Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Pentagon of Health

Desire ~ Determination ~ Dedication ~ Discipline ~ Drive

We are bombarded on a daily basis with ‘healthy’ images of women.  We see images on billboards, television, magazines, catalogs and advertisements all depicting the ‘ideal’ healthy woman.   What is the definition of a healthy woman?  Who defines the ground rules for being healthy? What does a healthy woman look like? How is good health achieved? Why is it so important for women to be healthy?

Health is defined in the dictionary as the following: a person’s physical or mental condition; the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; freedom from physical disease or pain. We all know health is a bit more complicated.

Society sends many mixed messages and signals about how a woman’s healthy body is achieved and what it looks like that it leaves us with our heads spinning.  We get so focused on our physical appearance looking healthy that we forget how much is involved in maintaining our mental health as well.  Our physical and mental health go hand–in-hand.  They support each other and when one falters, it is up to the other to keep us moving forward. All too often, we focus just on our physical health and our mental health takes a back seat, not realizing they are linked and both necessary to succeed.

Women encounter a variety of challenges and obstacles when it comes to maintaining our health.  Families and careers are both very demanding and women frequently put their needs at the bottom of the list. This is a bad habit. It is the first step onto a slippery slope.  Each time we put our needs last, the slope gets steeper and a lot easier to slide down making it all the more difficult to climb back up.

What do I mean by the slippery slope? An example is the lack of planning meals leads to poor nutrition and bad eating habits which leads to weight gain and in turn leads to clothes not fitting.  This sets off a chain reaction that may include low self-esteem and trigger an eating disorder to attempt to regain the body we want.  The body we think society views as the ‘ideal’ female physique.  As a result, our mental health is now under attack as well.  The self doubt, mind games and justification of poor decisions carry us further down the slope.  Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be a bottom so we keep sliding and sliding further away.  This slide sometimes ends in a pool of depression, drug abuse, alcohol abuse or self abuse.  

Women must to learn to master balance in their life.  We are not only moms, wives or completely defined by our careers. We have needs too.  We need to make time to take care of ourselves like we take care of others.  Proper nutrition, exercise and time management are key components in maintaining this balance.  The combination of all three components keep us both mentally and physically healthy.  Exercise is a natural way to reduce stress, increase sex drive, maintain cardiovascular health and maintain bone density just to name a few benefits.  You already know the benefits of healthy eating.

Life is busy.  We are all busy. We have household chores, errands, kids extra curricular activities, kids homework, jobs/careers, exercise/workouts and many other daily obligations.  So time management plays a significant role in being successful in all areas.  There is enough time to accomplish it all but it takes planning, dedication and discipline.  Developing the plan takes some patience and time initially, but eventually it becomes part of your routine and the payoff is worth it.  Sticking to the plan requires the discipline and the desire of wanting it all requires the dedication.

Every woman’s ideal physical and mental health is different.  It is important to understand where you are at now and where you want to be.  Develop goals. Put a plan and a timeline in place to achieve these goals. Be realistic but make it somewhat challenging. Recruit a support network which includes both family and friends to enable you to succeed.  You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete, figure competitor or triathlete to achieve a fit and healthy mind and body.  If you have desire, determination, dedication, discipline and drive, you can and will succeed.

Health is not a simple concept, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to achieve.  The medical community maintains a standard for a healthy woman. Research aids in how health is achieved.  You are in charge of what healthy looks like for you.  But most important is that a healthy woman is a happy woman.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rock Bottom

I've been there. I've been over weight.  A lot overweight.  I've been the 'fat girl'. I made a few weak attempts to get my weight problem under control, but it didn't work.  I had always been thin in my youth and even into college.  Sports kept me active most of my adolescent life and permitted me to eat anything and everything I wanted. I was stick thin and sometimes asked if I was anorexic.  Hardly, I ate like a horse.

Then my athletic routine changed. I was no longer a college swimmer.  I was a working adult.  I was a wife. I was a mom.  I always continued to work out and exercise, but not at the intensity I had been accustomed to.  Even though the intensity had dropped, my appetite did not.  Or I should say, my eating habits didn't change.  This was problematic.  Very problematic because I didn't take responsibility for my eating.

I couldn't blame it on pregnancy.  I exercised through both of my pregnancies and still ballooned up to 206 lbs. and 204 lbs. respectively while pregnant.  Just 10 weeks after the birth of my son, I began to train for my first marathon. Little did I know, I would not be losing significant amounts of weight training for a marathon.  I gained some muscle and lost some weight and was around 150 lbs.  However, I continued to eat beyond what I was burning off and eventually, five pounds became ten pounds and ten pounds turned into 20 pounds and before I knew it, I had gained 25 pounds.  I weighed 175 lbs. 

I had attempted Weigh Watchers after the birth of my daughter (first child) but failed miserably.  I couldn't stick to the plan.  It was hard. I was working full time, had a new job, was pregnant again within three months but suffered a miscarriage.  I was pregnant again within three months of my miscarriage with my son.  But more importantly, I was not committed to the plan.  I had not hit rock bottom yet.  I continued to struggle with my weight for five more years.

Then I applied for my federal job and it had a physical fitness component. I was within range of the requirements for height and weight, but on the high end.  I was a size 12 and 175 lbs.  I had to go to school for three months far away from my young children and husband.  While at school, there were only four females in our class of 24 students.  I was the biggest female by a lot!  It sucked.  I worked out every day in addition to our regular physical fitness program. I had no excuse.  At school, I was responsible for me, and me only. I only had to take care of myself. No laundry for family, no dishes, no cooking, no bedtime, etc.  I had no excuses. I only lost three pounds in three months.

Upon my return home, all of my responsibilities kicked in immediately, kids, cooking, cleaning, full time job, household chores, etc.  My new career was demanding and required a regular 50 hour work week.  However, I also could use three hours of that to work out and count it towards my work hours.  A dream come true!

However, it took me another year to finally hit bottom. I was beginning to bust out of my size 12 pants.  I couldn't take it anymore.  I struggled every morning to find clothes that fit and was tired of buying bigger and bigger sizes.  I joined Weight Watchers again with my Mom and sister for a support network. It was April Fool's Day 2004.  It wasn't a joke this time.  I was all in. I went to my meeting every Saturday morning at 7 am .  It was right next to Cub Foods. Afterwards, I did my grocery shopping for the week and was ready to go. No excuses.

I followed the points plan to perfection. I didn't cheat.  I exercised daily and did not use my exercise points to eat more food as allowed. I didn't want them. I wanted to be thin again and healthy.  I lost 40 pounds by 4th of July - just three months later.  It wasn't easy.  But as the weight came off each week, I grew more and more excited and more and more determined.  I learned my biggest obstacle was portion control.  My perception of portions was skewed.  I was eating way too much and too much of the wrong foods.  Weight Watchers taught me how to eat REAL food, not pre-packaged food or diet plan food.

I learned a great deal about myself during that time period and the months leading up to it. I was an emotional eater, I was an over eater and I was weak.   I took control back.  That was over eight years ago and I vowed to never ever gain that weight back.  I am proud to say I have not.  I am not 135 lbs. anymore but I am the same size - just with much more muscle mass.  My clothing is my gauge for my weight more so than the scale.

So why have I told you all of this? Because you need to know I have not always been 'thin' and 'in shape'.  I have struggled the same as most women have throughout marriage, pregnancy, career, etc. It is hard.  I will not lie. It's hard to be fat, it's hard to find time to exercise, it's hard to eat correctly, it's hard to put yourself first sometimes.  But the choice is yours. You must decide where the bottom of the barrel begins.  It is different for everyone.

J.K. Rowling

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are you fit to be PHAT?

Are you having fat day or a phat day? Fat days are those days when you feel bloated, heavy, water logged or your body is just 'off'.  Phat days are awesome.  You feel trim, washboard stomach, and you're ready to take on the world.

Phat days are so much better than fat days.  Phat days bring a bounce in your step and your self esteem could reach outer space.  Nothing can stand in your way because you feel good, you feel strong, your pants fit, you tightened your belt one more hole when you got dressed. You put on that form fitting shirt. Even you're hair is cooperating. All that healthy eating is paying off. Your nails are growing, your skin is soft and supple and your wrinkles even seem to diminish a little bit.  But most noticeable of all is your broad wide smile!  This healthy living is awesome!  Your dedication and patience is paying off - finally.

But then a fat day comes along.  You're angry. You roll out of bed and feel like the Goodyear blimp. The toilet seat squeaks as you sit down.  You're thinking, I put on five pounds overnight! Your towel doesn't seem to quite wrap all the way around you after your shower.  Then you see it - the scale staring you down,  taunting you, daring you step on.  You're browsing your closet for your 'looser' fitting dress pants and flowing shirt.  It doesn't make sense, you've been working your butt off, sticking to your meal plan and still you are faced with these fat days.

It's fine.  No need to worry and get discouraged as long as you are being honest about the effort you have put forth.  Have you cheated on your food,  have you skipped out on one too many workouts or skimping on your sleep?  Fat days will happen.  Not a big deal.  It's a mind game. Guess what?!  You are in charge so take a deep breath and remember it's only a day or two.  If it becomes a week or two, then you may want to be concerned.  Chances are you are not being honest with yourself.

Our bodies are complex.  Not every day can be a great body day.  Your body may react differently to food choices, sodium, menstrual cycle, climate, stress, etc.  So cherish the phat days and take the fat days in stride.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Being Healthy is a lot of Damn Work!

I know why people chose to be unhealthy. And it is a choice.  Don't kid yourself. It's a pain in the ass sometimes and living healthy takes up a lot of time.  Time that you could be spending with family, friends, relaxing, eating, drinking, and a million other things.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that everyone who choses a healthy lifestyle loves it all the of the time.  Sometimes it just plain sucks.  But that is when it counts the most. You need to dig deep and fight that inner demon that wants to drag you over to the dark side -"everyone is doing it" mentality.

It is a lifestyle. It is not a diet, a weight loss program or a competition prep phase.  You are destined to fail if you don't view it as a lifestyle, unless of course you want to have a temporary weight loss or temporary good health.  In order to be fit and healthy, you must work at it everyday. You are human, you will have bad days or slip-ups but if you chose to let that de-rail your progress and give up - it's your choice.  A choice you have made to be unhealthy.

It takes time to prepare healthy food.  It takes time to select healthy, unprocessed food, wash it, cut it, weigh it, cook it and package it up. It doesn't always taste good.  Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes you're too tired to make the food that is good for you because it takes too long when that tub of ice cream is just sitting there calling your name.  It's dairy you tell yourself.  Then there is that pizza too. Hey, it's grains, veggies and protein- right?  It is a slippery slope and it becomes steeper and faster with each step you take in the wrong direction.

It's hard to get up early in the morning for a workout or drag your butt to the gym late at night.  You're bed is so soft.  You'll fit your workout in later. It's no big deal that you popped the button off your jeans.  They are old, worn out, you need a new pair anyways. And it's not your fault you have to buy one size larger because they aren't true to size anymore - it's all a game the designers are playing.  You can still wear that cute dress to the graduation party and it will hide your waistline. But will it hide those wings you got going on?

Don't get mad at me for saying these things.  You think them but just don't say them out loud.  I do.  You are your own worst enemy.  But you are also you own best friend.  No one knows you better than you.  You know your weaknesses and your strengths.  If you can' t be honest with yourself, how do you expect anyone else to be honest with you?

So don't be a hater and think that those of us who CHOOSE to be healthy have a great gene pool or a gift of dedication.  We work hard, train hard, and makes sacrifices to be fit and healthy.  It is a choice we have made for ourselves. We cannot make the choice for you and you cannot make it for someone else. You must want it.  You must realize it will be hard sometimes and just plain old suck.  You must realize it will also be great. You will feel an amazing sense of accomplishment with each milestone you reach no matter how big or small.

So quit making excuses and get off you butt. It's summer.  What better time to begin!  The weather is great, the kids are out of school, the sun is out longer, you have a wide variety of outdoor activities to try and could even sign up for a 5K, marathon or a triathlon. Get going!  Don't fail before you ever even begin.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Suffer the Pain of Discipline or Suffer the Pain of Regret

Vacations are a luxury.  They may not always be the type of vacation we dream about but they are a break from the daily grind.  Even 'staycations' are a break even if only from work. We allow ourselves a little detour from our regular routine and grant ourselves a few, otherwise forbidden, indulgences.  However, we have a tendency to go overboard and self sabotage all the work we have done in some arenas, particularly our health and fitness.

It is important to allow your body time to rest and recover to prevent over-training.  However, most people don't train at a level which requires an extended period of time off.  Many people train like beasts in order to get ready for 'vacation' and obtain that body for their bikini. Yet, once they hit the beach or the pool, all that hard work that paid off is quickly cast aside and the slide down the slippery slope begins.  The drinking, the dining out, the snacks, more drinking, more eating, more lying around.  And all of the sudden, vacation is over and you have packed back on the ten pounds you worked so hard to lose, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

Health is a state of mind as much as it is the condition of your body.  They go hand in hand.  One can not exist without the other.  Obvious you say, but so many don't listen.  We all want to be fit and healthy.  But not every one's version of fit and healthy is the same nor should it be.  My goals are different from your goals thus requiring a vastly different level of training and nutrition.  However, that doesn't mean you get a free pass to eat junk, drink like a fish and workout for two hours a week hoping to achieve miraculous results.

Being fit and healthy takes discipline on many levels.  You must discipline your mind to go workout even when you don't want to. You must discipline yourself to sometimes eat food for nourishment rather than taste. You must push past the pain even though it's easier to just stop.  You must remember the short term reward is far less satisfying than the long term goal.  You must be realistic in your state of mind - how badly do you want it and how hard are you willing to fight for it?  You will have to accept that some sacrifices will have to be made and are you strong enough to step up to the challenge?

This is nothing new.  You have heard it many times.  Yet, again and again, we falter.  Failure is essential to success.  But hopefully with each failure you have learned from your mistakes, otherwise you will continue to fail again and again.  Pick yourself up and try again.  Be more disciplined, be more dedicated or accept where you're at. The choice is yours. Many will help if asked but ultimately, you are responsible for your actions or lack of action.

So that vacation weight you fought so hard to lose can stay off even while on vacation.  But again, it will take a bit of planning and discipline on your part.  Think ahead, check out gyms near your vacation destination. Bring along stretch cords, TRX, a Yoga DVD, jump rope, or scope out a playground with a bench, monkey bars for weighted exercises. Make a realistic commitment, prior to your vacation, to fit your workouts in.  You will feel better, eat healthier while away, and those jeans will still fit when you get home. You can still have fun, it's just up to you when the fun ends and the 'work' begins.  The damage will have less of an impact if you do a little sabotage control along the way - vacation or not.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Are You Afraid of Muscle?

Are you afraid of muscle? Are you afraid of free weights? Or are you just afraid of looking stupid for awhile?

I have been lifting weights since my teens. Strength training has played a different role in my various sports, but it has always been a component of my sporting life.  I am the first to admit that I didn't always understand the need or the value of strength training in my younger years. Sometimes I did it because I was told do it. It was part of the program.  As I grew older and wiser, I learned the value of strength training and all the benefits it offers and not just for sports but for your overall health.

Weight training builds bone density, burns more calories than fat, builds strong connective tissues and joint stability, improves athletic performance, improves cardiovascular health, may reduce diabetes and heart disease by reducing bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol.  These benefits are even more beneficial when combined with cardiovascular training.

So why do so few people hit the weight room - especially women? I don't want to get bulky, I don't want to look like a man, I don't know how to lift weights, it's intimidating, it is to hard, I feel dumb, I look stupid, too many men in there. These are excuses in order to justify your insecurity.  Get over it.  Get over yourself and accept the challenge.

No one wants to be 'skinny' fat. What is skinny fat?  Thin but jiggly, you may look good in clothes, but not so good when naked.  Just because you are thin doesn't mean you are healthy.  Women do not have enough testosterone to build huge amounts of mass, like men, without the use of steroids or other illegal substances.  In addition, the amount of calories which must be consumed in order to build and sustain such mass is extreme.  The freakish female bodybuilders that look like men are taking something - period. So you, as an average female, need to shed that fear of 'looking like a man'.  It's not going to happen. Women are not genetically built to build mass like a man.

Weight training can be fun when done properly.  It doesn't just have to be pushing and pulling the iron around. There are a wide variety of workouts that can be done which incorporate compound movements which you are already familiar with.  Not all strength training has to be with weights.  Using your own body creates it's own resistance such as push ups, pull-ups, jump squats, planks, etc.  Strength training develops noticeable changes in your physique including nicely toned arms, hamstrings, quads, shoulders and abs.  Your clothes will fit differently in a good way.

The scale may creep up a few pounds but you will not mind when you see the fat disappear and muscle take it's place.  Muscle and fat weigh the same - 5 lbs. is 5 lbs.  It's how muscle versus fat appear on your body that are different! No more saggy triceps, flabby butts or cottage cheese legs.  It is possible.  It takes time and patience. You need to be dedicated and disciplined.  You didn't gain the fat overnight so it won't go away overnight.

Don't be afraid of lifting heavy weights. Don't be afraid of using free weights.  Don't be afraid to ask for help or guidance.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Get a solid program. Learn proper form. Invest in yourself. If you treat it half-ass, then you will get half-ass results.

Strength training is important.  It provides many benefits and should be as much a part of your training program as cardiovascular training.  The jiggle will not go away by doing hours of elliptical or treadmill training.  You need to build muscle.  You build muscle with weights and other forms of strength training. Be smart about it and if you are a newbie, spend the time and money to learn how to lift with proper form and what exercises will benefit you and your goals.

It's important to learn how to lift properly with correct form to prevent injury. It is important to understand what muscle or muscle groups each exercise is working.  It is important to understand how to work all of your muscle groups to aid in symmetry and balance.  There will be muscle groups you will have a lack of desire to work but it is necessary in order to create a well balanced physique and prevent injuries.

Don't be afraid of muscle. It will make you strong.  It will make you toned.  The more muscle you have, the more you can eat - eventually! Muscle is your friend but you have to develop that friendship and it begins in the weight room.  So crossover to the dark side and see what's lurking over there.  You may just find exactly what you've been looking for.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sleep Does Your Body Good

The last several months I changed up my workout time.  I was lifting weights primarily in the late evening hours. At times, I arrived at the gym as late as 8:30 pm to begin my workout.  For me, this was not an ideal time to workout after a long day at work and being mom, but it was when I could fit it in.  I have always been an early morning workout person.  It was a great start to my day. I felt refreshed, invigorated and didn't feel the stress of "when am I going to get my workout in" hanging over my head all day long.

I switched up my routine primarily because of my sleeping pattern.  I had become an insomniac over the last few years. I struggled with falling asleep and staying asleep.  I tried several home remedies, natural supplements and finally prescribed medication.  They all worked for a short time period but then eventually stopped performing all together.  Life sucks without sleep. Every aspect of my daily routine suffered.  I was exhausted and crabby.

I finally went to a sleep specialist and learned to retrain my brain to sleep.  I was skeptical at first but had no other option so I followed the program.  It was excruciating at first. I had to force myself to stay awake until I was physically tired before I could go to bed.  If I woke up and was awake for longer than 15 minutes, I had to get out of bed and leave my room.  I had to rise each day at the same time regardless if it was the weekend or not.  No naps.  Needless to say, it was a horrendous three to four weeks. I was dog tired all the time.  I was staying up to 11:00 pm or later and getting up at 5:00 am.  Often, I was waking up several times throughout the night. I didn't think it was ever going to get better.  But it did.

I followed the doctor's program.  I listened to his expertise and his relied on his knowledge to help me sleep again.  It wasn't easy and I hated every minute of it. However, it worked. I began to sleep again without the aid of sleeping medication. I still use some natural remedies as a 'back-up' when my brain goes into overdrive before bed.  It is difficult to shut off my 'To Do' list that seems to begin developing as I lay down to sleep.  So whether these natural remedies are helping or not, my emotional brain thinks they are doing exactly that.

Sleep is vital to your health. You know already know this but it affects much more than you may understand.

1. Sleep repairs your body.  Your body produces extra protein molecules while you sleep which help your body repair itself at the cellular level.

2.  Sleep keeps your heart healthy by reducing levels of stress and inflammation in your body.

3.  Sleep reduces stress by lowering your blood pressure and elevated levels of stress hormones. It reduces the wear and tear on your body which propels the aging process.

4. Sleep improves your memory. Lack of sleep causes a groggy feeling and an inability to concentrate.

5. Sleep helps control your body weight. It regulates your hormones that affect and control your appetite.

An adult should ideally get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.  We know this but often deprive ourselves of this luxury for a wide variety of reasons including work, kids, television, social engagements, etc.  You should also have a consistent sleep schedule in order for your body to properly understand when it is time for sleep.  Distractions such as televisions, computers, iPads, and 'screens' in general should be removed from your bedroom so the focus is sleep, not entertainment.

Give yourself the gift of sleep and see what aspects of your life improve with the proper rest.  You may be surprised how one additional hour of sleep may improve your productivity, memory, eating habits, weight loss or training performance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Safety Net

It has been a crazy week already and it's only Tuesday!  My weekend was jam packed with kids sporting activities, errands, workouts, food prep and chores.  The weeks ahead seem to only get busier and busier!  Summer has begun in my household and it will be non-stop until middle of July.  

I've been through this may times in previous years and know what to expect but it still freaks me out and I panic a little bit. I wonder how I am going to fit it all in.  Many things I enjoy will take a backseat as my kids' needs/activities will be a priority.  However, I still will make time for my workouts and my boyfriend.  It is a challenge and he is more than understanding about my busy life. He often ends up with the short end of the stick. Not a great spot to be in but he puts up with me, so to speak.

I've mentioned that your support system is an essential piece of making your fitness goals a reality, whatever they may be.  Without this support, taking time for exercise/training becomes an additional stresser for you rather than your exercise being a 'stress reliever'.  He understands, as my significant other, my coach, my trainer and my nutritionist how much my sport means to me. It helps that he is also an avid fitness enthusiast and weight lifter himself. He does not compete but understands the commitment and dedication required to stay on top of my game.  

He often gets to spend time with the 'tired and worn' out Rachel.  Again, not ideal but a sacrifice he has made to help me achieve my goals.  I have a rare gift in his complete support of me.  He is a gift that keeps on giving whether it is my training programs, words of inspiration, nutritional/supplement information, research he does to make my life easier, he takes care of the dogs to ease the burden on me and on and on and on. He plays an integral part of my support network in my fitness life. We are able to separate boyfriend and coach  in our relationship. It works.  But it works because of his tolerance and compromise. 

I have also had to 'train' my kids over the years.  They are supportive of my training and 'odd' food choices and they go with the flow.  This has not always been the case.  It took them a while to realize I still love and care about them even if I am not at every game or activity.   Once in awhile I have to get my own training in when life is just to busy to do it all.  I am not a super hero.  I am more than just a mom.  I am a person who has needs and wants just like them. As a result, my daughter has recently begun lifting weights to build her own strength to aid her in reaching her goals in high school sports.  

My co-workers and friends are also supportive of my sometimes 'freakish' eating, training and competitions.  They have even come to watch competitions and cheer me on.  They don't mock my food choices any longer (well maybe the boiled chicken during last week of prep) and help me when I have my chocolate addiction attacks while in competition prep.   But they understand how hard I train and how much it means to me. They do what they can to support me in achieving my goals. 

I am very fortunate to be surrounded by caring and loving people who accept me for who I am.  They accept that I have chosen to participate in an unique sport which requires an unusual amount of dedication and discipline that touch every aspect of my life, both at work and at home.  They support me.  This makes my life better. This makes my life a bit easier.  This makes me smile to know I have so many people in my corner that care enough to support me in my dreams!

Find your network, reach out and connect with them.  Find your path to your goals and make sure you have your safety net to catch you when you falter so you can get back up and try again.  No network, no net.  Without a path, you are easily detoured. Everyone needs support even if it's only once in awhile. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Abs are Made in the Kitchen

"Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym. " You have heard this phrase many times before but may be a bit reluctant to believe it.  It is true.  Another one is "You can't out train a bad diet."  This is also true. 

We have a tendency to make poor food choices and say "oh, I'll work it off at the gym tomorrow."  It doesn't work that way. You already know that but still use it a justification to eat whatever you want.  If it was that easy, I'd be chomping down bacon cheeseburgers and french fries everyday!  I sure work out enough so I should have no problem 'working it off'. WRONG!  

You also cannot 'spot reduce'.  Everyone wants  a flat stomach or six-pack abs, but doing hundreds of crunches or sit-ups every day will not make the belly fat magically disappear. Again, this is not news to you, you've heard it many times.  The muscles will appear when the body fat disappears. In order to accomplish this, you must shed fat from your entire body.  You don't have control over where you lose it, but it will happen over time throughout your entire body.  

Strength and cardio training also play a role in the process.  Shocker! Just as an FYI, muscle burns more calories than fat does! There is your incentive to get in the weight room!  Strength training also aids in building bone density among many other benefits.  You should also know you never get rid of fat cells when you lose weight, you just shrink them.  The only way to actually get rid of them is with surgery like liposuction. 

So why do we as a society continue to deny that our nutritional choices have a significant impact on how our body not only looks and feels but how it functions?  It's easier.  We like easy.  We want an 'EASY' button in real life.   We work so hard for so many things in our life already, why should we have to work so hard for a flat stomach?

Your diet is 70% and the gym is the other 30%.  Seems a bit strange to you? Well, google it and read up in more detail on it and you will see this split over and over again.  In short, we are a carb heavy society.  Carbs taste better, look better and are just more fun to eat.  However, simple carbs spike your insulin causing your body to store unused calories as fat.  Simple carbs make you feel full initially but then you are hungrier than before within a short time period.  Not all carbs are bad, but complex carbs (steel cut oats, brown rice and veggies) generally don't taste as good as simple carbs (white bread, chips and sweets).  Your body needs carbs for energy so you shouldn't completely cut them out. Be more selective on which ones you eat.

Protein has the same amount of calories per gram (4 calories per gram) as carbs do but they do not spike your insulin like simple carbs.  Protein leaves you feeling more satisfied for an extended period of time while your digestive system processes it.  Lean proteins (white fish, poultry, legumes/beans) are a better choice than high fat proteins but red meat is also an essential part of your diet. Grass fed beef and salmon both have very healthy CLA fats.  Protein helps build strong muscles and bones.  

Healthy fats also play a role in your diet and aid your body in many important functions.  Fat provides energy and is part of every cell in your body,  fat provides cushion for your organs, fat helps absorb essential vitamins, fat builds your brain and makes hormones.   So eating a fat-free diet is very unwise and unhealthy.  However, making healthy fat choices is important.  Avocados, salmon, tuna, almonds, oils from nuts such as olive oil, flax seed oil are all good choices.  We hear big words like mono saturated or poly saturated fats and think they are bad. These are the healthy fats.  You want to stay away from saturated fats and trans fats. 

This all matters because if you understand WHY you need these foods and what they do for you, you may be more likely to give them a try instead of shrugging your shoulders and walking away.  By switching up your food and making a conscious decision to make better choices, you will see a difference in both your physical and mental condition.  Be patient. It will take time, but if you stick to it,  you will see results. Then you will truly understand the phrase - "Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Price of Fitne$$

Being fit and healthy comes at a price. The price is small when you weigh it against the benefits you reap.   Fitness costs you time and money, both are limited.  It is up to you to determine the budget for your health.  

How you decide to pursue your fitness goals determines what your costs will be.   Different levels of fitness require varying budgets. However, there are shortcuts or cheaper avenues you can pursue but it will require a bit of effort on your part as well as some research.  If you are truly dedicated to your fitness and health, you will do your best to make it part of your financial budget in order to reach your goals.  Time management should also be viewed as a budget.  You have many other obligations in life and if fitness is a priority, you need to 'budget' it into your day as well. 

I decided several years ago to stop feeling guilty about spending money on my passion.  It is an investment in me, my health and happiness.  Most people think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars on a purse or a pair of shoes and thousands of dollars on a car, clothing, entertainment, etc.  But when it comes to spending money on gym memberships, workout clothes, weight lifting equipment, workout shoes, personal training or supplements, we are reluctant because it seems trivial or a 'waste'.  It is not. If these items make getting fit and maintaining a healthier lifestyle easier, more fun, hold you accountable, or  motivate you, then the money is well spent. 

However, that doesn't mean if you can't afford these things, you should make excuses to not workout.  Again, how much of a priority is it for you?  You need to be creative with equipment if a gym is not an option for you. But it will require a bit of your imagination and research to achieve similar results. It is doable! 

My trainer often suggests various equipment that will aid me in reaching my goals.  Sometimes, they are cheap simple items like Versa Gripps and other times can be expensive purchases such as my training sled and weight plates or my front squat harness. I evaluate how the item will benefit me and make a plan to purchase it if I am unable to do so immediately. These items make great gift ideas for birthdays, Christmas or Anniversaries!  Don't laugh!  I've received hanging Ab Straps for Valentine's Day and Vibram Fivefinger shoes for Christmas.  It is what I want!  

My fitness if important to me and competing can be expensive.  The competition suits, spray tanning, posing coach, entry fees, polygraph fee, supplements/protein, etc.  So if I am going to invest in competing, why would I not invest in the tools I need to make me look and feel my best? So now instead of purchasing a Coach purse, I buy a new pair of Vibram's, workout pants/shorts or my favorite - baseball hats, an essential tol for my workouts!

Budget your fitness!  It is worth it. If you begin to make an investment now, your future will be far more profitable!  Invest in yourself because the payoff is priceless.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"A GOAL without a PLAN is just a wish."

It's the start of a new week!  Time to get motivated if you've been procrastinating.  You can do it! If you are already on the right track - Congratulations! Keep up the great work.

Have you made your short-term goals for the week? Do you have your workouts set up for the week?  Do you have a back-up plan for the unexpected obstacles which may interfere with your workout time? Do you have your meals and snacks planned out to avoid binge eating?

THE PLAN!  Stick to your plan and you will see results.  Are you tired of hearing about THE PLAN yet?  Well...are you?  Then make one and give it a chance.  The plan will eventually become integrated into your life if you use it and make it a priority. It will become second nature.

My Plan is in place for the week. I know I have a very busy week ahead.  My kids have many activities and work will require some longer hours than normal.  Plus, I am less than 5 weeks away from my first competition of the season.  Therefore, my food and workouts need to be right on target.   So it is essential I have my plan for the week or I 'm destined to falter.

I know WHEN I will work out each day and WHAT my workouts are.  I know HOW long my workouts take so I can plan my schedule.  I know WHAT I will be eating each meal - as I prepped food today for my meals all week.  I know WHO will be helping me with my kids since I can't do it alone this week.  I know WHY I must get adequate sleep in order to make it through the week.  I cannot allow my workouts to suffer due to my other obligations.  I have my PLAN.  But it also requires my support network.

Some suggestions to do double duty with workouts when time is tight. If you have children to drop at activities, throw your bike or roller blades in the car and do your cardio while they are at practice.  Go for a run or brisk walk. You can run bleachers, hill sprints or track sprints.  There isn't always time to get to the gym so you may need to create your own strength exercises.  Use your body! Go to the playground and use the monkey bars for pull-ups or chin-ups. You can do lunges, push ups, prisoner squats, jump rope or use a bench for fast - paced step-ups.  Your imagination is the limit!  Plus it is a nice change of pace from your normal workout routine.

If you are serious about your goals, you will make the effort the get creative when time or resources are tight. Make it fun. Switch it up. Include your kids, spouse or significant other in an occasional workout to help them understand it's importance to you. If it is important to you, it will be to them as well. They may enjoy it too!

Make it happen.  Start the week off on a positive note and believe in yourself.  You are much stronger than you know so get going on your PLAN!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"No one ever said it would be easy, but it will be worth it."

Where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you headed?  People like to say we should forget our past and move on. We need to appreciate the present and not rush the future. I don't agree with these rules.  Rules are meant to broken, some more than others.

Your rules need to apply to you and your life.  You can be selective about what rules you will follow and which rules you can or should break.   The challenge is to figure out the difference between the good rules and the bad rules of your past, present and future.  In order to simplify this process, let's focus on your fitness and physical health since this is a fitness blog!

Your past history and experiences play an important role in your present physical health.  In fact, it is necessary to review your past in order to be successful in your current endeavors and set up your future goals.

In order to be successful in your fitness goals, you need to determine where you have failed in the past and the reasons why in order to be successful now and continue to be successful in the future. Sounds simple, but it's not or everyone would be as fit as a fiddle.

Once you are able to determine what your obstacles were, you can begin to problem solve and develop solutions to prevent duplicating those pitfalls.  Writing them down will help.  Did you run short of time if workout was scheduled for the end of the day?  Did you fail to have healthy food prepared in advance in order to prevent binge eating? Did you have an unrealistic plan to begin with based on your physical health at the time? Did you have a proper support network?

There are many reasons people fail but most of them are preventable with a little bit of planning.  This is where discipline and dedication play an important role.  The same obstacles will exist but if you are better prepared to handle them, your ratio of success will increase. This is why your past failures need to be addressed and not forgotten so you don't repeat them again.  You need to be dedicated to your plan and have the discipline to stick to it!

Your future goals will only be achieved if you first focus on the present.  The work needs to be done now or you will never reach those goals in the future.  Do the work, put forth the effort, be patient, be honest about your progress, make you and your health a priority and learn from your mistakes.

Don't become a prisoner of your plan but a partner with your plan. Find a balance that works for you and your life so you can be more successful than in the past. If you need help developing a successful plan - ask someone to help you.  Do you need help with your nutrition plan, your workouts or time management? What is your weakest point? What is your strongest? Seek out someone who will hold you accountable but also support you in your journey. You don't have to do it by yourself.

It would be ridiculous to go out and run 15 miles if you have never run before.  You need to have a base, a previous history of knowing how your body will respond, proper nutrition, proper hydration before and during the run. Without this knowledge, you are destined to fail. You may make it through the run, but you will likely pay a high price including injury, dehydration and an unpleasant memory of running all together.

Now if your goal for the future is to run a marathon and you are a newbie to running, then some planning must take place in order to be successful. The planning must take place now. Shoes are important based on running style, clothing can be important to avoid 'chaffing',  climate impacts training,  training partner and a time table to log miles and access progress in order to be prepared for the marathon race.

Think of your fitness and/or health plan like school.  The ultimate goal is to graduate. You have the required courses you must take to graduate. You also have elective courses which make the required courses tolerable. You have four years to get it all accomplished whether it's high school or college (unless you are on the 7-year plan!)   Some aspects of your fitness plan will not always be fun and exciting but necessary.  The workouts will not always be fun and exciting.  The food will not always be be what you want to eat.  "No one ever said it would be easy, but it will be worth it."

When you achieve a milestone in your plan, reward yourself appropriately (not with cake!).  Take before and after photos to track your progress.  Keep them handy or post them so on tough days, you can see your discipline is paying off.  Don 't adopt the attitude that you don't want those photos around to remind you of what you look like because that is EXACTLY why you need them!

You need to remember the past to keep on track in the present to reach your future.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Discover what MOTIVATES you!

I am frequently asked how I stay motivated to workout/train day in and day out.  This is a complicated answer.  My answer will vary from your answer and it should.  We are not the same people and don't have the same goals.  Most people think 'gym rats' just love to train and always want to go to the gym.  Guess what?  This is not true. It is a myth!

I enjoy training for a variety of reasons which include the obvious benefits to my physical and mental health.  However, I have days when going to the gym is the last thing in the world I want to do.  But I go anyways.  Why you ask?  Because it is what I do.  I have trained my mind to overcome itself.  I have learned from years of being an athlete that sometimes you train because you have to, not because you want to.  It's part of the game. 

There are many days when I feel tired, have a headache, am depressed, am angry or just don't want to train because the couch looks more appealing.  But I have been training long enough and have learned the difference between needing a break and wanting a break.  There is a difference. You will acquire the skill to distinguish between them the longer you train.  You will become familiar with your own body and how it reacts to training, proper rest, proper nutrition and hydration. However, it doesn't happen over night.  Be patient, but be attentive.  

This is why a food log, sleep log, workout journal and water intake log are all important training tools.  Most people don't think of them as training tools but they are an essential part of your regime.  You are able to hold yourself more accountable when it is written down and you can see it in black and white.  You will understand why you're so tired if you sleep log shows you are only getting six hours of sleep a night. Your food log shows if you are not eating enough protein or consuming too much junk.  If you have to write it down, you can't lie to yourself.  Your workout journal illustrates your progress or lack of progress.  If workouts are off day after day, then you can look at your sleep or food log and see if your lacking in those areas. They can have a direct affect on your workouts.  

This may appear to be a lot of work but once you get into the routine of completing the logs, it becomes second nature.  There are many apps for iPod/iPhone, androids, and smart phones which make this task even easier.  I use Loseit!  It can track as much or as little as you prefer.  It also stores previous meals and food which you have saved so you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time.  It is compatible with smart phones and iPod products. It's free or .99.  A very small investment to make your life easier and improve your health.

You may be thinking I strayed away from the subject of motivation, but I have not.  All of these tools help you stay motivated because they track your success and/or your failure.  They are a necessary evil if you will.  They are the 'not-so-glamorous' tools of being fit and healthy.  They will not display how big your biceps are or show your rock hard six-pack, but they will help you achieve those goals and maintain them. 

There are many other factors which keep me motivated.  Guilt is a major one for me. I don't like how I feel if I don't train. I feel lazy and then the mind games begin.  Another motivator for me is competition.  I learned a long time ago that I need that 'nugget' down the road to keep me going on 'bad days'.  If I know I have a race or a competition in the future, I am less likely to slack because I don't train to get second place. I also have the usual motivator of photos that inspire me to push harder and obtain a better physique.  I like motivational quotes, as well, but the photos give me a bit more of a jolt.  Of course, I have also had my own battle with being overweight many years ago and I made a promise to myself that I would never look or feel like that again.  I keep a photo in my office when I was at my heaviest as a reminder of how far I have come.  People look at it and have no idea it is me.  Sad, but true.

These are the things that motivate me.  You need to discover what motivates you.  It may be something I listed or something completely different.  As your goals change, your motivators will more than likely change as well. As your body evolves, so should your training. Keep it interesting and mix it up.  Challenge yourself and reach outside your comfort zone. You may discover new things that you like and never even knew it. How will you find out if you don't at least try?  I tried ballet, I didn't like it so I need to find something to replace it.  I need more grace and flexibility. There is always room for improvement.

If you train the same way every day, you will become bored as will your body.  You will hit plateaus but that is to be expected.  Push through it and stick to your plan. Remember the plan? This doesn't mean the plan stays the same, it means you have plan for each level of fitness you achieve.  Again, the plan evolves as the goals evolve as the body evolves.  It's a chain reaction.  If there is no action, then there is no reaction.

Your motivation should be unique to you.  Don't compare yourself to others.  Compare yourself to you and the improvements you make.  Everyone is different so it only makes sense that your motivators will be different. Take the plunge and dive in. Learn to train, train smarter and train harder or just keep treading water. It's up to you.

Are you a GYM RAT?