I’m a slacker.

I can’t believe I went the entire month of March without a single blog entry. Ugh. March was just not a good month. I lost my beautiful Baby about three weeks ago to oral cancer. It’s a horrible, empty feeling losing a pet you’ve had for the majority of your life. I miss him terribly but I’m thankful that he lived a long, healthy life and passed peacefully and is no longer suffering.

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My birthday was Thursday, and as a birthday gift to myself, I got a tattoo of Baby’s paw print. (And lyrics to one of my favorite songs, “Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin in Andrew McMahon’s handwriting.) I’m so in love with both of them.

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I’ll admit that I have fallen off the bandwagon slightly. I’m now working 30 miles away instead of 5 miles down the road, so I’m losing roughly 80-90 minutes of my day. I haven’t been keeping up with my calorie counting and my workouts have not been as long, intense or frequent as they used to be. I broke my 4-month-long exercise streak last week because I was just not feeling it. At this point, my motivation is minimal. However, the gym I wanted to join is now running a special for the month of April, so I think I’m going to bite the bullet and join. I’m almost done reading The New Rules of Lifting for Women so I’d love to start the program ASAP. I just need the equipment, so I’m hoping that my motivation will come back once I join Health Links and have some kind of workout plan.

I’m also hoping I can keep up with entries a little better from now on!

Hummus & Gym Membership

For some reason, I was craving hummus a few days ago. I’m not a fan of store bought hummus so I decided to make my own for the first time. I used this recipe from Inspired Taste, went off to the store and gathered the ingredients but discovered that a 16 ounce jar of Tahini was 9-effing-dollars at Hannaford. No thank you. I googled a substitute and found that peanut butter would work, which was perfect because I always have a jar of natural no sugar added peanut butter on hand. I followed their recipe to a T, except I replaced the 1/4 cup of Tahini for 2-3 tablespoons of that wonderful natural no sugar added peanut butter, and I didn’t add more olive oil for serving. Ugh, the hummus was so good and so easy. Better than any store bought hummus. TRY IT. I also made Quinoa Stuffed Peppers the same day, but I’ll post that recipe tomorrow.

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Now for random thoughts: I’m debating on a gym membership. I’ve never wanted a gym membership because they’re costly and I’ve never had the extra money for one, and I’ve always preferred exercising at home. I’m three weeks into my new full-time job, and I’m struggling to keep up with my exercise regimen. I tried getting up earlier to exercise but I hated it, and I wasn’t giving it 100% because I was so sluggish. I’m doing my best to exercise a lot on my days off and do less on my work days, but all I’ve been doing on my work days is 15-20 minutes of Yoga or Pilates. Yes, it’s at least something, but to me it is definitely not enough. My plan is to get a membership at HealthLinks, and while it’s expensive, I think it would be worth the money. I would go after work on my way home. I need to do more strength training, and the 10-pound dumbbells aren’t cutting it anymore. I don’t want to keep buying a new, heavier set every month. So, I think a gym membership will be worth it. Also, I heard great things about The New Rules of Lifting for Women. I bought the book the other day on amazon.com, and I’ll follow that program.

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And now, since it’s my day off, I better get my ass moving. Today’s workout: Jillian Michaels’ “Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism” followed by strength training and body weight exercises. Maybe Pilates a little later if I’m feeling up to it.

If you want a challenge…

If you want to challenge yourself, try Jillian Michaels’ Killer Buns & Thighs. (BUT!!! I don’t think this is a good workout for beginners or anyone with joint issues. It’s intense, and incorporates a lot of Plyometrics, lunges, squats, and it can be hard on your knees.) Anyway, I bought it last summer, attempted level one, and I could not believe how sore I was the following 2 or 3 days. I set it aside for whatever reason and did something else for the summer. A few months ago, I dusted it off and gave it another shot. Still difficult but definitely doable. Yesterday I completed level three, and I managed to get through it without feeling like I was going to die. I already have pretty solid hammies and quads, and my legs were shaking after I finished level three. This entire DVD is, without a doubt, my favorite workout series I’ve tried thus far. Like I said, it incorporates a lot of Plyometrics, squats, lunges, all that fun stuff that I both love and hate at the same time.

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Before and after attempting level three of KB&T. Don’t I look scared?

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Tonight I made one of my favorite meals: Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese. Recipe is coming tomorrow!

A Few Things to Know About Strength Training

This is sort of in response to pins on Pinterest, claims I hear in Jillian Michaels’ workout DVDs (don’t get me wrong, I love her workouts, but the things she says are not always true) and exercise moves featured in Cosmo and other magazines.

YOU CANNOT SPOT REDUCE FAT.
There are no specific exercises to target areas of fat.

Crunches WILL NOT reduce your belly fat.

Bridges, lunges and squats WILL NOT melt the fat off your butt and thighs.

Tricep exercises WILL NOT reduce your arm flab.

You get the picture. There’s a quote I like: get fit in the gym, lose weight in the kitchen.

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Once again, weight loss is 80% nutrition, 20% fitness. A calorie deficit with a HEALTHY diet and cardio with regular strength training WILL reduce OVERALL body fat. Your body decides where the fat comes off. (Damn you, genetics.) You may do a ton of crunches and planks and have a strong core, but if you still have a flabby belly, you won’t see the muscles.

So does that mean you should skip the strength training? Of course not! By building muscle, you’ll burn more calories overall, even at rest. According to this article from SparkPeople, “It takes more energy (calories) for your body to use and maintain muscle cells than it does fat cells. So by simply lifting weights to add more muscle mass, you’re boosting your metabolism and turning your body into a more efficient calorie-burning machine.” For best results, lift heavy with fewer reps. (And no, ladies, you will not bulk up.) Lifting heavy weights with fewer repetitions will build muscle, which gives you that lean, defined and fit physique (once your overall body fat continues to reduce).

Continue doing your cardio,  but if you’ve been putting off the strength training, what are you waiting for? There are a ton of workout generators out there to help you get started. Don’t be intimidated! Just don’t overdo it, and give your muscles at least 48 hours until your next strength training session to recover. (When you’re starting a new routine or increase your intensity of your workout, you might feel sore the day after your strength training session, which is normal. This is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, which is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. This will happen less often overtime. Just because you’re not sore the next day doesn’t mean you haven’t had a good workout. Still give your muscles plenty of time to recover!)

Plyometrics, barbells and groceries

This won’t be a very informative post; my energy and excitement is minimal today. A few months ago, we found out that my 14-year-old kitty has oral cancer, and he was doing okay for awhile but it seems like he’s starting to go downhill more and more each day. Just looking at him makes me want to cry because I know what we’ll have to do eventually.

I distracted/tortured myself with a 20-minute Plyometric (jump training) workout. I love (and hate) Plyometrics. I compiled a list of 20 Plyo moves, and I did each one for 20 seconds and rested for 10, and did that sequence twice (after a brief 3 minute break between sets). I felt like my legs were going to fall off…but in a good way. I might post the workout tomorrow, so stay tuned. AND THEN, after that torturous 20-ish minutes, I ventured down to the basement to dust off and use the old bench down there. But first I had to move all of the booze and soda. How ridiculous is this? It didn’t go as well as I had hoped; there’s simply too much junk down there so I have to relocate it or relocate the junk.

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And what makes me happier than Plyometrics? Grocery shopping for good food. (Chocolate is a vegetable, okay?)

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I found a recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk cookies from How Crazy Cooks, which is what the chocolate was for. And I loved them! I had to pop them in the freezer or else the entire batch would’ve been gone by tonight. Sigh, hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a better blog post.

Weight Loss Myths & Truths

Myth #1: I can lose weight as long as I’m exercising.

Think about it. Which one is harder to do – eating 300 calories or burning 300 calories through exercise? Weight loss is 80% nutrition, 20% fitness. You could spend hours in the gym working your butt off but ruin all of your efforts if you aren’t mindful of what you’re eating. You simply can’t out-exercise a bad diet.

Myth #2: Weight loss supplements are an effective way to lose weight.

I laugh every time Sensa commercials come on TV. Sprinkling some mysterious substance on your burger and french fries will not do anything to help you lose weight. These products are not regulated by the FDA, which means the companies that distribute these supplements don’t have to tell you what is in their product, they are able to make false claims about their product and the product could potentially be dangerous to take. These companies are only looking to take advantage of people who are desperate to lose weight. The one thing these supplements do is drain your wallet, so use the money you would be spending on supplements and buy a gym membership or fresh, whole foods.

Myth #3: The more I cut calories, the more weight I’ll lose.

Weight loss happens when you create a calorie deficit, meaning you burn more calories than you consume. Creating a deficit that is too large can do more harm than good and can sabotage your effort to lose weight. Habitually under-eating and/or over-exercising can cause your metabolism to slow down and can increase your risk for an array of health issues ranging from eating disorders to heart complications. It may seem counterproductive, but the more you exercise, the more you need to eat.

Myth #4: Women should lift light weights at high repetitions to avoid bulking up.

Many women seem to think that lifting heavy weights will cause them to “bulk up” and look like scary body builders. However, women don’t have enough testosterone to get them to a bulky state. Women SHOULD lift heavier weights because it has a number of benefits. Research shows it can help burn fat and calories, even after you finish your strength training session; it will make you look leaner (not bulky!), it will help fight osteoporosis, and it can help prevent injury Lifting light weights, I’m talking light enough to easily do 20+ repetitions with little to no muscle fatigue, won’t do much to build strength. When you’re not building strength, you’re not going to get that lean physique. A lot of people don’t know how heavy they should be lifting. As a general rule of thumb, your muscles should literally feel exhausted after completing your last repetition. This should be the last repetition you can complete with good form. For heavy lifting, it should be between 6 and 10 reps. Anything below 6 reps, you might want to try lifting a little lighter. Anything higher than 10, time to increase your intensity.

Myth #5: I will always be hungry when I’m dieting.

The trick to not being hungry throughout the day is to choose nutrient dense foods at your mealtimes – vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins – that won’t leave you hungry half an hour later. Fast food, refined sugar, white flour, chips, cake, cookies, crackers, etc. won’t do much to fill you up as they’re merely empty calories, and you’re likely to be hungry again very shortly. You can easily overeat on empty calories, but try to overeat on fruits and vegetables. It’s almost impossible!

Myth #6: Since 1 pound is equal to 3,500 calories, I need to burn 3,500 calories through exercise each week to lose 1 pound.

To lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit. You do this by reducing the amount of calories you eat and through physical exercise, everyday activities (cleaning, washing dishes, grocery shopping, etc.) and your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR, which is the amount your body burns at rest. My BMR is about 1,310. This is the amount of calories my body burns AT REST. Using the Harris Benedict Equation, I can multiply my BMR by 1.375 because of my activity level (“lightly active,” although I think I’m moderately active), which brings my daily calorie needs to 1,801. (http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/) Basically, I have to eat around 1,800 calories to maintain my weight. Realistic, healthy weight loss is about one pound per week. (Remember that creating a calorie deficit too large can sabotage your weight loss efforts.) One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories, which means you need to create a weekly calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. 3,500 calories divided by 7 days a week is a 500 calorie deficit per day. With my physical activity level already accounted for, I would have to eat around 1,300 calories to lose one pound of fat each week. Keep in mind that this math may seem simple enough, and you could do ALL of the right things and still not lose weight. Our bodies can be really stubborn. Pain in the butt? I think so. But the good news is that you don’t have to burn 3,500 calories through exercise each week.

Myth #7: To reduce belly fat, I should do ab exercises, such as crunches.

You can’t spot reduce fat, especially with exercises that “target” those specific areas. Unfortunately, your body decides where the fat comes off. You can do all the crunches you want but they won’t do anything to help reduce your belly fat. If you continue to exercise and eat a healthy, balanced diet and within your calorie ranges, pretty soon the fat will come off. Maybe not as quickly or where you want it to come off, but it will happen.

Myth #8: Healthy food is too expensive.

“I can’t afford to eat healthy, so that’s why I still eat fast food.” WHAT? You, my friend, are kidding yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this, and every time I get super irritated. Sure, if you buy out-of-season organic produce, it’s going to be expensive! You have to be smart about it. Buy what is in season and/or what’s on sale. And don’t always settle for grocery store produce! I’m lucky to be surrounded by tons of farms who were selling huge butternut squash for $1 each this past fall. At the grocery store, they were $1 per POUND. Support your local farmers by going to farmer’s markets and buying seasonal produce there. When you’re at the grocery store, use coupons when you can for products you buy. Oatmeal (the big containers of old-fashioned oats, not instant), dry black beans and rice can go a long way and can be prepared in a number of different ways. I’m going to elaborate on this at a later date and breakdown how much each food is costing me per serving, which I hope will convince all of the non-believers out there that eating healthy does NOT have to be expensive.

Myth #9: Detoxes and cleanses can help jump start my weight loss.

There is no medical evidence that suggests detoxes or cleanses removes toxins from the body. Our bodies naturally remove any toxins. The best “detox” you can do for your body is to just stop eating the junk food! There is no reason to do a cleanse or detox. Just start eating whole, clean foods, exercise and drink water. Simple as that!

Where Do I Start? Part 2: Exercise

Since exercise is only 20% of weight loss, you could technically lose weight without doing any exercise. I firmly believe that anyone who can exercise should do so. Besides helping with weight loss, it has a number of other health and psychological benefits. It reduces stress and anxiety and improves your mood, it gives you more energy, it reduces blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, prevents diabetes, strength training helps build stronger bones, AND, you can get away with eating more while still losing weight if you’re torching calories. So, with that said, where should you start?

Just like with your eating habits, start small with exercise, especially if you’ve never been physically active. Don’t jump into a program like Insanity or P90x – you have a greater risk of injuring yourself and overtraining if you’ve never been physically active. Take it easy at first, go for a walk or something low impact. As for strength training, I’m all for heavy weights, but light weights are better for beginners to at least get the form down. Once you understand proper form, then move on to heavy weights. When a workout becomes too easy, it’s time to increase the intensity!

You DO have to time to exercise. If you’re pressed for time, divide your workout into 10-15 minute segments throughout the day. You’ll still get the same benefits if your heart rate is up for at least 10 minutes. Aim for 3-4 cardio sessions and full-body strength training sessions. Be sure to give your body enough time to recover after each session.

Find forms of exercise that you enjoy that you can stick with. If you don’t like it, you won’t stick with it. This takes some trial and error. If you have a gym membership, most gyms include classes for free. Try something new, like Zumba, Yoga, Pilates; who knows, you might find something you never thought you’d enjoy. If you don’t have a gym membership, there are tons of free workouts on YouTube (I’m currently doing Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown on YouTube). SparkPeople also has great beginners workouts – everything from basic stretching routines to kickboxing.

If you’re interested in running, try a program like Couch-to-5k. Make sure to invest in a good pair of running shoes! Find a specialty running store for a proper shoe fitting.

Here are some useful links for free workout videos:

Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5nyrD4eM64

BeFit YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/BeFit?feature=fvstc

SparkPeople YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/sparkpeople

Quick tips

I have a few drafts going that are taking longer than usual to write (damn you, procrastination) but I’d like to post at least something. Last semester, my cousin and I did a presentation for our health class about weight loss. We compiled a list of quick tips that I hope some of you will find helpful. I will hopefully elaborate on some of them at a later date. I also posted these as a blog on SparkPeople back in May, so if some of y’all are visiting from SparkPeople, you may have already seen these. Anyway:

THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS:
– Weight loss = calories out > calories in. Simple, right?
– WRONG. Weight loss is NOT easy.
– You will not see immediate results
– It takes hard work, dedication, and trial and error to find out what works best for you
– Don’t be fooled by certain weight loss products (diet pills, weight loss supplements, other products that basically tell you you can lose weight with little to no effort). If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

HEALTHY WEIGHT LOSS:
– Not a “diet,” which implies a temporary fix
– It’s a permanent lifestyle change
– Weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% fitness. You can’t out-exercise an unhealthy diet.

NUTRITION TIPS
1. Identify how many calories your body needs to lose weight (SparkPeople.com, MyFitnessPal.com and LiveStrong.com are free and can recommend how many calories you should consume, as well as how many grams of carbs, fats and proteins you should consume). It’s important to realize that the more you exercise, the more calories your body needs.

2. Eat a balanced diet. Stay within your ranges for carbs, fats and proteins

3. You DON’T have to be hungry all the time. Choose nutrient-dense foods (like fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, etc.) that won’t leave you hungry 30 minutes later.

4. Read nutrition labels and learn how to interpret the information. The most important pieces of information on a nutrition label are the serving size and the amount of servings in the package.

5. Track your calories and fitness minutes ACCURATELY. One reason why people struggle to lose weight is because they overestimate the time they exercised/calories burned, and underestimate their portions of food. As a result, they eat more than what their food tracker says, and didn’t burn as many calories. Solution? MEASURE AND WEIGH YOUR FOOD. Make sure the food entries in your nutrition tracker are the same as what they are on the food label. And don’t always believe the calories burned display on cardio machines, especially when they don’t ask for your weight prior to your workout. That number is hardly ever correct. INVEST IN A HEART RATE MONITOR! A good HRM will give you a better estimate of how many calories you burned.

6. Moderation & Portion Control: You don’t have to eliminate any “bad” foods if you’re able to control your portions. Pay attention to your portion sizes and keep in mind that when you eat at a restaurant, oftentimes you have 3-4 servings of food on your plate. Eat only half of your meal and bring it home with you.

7. Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Eat breakfast as it kick starts your metabolism for the day. Eat balanced meals for best results (complex carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits and veggies). But small, frequent meals is not a good idea for those who struggle with discipline, moderation and portion control as it can lead to overeating.

8. Eat a variety of food to ensure that you meet requirements for both macro- and micronutrients. For fruits and veggies, eat a variety of color.

9. Don’t drink your calories (soda, sweet teas, fancy Starbucks coffee drinks, etc). Limit alcoholic beverages. Eliminate diet soda – recent studies have shown that those who consume diet soda daily have a higher risk of stroke and heart attack.

10. Drink at least 8 8oz. glasses of water DAILY. No matter what!

FITNESS TIPS
1. Aim for 60-minute cardio sessions most days of the week
2. Aim for at least 3 full-body strength training per week
3. Warm up before your workout with light cardio, cool down properly, and save your static stretching for after your workout.
4. Find workouts to enjoy so that you can stick with them
5. If you find that your workout is becoming too easy, then it’s time to increase the intensity or find something new
6. Figure out what motivates you to exercise
7. Make physical activity part of your daily routine. You DO have time for it. If necessary, break your workout up into 10-15 minute sessions throughout the day

STAYING MOTIVATED
1. Set realistic goals: set mini goals in 5-10 pound increments. Give yourself enough time to reach goals. Reward yourself, but not with food. Set other goals that are centered around nutrition, fitness and overall wellness. Take a before photo, and take a progress photos along the way. (Best feeling ever – comparing your before and after photos side by side.)

2. Don’t always trust the scale as it can be very misleading. Use a tape measure to do full body measurements every week or every other week. If possible, measure your body fat percentage.

3. Develop streaks and don’t break them (drinking your water for x amount of days, exercising 5 times a week for x amount of weeks, etc)

4. Never get discouraged! Everyone has a slip up, everyone makes mistakes along the way, but move past it. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t blame others. Come to terms with it and keep moving forward. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help.