Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Second Life

I am not much into television. With the exception of the show Parenthood, to which I am addicted, there is not much that I'll plop in front of the t.v. to watch.

However, there is one other show that's on my short list, a new show on Bravo called 9 by Design. It's a reality (really? ever?) show that follows around Bob and Cortney Novogratz, a couple that scoops up property, guts it, then rebuilds it, makes it fabulous, and sells it. Oh, and they have seven children, thus the "9" in 9 by Design.

My first exposure to this couple's work was about a year ago when Ward and I visited a boutique hotel in Long Branch, NJ called Bungalow. It was the first hotel that Sixx Design (the name of the Novogratz's design company) actually created, and it was amazing. It was clever in that it was very modern and hip, but also surprisingly comfortable.

When I saw previews for the show, my interest was piqued. As I've watched the first five episode, I've become more aware of my surroundings. I currently tend to lean towards a cottage style, with a hint of french country. I began purging the things that no longer served me, deciding to have a garage sale to find homes for my old favorites, and to make room for in my house for new finds.

While I've always scoured garage sales for old pieces of furniture (gems in the rough), I've been more prone to find good pieces at antique stores and the like. I'd noticed, over the past month or so, a new store that popped up in the neighboring town of Boonton. Savannah Hope Vintage. I loved the name, and the storefront had an inviting appeal, so I decided to check it out. I'd been looking to replace some new light fixtures with old chandeliers anyway, so this was a good enough reason to check out the store.

Pushing through the front door just days before Mother's Day, I was overcome by piece after piece of furniture. Actually, calling it furniture is not doing it justice. I don't really know how to refer to these pieces. Sideboards, armoires, end tables, headboards, all beautifully cared for and displayed. Much of it was repainted, given a second life. I wanted all of it. My modest Cape Cod is well-furnished, and I have little room for new pieces. However, with the garage sale coming up, I began thinking that there might be a few pieces I could swap out.

Out from the back of the store emerged a thin blonde woman, hair pulled off her face, her slim glasses perched on her nose. She was pretty and looked creative, and were it not for her easy smile, she might have seemed intimidating. I mentioned to her that I was looking for a chandelier, and told her about the space it would be illuminating. She pointed to a few chandeliers that were hanging in the window, and they almost seemed too small for the space. Both were the exact style I wanted, though, and they were priced to sell. I chose one, and mentioned that there was a light beside it that would need to be swapped out to match. She began showing me pendant lights, but I wasn't sure how they would look in my hall. The current light was flush to the ceiling. Andrea (this is her name) talked to me about it, addressing my questions and concerns. I walked the store thinking about the lights, trying to see them hanging in my mind's eye.

While walking, I kept returning to a piece that I just loved. It was big, probably too big for any space I could make available. But you know how sometimes something just calls to you? Well, it was calling. I told Andrea that I was very interested, and asked her if she'd get the measurements for me. At this point, after only ten minutes in the store, I was in love with this piece of furniture. I decided to run home, measure my space, and if it fit, return to Savannah Hope Vintage to buy it. Oh, and I also decided that the pendant light would be lovely hanging just across the hall from my chandelier. Just like that.

As luck would have it, the piece fit in my kitchen. I am not sure of it's intended purpose, but I am sure it was meant for my kitchen. It's been here for just under a week, and still, I look forward to coming home to it. This is not common for me. I am very attached to my loved ones, and sentimental pieces of furniture and jewelry, but random furniture? No. Not usually. But this is elegant and strong, with amazing detail and lots of storage. I'm in love.

The piece, as pictured with this blog (and the pic doesn't do it justice), looks like something out of an Anthropologie catalog. I mean, really, it's art. You need to see it in person, up close. I swear, I feel blessed having it. And the chandelier and pendant lamp - which have been installed - are also quite fabulous. I made very good choices.

I almost forgot to mention an end table that I picked up while I was there. It doesn't demand the same amount of attention as the others, but it's brightened up my living room quite a bit, and every time I see it, I smile.

Savannah Hope Vintage is a place you must visit. Trust me on this one. It's located at 418 Main Street in Boonton, NJ. The store has furniture of all types, beautiful glassware, paintings (I bought one today) and art, all sorts of home goods. They also carry homemade soaps, jewelry, purses, and more. Seriously, go right away and visit the store. If you are on facebook, search Savannah Hope Vintage and "Like" the page. If you aren't local, you can shop Savannah Hope Vintage through etsy, at

Thursday, April 29, 2010


If I were to ask you what the path to good health is, what would you say? People usually say things like, "Eat right and exercise." And while this is true, there are other important factors to consider.

Recently, I was working with a client who felt bad about not having done something we'd discussed and decided she'd do. Her life was full, overwhelming even, and she didn't have time to focus on what she was planning on doing. For her, it's important that she maintain her health, if nothing more. Drink lots of water, eat good grounding foods, and get plenty of sleep.

Sleep? Yes, sleep. Sleep is super important, yet we never talk about it. I just read an article on the importance of sleep. It regenerates us, allows our body to heal and grow, and allows our mind to work through the events of the day. Without sleep, we cannot live.

Yet, in today's society, sleep is considered so unimportant. When people say they need to leave a party to go home to sleep, they hear things like, "Noooo! Stay a bit longer" or when they get an early phone call that wakes them, they may hear, "Oh my God. Are you really still asleep?" Why is sleep so frowned upon?

Sleeping doesn't make you lazy, it makes you smart. Napping, too, is a great way to quickly regenerate your body, and your energy. We don't nap enough. We need to do it more often. And most of us need to get much more sleep than we already do. We need to re-prioritize our day so that sleep gets scheduled in.

Today, I decided to take a 30 minute nap. I don't often get an afternoon nap, and today's nap was amazing. It was comforting, and afterward, I felt amazing. It taught me never to underestimate the power of a nap, and perhaps, to nap a little more often.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Getting There

We've all got something to do, some place to be. An appointment to make, a meal to eat. Something. We rush through our lives without taking time to enjoy each moment.

I was reminded of this message today, during Christy's yoga class. Early on in the class, she was talking about getting deeper into a position, not by force but by way of surrender. With each exhalation, we were to surrender deeper into the pose. The goal, she mentioned, was not the perfect pose, but enjoying getting into that pose. She'd lived in Hawaii, and said that visitors used to always want to visit Hana, Maui. They'd talk, talk, talk about going to Hana. And the whole ride there, they'd be waiting to discover Hana. On arrival, they'd notice a grocery store, a couple of restaurants, and not much else. You see, the glory wasn't in arriving at Hana, but was instead the magnificent, scenic ride to Hana.

She mentioned that we often look to the goal, rather than enjoying the journey. We do this all the time. We plod through the workout to have a better body, when really, we should be enjoying the feeling of our bodies working and sweating it out. When we eat, we choke down food in large quantities, instead of savoring each small bite. We work "for" or "toward" something, when we should be focusing on what's good now.

This is what I love most about yoga. It's not just about stretching, or building strength. It's about understanding life, and motivation, and focusing the mind and the breath. It's taking our bodies to the edge, and noticing where that is, when to push and when to hold back.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Oooh, yoga yoga

It's been a while since I've written, or frankly, done much of anything related to fitness in the past two months. I've been working with clients, and though my mind has been in fitness, my body has been on a sabbatical of sorts. I returned just a week or two ago, to yoga, if nothing else. I was nervous walking back into my old Thursday class, thinking (with the ego as my guide) that people would have noticed I'd gone missing and ask where I'd been. They hadn't.

Upon my return, my first yoga class found me on the mat with a disquieted mind. I was early and couldn't decide how to occupy my time. What did I usually do while waiting for class to begin? Child's pose? Twists? I couldn't remember. So I sat there, rather uncomfortably, until I remembered to let go of my ego and breathe. The class was incredible, and reminded me that not only did my body need yoga, but my mind did, too. I vowed to keep my yoga classes on my schedule at (nearly) all cost.

I had signed up to take Anusara Yoga with Bruce Bowditch at the yoga studio, Prana Yoga. I was nervous, not sure that I was up to it. Bowditch is a visiting yogi, coming for a weekend workshop of classes. His photo showed him in a seemingly impossible plastic man pose, and I was nervous that being in the studio with him for two hours just might make me feel like a yoga dunce. But deeper inside, I knew that the opportunity to take a class with him would offer something even greater - inner growth.

I went to bed last night, after a relatively wonderful evening with Ward, both exhausted and nervous. Exhausted from the events of the day, and nervous for the Bowditch class that was the next morning. I decided to breathe through the feelings and trust that I could handle the class.

Class was this morning. I went in, and told Bowditch that I wasn't sure I was advanced enough to handle the class. He asked about injuries (I have none), and what my experience was, then said I'd be fine, and he'd watch and help me, if needed. The class began with a small intro about who he is and how he'd come to find yoga, and then went into a series of communial Oms and chanting. I got lost in it all. Hands in Anjali mudra, the warm room, and all the voices Om-ing in unison. Unbelievable.

After some down dogs and a few other asanas, he went into handstands. For those who hadn't done them before (me), we went to a wall together and Bowditch showed us the prep pose for handstands (think down dog but with your feet at hip height up all wall. It was amazing. Going up, there was the strength challenge, followed by the feeling that I might topple over. The entire body has to be activated to maintain a solid position. Mostly, though, I found that I needed to say to myself, over and over, Trust yourself. You can do this.

As the (two hour) class wound down, I became a bit sad. I didn't want it to end. I liked feeling challenged, and I liked feeling powerful. I knew that there were more classes being offered this weekend, but not sure if my schedule allowed for another two hours away. If I can, I thought, will be heading back this weekend. Tomorrow's class is back bends, my favorite.

I realize that I need yoga for many reasons. Aside from the obvious, I found that challenging myself, pushing to my edge, helps my inner strength. Focusing on my breath, and the position of my muscles, takes my mind away from the non-important crap that exists in my life. The greatest gift that I receive from yoga is that, when I am practicing, I am honoring myself in ways I've never done before.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Three Years Ago Today...

Today is the third official anniversary of Bella Fitness. I went out on my own a couple of months before then, and began training clients, but my LLC became official on that day.

When Bella Fitness began, I had just finished months of pre- and post-natal continuing education, so my focus fell heavily on working with pregnant women and new moms. We worked on maintaining and gaining muscle, while being careful not to overstretch the body (as flexibility is greater during pregnancy). We also worked on strengthening the Kegel muscles, and supporting the abdominals, so that diastasis recti could be avoided or, at least, repaired with ease.

At that time, I did have the opportunity to work with a couple of high risk clients, women entering menopause, and two women with eating disorders. It was a great time, and the experiences I had with these women were priceless.

Last summer, however, I took a sabbatical, and did so for a couple of reasons. Mostly, I had a health matter to deal with that, while it turned out to be nothing notable, made training clients difficult. There were some other things, too, but basically that time away was important for me. It gave me the chance to re-evaluate what I was doing, who I was helping, and how. I realized that, for me, expanding my practice to include holistic aspects of fitness was important. I knew all that I needed to know about body sculpting, burning calories, and cardio, but all of that, without flexibility and a mind-body connection, felt incomplete. I studied and practiced, working to receive my certification in Holistic Fitness through the Academy of Holistic Fitness.

I also did continuing education in Lifestyle Fitness coaching, which provided me with the tools to help clients work through challenges and resistance that they might face. I learned about the importance of mindful eating and self-love, and how dieting (and labeling foods "good" and "bad") won't help a client reach their goal weight or body shape. Empowering each client to trust their bodies is the first step toward positive change.

I was raised with a strong background in meditation, and every aspect of what I do is based in that. I use my breath when lifting weights, allowing a deep exhale with every tough lift. I focus on the muscle contracting and find a gaze point to help me get through the burn. It made sense for me to educate myself more in the practice of holistic fitness, learning what asanas created what sorts of feelings; poses for depression, poses to energize. I learned different breathing techniques, and the uses for them.

The difference in my training between now and then is obvious. Though I still practice similar methods for body sculpting, I incorporate body awareness more that I did, and I also work with my clients in a more personally focused way. I always created programs exactly to suit my clients needs, and while I still do so, I am now more trained to help them navigate the hurdles that may have held them back.

I want to thank you all so much for being supportive friends, committed clients, and readers of this blog. It's been three great years, and I look forward to many, many more.

Yours, in good health,

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Deprive Reward

Winter's been pulling hard on my patience lately. My son's was home sick, then as soon as he got better we got snowed in, and then he was sick again. It's been two weeks since I've been to the gym on a regular basis, or frankly, done much else.

I've been working with clients, and doing a lot of reading, specifically, on weight loss. Most of my clients come to me because they'd like to lose weight, so it only makes sense that I read about the principals of weight loss.

If you are on a diet, I will guess that you've probably been on one hundred before this. It's not at all surprising, because studies have proven that diets are only temporary fixes for weight loss. People gain that lost weight back (or as Kathryn would say, they find the weight they lost), and then some. Fat-free foods leaving us feeling hungry and unsatisfied, and we tend to eat more of them because they are fat-free. If given the choice, would you prefer 16 oz. of fat-free yogurt, or 8 oz. of creamy, full-fat yogurt? If we listen to our bodies, and taste what we are eating, eat mindfully, then we will notice that we aren't ravenously hungry (at least not most of the time). Better to have one piece of whole milk cheese, than five pieces of fat-free cheese that's flavorless and pumped with salt.

Here's what works: making permanent changes to your nutrition plan, and your mind. Learning to eat for life, and without labeling food, feelings, or actions as good or bad. If we reward a two pound loss one week, do we shame ourselves if we gain those pounds back (or even maintain)? How disrespectful. You aren't a bad girl for gaining, or a good girl for losing. This kind of mentality has you attacking yourself to lose weight. That just doesn't feel like a healthy thing? Your good life doesn't begin when you lose those unwanted pounds, it begins now.

There are guidelines for a healthy eating plan that include lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins (check out for the current recommend plan). However, veering off the path for a slice of birthday cake, or cookies with milk is also part of eating for life.

On death row, prisoners are given a last meal of their choice. This speaks volumes as to the importance of food in our lives. They can have pretty much anything they desire (but usually no alcohol), which got me wondering, What would you choose for your last meal? Their choices listed here.

The thing about that death row meal that the prisoner gets to pick what s/he'd most like to eat, not what is best (or worst) for her/him. I know some people who'd take that deal, just to eat whatever they'd like, once, without guilt.

On any given day my choice would be different. Yesterday, all I wanted was a mixed field green salad. I wanted it because it's cold, fresh, watery, and has bitter dressing. (Mine came with fresh slices of mozzarella, which made it even better). Other days, I crave a slice of pizza, a hamburger, a yogurt parfait. Though I am not particularly fond of desserts, there are times when I'd like nothing more than a Tiger's Milk bar. What would you choose?

When we have a nutrition plan for life, all of these options are available to us. We learn to eat foods that give us nutrients, energy, and fiber, and use those foods as the backbone of our plan. We also allow for a burger and fries, cookies with milk. This means that losing and maintaining a weight that is healthy and comfortable for us is more about listening to our bodies and less about deprivation and reward. We eat when we are hungry, and stop when we are satisfied, even if it means leaving half a plate of food on the table. We deserve to not stuff ourselves even when food is paid for or sitting in front of us. Our bodies tend to lead us towards food that support and strong and healthy body. We just need to start trusting our bodies and listening to them.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

You Eatin' That?

Lately, I've been noticing that many of my clients are having problems with leaving their kids' and husbands' leftovers on their plates. Feeling guilty for seeing food go to waste, they choose to eat the leftovers of their loved ones. For some, it seems financially irresponsible to see food get thrown out. Others think about the starving people around the world who would be grateful for that half a grilled cheese, and just can't throw out perfectly good food.

I get that. But let me tell you something. If you eat someone else's food, and you are not hungry, it is still wasted. It's not in the garbage pail, but it is in your body. And if your body doesn't need it, not only is it wasted, but you've shown more respect to the food (and the garbage pail) than you have to your body.

As women, we sometimes martyr ourselves for, what we believe to be, the greater good. The extra chicken tenders, or the uneaten half of the sandwich. As Teri Hatcher once said, if the bread burned in the toaster, her mother would eat it rather than serve it to someone else, or to waste it. Eating miserably burnt toast is not doing any good to those who are hungry, nor is it thrifty. It's believing that we aren't worth a good piece of toast. It is about our respect for ourselves and our sense of self-worth.

I love the idea of ordering one meal and sharing it with my boyfriend. He doesn't, though, so we order separately, but I'd be happy to eat off his plate. Not out of any sense of savings, but because I love him and we eat the same foods. Portion sizes are double anyway, so it makes sense. However, if he were eating something that I didn't like or want, eating what he left behind wouldn't make sense.

Eating should be both nourishing and comfortable. We should eat foods that we enjoy and that are good for us. Eating half of my son's french fries just because they are there and uneaten is not the best choice. I have done it, too many times to count. So when I share this advice with you, trust that I have been there and know from where I speak.

I was raised with the "starving children" backdrop, and the "clean plate club" was often praised in my friends' homes. Sadly, both cause overeating, stuffing, and disrespect for the signs our bodies are giving us like, Enough. Put the fork down. It's not about being thin, or being fat. It's about listening to our bodies, and loving ourselves enough to follow through with what our bodies are telling us to do.

When you eat, you control what happens. Making a conscious choice to ingest what nourishes you, and tastes good, and to stop eating when you feel satisfied, is a respectful way to eat. When we see food on the plates of others, or even ours, that is soon to be "going to waste", we can let it go and be thankful that we trusted our bodies enough to stop when we felt ready to stop, and chose not to take the "waste" into our bodies.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's Just Food

Every day I talk about food. Partly because it's my job, but more so because it seems that people are obsessed with food and eating.

What is striking about this is fact is that our country, with it's food obsession, is full of perpetual overweight dieters, and a market that is saturated with diet aids, diet books, and meal replacements.

I know women who are bulimic, anorexic, binge eaters, and overeaters. I know women who hop from diet to diet, trying to lose 5 lbs. that don't exist, or 50 lbs. that they've been unable to get rid of since childhood. They go for weight-loss hypnosis and have surgery to make their stomachs smaller, just so they won't eat so much. And I've seen it all fail.

Why do we keep doing what doesn't work? No one seems to have the answer. Do we really need pills that, perhaps dangerously, increase our metabolism and burn fat? Must we resort to eating cardboard boxed meals from the freezer section, or join a club that ships us weekly meals? Kirstie Alley was the face of Jenny Craig, even going on the Oprah show in a bikini to show her success. Shortly thereafter, she gained back all the weight and more. Let's just get it already; diets don't work.

If we stopped focusing so much on food, and started eating according to what our body craves, we might not have such problems with our weight. This is not to say that we should be sucking back sodas and popping jellybeans all day. That isn't nutritionally sound. But if we really listen to our body, I doubt anyone would be doing that for very long, anyway.

Most of us use food as a drug. We control our intake (anorexics) or we binge and regret, and return, the food (bulimics). We overeat until it hurts, or until we feel badly for our decisions. We give power to food, and we either limit or lose control when in the presence of it. But it's just food, right?

When we can't control things that are happening in our life, or the way that we feel, we often transfer those feelings to something more direct, like food. Food can't hurt us, nor can it give us love. But we can use food to do these very things to ourselves. We obsess about the importance of eating healthy foods, or the fear of eating too much. We make what we are eating, and when, and how often, the center of our focus, so that we can avoid what we don't want to face. We are not victims, but we are acting as though we are.

Talk to anyone on a diet, and you will hear what they can't eat, or how they miss [insert "bad" food here]. Watch someone who is trying to lose weight eat something that takes them off their diet, like a donut, and see a hint of shame or embarrassment in their eyes. Our love/hate relationship is about deeper issues, not food. But we don't want to face those issues, so we reassign them to foods and allow the process of eating to become a mask for what's really keeping us from living an authentic life.

Ending this cycle means doing two things: finding the root of the issue(s) from our past that cause us pain/anger/resentment (whatever it is that makes us feel uncomfortable), and resolving those issues. Therapy is a great way to deal with those issues.

The other thing we can do is take the labels "good" and "bad" off of foods. There are no bad foods. Let me say this again, for the millionth time, there are no bad foods. While some foods are more nutritionally sound than others, food isn't bad. Whole foods are better than processed foods, and some foods will feel better in your body than others. But there isn't one food that can be called a villain. It's just a thing, something you can choose or choose not to ingest.

I work with women and we talk about what they eat and why they eat, and help them to understand that process and make choices that will help them feel better and meet their goals. But the bottom line about food is this; you should eat what you enjoy, listen to your body and decide what you should be eating based on how you feel. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, not stuffed. Always be respectful and loving to yourself when thinking about food, eating food, or after a meal. Be in a good place mentally when you are eating, and think about the food that you are putting in your mouth.

I generally feel better when I eat foods like salads, grilled chicken, yogurt, egg whites. But there are times when I want a bacon cheeseburger with fries. And that's fine. I enjoy every bite. Regret never follows. It's food, and I choose what I eat. I am in control of what I eat, and you are, too.

Don't be shamed into following a diet that doesn't feel good for you, and don't deprive yourself of foods that you enjoy. Everything in moderation, and if you take away the good/bad labels that society has placed on food, the food will lose it's power and just be food.

Friday, February 19, 2010

4 Minutes to a Better Butt (and it's fun, too!)

I've been getting looks at the gym a lot lately. I've taken my favorite bellydance moves to the bridge, and have found that it's both fun and challenging.

These moves tighten and shrink the glues, works both the inner and outer thigh, while strengthening the lower back and abs. I do it to music (it is a big help), usually Shakira or some music with a fast, consistent beat.

Now, a great butt requires a good, clean diet with lots of water, cardio to burn fat, and muscle building. This exercise will help burn and sculpt your derrier in ways that will surprise you.
My program only takes 4 minutes, and I perform it on the mat at the end of every workout before I stretch. At the end of those 4 minutes, I feel every muscle that I have worked, and they feel strong and tight. You can do this anywhere; you just need a mat.

In the Bar Method, they do something similar and call in back dancing. It begins with a basic bridge (as shown in the above picture). Until you get used to this move, hands palms down on the floor help to support the body. As you get better at it, I suggest putting your hands straight up over your shoulders (as if pointing at the ceiling) or bending them forward, and resting your interlaced fingers on your forehead. When you cannot lean on your hands for support, the body is forced to maintain balance by stabilizing with the both core and leg muscles.

So here's what you do. Lye on your back, feet flat on the floor, knees hip width apart (keep the knees stable for the entire 4 minutes -- do not let them splay apart). For beginners, keep your arms at your side, palms facing down. Contract your abs (think of pulling your belly button towards your spin) and squeeze your glutes together. This action should lift your glutes off the floor. Get them as high as you can, which should bring your body into a diagonal line from knees to shoulders (see above picture). This is the Bridge.

Now, I am going to explain the three moves that you will be doing in bridge, and below that, I will break down the seconds count.

Bellydancer: In bellydance, we do a quick move that makes the hips shimmy. Though standing the action is with the knees, on the floor, it's prompted by a single side glute squeeze. While in the bridge, squeeze just your left glute, while releasing the right. Your left hip will lift slightly, now relax the left and squeeze the right. This will lift the right hip. Repeat. This is the Bellydancer. It will look like you are doing a shimmy right there in the bridge (thus the looks at the gym).

Swivel: Basically, you are doing a figure 8 with your hips, controlling your moves with your abs, inner and outer thighs, and glutes. Start at bridge position. Drop your left hip down and then roll it up in a circular motion to make the first half of the figure 8. When you get to center, bring it around to the right. That's one figure 8. Take each side on a four count, to keep good form, and make sure your hips come all the way back up in between sides.

Drop and Lift: This is a basic move that happens with most bridge work. Starting with a flat, lifted bridge, drop your hips to almost touch the ground and then return back to starting position. While some people do this fast, I like to drop to a count of two, to slowly release the squeeze and really squeeze on the lift. This maintains control for good form, and works your lower back and abs in a safe way.

Ready for your 4 minute routine? Here we go. (Check out Shakira's song Why Wait for this routine. It's amazing for this exercise and is 3:41 mins., so you only have to go it alone for 19 seconds. I wrote the below routine to this song, and do it five days a week.)

Bridge up, and drop and lift for 25 seconds
Bellydancer for 15 seconds
Swivel for 20 seconds
Drop and lift for 15 seconds (these will feel like breaks, in comparison)
Bellydancer for 15 seconds
Swivel for 45 seconds
Drop and lift for 15 seconds
Bellydancer for 30 seconds
Swivel for 30 seconds
Drop and lift for 15 seconds
Hold bridge for remaining 15 seconds

To make this tougher, bring your feet closer into your glutes, or come up on your toes. Remember, you can lift your hands and move them to a shoulder neutral position (never behind your head as it will take you out of good form) for added toughness.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Skinny on the Full Bar (and other magical cookie and bars)

Weight loss has no magical solution. Most diets will work if you stick to them, but once you go off, the weight usually returns. There are some good diets, like Weight Watchers, that teach you how to eat for life, and any "diet" that helps you to eat healthy and more balanced meals for life is a good thing. Generally, the rule to losing weight and keeping it off is exercise, water, good nutrition, and sleep.

When I see commercials that advertise shakes, bars, or cookies in place of meals, I raise an eyebrow. It doesn't make any sense at all. Yet I am not adverse to eating them as a snack.

If you've ever had the opportunity to taste one of those popular "cookie diet" cookies, you will quickly learn why they are used for weight loss. In my opinion, they are bland and unappealing, but edible cookies. My friend was on the diet and offered me a cookie, and I can tell you first hand that I would not pay for them (no offense to my friend). Here are the actual ingredients for the oatmeal cookie of one brand, off of their website: Enriched wheat flour (niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), rolled oats, vegetable margarine (palm oil, water, soybean oil, salt, natural flavor, soy lecithin, beta carotene [color], vitamin A palmitate), their brand of Protein Blend (soy protein isolate, whey protein concentrate [milk], wheat protein concentrate, whey powder [milk]), sugar, crystalline fructose, raisins, maltitol syrup, polydextrose, vegetable glycerine, egg whites, powdered cellulose, calcium carbonate, spices, mono- and diglycerides, natural flavors, baking soda, cream of tartar, soy lecithin, ascorbic acid, and sucralose (a sugarless sweetener). Not great (I don't like the fake sugars), but not horrible. The cookies have soy and whey protein in them, rolled oats, wheat flour, and egg whites, all of which are pretty good. So nutritionally, they aren't so bad.

The cookie diet will work if one sticks to it, because the cookies are short on calories and big on fullness. You get a handful of cookies each day, along with one sensible meal. So it's calorie restriction, old-fashioned will power, and careful eating on your free meal. It's not magic, it's just a packaged option that allows people to think less about what they are eating. You can't eat like this for life, though, or on vacation, and shouldn't what you eat be about the everyday?

I checked out the Fullbars today. The Cranberry Almond is 150 calories, and has 5 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein. The first five ingredients are: Brown Rice Syrup, Puffed Wheat, Soy Protein Concentrate, Honey, and Acacia Gum, followed by Cranberries, Sunflower Seeds, Agave Syrup, Glycerine, and Almonds. Much more whole and healthy than the cookies, in my opinion, and frankly, they taste good. The bar label suggests you drink 8 oz. of water and eat the bar 30 minutes before the meal, suggesting you will feel fuller and eat less. This is true! But it would be true with 8 oz. of water and a cucumber, or a bunch of carrots, or a 90 calorie cottage cheese. You are eating and drinking 30 minutes before a meal! Keep drinking that water and you'll be even more full. It's not magic, it's common sense.

The point, my friends, is that weight loss requires eating healthy foods in balance, and in controlled portions. It requires water, and both cardio and muscle building exercises. It also requires good, uninterrupted sleep. So I've pulled the curtain on the wizard for you.

I do like the Fullbar for a morning or afternoon snack. It's yummy, pretty healthy, and has 5 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber. Just keep your nutrition plan clean, and to whole foods.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pack It - All You Need In A Gym Bag

Going to the gym is a near daily experience, for me. My gym visits are normally scheduled and adhered to, and there are also times when I find an empty hour in my day that affords me an impromptu workout. The key to doing this successfully is having everything you need in your gym bag, and having that gym bag in your car.

To begin with, you need to have a bag that you assign as your gym bag. It can be any bag that works for you, but I highly suggest it be roomy enough to fit workout clothes, socks and sneakers, and has a zipper so your stuff doesn't fall out.

My bag is packed with everything I need to get through nearly any gym workout. You may wish to copycat, so I will break it all down for you, along with why I pack what I pack.

As mentioned earlier, you've got to have workout clothes in your bag. I keep clean, black yoga pants and two black t-shirts (one short sleeve, one long) in my bag, along with a pair of clean ankle socks and sneakers. The short sleeve goes on first, the long sleeve goes over it until I get warmed up. I also keep deodorant in my bag, and apply it before my workout. I have either mints or Listerine Pocket Packs, for fresher breath, and some lip balm (because I am obsessed with soft lips). For my hair, I keep a pack of hair elastics so that I can put it up at a moment's notice. And if you lift, I recommend you keep your lifting gloves in your bag. Mine are Nike Dri-FIT Elite Fitness Gloves. I like them because they are adjustable at the wrist, and are slightly padded. They have really helped to minimize my callouses.

Every night, I bring my gym bag into the house to take out the dirty clothes and repack clean ones, recharge my iPod (if necessary), and clean out and refill my water bottle. I use a SIGG, and I highly suggest you use a SIGG or klean kanteen, as both are good for the planet (less waste) and good for you (BPA-free). Everything else remains, unless it needs to be thrown out or refilled. If I anticipate a very busy day ahead, I might stock my bag with a Power Bar or a bag of almonds.

I keep my Manduka yoga mat separate, in it's own wonderful bag. I got both the mat and the bag at my favorite yoga studio, Prana Yoga. The mat is super thick, and is probably one of my best fitness investments, to date.

Now, style isn't everything. Function over form, and if money is tight or your practical sensibility draws you towards using a bag you already have, that's great. I personally love having a bag that is not only functional but looks good, too. My new favorite bag is the Lululemon Lucky Tote (as shown). It was $98 but is now on sale for just $49 at The bag has nice (removable) shoulder straps, a main compartment with zipper, an exterior water bottle pocket, an iPod pocket, and a small pocket with an inside zipper to store some fast cash and your gym membership card. The liner is water resistant so you needn't worry if your water bottle spills a bit, or your sweaty spin shirt moistens the bag (20" x 15" x 8.5").

Being prepared is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you always have healthy food and snacks around you, it becomes much easier to eat well. If you always have a full water bottle, it's easier to stay hydrated. And if you're gym bag is beautiful and well-packed, it will be much easier to get yourself to the gym and support your fit lifestyle.

Just remember to put it in the car.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Love Between the Sheets (It's Good for You!)

I just checked my inbox and saw this photo (above) of Shiva and Shakti in the Shiva Rea newsletter, Pulse. It's beautiful, and sensual, and reminded me that I rarely discuss an important part of the human experience: sexuality. Shiva and Shakti are the "Divine Couple" and in Tantric cosmology; "the whole universe is perceived as being created, penetrated and sustained by two fundamental forces... Shiva and Shakti."* Shiva is the masculine, and Shakti is the feminine, and together they create this divine force. Though in some countries and cultures, sex is considered risque, in others it is considered sacred and powerful. We connect to the deepest parts of ourselves and grow stronger in our relationship with our partner.

In this month that we celebrate romantic love (Valentine's Day), I thought it was high time to mention the benefits of a monogamous partnership and a healthy sex life. I refer to a monogamous partnership because in this type of relationship it is assumed that there is trust, vulnerability, and comfort.

There are many reasons to enjoy a healthy, active sex life, outside of the obvious reasons. Dr. Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine and director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, CA was quoted as saying, "you can't help but say, 'Holy God! Sexual activity is a very important thing to do. Human beings were really meant to do this.'"

It has been proven that sex is a great stress release. Frequent romps have been associated with lower diastolic blood pressure (in people that live together). In addition, sex weekly (once or twice at a minimum) has been linked with higher levels of the antibody, immunoglobulin A, which helps prevent colds and infections. What better time to increase your BEDtime activities than now, the heart of cold and flu season?

Depending on what, ahem, you are doing, and how actively you are doing it, sex can burn over 150 calories every half hour. It's a wonderful method of working your heart and, long-term, having sex more than twice a week can reduce the risk of fatal heart attack by half (Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health). It increases blood flow (yes, even to our brains) which provides our organs with a healthy dose of oxygen.

Sex causes a hormone called oxytocin to surge, and endorphins to increase. This acts as an analgesic and relieves pain. So if you've got a headache or a little PMS cramping (or any pain, for that matter), give a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean to your partner and indulge in a little sexual healing.

And the very oxytocin that is released during sex (it secretes whenever you engage in sexual activity) is also known to promote sleep, and we know how important sleep is to overall health. Dr. Desmond Ebanks, MD, founder and medical director of Alternity Healthcare in West Hartford, Connecticut says, "The profound relaxation that typically follows orgasm for women and ejaculation or orgasm for men may be one of the few times people actually allow themselves to completely relax. Many indicate that they sleep more deeply and restfully after satisfying lovemaking." A little post-coital snooze makes perfect sense (and it's why most men usually fall asleep after sex). In addition, regular sexual encounters will improve your sleep pattern on the whole.

Prostate protection is also part of a healthy sex life. Regular sexual activity eliminates harmful secretions release from the prostate gland, and this protects men from prostate cancer by keeping the prostate healthy. In a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, frequent ejaculations (21 or more per month) were linked to lower prostate cancer risk in older men (as compared to between 4 - 7 monthly). For women, sexual activity helps regulate hormone levels which may lessen symptoms of menopause. In addition, the increase in estrogen levels and DHEA makes hair shiny and skin more supple, helping women to look a little bit younger.

On a psychological level, good sex with someone that you love and trust can help you boost your self esteem. Being open and vulnerable with someone, and experiencing that connection at both a physical and emotional level will cause your self-esteem to boost. (Adversely, casual sex can have a negative effect.) Along with improved self-esteem, the release of oxytocin helps bond us to the person with whom we are sharing our sexual experience. Both physically and emotionally, we are building intimacy. Patti Britton, PhD, a Los Angeles sexologist and president of the American Association of Sexuality Educators and Therapists says, "Oxytocin allows us to feel the urge to nurture and to bond."

While orgasms are important, behavioral endocrinologist Winnifred Cutler expressed, "Regular exposure to a loving partner has extraordinary effects on health and well-being."

Just last month ran a story about a yoga instructor and her husband who resolved to have sex every day for the entire month of December. While they did this to override some bad habits (his smoking, hers chocolate), they happily noticed many other benefits: they "slept better and had more energy," and "didn't get a cold or the flu all month as she usually does in the winter." They enjoyed it so much that they plan to continue their daily sex routine.

Often, I hear women joke about having to have sex with their husbands, as if it were a chore, and their husbands making jokes about not getting any. I don't know if it's because they think it's what society expects or if it's actually true for them. Either way, it's sad to hear because sex is a really amazing experience. It's a closeness that you and your partner share exclusively with each other. It's a place to be vulnerable and open, to take a big leap of trust. It's exhilarating and breathtaking, a series of private moments strung together between the two of you. Sex is one of life's greatest pleasures. I don't care how busy your schedule is, or how tired you are -- you'd really benefit by making sex a priority in your life. Take advantage of your loving, monogamous relationship. Have sex at least once a week (at least!) and enjoy the many benefits that come with some good, solid lovin'.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

GUEST POST: The Walt Disney World Marathon Experience by Jason Jaworski

I’m breathing hard, yet not moving an inch. It’s 5:39 in the morning and at this moment the only thing racing is my pulse. The minute before the start of my first marathon offered surreal clarity – I am actually doing this, here and now, and there’s no turning back now – I’m committed.

Commitment is not my forte. A decision I made eight months ago during one of my more audacious moments had finally caught up to me. I’m finally going to sign up for a marathon. Ten long years of toiling with the idea of “Did I have what it takes?” reached a pinnacle. There was only one way to find out.

So I accepted this challenge long ago in the comfort of my apartment, on my PC in my PJ’s in between spoonfuls of cereal. My date with destiny had always seemed so far away…until now. Now it was eye-to-eye. If a challenge is what I wished for, I should not have been disappointed at these circumstances.

5:40 arrived. Fireworks engulfed the entire sky. I took my first step. I didn’t feel a thing. My foot had gone numb sometime within the last hour. We all know 29 degree frigid weather tends to do that. Florida wouldn’t act like Florida today. The Disney World Marathon course was offering no respite for the warm-blooded. I didn’t account for this - I just wanted to run 26 point 2 miles, isn’t that enough?

I made a defining decision at 5:41 - to covet every moment of this journey no matter what. I didn’t have to suffer. I didn’t have to worry. I didn’t have to pay the price for a cockamamie decision. I chose positive resolve. From therein, focus and fascination were my permanent traveling companions. Disney was going to put on the production of a lifetime, and I wasn’t going to let hitchhikers like doubt and pain rain on my parade.

The first hour of the race is completely in the darkness, which actually enhances the allure of the course. Large torches, illuminated structures, soft music, and holiday decor aligned the dark and empty trails of Epcot – tranquility at its finest. Inner peace extinguished into raw energy as I looped back out near the starting line. Massive screens and speakers were pumping AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long” into my ears and through my veins. The crowds were electric, my runner companions were fired up - the place was just rockin’!

Surprisingly I adhered to the tried-and-true advice – “Don’t start out too fast or you’ll be sorry.” I kept a moderate pace, letting the crisp air gently fill my lungs. Further up World Drive we crossed paths with the race leaders who were beginning their decent from Magic Kingdom – it must be nice to see an open stretch of road. I was still packed in a congested sea of bobbing heads and shuffling feet. It didn’t matter because the anticipation was growing – my family awaited me on Main Street a few short miles away.

Main Street USA, the quintessential backdrop of the Disney World Marathon – it’s the part of the course that each and every marathoner dreams about. Spectators eagerly gather along these few short blocks of the most perfectly-fabricated town on the planet. One right turn onto Main Street is a glimpse at celebrity status – people everywhere: cheering, holding signs, jumping up and down just to get to see the action. I had no problem spotting my support crew and stopped for a few seconds to hug my mom, brother, and my girlfriend. There’s just too much pleasure to feel any pain during this part of the course. As quickly as we arrived, we looped underneath Cinderella’s Castle and exited the park.

There’s a 7-mile open stretch to get my bearings. I took a quick inventory and I knew the bottom of my feet were not going to be in the best shape. I could feel blisters starting to form around the tape - my weak attempt at plantar fasciitis prevention. Too late to adjust that now, I’ll worry about that later.

Undoubtedly the backbone of the event were the volunteers, all 6,000 of them. To say they offered encouragement at each of the 22 stations along the course would be a drastic understatement – their support was simply unrivaled. It was if the freezing conditions actually energized them. And today we were witness to yet another important volunteer responsibility – safety.

As soon as I got within earshot of the station, volunteers would be calling out something other than “water” and “Powerade,” but strangely enough were shouting “Ice!” and pointing in certain directions. All the excess liquid dispelled by the runners ahead had actually froze along the pavement and added yet another element of challenge – like we needed something else to contend with!

Outside of the stations, I saw ice one other time. I’m cruising along behind two guys at Mile 18 and the one wearing the 70.3 Ironman shirt yells, “Holy sh!t, I wish I had my camera right now!” He’s pointing at the back of the other guys head. This “other guy” had been sweating profusely and was now sporting a slew of icicles stringing off the ends of his hair – I’m coining the term “ice dreads” – you heard it here first.

I chatted with my Ironman friend through Mile 21, the hardest hill on the course – believe it or not, there are actually some hills in Florida. We separated during the next mile where I had my first encounter with the infamous “Wall,” which is the dreaded runners’ term for glycogen depletion plus lactic acid build-up equals not good.

This was the challenge I wanted – a test of my mental fortitude. My legs tensed up, from my quads to my hamstrings to my glutes. It’s like continuously tightening a vice – it’s gradual, but it doesn’t loosen at all. I managed to keep my cool as I snatched raisins, candy, Powerade, and Lord knows what else from the next few stations – my stomach hates me I’m sure.

Mile 24 felt as long as a visit to the DMV. And even though the seconds seemed like hours, I was in for a pleasant surprise – there was no Mile 25 marker. As Epcot’s defining centerpiece, Spaceship Earth, loomed in the near distance, I instantly got re-energized as I realized that a mere 385 meters separated my aching feet from the finish line.

Disney anchors a full choir singing at the top of their lungs as a farewell sendoff before the home stretch. Many runners just lose their composure at this point, but I was way too fired up. Thousands of spectators came into view as I turned the corner. A muffled commotion soon turned into an audible roar – showcasing the true majesty of the marathon – everyone’s rooting for the same team. I spotted my family along the sidelines, but there was no time for stopping - plenty of time for hugs later.

I always envisioned a sprint to the finish, and I did not disappoint. Whatever I had left, I was going to leave it on the course. I blasted through the last 100 meters waving my arms to the crowd while flashing my pearly whites from ear to ear, capped off with a double-biceps pose at the finish – 3 hours, 47 minutes, and 58 seconds after my first step.

16,883 pairs of frozen feet galloped over the Disney World Marathon finish line on January 10th 2010. It’s a personal title my fellow runners and I can carry with us the rest of our lives – I’m a marathoner. People run for so many different reasons – mine was a vehicle to commit to commitment, driving to become a better me.

I’ll remember my first marathon for the rest of my life, yet also remember to keep challenging myself to be a better me. We’re all a work-in-progress striving for perfection, BUT unlike art, we don’t have to be a finished piece to be regarded as a masterpiece.

Thank you to my friend, Jason Jaworski, for sharing his first marathon experience with us. It's an honor. When I was reading this, I actually felt like I was on the course with him.