The most effective form of exercise is…

I’ll never forget the question.
The crowd that day was eager to hear from Exercise Physiologist and trainer to the stars, Jimmy Pena (who also happens to be an old friend of mine) when it came out of nowhere:
“What is the most effective exercise you can do for physical fitness?”
hmmm..
Decked out in their track suits and tennis shoes, people were throwing out answers left and right- “Running!” “Spinning!” “Rowing!” “Crossfit?”
I admit, I was thinking up a few of my own, and once everyone quieted down he said, “After writing countless articles on health and fitness since 1998 (he’s being modest, he’s one of the nation’s most published fitness experts) and even after co-authoring or contributing to 6 health and fitness best sellers, I can say with certainty that the most effective form of exercise is (wait for it…) whatever you’ll do.”
huh.
That’s.. yeah.
wow.

(The truth is always simple.)

We all know that we can have the most sophisticated equipment, the best workout plan, etc., etc.. but if we have no desire whatsoever to even do the work, it does us no good, because we won’t do it. Right? (Raise your hand if you have now or have ever had a piece of exercise equipment that sadly became an extra closet or bookshelf in your bedroom. Hmmm? Anyone?)
I never had that problem. I love to work out. It’s ok, you can hate me. Lifting weights is enjoyable for me.
Well, that is, until about 3 months ago.. when my world turned upside down.
I was going through a big life change (which I’ll write about soon) and I started experiencing a drop in my energy level, and then out of no where, I completely lost my desire to lift weights.
(Moment of silence, please)
Utter sadness.
So I did what most fitness fanatics do. I pushed myself to stay after it anyways, going through the motions until one day I just couldn’t do it anymore. And I stopped.
What happened? Where’s the love? I mean, seriously, this wasn’t supposed to happen to ‘people like me’, I encourage others to work out and live healthy, I’m supposed to be the good example, dangit!

I felt bad and even guilty for not working out, don’t ask me why, I just did. Habit.
But the motivation had absolutely left me. And it was no where to be found.
It was about a week later, when I decided I wanted to finally start a garden in my back yard (after years of wishing), aaaaand I thought it would be cool to lay a brick walkway around the two beds (because I like to come up with new ways to torture myself).
Our home is 104 years old and every square inch of her bad self needs renovating, including the large mess behind the house most people refer to as a “back yard.” So, completely uncharacteristic of me, I started spending two hours outside every morning working on my back yard. Hauling around buckets of dirt, shoveling sand, carrying bricks of all shapes and sizes, digging compost trenches,

knocking the mortar off the old bricks with a small axe, etc..

And guess what? I loved it! (Whoa, stop the presses.)
I was out of breath and sweating up a storm (it was hotter than Hades out there), but I really loved it! The two hours flew by and I couldn’t wait to get back out there the next day. I felt like I did when I first started with weights. I felt at home.. and relaxed, it came naturally.
(Here’s my yard in progress..poor thing. If you blink you might miss my cucumbers coming in.)
So, somewhere in the middle of all that I stopped feeling guilty about not doing ‘regular exercise’ and started to see the work in my garden/backyard for what it was- a dang good workout. And wouldn’t you know it, just this week (some 3 months later), my love for lifting weights, returned. Aaaaand they’re back to kicking my butt. :-)
So, am I starting over in some ways? Have I lost a little ground in the weight room? Yes. There’s no other way around it. But what I gained was a refresher that exercise can be anything that’s physically demanding (and progressive), even hauling bricks and shoveling sand.. and it should be enjoyable. Because, bottom line, it doesn’t matter how “effective” a particular exercise is for the masses, what works best for me is… whatever I’ll do.

What is your favorite form of non-traditional exercise? Do you enjoy lifting weights? Do you have a garden? (Please say yes to that last question so you can help this little brown thumb out.) :-)

Staying on track at a party

Even if you didn’t know what the date was, you would know the year-end holidays were right around the corner by all the articles that pop up about surviving holiday parties when you’re dieting. They’re everywhere. But as I’m writing this, we’re heading into Summer, which for my family means lots of back yard birthday bar-b-ques, etc.
So what do you do when you’re heading to an event where you know there’s going to be lots of forbidden foods? Do you just say, “oh, well.” and plan on getting back on track the next day? Do you try and tough it out? How much is too much?
So here are some standard tips:
1. Don’t go hungry.
2. Don’t drink your calories.
3. Don’t hang out by the food/snack table.
4. Allow yourself one small treat so you don’t feel deprived.
5. Offer to bring food to the event so you’ll at least know you have something to eat.
These are all good tips, but lets break these down a little bit..

1. Don’t go hungry.
I happen to think this is a really great tip (this also could be applied when going to the grocery store, by the way), because when we’re hungry, our defenses our down, we pretty much want to eat everything in site because, dang-it we’re hungry! Something happens when we get to that level of hunger, we don’t think as clearly, we stop thinking about our goals and all our hard work because all that’s on our mind is eating. This seems like such a simple tip, one that would be so easy to do, just grab 2-3 ounces of protein or a handful of nuts before you walk out the door so you’re not starving when you get there. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people (who are trying to lose fat) say, “oh well, I can start over on Monday.” Or a hundred other ways to say- “I have no self control.”
You already know this but do you mind if I say it again?

Your success will be equal to your work

Little work will always equal little success and lots of hard work will always equal great success. This doesn’t just apply in the gym where we tend to think of the ‘work’ it also pertains to what we don’t do and what we don’t eat.  For me, that’s just as tough. But I approach an event or party the same way I approach a workout, with determination and grit. It’s no different to me. I want to succeed in my workout just as bad as I want to succeed in not getting off track at a party.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard that once you’ve tried something that’s forbidden (and this can apply to anything) it gets easier and easier to give in to it, till your defense is completely gone. Well, the opposite is also true, when you resist something that’s forbidden you get stronger and every time you resist it,
it gets easier and easier to do so, till it’s no longer a temptation.

Off the top of my head I have successfully stayed on track through 7 events in the last 2 months. What, am I counting? Uh… yeah! I love being able to say that. While so many around me are making excuses and already regretting, I’m holding the line. I’m just as proud of that number as I am for new personal records I set in my workouts.
So, that got a little long winded, bottom line: eat something healthy before you go (no really.. do it!) and approach your eating with the same determination that you do your workouts.

2. Don’t drink the kool-aid, i.e. stick to drinking water.
You’ve heard it a thousand times- don’t drink your calories, don’t drink your calories, don’t drink your calories. Right? You know that, right? :-) They’re more concentrated and you can easily go overboard with one sugary beverage (and who drinks just one soda?). So… what are you doing… drinking your calories? Try sticking to ice cold water (Yum!) or unsweetened ice tea with lemon to get you through, you’ll be glad you did.

3. Don’t hang out by the food/snack table.
This  is pretty obvious, but in case it’s not, let me explain. You’ve heard the expression- out of site out of mind, right? Well, that makes the opposite, also true. If its right there within eyesight and you can see the food and smell the food, etc. it’s almost impossible to resist getting seconds or thirds, or grazing when it’s so close by. It’s also, nearly impossible to stop thinking about the food and focusing on it and telling yourself- one more wont hurt. Just try getting your food, walking away from the table, sitting down with some friends and making the event about relationships and good times without the food being the focus. After all, it’s usually the conversations that make a get-together memorable, not the food.

4. Allow yourself one small treat so you don’t feel deprived.. well, maybe.
If you’re someone who can eat just one cookie or one small handful of chips, this tip is for you. If you’re not, it’s not. Some people can eat a very good meal even in the face of great temptation if they know they will get to have a small treat afterwords. Small being the key word. While others, cannot have that treat without it sending them into a downward spiral. So basically you need to be honest with yourself. You know you best. For me, it just depends on the day and I have to be honest on that day about which category I fall into. Typically though, I steer clear of all goodies and bad foods and go with an extra portion of fruit salad. While fruit is allowed on a Paleo/Primal diet, I don’t eat very much, so this would be a treat for me. This decision can really make or break your success, so decide before the event what you’re going to do and ask someone to hold you accountable for it.

5. Offer to bring food to the event so you’ll at least know you have something to eat.
This is a fantastic way to prepare a delicious dish that everyone will love AND make sure you have a side to enjoy with the meat that’s served. When you tell everyone it’s healthy and that YOU made it, they just might stop looking at you funny for eating your hamburger without the bun. Well, maybe.
Here are some great sites  that I use for delicious, healthy recipes:
http://www.yourlighterside.com/

http://fastpaleo.com/
http://www.civilizedcavemancooking.com/
Don’t be put off by the fact that these are low-carb or Paleo/Primal recipes, that just means that they use real, whole ingredients instead of processed ones, i.e. they’re healthy for you. :-)
So there you go, have a great time at your next event and approach it with confidence that you can not only survive but thrive with these tried and true tips. I would love to hear your strategies, and don’t forget to tell me in the comments below or on facebook how it went!



A Strong-end or a Weak-end?

So, hypothetical scenario here..
Monday rolls around and you’re ready for it. You’ve done your meal prep for the week, lined out your workouts and workout days, refilled your five gallon jug of water… man, you are READY!!
Skip forward to Friday.. you’re on a serious “healthy lifestyle high,” in fact you’re glowing and people are asking you if you got a raise or if you’re in love, WOW, you feel great! Not only did you get in all your workouts and all your water, but you successfully avoided Mary’s  3 dozen donuts “gift” to the office and politely turned down your brother’s insistence about ‘just trying’ some birthday cake and ice cream AND…drum roll… you dropped 2 pounds.
Can life get any better? I mean, can it?!?
Woo hoo! Cart wheels! High fives!

Then 5 o clock happens and it is officially the weakend!!
Oops, typo. That should’ve read ‘weekend,’ right?
It’s the end of the week, work is over, it’s time to play, its the WEEKEND!!
But so often and for so many of us it becomes a ‘weak end’ to an otherwise strong week, right?!
So, what happens?
What it is about letting our hair down and loosening the tie at work that also seems to carry over to our healthy habits.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Time off work does not constitute time off from a healthy lifestyle, or at least it shouldn’t. Either you believe the way you’re eating and taking care of yourself is healthy (good for you) and long term or you don’t, and your actions will prove it. I know, because I used to do this..uh, A LOT.
Up and down, up and down, tightening up, loosening up, back and forth…

Imagine telling your Dentist that you only brush your teeth Monday through Friday and the weekends.. you just, you know, kinda play it by ear, if it happens, it happens but you don’t want to over do it, because that’s like, fanatical to do it everyday.

What nonsense. We don’t take 2 days off from this healthy habit, so why should we do it with our eating and exercise?
Now, I’m not talking about scheduled carb loading or having one ‘off plan’ item or meal, I’m talking about figuratively letting your hair down and throwing out what you know to be healthy.. for a few days in the pit. And it is a pit that has to be crawled out of, right?

So, here’s some things to think about that may help with this vicious and self-sabotaging cycle.
1. Lose the “I deserve it” mentality.. well, kinda. You’re right, you’ve done really well all week and you deserve… something, but eating a bunch of junk is NOT a reward and can often set you further back then where you started from. I’m not sure when along the line we started to ‘reward’ ourselves with bad stuff but seriously, that’s like a child winning a track race and you say, “Awesome, way to go, you’re the best.. here, sit down and start eating this 5 pound bag of sugar, you deserve it sweetie!!” Ridiculous? Uh, yeah! Yet, I used to dip my foot (and sometimes my whole leg) back into the sugar laden junk on the weekends, all the time. You’re right, you deserve a pat on the back, you have taken steps to improve your life and get your health back on track, it’s very tough to do, so reward yourself with a verbal, “Good job!” “Way to go!” (I do it all the time), and stay the course. Be kind to yourself, reward yourself by staying on track.

2.  Is this a diet or a new you? A diet is something you go on and off, right? I tried nearly every diet out there, I went on them and theeeeen I went off them. But when you decide to clean up your eating habits, get rid of the processed junk and start getting some exercise on a consistent basis, that’s a life style change, it’s not something you go off of, this is a new you. Do you cease being you on the weekends? Of course not. This is who you are now, you are healthy, strong, and focused, you don’t want to take a break from that.

3. The best way to never have to deal with the dreaded Monday “regrets and hangovers” is to not fall off the wagon on the weekend. That was crazy, overly simplistic, wasn’t it… I’ve never had a ‘real’ hangover, heck, I’ve never had a drink, but I could write a book about food hangovers, I’ve had enough of them for all of us. Again, you’re eating really well, and suddenly the temptation is greater than your resistance and BAM! You’ve eaten something you shouldn’t have. It was all fun and games for the 4 seconds it took you to eat it then… THEN, maybe moments later, maybe a day later, it hits you. And you get to walk around for a good day or two trying to rid your body of that substance that you don’t normally eat or drink. It stinks. Plain and simple. Your head hurts, you may be lightheaded/dizzy, feel nauseous, sleepy, etc.. Yuk.
So, how can we avoid it? Uh.. don’t eat a bunch of junk that’s not part of your eating plan.  I haven’t done this in many months, and guess what? No Monday morning regrets and/or hangover. Wow, what a concept.
(And yeah… it’s going to happen sometimes, and when it does, the important thing is get right back on and get moving in the right direction again.)

4. Failing to plan.  We’ve all heard the saying “Failing to plan is just planning to fail” and yet we do it all the time. We all KNOW that fresh food and produce doesn’t last as long as processed junk but we still try to make it 7 days without going back to the grocery store. Try planning on going every Sunday and Wednesday or whatever days work for you. Plan to have two days out of the week where you do meal prep. Just plan for it. Put it in your schedule. If you go into the weekend and you have none of your healthy foods prepped and ready to go you’re just planning to fail (fall off the wagon). Also, plan when you’re going to get some exercise in. Unless the weekend is your scheduled rest days, they should not be taken off from exercise. Plan a hike, or swim some laps, but plan something to keep you focused on staying fit.

5. Lastly, if your eating plan is so strict it has you pining for the weekend to get some relief, you might want to take another look at it. I try a lot of things in my diet, taking stuff out, adding stuff in, constantly changing things up. But one thing I won’t do is make changes that I can’t live with forever. I’m not into quick fixes and temporary weight loss ideas, I want to eat in a healthy way that’s sustainable for me. When I was pondering the decision in February 2011 to take out grain and dairy, I thought about it long and hard, weighing pros and cons. I decided to ‘try’ it, and haven’t looked back, I love it. And I can eat this way for life. Finding a plan that is healthy and works for you won’t feel like a diet and will likely eliminate the ‘need’ to cheat, so do some research to find a good healthy fit for you.

And here’s my bottom line.
What do you really want?
No seriously. Stop for a minute and answer that question, just so you and your body are on the same page.
Do you want to be healthy and fit or do you want to eat a bunch of food that you know is unhealthy and will leave you feeling miserable and a few pounds heavier? It’s that simple really. Once you get this clear in your heart and mind, it will remove a lot of the questions of should I or shouldn’t I?
Here is one of my favorite quotes:
“Decide what you want, decide what you’re willing to give up for it, establish your priorities and go to work” -Hunt
I hope you have a great weekend, or should I say, I hope you have a strong-end to a great week.