 2-3 times a week at a kickboxing gym, fully equipped with bags, dummies, pads, etc and there was nothing better than heading out of work and straight to the gym, wrapping up my hands, slipping them into my red gloves, and beating the shit out of imaginary people. Never have I been stronger, sweatier, or braver than during that year of kickboxing. I am so, so eager to get back into it when I move home.

Today when I finally got my ass up and went out to exercise outside, I tried to let go of everything that was awful about yesterday and start the day in a new way. I ran to my park (about 10 minutes), then followed this HIIT routine. (I don’t remember where I found this because I had it written down on a piece of paper that I found on my desk, so I apologize to whoever I am failing to give credit to for this workout.)

0:30 high knees

1:00 squat jumps

1:00 mountain climbers

1:00 burpees

1:00 jump lunges

Repeat 3x

Then I did about 10 minutes of kickboxing, which entailed shamelessly punching the air (aiming at a nearby tree) while tons of French people (mostly creepy French men) stared at me and judged me, probably.

Then some crunches of all shapes and sizes, side planks, lower back exercises, and then I ran… more like wobbled… back home. A nice long stretch followed, as well as a CLIF builder protein bar (gotta restore those muscle fibers!) and an apple, and I felt so good. Amazing how quickly you forget how great a good workout is.

(If I eat a food bar, I try to find one that is as natural and raw as possible. These are pretty good, though they tend to be too dense and ingredient-rich, but its better than other options out there. My favorites are Lärabars.)

Later, I made a delicious salad (I think I’ve gotten better at salads over the years. I lived a long time thinking a salad had to be nasty iceberg lettuce and croutons) with lots of my favorite ingredients, and a few things I just had on had to make it well-rounded:

photo 1

White beans

Kidney beans

Avocado

Almonds

Red and yellow bell peppers

Golden raisins

Sesame seeds

Spinach

Lemon juice, salt, pepper

 

photo 2

How pretty was this avocado?? Nature is so cool.

 

It’s been a much better day today than yesterday. Exercise always helps more than I realize. I feel strong, sufficiently sore and tired, and well-fed.

Dinner tonight will surely be a challenge, but I’m going to go easy on myself and not feel guilty after eating whatever it is that we’re eating. I can only control so much, right?

Here’s to another good day.

 

Couscous Decisions

I’m proud of myself today. I went to lunch with my coworkers and we went to a restaurant to eat some amazing couscous, and I kept it as healthy as possible by ordering the vegetarian couscous. It was actually quite a display of my indecisiveness and internal torment, because I ordered vegetarian, then I heard everyone’s order and I decided I wanted chicken, so I changed my order. The waiter left and a few minutes later, I got up from the table (after sitting there, feeling guilty with my decision for quite some time) and asked if he could change my order back to vegetarian. I was mildly embarrassed to be so indecisive in front of colleagues  but at the end of the day, my health was more important and I’m happy I went with the veggie meal.

Somehow, I think I’ve developed a bit of a distaste for meat now… Or, perhaps not a distaste but a slight disgust. Don’t get me wrong, I still love eating it (this past weekend I ate 2 burgers… oops), but I think when it looks like flesh, it creeps me out, whereas in the past I never would have thought about it. Seeing the waiter bring out a tray full of meat, a lot of it on the bone, and seeing people at the table pick at it and cut it with difficulty with their sharp knives made me so happy to be eating just vegetables, chick peas, and couscous. I felt light after eating rather than bogged down as I normally feel after eating meat, and I know I didn’t consume any cholesterol or saturated fat in my meal while the others surely did, and best of all, no one had to die a miserable factory life so that I could eat lunch! So really, whats not to love about being vegan? I get all the right nutrients, I eat cleaner, no one dies, the planet doesn’t suffer as much, and my body thanks me and rewards me for my healthy choices every day.

Now to be clear, I’m not 100% vegan. But I’m okay with that still. Perhaps I may never be fully vegan, but if 80% of what I consume comes entirely from the earth, then I think I’m in a better place than I was before. I want to stay flexible and I don’t want to feel deprived, so I will allow myself a relatively guilt-free non-vegan indulgence when the situation calls for it, and I know it won’t cause that much damage at the end of the day. My family is from Colombia where I’m fairly certain the concept of vegan or even vegetarian just simply do not exist. I know with my family and family friends, living a vegan life would be nearly impossible, so I’m open to eating meat and dairy in social occasions when other options are not available, and sometimes when going out with friends, I’m okay with eating a burger or ice cream. Not the end of the world. But while I have the power to control what I eat, I want to try to stay as vegan and clean as possible, and that is a solution for my daily diet that I can be very comfortable with. Fortunately today my meal allowed for that flexibility. It won’t always be like that, and I’m learning to be okay with that.

I’m trying to be gentle with myself. If I label myself as “vegan”, I’m bound to feel guilt when I break the rules. But if I can make my own rules that suit me, I’m more likely to feel satisfied and happy with the choices I make.

So today, I’m proud of my choice. I’m proud of all of my choices today, actually. They weren’t all perfect, but they were as good as they could have been and I managed to eat clean, vegan, and light all day long and I went for a 4-mile run in the evening. I’m feeling pretty good about how today has gone and I hope to have more days like today in the future.

Go me!

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All Talk

All Talk

A conversation last night with a friend led me to think about something that has been vaguely on my mind the past several weeks, which led her to send me an article which helped me understand what I have been feeling.

The article from Nerd Fitness is about taking action on your goals, not just talking about them and expecting results. Read it!

I am so much like the underpants gnomes he references from South Park. I collect underpants (knowledge) and I even make underpants (I write this blog), but I so often forget about Phase 2 and I eagerly jump to expect Phase 3, “profit” to happen automatically. Confused about what I’m talking about? I told you to read the article!!

I have spent years reading health blogs, books, watching documentaries and TED talks, and in every other way absolutely inundating my brain with knowledge about health and fitness. I should get an honorary fitness and nutritionist certification with all the research I’ve done. So you’d think, you know… I would have reached my goals by now. But the reality is, I’ve looked and felt mostly the same pretty much my entire life. I’ve had little moments of brilliance, where I really stepped it up and lost weight and felt amazing, but I quickly fall back into my old habits and my changes fail to stick.

I talk a lot and think a lot about health, but I’ve been feeling lately like I don’t actually DO anything about it. I mean, I’ve made changes that I shouldn’t ignore, like my slow progression to a mostly vegan diet which has been a great accomplishment for me so far, but if I’ve lost weight, it has been maybe a pound or two. Nothing noticeable. And while I do feel a lot better eating a clean, plant-based diet, I’m feeling impatient and I’m feeling disappointed that my progress has been so slow and mostly invisible. I don’t want to just talk about making changes… I want to actually make them!

My question is, how do I make these changes really stick this time? I’ve done this before. I’ve been right here many times, and I’ve temporarily succeeded. I’ve lost 10-15 pounds several times (gained them back, of course) and I’ve felt accomplished and proud, but why do I struggle with sticking to my lifestyle changes? I’m determined to get to the root of the problem, in one way or another.

Perhaps the key for me (and anyone else struggling with this feeling) is to make a list of tangible, quantifiable, achievable, realistic goals (or assignments/homework), write them down, and stick them on your wall so you remember them every day. Maybe if I try to think of this as a game, or as an assignment for work, maybe I’ll feel the same sense of urgency or desire to accomplish them. I don’t know. Just a thought. I’m a lists-person. I feel great when I can check things off of my list, and often I can’t accomplish much without one because I’ll just simply forget, so maybe I can work with my goals and see them as “errands” that I can check off today, and perhaps that will help me just get it done, and thus slowly start building patterns and habits, maybe without all the emotional baggage that I tend to tie into “changing my life.” That feels too heavy. Do I have to think so hard about it? Can’t I just… do it?

Anyway, my point is… I feel like I talk too much and don’t take enough action. I still give in to my snacking cravings every time they come and I still eat the same sized portions as I normally do and I still stay up late and miss my morning workouts and I still eat crap if its in front of me and I still overdose on my addictive favorites like granola and almond butter. I suppose, as I mentioned, my biggest accomplishment is sticking to a mostly vegan diet, with exceptions whenever I don’t have a choice (like occasional dinners with my host family or social gatherings, etc).

I can’t tackle all of these at the same time, but I can start by what I can control today.

– I will try really hard to eat at the designated eating times, the way French people do. In following the Tone It Up  lifestyle suggestions (as well as the suggestions by most other nutrition experts out there), I will eat 5 small meals today, and if I get hungry in between, I will drink water or green tea and remind myself that my next meal is not too far off. I need to learn patience and I need to learn not to be afraid of hunger. Now DO NOT misinterpret that, please. All I mean is… I live in this perpetual fear of hunger and at the slightest grumble in my stomach, I immediately feel the need to binge on something to avoid starvation. It’s irrational, and I end up not even being that hungry when I actually do eat a meal. I just want to not feel so controlled by the hungry animal impulse, and usually drinking a glass of water does the trick for a while. So without further ado, here is my plan for the day:

Meal 1: 8am, breakfast quinoa – DONE

Meal 2: 11am, soy yogurt with banana – DONE

Meal 3: 1pm, lentils + sautéed veggies + apple – planned

Meal 4:  5pm, half sweet potato + spinach + almonds – planned 

Meal 5: 9pm, something healthy-ish at the restaurant + red wine – planned

– Even though its Wednesday (long day as an au pair), I will try to find time to squeeze in 50 squats and 20 pushups. Like, maybe right after posting this.

– I will take a moment to reflect on my accomplishments thus far, and I will try to be proud of myself for them.

Those are my small goals for today. I will let you know how it goes. I have plans to meet a friend for dinner and drinks tonight, but I will try to order something healthy and I will stick to a glass or two of red wine. No day is perfect, but I can still be strong.

Enough with collecting underpants. I want to be ready for Phase 2.

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Damn, Girls…

Damn, Girls...

These ladies are fierce. Enviable. Strong. I always forget that people like them had to WORK for it. They were not born looking like that. So if they can do it, why can’t anyone else?

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zwow 42

 

I’m just posting this for my own reference. I did this work out last week and it was SO good, as Zuzana Light’s workouts always are, and I didn’t want to lose it. So, if you have 20 minutes, knock this one out and you’ll be sweating like a dog in the end. In fact, I might just go do it again right now.

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Healthy Breakfast Quinoa

This morning I woke up and realized I only had a tiny, tiny amount of oatmeal left. Since I’ve been trying to eat mostly vegan lately, I didn’t want to eat yogurt or eggs for breakfast, so I thought I’d get a little creative and use inspiration from many recipes I’ve seen to create my own breakfast quinoa.

The result was actually amazing! I can’t wait to try this again tomorrow morning.

photo (22)

Since I rarely use real recipes and I just make things up as I go, here I’ll try to describe my process, in case you want to recreate it (which you should, because this was SO good).

Ingredients:

Quinoa

Almond Milk

Raisins

Dried Apricots (or any dried or fresh fruit)

Cinnamon

Honey

Almonds (or walnuts)

I already had quinoa pre-made from last night, but if you don’t, you can start from scratch, which might actually be better. (I’ll be trying that tomorrow.) Mine was a quinoa-bulgur wheat mix, but I recommend just straight quinoa. I had… a normal serving size? About a cup? Not really sure. You can be more precise if you want.

I put it in a little sauce pan, turned the heat on low, and poured in some almond milk (but not too much at first). I tossed in some raisins, and a small amount of honey and cinnamon and some sliced dried apricots (though you can use whatever fresh or dried fruit you desire). I mixed it all together and kept adding almond milk until it was a consistency that looked good to me (I didn’t want it to be too watery but you can make it as watery or dry as you’d like). At the end, I chopped up some almonds (if you have slivered almonds, or shelled walnuts, even better so you don’t have to deal with cutting whole almonds) and tossed them in, and gave it a little taste test to see what I thought. YUM.

Since I had a tiny bit of oatmeal, I cooked that and mixed both together, and the result was a delicious, sweet, healthy, protein-filled, fiber-filled, nutrient-dense breakfast to start my day. Seriously this might be my new favorite thing. Dare I say… better than oatmeal??

TRY IT. I dare you.

Here are some suggestions for things to add, though the beauty of this is that you pretty much can just do whatever you want and it will most likely be amazing.

– Fresh blueberries

– Fresh strawberries

– Almond butter

– Avocados

– Maple syrup

– Peaches

– Mashed banana

– Protein powder

– Chocolate chips

– Greek yogurt

… The list can go on as far as you’d like. Just some ideas to get you started.

Seriously this is my new favorite discovery. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

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Women and Weights

I have a sincere issue with the gender divide in health and exercise. When you step into a gym, you will usually see the cardio section occupied mostly by women, and mostly by women reading magazines or watching TV. When you look at the area with the mats, resistance bands, bouncy balls, and small dumbells, again, you’ll see mostly women, and sure, there will be a few women working hard, but more often than not, you’ll find women with their friends, chit-chatting and taking long breaks after 10 reps of bicep curls with 5 or 8 pound weights.

Scan your eyes over to the weight machines or large dumbells and you’ll see men. All men, only men, forever men. Men of all shapes and sizes, except not really… beefy men usually, sweating through their clothing, grunting, flexing, and moaning with each bicep curl. Often times with poor form. But one thing is clear: these men are cut and those women are not.

Let me just say… THIS IS BULLSHIT.

I used to be one of those women, who would spend 30 or 45 minutes on the elliptical at medium resistance, then maybe 15 minutes of weights (never more than 8 pounds), then I would go home and eat whatever the hell I wanted, thinking I had earned it. Early on in my college years when I started exercising more, this was mostly how I spent my time at the gym, and sure, I’d break a sweat, but I would leave with a false sense of success. I imagined I had burned 6,000 calories and that all those frozen lasagnas that I used to eat would be well-deserved. Honestly, if I burned 100 calories during my workouts, I’d be surprised. But I didn’t know any better, and most people don’t know any better either. Especially women.

There is a very terrifying lack of education in the female population about how to exercise and how to achieve the results that most of us want. Most women out there (even if they don’t admit it), in one way or another desire that “lean, toned” look, and most women think that spending their days fiddling around on the cardio machines is going to get them there. It pains me that this is our foolish reality. That women are so uneducated and so misinformed in fitness, and that they are so terrified of trying something truly challening, for fear of “bulking up”.

There are countless articles written about this subject, but in summary, women, listen up: YOU CANNOT AND WILL NOT GET BULKY UNLESS YOU TAKE STEROIDS AND/OR DEDICATE YOUR LIFE TO BECOMING A BODY BUILDER. You just cannot. We do not have the levels of testoserone that men have so no matter how hard we try, we just cannot bulk up! We can build muscle and lose body fat and achieve that “toned” look that everyone is after, but anything more extreme is supremely difficult for us to achieve. Women sadly live terrified of the real weights because they think they’ll look manly, and as a result, women exclude themselves from the one and only real way to getting the healthy, beautiful body that they desire.

Want to know what happens when women lift weights and drink lots of protein shakes?

Yeah, terrifying, right?

Women cannot be afraid of challenging themselves, because as they say, “What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you,” and if its change you’re after, then its change that you need.

The other part of this issue is the fact that men are not used to seeing women in the weights section, and women often feel intimidated and unwelcome, or perhaps a little too welcome, feeling more like a piece of meat than a strong woman who just wants to get her work out in like everyone else. This is true anywhere in the world, but I have become more aware of it since coming to France, where the spaces between the genders are much more culturally engrained. I was invited by a friend to come to her gym for a day, so after my insane 15 minutes on the spin bike (literally sweat flying everywhere, grunting and breathing heavily, getting all sorts of stares from the poised and clean French women leafing through Elle on the pussy-bikes next to me), I put on my weight lifting gloves and marched proudly into the weight room, which was separate from the other parts of the gym. Before walking in, I felt tough, confident, and excited to lift some heavy weights. As soon as I turned the corner, all the meatwad men with enormous biceps essentially stopped what they were doing, turned, and looked at me as I walked in to “their” section. Rather than going to the middle of the room to a spot where I could see myself properly in the mirror, I instantly felt like I was being eye-raped by these gross men, so I resorted to a corner of the room where I had a sliver of mirror and my squats would be as minimally disruptive as possible. It was a horrible feeling, but I pushed through it anyway, finding myself opting for tougher-looking exercises (lots of boxing moves, with weights) to assert myself as a strong woman. I felt self conscious and alone, like I’m sure many women fear feeling when considering lifting heavy weights.

The worst moment for me (a raging feminist and heavy-weight lifter) was when I was scoping out gyms in my neighborhood, and on the tour of one particularly gross-looking gym, the guy said to me something along the lines of, “…And downstairs we have the weight room. Its for men, but I’ll show it to you anyway.” And when we got down stairs, again he said, “So here you can see the weight room. It’s probably not of any interest to you because its mostly for men, but here is one machine that you could use if you wanted.” And he pointed to some dinky little cardio thing. I felt offended. I wanted to say so many things, but my limited French only allowed me to smile and say “Merci.” What a dick.

Ladies out there, my message is this: Do not be afraid of lifting weights. Real weights. Heavy weights. Weights that are heavy enough for you to feel muscle exhaustion after 8-12 good reps, without losing proper form. Weights that leave you utterly sore the next day. Weights that challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone. This is the only way to build muscle, aka “tone up” your body and get “lean”. Add cardio, yes, but good cardio (not 30 minutes on the elliptical while reading a magazine. Instead, choose a short, intense HIIT routine) a few days a week, and you will see the results you have always wanted (as long as you’re eating clean). And you will see them fast!

Again, I will use myself as an example. I had a personal trainer in college for about 6 months, and she entirely revolutionized my way of looking at exercise. She had me doing bicep curls with 15 pound weights, when I thought I could only handle 8lb, or maybe 10 if I was feeling tough. But she showed me that I could do better than that, and in just a few months, I remember looking in the mirror and actually seeing my arms look different. (At one point during one of our sessions, I remember her saying, “Damn girl, look at those guns!”… It was a proud moment.) The 15lb weights had been killer, but within a short amount of time, my body had actually changed in all the ways that all women want it to change. I wasn’t bulkier, I was leaner. I wasn’t manly, I looked feminine and strong. My arms looked amazing, my thighs were thinner, my waist was leaner, and I know it was entirely because my trainer forced me to lift heavier than what I thought I could. I’ve never looked back, and I can’t wait to get back to lifting weights again. It is the only thing that has ever made a significant difference in my appearance in all my years of being an athlete and fitness monster.

Also to note: There is no such thing as “weight lifting for women” or “exercising for women”. Anything that markets itself as women-specific is bound to sell you short and make reaching your goals that much harder and slower. We are all bodies, and we should all train the same way. To get the toned womanly body you want, you need to train “like a man.” That is to say, train like a human. (There’s a reason those men in the gym are cut, and yes, part of it is testosterone  but the other part is training. If you want to be firm and toned, you need to work for it like they do.)

So ladies, let’s break the stereotypes and the fears and the miseducation. The weight room is not just for men. I challenge you to go in there during your next session at the gym, and lift heavier than you normally would (even if its just a few pounds heavier. Strength and muscle take time to build. Also, please make sure you have proper form and consult your doctor before taking on a new exercise regimen. Thats my PSA for the day) and I promise, PROMISE, PROMISE that you will see results. You will have the “lean, toned” look in no time, as long as your diet is clean. You will wake up every day loving your sexy body, and you’ll be saying, “Thank you, C from Strong Fits Well. Thank you.”

You’re welcome.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Muscle burns a ton of calories, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when you’re not doing anything at all. So the more muscle you build, the more fat you’ll burn off, making it easier and quicker to see those pretty, shapely muscles under the layer of fat that currently hides them. Just a fun fact.

Watch this video. Very funny, very relevant.

 

A few links for those of you who have had their curiosity piqued:

The Best Strength Training For Women, Women’s Health Magazine

8 Reasons You Should Lift Heavier Weights, Shape Magazine

Why Ladies Should Lift Weights, Fitocracy

Why Women Should Lift Weights!, BodyBuilding.Com

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Lift Heavy

Lift Heavy

Such a terribly common misconception. Lifting weights will NOT make women bulky! Neither will protein powder. More on this to come on an upcoming post.

“As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, ‘I love my body’. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body.’ So I make sure to say it to Mia, because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.” – Kate Winslet

A friend of mine recently shared this quote with me, and it really hit close to home. As I said to her, as children, especially as girls, our mothers are the mirror into which we look at ourselves and form our self image, and if that mirror is cracked, then our view of ourselves will share the same scars. I know I’ve picked up so many of my mothers’ own critiques and only lately, now that I’ve started to see my mother as human have I finally started to try to shed some of those inherited insecurities. But I hope that despite all of my own humanity, that one day if I have kids (girls or boys), I will always try to speak of myself in a positive, confident voice. If finding that voice now for myself isn’t enough motivation, then perhaps the idea of my future children might serve as a good reason to work on this, starting now. It’s never too late to learn to love yourself.

“As a child, I …

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Guilt. So much Guilt.

Oh dear… the guilt! I worried if this day would come, and it has.

A while ago, my host mom told me that if I ever felt like the food they eat at dinner time is too heavy or bad for my cholesterol, that I’m free to eat anything else. I was so relieved to hear this, as dinner time (as you may know if you’ve been following) is often the biggest struggle for me, since the meals are outside of my control and often cooked decadently and always with lots of love, and cheese. Saying no to my host moms meal often feels like I’m rejecting her love and appreciation for my work, so I ate what everyone else ate, and swallowed my guilt in the process. So when she showed some concern for my cholesterol and gave me the green light for a little bit of freedom during dinner time, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude. I still remained hesitant to take her up on this offer, but one day I asked if she would mind if I ate some quinoa and vegetables instead, and she was totally okay with it. Since then, I’ve managed to more often than not, eat my own food for dinner (usually I pre-make it during the day), thus being able to stay about 99% vegan for the past 2+ weeks.

But tonight, like the past few nights, I did the same – opted out of the croque monsieur (ham and cheese sandwich with butter on white bread) and ate my quinoa and veggies instead, and in the middle of dinner, my host mom jokingly, but kind of not, made a sad face and said, “C doesn’t eat my food anymore…” (C is me, obv) and she jokingly continued to pout, and I said, “Aww, that’s not true!” and two of the girls chimed in to help me out, one saying, “She ate some of your tabouleh tonight!” and the other eventually looked at her mom very seriously and said, “Mom, stop.”

And it was done.

The girls know, somewhat, that I’ve mostly stopped eating meat and dairy because last Wednesday when I made them their lunch, I made myself a salad and they asked why and I explained. But I haven’t had the heart to be straight forward with my host mom to tell her I’ve essentially stopped eating all the staples of her cooking and of the French diet in general, because I know how important food is to her. Food is her way of showing love, and holy Jesus, woman can COOK. Seriously I don’t know any better chef than her. So refusing her food is taken deeply personally, and I really don’t want to offend anyone.

I’m stuck in a strange place. I want to keep with my vegan streak, but more importantly I want to keep with my developing healthier lifestyle, but the relationships I build here are also important to me, and for better or worse, food is one way to build those relationships. I don’t want my host mom to think I don’t like her cooking (though I’ve complimented her many, many times) or that I think I’m above their food, because none of that is true. But expressing my desires to get healthier (and yes, lets face it, to lose a pound or two. Okay maybe 10 or 15) are beyond my abilities in this situation, or at least so it seems. I don’t want to bombard them with all of my nutritional research, so all I can do is just request to eat my own thing, and while I thought that was going well enough, apparently its not. It seems like opting for my health means hurting someones feelings, and that puts me in a sticky situation.

So, what to do? Do I try to eat more of her home-cooked dinners instead of my own, likely sacrificing quite a bit (and dealing with intestinal adventures the rest of the night), in order to keep a happy relationship with my host mom? Do I try to explain to her my food goals and hope that she understands without being offended? Do I continue doing what I’m doing and not let tonight bother me? Do I have any other options? On the “bright” side, I’m leaving in 6 weeks, back to healthy California, where this bizarre issue will be behind me. But until then, what do I do?

Thoughts would be greatly appreciated! I feel at a loss no matter what.

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Loving Myself and Conquering The Brain

No external change can happen without a true internal change, and as most of us know, that is the biggest challenge. It’s not really a matter of whether or not you can run a mile (trust me, you can) or 10 miles (you will, if you train) or if you can lift 5 pounds or 50, or if you can finish a 5k or a marathon or an Iron Man. It’s not even if your body is capable of losing 5 pounds or having abs or having a firm butt. All of that is possible. All of our bodies, more or less are built quite the same. If all those people filling up your Pinterest “Fitness” board have achieved those incredible bodies, honestly there isn’t any reason why our bodies aren’t capable of our own versions of the same. After all, we all do have a six pack somewhere in there and glutes and biceps and thighs and all the same muscles as all of those people. So, really, why not me? Why not you?

[Anecdote/afterthought: You may know I like running. I recently ran a 10k, and I’ve run several before. I’m hoping to run a half marathon this year, and maybe a marathon next year. Running has become a huge part of my life. But, fun fact: I used to hate, hate, HATE running. I couldn’t run a mile 3 years ago. Couldn’t and wouldn’t. I’d rather die. But I had a personal trainer for a while in college and she forced me to run a mile with her once or twice a week, and slowly but surely, running became a part of my life. IT IS POSSIBLE. The end. Back to regularly scheduled programming.]

Thats the easy part. Getting your body to look like that is easy when you look at it factually: Eat lean, clean, natural foods, lower your calorie intake, and exercise. Its a simple equation. To lose one pound of fat in one week, you must lower your calorie intake by 3,500 calories in that week. That means that you need to lessen your calorie intake by 500 calories a day through a combination of exercise and healthy eating (perhaps you burn 200 calories in exercise and you cut out 100 calories from breakfast, 100 from lunch, and 100 from dinner). Honestly, that doesn’t sound too bad, right? All of us are capable of achieving the body and the health that we desire. It is in our genetic makeup to be able to achieve that.

So… why in the hell is it so goddamn hard??!

If I really try hard, I can do enough bicep curls to have killer lady guns. No biggie, right? My body is capable of doing exactly what I want it to do. But my brain is the hardest muscle to reshape. The struggle for self control and stronger willpower seems to be so much more challenging than the 80 burpees I did on Monday (more on that later). And even doing the burpees isn’t even the real issue… I know my body will do them. My legs can jump and my arms can do push ups and my lungs can breathe and my heart can pump blood. I’ll be exhausted, but I can do it, eventually. But why is it that after doing 5 of those burpees, my brain says, “No, don’t do it, don’t do it! Noooo!” It requires turning off those thoughts (so hard to do) and forcing your body to do things that your brain doesn’t want to adjust to. Whether its burpees, 10 miles of running, weight lifting, or not eating the tempting food or choosing to eat salad instead of whatever you normally eat, it’s entirely a mental choice and our brains are so, so resistant to change.

Not only that, but I feel my brain being swarmed daily with conflicting ideas and advice about how to achieve the change I really want, and I’m constantly torn between different ways in which to get started. Should I focus on building healthy habits outside of health and exercise, and maybe I’ll get fit along the way? Should I focus on becoming vegan and then it’ll just be so much easier to lose weight? Should I focus on just exercising more, that way I’ll be happier and have more energy and be more motivated to make changes? Should I focus on writing more about how I feel about my current state so I can start to analyze my thoughts and behaviors from a basic, psychological level? Should I focus on doing more yoga and meditation to be centered and strong at my core? Should I focus on self love before changing anything about my lifestyle so that my heart is in the right place? Should I maybe just start with one thing and not overwhelm myself, and let everything else in my life stay the same for a bit so the change isn’t so striking?… AM I OVER THINKING THIS?

These are the things that go through my head constantly. And I haven’t quite found a balance between any of these thoughts, but the best answer to myself is… maybe its just a little bit of everything? I’m too distracted and ADD to be able to just do one thing. I need variety. Or at least variety is what has sustained me up until now, and I think it would be foolish of me to try to change that part of my personality. I need to learn to work within my own personal “constraints” in order to find the answers that are right for me. So taking a little from each of those thoughts and I suppose just patching it all together and “making it work” is the best, maybe the only way for me.

BUT ANYWAYS… what I was getting at was this: The body is easy. The mind is the real struggle. And even if I don’t always believe or truly internalize all the things I want to believe, as a friend (who happens to be a therapist) has said to me many times, “In order to achieve those deep-rooted cognitive changes and mental reframing, the trick really is just to fake it until you make it. Ultimately the subconscious doesn’t know the difference.” So, I suppose thats a great place to start. Similarly, a friend recently sent me this intriguing article explaining the effects of positive self affirmation, and how phrases like “I’m awesome” don’t really do much but something like “I am a great runner” are much more effective because they are direct, tangible, and easy to believe and internalize.

So, I want to focus on reminding myself of things that I know I’m good at and things I already like about myself, and I encourage you (whether you prefer privately or better yet, share it in the comments!) to do the same.

A few things I love about me:

I am an excellent dancer. It’s my greatest love, my greatest talent, and my greatest source of joy.

I am a great swimmer. 12 years of competitive swimming has made me a strong little fish, for life.

Thanks to swimming and waterpolo, I have strong shoulders and killer legs. My legs might be my favorite body part.

Hourglass figure! I’ve learned to love it as my love for fashion grew and I realized I could wear so many sexy, feminine pieces, like high-waisted skirts and belted dresses. I have a womanly body, and I like that.

I’ve always loved my hair. Though I have been caught complaining about the frizz (probably because every girl needs to find some aspect of their hair that they hate because its taboo to like your hair), it has always been a lie. I love my hair. Always have. Always will.

I like my eye color. Hazel.

I’m assertive and a natural leader. I love dealing with people, helping people, and teaching people and I love that about my personality.

I’m optimistic.

I speak 3 languages and I’m proud of my ability to learn languages with relative ease.

So there… a few things that I love about myself. I may make another one of these lists later, along with another list of accomplishments from the day. I found that to be a nice reminder to myself that things really are going well, even if I’m inclined to find the reasons for why they are not. Ultimately, things are GOOD. Things are great. I am healthy and strong, even when I have moments of weakness. Must learn to remind myself of this daily. Things really are just fine.

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