Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Marriage Tip | Never Stop Dating

Last weekend I attended the Florida District Ladies Conference, and Connie Bernard spoke on Living with Intention. One of her points was to live with intention with your husband. I was encouraged that many of the things that the Lord laid on her heart to tell us were things that He has already been working on me.

If someone would have told me that I would write a blog post about marriage during our early years, I would have told them they were funny. After almost 20 years of married life, we can honestly say that we have learned more than we ever thought we knew. When two people who are as completely opposite as my husband and I are, we were bound to need some shaving and sanding to fit these two puzzle pieces together. Allan is the happy-go-lucky, never-met-a-stranger, so-loud-he-should-have-been-Italian sort of guy, while I have been more reserved, rule-following, melancholy, slow, quiet type. The stereotypical thought that women have to speak a bazillion words per day and men only speak 10 does not fit our husband and wife dynamic. Allan is the talker. I am the thinker. If we were one person, we might be brilliant J… or very dangerous, haha. We had our first child within the first year of marriage, so the days of just the two of us were few. We loved every second (well, maybe not EVERY second) of our three children being young. Life was busy, and because I was a full-time mom, we worked hard to stretch our funds. The kiddos had us going all the time, and we seldom stopped to just be a couple together.

Even though I had read several times how important it was for couples with small children to make time for one another, we were really bad about it. There were several years that the only time we went out was on our anniversary. Because it was so infrequent, I fretted the entire time. “How do you think the kids are?” “Do you think they are behaving?” or even, “My goodness, we really cannot afford to go out AND pay a sitter.” and "What was your name again?" 

Under normal circumstances, we did life like every other family, rolling with the punches while bobbing just above the surface. However, when life circumstances got heated, as they always do, we found ourselves coming apart at the seams. That “three stranded cord” [And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecc 4:12] can become frail when we become separated and entangled in the cares of life. The three strand cord can be seen as the husband, wife, and God, who binds them together. Whether the spouse is a believer or not, there is still room for this principle to be applied by the believer, and it is quite powerful.

During a particularly challenging time, when the economy fell apart and our livelihood was at stake, we needed something to keep us anchored. Though our finances did not make it easy, we started making Friday night our date night (with flexibility for schedules). No matter how difficult the week had been, that was a time that we could personally connect again, and rediscover what it was like to date again. We didn’t have to dress up (all the time), nor did we have to go to the fanciest place in town. There were several times that I found a great Groupon for an activity or dinner. Sometimes we just enjoyed an endless bowl of chips and pico de gallo (my personal favorite splurge on cheat night).

If the frugal side of me got caught up on the expense of date night, I would talk myself out of it. What I have discovered is, this weekly investment of alone time together has been worth its weight in gold. If I could have told my younger self anything, I would have said to keep these things a priority:

  1. Honor your relationship with God; be in prayer, praise, and doing His work continually.
  2. Honor your relationship with your husband, and never stop dating.
  3. Honor your health, because you are a vessel that the Holy Spirit dwells in, and the lifelong helpmeet to your husband.
  4. Honor your children by teaching them how to do these things.
I have found myself leaving this reminder to engaged friends, and really hoping to instill this in my kids. The best thing I can do for them is to show them that their parents really do love one another.

Date night (or morning) does not have to be out to eat. A walk in the park, feed the ducks, explore a trail, or visit a museum. Walk the downtown area, grab a cup of coffee at a little coffee shop. Check for outdoor concerts like Symphony Under the Stars, or take a fishing pole down to the lake. Keep it simple, and every once in a while plan something very special.

The point is to really enjoy one another. Take pictures, hold hands, laugh, and get to know one another again, especially if it has been some time since you had time together without wiping peanut butter off of someone while playing referee between rowdy kiddos.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Feed Your Life!

Hey, there is arugula hiding in my eggs!
I am a foodie. There is no hiding it. My step-mother, Suzi, tells me that as a kid, when we were eating breakfast, I would ask what we were having for dinner. I love the nurturing feeling that comes from food that comforts, and the crisp texture of fresh foods. I cannot tell you the number of meals that I have enjoyed at the hands of those who love me, and as such, I absorbed that love through every forkful.

As an adult, I became the food nurturer; loving those around me with food that would express the deep love that I have for them. It was the one, personal gift that I could offer to them. So when I determined that my weight was not going to improve with the way I was eating, I really had to change my motto from “I live to eat” to “I eat to live.”

Changing the mindset of eating is not always easy. Behavioral change is just as difficult. I have found that when the evidence is clear, and reason is identified, making adjustments in habits become a little easier. After spending the better part of 15-18 years fatigued, uncomfortable, irritable, and quite honestly, depressed, all of my personal research pointed to the incredibly nutrient poor diet that I was ingesting. I survived on a large portion of carbohydrates, with a small helping of vegetables and a dollop of protein. What I thought was the thrifty way of eating, cost me more in valuable years than it would have ever saved me in money.
There was an interesting cascade effect that began when I first started incorporating more vegetables and healthy proteins in my diet.
  • First, I made a healthy meal choice.
  • Then, my mind recognized that a good choice was made, and the happy “reward” hormone said “atta girl!” in my head.
  • This sweet little happy hormone encouraged me to make more and more good choices, and even gave me the nudge to get active.
  • The activity, of course, rallied in weight loss, as well as the occasional ravenous hunger spells from the calorie deficit.
  • Remembering that happy feeling when good food choices were made, it kept me from digging into the former food habits.
All of these things help in the course of sustainable weight loss and increased health.

But be aware: If an indulgence creeps in, these things all work in reverse! Unless you quickly jump back on the program and keep trucking forward.  I say this not to be a downer, but to remind us that we will have times that we allow ourselves the occasional splurge, and when that happens, we can take control of the situation and resume the path that we are headed on.
As I transitioned into a healthier eating pattern, my mission was to eat no less than 5 servings of vegetables and fruit (combined) per day.  If I had a day that I was more hungry than normal, I tried to train my brain to think of a veg or fruit that I could eat, rather than the normal filler foods like crackers, chips, etc.
One thing that I am super thankful for during the last 3 years is that I have not been ill, even once. Not a cold, flu or anything (thank you, Lord). There have been a couple of times that it felt like something was trying to set in and I would quickly make a batch of Ginger Tea (hot water, 1 inch hunk of ginger, wedge of lemon & a tsp of honey), and whatever it was would leave.  This is truly evidence that nutrition will assist the body in promoting wellness. When our cells are given the proper macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, the chemical reactions within the body work in proper fashion, building new cells, tissues and fighting off invaders as well as getting rid of dead or bad cells. All of these things take place without any acknowledgement on our part; the nutrients from food simply do their job.
So, no longer is there a huge desire to consume food based simply on taste. Food serves a function, fueling the body, so that life is so much richer. Physical, mental and emotional health improves by eating whole foods.
If your food comes from the Earth or ate from the earth, eat it. If it has undergone any form of processing besides washing, freezing, grinding or drying, you will do yourself a favor by limiting them to only about 1/5 of your total food consumption or less. Each step of processing removes another layer of nutrients, which your body desperately needs to stay in tip-top, disease-fighting state.

The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest, by Dan Buettner is a fascinating book that details the 9 common factors among the population of individuals who live to see 100 years of age. While that may seem like a lofty goal, these individuals seem to do it effortlessly with simple rules for life. I had the privilege to hear Dan Buettner speak at the 2013 Florida Dietetic Symposium and his research bolstered my insistence on making nutrition a priority.

Eat fresh foods. Often. Don’t get discouraged if you try something for the first time and do not like it. Our palettes need the need the opportunity to acquire a new taste. The first time that I ate arugula I thought it was too pungent. It took about 3 times of trying it with different dishes before I finally decided that I LOVE it. Especially with balsamic vinegar!

Challenge yourself the next time you go to the grocery or the market, to buy something that you have never eaten before and keep an open mind to it. Look up the nutrients of that food, and remind yourself that you are FEEDING YOUR LIFE!



Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Princess Half Marathon 2014 | Getting There

*Let me preface this post with a link to My Journey. I was not born a runner, nor have I ever had any significant athletic tendencies until 2011.  If you think that you could never reach an accomplishment like a half marathon, think again.

If I could sum up the process of training for my first half marathon in one word, it would have to be courage. Too often, I relate better to the cowardly lion than the lion-hearted. Big goals scare me speechless. I fear the long process, the unknown, and I fear failing. In the end, I know that there will not be anyone more disappointed in me, than me, if I fall short of the goal. And that is the major miracle and milestone that occurred in February of this year (2014). Not simply that I ran 13.1 miles for the first time in a race, but that somehow the courage to take on the task and be faithful to the training, so that I could meet the goal. There was a specific reason that I chose the Princess Half Marathon as my first, which goes beyond the fact that it was a fun Disney race. As a Daughter of the King (which makes me a Princess), recognizing just how much of a privilege and a blessing it is to have His strength offered to me as His child was/is part of my growing process. Though I am not “young” in the Lord, there are things that I learn every day that gives me a greater understanding of what He desires to do in my life. Running the Princess was an exercise in deepening my dependence on Him to lengthen my endurance.

This was not a decision made on a whim. The Princess had been calling my name for over 2 years, but I was shy and afraid. It seemed like that was only something that elite athletes would do, not a less-than-three-year-runner would take on.  My dear friend Angel had been encouraging me to jump in, but I was not nearly on her level of fitness and felt like, “sure, you think it’s easy… but not for me!” Because she has been my faithful fitness streak partner for almost 2 years, she said if I signed up, she would be right there with me. As an added bonus, my friend-that-is-more-like-a-little-sister, Dara, who had also taken up running signed up too! I knew it would be a big weekend, and having companions would make it even bigger!

At the time of registration, in the summer of 2013, the farthest that I had ever run was 7 or 8 miles. My sister, Kim, kept telling me that if I could go that far, surely I could make 13.1. I still was not so sure. I kept up my weekly maintenance runs of 3-5 miles a couple times per week and did a “long run” of 6-8 miles at least 2 times per month. My long runs were maintenance runs for real distance runners, or so I thought. On October 29th, I started the suggested Jeff Galloway training plan that was offered on the Princess website. I loved the fact that it would download into my calendar on my phone so I always knew what my scheduled runs were.

By this point in my running, I was not using any interval training apps, simply MapMyFitness/ MapMyRun. For a very long time, I depended on an app to tell me when to run and when to walk, because it gave me something to shoot for. If I left it up to myself to create intervals, I would probably not push myself as far as I could go. I felt like a big girl now, just hit the start button and go! There were occasions when I would walk a few paces during a drink break or at a turnaround point, but I for the most part it worked better for me if I kept the momentum going. Not everyone is the same, and many have found great success with Jeff Galloway’s walk/run interval method. You have to go with what works for you.

During the Fall of 2013, while I was training, I was also taking a full load of classes and maintaining a crazy schedule with my kids. Lots of taxi time and even more time in the books. Running first thing in the morning seemed to set the day in order and gave me that great feeling of accomplishing a small goal at each run. I normally run with one earbud in (for safety), and listen to music or podcasts, but so many times I tuned out the music and worked on sorting out an issue at hand… exactly how many amino acids are there?... what are the names of the B Vitamins?... How is Hannah going to get to class tonight when Trent has practice?...Will Trevor be at work or school tomorrow?

At the beginning of 2013, the main physical goal I had set for myself was to hit 13.1 in ’13. Even though the training plan did not suggest for me to run 13.1 yet, when I set out for the long run on December 28th, I ran my first 13.1. It was pure adrenaline! Up until this point, I had only done 10 miles. As soon as I turned off my app, my husband called to find out where I was (I had taken longer than the 11.5 miles that I originally told him I would run). He had planted a water bottle at a specific location for me earlier, and when I called, I asked him if he would start an Epsom salt bath for me. To my surprise, he said it was already done. When I got home, my daughter had a smoothie ready for me and he had some eggs and veggies waiting. I was so moved by their support of this goal that meant so much to me, and I was only still in training!

January and February in Florida can be pretty chilly (I know, nothing like up north…), so making myself get out there in the cold mornings was sometimes a struggle. I did fairly well keeping to the training schedule, because I did not want to get to the race and fail.

The last 2 long runs did not go quite as planned. The time needed for the long run was sometimes difficult during these mornings when the sun did not come out until after 7am. Saturdays were frequently filled with one activity or another, and we have church on Sunday. In order to get my miles in before the sun arose (since I did not have a running partner) my dear husband followed me in the vehicle, shining the headlights on the sidewalk and keeping me safe. At one point, he rode a little ahead of me. A shadow fell on the sidewalk ahead of me and I could not see the uneven pavement and I fell hard. I was carrying a hand-held water bottle, which I landed on, and it exploded all over me (yes, you can laugh… I did). I was soaked, scraped, and a little shaken, at only the 3rd mile of a 12 mile run. My husband jumped out of the car and made sure I was ok. There was a time in my life when I would have gotten in the car and said forget it… Instead, I gave him my wet jacket, had him refill my water bottle, and proceeded on. I think he was really concerned for me, because he followed me for a while, even after the sun was up.

The very last long run was supposed to be 14 miles. It looked like it might rain, but I had no other time to fit it in so I headed out anyway, telling myself that I needed to be prepared in case it rained the day of the race. The first 5 miles were fine. Then the mist began….It was fine until about mile 8, and by mile 10 it was pouring. I huddled under a tree, hoping for it to pass. My hubby called and asked if I needed a pick up (how does he know the perfect time to call?). I finally conceded and he agreed to come and rescue me. Up until this point I was faithful to the plan. I believed in the plan, and I trusted that it prepared me for the race. I will say, I knew that I would not be a record setting runner. My average run pace for a long run was in the upper 10 min/mile or 11 min/mile range. I was perfectly fine with that pace. All that mattered to me was to finish strong. The fact that I had the courage to see it through the training plan was a major accomplishment for me.
In the next post, I will share with you the fantastic experience of the Princess Half Marathon weekend.

*Disclaimer: Please consult a physician before beginning any exercise plan. This is written as encouragement.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Frozen Bananas | Faux Real Frosty

When I first began to eliminate sugar/artificial sweeteners from my diet, the transition was a little
challenging. First there are the cravings. Then there is the struggle with trying to find foods without sugar. And then there are more cravings. Frozen bananas were a mainstay in those initial days. For years, we have always thrown the over-ripe bananas in the freezer to make banana bread, but since I was not doing that regularly, they quickly became a constant ingredient in my green smoothies.
There is no need for any mad kitchen skills when it comes to storing overripe bananas in the freezer. If I am too lazy to peel them, I throw them in whole and when I want to use them I let them sit on the counter for 3-5 min to soften, then cut off the skins with a paring knife. The handy way to do it is to simply peel the bananas and put them in a freezer bag and pop them in the freezer. Try not to pack your bag too tight so the bananas do not mush together. When they are frozen, you can shift them around in the bag to loosen them and take them out as you need.
I'd love to tell you that I have this great long list of green smoothie recipes, however, it simply isn't so. Most of the time, whatever is in the fridge gets added. If it is strawberry season, those get added, if it is melon season, then I go that direction. I try not to get too stuck on any one variety because I shop according to what is in season at the time. Oh, and price... that is a huge factor. In any case, I always add a handful of kale or spinach (yes, it turns green, but no, you cannot taste it). The micronutrients are so good for you, and it is one way to get in a veggie serving without really trying.
For those nights when only the creamy texture of a soft-serve ice cream will do, this yummy treat can save the day! Faux REAL! You will be so amazed that you will kiss Wendy's good-bye forever...
Keep an eye out at the grocers or at the market for discounted bananas that are overripe. When I see them at Winn Dixie, I buy whatever I can because they will last a good 6 months or more.
Leftover fruit from a fruit tray, or overripe fruit make great items to freeze for later. Once they are frozen they can be added to smoothies or oatmeal for a naturally sweet treat. Don't be surprised if you find yourself nom-nomming on the frozen bananas straight out of the bag... super yum!

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Journey to Better Health!

If reading real life experiences help you, then this is for you... Three vital points to my journey can be found in the previous posts regarding the Spiritual, Emotional and Physical aspects of health and weight loss. There is an abundance of information here!
Good, healthy food was never a foreign substance for me.  I believe my mother was the seed of the original health nut. I remember some of my youngest years being part of a mostly vegetarian household.  There wasn’t a plant product that I was foreign to me. So how did I allow myself to rollercoaster through every weight on the scale between 138 and 220? Quite simply: lack of focus and discipline.
There have been seasons when I held fast to a diet and other seasons when I have banished the scale like somehow IT was the problem. I always cooked with elements of the healthy background from which I came; I also allowed too much of the unhealthy non-food in as well. Sometimes I would say, “Oh, you only live once.” Other times I would say, “It is cheaper to buy the boxed stuff.” I could look around at all of the other people, eating what they want and staying slim, and being completely oblivious to their inner health and think, “There must be something wrong with ME.” 
Now I see things completely different. The fact that my body showed the weight that I gained as a result of eating poorly was actually a GIFT! How many times have we come across someone who we think is getting away with something that is really not good for them (physically, mentally, emotionally), only to find out that their misdeeds catch up with them all at once, with vengeance?  That is exactly what happens inside our bodies when we neglect to nourish ourselves as we were intended. Some of us can get away with eating junk for years with no external signs of trauma, but then suddenly, with very little or no warning, a diagnosis of a preventable illness or disease! The fact that my body was my “tattle-tale” helped me to see that what I was doing was poisoning instead of strengthening this vessel that I’ve been given.
My eye-opening, about-face, get-serious-about-being-a-healthy-adult moment came in May of 2011. I was too embarrassed to step on the scale and admit how far out of control that I allowed myself to get. My best guess is that I was about 195 lbs. I was talking to my sister, who is a physician, and a healthy lady herself, about what in the world could be hindering my weight loss. I was praying that there may be a safe pill or a wave of a magical wand that could solve my problems. Without specifically saying it, she helped me see that there were 2 things hindering me: my fork and my couch.  She suggested that I check out I dug in and read all kinds of articles. I set up a profile and began tracking every morsel that went into my body.
The first realization was that I was consuming way too much of the wrong kinds of foods, and my activity level left too many calories at the end of the day that had not been burned.
I reduced my allowable carbs and increased my proteins primarily because I understand enough about my body to know that the carbs stick with me too long and the proteins help me stay full when I reduce the carbs. Something that I always kept in mind though is that vegetables and fruits have carbs, but I treated those carbs different than I treated grain and potato carbs. I ignored the carbs from veggies and fruits in effort to persuade myself to eat at least 5 of them a day. I never wanted the fear of their carbs to prevent me from eating those fresh foods. Another trick that I implemented was one that my grandmother (who was a little bitty lady) used with great success. On Friday nights, I would allow myself to eat anything that I wanted, without any guilt. A strange thing happened though. While I would indulge in chips and salsa, I no long desired the fatty, fried, super sweet stuff that I was once drawn to.
Making this simple change created some momentum in the weight loss area. I began implementing some exercise in here and there and reading about how some people who were never runners were able to successfully begin a Couch to 5k program. Me? A runner? Never! I was the girl in school who always went to the nurse’s office if we had to run mile in gym! But something bit me…I suddenly wanted to conquer this! Perhaps it was the encouragement of a bit of weight loss, or maybe seeing others who were older than me, and perhaps even heavier than me do this without backing down.  So in June of 2011, I downloaded the Couch 2 5k app on my iPhone and set out to “run” my first workout.  I think I prayed the entire running portion that I would not die on the pavement and some stranger would have to call my family and tell them. I imagined the look on my children’s faces when they heard the news that their mother croaked on the last leg of a 30 second run interval. Then to my surprise, the workout was done and I in fact had completed the first day of the program.
The weirdest thing happened.
I came home and wanted to do the 2nd day right then. OMYGOODNESS. My 7th grade gym teacher would be so proud!  For the next few weeks I stuck to the schedule and progressed through the program to run (without stopping!) a full 5k on September 4, 2011 (happy early birthday to me!). Running gave me the biggest bang for the smallest time investment. At this point, I was happy to see my scale hit around 168 lbs. That means, in 4 months I had shed almost 30 lbs, fair and square. No pills, not gimmicks, just breaking the magnetic pull from the couch and changing my food choices a bit. Next goal was to conquer the 10k, which was met by January 1st, 2012.
Somewhere in this time I discovered the SparkStreak theory: choose a new habit that you would like to begin and each day in a row you do it counts towards your streak. If you skip a day you begin at 1 again. So I began my first fitness streak in August of 2011. My first streak was 120 days in a row. It was so exciting to keep it going. My friend Shaneka was my buddy and we cheered each other on. My next streak lasted over 100 days. And currently, my friend Angel and I have a 728 day fitness streak going. The best part of the streak is that it is motivating to others as well! That is the whole idea: to SPARK someone into changing their life too!
All of this created a newfound confidence. I had been feeling the nudging to go back to school, but never felt that I could muster the energy required to maintain a household of 3 teenagers, a struggling business and college. Even so, in October of 2011, I jumped in with both feet.  Success with maintaining discipline in body trickled over to success in maintaining discipline in the mind. In the spring, my biology professor (who held a bachelor’s in nutrition, among other things) helped me put together some missing pieces in my weight gain/loss mystery. He went into great detail of the impact of sugar and manufactured products on the cells in our body. He challenged the class with a 30 day sugar/artificial sweetener fast. He promised that there would be weight loss and a reduced bloating, along with increased energy. He explained that there are so many toxins in the manufactured foods which actually CREATE food cravings. It is like how tobacco companies manipulate the nicotine in cigarettes to ensure future customers.  I took the challenge, and saw great success! Within the first month I lost approximately 10 lbs and saw a difference in my waistline. Additionally, food tasted so much better and I no longer craved the treats that I had been allowing myself sparingly.
This set me in the direction to visit the idea of a lifelong love of food and nutrition. Instantly, I knew the direction I should go with my education and I began to turn my attention to the field of dietetics. It was like I had been reunited with an old friend.  The more I refreshed myself with the healthful attributes of God-given foods, the more I began to remove processed foods out of my diet, and saw even more weight come off without much effort.
Consciously adding natural foods into our diet does so much more for the body than just the circumference of our waistline. It is the most effective way to build our innate ability to fight off sickness and disease. A strong immune system is to the body as the Coast Guard is to our shores. Invaders may attempt to invade, but when we build the cellular response to attack the foreigners, the result is as we were divinely designed.
Today, my weight rests somewhere in the upper 130’s. My body is stronger from the inside out than it was 36 months ago. More than anything, my spirit, my body and my mind all come together in a balance of a disciplined lifestyle that can better reflect the life that the Lord desires for me to live.
The key components of my current lifestyle are comprised of:
·        Morning quiet time praying and reading The Word each day. A life built on Jesus is the core of a balanced life.
·        Drink my first glass of water for the day while my coffee is perking and eat something small shortly after awakening (whole wheat toast with natural peanut butter most days)
·        At least 10 minutes of exercise each day (sometimes it is an hour run, sometimes it is 10 min of yoga/stretching)
·        ALWAYS eat at least 5 vegetables/fruits each day (less hungry when these are eaten)
·        5-6 mini meals or 3 moderate meals w/2 snacks
·        Have a protein source at each meal/snack. Chicken, turkey, lean pork or red meat, tuna, nuts, beans, tofu, cheese (small amount), Greek yogurt.
·        Drink at least 3 liters of water per day
·        If sweetener is needed, honey, or pure stevia or raw sugar. This is used very sparingly as it creates cravings. Zero white sugar, zero sugar substitutes.
·        Choose whole grain, brown rice, quinoa, and whole oats. Zero white flour.
·        Read labels, and choose items that have food closest to its original form. Frozen vegetables are a more stable form than canned. Look for items with no additives, starches or syrups. Check things that you would not suspect. Dry roasted peanuts can contain sugar and starch. Canned beans sometimes are packed in corn syrup.
·       Stick to “Clean Eating” methods of food choices and preparation
This story is mine, but it is not anything that anyone else could not experience with a hearty portion of stick-to-it-tiveness... I hope this helps you find it! You can do it!

*Disclaimer: Please consult your physician before beginning any weight loss or exercise regimen. This information is offered as suggestions and encouragement.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Physical Side of Weight Loss

Part III of III

Those of us that seek to lose weight come at it from varying perspectives. Some have struggled with weight for as long as they can remember, while others have noticed their weight creep up in their middle years, or after a major life change, or even a health emergency. We also approach a new healthy lifestyle with many different experiences in activity and exercise. This makes everyone’s starting line a little different.

Let’s pretend that each and every one of us have begun at square 1, no prior physical activity experience, and hate to sweat. This is a very real position for many! This is not a judgment, this is a recognition. But our bodies were made for activity. Centurions (those who live to 100) have been studied to find their secret, and regular activity/exercise is a common thread that ties them together. We were created with the ability to tend to crops, care for children, and draw water from the stream. Today, we get our food from the grocer (in the air condition), the kids are in school and our water is pumped into our homes. Believe me, I love technology and the modern day conveniences, however, we cannot neglect the body’s need for movement.

I have to tell you something, but you need to promise that you will not stop reading once you see it.
Are you ready? Ok, here it is.
Exercise is HARD.
Especially in the beginning.
Especially if you don’t like to sweat.
Especially if you do not have much coordination
(I fall into this category, no pun intended).

It is hard mentally. It is hard emotionally. It is hard physically. The path of least resistance is not your freeway to success. It is the off-ramp to health misfortune. You have to prepare yourself for the battle that will go on in your mind and your body once you make up your mind to get healthy and lose weight. You have to remind yourself that you are making deposits in YOUR LONGEVITY ACCOUNT! Think about a year from now, 5 years, 10 years. If the Lord tarries, what sort of milestones will you pass? Will you be married? Will you start a family? Will your children be school-age? Will your nest be empty? Do you want to be an active participant in your life, or a spectator? This thought should stay with you, always. It is worth all of the “hard” that you will face. And one day, it will not be so hard. You will be thankful that you chose to kill the hill rather than go around it!
The best way to start from scratch is to lace up your athletic shoes and head out the door before your mind can talk you out of it. Set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes and walk. Every. Single. Day. For the first week.  If you have a smart phone, download an app like MapMyFitness, create a profile and track your activity. They offer challenges with a chance to win prizes as well! Each day, look at your pace and gauge how you feel after your walk. Try to do this as early as you can in the morning. This will get your happy endorphins going for the rest of the day, and you know that you have begun the day with a purposeful decision to get healthy. Not only that, but if the rest of your day gets carried away into the unknown, you have gotten it out of the way!

This is a great time to talk about the Fitness Streak that I mentioned in part II of this series. The idea of the Fitness Streak is from the free diet tracking website I used this site to get the mojo going in my efforts to be healthier and lose weight. The basic idea of the Fitness Streak is to commit to exercise no less than 10 minutes per day, starting at day 1. Each consecutive day that you exercise at least 10 minutes counts toward your streak. If you skip a day, you start back at day 1. You would not believe the fantastic incentive it offers once you have made it past 14 days, then a month, and then a year. Currently, I am on my 3rd Fitness Streak. During the first two, I made it well past 100 days, and the current Streak I am teamed up with a great partner, my friend Angel. We are on day 726 1111 today. We do not see each other daily, as we live in different cities, however, we post our daily activities on a Facebook group that helps to keep us accountable to one another. There have been some days when life is crazy and I realize after I have snuggled into bed that I forgot to put my 10 minutes of exercise in, and I will peel my sleepy self out of bed to do a 10 minute exercise video or yoga. My flesh hates it, but the next morning I am glad that my Streak is still intact! Having a partner who is depending on you to keep your joint Streak going is a really good incentive!
After the first week, increase your time by at least 5-10 minutes, 3-5 times per week, (continuing at least 10 minutes on the remaining days) until you are able to walk comfortably for at least 30-45 minutes. Research shows that during the first 15-20 minutes of exercise, we use stored glycogen (fuel), but after that we begin to tap into our fat reserves. Something else begins to happen as this daily habit develops; your muscles begin to develop strength and your stature is a little more upright. You may begin feeling winded quite quickly, but with time you can easily manage to even have a conversation during exercise.

This all may sound basic and elementary, but it is so important to speak right at the intimidation that we encounter when we begin this new active lifestyle. There may be times that you experience discomfort in limbs or areas of your body due to the new movement. Listen carefully to your body to determine if it is discomfort or pain. One may be from uncharacteristic use and the other may indicate an injury.

You may always enjoy walking, and that may be your primary form of exercise; keep in mind that strength training will help to maintain bone density and build muscle to support your frame. As you become stronger, consider using small weights for arm exercises, or use your own body weight as resistance as you do wall-pushes.
If you are anything like me, you may look for exercises that will have the largest amount of impact on your weight loss for the shortest amount of time invested. This, in fact, was the reason that I started running. Before you tune me out, listen; I, Tasha Brickhouse, was the girl in school who, when asked to complete the physical fitness test and run the mile quickly became ill and asked to go to the nurse. Every. Single. Time. Running ranked right up there with dissecting frogs in Biology. They both left me breathless and ready to hurl. For some reason, while I was on the website reading all of these middle-aged people beginning a Couch-2-5k program, I was like, “Game ON!” I had already been walking up to 3 miles regularly, so I didn’t exactly start on the couch, but, I had zero previous running experience. Somewhere in my determination to get healthy, I made up my mind that I would conquer this fear of running head on! And I did!

The first step was to download the Ease into 5K app. It started with a walking warm up, then a cycle of short run then walk intervals. The first day, I was exhilarated and exasperated. It was hard to breath, and I prayed for the prompt to walk at the end of every interval. The day that I ran 3 minutes straight, you would have thought that I completed the Boston Marathon, because to me, I was crashing down walls with every step. The app really made the transition to running my first 5K in November 2011 possible. I was not speedy, but I ran the entire race and it was such a personal milestone!

Running became an opportunity to learn more about endurance. It taught me how to breathe deeply and slowly through the tough spots (in life, as in running).  It has taught me that discipline trumps desire. It has shown me that I can be tougher than I thought I am, especially when I am strengthened with prayer. The repetitive motion of running brought order to my thoughts, established a designated quiet time when the Lord could help me work out a difficult situation. I listened to Podcasts, encouraging music, or sometimes just the breeze in the trees. I’ve seen more sunrises, watched the fog lift and seen the dew glisten on the trees. These simple things are missed so easily.
There are many other forms of exercise that are worth a try. One of my favorite is Barre. It is a combination of yoga, Pilates and ballet. The techniques are great for increasing balance, poise, and muscle tone.

I began using this YouTube video, and you can also go to the Barre3 website to sign up for an online membership that gives you access to a library of videos. Barre studios are cropping up all over the place, and some may enjoy a class setting. For my on-the-go schedule, it works better for me to do them at home.
We have a weight machine and resistance bands that I use for cross-training days. I mentioned yoga earlier, and I believe the techniques used in yoga exercise are very beneficial for the body. Personally, I do not participate in the spiritual aspects of some yoga practices, however, the act of breath control in exercise can eliminate toxins from the body, and offer needed relaxation and strengthening to our physique. Look on Google or Pinterest under Fitness Challenge to find many month long challenges.
Additionally, I ride my bike several times per month, between 10-15 miles each ride. This activity compliments running very well because it uses slightly different muscle groups that support the running activity. I highly recommend using a bicycle as a supplementary activity. In the beginning, it may be harder than you remembered as a kid! We don’t forget how to ride, but suddenly it isn’t as easy as it once was! Start small, and build up! You can track your ride on MapMyFitness as well.
Pick your pleasure. There is a great big world out there of options to begin your active lifestyle. The health benefits are vast, beginning with strengthening your heart, removing toxins from your body, improving digestion, increasing circulation to all of the limbs, and elevating mood by way of endorphins. All of these are in addition to building muscle and strengthening your bones.

Lots of love and sweat to you! xoxo
Tasha Brickhouse

*Disclaimer: Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise regimen. This information is offered as suggestions and encouragement.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Staying On Track While You Are On The Fly!

The alarm goes off before the sun, feet hit the floor and go until we collapse into bed at night. Many of our meals get eaten absentmindedly, while checking emails or behind the steering wheel. Guilty, guilty, guilty of this, almost on a daily basis. So how is a trying-to-stay-healthy-gal supposed to survive this may-I-take-your-order culture? Planning, re-routing and packing.
For years, the kids’ activities have kept us on the go. In effort to stay on budget, we have become accustomed to packing coolers for the day. Occasionally, we have to get things while we are out, so it is important to know what could be good options on the go. I will try to offer some options for you!

If I had only 10 minutes to go grab some food for the family, rather than drive-thru, think about what you can grab at the grocery store.

First, hit the produce section. Having a water bottle on hand can serve as an emergency produce wash.
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Precut pineapple and melons
  • Plums/nectarines/peaches
  • Berries
  • Washed and de-stemmed green beans or sugar snap peas
  • Carrots
  • Peppers (red, green, yellow, orange)
  • Celery
  • Pouchables (Pureed fruits and vegetables are a good option in a pinch, but are ingested quickly, and you may not realize you are full and continue to eat unnecessarily)

In the produce section, many carry mixed nuts in bulk containers. Look for ones that are not roasted in oil, sweetened or coated. For my family, I buy the big bags of roasted peanuts in the shell. Nuts in the shell are great for portion control, because the shells show you how many you are eating. Plus, you cannot just throw the nuts in your mouth by the handfuls!
Dried fruit and/or trail mixes are not likely to be your best choice unless you are very careful to select the type that has not been sweetened. Raisins are good, most dates are good, and apricots. Most other dried fruits are coated with dextrose or some other type of sugar. Trail mix was designed to offer a significant amount of energy for those back-packing/trail-trekking folks. If you are not doing that sort of activity, chances are you will just be storing all that extra energy, aka: putting on the pounds. Granola is the same sort of a beast. To make it tasty, it is sweetened with a variety of additives.

Ok, move on to the deli. There are some grab-and-go items in most deli sections such as:
  • Rotisserie chicken (high in sodium, but a decent option if you are on the go) If needed, see if the associate can cut up the chicken for you.
  • Hummus is great to dip the carrots, raw green beans, peppers and raw sugar snap peas.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Whole wheat pitas, mini or regular size to use for sandwiches or dippers
  • Natural peanut butter (Publix has fresh ground peanut butter in the deli section. To. Die. For.)

Now for the dairy section. I am VERY brand/ingredient selective in the dairy case. So many of the yogurts and cheeses have way too many additives in them, which work against your weight loss process. Many of them include starches and stabilizers to lengthen the shelf life.  
  • String cheese- Look for the ingredients to list milk, cultures, salt. Simple ingredients
  • Greek yogurt- I am going to camp here for a minute. Greek yogurt is a protein powerhouse, when it is the actual traditional Greek variety. This means that the yogurt has been strained to release additional whey liquid and the consistency of the yogurt is much thicker. This allows for a denser amount of protein per ounce. Read the ingredient label carefully. The best brands will only contain milk, live and active cultures (must say this or it does not contain the needed good bacteria). Many brands will add whey protein powder, potato starch, guar gum or other fillers.  Good brands are Fage, Chobani, and even the Winn Dixie brand is good. For weight loss, it is better to select the plain yogurt and add your own fruit, crushed pineapple, honey, or a tsp of Polaner (unsweetened) All-Fruit spread. Most fruit-flavored yogurts use high fructose corn syrup in addition to sugar. These will work against you in weight loss.
  • Cottage cheese- As stated above, several varieties contain unnecessary fillers. Daisy cottage cheese is a good, clean variety that you can trust.
Lastly, there are some select items in the isles of the store that are good choices:
  • Pickles (the dill variety)
  • Snyder’s pretzel sticks is one of the better brands, containing no high fructose corn syrup, however, they are made with enriched flour (not whole grain), and so these are on my “occasional” list.
  • Barbara's Bakery Fig Bars, Multigrain may not be sold in all stores, but you can find them here. Traditional fig bars consist of a large amount of high fructose corn syrup, but Barbara’s are sweetened with pineapple juice and are made of whole grains.
  • Popcorn kernels for homemade microwave popcorn. (1/4 cup of kernels in a brown paper bag, fold the top down 2 times. I use the popcorn button on my microwave and it comes out perfect every time. Pour the popcorn in a large bowl, spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray and dust with sea salt, cayenne pepper, garlic, or parmesan cheese). Allow it to cool completely and put it in an airtight container for on the go.
  • Unsweetened applesauce is good, but READ THE LABEL. Most of them are sweetened.
Keeping fresh foods ready to eat in BPA Free Plastic Containers help to make busy days easier.  Do you have any other great ideas that you use?

*This post contains affiliate links to products that I love!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Quick Start Healthy Challenge

You may be eager to jump into a healthier lifestyle, but you have no idea where to start. Or maybe you have been doing a pretty good job, but have hit a plateau and cannot get through. Save this picture to your phone lock screen and look at it from time to time throughout the day. You may even want to use your reminders to set specific times for snacks/mini meals and exercise. Often when we set out to eat better and be more active we can either: a) not be specific about goals that we want to reach, or, b) set goals that are far too high in the beginning.

We may have really big goals, like to lose 100+ lbs, but that is a long-term goal, and we need to master several small goals to get to the big ones. These 5 basic items are the framework for success. Along the way, you will learn more about the health benefits of different foods, and how to incorporate new activities.

Our bodies are made of up to 60% water. Adequate water intake ensures that all of our cells are properly hydrated, mucous membranes, and joints are lubricated, and carries oxygen to every area in the body. Water also helps to regulate the feeling of hunger. Many times when we think we are hungry, we are actually in need of water. Shoot for no less than 8 cups per day.

Moving away from the standard "3 squares per day," especially during weight loss, it is more effective to eat 5-6 mini meals, or 3 moderate meals and 2 snacks. This prevents your body from becoming too hungry between meals, and then overeating. Another thing this does is even out your blood sugar, and prevents the spike and plummet in insulin, which can leave you fatigued and hungry sooner.

Be sure to match a protein and a carbohydrate form at each "meal." This could be in several forms: carrots & hummus, eggs with spinach and sundried tomatoes, natural peanut butter and banana, cottage cheese and salsa. Notice, I do not have a huge emphasis on grain. Whole grains are great: brown rice, whole wheat, whole oats, quinoa. However, it is important to choose items that are not made with undesirable items such as sugar high fructose corn syrup, MSG and processed, bleached grains.  Being an avid label reader should be on your goal list. Do not rely on the manufacturers to serve you the most healthy options; they are partly to blame for our growing waistlines!

Hit at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits per day. Focus more on vegetables than fruit. They will contain a good amount of fiber, micronutrients and can fill you up very well. Fruit is not a no-no, however, the natural sugar in the fruit may cause you to crave sweet items in the beginning of your transition into healthy eating. Pay attention to your reactions and make adjustments as needed. When you feel hungry and frustrated (as you may experience) remind yourself that there is no limit to the amount of vegetables that you can eat. These can be roasted, steamed baked or raw. Challenge yourself to look for new veggies that you have never eaten before and get creative!

And lastly, get yourself moving at least 10 minutes per day. Put on your shoes and walk the block, look on YouTube for a 10 min workout video. Just 10 minute per day is a minimum, however, you will see more success when you reach toward 30-45 minutes per day. Start small, but be consistent. Begin a fitness streak (created by and ask a friend to join you! Each consecutive day that you exercise a minimum of 10 minutes, you add to your total. See if you can reach 14 days, then 30 days, and keep going! Your enthusiasm might just spark someone else to get fit!

Consistency is the key! If you ever drop the ball, pick it back up and carry on!

*Disclaimer: This information is offered as encouragement and should not be substituted as advice offered from trained medical providers.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Emotional Side of Health and Weight Loss

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Part II of III

The initial days and weeks of my health journey were filled with intention, motivation and even discouragement. Human nature fails at times, and it is vital to have an anchor on the goals to keep from drifting away during the first storm. Our emotions are all over the board, and the purpose will hold you firm. When your purpose is resting squarely on improving your health for longevity and vitality, you are focused on the right direction.

In an initial assessment, ask yourself an important question:

Do I have the ability to improve my health,
or do I feel like outside forces influence my ability to lose weight?

Of course, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus is in control when I ask Him to fulfill His will in my life, but we play a huge role in the success of our lives based on the choices that we make. This simple question identifies what is called your locus of control. It describes who we mentally put in the driver’s seat of our lives. Do we have excuses like, “I cannot afford to eat healthy,” “My work keeps me too busy to exercise,” or “My kids take all of my energy”? The daily excuses (though I say this with all the love in my soul) keeps us trapped in a “victim of my fat genes” mentality. Believe me, I wore them (in every size and color availableJ). I recognize that it is very inconvenient to work hard for weight loss to develop a healthy lifestyle, but so is the emotional toll that diabetes, cancer, and heart disease can take on you and your loved ones. You may hate me now for saying this, but on the other side of your success, you may love me. Even when we experience issues with our health, there are always actions that we can take that would be more positive or more negative to our condition. When we commit to take an active role in the outcome of our health and weight loss, we are positioned for a breakthrough.
When we are in pursuit of weight loss, it would be impossible to not give some attention to the scale. It is one of the ways that we benchmark our progress, however, it is not the only way. The numbers on the scale can serve as our momentary statistic to reflect the work you are investing in your health, BUT, it should not be used to discourage you on your journey.

Believe me, I fully understand the emotional trauma that the scale can bring. We can avoid mirrors, cut the tags out of our clothes, and blame the shrinking clothes on the drier, but the scale brings us face to face with the effort, or lack thereof in the area of nutrition and activity. During the years that I weighed the most, I avoided the scale like the plague. It was a reminder of all of the things that I was not doing to correct the problem and only brought about guilt and shame.

On the journey to greater health, my personal opinion of the scale is that it should be used as a method to learn more about your body. For myself, I check my weight at least 5 times per week. This has done several things for me: it allows me to recognize how my body will react to certain foods, levels of activity, and even check my monthly cycle; additionally, if I allow myself to have a cheat meal, or day, it becomes easier to jump back on the clean-eating wagon before the train leaves the station. In the beginning of weight loss, sometimes I got discouraged when I did not see the scale move as quickly as I thought it should, but I worked diligently to press out the negative emotions of discouragement and focus on the fact that I already lost ____ amount of weight since the beginning of my journey, and I was still a work in progress.

I want to talk about the emotional battle with food. From the moment that we are born, there is a deep seated pleasure that is gained surrounding our nourishment. As a baby, we were likely cuddled and cooed on as we filled our tummies. As we grew, we recognize that celebrations were surrounded with food and treats. Sometimes, well-meaning loved ones would reward us with food for getting good grades, or being good in the grocery store. Often, we become those well-meaning adults who listen to the begging of our children for the Little Debbie’s and the cycle continues. There is nothing inherently wrong with feasting for special occasions (the Bible refers to many such joyous occasions), however, the reason that they were so greatly enjoyed was because it was a special occurrence, and they were treasured as designated times to celebrate.

Today, if we are stressed, we reach for the chocolate. If we are sad, we reach for the potato chips. When we are happy, we indulge in extra desert. If we are sick, it could be hot cocoa and marshmallows. We have an indulgence for any emotion in the psyche. However, we can turn this emotional crutch into a positive experience when we begin to make choices that promote our healthy lifestyle. When we recognize that every forkful of whole foods is actually strengthening, and healing our body, an amazing thing happens in our minds. Eating beautifully colorful vegetables and fruits send a message to our brains that promote a message of wellness in our minds. If you think I am lying, ask anyone who commits to eating whole foods for more than 30 days and they will tell you, the mental feedback that they receive from their brain when they sit down to eat a healthy meal reinforces their good habits and encourages to maintain those healthy choices. After a certain point in time, when I have allowed myself to indulge in a cheat meal or dessert, I tend to be very selective. It has to really taste good, or it simply has no appeal to me. This has not always been the case. Before, I could not understand if someone said that a dessert was too sweet; I wondered if there was even such a thing! We can retrain our brains and our emotions to reflect a healthy relationship with food!

Milestones and goals are supremely important during the weight loss process. We can get bored, lose focus, and become discouraged so easily. Building new habits require daily effort and devotion. Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a huge advocate of the most positive incentive I have ever come across: the Spark Streak! In the beginning of my journey, I used the website Sparkpeople, where the Spark Streak comes from. In essence, you set a goal (like drink 8 glasses of water per day, or exercise at least 10 minutes per day) and each consecutive day that you meet your goal, you continue your streak. This physically builds a new habit, but it also develops a significant emotional boost when you are able to maintain this new habit. With every passing day that you are able to check off on your streak, you are casting off defeat, and claiming a brand new handful of triumph! There is an almost magical effect that occurs once you make it passed the first 2 weeks, and then a month, 6 months, a year. You become more willing to take on new challenges and start to understand that every journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. In fact, I will go into this more when I discuss the physical side of weight loss, but using some form of diet and fitness tracking (like myfitnesspal and mapmyfitness) will encourage you to reach monthly goals. Seeing the miles stack up and the days that you have met your calorie intake goal without splurging will prove to yourself that, yes indeed, you are capable of creating new habits.

One emotional aspect of weight loss is our personal self-image. We may look in the mirror and see one person, but the actual physical attributes we hold may be very different. As we lose weight and we begin to replace our wardrobe, we have to remind ourselves to select a different size. It may shock us as we try on new styles that we have never worn before. Becoming aware of the changes in our physique is an ongoing process, and just remember to love the skin you are in every single day. Be thankful for the working limbs, organs and tissues that house your soul and allow you to love your people daily. You may find that you have a kinder self-image, and that is a great thing!

Warning: once you begin setting and attaining new goals, expect a newfound boldness to success in other areas of life. For me, five months after I set out on my journey, I gained the courage to go back to school. At the time, I thought I was going back to finish my degree in business. Within the 2nd semester, I feel like God directed me to pursue a degree in nutrition and dietetics. This was in complete opposition of my former path, which meant I would have to spend almost 2 full years completing the science prerequisites for the program. Always being afraid of any form of science in school, I knew that it was a God thing, and somehow, coupled with the success that I gained in improving my health, He would see me through the process. Today, I have completed the perquisites, and have been accepted in the competitive distance Coordinated Program in Dietetics through Eastern Michigan University. I am telling you right here and now, there was a direct connection between the emotional strength gained on my journey and the path that I am beginning this fall in the program. This journey that began as a personal one has now become a passion to assist others in rebuilding their health.

If this has encouraged you, leave me a comment! I would love to hear from you!

Tasha Brickhouse

 *Disclaimer: This information is offered as encouragement and should not be substituted from advice offered from trained medical providers.