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'.