On and Off the Wagon

candy

Argh.

Ok, I hit a speed bump last week with leftover Halloween candy.

Consuming fistfuls of miniature Hershey bars wasn’t quite in my plan, but that’s where I found myself.

This week I’m back on the wagon, but I was left thinking about something I heard several years ago, namely that if you’re going to indulge, make it special.

I can tell you right now that there was nothing special about the pile of Halloween candy I ate.

It wasn’t Great-Grandma’s toffee recipe, lovingly re-created once a year for the holidays. It wasn’t even Cadbury Crème Eggs, available only at Easter.

You could buy any of the leftover treats I shoveled down my gullet from a random vending machine, and some of them even seemed a little stale. Ick.

I’m so mad at myself for falling into the trap of mindlessly overindulging on nutritional garbage, but I’m going to learn my lesson and soldier on.

Resolution: with the holidays approaching, if I choose to indulge, I will enjoy something that is unique, not readily available and worth it.

This Japanese proverb is also proving helpful:

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This just made me laugh:

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Fresh Persimmons

I was so excited to see that our local food co-op had fresh persimmons.

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Have you tried them?

I didn’t grow up eating persimmons, so these sweet fruits are relatively new to me.

There are basically two kinds of persimmons available in the U.S., Fuyu (what’s seen above) and Hachiya (below).

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Fuyus are more tomato-shaped versus Hachiyas, which are like acorns.

Both types should be eaten when fully ripe. 

(Hachiyas will taste bitter and chalky if you eat them too soon, but Fuyus are a bit more forgiving).

The fruit should be soft and the skin becomes almost translucent. The entire fruit is edible minus the leaves and stem.

You can slice off the top and scoop out the flesh with a spoon (it almost becomes a pudding when super ripe), or slice like a tomato.

I also like to refrigerate them right before eating, so the temperature is cool and they’re easier to prepare.

Their flavor is hard for me to describe, but it’s very mild, sweet and sort of melon-y. 

They are delicious.

Here’s a bowl I sliced for breakfast last weekend:

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Yum.

 

Marathon Recap

On Sunday, 8847 other runners and I finished the 2014 Medtronic Twin Cities marathon.

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This was the fourth time I’ve done the course and my eighth marathon overall.

How did it go?

Overall, I’d say pretty good. I wasn’t thrilled with my time (4:34) and wished I’d been about 10 minutes faster.

But… I’m not beating myself up about it because I had a great day and a fun time along the way.

Leading up to the race, I was curiously numb about the experience. I didn’t tell many people about it until the final week or so. I think part of that was to give myself an out in case I decided that I wasn’t going to run after all.

Like always, I had so many doubts about my performance.

Did I train enough?

Did I taper too much? Too little?

Am I getting too old for this?

Why am I doing this in the first place?

(Spouse’s comment to that last rhetorical question: “But don’t you do this because you love to run?” Answer: Yes).

The 30 degree temps and high winds the day prior also sent my confidence reeling.

On Saturday, I had to check out the official marathon site for some information about bib number pick-up and came across some great advice for the week leading up to the marathon. 

I can’t find the link now, but there were also some coaches who posted advice and one piece in particular really hit a chord with me.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of the message was this:

At the starting line, in the midst of all the chaos leading up to the gun firing, take a moment to be grateful.

Grateful that this race exists.

Grateful that you are here.

Grateful that you are able to run.

Grateful that you can share this moment with other like-minded people.

And that’s what I did.

I’ve posted in the past about feeling gratitude toward being able to run as well as the influence that my father had on my running.

On Sunday I channeled all of those emotions and it turned into a great race. Mentally, I’ve never felt better during a marathon.

I always think about my Dad when I run, even though he died more than a decade ago. Even though I am not a particularly spiritual person, I really felt a connection to him on Sunday. I could hear his voice in my head and would ask him to give me a push up the next hill, and I’ve never tackled hills better than this.

I also shamelessly got about 200 high-fives along the course from anyone who would dole one out. I love high-fives!

The last thing that really got me going was a surge of crowd support near the end.

In this particular race, there is a turn between miles 21 and 22 where you enter the appropriately-titled Summit Avenue, which takes you up a gradual 2-3 mile incline until the final turn to the finish line at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Since I’ve done the course before, I knew that turning onto Summit meant I was going to make it. 

When I rounded the corner, I felt like sobbing with gratitude but instead I grinned from ear to ear and pumped my arms overhead in victory. The crowd went nuts! There were at least a few hundred spectators at that turn and they all started to cheer.

It was the single most awesome moment I’ve ever had while running. That surge kept me cruising to the end.

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P.S. Here’s another recap of the race. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Vegetarian Day

Today’s World Vegetarian Day, if you keep track of these types of things.

After being a strict vegetarian for more than a dozen years, I slowly started to eat seafood when I was in medical school.

Ironically, it was Gross Anatomy class that made me reconsider my position. I asked myself why I thought it was ok to dissect another human body yet I was totally grossed out by eating a Filet O’Fish?

Further review reinforced that Filets O’Fish are still pretty disgusting, but every once in a while I would eat high quality seafood, which now boils down to about 4-6 times a year.

If health is your goal, consider Meatless Mondays. My Uber health conscious friend G. has been doing this for a few years and swears by its power. Stumped for recipes? Look here.

Some final words with a bit of humor from A. Whitney Brown:

I am not a vegetarian because I love animals; I am a vegetarian because I hate plants.

 

 

 

Staying Motivated

Today is Day #18 of my 100 Day Self-Improvement Challenge and I am happy to report that it’s going really well, even better than I expected.

I haven’t been 100% compliant with all of my daily goals (missed maybe 3 total things over the time thus far), but the goal has always been improvement, not perfection.

Even in this short amount of time, I have noticed many positive changes such as:

  • Better sleep
  • More definition in my arms (thank you, push ups)
  • Recalibration of my food intake (truly humbling experience to document – honestly! – my dietary choices)
  • Better food choices (eat this, not that)
  • Genuine happiness via daily connections with different friends

Potential negatives:

  • Occasional enthusiastic proselytizing 
  • Lack of sufficient rest time to recover from exercising. I didn’t adequately calculate for days off in my plan.

Since I’ll be a quarter finished by the end of next week, I also thought it would be prudent to think now about strategies for staying motivated until the end.

Some tips I gathered in my research about ongoing motivation:

  1. Set a concrete goal and work toward it. It could take the form of a specific date or an event, like a race you sign up to complete or a vacation you plan to take. A great example would be getting in shape for a trip in October to hike the Grand Canyon. This would be a date and an event.
  2. Make a commitment. Specifically, a financial one. I am so, so nervous about the marathon I am running in a few weeks, but I went forward with gusto and booked a non-refundable suite at my favorite hotel during race weekend for some pre- and post-race R&R. I can’t let that opportunity go to waste.
  3. Tell people. Openly committing to something gets others excited for you. Having people ask about your progress provides external accountability.
  4. Think about the WOW factor. This could take the form of visualizing how great it would feel to see the Grand Canyon from top to bottom when you reach your goal or perhaps the feeling you’d get if friends who haven’t seen you in a while would be awed by your physical transformation through weight loss and/or exercise. Or how wowed you would be to slide right into smaller jeans in the dressing room.
  5. Build on the power of momentum. Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Capitalize on your successes so far. I also find on days that I don’t feel like exercising, I tell myself that I’ll just do 20 minutes. It almost unfailingly turns into double that or more. Showing up is half the battle.
  6. Consider everything an experience builder. Not all workouts are going to be great. Not everything you try will stick. Consider everything an experiment to gain experience, and the more you try, the more you will learn.
  7. Reward yourself. Use smaller awards along the way and a bigger one when you reach a major goal or milestone. The goal itself may be the reward, like a vacation.
  8. Spread the energy! I half-jokingly said that I am prone to compulsive proselytizing these days, but talking about the project ends up motivating ME and keeps my momentum tank full.
  9. Make it fun. My friend S. is an ultra-marathoner and just completed a 100 mile race last weekend. When we’ve run races together in the past, I’ve been amazed to hear her talk about stopping to take photos along the way (she is much, much faster than I am so I hear about it in the aftermath). I usually figure that if I stop, I won’t start again, and my usual strategy is to forge ahead. I envy her ability to enjoy the moment, literally stop at times to smell the roses, and I can guarantee she has a lot more fun during races than I do.
  10. You may not be ready yet, but don’t take yourself out of the game. Change takes commitment. People who study change know that before it’s going to happen, there is a time of contemplation before action. A half-hearted attempt will likely fail. In my own experience, I can say that I’ve had an app to track my food intake for, oh, at least 2 years, but it wasn’t until this project that I started to religiously (and honestly) use it. I’d make small attempts before that were quickly abandoned when I didn’t feel like seeing those two glasses of wine, two slices of pizza, and handfuls of M&Ms staring at me, so I simply didn’t use the tracker. You may not be ready for action right this minute, but surround yourself with the tools you need so that when you reach the tipping point, that app (or those running shoes, or that gym membership) is waiting right there for you. Keep the barriers to change low.

 Keep on keepin’ on, my friends!

 

100 Days of Self Improvement

My recent spike of interest in all things motivational and inspirational led me to the world of 100 day challenges. 

First, a few truths:

  • Change can be hard to do
  • Making lasting change is even harder
  • It takes about 30 days to make or change a habit
  • Staying motivated is difficult
  • Making lists is motivational (at least to me)
  • Small changes over time add up to big(ger) results
  • I need and want to change a few things
  • 100 seems like a very accomplished number

Never one to miss embarking on a self-improvement project, I designed my own 100 day challenge.

I am focusing on small wellness behaviors. I made a list of 8 daily goals, all of which are do-able. Little things add up!

Here’s my list:

  1. Weigh myself every day
  2. Drink at least 8 8-oz glasses of water
  3. Do 25 sit-ups (I know this is a small amount! This is the minimum I’m going to set for myself, with the goal of doing more every day).
  4. Do 10 push-ups (see above).
  5. Record the food I eat
  6. Exercise
  7. Avoid alcohol (while this may make me seem like a huge lush, I tried to pick something that was the epitome of empty calories. It was either wine or M&Ms, and I had to go with wine. Eliminating both would have been too cruel and probably impossible).
  8. Reach out and connect with a friend every day

 For accountability, I did three things:

  • Publicly declared my attention here and to my family and friends
  • Printed out calendars with the daily 8 and the challenge day printed on them. I made two sets so I can have one at home and one at work.
  • Posted the calendars in visible places

Here’s my September:

calendar

You can download and edit your own calendar here.

Looking for your own ideas for 100 days of self-improvement? Find ideas here and here.

 Your New Self Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

 

Make A Splash

Fact: I need to consume more water.

Another fact: Plain water is pretty boring.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – you can make “spa water” by infusing regular water with slices of citrus fruits or even herbs.

But this will kick it up another notch: Get fancy with your ice, too.

One way is to add frozen berries or fruit slices to your spa water.

Another is to fill an ice cube tray with coconut water, freeze and use the cubes to give water a subtle hint of the tropics. This would be great with frozen pineapple slices as your “ice.”

 

 

Coconut Oil

I asked my good friend A – a dietitian and wellness coach – to fill me in on coconut oil, which seems to be everywhere (everywhere!) right now.

Is it a bandwagon worth jumping on or a flash in the pan?

A. was kind enough to guest blog for me today:

Coconut oil is a hot nutrition trend.

While it may have health benefits, bottom line is it is a source of saturated fat.

Since there is not a lot of research on coconut oil (compared to other oils like olive oil), the verdict on its health benefits is still out. The clinical evidence that coconut oil is a super oil and delivers health benefits is very limited, especially on disease outcomes.

Like any saturated fat, if you can work it into your calorie budget…go ahead and enjoy it. Coconut oil should be limited to 7%-10% of calories because it can increase risk for heart disease, according to the AHA and 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

Best nutrition advice when it comes to oils…use a variety of healthy oils and watch your portion.

Here are A’s top picks for oils based on levels of antioxidants, monounsaturated fats and Omega 3s:

  • Cold Pressed or Expeller Olive Oil: 1 T.=119 cal./13.6 grams fat/9.8 grams monounsaturated fat. High in Omega 3 fats. Great for sautéing, making salad dressing and for dipping whole grain bread. Choose a European, first cold pressed/expeller-pressed olive oil to retain nutrients avoid chemicals used during the heating process.
  • Grapeseed Oil: 1 T.=120 cal./13 grams fat/2 grams monounsaturated fat. High in antioxidants and neutral taste. Use for high heat cooking. Look for brands that are expeller-pressed, a chemical-free mechanical method of oil extraction.
  • Organic Canola Oil: 1 T.=125 cal/13 grams fat/5.8 grams monounsaturated fat. High in Omega 3 fats. Perfect substitute for butter in cooking and baking. Choose organic canola oil to limit pesticide levels.
  • Flaxseed Oil: 1 T.=120 cal/13 g fat/ 2.5 grams monounsaturated fat. Generally taken as a supplement and not used for cooking.
  • Coconut Oil: 1 T.=126 cal/14 grams fat/0.5 grams monounsaturated fat. This unique oil is very high in saturated fat therefore more research needs to be done regarding using large amounts.

Her overall advice:

Use a variety of oils as they each have their own unique features and health benefits. Stay clear or use sparingly: palm oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, vegetable oil and trans fats/hydrogenated oils. Conventional corn and soy are genetically modified and the long term health risks of genetically modified food are unclear. As always, read the label!

If you buy coconut oil, make sure it’s virgin coconut oil (don’t get a blend, which can also contain trans fats). Because of its high saturated fat content, coconut oil is solid at room temperature. Also note that the American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 16 grams of saturated fat per day, which is just a smidge above a tablespoon for coconut oil.

 

Healthy Eating On the High Seas

In a few months, we’re going on vacation. The same vacation we’ve taken four years in a row, a Disney cruise.

We’ve taken this trip over and over for the same reasons: our kids are still little enough to believe Mickey is a real friend to them and they genuinely delight in the organized, sanitized magic of it all, I’ve figured out many tricks to maintain my sanity among the masses (separate post about that in the future), and there is a kids’ club where they can be checked in to spend hours and hours a day, exhausting themselves in supervised Disney fun, while I relax in the spa and Spouse naps in the sun. Bliss.

Someday, we’ll do an adventurous trip to, say, Nepal, but that’s not happening right now. This crew? Forget it.

Cruises get bad raps for legitimate reasons. I get it. I really do. I would not want to aimlessly float for days at sea in a toilet-less incapacitated ship, for sure.

Food is almost always one of the things people complain about when they deride cruising.

To quote Woody Allen in “Annie Hall:”

There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Except that on cruises, the portions are ginormous. Quality can still be meh, as this is food prepared for the masses, not by a private chef. But one thing’s for sure: there are opportunities to eat 24/7.

So how do you stay healthy and avoid weight gain on a vacation like this?

My friend A., a dietitian, coach and my fitness inspiration, just came back from a cruise, and I asked her how she stayed slim and sane. Her tips:

• Pack a healthy mindset.
• Be active: take the stairs, use the track on the sun deck, rock climb, golf, play basketball.
• Go to the spa and relax. Enjoy some lemon or cucumber infused water.
• My top pick…Use side salad plates rather than the buffet platter. Be sensible with your portions. Don’t put yourself into a food coma.
• Don’t order room service for breakfast before you go to the dining room for breakfast [Sidenote from me: This is a thing? I didn’t realize people even could or would do this. Wow].
• Always choose the salad option as a starter. Order your dressing on the side.
• Cruise lines pride themselves in service so ASK how things are prepared and if you can get a substitution for a healthier option.
• Ask your waiter not to bring bread before dinner…that’s a meal in itself.
• Order double vegetables.
• Seafood is usually a healthy option but make sure it’s not swimming in butter or cream sauce
• Bring healthy foods with you like raw nuts, protein bars, Shakeology (protein drink)
• Avoid the umbrella drinks. A 7oz pina colada has 500 calories and 17 g fat. Opt for vodka with a splash of juice or a Corona light for 110 calories.
• Be mindful. Stay in the moment. Practice conscious eating.
Did I mention you should pack a healthy mindset?

Thank you, A!

I really appreciate this advice. Some of the things I do:

  • Run on the deck. Every day. It’s fun and challenging, as one side usually has a terrific headwind and the other a tailwind. Go as early in the morning as possible to avoid languid shuffle boarders.
  • Take the stairs. Elevator lines are often long when everyone is trying to get to the same place, like a show or dinner. Take the stairs! You could easily tally 20 or 30 flights a day if you just walk up and down.
  • Eat things that are special or unique, and try to avoid things that are easily available at home (unless you are hungry for it and it is a healthy choice, like fresh fruit). Last year I signed up for a chocolate and wine tasting, and this was worth it!
  • Stop eating things that don’t taste good. Last year I found myself eating stale tortilla chips and lame salsa at a late-night buffet, and I thought, ick, this is gross. I tossed it. I felt a tiny bit of guilt for the waste, but it wasn’t worth the calories to keep eating. Just walk away.
  • Better moral of the above story would be to avoid the late-night buffet altogether and eat only at regular mealtimes.
  • But don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry. A frequent pattern for us is that I will wake up the earliest, before everyone else (a curse of doctor-dom, waking at the crack of dawn after so many years of practice), and quietly head out to run on the deck for an hour or so. By the time I get back, the rest of the crew is waking up, and then it still takes a bit of time to get everyone presentable enough to show up for breakfast. This usually puts us in the position of eating much, much later than usual, and when lunchtime rolls around shortly thereafter, I’m usually not into it. I might have a snack later in the afternoon so that I’m not famished at dinner, but if I’m not hungry for lunch, I don’t force it.
  • Stay hydrated. With water. Bring your own water bottle and use it.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol during the day. Just because it’s five o’clock somewhere doesn’t mean it’s cocktail hour on the boat.

P.S. Here’s some more sensible advice for cruising here and here.

 

Staying Motivated

Staying motivated to be healthy is an ongoing process for me, and as such, I’m always looking for new inspiration.

Fortunately, I love to run so I usually don’t need this type of motivation to exercise:

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 This list of 20 motivation hacks was helpful to me, particularly numbers 6 (never skip two days in a row) and 2 (make a big public commitment to achieve a wellness goal, like signing up for a marathon).

I also really enjoy reading transformation stories about real people who’ve made life-changing progress toward wellness. Women’s Running magazine has some great portrayals in the sections entitled “Why I Run” and “Women Who Move.”

[A weirder but intriguing set of transformation stories I stumbled upon while researching this post is located here].

Another thing that’s been really helpful to me is to be a member of a group of like-minded individuals. In my case, it’s an online group headed by my friend A, whom I have mentioned here before and is a real inspiration to me. The posts of the other members keep me in line and give me great ideas. Spouse also has a looser competition going on among his buddies from the crew team in college; they’re running a half-marathon in May in the town of our alma mater and it’s a (mostly) friendly race to the finish line. With pride on the line, game’s on!

And I keep a mini-library of inspirational pins, like this one:

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Cute workout clothes also go pretty far in my world!

How do you stay motivated to be healthy?