Thursday, April 24, 2014

Counting Calories (My New Hobby)

Today is Day 2 of tracking my food choices, calories, nutrition, and exercise on My Fitness Pal. I made some data entry errors yesterday, so while I thought I had ended the day 3 calories UNDER my goal of 1200, I had actually consumed 300 calories OVER my limit. Yeah. That's right. Apparently I entered several of my food selections onto different days by accident. I never claimed to be an expert at this.

Today I tried to do a better job. Although not quite perfect yet, I'm trying to come a little closer each day to recording exactly what I consume. Every morsel. What this meant was that after lunch, I was already over 900 calories for the day. And I still had dinner and a snack to add to the mix. At least I hoped I was getting a snack!

Then I added in my exercise for the day. It wasn't much, in terms of calories expended, but I did teach one class, which included about 30 minutes of Zumba-style dance aerobics. That was good for 249 calories. (There was no Pilates or yoga in the system, so I gave myself zero calories burned for those activities. Not sure if they aren't in there because they burn so few calories???) Plus I calculated in our two walks in the park with the dog, at a moderate pace of about 3 miles per hour. So I ended up with a total of 482 calories burned. My Fitness Pal, who was now beginning to seem more like a real friend, allowed me to EAT these extra calories I burned. YAY! Which meant that after my dinner, I still had 182 calories remaining for an evening snack. Thank God. Because I am quite addicted to my pistachios on the couch with my TV shows.

When all is said and done, the ugly truth seems to be that I need A LOT less calories than I'd like to believe. And if this little free app can convince me of this fact, then I think it might be possible for me to lose some weight. I'll keep you updated on my progress. Who knows? I might even get back on the scale...but only if I'm absolutely positive that the number I see will not devastate my fragile psyche. Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Fitness Pal (A Free App)

How did I hear about My Fitness Pal? I asked my daughter for a recommendation, of course. I know there are all kinds of tracking systems available these days which will count your calories and help you meet your goals. This is the only one I've tried so far, so I can't say it's the best. I can only offer my opinion on how well this particular app is working for me.

Mostly I decided to give an app a try because I was curious. Many of my students have told me they use apps to track their calories, or dietary percentages, or calories burned when they work out. Another reason is that I've been feeling very stuck in terms of weight loss. (I still have refused to step onto my no-longer-trusty scale, so I have no clue what I actually weigh. I can only tell you how I feel.) I have whined on this blog dozens of times (at least!) about the irritations of menopause. Number one on that list is my inability to lose weight. (Of course, there is no problem with putting it on. That part is a cinch.)

I haven't attempted to count calories myself since I was in high school. And that was WAY back, in another century, back when counting calories meant looking up each food I ate in the back of my weight loss book. Now that we have apps, the process is way, way easier.

If you are interested in testing out My Fitness Pal, all you will need is a smart phone or an I-Pod. I'm using my I-Pod as my phone is not very intelligent. To get started, just go to the app store and download the app for free. (My favorite price.) It will ask you to enter some information, including your name, birthdate, height, weight, and how much you would like to lose. (I just estimated my weight.) Then it will suggest a number of pounds to lose per week. You can adjust this number if you like. I went along with the suggestion to lose one pound per week. In order to accomplish my goal, it suggested I eat 1200 calories per day. I decided to try this.

Yesterday was my first day tracking my food choices, calories, percentages, and exercise. The very best part of the My Fitness Pal app is the scanning feature. I scanned in all my food for lunch (I happened to be eating a bunch of scan-able products for that meal) which, once I figured out how to do it, turned out to be terribly fun! It is a very quick, easy way to get an exact count on your calories and nutrition. If your food isn't scan-able, you can enter each individual food, like lettuce, separately. This is, of course, more time consuming. But once you have entered a certain food, it will be saved in the system and you won't need to re-scan or re-enter it.

By the end of the day, I had already learned a whole bunch about my diet. I ate about 60% fat yesterday. My carbs were very low, about 11%, and my protein made up the rest. I'm not sure if this will turn out to be typical or not. I was concerned about keeping the calories so low, but I actually came in at 3 calories UNDER my goal! I did go to bed hungry. And I woke up hungry this morning. I think I may have already lost my one pound for the week! (Still not getting on that scale, though.)

I definitely ate less than normal. I'm sure if I hadn't been tracking my calories, I would have continued to snack on the couch in front of the TV last night. But I drank a second cup of tea instead of eating more food. And I do believe that weight loss means hunger. I don't think you can lose without ever feeling uncomfortable. A small amount of discomfort is the cost. As long as you are getting enough protein (key to keeping your muscle mass) and enough veggies (for your vitamins and minerals) AND not starving yourself (mild hunger in the evening is not starving!) I think My Fitness Pal can help you lose weight in a healthy way.

If you are intrigued, as I was, with the possibilities of these weight loss apps, why not join me in the 21st century? Give an app a try! Please comment below if you are currently using a different app to lose weight and would like to share your reasons, your advice, or your questions!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Take a Break!

Today is the first day of my spring break. I have been looking forward to spring with a fervor. A desperate, clawing, needy fervor. And now spring is here!

I looked back through my blogs to see if I had already written this blog before. Sometimes I think I have a new idea, but I've already used it. Well, they say everything old is new again. So I'm not going to worry TOO much about recycling my ideas. Maybe I'll even have a new take on an old subject.

Last February, I wrote a blog titled, "Give Yourself a Break!" I went ahead and reread it today. I sounded back then exactly the same way that I feel today. Burned out. Tired. Injured with a slew of painful problems just minor enough to allow me to keep teaching. But a constant nag and a drain on my energy. Back then, I dropped my bootcamp classes and enrolled in a gentle yoga class, hoping to learn some new techniques while healing my injuries. The class turned out to be a bust. The teacher only showed up HALF the time! (Unbelievable to me as I NEVER miss a class!) She got a sub each time, but I had paid to take HER class. It was very disappointing.

And now, despite the fact that I haven't been teaching bootcamp since December, I am still tired, injured, and burned out.

So over this spring break, I am going to rest. Yes. A novel concept.

I'm planning to take a bath. At least one. It has been AGES since I last lounged in my clawfoot tub.
I'll walk my dog and plant some stuff in the garden, but I'm not going to EXERCISE. I'll do a little stretching and some yoga, probably foam roll my muscles. Maybe lie in the sun. No zumba. No weights.

I talk a good game, especially in my yoga classes, about taking care of the body. Listening to the body. Being kind to the body. But do I follow my own advice? (Insert rude noise here.) No. The answer is no. I do not.

I have been pushing my body non-stop for the past 30 years. It was fine in my twenties. I was almost never injured. It was less fine in my thirties. In my forties, I got a second wind and thought I could keep going. Maybe forever! But then I hit that magic number: the big 5-0. And my body started talking to me in a LOUDER voice.

"STOP THIS!" my body said.

Okay. I'm listening now.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Organic Strawberries

This week at Costco in Columbia, Maryland, we found 2 pound containers of organic strawberries. If you are a regular Costco shopper, you know they don't always carry every type of fruit and veggie in organic form. Strawberries are one of those heavily sprayed fruits, so it is more important to seek out organic ones whenever possible.

The 2 pound container of organic strawberries was $7. 49 (I believe) instead of $6 and something cents for 4 pounds of regular strawberries. Yes, you will pay more for organic. (Not always, but often.) However, in the case of strawberries, I honestly believe you get a better product for your money.

Regular strawberries are hit-or-miss in terms of flavor. I often find them large and watery, or hard and sour. In my limited, personal experience, opting for organic has meant strawberries that are ripe, sweet, juicy, and packed with real flavor. In short, a vastly superior product.

Strawberry season will arrive in our neck of the woods toward the end of May, and last for about 3 weeks or so. At that point, we will be able to purchase fresh, LOCAL strawberries from our farmers markets and roadside stands. You will also be able to pick your own at Larriland Farm and other local venues. Strawberries are not difficult to grow, so if you have a patch of sunny land, you might consider purchasing a pack of plants now. You won't be able to harvest berries this year, but after tending your patch for a year, your plants will be ready to produce for you.

For now, head over to Costco and snatch up a box of these beauties. They are so delicious, you don't need to add anything at all to them. Just sink your teeth in and enjoy!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Six Simple Tips to Change your Life

How can you change your life? One habit at a time.

Yes, it's that easy.

You already have plenty of habits in place. Think about it. What are the things you do every single day, without having to plan or remember? I'll give you some examples: brush your hair, floss your teeth, walk your dog, feed your goldfish, drink your coffee, drive to work, check your email, watch TV, set your alarm, and the list goes on. There are loads of things you never forget to do.

So why is it so hard to remember to drink enough water? Or take your vitamins? Or get to the gym?

Well, it's not. You just have to make each of these things into another one of your daily habits.

1) How do you make something a habit? It certainly helps if you can do the action every single day, at the same time, in the same place, in the same way. And it will be way easier to make it a habit if you can link the new action to something that is already an established pattern in your life.

For example, if I want to drink a liter of water in the morning before I leave to go teach my classes, I usually fill my water bottle and bring it with me while I walk the dog. The walk takes place every single morning, no matter what day it is, no matter what the weather is. If I bring the water with me, I can drink and walk simultaneously (I am highly skilled that way), killing two birds with one stone. Voila, instant habit! (I just have to remember to fill my water bottle and bring it!)

2) Is there a habit you would like to break? Do you hit the drive-thru for burgers and fries on the way home from work every day? If you want to break yourself of a bad habit, you need to replace it with a better habit. Drive home from work a different way. Instead of hitting the fast food window, go to the park for a brisk walk before heading home. Or hit the gym. Or the salad bar. Decide on the best habit for you. And the best habit is the one you will actually do.

3) It is much more likely you will implement the new habit if you only change ONE THING AT A TIME. Decide what you can handle. Don't join a new gym, bring home a puppy, start a new diet, and sign up for an evening class all at the same time. You will end up with chewed furniture, poop on the floor, a headache, and an empty wallet. Better to change one small thing. Commit to taking your vitamins every single day. (This is one habit that I have yet to make stick. I am open to suggestions!) Or drinking 3-4 liters of water. Or walking a mile.

4) How long does it take to establish a new habit? Experts usually say about a month. So give each new habit at least 30 days to become a part of your life before you try to add something else. Yes. A full month.

5) Keep in mind that starting a new diet means changing your habits EVERY TIME YOU EAT. This is multiple times per day (I hope!) so it is not surprising that people fail. If you are looking to change the way you eat, start with one meal per day. Decide on a healthy breakfast and stick with it for a month. Don't worry too much about lunch, dinner, and snacks. When your healthy breakfast is a habit, then move on to improving lunch.

6) Save the hardest changes for last. If you know that giving up sugar or alcohol or meth (just kidding!) is going to be tough for you, start with an easier switch. And remember to replace that candy bar or can of soda with a better alternative. Find a healthy power bar that you enjoy or drink a bottle of sparkling water. Convince yourself that you are simply having a NEW treat, not denying yourself the old one.

See? Habits are not that difficult to establish. After all, you already have tons of them in place. Give them a tiny tweak and you will be on your way to a healthy lifestyle in no time flat. Please share your experiences (what works and what doesn't) so we can all benefit from what you learn.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

I Was Wrong.

How many times have you heard me say this?

Do you question yourself? Your own opinions? The things you think you "know?" How frequently do you revise your opinions?

I'm guessing you are mistaken now and then. Do you admit it? To yourself? To anyone else?

This past week, I tried to watch a DVD I borrowed from the library. I had hoped to pick up where I left off with the latest season of Downton Abbey. I know it has already aired on PBS (where you all have no doubt already seen all the latest episodes, so don't ruin anything for me!) but I prefer to wait until the library gets the newest set of DVDs. I have watched the first disc of this newest season and so I ordered the next disc. But when I put said disc into my DVD player, an old episode from another season started playing.

How strange! I must have gotten the second disc of SEASON TWO, is what I thought to myself. I assumed an overworked librarian had misread the label and gave me the wrong disc. So I went straight back to my computer, pulled up my account, and requested the second disc of Season THREE.

But when I examined the disc I had attempted to watch, this time with my glasses ON, the outer cover and the disc itself both read "SEASON THREE" as well as "DISC TWO." Hmmm.... It seemed like a very long shot that both of these materials would be mislabeled, but that is where my mind went next.

Until I returned to my computer yet again, pulled up the library catalogue, and discovered, to my great chagrin, that the season I had started watching was...SEASON FOUR! I had requested a second copy of the WRONG SEASON!

Okay, yes, this is another story of me having a senior moment. We can blame menopause, for sure, as I feel entitled now to use this hormonal havoc as the reason for everything that goes wrong in my life. But the point of my blog today is the not-so-subtle resistance I exhibited in the face of the fact that I had made a mistake.

It got me wondering: how often am I wrong and I simply refuse to see it? I mean, the evidence in this case was very clear. And although I did recognize that the disc I was trying to watch was incorrect, my mind REALLY wanted to blame someone else for the error.

These days, especially in the world of nutrition and dietary science, myths are being revealed as hooey and old "truths" are being turned upside-down at a ridiculous rate. Many of us have avoided butter, bacon, saturated fats, cholesterol, egg yolks, beef, liver, and whole milk for decades when it is now coming to light that these may be some of the healthiest, most nutrient-dense, and best foods for human consumption. As the studies of the Paleo diet start to bring in results, we are learning that this type of eating (giving up grains, sugar, processed foods, etc.) can in fact relieve the symptoms or completely cure numerous diseases. (If you want more information, there are many reliable online sources: google Mark's Daily Apple or The Paleo Mom for two such examples.)

I'd like to think that I have an open mind. I'd like to think that my ego is not so fragile as to need to deny my mistakes. I'm hoping that I can continue to grow and change and absorb new information for many decades to come. And I am also hoping, in the not too distant future, to watch the rest of SEASON FOUR of Downton Abbey.

Just some food for thought!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Paleo Chocolate Mug Cake

If you are currently trying to quit sugar or complete the Whole 30 or basically avoid treats of all kinds, then please delete this post immediately. Do not pass GO! Do not collect any Monopoly money! Just do it NOW!

I know I shouldn't tempt you like this. But it's Paleo, you're thinking. Doesn't that mean healthy and pure, like the food our ancestors ate? Well, yes and no. Technically speaking, this microwaved mug cake is a Paleo-approved treat. It is grain-free, although not really sugar-free. I used maple syrup to sweeten the batter slightly. On a Paleo diet, you are allowed small amounts of honey or maple syrup as these are considered "natural" sweeteners. I have been trying to avoid all sugars and all sweeteners. Until today. As you can see.

Sometimes you just need a treat. Did I say that?

While my mug cake is cooling, let me give you the recipe before I forget it!


1 TB coconut oil
1 TB pure maple syrup
1 egg
2-3 TB almond butter
2 TB cocoa powder
dash of salt
1 TB coconut flakes (optional)
1 TB dark chocolate chips (optional)

Melt your coconut oil in a large, microwaveable mug. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, one at a time, in the order listed. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. The cake will pull away from the sides of the mug. Let cool slightly. The cake comes out moist, light, slightly sweet, and very yummy! Enjoy!