Tag Archives: health and wellness

Lent: to “give up” or not?

21 Feb

A client of mine asked for my input on what she could give up for Lent this year and I told her I’d write a blog post with my response.

Much like New Year’s resolutions, Lent is a very popular time of year for many folks to make big adjustments/resolutions/changes to their lives, and often, their health.  A huge part of the Christian Lenten season is fasting or giving something up for the 40 days duration.  The meaning behind this is a significant one in the Christian faith and goes beyond the scope of this blog.  My focus is on how anyone (religious or not) can use this Wednesday- February 22nd- as a starting point for change in their lives.  I believe it does not have to be limited to abstinence of a single thing; sometimes adding something enriching is just as great.

Here are some helpful tips and things to consider:

1) Think about your overall goals and what you want to accomplish in general.  Then, try to find one small part on which you can focus your Lenten promise.  It is impossible to try to cover everything, so pick a part that is important to you.   For example, if you are aiming to rid your diet of all processed foods and move toward a more clean way of eating, choose ONE food to omit during Lent.

2) Choose to give up OR add something that you will try to maintain even after Lent is over.  Consider which choices are most beneficial to your health and well-being in the long haul, not just 40 days.  For example, don’t give up alcohol for 40 days while stockpiling 6-packs of your favorite beer so you can binge on day 41.  Instead, try making the promise to reduce your alcohol intake from X drinks per week to Y drinks per week, and stick with that beyond Easter Sunday.

3) If you can’t think of something to give up, then DON’T!  I know many folks that struggle with thinking of what to omit from their lives when they actually could benefit a tremendous amount from adding something in.  For example, you could promise to add 1 hour of sleep per night if you feel you’re not getting enough.  Or you could add more water, fruits, veggies, exercise, etc into your daily routine.

4) Do NOT, by any means, give up something good or beneficial for you!!! It is mostly in jest, but people have told me they plan on giving up exercise, fruits or veggies for Lent.  This is an opportunity to build in healthy habits, not get rid of them!!

5) Do not set yourself up for failure.  I’ll give a personal example here: I am a very busy person and need a little caffeine to get through my long days.  While I HAVE successfully given up coffee several times for Lent in previous years, I have never gone so far as to give up caffeine completely.  Without coffee, I turned to green and black tea for my caffeine and consumed these things in small amounts.  I know that trying to give up caffeine, in totality, is probably not a likely option for me.

6) Lastly, here are some of the best Lenten promises I have made in the past, for you to use as inspiration:

Gave up: coffee, swearing, biting my nails, beer, peanut butter (this led to my love affair with almond butter!)

Added: more sleep, more water every day, taking 20 mins each day to write, read more books for pleasure (non school related), call family at least 1x/wk, keep in touch with old friends/colleagues

And this year I am going to start a special Lenten promise: I am going to incorporate the Paleo Diet into my life!  I will be blogging weekly about how this goes, so you can all follow along and ask questions.

I’d love to hear your comments on what you think about “giving up” things for Lent and what you choose to do this year!

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Vitamins and Supplements 101

20 Feb

Vitamins A, B, C, D, Zinc, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium and Omega-3’s.  Are any of these things familiar to you?  Many of my friends and clients have asked me about Vitamins/minerals and what the “right” amount is.  Should all vitamin/minerals come from food and beverage intake?  Are supplements necessary in order for my body to get enough vitamins/minerals?  Is it possible to ingest too much of one thing? Can too much be toxic?

food supplements

These questions are all excellent, and are only a fraction of those that I hear on a regular basis.  In this post I will try to answer questions in a generalized sense, and based on MY opinion unless otherwise noted.  But PLEASE understand that there is a LOT to know about vitamins/minerals and specific questions should be saved for a qualified professional [talk with your doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist].

First off, here are some quick facts about Vitamins (source: www.fda.gov. A full PDF download is available!)

Vitamin Facts

Your body uses vitamins for a variety of biological processes, including growth, digestion, and nerve function. There are 13 vitamins that the body absolutely needs: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate). AAFP cites two categories of vitamins.

  • Water-soluble vitamins are easily absorbed by the body, which doesn’t store large amounts. The kidneys remove those vitamins that are not needed.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed into the body with the use of bile acids, which are fluids used to absorb fat. The body stores these for use as needed.

As a personal trainer and someone who strongly believes in eating a clean diet full of whole, real, natural, organic foods, I believe that a person’s primary source of vitamins and minerals should come from real foods themselves.  Eating fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins such as chicken, grass-fed beef, and fish will give you a fantastic amount of vitamins, minerals and necessary nutrients.  However, instances such as having certain health conditions, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, or being pregnant/breast-feeding can warrant necessity of supplements.  There is also a lot of research that supports supplementation of calcium, iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids for women.

I know folks who are intolerant of dairy and take supplements for Calcium and Vitamin D.  Others turn to leafy greens, nuts and legumes to get their share of Calcium.  Some people take Iron supplements due to the fact that their diet is void of any meats.  And still, there are others who find other whole, real foods high in Iron to eat instead.  As you can see, there is no single prescription for which supplements to take.  Depending on a person’s individual diet, their supplement requirements will vary; talking to a doctor or nutritionist about specific supplements is best.

For more guidance on this topic, I check with my go-to dietitian Ashley Bade, RD, LDN, CNSD at Modern Mom Nutrition.  Ashley shared with me an article on the topic of supplementation and whether or not to take vitamins.  Ashley believes in “trying to get nutrients from foods first- versus supplementing, but understand that it can be hard to work it all into some people’s days. I do tend to supplement Vitamin D often with my patients b/c many are obese and we all live above Atlanta which are two factors that can set you up for a D deficiency. I do think some people can benefit from Omega supplements as many people tend to not have a variety of good sources in the diet.”

Vitamins and minerals provide essential nutrients and every person should be aware of which they are receiving in their diet & which, perhaps, need to be supplemented.  If you have specific questions about your nutrition, make a list and be sure to discuss it with your doctor at your next appointment!

Diet Soda- friend or foe??

3 Feb

Recently, a Lucky13’er asked me to blog about diet soda… she wanted to know whether its “good or bad”.  I thought it was a great idea for a blog post because many people have this question and I do not think the answer is as cut and dry as”good or bad”.

Much literature has been published about the pros and cons of diet soda with eye-catching headlines about everything from the damage it does to the life-saver it can be.  Depending on whom you ask, you can get many different opinions on diet sodas.  I have read much of this literature and have come to the following conclusion: like just about everything else, it’s all relative.  Let me explain…

One of the biggest arguments against diet soda is that it is composed primarily of human-made chemicals, additives, flavorings, colors, etc., and that these substances can be hazardous to your health.  Some studies have linked consumption of diet soda to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, etc.  I DO agree with this point.  As a huge advocate of eating natural, whole, unprocessed foods, I truly believe that consuming made-in-a-lab “stuff” can have negative and damaging side effects.  Once upon a time, I was the Diet Coke queen; I thought it was harmless to drink 5 cans a day because it had no calories and wouldn’t expand my waistline.  I have learned much since then, and have now cut all soda out of my beverage repertoire.  I stick to drinking as much water as possible, and change it up by drinking other calorie-free things such as flavored seltzer, water with lemon, or water with natural flavors such as Vitamin Water Zero.   In an ideal world, I would encourage everyone to do the same.  If it’s not possible to give up diet soda entirely, I would encourage cutting back as much as possible.

However, I don’t think diet soda is always the enemy.  For many folks who are just starting to make changes to their eating/drinking habits and who may be trying to break some lifelong habits, diet soda might serve as a form of “harm reduction” from the full-sugar soda they’re used to.  If a person is used to drinking several cans of regular soda per day, a first step toward making changes might be to switch to a few cans of diet soda per day.  Though the taste is different, the behavior [drinking cans of soda] is the same.  In time, this same person could then take a next step and decrease the overall number of cans per day, or switch to drinking a few cans of flavored seltzer per day.  But the initial switch from regular soda to diet soda per day can save someone 140 calories and 40 grams of sugar PER CAN!!!! [these numbers are based on a 12oz can of Coca Cola].  This equates to a major calorie/sugar cut and hopefully, in turn, weight loss.  For someone used to drinking lots and lots of soda, a diet option could be very significant on the path toward healthy change.

So, in my opinion, diet soda can’t be placed entirely in the “All good” or “All bad” column.  Much like everything else in life, it is all relative.  Nothing is perfect and no single thing or method works for everyone.  The key is to make the most healthy choice possible at every given moment.  What’s your opinion on diet soda? Friend or foe? I’d be interested to hear some feedback!

One of “those days”

16 Dec

Yesterday I had one of “those days”.  The kind of day where you just feel “off”; you’re not yourself and you can’t shake the negative energy.  Despite sticking to my Monday Makeover of getting 7.5-8hrs of sleep per night for the past week and a half, I felt tired.  Not so much physically tired, but mentally and emotionally tired.  Nothing tragic or horrible  happened, I simply did not feel like myself.

I just couldn’t ignore the feelings of crankiness and exhaustion; I couldn’t shake the funk.  It was effortful to smile, to put on a happy face & all I wanted to do is sleep.  I made plans with a friend to attend my first Bikram Yoga class, and I had been looking forward to it for a long time.  I am not one to break plans and hate going back on my word, but I had to bow out [sorry H$, thanks for being understanding…i love you].

Sounds horrible, right??  I realized that it’s not so bad.  After discussing my mood with a few close friends I realized a possible cause of this funk.   I needed some “me” time.  I spend so much time doing other things and rarely take down time for myself.  I don’t particularly like watching TV and get antsy when I have to sit still for long periods of time.  I like moving, playing, exercising & being active.  I consider all of these things to be cathartic for me, and they work 95% of the time.  But in that other 5%, I now realize that I need to do something else. I need to do nothing!  I need to learn how to relax and not feel guilty for being “lazy”. I am only human and can’t be expected to be “on” all the time.  Last night I enjoyed an evening of being “off”.  I stayed off the computer, off my phone, off of work; I simply disconnected.  I watched 2 DVD’s worth of Will & Grace episodes, enjoyed a glass of half Pinot Noir & half Seltzer water, laughed & relaxed.  I got to bed early and woke up this morning feeling much better.

It’s amazing that a little R&R can take the funk away!  No more cranky mood, no more exhaustion.  I am now ready for a lovely weekend ahead!!

How about you?  Do you ever get into a funk?  Ever have one of “those days”??  How do you shake it?

Half Marathon Training: week 2 recap

15 Aug

As I stated in my previous posts,  I am running the Smuttynose Rockfest Half Marathon on October 2nd, and am blogging about my training progress.  I am doing this both for my own benefit (its my first half marathon and I’m excited to hear ideas/tips/suggestions/advice from veteran half marathon runners) and also to share my experience with others!

Week two brought its own little lesson for me: footwear is IMPORTANT!!!  I ran my first week (of 9 total training weeks) with my existing running shoes – Nike Free Run 2–  which I love.  I had run up to a 10k in them previously, but wanted new shoes for my Half training which will log many long miles.  I went to Marathon Sports in Wellesley and was there for about an hour and a half.  A very knowledgeable sales associate tested my gait, took the time to hear my concerns/injury history and chose several pairs of shoes she thought would be a good fit for me.  I tried on a pair of Newtons, a pair of Saucony Kinvara 2, and a pair of New Balance.  The sales associate told me to take a run outside in each pair, to get a feel for them.  I did about 5-7 trial runs in total.  Some of them I did with 2 different shoes on.  In the end, I decided on the Newtons because they gave me extra support where I needed it (n my injured left ankle) while staying on the “minimal” side.  They were pretty expensive, and as I made my way to the register I started second guessing my decision.  The sales associate said that I could take them home for my next run (4 miles) and if I wanted to swap them out for another pair, I could come back the next day and do so.  This was pretty impressive to me.  It was that fact, combined with the 20% personal trainer discount, that sealed the deal.

The new sneakers have taken a LOT of getting used to.  They are a “minimal” shoe but they are unlike any other pair I’ve worn in the past.  The first 1-1.5 miles of each run in them has been difficult; my body is not yet comfortable in them and I feel totally off.  I ran 4 miles and the next day ran 6 miles in them.  At the end of each run, I felt fine and my ankle tendonitis has not given me any extra noticeable problems.  There was one point at which I thought I would have to turn around on my 6 mile run and go home to change back into my old sneakers.  As I continued on in my loop (to head back home), I was able to adjust my stride and foot fall so that I felt comfortable.  The shoe definitely helps to absorb the heelstrike that happens as a result of my tendonitis in my left ankle.  I have decided to hang onto the shoes, despite their $140 price tag.  If there’s anything worth putting a little extra money into, its the shoes that will be on my feet for miles and miles (and miles) to come. 

Plus, they’re bright orange…my favorite color! 😉

Exercise burnout: what is it, and how can it be avoided?

15 Aug

Exercise burnout is a term I hear all the time amongst colleagues and clients.  I hear stories of folks who have been going to the gym; doing their routine day in and day out, over and over, and are getting quite sick and tired of it.  The workout that once brought them relief from the stress of a long day now is a looming monster.  It serves as another obstacle and another stress bomb to face before unwinding for the evening.  The pleasure and satisfaction once gleaned from pumping iron, hitting the cardio machines, and getting a good sweat has long been replaced with boredom, annoyance, resentment, and anger.  For some, the burnout goes beyond the mental exhaustion and carries over to physical exhaustion as well.  People overuse, overwork, and over train their bodies to the point of intense exhaustion, bodily fatigue, and injury.  Without time off the body has no time to rest and repair itself, leaving it always playing catch-up and never operating at 100%.  [and if you want to BE your best, you gotta BRING your best!]

Why does this happen to so many people and so often?  What causes people to reach the point of such profound burnout?  I believe it stems from the lack of understanding the importance of two concepts: diversity and rest.  The first of the two, diversity in exercise,  is crucial to practice in order to avoid burnout, boredom, and injury.  Most people get into a routine at the gym: they come in, use certain machines [because they know and feel comfortable with them] and then leave.  They do this day in and day out.  While ANY exercise/activity will initially produce change and results, eventually the body gets used to the same repetitive motion/action [our bodies are so much smarter than we give them credit for!!] and the benefits begin to diminish.  What once produced significant calorie burn and muscle hypertrophy will, over time, no longer be challenging.  Exercise is meant to be progressive, that is changing and becoming more challenging as a person’s fitness level increases.  Without progression a person’s fitness level becomes “stuck”.  The elliptical machine might still say you’re burning X number of calories every time you get on it, but the calorie counters on cardio machines are rarely accurate and do not take into account enough information to make a precise assessment of what’s going on during the workout. 

In order to maximize the benefits of exercise, you MUST change it up!!! Don’t get comfortable using that one specific machine [3rd elliptical from the left, right by the TV that always plays BRAVO], instead discover something new! Give your body and your mind a new challenge.  Hop on a machine that you’ve never used before.  Its okay, it won’t bite!  And if you don’t know how to use it, just start pedaling and something will happen!  All else fails, ask a staff member at your gym to show you how to properly use it!   If that doesn’t sound appealing, find an activity outdoors that piques your interest: rollerblading, biking, swimming, hiking, walking, running.  If you’ve never done it before, try it!! The key is to always change it up.  Instead of spinning 5 days a week, try using the stair master, treadmill or ARC trainer.   If you’re a hard-core runner, try spin on one of your cardio days!  Something else to consider is group fitness classes; many gyms offer a wide variety of classes that are different from what goes on out on the cardio/weight room floor.   This also applies to strength training; if you are simply lifting barbells and dumbbells, try a body weight circuit or a Bootcamp class.  Increase sets, reps, and try doing unilateral exercises instead of bilateral.  Throwing a change into the mix will confuse your body and produce greater results.  And not only will this keep you from getting bored, but it will prevent you from getting injured.  Because exercise diversity forces you to work different muscles in different ways, it strengthens the body from different angles and gives all body parts a chance to work.   No single muscle (or muscle group) will be overused or over trained, and no muscle will be left under trained or ignored.

The second factor I believe contributes to exercise burnout is lack of rest.  When people get serious about working out and get into a groove, they rarely give themselves time to rest and repair.   They are so caught up with and focused on their goal [losing weight, gaining muscle, training for an event, transforming their bodies and minds, etc] that they may start to believe a day of rest will put them behind schedule and a day further away from reaching their goal.  Let me say: REST IS A MUST!!!  Exercise puts the body through the wringer: muscle fibers rip and tear apart during strength training, and we take a beating moving around during cardio exercise.  The work does not happen when we are in the gym, on the court, track or street.  The work- the lean muscle repair and growth, and fat loss- happen when we are asleep and otherwise at rest.  One day of FULL rest from exercise per week is recommended for people working out at a moderate intensity on a regular basis.  I personally believe that of the 7 days in a week, one day should be full rest and another should be an “Active Recovery” day.  Active Recovery can be anything that is LOW impact, does not raise the heart rate to its maximal levels, and is considered fun!  For my active rest, I enjoy going for a walk, taking a yoga class, or doing the elliptical for 15-20 minutes on a low setting.  Other folks enjoy doing Zumba or other dance classes for active recovery.  The remaining 5 days can be devoted to training well and training hard. 

Exercise burnout can cause people to abandon their workout routine all together.   This can lead to further deviation from a healthy lifestyle- becoming inactive, abandoning healthy eating habits, and allowing the mental muscle to weaken considerably.  In extreme cases, focus and determination become lost to apathy and self-loathing.  Don’t let yourself get to that point!!  If you feel yourself getting there, stop and check the nature of your routine.  Are you bored? Do you need to diversify your workout? Go ahead, try something new TODAY!  Are you letting yourself rest? Or have you been exercising hard every day for the past 2+ weeks?? Take a day of rest; it will do you a world of good! 

Have you ever experienced exercise burnout? What caused it? And how did you combat it?

Half Marathon Training: week 1 recap

9 Aug

As I stated in a recent blog, I am in the process of training for a half marathon.  This is something I have always wanted to do, so I guess you could say I’m crossing it off my “bucket list”.  For those of you who don’t know, I am running the Smuttynose Rockfest Half Marathon on October 2nd (just shy of my 30th birthday!!).  I decided to go with a 9 week training program because I am already able to log several miles without a problem, and 9 weeks will be the ideal amount of time for me to work on building endurance, shaving time off my mile, and getting myself mentally prepared to run 13.1 miles. 

The training program I am using is the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training program.  I am using it as a skeleton and adjusting it a bit to fit my schedule and add speed/hill workouts.  So far, so good.  The thing I realized in Week 1 was that training (of any sort) takes a LOT of planning.  I work out 6 days a week with no problem, but always have the flexibility of switching things up, or doing what I want when I want.  Having to keep track of runs and log X amount of miles per week is a bit more challenging.  I have had to block off specific time during each day for my workouts to make sure I have enough time to stretch, warm up, run, and cool down.  I find that if I don’t do so, its VERY easy to get sidetracked by other things.  I was in Maine this past weekend and had to be very disciplined to run my long run (5 miles) while I was there.  But I did it on Friday instead of Sunday, when I knew I had a bit of extra time.  So I think being flexible a bit with the program will be key. 

I also realized that it will be nice to have a buddy to run with when the mileage starts getting up there! I signed up for this race with a good friend, so its nice to have someone to talk with about the training, and also to help out with mental motivation.  Thank you Heather 🙂

Week 2 is under way and going well! Will give a report next week! 🙂