Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pick Your Passion

I'm big on rewording cliches. I think, sometimes, that the idea is good but the words are poorly chosen. Case in point, "Pick Your Poison." Now really, why would anyone want to do that?

But if you told me, "Pick Your Passion," well, then you've got something.

I know what I love. And I know what I feel passionate about. And there is just so much. Regarding exercise, I've tried it all. My favorites vary from any form of dance, to spinning, and yoga. But lately, with a minimal minimal amount of exercise time, I've been forced to pick my passion. And I wouldn't have ever thought it would be as easy, or obvious, as it's been.

After being in for a week with my son, then running around picking up wonderful donations for an upcoming silent auction, and now preparing for the holidays, and baking, and all that, I have only been able to squeeze in an hour of time exercising (not including my at school walks with Raye). And when push comes to shove, my heart keeps bringing me to the same place.

The weight room.

The history of my body's desire to move begins with dance. I began dancing so long ago that I can hardly remember when it started, but I will guess I was about three years old. I lived in New York, and danced at an amazing studio. I remember climbing a narrow staircase in my little black leotard, my legs in pink tights, to match my ballet slippers. Plastic dance box (with the ballerina painted on it) clutched firmly in my right hand. I did ballet, and then added tap. While I wasn't fond of tap, I loved ballet and continued until it was time to dance en point. It was at this time that we moved to New Jersey, and I continued to dance here, but instead of ballet, I began to learn modern and jazz. Jazz was what kept me going.

I danced for many years, and picked up horseback riding (hunt seat) in the process. These were my primary modes of exercise. I played a little lacrosse in high school, and cheered for football and basketball. Let's just say that you wouldn't call me an athlete.

I was in and out of the gym in my 20s, but it wasn't until my divorce that I began serious weight lifting. I did it, mostly, to get smaller. My friend, Pete, trained me to lift heavy and to do cardio only for heart health. He showed me that the best way to change my body was to lift weights. I learned to squat in the rack, do hang cleans, and to bench. He got me off of the equipment and into the weight room (free weights). I learned to do push ups and dips, and I got really, really strong.

Life took me in a series of different directions, and with it, my exercise program changed. I did lots of spin, took a couple months of Zumba, and got heavily into bellydance. But always, the weight room had a big piece of my heart. I love the strength that lifting heavy weights afforded me, and I loved that I could go in there with my iPod, and that my focus was so complete. I was centered and motivated.

Now, I have found myself choosing the weight room over everything else. In my one hour, I find my breath and my strength, and all of my passion lies in that unfeminine, metal-heavy space. Today, while doing biceps, an old song began to play on my iPod. It was from four years ago, when lifting was my life. And I almost jumped to the next song, but all the feelings from lifting like a champ came back, and I let it all roll.

I miss my yoga, and my bellydance. A lot. And I will return to those practices very soon. But for now, what matters most just won't give way to anything else.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Healthy Holiday Season

It's that time of year again.

Thanksgiving is just days away, and while the holiday is supposed to be a day to reflect on what we are thankful for, its focus is often redirected to the turkey and all the fixings. We may sit at the table, say grace, or even state something that we are grateful for, but then we load our plate up with turkey, mashed or sweet potatoes, and maybe some cranberries. Technically, if we plate it up right (and light), this isn't such a bad meal. But what follows next is five weeks of holiday parties, egg nog, and Christmas cookies.

How do we stay fit during the holiday season?

Focus. It's important to remember what the holidays are really about. Seeing loved ones, visiting old friends, and celebrating whatever it is we celebrate (Hanukkah, the birth of Jesus). If we stay focused on what matters, we are less likely to overindulge on pastries, wine, and hors d'oeuvres.

Fitness. Maintaining a regular exercise schedule is very important. I know, firsthand, that this can be tough. We have so many places to be, errands to run, meals to prepare. Scheduling in gym/studio time is a great way of keeping to your exercise schedule. Write it in your planner, and treat it like you would a doctor's appointment, only cancel in an emergency. Exercise is good for your body, and it is also a great way of relieving stress.

Hydrate. Our society introduces apple cider into our daily diets somewhere around October, and then graduates to creamy egg nog (often spiked with rum) just in time for Thanksgiving. Keep water handy and drink it often, as this will keep you full and will make it easier to take a pass when the sugary beverages come around. Water is great for your skin, too. And remember, sugar weakens the immune system, so limit sugar intake.

Mood. Keep stress levels low by taking plenty of time to laugh, and getting lots of rest. Respect the fact that your body needs downtime. This not only means getting a good night's sleep (I like eight hours), but it also means taking time to stay in and relax around the house. Only say "yes" to parties that you really want to attend, so that you have more quiet time. Remember to take a few minutes each day to breathe deeply - ten or fifteen minutes in the morning and at night is ideal.

Food. I love to bake, and I am not adverse to having a cookie here or there. However, the basis of food in my home is whole. I stock up on yogurt and berries, to satisfy sweet cravings, cottage cheese and hummus for salt cravings, and spring mix salads, for when I am bored and just want something to eat. I eat protein with every meal, mostly, to keep me feeling full and to feed my muscles. I also keep frozen organic veggies to eat with my meals. I try to eat a nice balance of protein, fruits/veggies, and carbs (though usually I end up with more protein). If you have lots of valueless food to grab, you are defeating your own efforts. You can't eat Oreos at 10 p.m. if they aren't in the house. Stock your house with foods that support your efforts, and your health.

Look for more tips in my next newsletter, when I will be talking about New Years Resolutions (how to make, and keep them).

Enjoy your holiday season.

Bella Fitness for Women provides personal training and fitness coaching to women in their homes, and in our home office. For more information, visit us on the web at www.BellaFitnessForWomen.com or call Tiffany Palisi at 973-809-7880.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holiday Challenge

Thursday will mark one week 'til Thanks-giving, and six weeks 'til Christmas Eve. It is a time for gathering with friends and family, amongst good food and wine.

Uh oh. Get out the stretchy pants.

I don't want to graze my way through the holidays, but frankly, it's tough. My willpower is weak on any given day, never mind the holiday season. And if that's not enough, I've been trying to lose ten pounds since, I dunno, last year, but I've never been able to see the commitment through. I like to think that, as a trainer, this gives me more empathy for my clients. And on some level, I am my own test subject. I am ten pounds away from my good weight, fifteen pounds away from fighting weight. I've had some minor health issues that ended with blood work to test hormones, thyroid, all that. Everything came back good. Which means it's all on me.

I need your help. For the next six weeks, I will post what I exercise, drink, and eat, honestly, on my facebook page. I will approximate portion size (if it's relevant) and will include everything, including tootsie rolls I steal from my unnamed relative's kitchen. Here's why I am doing this. If, as I believe, I am eating and exercising like a champ, I should be leaner and more cut up than I am now. So I am publicly putting myself out there. No excuses.

Back in college, my professor, Dr. Rob Gilbert, would offer a challenge to one person every semester (lots of people wanted in, but only one got to make the attempt). It would be to quit smoking, or to lose 10 lbs., or to drink 64 oz. of water a day. If the person succeeded, they automatically got an A in class, but if they failed, they failed the class. The chosen person had to call into the professor's inspirational hotline every night, also, and leave a message saying that they didn't smoke/or drank water/went to the gym that day. And if anybody in the class saw that person doing something they shouldn't do, they were asked to report back.

Dr. Gilbert explained that publicly announcing a personal challenge really helped to keep a person on task. No one wants to humiliate themselves publicly. Not nobody, not no how (Wizard).

It's come to this. Dr. Gilbert, I will be reading your blog daily for inspiration. I will be painstakingly ~ crud ~ writing down everything I eat. I will be turning down that third beer (hey, the first two are required), and (sorry, Charlie) that wonderful, homemade cake. I will be eating lots of real food... healthy whole meals. I will not eat fat-free, 100 calorie magic snacks that are made of processed junk. I will eat fruits and veggies, lean meat, and occasionally, a cheeseburger. I will eat carbs. I will have one slice of pizza with a large salad and larger seltzer water, instead of two pieces, or three. I will eat well, and will not diet, however I will stay within 1,200 - 1,800 calories per day. I will allow myself a cookie, or 1 oz. of chocolate. This is a food plan, not a diet, and my restrictions are healthy restrictions that I should maintain pretty much for life. I will exercise as often as I can, and I am shooting for five days per week. I will lift weights, do cardio, and of course, yoga.

Today, on Wake Up with Cosmo Radio (Sirius 111, XM162), they were talking about a long standing quote that Kate Moss mentioned she lives by, and she got a lot of heat for it. She said, "Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels." They debated what this meant and how we interpret it. Here's how I interpret that statement. Before I put something into my mouth, I need to think about whether or not it benefits me, and helps me to be healthier and stronger, and leaner. Will eating that yummy cheesy garlic bread be worth the feeling of my jeans being too tight? Feeling thin (change that to lean) is a great feeling, and is far better than a two minute food indulgence. Wouldn't you agree?

I have six weeks to lose 12 lbs. Cheer me on. It's been a long time coming, and apparently, I only have myself to blame for not getting there sooner. Post your daily reports as comments to mine. Please. Come hell or high water, I'm getting this done.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Thankful Loss of Vanity

I am up late watching Reese Wither-
spoon on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. She's strikingly beautiful from head to toe. Tiny waist, radiant smile, great head of hair. I mean, she is gorgeous. Had I been watching her during any given moment before, say, 15 minutes ago, I'd have knocked myself for not working harder to be my most beautiful self.

But at this moment, I feel grateful for her face, and for mine.

I never really watch television, but I've been in the house for a while with only so much to do. I've cleaned the house, filed the bills, fed my son, and addressed all of my Christmas cards. Mostly, I've found myself playing on the computer and watching a little too much boob tube. The other day, I saw Oprah Winfrey being interviewed by someone, somewhere on the red carpet. I only heard her say something to the effect of, "I will never complain again" and then the interviewer making reference to the woman who was attacked by the chimp nearly a year ago, the woman whose face and half of her left arm were ripped off.

I wanted to watch the interview with the woman, which was being aired on Wednesday, but I missed it. So tonight, just about 15 minutes ago, I went to the Winfrey website to see highlights of the interview. The first page shows a photo of the woman, Charla Nash, before she was attacked. She's a slim, pretty woman. Like really just blessed pretty. Perfect nose, high cheekbones, radiant smile. Nothing anyone could complain about.

I felt slightly disappointed, not by her beauty, but because I expected to see a photo of her now. I was also shocked, I might add, at how really easy on the eyes she was, because in my mind's eye, she'd looked like the chimp's owner, which was not the case.

I started reading about what had happened, and when I clicked to page 2 on the Oprah site, I saw a photo of Nash hidden behind a veil that she wears. I tried to magically see through it, to no avail. However, I was able to see how noticeably different her face shape was. I kept flipping between the two pages, in complete shock. And as I read what had happened to her, having heard the 911 call way too many times, I started to think about how horrifying it must have been for her, and how difficult her experience might be.

Page 3 shows Nash without a veil. Her face is severely disfigured, she has no eyes, nose, or mouth, but a hole through which she eats and drinks, created by her doctors. I am still in shock. I am still in shock. My God, I could never have imagined it.

I turned on the television just to change the energy, because I am still completely overwhelmed by it. God bless her, she has an amazing will to live and a surprisingly optimistic outlook on life. And now I completely get why Oprah said that she will never complain again.

Here, I've been moaning and bitching about how I don't look as good as I did just three years ago. How my face is changing and I look older. I do. It's true. My Italian nose is prominent, my face pale and slightly gaunt, and I definitely have those frown lines that people are so quick to Botox away. I've gained a few pounds, and while I am working to lose them, my progress is slow. And most of today, I felt crappy and not attractive, and just couldn't look in the mirror. But now, now I am changed.

I have eyes, a nose, a mouth, lips. Good skin. Hair. Hands. I am whole. And I am so very grateful for it all.

To read about Charla Nash and see her photos on the Oprah Winfrey show's page, click here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Little Help

I like to think that I learn something new everyday. Maybe I keep learning the same lessons and then forget them, but today I learned something that I think might benefit you. (And thanks, Carly, for introducing shoprite.com to me in the first place.)

This past week, I have been in the house with my son who is sick. I am unable to go anywhere unless necessary (like the doctor), which includes the grocery store. For the past few days, my boyfriend, and my son's two grandmothers have been bringing me things, as needed. A couple rolls of toilet paper, yogurt for my son, ice pops, tea. But yesterday, I realized that I don't actually need anyone. Not for groceries, at least.

Here in New Jersey, a grocery store called ShopRite offers a delivery service. You basically go online, shop for exactly what you want (down to the brand), and schedule a delivery time. While there is a fee (about $15), it is worth knowing that you can ask for everything, not just ice pops and soup for the child in need, but hummus, strawberries, and other luxuries. And I feel better that I am not inconveniencing anyone in the process.

However, as I was picking things for my shopping list, I realized that this might be a great way for people to eat healthier. If you only order what's on your list, and you keep your list clean, well then that's that. If I walk into King's Supermarket, I may be tempted to pick up some of the Godiva chocolate that they just put on sale, or buy a hunk of cheese that is being sampled. I may grab a pack of bacon, or some olive oil soaked sun dried tomatoes. However, if my list says, "1 Earthbound Farms organic mixed baby greens, 5 Stonyfield Farms whole milk vanilla yogurt 6 oz.", then that's what I will get. While the delivery fee isn't minimal, it saves me the money I may have spent on impulse items (that I am not exposed to online).

It's really worth checking out. I am sure other grocery stores do it, nationwide. You can check "no substitutions" if you only want a certain brand, or organic, whatever. But I highly suggest to put in your notes, "check expiration dates" because while I did get my whole order, my 32 oz. yogurt had expired 10/31.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What We Eat, and Why

It's amazing to me that food is the center of most of my conversations. It's positive, it's negative, it's confusing. Food is the primary source of life, and we are always faced with food options, diet books, what we should and shouldn't be eating. Organic or not? Fat or fat-free? No fake sugars, oh wait, except for stevia. What? How do we know what to eat? What's the right information, and does it really matter?

Tonight, I saw Suzanne Somers on television talking about some "radical" cancer treatment that uses food as medicine (that, and nutritional supplements). It reminded me that what we eat has a great effect on the health of our bodies. Of course, I know this. I know that we need certain specific nutrients, a certain balance of protein, carbs, and fat, and that we need to keep our sugar intake to a minimum. I've studied endlessly about nutrition and why we should eat certain foods, and know exactly what I should be eating every day.

But applying this knowledge on a practical level isn't always easy. For me, it's mostly a convenience issue. I forget to pack food, or find myself starving and faced with an easy, not-so-healthy option.

There are times, too, where temptation overrules willpower, when I am sitting across from a plate of french fries, and find myself reaching for one, then a few more, and some more still. Temptation for salty snacks (like fries, chips) is so strong for me, that when I order my once weekly burger, I order it like this, "A well-done cheeseburger, no bun or toppings, no fries. Just the burger with cheese on a plate, and Tabasco on the side." I know that if the plate has fries on it, I will find a way to make it okay in my head, and later regret it.

Now an occasional side of fries isn't the worst thing in the world. My problem with having them, though, is that I will knock myself incessantly for days for having eating them. And I don't like to make any food, or food choice, the enemy. Moreover, I don't like making myself feel bad for something that I chose to do.

Many fit people have eating down to a science. They eat whole foods, and don't give food any emotional power. Food is fuel, energy, power. Food is life sustaining. They eat foods that aren't chemical laden, but are grown organically and by local farmers.

There are also people who eat specifically to stay thin. They eat fat-free, low-calorie foods, without regard to the fact that they are heavily processed, sweetened with aspartame, and have little nutritional value.

Why do we eat what we eat?

As I get older, I am more diligent about choosing foods to sustain my health. After a battery of blood work came back "completely normal" for me, and the doctor said, "kidneys look good, liver looks good, cholesterol is normal," I felt so grateful for the report that decided to be especially kind to my body by upping the good foods that I eat. This is tough, because the weight that I want to lose just isn't coming off as fast as I'd like, and drastically cutting calories is tempting. But I know that doing so will just lead to unhealthy muscle loss, and my health means too much for me to do that.

I recently read Nina Planck's book, Real Food, and loved the basic idea, which is to eat the wholest foods possible. Raw cheeses, farm fresh veggies and fruits, antibiotic free meats. Always organic and local, when available. If we eat real food, just real food, our bodies will respond well. Shopping the outside aisles will give us fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats, and yogurts. If our plates are fruit and veggie based, with proper portions of proteins and fats, we will be eating really well.

Portion size is so important, too. If we eat off of smaller plates - think appetizer size plates - then we will eat less, closer to the right portion size. A proper protein portion should fit in the palm of your hand, no more. Never eat anything from a bag, and always know how much you are eating, with the exception of vegetables. I like to eat tons of vegetables, and huge salads that are just lettuces, greens, and spinach, with 1 serving of goat cheese, some cucumbers and lime juice. I believe that you can never have too many vegetables, so long as they are fresh or steamed, and without added fat.

The point is to get to a place where eating a well-balanced diet is natural. The brilliant Body For Life meal plan has participants eating six 300 calorie meals six times a day, with a certain balance of lean protein and healthy carbohydrates. It's not about counting calories though, but instead you estimate by eyeballing what you are eating. A palm sized piece of grilled chicken and a salad with red wine vinegar will never get you fat. The point is to get used to eating healthy and eating often. Eating often keeps your metabolism, and energy, up.

No one eats perfectly, and being obsessed with eating isn't a good thing anyway. Instead, we just need to be mindful of what we put into our body, and why.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kissing, Holding Hands, and the Swine

People handle germs and viruses in many different ways. I was raised by a mother who hates illness. She won't go near anyone who is sick, hands down. Still now, as my son is in day four of the flu, she chooses not to enter my home.

While I understand avoiding sick people, I won't limit myself from comforting my son, or my boyfriend's daughters when they are sick. I won't stop kissing my boyfriend just because he's got a cold. I don't share drinks, and I wash my hands before I eat or touch my face. I take logical precautions, but I won't put myself in a bubble.

As nearly half of my town is under the influence of the swine, or some other flu, I've decided to share with you the things that I am doing to keep myself healthy. And you know, it really isn't such a bad flu. It's messy, but manageable, and once it's over, you have a really strong immunity to it. So, take it all in stride, and if you get it, stay hydrated and please, stay in until your fever is gone for 48 hours (because it tends to return, and you stay contagious for a few days after the fever breaks).

I drink water all day long, as water helps to flush out the body. Moreover, it prevents dehydration and gives me energy. To me, water is life. Our bodies are made up, primarily, of water. We need it to survive.

I eat pretty well, but still, I don't believe that I am getting everything I need in my 1,800 cal/day diet. So I take supplements. Supplement means just that - they supplement a healthy diet, they don't replace it. While I was baking my apples this morning, I made myself a 12 oz. glass of seltzer, and added two packets of EmergenC to it (one orange flavor, one raspberry flavor - so yummy). Then I took my morning dose of Juice Plus+ (Juice Plus+ is whole food based nutrition, including juice powder concentrates from 17 different fruits and vegetables and grains). I will continue to take EmergenC packets throughout the day, about 5 packets a day while I have a sick child at home. On a normal day, I take just two per day. I also increase my Juice Plus+ from two of each (fruit and veggie) to three of each while I am in close quarters with someone who is sick.

All day long, I choose to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens and antioxidant-rich berries. Spinach is my favorite. I am limiting my sugars to naturally occurring sugar (as in fruit), or in otherwise healthy choices like yogurt. Sugar suppresses the immune system, so it's good to avoid it, especially during times like now.

People tend to use food for comfort or punishment, or to fill some emotional need. I know. I do it, too. When we look at food as fuel to support the body, then it becomes less of a game. No need to eat chocolate because we are upset, or to deprive ourselves of something we want because it's fattening. If we eat mostly for good health, and occasionally have something simply for enjoyment, it makes it much easier to decide what to eat.

Sleep is as important as eating well. Our bodies need to rest in order to stay strong. I shoot for eight hours of sleep a night, and rarely sacrifice those hours. Make sure you get the shuteye you need every night.

While I would be remiss in not mentioning exercise, I personally haven't been able to get out of the house for any exercise yet. I plan on going tonight, though, and I know it will help me to feel better (and stronger).

Lastly, I am impeccable with washing my hands. Every time I pick up my son's tissues (or his cup, or anything), I wash my hands with warm soap and water. I wash before I touch food, before I eat. I wash my hands if I sneeze or cough into them. They are a bit dry, and I do try to moisturize them, but I figure having dry hands isn't the biggest sacrifice.

I hug my son, kiss him, and let him fall asleep in my arms when he is sick. I give him as much comfort as he requires. And that helps my build my immune system, and lets my son feel loved.

For more info on Juice Plus+, visit www.tiffanylovesjuiceplus.com

For more info on Emergen-C, visit www.emergenc.com

Tiffany Palisi is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Lifestyle Fitness Coach, and Group Fitness Instructor. She has extensive training in Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness, and is a Johnny G certified Spinning Instructor. She trains women in their home, and will be doing Lifestyle Fitness Coaching in her home office (and by telephone) beginning in September. She is currently working toward her Holistic Fitness Specialty certification. Palisi works exclusively with women. Visit her on the web at www.bellafitnessforwomen.com

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Sometimes the thing you need the most is that which you want the least. 

Driving to yoga this morning, after not having been to class in just over a week, I found myself wanting to turn around. The past week or so has been incredibly hectic and uncomfortable for me, and I just didn't know that I could go sit in a quiet room and breathe. I wanted to run (away) but knew that what I needed most was yoga.

The thing about yoga is that it forces you to be present. The practice is more than physical, and has a strong connection to release of emotions. I believe that yoga causes spiritual growth, by focusing on the breath, working through tough poses, finding your edge and meeting it with a strong mind.  But that also means that it brings you to face things that you may not want to face. 

If you do yoga, you understand what I mean. If you don't, let me attempt to explain.

A backbend is a heart-opening pose. It energizes the body and quickens the breath. When I go into a backbend and I am happy, I feel exhilarated. But when I am feeling sad, it deepens that feeling. Now with the pose and the feeling is the breath comes the quieting of the mind and hold... and the floodgates of emotion open. At least it's that way for me.

When I focus on love, I end up feeling more loving. Today, I chose to focus on strength and being grounded, what I need most right now. This was very difficult. I kept forgetting to breathe, letting my mind wander, wanting to run (away). The only thing that got me to the class, and to stay, was that the woman teaching it is very comforting for me, and I felt that if anyone were to guide me through the class, it would be her. Every time I allowed my heart to open, the rawness of it all just stung, and my eyes would well up with tears. 

I kept hoping for very difficult poses, poses that would take my mind off of me and onto my body. After some twists, she began doing some warriors, chair pose, planks, and cobras. And I started to let go. We even did shoulder stands, and held them for a couple of minutes. The rush of blood to my head was overwhelming, and as my feet started to feel numb, and my body started to move uncomfortably towards plow pose, I was thankful for the physical sensation. It took me away from the thoughts that I didn't want to deal with.

By the end of the class, which was quiet save for the grunts of a man in the class (and I was so thankful for those grunts, for a change), we went into corpse pose. I laid there trying to focus on my breath. It was fruitless, but I tried nonetheless. When class ended, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to sit on that mat and let time roll by. 

I talked to the teacher about my experience, and afterward I realized that sometimes there's nothing that can take you away from a weeping heart, not even yoga. But, for part of those 90 minutes, my focus took me to my body and away from my mind. Sometimes, the only way to go through something is to just go through it.